Interim: Pilgrimage, Volume 5
VOLUMES IN THIS SERIES:
DEADLOCK (in preparation)
DOROTHY M. RICHARDSON
AUTHOR OF “POINTED ROOFS,” ETC.
DUCKWORTH & CO.
3 HENRIETTA STREET, COVENT GARDEN
First Published 1919
F. de B.
Miriam thumped her Gladstone bag downon to the doorstep. Stout boots hurriedalong the tiled passage and the door openedon Florrie in her outdoor clothes smiling brilliantlyfrom under the wide brim of a heavilytrimmed hat. Grace in a large straight greendress appeared beside her from the open dining-roomdoor. Miriam finished her cadenza with thedoor knocker while Florrie bent to secure her bagsaying on a choke of laughter, come in. You’vejust been out, said Miriam listening to Grace’ssoothing reproaches for her lateness. Shall I comein or shall I burst into tears and sit down on thedoorstep? Florrie laughed aloud, standing withthe bag. Bring her in scolded Mrs. Philps fromthe dining-room door. Grace took her by thearm and drew her along the passage. I’m onemass of mud.—Never mind the mud, come inout of the rain, scolded Mrs. Philps backingtowards the fire, you must be worn out.—No,I don’t feel tired now I’m here, oh what a heavenlyfire. Miriam heard the front door shut with ashallow suburban slam and got herself round thesupper table to stand with Mrs. Philps on thehearthrug and smile into the fire. Mrs. Philpspatted her arm and cheek. Is the door reallyshut O’Hara said Miriam turning to Florrie cominginto the room. Of course it is, choked Florriecoming to the hearthrug to pat her;—I’ll putthe chain up if you like.—Sit down and rest beforeyou go upstairs said Mrs. Philps propelling hergently backwards into the largest of the velvetarmchairs. Its back sloped away from her; thelarge square cushion bulging out the lower halfof the long woollen antimacassar prevented herfrom getting comfortably into the chair. Shesat on the summit of the spring and said it wasnot cold. Wouldn’t you like to come up beforesupper suggested Grace in answer to her uneasygazing into the fire. Well I feel rather grubby.Give her some hot water murmured Mrs. Philpstaking up the Daily Telegraph. Grace precededher up the little staircase carrying her bag. Willyou have your milk hot or cold Miriam? calledFlorrie from below—Oh, hot I think please, Ishan’t be a second said Miriam into the spareroom, hoping to be left. Grace turned up thegas. M-m darling she murmured with timidgentle kisses, I’m so glad you have come. So am I.It’s glorious to be safely here .... I shan’t bea second. I’ll come down as I am and appearradiant to-morrow—You’re always radiant—I’msimply grubby; I’ve worn this blouse all theweek; oh bliss, hot water. Sit on the rockingchair while I ablute; unpack my bag—D’youmind if I don’t Miriam darling? Aunt and Icalled on the Unwins to-day and I haven’t putmy hat by yet. We’ve got three clear days—Allright, oh my dear you don’t know how glad I amI’m here—Grace came back murmuring fromthe door to repeat the gentle kisses. When thedoor was shut the freshness and quietude of theroom enfolded Miriam, smoothing away grubbinessand fatigue. Opening her Gladstone bag shethrew on to the bed her new cream nun’s veilingblouse and lace tie, her brushbag and sponge-bagand shoes and a volume of Schiller and a bundleof note-paper and envelopes. A night-gown wasput ready for her on the bed frilled in an old-fashionedway with hand-made embroidery. Herbag went under the bed for nearly four days.Nothing grubby anywhere. No grubbiness forfour days. In the large square mirror her dingyblouse and tie looked quite bright under the gaslightscreened by the frosted globe. Her hairhad been flattened by her hat becomingly over thebroad top of her head, and its mass pushed downin a loose careless bundle with good chance curvesreaching low on to her neck. She poured the hotwater into one of the large cream-coloured basins,her eye running round the broad gilt-edged bandornamenting its rim over the gleaming marblecover of the washstand, the gleaming tiles facingher beyond the rim of the basin, the highlypolished woodwork above the tiles. She snuffedfreshness everywhere. While the fresh unscentedcurdiness of the familiar Broom soap went overher face and wrists and hands she began to hungerfor the clean supper, for the fresh night in thefreshness of the large square bed, for the cleansolid leisurely breakfast. Pushing back her hairshe sponged the day from her face sousingluxuriously in the large basin and listening toGrace moving slowly about upstairs. Seizing atowel she ran up the little single flight and stoodtowelling inside Grace’s door. Hullo pink-face,laughed Grace tenderly, smoothing tissue paperinto a large hat box—I say it must be anenormous one—It is; it’s huge smiled Grace—Youmust show it to me to-morrow—Miriamran downstairs and back to the mirror in her roomto look at her clean untroubled face. Don’t runabout the house, come down to supper, calledFlorrie from below.
Have they brought the sausages, asked Mrs.Philps acidly.
Yes, scowled Florrie.
Don’t forget to tell Christine how we like themdone, said Grace frowning anxiously. Miriamtook her eyes from the protruding eyes of theShakespeare on the wall opposite, and shut awaywithin her her sharp sense of the many thingsranged below him on the mantlepiece behindFlorrie, the landscape on one side of him, thepicture of Queen Victoria leaning on a walkingstick between two Hindu servants, receiving anaddress, on the other side, the Satsuma vases andbowls on the sideboard behind Mrs. Philps, thelittle sharp bow of narrow curtain-screenedwindows behind Grace, the clean gleam oneverything.
Oh yes, didn’t you know? She’s been withus a month—
What became of Amelia?
Oh we had to let her go. She got fat andlazy.
They all do! they’re all the same—Go onMiriam.
—Well, said Miriam from the midst of hersecond helping—they both listened, and thesteps came shambling up their stairs—and theyheard the man collapse with a groan against theirdoor. They waited and, well, all at once the man,well, they heard him being violently ill—OhMiriam—Yes; wasn’t it awful? and then afeeble voice like a chant—a-a-a-ah-oo—oo-oo-ookom, and hailpemee—Oh Meester Bell, kom, oh, Iam freezing to death, what a pity what a pity—andthen silence. She fed rapidly, holding themall silently eager for her voice again to fill out thespaces of their room—For about half an hourthey heard him break out, every few minutes, ohMeester Bell, dear pretty Mr. Bell kom. I amfreezing to death whatta pity—whattapity.The Brooms sat breaking one against the otherinto fresh laughter. Miriam ate rapidly glancingfrom face to face. What-eh-pitie—what-eh-pitieshe moaned. Can’t you hear him? Gracechoked and sneezed and drank a little milk. Theywere all still slowly and carefully eating theirfirst helping.—You do come across some funnypeople said Mrs. Philps mopping her eyes anddimpling and sighing upon the end of her laughter.I didn’t come across him. It was at Mag’sand Jan’s boarding house. Mrs. Philps had notbegun to listen at the beginning. But Grace andFlorrie saw the whole thing clearly. Mrs. Philpsdid not remember who Mag and Jan were. Shewould not unless one told her all about theircircumstances and their parents. Florrie’s facewas preparing a question. Then they must have—wenton Miriam. There was a subdued ringat the front door bell.—There’s Christineshall we have her in to change the plates aunt,frowned Florrie.—No let ’er changer dress. Wecan put the plates on the sideboard—Then theymust both have gone to sleep again, said Miriamwhen Florrie returned from letting Christine in—becausethey did not hear him go downstairsand he wasn’t there in the morning—A goodthing I should think, observed Mrs. Philps. Hewasn’t there said Miriam cheerfully—er—not inperson. Oh Miriam, protested Grace hysterically.Oh—oh—cried the others. Miriam watchedthe second course appearing from the sideboard—shegreeted the blancmange and jam with asoft shout, feeling as hungry as when supper hadbegun. Isn’t she rude chuckled Florrie, puttingdown a plate of bananas and a small dish ofchocolates. Ooo-ooo squealed Miriam—Be quietand behave yourself and begin on that said Gracegiving her a plate of blancmange. Oh yes andthen said Miriam inspired to remember more ofher story—it all came out. He must have gotdown somehow to his room in the morning. Buthe lay on the floor—he told them at dinner—allof mee could not find thee bed at once!—Oh-oh-oh—Hehad been—she cried raising hervoice above the tumult—to a birthday party;twenty-seex wheeskies and sodahs.....—Whydid he talk like that? Was he an Irishman?Oh, can’t you hear? He was a Hindu. Theyall talk like that. “I will kindly shut the door.”When they write letters they begin—Honouredand spanking sir, wept Miriam—they findspanking in the dictionary and their letters arelike that all the way through, masses of the mostamazing adjectives. Why did Mag and Jan leavethat boarding house? asked Florrie into themidst of Miriam’s absorption with the solidtears on Mrs. Philps’s cheekbones. She was longingfor Mrs. Philps to see the second thing, not onlythe funniness of spanking addressed to a civilservant, but exactly how spanking would lookto a Hindu. If only they could see those thingsas well as produce their heavenly laughs. Oh, Idon’t know, she said wearily; you see they nevermeant to go there. They wanted a place of theirown. If only they could realise Mag and Jan.There was never enough time and strength tomake everything clear. At every turn there wassomething they saw differently. They are a pairshe breathed sleepily. No, thanks, she answeredformally to an offer of more blancmange. Shewas beginning to feel strong and sleepy. Nothanks she repeated formally as the heavy dish ofbananas came her way. She wants a chocolatesaid Florrie from across the table. Miriamrevived a little. Take two begged Mrs. Philps.They’re so huge, said Miriam obeying and leavingthe chocolates on her plate while her mind movedheavily about seeking a topic. They were allbeginning on bananas. It would be endless. Bythe time it came to sitting over the fire she wouldbe almost asleep. She stirred uneasily. Someonemust be seeing her longing and impatience.
Miriam lost threads while Christine clearedaway supper, pondering the thick expressionlessfigure and hands and the heavy sallow sullen face.She was very short. The Brooms watched herundisturbed, from their places by the fire, nowand again addressing instructions in low frowningvoices from the midst of conversation—Do sitdown said Mrs. Philps at intervals—I’ve beensitting down all day said Miriam swaying on hertoes—I think we did half believe it she pursuedwith biting heartiness, aching with the onset ofquestions, speaking to make warmth and distractionfor Christine. She had never thought aboutit. Had they half believed it? Had anyone everput it to them in so many words? Giving anopinion opened so many things. It was impossibleto show everything, the more opinions youexpressed the more you misled people and thefurther you got away from them—Because shecontinued with a singing animation; Christineglanced;—we never heard anyone come in—although—(theroom enclosed her even morehappily with Christine there, everything lookedeven more itself)—we stayed awake till whatseemed almost morning, always till long after theser-m-our domestic staff had gone to bed. Theirrooms were on the same floor as the night nursery—Christinewas padding out with a tray, herback to the room; she had a holiday every yearand regular off times and plenty of money to buyclothes and presents; probably she had some sortof home. When she had taken away the last ofthe supper things and closed the door Gracepatted the arm of the vacant armchair. I likethis best, said Miriam drawing up a little carvedwooden stool—oh don’t sit on that cried Mrs.Philps.—I’m all right said Miriam hurriedly,looking at no one and drawing herself brisklyupright with her eyes on the clear blaze. Graceand Florrie were close on either side of her instraight chairs, leaning forward towards the fire.Mrs. Philps sat back in the smaller of the armchairs,its unyielding cushion sending her bodyforward, her small chest crouched, her head bentand propped on her hand, half facing their closerow and gazing into the fire. There was a silence.Florrie cleared her throat and glanced at Miriam.Miriam