Coquette by Frank Swinnerton
BOOK ONE: TOBY
BOOK TWO: GAGA
BOOK THREE: CONSEQUENCES
Author of September, Shops and Houses, Nocturne, Etc.
New York George H. Doran Company
Copyright, 1921, by George H. Doran Company
BOOK ONE: TOBY
It was Saturday nighta winter night in which the wind hummed
through every draughty crevice between the windows and under the doors
and down the chimneys. Outside, in the Hornsey Road, horse-omnibuses
rattled by and the shops that were still open at eleven o'clock
glistened with light. Up the road, at the butcher's just below the
Plough public-house, a small crowd lingered, turning over scraps of
meat, while the butcher himself, chanting Lovely, lovely, lovely! in
a kind of ecstasy, plunged again into a fresh piece of meat the
attractive legend, Oh, mother, look! Three ha'pence a pound! Just
over the way, at the Supply Stores, they had begun to roll down the
heavy shutter, hiding the bright windows, and leaving only a narrow
doorway, through which light streamed and made rainbow colours on the
pavement outside. The noise of the street was a racketting roar, hardly
lower now than it had been all the evening. Sally crouched at the
window of the first floor flat, looking down at the black roadway, and
watching the stragglers from the Supply Stores.
In the flat above there was the sound of one who sang, vamping an
accompaniment upon the piano and emphasising the simple time of his
carol by a dully stamped foot upon the floor. His footmaking in soft
slippers a dead dump-dump-dumpshook the ceiling of the Mintos'
flat. They could hear his dry voice huskily roaring, There you are,
there you are, there you ain'tain'tain't. They had heard it a
thousand times, always with the familiar stamp. It was very gay. Old
Perce, as he was called, was a carver in a City restaurant. It was he
who received orders from the knowing; and in return for apparent
tit-bits he received acknowledgments in cointwopence or threepence a
time. Therefore, when he reached home each evening, nicely cheery and
about a quarter drunk, his first act after having tea was to withdraw
from his pockets a paper bag or twosuch as those supplied by banks
for the carriage of silverwhich he would empty of greasy coppers. He
piled these coppers in mounds of twelve, and counted them over several
times. He then smoked his pipe, went into his front room, and played,
There you are, there you are, there you ain'tain'tain't. Sally
did not remember ever having heard him sing anything else. He was
singing it: now with customary gusto. Sally thought he must be a very
rich man. Old Perce's wife, who let her practise on their piano, hinted
as much. His wages were low, she said, but in a week his tips often
came to three or four pounds. Three or four pounds! Whew! Sally's
father only made thirty-five shillings in a week, everything included.
Mrs. Perce told Sally many other things, which Sally shrewdly treasured
in memory. It was well to know these things, Sally thought: any day
they might be ... useful. For a girl not yet seventeen, Sally had a
strangely abundant sense of possible utilities. All old Perce's
relatives were licensed victuallers, she had learned; and one day he
too would take a little 'ouse and stand behind his own bar, instead
of behind the counter of a city restaurant. Those would be days! 'Ave
a trap and go outa Sunday afternoons, Mrs. Perce said. Oo, I wish
you'd take me! Sally cried. Course I will! answered Mrs. Perce, with
the greatest good-humour. Meanwhile old Perce had money out on loan.
I'd like, thought Sally, with considering eyes, to have money out on
loan. I will, too. One day. Why shouldn't I?
Sally's mother, Mrs. Minto, was yawning by the small fire in the
grate. She was a meagre little woman of about forty, tired and
energetic. The Mintos' flat, although very bare, was very clean. Even
when there was nothing to eat, there was water for scouring; and Mrs.
Minto's hands were a sort of red-grey, hard and lined, all the little
folds of the discoloured skin looking as if they had been bitten deep
with acid that made them black. Her hair was very thin, and she drew it
closely back from her forehead into a tiny knob like a bell-pull,
leaving the brow high and dry as if the tide of hair had receded. Her
lids were heavy over anxious eyes; her mouth was a bitter stroke across
her face, under the small, inquiring nose. Her breast was flat, and her
body bent through daily housework and too little care of herself, too
little personal pride.
Sally resembled her mother. She too was small and thin. Her hair was
pale brown, an insipid colour with a slight sandiness in it. Her cheeks
were faintly freckled just under the eyes, and her nose, equally small
and inquiring, had some freckles upon it too. Her eyelashes were light;
her eyes a grey with splashes of amber. She was sitting huddled up near
the window, breathing intently, looking out of it with eager,
fascinated interest. The streets were full of lures. Outside, there was
something which drew and absorbed her whole nature. The noise and the
lights intoxicated her; the darkness was even more bewilderingly full
of dangerous attractiveness. It was night, and night was the time when
thrills came, when her heart beat closely with a sense of timid
impudence, a sort of leashed daring. In darkness she brushed hands
against the hands of boys, and got into conversation with strangers,
and felt herself romantically transfigured. They couldn't see how plain
she was in the dark: she herself forgot it. In the dark she felt that
she was bolder, with nobody to observe her and carry tales to her
mother. Boys who wouldn't look at her in daylight followed her at night
along dark streets. She was getting very experienced with boys. She
could look after herself with them. Her eyes interestedly and
appraisingly scanned every male, so that she came to know a great deal
about the ways of men, although she never put her knowledge into words.
She scrutinised them. In daylight her plainness was a help in that,
because they did not take any notice of so insignificant a figure, and
she absorbed every detail of the fellows she met, without having to
do it under their return observation, by means of side-glances. This
was a benefit, and at heart made her bolder, more ruthless.
At this moment, watching the people come out from the little door in
the shutter of the Supply Stores, Sally ignored the silhouettes of
women; but she peered quite intensely at those of the men. Men filled
her thoughts. She was always choosing which men she liked, and which
did not interest her, and which were weak and easily exploited. Or, if
she were prevented from doing that, she could still look at them,
seeing that they were men, and not women. The noise was good, the
lights were good; but the darkness, such as there now was in the street
below, in all the diminished labour of late traffic, was best of all.
She saw the last customer at the Stores shown to the door by Mr.
Beddow, the keeper of the shop; and the narrow door in the shutters
closed. The last stream of light was abruptly cut off. The face of the
Stores was black. All the opposite side of the roadway was now black.
There were no more silhouettes.
Mr. Beddow's cheeks were very fat, and when he smiled his eyes
disappeared into slits just behind the top of his bulging cheeks. He
wore a light frizzly beard. Once Mr. Beddow had given her a little
bottle of acid-drops. All the acid-drops were gone now. She had given
some of them to May Pearcey, who worked with her. They had eaten the
remainder next day over their work, while Miss Jubb was out of the
room; and the drops had made them thirsty and had given them hot, sweet
breath. Funny she should remember it all so clearly.
May Pearcey and she were both learners at a small dressmaker's shop
in a street off Holloway Road. They used to walk together along Grove
Road in the mornings, and at dinner-time, and in the evenings. But the
boys all looked at May, who was a big girl with rosy cheeks and eyes
that were bold with many conquests. Sally only got the soppy ones. That
was her luck. Sally wondered why a good-looking boy so often had a
soppy one with him. She wasn't soppy herself. The boys thought she was;
they never looked at her. But May picked up the good-looking ones, and
Sally had to take what was left. She hated to see her boy always
looking on at the others, at May, and never at herself; she hated to
know that her boy didn't like the look of her, and that he couldn't
think of anything to say to her; and didn't take the trouble to think
very hard. It made Sally snap her teeth. One day, she reassured
herself, it would be different. One day, they'd know.
Slowly she stretched, with her arms high above her head and her
mouth stretched sideways in a yawn. Was mother asleep? She felt cramped
and tired, and as she turned round to the light her eyes blinked at the
contrast with the outer darkness.
Oo! groaned Sally. Tired!
She yawned again, a yawn that ended in a breathless gasp. Mrs. Minto
looked across the room at her.
D'you want any supper? she asked.
Wotcher got? Peaches and cream, and a glass of champagne?
Mrs. Minto wriggled her skinny shoulders and fingered her chin.
Don't you be saucy to me, my gel. There's a bit of dry bread on the
plate there. And half a glass of stout. You might think yourself lucky
to get that.
Well, I s'pose I might. But somehow I don't. Dry bread! It's
Saturday, ain't it? What I mean, pay-day.
There was a sour glance. Mrs. Minto sighed, and looked at the clock,
frowning and wriggling her shoulders. It was a form of constant drill
or shudder that affected her.
Yes, she said. And your father not home. Pubs are closed. Wonder
where he is. Come on, Sally. Get your supper and get to bed. Sharp,
Sally rose to her feet and walked across the room. She cut a hunk of
bread, and stood about munching it, little crumbs gathering upon her
lips. You could see how thin she was when her arm was raised. Yet she
made a few little dancing steps as she ate, and her face was not
without a comical air of mischief. She was an urchin, and she looked
it. She was unscrupulous, and a liar; but she knew a great deal for her
years, and she never shrank from knowledge, because she was athirst for
it. Knowledge which could be turned to account was her preoccupation.
She stood looking at her mother, weighing her up, and in the midst of
her daughterly contempt she had room for a little admiration also. They
were not altogether unlike; but Mrs. Minto had taken the wrong turning.
She had married a drinker, and was a slave. Well, Sally had benefited
by knowledge of that. She might marry a foolprobably would have to do
so, as the wily ones took what they could get and went off on their
own; but she would never marry so incautiously as her mother had done.
Why should she? If one generation does not react to the follies of the
earlier generation, and seek an exactly contrary evil, what becomes of
progress? Sally had her wits. She thought they would never fail her.
As she sat down near her mother, they both heard a sudden slamming
of the front door, two flights of stairs below. Their eyes flew in an
exchanged glance that held trepidation. It was probably dad, and at
this time on a Saturday night dad was usually the worse for wear. Both
listened. There was a heavy step. Then the sound of voicesa woman's
raised voice, and dad's. It was evidently a row. Sally ran to the door,
and they listened to what was passing. Down the half-lighted stairway
they could just discern two figures, faintly outlined in the wavering
flutter of gas. Obviously dad was drunk, for he was haranguing a rather
hysterical Mrs. Clancy, who stood at the foot of the stairs and shouted
after him. She said that he was drunk, that he ought not to come in at
that time of night stumbling about like an ostrich, that decent people
liked a little quiet, if he pleased. Mr. Minto said he would come in
when he chose, and in what state he preferred. He was not obliged to
consult such an indiscriminate mother as Mrs. Clancy, and he would not
do it. Far from it. Far from it. He stood for liberty. He had as good a
right to the staircase as anybody else in the house. More right, in
fact. Let her bring out Mr. Clancy if she wanted a fight.... He then
proceeded to the top of the first flight of stairs. He climbed with
difficulty, missing a stair once in a while, and breathing hard. He was
pursued by an outcry. A third voice was heardthat of Mr. Clancy. It
was directed at first entirely to the woman, and begged her to come
back into the kitchen. They could see her arm caught by Mr. Clancy,
from whom she freed herself by a blow. There was a pause. But Mrs.
Clancy broke out afresh. She was beyond control, passionately shrill,
and quite wildly resentful of what had been said and done in her
Oh dear, oh dear! cried Mrs. Minto, with inadequate petulance. She
stepped out on to the landing, fingering her mouth. Sally tiptoed
after, hardly moved, but intensely curious. She was grinning, but
nervously and with contempt of the row. Joe! called Mrs. Minto. Joe!
Come upstairs. Don't get quarrelling like that. Ought to be ashamed of
yourself. Come upstairs! She looked over the rails at her husband,
like a sparrow on a twig. He was a flight below. Come up here!
There was a fresh outburst from Mrs. Clancy.
You put your 'usband to bed, Mrs. Minto. Pore woman! Pore soul!
Fancy 'aving a thing like that for a 'usband! 'Usband, indeed! A great
noisy drunkard, a great beastly elephant, boozing all his money away.
Drunken fool, stamping about....
You shut your mouth! bawled dad, thickly. You shut your mouth.
See? When I want.... You shut your bloody jaw. See?
Joe! called Mrs. Minto, urgently, a mean little slip peering over
Joe! mimicked Mrs. Clancy. You take him to bed, Mrs. Minto. Take
his boots off. He's not safe. He's a danger, that's what he is. I shall
tell the police, Mr. Minto. It's got to come. You got to stop it. I
shall tell the police. I will, I swear it....
Mr. Minto retorted. His retort provoked Mrs. Clancy to rebuke. The
quarrel was suddenly intensified. It became rougher. Even Sally was
excited, and her hands were clasped together. Mr. Minto lost his
temper. He became mad. A fierce brutality seized him in its
unmanageable grip. They heard him give a kind of frenzied cry of
passion, saw him raise his hands, heard a hurried scuffle at the foot
of the stairs, where the Clancys, both alarmed, drew back towards their
room. And then the rattle of an arm against a rail, a slither, a
bumping, and a low thud. Dad, overbalancing in his rage, had pitched
and fallen headlong down the stairs. Mrs. Minto and Sally set up a thin
screaming. The gas flickered and burned steadily again. A shriek came
from Mrs. Clancy. It was repeated. Mr. Minto lay quite still in a
confused heap in the lower passage.
Dad was dead. It was the end of that stage in Sally's life. After
the funeral, Sally and her mother were quite without money. Everything
was so wretched and unforeseen that the two were lost in this miserable
new aspect of poverty and improvidence. For a time Mrs. Perce was good
to them, and Mrs. Clancy would have been the same if Mrs. Minto had not
stared through her as through a pane of glass. But when that was done,
and the funeral was over, they had nothing. Together they sat in their
bare room above the noisy traffic of Hornsey Road, not speaking much,
but all the time turning and turning in their heads all possible ways
of making money. In another two or three years Sally might have earned
more; but she was not now much above sixteen, and at sixteen, in the
dressmaking, one does not earn a living. And while at first they
thought that Mrs. Minto might get needlework to do, with which Sally
could help, they found this out of the question. Mrs. Minto's eyes were
weak, and she could not keep her seams straight. The machine they had
was ricketty. Sewing, for her, was impossible. For a few days she was
stunned with the new demand for which she was unprepared. She was
nerveless. It made Sally sick to watch her mother and to realise from
the vacancy which so soon appeared upon her face that memory and a kind
of futile pondering had robbed her brains of activity. With a bitter
sense of grudge against life, a tightening of lips already thin, and a
narrowing of eyes already discomfitingly merciless, Sally savagely told
herself that she had to do everything alone. It was she who must save
the situation. The arrogant grasp of this fact made a great impression
upon her mind and her character. Henceforward she no longer dreamed
about men, but was alert in her intention to make everything her tool,
and everybody. From a young girl she had been converted into an
unscrupulous taker from all. The death of her father was a blow which
had suddenly drawn together all those vague determinations which had
lain concealed. There was nothing except dangerous theft from which her
mind shrank. Looking afresh at her mother, she felt stirred by a new
impatience, and a succeeding indifferent contempt. Love had been
killed, and from now onwards she would play for her own hand. Small
teeth met with a snap. Her thin lips were drawn back. Mrs. Minto shrank
from the strange venomous snarl which she saw disfiguring Sally's face.
It was as though Sally felt trapped. Everything had been spoilt by
this unexpected happening, and Sally's unconscious helplessness
revealed. It was a blow to her vanity, a douche to her crude
romanticism. She had felt cramped and irritable before; but now she was
made to realise how little she had with which to fight against calamity
and the encroachments of others. Compared with this new danger, of
starvation or slavery, all old discomforts were shown to have been
trivial, because they had been accidents in a life which, however rough
and ugly had been at least absorbed in plans for enjoyment. Now plans
for enjoyment gave place to expedients for protection. Sally was indeed
fierce and resentful. It was with animosity that she put together the
few sticks of rubbish which remained to them and helped her mother to
rearrange these things in a single room which they had taken on the
other side of Holloway Road. No more for them the delights of Hornsey
Road and three rooms; but the confined space surrounded by these four
dingy walls. What wonder that Sally was desperate for fresh air, for
escape, and ran out of doors as soon as she could wriggle free! What
wonder that she walked quickly about the dark streets! Tears came to
her eyes, and with clenched fists she secretly whimpered in this new
angry despair. Of what avail? She was alone, and the streets were dark;
and behind her lay that one room, gloomy and wretched, with a
speechless ruminating mother for solitary welcome; and no hope ... no
The roads she now so wildly trod were familiar ground to Sally. They
were all gravelled roads, upon which in the evenings boys and girls
cycled and flirted, and in which on Saturdays and after school hours
children bowled their hoops and played together. As the darkness grew,
the roads were more deserted, for the children were in bed, and the
boys and girls were not allowed out. Then appeared young men and girls
of slightly greater age and of a different class, the girls walking two
by two, the young men likewise. The young men cleared their throats,
the girls peeped and a little raised their voices, a relation was
established, and still the pairs continued to promenade, safe in
couples, and relishing the thought that they were enjoying stolen
acquaintance. Sally knew the whole thing through and through. She had
walked so with May. She had tried to talk to the boys and found them
soppy, and herself soppy, and everything soppy. She had wanted more and
more excitement, and all this strolling and holding hands in the dark,
and snatching them away, and running, and being caught, was tame to her
eager longing for greater adventure. And now she walked rapidly about
the roads, her eyes full of despair, her heart heavy, her brain active
and contemptuous. She knew her own cleverness. She knew it too well.
And it was smarting now at being proved such an ignominiously valueless
possession. She might be clever, she might have brains enough to
despise May Pearcey; but she had not the power to make a living. She
must still pinch and starve beside her mother. Trapped! Trapped!
It was a matter of weeks, this mood of indignant despair, of baffled
powerlessness in face of reality. And each night, after such a lonely
walk, in such a vehement mood, Sally would return to the miserable room
in which for the present she was to spend her life. It was at the back
of the house, on the second floor, and there was another floor above.
The room had a stained ceiling and a wallpaper that had discoloured in
streaks. The original pattern had been of small flowers on a
pseudo-primrose background. Now all was merged in a general stagnation
of Cambridge blue and coffee colour. Mrs. Minto had carefully put the
washstand beneath a patch that had been washed nearly white by
splashes; and Sally had insisted that it should stand in another part
of the room. But that's where a washstand's stood before, wailed Mrs.
Minto. That's why, explained Sally, brutally. Put the
chest-of-drawers there. I don't want to splash exactly where
other people have splashed. Not likely! The place ought to have been
When their bed and the washstand and a table and the chairs and
chest-of-drawers were in there was not much to arrange. Nor was there
room for very much, because the bed took up about a quarter of the
space. The Mintos had no pictures. They thus anticipated the best
modern taste. But the consequence was that if Sally happened to be
irritable she saw the wallpaper, and the wallpaper drove her crazy. It
was a constant exasperation to her. Her extremely good taste was
beginning to bud, and wallpaper is as vital an æsthetic test as any
other. She had not yet the power or the knowledge to dress effectively,
but she was already learning intuitively such things as harmony and
colour-values. She gave an eye to neatness and cleanliness, and knew
how to riddle the costumes of girls of her own class, beginning with
May Pearcey. She also was becoming aware of all Miss Jubb's
deficiencies. Higher than her own class she could not well go, because
she never had opportunities for seeing well-dressed women. It was so
much the Minto habit to rise late on Sundays, to sit about during the
afternoon, and to go out only when other people were generally indoors,
that Sundays were wasted days. Moreover, Sally had not in the past
thought much of other girls. She had thought only of boys. Even her new
spruceness was a comparatively recent manifestation. She was growing.
She was growing so fast that her old knowledges had been undermined.
She felt raw. She felt merely exasperated with the past, so that she
desired only to forget it. All she had seemed to know and to relish had
become insipid to Sally. She was chafing at her new position, and was
unconsciously looking round and round her, bewildered, for a new path
to follow. She could no longer take the old silly pleasure in hearing
of May's fresh conquests, which gave May such monotonous delight. She
abandoned boys, and was rewarded for her emancipation by May's
indignant sniffs at her loss of spirit. May was driven to take a new
comrade, a girl prettier than Sally, and therefore more of a rival. So
May was equally dissatisfied with the present position. She had lost
ground, and some of her victories were invented. Nellie Cavendish had a
sharp tongue, and that helped May; but Nellie was less coarsely
confident than May, and annexed the boys by means of her demureness in
face of double meanings. May could not refrain from turning away to
hide a burst of laughter. That gave Nellie an advantage, and May
secretly longed to hunt once more with Sally. When the old times could
not be recaptured, May sneered in self-defence. The two girls did not
chatter over their work now when they were left alone. They became
hostile, each aggrieved, and both mutually contemptuous. Sally kept to
her stitching, and glowered. May thought to herself. Sally abruptly
announced the soppiness of May's continued exploits. When asked by her
mother if she were not going out with May, Sally returned the cold
answer that May was soft, and continued to walk alone, much disturbed,
and privately indignant that her mother should be so blind as to ignore
the alteration that had come about. She was lonely and wretched,
spoiling for any mischief that might offer.
Material for the use of such desperation never lacks. It arose
naturally. Toby came into her life.
Toby was a young man of about twenty years of age, who lived in the
house. She caught sight of him one night as she returned home, for he
was running down the stairs as she went up them. He was of middle
height, very dark and rather stoutly built; and he wore a cap. That was
all she noticed at their first encounter, since the stairs were dark:
that, and the fact that he did not draw to one side as they met. The
contact filled her mind with sudden interest. She thought about him as
she munched her supper, and wondered what he was really like. She
wreathed around Toby quite a host of guessesnot very deep or vivid,
but sufficiently so to make her think of him still as she undressed and
slipped into bed beside her mother. Her last thought before sleep came
was a faint enjoyment of the knowledge that a young man lived in the
same house. It was the faintest of thoughts, due solely to her
restlessness; but in the gloom she was conscious of him and of the
conviction that they would meet again upon the stairs. For that time
this was as far as speculation could carry her. Sally did not think of
herself at allonly that there was a young man, and that she should
see him again. The rest of her attention was absorbed in the endeavour
to remember all she had noticed of his appearance in that hasty
meeting. She had seen enough to be sure of recognising him again with
the house as associative background. That was all. Knowing it, she feel
asleep, and dreamed of a sudden gift of beauty and attractiveness.
For several days Sally did not see the young man, and so she half
forgot him, lost him in the mixture of her more pressing
preoccupations. Every morning she rose at eight o'clock, after her
mother had left the house for her first situation, and then,
breakfasting slowly, she had just time to reach Miss Jubb's by nine.
She did not like Miss Jubb, who was a thin-faced and fussy person who
always wore a grey pinafore and felt that her untidy grey hair looked
as though it might hint a sorrow rather than betray advancing years.
Miss Jubb was full of the futile vanity of the elderly spinster, her
mouth full of pins, and her head full of paper patterns. She lived with
her mother on two floors of an old house, and one of the downstairs
rooms was used on Sundays for sitting in and during the week for trying
on. The work she did never suggested anything of the enormous pains
Miss Jubb took in fitting, in fastening pins and cutting out. She was
incurably a bad dressmaker; but she gave her clients the impression
that she knew her business. This was because she was so careful, and
because they knew no better than she did what women may and may not
wear with propriety. The backs of all skirts coming from Miss Jubb
drooped lower than the fronts. Her bodices always went wrong upon the
shoulders. She was great on tucks. But she was cheap, and she was
Sybil-like in her mysterious assurance. So she supported herself and
her mother; while May and Sally did the rough basting and all sorts of
odd jobs in the room behind the parlour. Here were the big cutting-out
table, the treadled sewing machine, three or four chairs, many
fragments of material, several half-made garments, and, upon the walls,
a number of coloured prints from fashion papers. In such surroundings
Sally spent her days. She ate her lunch at twelve o'clock, and had her
tea at four. And as her fingers worked, or her feet occasionally by
special permission propelled the sewing machine, she thought of the
future and planned to get into the West End.
It was the West End that now lured her. If only she could get into
the West End all her troubles would be wiped away at once, she felt.
She could possibly make more money there; but even if she did not
succeed in that aim she would still be in the running for better work.
That she could do better work she never doubted. And she knew that as
long as she was with Miss Jubb she would never do anything at all. Some
instinct told her that. She knew it. She knew it as clearly as if she
had surveyed the future from above. It was not that she was suddenly
wise; but only that ambition had come into her consciousness. The blow
she had received by her father's death had struck deep into her
character. She had now to make something of her life, or starve. With a
quick circle of thought she imagined her mother dead. What would happen
then? What chance had she? Only vaguely did Sally glimpse the
possibilities. She knew she could not keep herself. She had one
aunther mother's sisterwith two boy children who were both younger
than Sally; but Aunt Emmy had a rough time herself, and could hardly be
a help. Sally saw clearly enough that she had to fight alone. Very
well, if she had to fight alone she would do it, and fight hard. As she
scowled, it became evident that Sally would in this fight
unscrupulously use every weapon that she could seize. She would not
shrink from anything that put opportunity into her head. She was
already hardeneda kind of hardening on the surface, or in strata,
which left curious soft places in her nature, streaks of good and
layers and patches of armour and grit and callous cruelty. Above all,
she was determined upon having money. Money was the essential thing.
Money meant safety. And safety, when starvation threatens, becomes the
one imperious if ignominious ideal. Once one has known physical hunger,
no act is inconceivable as a means of averting the risk of a similar
Thus Sally's thoughts ran, not coherently or explicitly, but in
vehement revolts and resolves. Thus she ruminated, while Miss Jubb was
out of the room or had her attention so distracted that she could not
observe an idle apprentice. When Miss Jubb came back to the room or to
supervision work had a little to be hurried, so that she might not find
occasion for complaint. For Miss Jubb had a sharp tongue, and although
she took the pins out of her mouth before she talked she showed that
they had left their influence upon her tongue, which was sharp to a
fault. And there, across the room, was the rosy-cheeked May Pearcey, so
silly, so incapable of more than momentary resentment, that she was
always forgetting that Sally and she no longer spoke, but was always
trying to encourage Sally into a return to their former relation.
Sometimes Sally would glower across at May, bitterly hating her and
riddling her plumpness and folly with the keen eye of malice. May,
unconscious of the scrutiny, would go on with her work, self-satisfied,
much coarser and more physical in her appetites than Sally, still in
spite of all the rebuffs she had received grinning about her boys and
what they had said and what they had meant....
Oo, he is awful! she would burst out to Sally. The things he
said. I dint half blush.
May had enjoyed his boldness, it seemed. She told Sally what he had
said. She told her things and things in the irresistible splurge of the
silly girl whose mind is full of adolescent impurity. Well, Sally knew
all that. She knew all the things that boys said; and a few more things
she had noticed and thought for herself. She was not a prude. May
didn't know anything that Sally did not know; but she talked about it.
Sally did not talk. Her sexual knowledges, so far as they went, were as
close and searching as a small-tooth comb, and collected as much that
was undesirable. She despised May. May was a fool. She was soppy,
talking about all these things as if they were new marvels, when they
were as old as the hills and as old as the crude coquetries of boys and
girls. May was the soppiest girl in Holloway. Yet the boys liked her
for her plump face and arms and legs, and her red cheeks, and her
self-conscious laugh, and her eyes that held guilt and evil and general
silliness and vanity. The boys liked May. They did not like Sally. She
was too small and sandy; too obviously critical and contemptuous in
face of their small stock of talk, and too greedy of their poor and
pompously-displayed schemes for economical entertainment. Sally's teeth
showed like the teeth of a cat, very small and sharp, emblems of her
nature. Conceit took firmer root in her heart because of her contempt
for May and her inevitable suppressions of pain and resentment in face
of neglect, as well as her suppressions of knowledge gained by a mental
process so quick that May could never have had the smallest notion of
it. Sally became secret, and her determination was made more emphatic.
She began to study her face, and her body. One day her mother found her
naked in front of a mirror, twisting herself so that she could see the
poise of her figure. It was a pretty figure, if underdeveloped, and
from that time of thorough examination onwards Sally never had the
smallest doubt of her own attractiveness and its principal
constituents. Only her face was wrong, she felt with bitter chagrin;
her face and her hair. If her face were fatter and less freckled, and
if her hair were not so sandy and pale, she would be pretty. Really
pretty. Pretty enough to make a man go silly. Well, such things could
be cured, couldn't they? Or, if not cured, then at least improved....
That was a notion that dwelt constantly in Sally's thoughts.
The point was, that she must have actual experience in rousing men.
It was not that she had determined upon marriage as a way out of her
present difficulties. At the back of her mind, perhaps, was always the
knowledge that she must get a man to work for her; but this never
became an obsession. She was simply a growing girl, hungry for
experience, and at the outset hampered by circumstance. Unless
something happened to her, Sally was doomed to poverty and suffering.
Therefore, full of raw confidence, she was determined that she should
be the heroine of her own romance. Her impulse was not to give, but to
take. She did not long to be the loving help of a good man, but was
ever craftily bent upon exploiting the weaker sides of those she met
for the furtherance of her own ends.
It was several days before she met Toby again; but she waited with a
kind of patience wholly in keeping with the rest of her nature. She
always expected to meet him upon the stairs, and never did so. In the
streets she looked for him. Nights, however, were dark and Toby
apparently elusive. But one evening she was running down the three
steps at the front door just as he arrived home. With a quick breath
she ventured a good evening. When he answered, she was filled with a
pleasure which she would have found it hard to explain. Evening, said
Toby, surlily, and passed on. Sally gave a small grimace, a faint jerk
of the head. That was done. A few more days passed. Still in the
darkness she saw him a third time, now as she closed the door of the
room, while Toby hurried to the floor above. By questions, she had
found out that he lived exactly over them, and that his aunt had the
room next to his, in the front of the house. This aunt she never saw,
as she was very exclusive, and did not associate at all with her
neighbours. Toby's surname she could not learn; but his aunt was called
Mrs. Tapping. The aunt had an annuity. Toby worked somewhere in the
neighbourhood; and Sally soon discovered the time of his departure and
return. She knew these so well that she could have told you to the
minute when his foot might be expected upon the stairs. If he happened
to be late she could have remarked upon it to her mother if she had
been in the habit of telling her mother anything at all.
Later, when they had been in the house about three weeks, she had a
triumph. She was going out one evening and was barely down the first
two or three stairs when she heard him running behind her. He was
forced to pull up, and, from a peep, she saw that he was still half a
flight above. Their progress from that instant coincided. They reached
the front door almost at the same time. She left it open, and as Toby
came out she turned and smiled good evening. He replied. Sally
followed with Beautiful, isn't it! and then went slowly towards
Tollington Park. Would he follow? She was almost breathless, her eyes
downcast, her ears strained. He did not follow. Sally frowned. A sneer
came to her lips. Then a pensiveness succeeded, and resolve became
fixed. All right; he did not follow. He was a man. All the more worthy
of her address.
Moreover, she had noticed him more clearly than ever before, because
the gas in the hall had lighted his face as she turned upon the
threshold. He was strong, and she adored strength. He was broad and
muscular and dark. He had dark eyes under heavy brows. His age she
supposed to be about twenty or slightly above. As she recollected these
details Sally's face became inscrutable. All the same, her walk had
lost its savour, and she returned home earlier than usual. How
miserable it was that she had no other girl of her own age to go about
with. Boys always went in twos. So did girls. The one gave the other
courage. Yet Sally was done with May. May was soppy. She did not, in
thinking this, do anything but envy May; but all the same she knew that
Toby's solitariness matched her own. It was an augury. She lay awake
until he came home, listening to her mother breathing; and then, in a
few minutes, heard eleven o'clock strike.
The next time this happened, and they met so definitely, Toby looked
sharply at her. Sally did nothing, but paused an instant. He followed
her with his eyes. Then, he stepped to her side. It was the moment and
Sally stopped sharply, shrinking a little from him.
Going out alone? Toby said. Mind if I come too? He walked beside
her. I mean ... live in the same house.
Oh, he had plenty of assurance.
All right; you can come, Sally vouchsafed. She was not going to
show eagerness; but she was thrilling with excitement. She moistened
her lips, her nostrils pinched and her eyes suddenly shrewd. She felt
her heart beating terribly in her breast, and was half the calculating
victor and half a genuinely shrinking young girl engaged in her first
For a few moments both Toby and Sally were silent. Everything
depended upon the establishment of some instant connection between
them, for otherwise the nerve of both might fail, and a fiasco result.
Toby's step hesitated, as though he was beset by an impulse to leave
her. Sally shot a quick glance. He was wavering, and must be held.
Nice night, isn't it? she remarked, in a ladylike way.
The inclination to fly was checked. Toby remained by her side. They
walked together about the streets for an hour, he smoking cigarette
after cheap cigarette, and every now and then saying something that was
nothing. He was not a good talker. He could not express himself, but
said er between words, and moved his hands. Partly it was
nervousness. Sally often grinned at knowledge of this and of his bad
way of speaking, which made him sometimes appear almost loutish. But
behind every roughness there lay a hidden strength that she was ready
to worship. She walked beside him with steps quicker than his own, but
a good swing; exulting in their power to walk in unison, a thin little
figure beside his stoutness, her large black straw hat hiding her every
expression except when she tilted up her head and in the light of a
street lamp showed a tiny white face. Toby slouched along, one hand
sometimes in a trouser pocket, but more often with both hands in
restless motion. She could hear him: I mean to say ... these yobs go
about ... penn'orth of chocolates and a drink at the fountain. That's
all the dinner they get. Wear a tiddy little bowler hat and never brush
their boots.... Office boys, they are; and call 'emselves junior
clurks. And what's it come to? I mean to say.... I'd rather work with
my hands, like a man.... What's the matter with a little dirt? Comes
off, doesn't it?
Oo ... yes ... sighed Sally, admiringly.
At last, pursuing this theme, Toby told her an anecdote about one of
the other fellows at his work. Sally listened with a breathless
interest that was only half-feigned. She wanted him to think she
understood. She wanted him to like her. She even wanted to sympathise.
It was such a mixture of feelings she hadsome good, some mischievous
and deliberate. All her vanities were involved. Her nerves were taut
with the strain of such a show of absorption, while her mind ran on at
top speed. She asked pseudo-timid questions, just to show her interest
and her cleverness, and to encourage Toby to keep on telling her things
that threw light upon himself and his likes and dislikes. She walked
delicately, stifled yawns, interjected fancy and there as if she
understood all he said. She beguiled him. And all the time, under the
design, her heart was soft towards him, soft and admiring.
They walked along the darkened streets at a slow pace, and the
passers were few. Once or twice they encountered hushed couples,
sometimes laughing groups. Always Sally glanced stealthily, and summed
up those whom they saw; and had a tail glance for Toby. He appeared to
ignore everything, and slouched along at her side, as he must have done
when alone, with his head lowered. She could not make him out. In some
ways he was so self-confident, in others so much as though he had never
looked at a girl before. Did he know girls? Did he know what they were
like? What a mysterya delicious mystery! He wasn't soppy, yet he
hardly looked at her. Funny ... funny! So she mused; continuing to give
his talk quite half her attention.
At last ten o'clock struck, and, although both wanted to stay out
longer, Sally was prudent and firm. She said mother would wonder what
had happened, and laughed a little in her excitement, at the innuendo,
and in encouraging flattery. Must go, she added, lingering. So
Toby took her back to the corner of their road, it being a strict
unspoken covenant that they should not enter the house together, in
case they should be seen. There was no handshake; but Sally had the
satisfaction of seeing Toby awkwardly move the peak of his cap in
parting. That was ever so good, she thought. Her hard scrutiny of his
manner found as yet no cause for suspicion, but only for a renewal of
her curiosity concerning him. Toby showed no sign of any feeling beyond
satisfaction with her, and this was an irresistible flattery. She ran
in, full of excitement.
What was the truth about him? Sally's thoughts bit into her
observation with intense gusto. She turned and twisted all her
impressions during a couple of wakeful hours; and she remained full of
glee. What a piece of luck. Toby! Toby, Toby, Toby! How quickly her
mind worked! It was like acid, testing and comparing; and yet its
action was soft and caressing when she remembered his figure and his
voicesome of the little gestures, some turns of speech, his sturdy
contempt for what he called yobs, which she discovered to be the word
boys spelt in an unfamiliar way. Those were the things she loved. The
rest she had exploited. The mixture of pleasure and tactics filled her
with delicious dread and hunger.
When the following evening came, Sally deliberately waited until she
heard Toby go out. Only after a delay of five minutes did she put on
her hat and coat in opposition to her mother's command. What was
mother? There was a faint flush on Sally's cheeks, and a new sparkle in
her eyes. She was engaged upon an adventure. She dallied as she went
down the stairs. At the door she checked herself once more. What if he
were not there? To herself she said that she would not mind; but that
was a lie which she told to her wits. Her heart gave a different
How dark it was! At first Sally could see nothing. The moon, if
there was one, hid itself behind black clouds. Only specks of light
came from street lamps and between the slats of Venetian blinds. A wind
hustled about, blowing up for rain, and uncomfortably draughty. As
Sally stood on the step the door slammed behind her, and she heard a
rattling run all through the house, a banging of other doors and
trembling of window-panes. And then, as she lowered her head to meet
the dusty breeze, she felt Toby beside her, at her elbow, expectant.
Sally gave a start and a cry, for he had been so silent in the midst of
all these alarms as to come unexpectedly.
How you startled me! she exclaimed coquettishly. Thought you'd
gone out long ago!
Toby gave a sort of half-confused laughing grunt.
Hours ago I went out, he said, very close to her, deliciously
Didn't think you'd remember.... I didn't say I'd come....
Have you been waiting? Sally sounded very nearly affected in her
unplanned speech. Toby answered with a sort of off-hand nonchalance.
Only a minute. That's all right. I was afraid you weren't coming.
Afraid! What a lovely word! He continued, with his hand quickly at her
elbow: Shall we go round Fairmead?
When he spoke as he was doing now, Toby's rough voice dropped to a
low note that he believed to be gentle. It was in fact still vibrant;
but Sally liked everything about his tone and his manner. It made her
feel that he was a man; and manliness was everything to her. She longed
while she was with him to meet May ... to show her.... It would have
given Sally fierce joy. For the rest, she was content. He was by her
side. Their arms touched from time to time. When the wind blew extra
strong, she clutched him, and they stood together to resist the onset.
And at every touch Sally had fresh sense of strength and adventure.
What you been doing to-day? she asked, as talk flagged. He told
her. He told her a great deal more about himself, and about his aunt.
He had had the most marvellous adventures. Sally could not believe them
all; but she was charmed by the narrative. Toby talked more freely. He
hesitated less, and was more confident. Sally felt sure he must have
known other girls. You didn't talk like that if you were new to it. She
was again curious. Once she almost blurted out the question; but she
stayed the words in time. It would have been a mistake to ask anything
at this stage. It would have seemed possessive. It might have alarmed
him. Anyway, she thought, if he has, what does that matter? To
her it was an added pleasure, that he might be wise and
experienced. It was a greater flattery; it called for greater resource
Once, when they had stopped and Sally had stood close to him so that
he might light a fresh cigarette under the shelter of her body, Toby
blew forth a puff of smoke and put his arm round her. Very coolly did
Sally free herself, perfectly mistress of the situation; but she liked
him the better for his boldness. It was the sort of thing she had
dreameda lover who was ardent, a lover who had to be repelled, so
that the delight of ultimate surrender should be fully savoured. Was he
a lover? Sally shivered. The attempt and the rebuff made them more
intimate, as though an understanding had been reached between them.
They walked along elbow to elbow, at first silent, and then talking
freely, both in good-humor and with continued interest. In the safe
darkness Sally's eyes glistened. The very faintest smile made her mouth
enigmatic. Already she carried herself with fresh assurance. She was
conscious of her power, and altogether resolved to maintain it by
All this time Toby had never seen Sally in daylight. He had seen her
in a glimpse under the flickering hall gas, and again from time to time
in the shine of street lamps; but he had never once been with her in
daylight. She herself was conscious of this, at first accidental, but
now deliberate, mystification; and she dreaded the disclosure that was
bound to come. It was not, she knew, that she was ugly; but only that
to a man like Toby her small face and sandy hair might mark her down
and ruin everything. She feared to notice a change in him, a change
from their present and increasingly confidential relation to an
indifference, a contempt, which she might find unbearable. The feeling
was acute. It was not solely due to dependence upon Toby, but was a
part of her long-suffered self-disparagement and a fear, almost
fatalistic, that she could never keep a man's interest. The fear grew
more intense as she fell into the bitter-sweets of a lover's doubtings.
The day must come, and then what would happen? She longed to twine
herself into his life before he could see her clearly. Perhaps then he
would not notice? Perhaps even now he knew, and did not mind?
That was one mood. Another was a recognition of her own piquancy. In
this stronger mood, she concentrated upon her own prettiness, the
slimness of her body, her power to please him. But the confidence did
not last, because he had become a necessity to her. Having
half-determined to snare him, Sally was herself snared by the gins of
love. She was hard, but she was soft. She was cold, but she was warm.
And as each day she used the sewing machine or roughly stitched the raw
material for Miss Jubb's costumes, Sally always looked to the nights.
When it rained, and she had to stay indoors, she chafed irritably and
went early to bed. When she met Toby she was full of unwonted high
spirits. For a long time she did not know what had happened to her.
Then at last the truth flashed out one morning as she lay in bed, and
with a little laughing sound Sally knew that she was in love.
She was in love. And Toby, how did he feel? A new stage had been
reached, when her caution was directed to an altogether different end.
She did not now seek so coolly to play with his inclinations. She had
great need for care lest she should betray her own secret. The
occasional contacts with him had become an eager need, and must be
checked so as to make them appear as accidental as they were
deliberate. Sally was not withholding from coquetry, but from dread
lest she should give herself away and show herself over-willing. She
noticed everything he did, without watchful scrutiny, and with the
merest quickness of her caressing glance. She loved everything in him,
his speech and his movements, his strength, his stubbornness, his rough
carriage and silence. She loved him. She feared him. She did not dare
to risk losing him. Above all, she longed to be in Toby's arms, to be
desired by him.
Once, when she was examining her face in the mirror, and trying to
imagine just how pretty Toby might be made to think her, Sally lost her
nerve. She was tearful all that day, tearful and speechless, so that a
rebuke from Miss Jubb brought about a real fit of crying. Miss Jubb,
astounded at such a collapse, instantly abandoned blame and showed true
kindness of heart, while May Pearcey looked on with round saucer eyes
above her round apple cheeks. And Sally went home early, ashamed of
herself, once more irritable to viciousness, and spent the time before
her mother's return lying upon the bed and trying to sleep. There was
no walk that night. Toby went out as usual, and even ventured a whistle
when she did not come; but Sally remained indoors. She did not, indeed,
hear the whistle, as she was at the back of the house; but she knew he
was waiting. She dared not go. In half an hour she heard Toby return,
and go tramping indignantly up to his room directly above. The sound
made her cry more than ever, but very quietly, in case her mother
should hear and awaken.
The next night was even more wretched, for Toby went out and was
nowhere to be seen when Sally followed him. She walked fruitlessly in
the directions they had taken upon previous evenings, and came back
disconsolate and exhausted. Pale and ill, Sally could not sleep. She
had been living poorly, and her spirit was low. The future was dismal.
Toby must have thrown her over. It was in vain that her wits consoled
her with the certainty that he must have missed her, that a boy who did
not care about her would never have shown such surly pique as his. So
great had her love become that she could not listen to such
reassurance. Only the worst was convincing enough for her misery. He
was gone. He was done with her. She had lost him. No wonder then when
she was alone Sally's eyes filled with weak tears.
Fortunately enough the next day was a Saturday, and she was able to
go alone up to Waterlow Park, on Highgate Hill. She walked up the
Holloway Road alone, and saw the autumn sun flashing upon the cross
which stands erect above St. Joseph's dome. The air was already murky
with the heaviness of the season. Leaves lay upon the ground and in the
pathways. The cable-cars grunted and groaned upon the hill, and the
Park looked bleak in the daylight. But the exercise did Sally good, and
she saw other people, and watched some children playing touch until the
Park bell rang to show that the gates were going to be closed. Even
then she lingered, watching the moving figures and noticing the
greenness of the grass under the shrivelling leaves.
From that walk she returned more healthy and in better spirits. She
determined to go out marketing with her mother in the evening, and
walked back past the flaring lamps, at which women were already
crowding, with her head in the air and her courage high. She almost
forgot Toby while she was bathed in this flustering brilliance of light
and noise. Only far below, in her heart, continued that inexhaustible
consciousness of her love. Even in this temporary oblivion she shivered
as she came to the darker part of the road.
Sally was once again among shops; and then she went down a side
road. And her heart was beating rather fast as she approached the
house, in case Toby should meet her. It was with a mingled relief and
chagrin that she reached the house alone. She was inside the door now,
and the woman on the ground floor was just standing on a chair to light
the gas. Sally had to wait for a minute until she plunged heavily down
and dragged the chair aside.
Oh, said the woman. There's a letter for you. It's just come.
It was not often that Sally had a letter. Had Toby written to her?
She pounced upon the envelope. Fancy his doing that! Oh, no. It was
only from Aunt Emmy, at Brixton. Well, perhaps Aunt Emmy knew somebody
in the West End. What could she have written about?
Is mother in, d'you know? Sally asked the woman.
I fancy ... yes, I fancy she just went out. Shoppin',
I expect. It's a nice evening. You know, what I call crisp. Not that
sort of muggy ... ugh.... She gave a great shudder, as the man in the
fairy tale did when his wife poured gudgeon upon him while he slept.
Sally, threatened with a lengthy conversation, made for the stairs.
She reached their room, which was lighted; and so she knew that her
mother would not be long. A kettle was singing on a small fire of coal
blocks, and the teapot was laid to warm. Sally looked round the room,
guessed that her mother had gone out for tea or sugar, and tore open
her letter. In ugly crude writing she read the kind words Aunt Emmy had
Dear Sally. How are you and your mother? She takes no notice
I write to her, so perhaps I'd better start writing to you.
news I've got. I've won thirty-five pounds in a competition. I
don't know how I did it any more than you do. Anyway, Sally, I
don't want to forget my little niece, and so here's a little
something for you. I'm giving the boys some, and buying a new
dress, and then I'm going to bank the rest against a rainy
Waste not, want not, you know. Don't tell mummy I've sent you
anything, but spend it on yourself, love. Get a bit of
nice. Your affectionate Aunt Emmy.
Enclosed was a postal-order for a pound. Sally's heart seemed to
stop beating for an instant. She looked again at the postal-order, and
with a sharp movement put it inside her blouse. Then she put the letter
in the fire, and watched it flame and blacken and flick to pieces in
the draught. Slowly, thinking with all her might, she took off her
out-of-doors jacket and hung it up. A pound! She was rich! With a pound
you could do a lot. You could ... you could buy material for a frock.
You could buy underclothes, stockings, shoes. Not all of them, but what
you wanted. Or you could buy a hat and sweets and scent and ... oh,
lots of things! A whole pound to spend! Slowly, slowly came Sally's
mind round to something from which it instantly darted away. It crept
back again. It seized upon her will. With a pound you could ... you
could make your hair look nice and your face....
After the resolve, Sally was quite cool. She turned to greet her
mother with entire self-possession. But her ears were strained, because
overhead she heard a heavy footstep.
The thing determined, Sally was faced with a great difficulty. She
did not know how to do things. She had to find out. You couldn't make a
fool of yourself and ask at a shop. She had talked to May once or twice
about ... making your hair look nice ... well, dyeing it, if you wanted
to know; and May could only show her advertisements clipped from the
Sunday paper. She had not kept those advertisements: she had not liked
the look of them. Mother wouldn't know. She must do it at once. A bold
plan had come into her mind. She was near the end of her second year
with Miss Jubb. She could go into the West End if only she looked nice
enough. If she could do it to-night or to-morrow she could meet May
Pearcey first thing on Monday morning, get her to tell Miss Jubb Sally
was ill, and perhaps go after some situation during the day. What a
game! But how was she to get the stuff? That was the difficulty. No, it
was the easiest thing of all. Mrs. Perce! Mrs. Perce used peroxide,
because she had once been a barmaid. But that meant a long time. Sally
must have something quick in its action. Mrs. Perce would know. Mrs.
Perce knew everything of that kind. The notion of going shopping with
her mother was abandoned. She had more important things to do. She
would go and see Mrs. Perce immediately after tea. Then, while old
Perce was playing the piano, she would get to know everything. Sally
became wildly animated. She glimpsed the future. Transformed, she would
conquer. Toby would be won. She would be in the West End. A whole new
vista opened before her, glittering with promise. Never had she been so
excited, even when Toby first spoke to her.
Mrs. Minto wearily threw off her dingy cloak and raked the fire, so
that the kettle began to boil. She looked in a lethargic way at Sally,
as a cat looks at a stranger in whom it is not at all interested; and
then mechanically took down the tea-caddy from the mantelpiece. As she
stooped over the kettle there seemed to be cramp in all her limbs. The
little bell-pull of hair was smaller than ever, and the hair itself was
more grey. Her whole bearing expressed a lifeless dejection. Panting
faintly as the result of her late posture, Mrs. Minto brought the
teapot to the spotless table, and clumsily touched the teacups and
spoons so that they jarred upon Sally's nerves. Everything her mother
did now annoyed Sally. The slow motions, the awkward way in which her
fingers turned to thumbs, the shortsightedness that made her unable to
thread a needle or read a paper except through an old magnifying glass,
the general air of debility and discouragement. Sally felt furious with
her all the timeOld fool ... old fool! she would frantically murmur
to herself; and then would fall again into despair at her own sensation
of frustrate youth. She had lost love for her mother, had no pity to
give in its place; and only awoke in these moments of dreadful
exasperation to the sense that she was still dependent upon Mrs. Minto
for her existence. During this tea-time, while her mother mutely ate
bread and margarine, Sally was away in the clouds, dreaming of all that
her windfall was to produce. It was to produce beauty, opportunity,
happiness. So much for a pound to do! Sally was so impatient to call on
Mrs. Perce that she could hardly eat anything or drink her tea.
You are worritting and fidgetting, Sally, cried Mrs. Minto,
peevishly. Sit still, there's a good girl. I don't know what's come to
my 'ead. It feels all funny inside, and if I put my hand there it's
like I got a bruise. And yet I don't remember knockin' myself
anywheres, and I can't understand it at all, because it's not as if I'd
taken anything to disagree with me; and yet there it is, a nasty pain
all inside my 'ead and a feeling as though I'd got a bruise on the
outside. I was telling Mrs. ... oh, dear, what is her name?... Mrs. ...
Roberson about it, and she said that's what her 'usband used to suffer
from, and ... he took....
Sally ignored the rest of the speech. Her mother rambled on; and
Sally looked at the clock. She'd get to Hornsey Road about six. That
would be time enough. There would be the Clancy kids playing in the
doorway, so she would go straight upstairs to Mrs. Perce; and she would
Self-absorbed, both went mechanically on with the unappetising meal.
Upstairs Toby walked once more into his own room; and then came running
heavily down the stairs and past their door and then right down to the
street. Sally's heart was in a flutter, and her eyes flew once again to
the clock. It was so early for Toby to be going out. She would not see
him, then. She would not see him, and all her excitement was gone like
an exploded toy balloon. The heart was taken out of her enterprise. He
was going out: he did not want her: he was finished with her. Sally
could not repress the single sob that rose to her lips.
... so I asked Mr. Flack if they'd ever kep' it, and he said no,
they never had, and told me to try at Boots's, down by the Nag's
Oh, mother, cried Sally, beside herself. Do shut up about
your head. It gives me the hump. Then, as she became aware of what she
had said, she defensively proceeded. Well, you keep on talking about
it, and it doesn't do any good to talk about it. If you want to
know, I'm ill myself. I've got a headache, and I've got the rats....
You got no call to speak to your mother that way, said Mrs. Minto.
If I'd a spoke to my mother like that, I should have got the
strap. So mind that, Sally. It's not nice. I've noticed you getting
very unmannerly and out of hand lately. Very rude. I don't know what to
do with you, you're so rude. It's not right, and it worries me so that
I can't think what I'm doing. I was talking about it the other day to
Mrs. Roberson, and she says....
Yes, ma, said Sally, rising, and going to the door to take her hat
down from the peg. She seems to have got a lot to say. Doesn't seem to
be much sense in what she says.
Now, you're not to.... By this time Sally had one sleeve on and
was feeling for the other. In a glance at her little peaked determined
face, and obstinate mouth, Mrs. Minto's spirit suddenly failed. Where
she had meant to be maternally peremptory she became querulous.
Wherever you going now? she asked weakly. Oh, you are a
naughty wilful girl.
Out, said Sally, bluntly. Unheeding the outcry that followed, she
was out of the door and down the stairs before her mother could check
her; and with a new ugly sense of revolt was on her way to see Mrs.
Perce in a mood of reckless despair. Left alone, Mrs. Minto washed
feebly up, and sighingly dried the cups and plates and rearranged them
in the cupboard. Presently she sat in a limp curve over the fire, in a
kind of stupor, dreaming of she knew not what. Every now and then she
would give a jerk in anger at Sally's rudeness and recently
uncontrollable highhandedness, which recurred to her attention whenever
her thoughts touched reality. For the rest she sat motionless, until
the coal-blocks subsided and the fire went black.
Out in the dark streets, Sally was as if enveloped. First she looked
this way and that for Toby; but he was gone. A wave of hysteria passed
over her. She hated him. She hated him for such loutish cruelty. He
didn't care. And because he did not care, although she tried to feel
indifferent, she loved him the more. Blindly she walked away from the
house, and heard the trams grinding, and the rattle of carts over the
rough paving. Holloway Road at this point is at its worstdull and
ugly, with an air of third-rate respectable indigence. She crossed the
road, and passed into a squalid thoroughfare called Grove Road, and
marched past the ugly houses with her head in the air, pretending that
she had no interest whatever in Toby. All her thoughts were busy
inventing indifference; and her consciousness was at each turn
confusing and contradicting her thoughts. If solitude had been possible
to her, Sally would have cried; but as a rule she cried very little,
both because she was rarely alone and because she was not naturally
hysterical. Fighting, therefore, against what she felt to be weakness,
she proceeded on her way, trying to laugh at rival butchers shouting
insults and challenges across the street. At the post office near her
old home she changed her open postal-order, and was given a
half-sovereign and ten shillings-worth of silver. This money she
carefully put, in paper, inside her blouse. She was then ready for her
At the old address new tenants already occupied the first floor
flat, and Mr. Clancy stood at the gate smoking his pipe. The man who
lived in the ground floor flat next door still showed his glass-covered
sign Why Pay Rent? Children littered the few inches of asphalt which
served as front garden to the two houses. Seeing Sally, Mr. Clancy took
his pipe out of his mouth, spat, and nodded at her in a friendly way.
Hello, Sally. Keepin' well? Look fine.
I've come to see Mrs. PerceMrs. Barrow, you know.
Mr. Clancy jerked his head, receptive of the news, and as Sally
passed him continued to smoke and to regard the traffic. He must have
been bitterly cold, she thought; but she knew he must be standing
outside either because Mrs. Clancy was out or because she was in. The
stairs were just as steep as of old, and as dark. Sally had absolutely
no memory of her father's fall. She was merely curious about the new
people in the flat. But she did not see them, for all the doors were
closed, and she kicked her feet against the stairs, stumbling a little
in the darkness.
At her further progress a door flew open above, and Mrs. Perce
Sally! Well I never! she ejaculated. Perce! Here's Sally come to
see you! Perce's reply did not reach Sally, but there was an exchanged
kiss with Mrs. Perce, and then her coat and hat were off and she was
conscious of overpowering warmth and kippers and a general sizzle of
comfort and plenty. Had your tea? demanded Mrs. Perce. Have another.
Come on. Plenty of kippers. Perce! Sally's eating your kippers!
Perce appeared, rubbing the back of his neck with a towela large
fair red-faced man with a broad grin. He put his hand on Sally's
shoulder, and shook her. Then he went out of the room again, and Sally
began almost immediately upon the feast. It was such a jolly, cosy,
close room, so bright and gaudy in its decoration, that it was Sally's
idea of what a kitchen should be. The walls were a varnished brown, so
that they shone in the lamplight. Polished candlesticks stood by a
shiny clock on the mantelpiece. There were bright pictures and a
brilliant lamp and a glittering tablecloth covered with polished dishes
and silver. She had a great admiration for old Perce and Mrs. Perce.
They both loved comfort and food and drink, and both had hearty laughs
that showed all their teeth. Both had shrewd, glistening,
money-engrossed eyes; both were large and stout and cheerful and noisy.
To anybody as young as Sally noise goes a long way towards cheeriness,
because it deadens thought. So when old Perce came and took his place
at the table she suddenly threw off her despair with the volatility of
childhood, and laughed aloud and ate and drank, and made sly remarks,
until she became an altogether different Sally from the one who had
taken an earlier tea with her mother. She was now in high spirits. All
sorts of funny things came into her headthings she had seen and
thought since their last meeting; and when she repeated them the
Barrows laughed in great roars that filled her with conceited
exultation. It was so long since she had laughed. It was so long since
she had fed properly. This was like a dream, a riotous dream of noise
and colour. She looked from old Perce's red face to Mrs. Perce's almost
equally florid cheeks, her eyes travelling like dragon-flies, as bright
and eager as possible.
And all the time she was taking in Mrs. Perce's appearance. Mrs.
Perce wore a black silk dress, very plain, but well-cut. She had a gold
brooch at her throat, and a thin gold chain round her neck. Her hair
was abundant, and was dressed in a great blob upon the top of her head.
It was a noticeable colour, fair and startling. She did not decorate
her eyebrows and eyelashes, which were darker than her hair. And she
wore high corsets, because her bosom, although firm, was inclined to be
over-flowing. The bodice of her dress fitted closely and emphasised
what was still a very shapely figure. She was what would be called a
fine woman. Her eyes were full and clear; her lips were well-moulded;
her teeth, rather protruding, were unimpaired. Sally was filled with
renewed envy of her personal advantages. Then her eyes went back to
Mrs. Perce's hair. It was too obviously doctored. She didn't want
anything like that. She wanted something more delicate....
The truth flashed upon her. Mrs. Perce was a trifle on the coarse
side. Sally quickly compared Mrs. Perce's plump hands with her own lean
ones. At the scrutiny, she put her hands below the table, for they were
not clean. But if they had been clean she would have taken pride in
them; for where the fingers of Mrs. Perce were stubby her own were slim
and pretty. She understood her own shortcomings, but in the quick
observations and comparisons she had been making, Sally had learnt a
great deal more clearly than ever before how careful she must be to
avoid exaggeration in all she did. Dressed and adorned as Mrs. Perce
was dressed and adorned, she would have looked a guy. It was a new
lesson to her, and a valuable one.
Have you noticed, said Mrs. Perce, how me and Perce's dressed up
Sally was staggered. She looked quickly at old Perce and saw that he
was in his best clothes, with a lovely new spotted blue and white tie,
and a dahlia in his buttonhole.
Of course, she said. I noticed everything. Didn't like to ask.
What is it? Is it your birthday? Wish I'd known, she added,
half-truthfully. I'd a brought you a present.
No, laughed Mrs. Perce. Very good guess. Not a birthday. It's the
anniversary of our wedding-day. Been married nine years, we have.
Nine years! echoed Sally, awestruck. Nine years! And you haven't
had a baby yet!
There was a startling guffaw. Old Perce slapped his leg and bayed.
Mrs. Perce threw herself back in her chair, showing every brilliant
tooth. The noise was tremendous.
The things she says! shrieked Mrs. Perce. Perce, I always said
that child was a caution! They both laughed until they were in an
extremity of mirth.
Sally recognised herself as a wit, flushed, and laughed as heartily
as they. She had spoken incautiously, as a child, and without
sophistication. But she accepted responsibility for her joke. She was
not in the least flurried, but was pleased at being considered an adept
in the ways of marriage. At heart she was despising herself for not
having been more truly observant of their clothes, because in reality
she had been so concentrated upon Mrs. Perce that she had never thought
to spare an eye for Mrs. Perce's husband. She was thankful to have
ridden off so easily upon her naïveté. Meanwhile, having laughed amply,
the Barrows had resumed their tea.
Nine years, eh! said old Perce, reflectively. Takes some
believing, Poll. Nine years. Nine years, and no baby, eh! He shook his
head, like a cat sneezing, and laughed again. Here, Sally. Have some
more kipper. More tea, then. Poll, here's a lady will have some more
tea, if you please, ma'am. Sweet enough, Sally? As before, if you
See, where was you then, Perce? asked Mrs. Perce. Nine years
This time nine years ago murmured old Perce, reflectively. I
was at Potter's. Yes, Sally, I waddn't makin' above two pound a week
when I got marriedif that. Two pound a week was about my top-notch in
those days. Well, it's different now. He shrugged his shoulders. And
I'll tell you for why, Sally. It was Poll, there. Don't you forget it.
If a man's got a good wifesay there's something in himhe'll end his
days in comfort. She'll see to that. Now, the man you marry
Here, Perce! Steady on! cried Mrs. Perce. Sally's not seventeen
Wait! Old Perce directed a finger. Sally was brimming with
gladness, at the topic and the confidence in herself which she saw he
was going to express. The man you marry, Sallyhe'll have to be
a man. Understan' what I mean? None of these fine la-di-da fellows, but
a Man. Andif he works, you save. Not to scrape, you understand. Just
save. For the first five years, be careful. Have your fun. No harm in
that. But be careful. No kids. No swank. Stability, that's what's
wanted. Stability. If you've got a bit of money behind youSee what
Oo yes, Mr. Barrow, said Sally, incoherent with pride. That's
just what I think.
Old Perce looked at Mrs. Perce, raising his shoulders as if to
exhibit Sally to her. There was a nod between them. For some time all
became rather thoughtful, perhaps thinkingas she was uncontrollably
doingof Sally's future. Old Perce took out his pipe at last.
I'm just going to step in the other room, Sally, he remarked, and
have a pipe and a bit of a tune. I'll see you lateryou ladies, he
added gallantly, with a bow. And then he withdrew, leaving them alone,
with Sally's cheeks flushed at the warmth and the subject they had been
considering. All the time old Perce had been talking she had been
wishing that Toby had been there to hear. Then he'd have seen what
these people thought of her. They didn't think of her face; they didn't
go off in a huff because she had been too ill to go out one evening.
They knew.... Tears filled her eyes. She stared at the red fire in the
grate. Mrs. Perce had her back turned, filling the kettle for the
inevitable washing-up, and so she did not see this sudden arrival of
tragic reflection. All she saw was a willing Sally gathering the dishes
and scraping the fishbones together ready for throwing behind the fire.
How was Mrs. Perce to visualise that other tea, that lonely figure in
the other room? How was anybody to understand why Sally was so
different from what she had been at home?
Over the washing-up, the two became confidential. Sally broached the
subject of the West End. She dilated upon it. Mrs. Perce was all
sympathy, and full of agreement.
You're quite right, she said. And I'm glad. I wish I could help
you. Now, can I? She thought a moment. Wait a bit. Wait a bit.
She went out of the room. Amid the din of There you are, there you
are, there you ain'tain'tain't, Sally heard her call: Perce,
what's the name Maggie Merrick calls herself now? There was a silence.
The door of the other room was closed. Sally, standing by the kitchen
table, drying a plate, strained her ears unavailingly. A silence was
upon the flat. Only the fire huskily caved in, and little darting
sparks flew into the air. It was as though her life hung suspended.
Then, in a few minutes, Mrs. Perce returned, a triumphant beam upon her
face. You go and see Maggie on Monday, she said. I'll write her a
letter. She calls herself GalaMadame Gala. Got a place round behind
Regent Street, and about twenty hands. She's a very old friend of
mine.... I'll give you a letter to-night. Just say you come from Polly
Barrow. She'll see you. Course, I can't be sure....
No, no! Sally's concurrence was eager. Her heart was like a flame.
You are kind to me, Mrs. Perce.
If I can help you, Sally.... Mrs. Perce's voice took on a tone of
kindness almost solemn. Well, that's all right. Just wait till these
things are washed.
Trembling, Sally introduced her other problem. At first Mrs. Perce
gave a great laugh, and looked very sharply at Sally. She looked at her
dress, at her face, at her hair.
I don't want to look....
It wouldn't help you to look made-up. Not with Maggie. So there
is a boy!
No! Sally's tone was fierce.
Oh, all right. Mrs. Perce was evidently not altogether convinced.
She dried her hands, her head consideringly upon one side.
Who'd look at me? There was a vain effort in this speech to
corroborate the disclaimer; but there was also an ingenuous and
pathetic appeal for some sort of reassurance, for this was Sally's
Don't be a fool, Sally. If a girl makes up her mind to have a
Sally's heart leapt. She looked with shining eyes of glory at Mrs.
Perce. It was the announcement of her dream, a confirmation of her
hope. She was for a moment ecstatic.
Oh, Mrs. Perce!
You just look at him like that, my dear. Well, I'll tell you....
You don't want to look too fresh. Don't use peroxide. Henna's
the stuff for you.
Henna! How much? Sally was desperate. The word was open sesame to
Wait a bit. I'll think. Henna. And a face cream. But mind, Sally,
be careful. Not too much of it. And whatever you do, remember your
neck. You don't see it; but others do. All that's above your
dress. And a bit below. Some people are inquisitive. And just a bit of
lip salvejust a tinge. See, your lips aren't red enough. But you've
got to be on the watch not to overdo it. No good looking like a tart.
No. It's just the hair and the freckles, breathed Sally.
Oh, well.... We'll make a picture of you. And the eyebrows, Sally.
But only a bit, Sally. Only a bit. You've got to be moderate....
Mrs. Perce went off into a delighted silence. She was in her
element. She had before her a great opportunity, and all her vanity was
roused. They understood one another. And for all Sally's disclaimer
Mrs. Perce was in no way deceived about her ultimate object. She was as
aware of Toby as if she knew the facts. But she was too shrewd to force
a confidence. To herself she was laughing with the full enjoyment which
some women, if not most of them, bring to the contemplation of an
intrigue and its ultimate consequences. Later, she resolved to add a
word of warning upon the handling of that subject. But more thought
encouraged her to be silent. There was that in Sally's bearing which
gave Mrs. Perce to understand that in the long run Sally knew what she
was about. Mrs. Perce was conscious of a smart feeling of admiration
for this child.
Clasping tightly the precious henna and her other purchases, Sally
hurried home through the dark streets. Within her blouse was the letter
to Madame Gala. Her head was full of her plans, her delighted
anticipations of victory. For this moment she could not contemplate the
possibility that all would not go well. She was intoxicated. Her heart
was swelling. Thoughts galloped away, like steam from a boiling kettle.
She kept no memory of them. It was enough for her that she was thrilled
with her own prospects. Of course Mrs. Perce's friend would take her
on. Of course Toby would fall in love with her. She could make him.
Once let her achieve her immediate objects, and there was no end to
future possibilities. How strange, how wonderful, the difference which
the last few hours had made to her! It really seemed true for once that
in the darkest hour dawn was most nearly at hand. She let herself into
the house and crept up the stairs, subdued but exultant. It would now
have taken much more than the coldness and darkness of the horrible
room to spoil her excited happiness. She even welcomed them, because if
her mother awoke there would be the less need for explanations. She
stood a candle upon the washstand, screened from the bed, and lighted
the oil stove which they always used for preparing the breakfast. Her
purchases were carefully arrayed, and then hidden. She removed her
outer clothes, and let down her hair, shivering slightly, but tense
with resolve and the absorption of the moment. Round her shoulders she
hung a big towel, and kicked it out, looking down at her legs and feet.
She was conscious of pride, of physical freedom. She made small dancing
steps, as happy as a child, while she waited and waited for the slow
kettle to boil.
Later, Sally stole to bed, careful not to touch her sleeping mother,
lest her own chill body should awaken her and provoke a querulous
scene. She was shuddering from head to foot. It seemed to take hours to
shake off the frozen feeling, and if she raised her feet and touched
them with her hands they were like pieces of ice. They were still cold
when she forgot everything; and she awoke, the towel still about her
head, with the sun up and the day well advanced. A careful hand to her
hair, a quick scurry to the mirror, a leap of apprehensiveness; and
then she was back in bed, shamming sleep, because her mother had
stirred. The two lay side by side for ever so long, until Sally could
once again allow herself to breathe freely. She did not examine her
feelings: she only knew that she was afraid and confident, alternately
timid and ashamed, and then again breathing deep with satisfaction. She
had begun. She was set out upon her adventure. At a blow she had to put
everything to the test. How she longed for the next day! How she longed
for her interview with Mrs. Perce's friend, and for her next encounter
At night she allowed her mother to go to bed first, and waited a
little while before beginning her preparations. She was so long that
her mother, although still engrossed by the pain in her head, began to
What you doing, Sally? she cried sharply.
Washing my hair, answered Sally, like a shot.
Ought to have done it in daylight, silly girl. And dried it in
front the fire. I don't know what's come to you, Sally. You seem
to do everything you can to worrit me. Now I want to go to sleep, and
you keep the lamp burning, and the fire burning, and it's all alight,
so I can't get off.
Sally shaded the lamp. Her lip was curled. She did not deign to
answer the complaint. Silly old fool; always grumbling! Let her wait.
Let her wait and see what happened! Sally was less excited, and less
clumsy, to-night. She was warmer, too; and that gave her more
assurance. Once her mother had fallen asleep, as she knew from the loud
breathing, she became leisurely. Her actions were even luxurious, so
much more at ease was she. First of all she combed her hair, wishing it
were longer. Then she made all her dispositions. For the next hour she
was busy, and by the time she was in bed she had begun to giggle almost
hysterically. She lay quite still, and quite warm, listening for some
sound of Toby. But none came. Wherever he was, she did not hear him
before she went to sleep.
And then in the dark morning her mother could not see the
transformation that had occurred; and Sally could not see it, either.
They made a slow and tasteless breakfast, and Mrs. Minto slipped out to
her first situation, where she had to be at half-past seven. From that
she would go on to another at half-past ten that would keep her for the
greater part of the afternoon. Sally, instead of going back to bed, as
she often did when the two breakfasted together, dressed herself with
great care and prepared to go out and meet May Pearcey. She tried to
see herself in the mirror, but could only get a lamplight view that
frightened her. She had washed very carefully, and as she had made her
own dress it fitted well and suited her. She had a big black hat and
was going to get new gloves before calling upon Madame Gala. Her shoes
were bad, but she brushed them well. Stockings she had bought on
Saturday night. Turning round and round before the mirror, extending
her arms, and patting down her skirt, she was content with everything
but the incalculable effect of her recent activities. But the part of
her hair which showed beneath her hat was a rich shade, and if her face
looked artificially pale it still appeared smooth and fresh.
What doubt she may have had was set at rest by May Pearcey when they
met. The encounter took place in Grove Road at the corner of Hornsey
Road, just where the shops are; and the two girls walked westward
Oo, Sally, you do look smart! May irrepressibly cried. Oo,
what you bin doing to your hair! Looks lervly! Oo, and your face. Got
off with a earl?
She was all attention at Sally's tale, and Sally showed her the
letter to Madame Gala. They stood together reading it. For the moment
May was honestly full of congratulation. She was so simple-minded, and
so little attached to the dressmaking, that she had no envy. A boy
would have been a different matter. And she was honestly delighted with
You look lervly! she kept saying. Oo, I do hope you get it. I
say, come out 's evening, and tell me. Will you? May was very coaxing
indeed. She was sincerely impressed.
It was a compliment, as well as a curiosity. Sally hesitated. She
had planned to see Toby; but if Toby was going to be a lout she might
just as well show him she didn't care.
All right, she said. Look here, if I'm not there by half-past
seven, you'll know I've been keptmother's kept me. See?
Mother! laughed May. Well, I'll be there quarter-past. See!
Shouldn't come any further, case old Mother Jubb's lookin' out the
window. She might not believe you was ill if she saw you lookin' so
smart. Might think you was takin' a day off to go to the Zoo.
They parted, May Pearcey to spin a tale of Sally's illness to Miss
Jubb, and Sally to proceed, after getting a pair of black cotton
gloves, to the West End. In the shop, half hidden among the rolls of
flannel and little racks and trays of smaller articles of haberdashery,
there was a full-length strip of mirror. It stood gloomily in the
half-light of the shop, which, like all suburban drapers' shops, had
the air of a crowded and airless cavern full of stale adornments. Sally
did not see the mirror at first, but while the shop girl went to fetch
the gloves, she was looking idly round when she caught sight of a slim
young lady in black. The young lady was very trim, dressed all in
black, with slim ankles and pretty hands, and a big black hatand it
was herself! Herself, looking like a lady. Quickly, she stepped to the
mirror, examining her cheeks, her neck, her brows, and her gloriously
richly-tinted hair. She was amazed and delighted. A proud smile twisted
her thin little lips, so slightly touched with Lipsol that they did not
seem to have been touched at all, but only to be prettier than usual.
After the first curiosity, the first flush of recognition, followed
precise scrutiny. Sally nodded to herself. She would do. There was no
doubt of it. From that moment she was no longer triumphant or excited:
she was sure. She had learnt a great lesson, that excitement is no
criterion of victory or happiness, and that the artist is cool,
confident, free from triumph. At a bound, Sally had become an artist.
She had always been potentially an artist; but she at last had attained
Precious pennies went to pay her tram fare to Tottenham Court Road;
and from there she walked to Madame Gala's, asking the way, and getting
rather flustered and bewildered at the pushing crowds and the big shops
with their irresistible windows, and the extraordinary amount of
traffic that seemed to make Oxford Street one continuous torrent of
carts and omnibuses. The big furniture shops in Tottenham Court Road
had impressed her; but the shops in Oxford Street were beyond anything
she ever remembered to have seen. A flash of comparison with
Hollowayeven with Jones's magnificent row of shops on the way to
Highbury, or the big drapers and clothiers in the Upper Streetmade
her realise how right had been her longing for the West End. It had
been more than a dream. It had been an inspiration. Holloway was seen
in its dinginess, its greasy mud on the rough roads, the general air it
had of being a step or two behind the times; and here was the
brilliance, the enthralling reality, of the West to take its place.
Sally was conscious of new buoyancy. If she had been pleased with
Tottenham Court Road, and delighted with the essentially commonplace
Oxford Street, she exulted in that alluring curve which will always
make Regent Street a fascination for the visitor to London and even a
satisfaction to the Londoner himself. Sally was both a Londoner and a
visitor, and her feelings were proportionate. She did not know that she
was proud of being London born and bred; but her eye was possessive,
and she would not have given London in exchange for the dozen other
great capitals of the world put together. She looked round at the
shops, at the buildings and the traffic; and she made a historic
Cooh, she said. Fine! Fancy living here! This is the place
It was final. It took no account of the risks of a peradventure.
Madame Gala was a mere cog in the great wheel of Sally's progress
through life. Even Toby had at first no place in her survey. Then she
wondered if he knew Regent Street. He could come one Saturday and wait
for her outside Madame Gala's. They would swank, and go and have tea at
an A. B. C. or Lyons's; and perhaps go into Hyde Park. Gradually it
came back to her that her father used to take them to Hyde Park on
Sundays. But that was long ago, and on Sundays the traffic was less and
the shops were all shuttered. She gave a sigh at the memory, awoke, and
marched up to a colossal policeman who was wagging a pair of gloves in
his right handas if to keep the flies away, but in reality to
encourage the traffic. He inclined an ear, and an eye to her letter,
and trumpeted out directions.
And at last Sally reached Madame Gala's, and with Madame Gala's
another turning-point in her life. It was the first time she had been
conscious of so all-important an event. When she came to the building
she was trembling. Her eyes closed, almost in an expression of prayer.
She took five minutes to climb the stairs to the second floor, and then
turned to fly. She recovered, and hung about for a while, hoping for
some accident to carry her right into the place. Then, with a feeble
air of confidence, she pushed open the door and walked in without
Sally could have fallen down in horror; for as she entered she saw a
very tall young woman talking to the most beautifully dressed person
she had ever seen. And they were in a room such as Sally had never been
in beforea room entirely decorated in a sort of grey-blue. Wallpaper,
hangings, and chair-upholsterings were exactly uniform. The effect,
although beautiful and restful, was to Sally's eye so sumptuous that
she felt she must by some terrible mischance have come into a
drawing-room. But she heard the young woman say, Yes, meddam.... I'll
tell Madame Gala.... Yes, meddam.... Yes, meddam ... quite ... yes, I
quite.... Good morning, meddam. And then as the wonderful
creature disappeared in a whirl of richness, like a fairy godmother,
the tall young woman turned almost pouncingly upon Sally, and in a
contemptuous voice said Yes?
Sally shook herself. It was the gesture of one who has been
I want to see Madame Gala, she said, very distinctly. I've got a
letter for her from Mrs. Barrow.
Where is it? demanded the young woman. That it?
She took from Sally's unwilling but unresisting hand the letter
which Mrs. Perce had written, pulled it from the open envelope, read
it, and looked again at Sally.
I want to see Madame Gala, said Sally, stubbornly. Her
little mouth was now very savagely set, and if there had been any
refusal upon the young woman's part there would have been a scene.
All right. Keep your hair on, said the inquisitive young woman.
Are you Miss Minto?
Yes, I am. Sally nodded energetically, flushing. She wondered if
the word hair....
Her interlocutor turned, and went into an inner room, replacing the
letter as she did so, and folding over the flap, so that it would seem
as though she knew nothing of the contents. Sally quickly saw the kind
of person she wasan interfering creature, with Miss Pry written all
over her. She was tall and thin, and had gooseberry eyes and a small
nose and a large sycophantic mouth. Sally had a picture of her all the
time she was awaygrey-blue dress and all. She didn't like her. She
hated her. She knew that they would never get on together. Miss Nosey!
Yes, meddam; no, meddam ... yes, I quite.... Sally tried to
pronounce quite quaite, as she had done. After all, she was only a
sort of maidsomebody to take the names of callers. She'd got no right
to be saucy. Old six-foot. Old match-legs. She'd got a nose in
everybody's business. Mind she didn't get it pulled!... But what a
lovely room! Must have cost pounds and pounds! All grey-blueeven to
the little ornaments on the mantelpiece, all except the black tiger.
Fancy working in a place like this! Different to Miss Jubb's! Sally
gave a sort of internal giggle, a noiseless affair that was almost just
a wriggle of delight. Miss Jubb! Did you ever see anything like the
dress she made for Mrs. Miller, of 17 Tavistock! Chronic, it was! Like
a concertina! And poor old Annie Jubb getting flurried when the
material frayed in the scissors! Cooh! Call her a dressmaker! More like
a figure of fun!
Come in, please, said Nosey, jerking her nose. And Sally started
once again from reverie, to follow the tall young woman from the
grey-blue room into another one which was all in a warm colour between
orange and biscuit. She swallowed quickly, and heard a little runnel of
moisture in her dry throat. There was a throbbing behind her eyes. She
became very small and clumsy, and kept her head lowered, and her hands
When a voice bade her sit down, Sally stole a quick glance at Madame
Gala. At once she lowered her eyes again, because they had met
unexpectedly a pair of eyes more disconcerting than any she had known
since her schooldays. Madame Gala did not employ a score of hands for
nothing! She had looked at Sally the moment Sally came into the room,
and did not cease to look at her. And she had very cold grey eyes, and
was very cold (really very deficient in stamina) herself. She was
terribly thin, and chilling, and capable. She was dressed in grey; but
you could not see the dress except at the bottom of the skirt and the
middle of the sleeves, because she wore a large pinafore-overall, of a
lighter grey and a softer material. She had no pins in her mouth, and
there were no pictures of costumes or sheets of paper patterns to be
seen. But the room, all the same, was a workroom, and there was a
beautiful large table in it which could have served for cutting out a
costume for a giantess.
You're Miss Minto. How old are you? Hn, small for your age. Mother
and father? When did youroh, you're in mourning for him. How did he
die? What sort of accident? Hn.... What experience have you had? Miss
What? Oh, yes ... two years. Have you left? I see. Well, Mrs.
Barrow's an old friend of mine, and I'd like to oblige her. Also, I
want more help. My business is increasing. If you can start in a
fortnight I'll pay you sixno, I'll pay you seven shillings a week.
You get here at nine in the morning. You'll do as you're told, and
behave yourself. You'll work under a very clever lady, Miss Summers, in
that room. I'll show you. Come in here....
Sally, shaking with jubilation, followed her into a very large room
adjoining, where a number of girls were (apparently) frantically
busyfar too busy to be conscious that their employer had entered the
room. Sally did not believe that they were always so intent upon their
work. She knew too much. To herself she said Swank! It was a
beautifully light place, all decorated in a pale grey; and there was a
long deep bench all round the room. It was lighted by windows and a
skylight, and it was plain that a considerable amount of work was in
progress. Sally gave a dazed glance round, and looked again, saying,
Yes, ma'am; Yes, ma'am, to everything Madame Gala said; and a few
minutes later was out in the street again, engaged at seven shillings a
week, and not knowing whether she was alive or dead, awake or dreaming.
The day was still before her; she had nearly ten shillings hidden in
her bodice; and she was a queen amid all the surging traffic of the
West Endher West Endthe place of her dreams, her pilgrimage, her
triumph. Sally's eyes were filmed with tears. She walked away from the
building passionately fighting with sobs that rose from deep within
her. The tears trickled down her white cheeks. And all at once she was
laughing again, chuckling and chuckling as if this was the most
splendid joke in the world. And then, when the laughter was done, she
was once again Sally, deliberate, cool and unflinching. This was what
she had determined. There were other steps to follow. She must not be
too sure; she must go carefully. But all the same she would win. She
was Sally. She was going to get on. She was going to be cautious. She
was going to be secure. That was her touchstonesecurity. Without it,
she would never know peace. At all costs, security. That meant keeping
cool. That meant watching your step. And in the end it meant making
money, and having enough to eat, and nice clothes, and pleasures, and
all that she had never yet had. Into the eyes that had been brimming
with tears, and, immediately after, with glee, there came once again a
hardness, a determination. It was the expression of a wary animal,
treading among dangers.
By an instinct, Sally turned west, so that she presently found
herself in a confusing number of small streets; but when she had
extricated herself and had mastered the geography of that part of
London she was rewarded by coming out into Park Lane, with the fine
breadth of Hyde Park open to her eyes and her impulse towards
exploration. She pretended that she knew the Park; but in fact to her
older eyes and in its weekday freedom from crowds it looked so
different that she could not link it with ancient memories. Thus, for a
time, its paths and its greenness and its air of great space gave her
unqualified pleasure. She wandered on, observing the fallen leaves, and
the few pedestrians; and looked up at the blue sky, and marvelled to
herself; and then presently she sat down upon one of the public seats
and tried to get some coherence into her thoughts. She sat there for
some time, her shabby little toes cocked up on the gravel before her,
and she began to feel lonely and tired and restless, as though
something further had still to be done. There was the whole day before
her. She could not stay here, because although the day was clear and
fine there was a chill wind, and she was not warmly clad. Already her
hands were feeling numb in the cotton gloves, and her feet were losing
the pleasant tired tingle they had had a short time before. The sense
of innumerable hours which had to be filled was strong upon Sally, who
had never previously had so much time to herself, alone. So she rose
briskly from her seat, walked along the broad pathway, and came back to
the Marble Arch, where Oxford Street began again. This time she was
bent upon looking at the shops, and browsed for a time at the windows
of Lewis's, at the end of Orchard Street. And then she had her
inspiration. A clock told her it was after half-past eleven. May's
words came into her mind: She might think you was takin' a day off to
go to the Zoo.
Here, where's the Zoo, she suddenly, without a tremor, asked a
They got plenty white mice, the policeman said. No good you
Saucy! rebuked Sally. Suppose they let you out ... on a chain.
Quite right, said the policeman. Didn't want to let me go.
Everybody loved little Sammy. But the Police Force wanted me.
Fancy wanting you! remarked Sally, witheringly, staring at
his good-tempered face, and, under his helmet, at a pair of bright blue
eyes. He was a red man. Give 'em a bit of ginger, I suppose.
As you go by the Marrabon Road, you just cross over and go into
Madame Tussaud's. You'll see a lot of old friends and relations there.
Charlie Peace, and Mother Dyer....
Who's she? Sally demanded. Mother Dyer. Never heard of her.
Mother Dyer? Baby-farmer. Her you used to call 'Nursie.' Go
straight along here, and when you've looked at Madame Tussaud's, keep
down the Marrabon Road till you come to the Park. See? Regent's Park,
that is. And walk along the nice broad road, and you'll find the Zoo on
your left. Good morning, my dear.... Don't let 'em keep you, will
you?... Cahm alahng, 'ere; cahm alahng, 'ere. He broke off to attend
to the traffic, which he addressed in a very different way from that in
which he had spoken to Sally; and she, rather cheered by the exchange
of badinage, set off towards Baker Street and the Marylebone Road with
a new interest in hand. Madame Tussaud's and the Zoo in one day! What a
day it would have been by the time she reached the end of it. What a
tale she would be able to tell May in the evening!
Apart from the two visits which she made, to the wax-works and the
menagerie, both of which took so long that she did not get home until
six o'clock, Sally had no other adventure. She had lunch in the Zoo,
and arrived back in Holloway with less than five shillings remaining
from her windfall. But it had been a day, and it still held marvellous
possibilities of an encounter with Toby. Her first thought on reaching
home was of him. That was why she was so deaf to her mother's
complaining. She did not hear it. And she did not tell her mother of
the day's outing. There would be time for that later. If she told her
now there would only be trouble, and Sally was tired of trouble. When
she had explained to Miss Jubb, and had left Miss Jubb on Saturday
week, she would airily say to her mother: I got a job in the West End,
now. See ma jump! Sally was conscious for the first time of a slightly
sinking heart. Suppose she didn't suit Madame Gala? Suppose she lost
her new job after a week or two? Oh, rubbish.... Rot! Time enough for
the gripes when she got the sack!
She could hear no sound at all from the room above. Was Toby not
home yet? He used to get home about ten minutes past six, as a rule. It
was now a quarter-past. If she did not hear him she would go and meet
May, and then call in to tell Mrs. Perce all about the news, and then
come home after her mother had gone to bed. She had her tea, turning up
her nose at it, and all the time wishing for something better. For some
time after the meal she stood about reflecting upon her day and upon
the possibilities of the future. Consideringly, she at last said in a
One day we'll have jam for tea, ma. And kippers. And fried
sausages. And steak and chips.
Good gracious! cried Mrs. Minto. Whatever's put such ideas into
And we'll have real coal, and thick blankets, and a new mattress,
and new curtains, and a brass fender. And everything in the room'll be
a beautiful gray-blue. And you'll sit here, doing nothing.
I'm sure I shan't, exclaimed Mrs. Minto, fingering her mouth to
hide a nervous smile of pleasure.
Doing nothing. And Elbert, the footman, will come in with the tea
and take it away again; and you'll say, Elbert'mustn't say 'Elbert
dear'you'll say, 'Elbert, just bring me my glass of hot water at ten
o'clock.' And he'll say, 'Yes, me lady.' No, he won't. He'll say, 'Yes,
meddam ... quite.... Yes, meddam.' That's what he'll say. Lick your
shoes, he will, because you're rich.
Rich! sighed Mrs. Minto. Who's to make me rich?
I'm going to make us all rich, explained Sally. You mark my words
and wait and see.
I wouldn't mind not being rich, Mrs. Minto said, if it wasn't
that my poor 'ed....
O-oh! cried Sally, in wrath. Her mood was crushed by this
inexorable return to the subject she had been chattering to avert.
Give your old head a rest, ma. Here, come out for a walk with me.
You're not to go out, Sally. Mrs. Roberson says....
That for Mrs. Roberson, said Sally, already on her feet.
You don't suppose I'm going to stick in here and get frozen stiff.
There's nothing to do indoors. I got no sewing. Only makes me fret if I
stay at home. I'm going to see Mrs. Perce....
She moved hastily to the door, and closed it quietly after her, for
she had heard below her the shutting of the front door, and she thought
it might be Toby at last. It was nearly a quarter to seven. Her guess
had been right. It was he. Seeming not to have heard him, she ran
lightly down the stairs as he heavily mounted them. Her heart was
thumping so that she felt quite sick and faint. She could no longer
run, but could only totter down towards the inevitable confrontation.
It was there, and it was pasta plain, boorish Evening. She managed
the rest of the flight at a run; but when she was out of doors Sally
turned to the darkness and could no longer restrain her tears of
anguish. This was the end of her day. Laugh in the morning, cry before
night. That was the truest proverb that ever was made. She was
There was no question of seeing May or calling upon Mrs. Perce.
Sally was beaten. She was full of expostulations and arguments, but all
were addressed to Toby, and she could not have borne any other society.
So she wandered about the streets for an hour, miserably aware that
once or twice she was followed by an aimless strolling youth who did
not know how to occupy a lonely evening and who yet was too much of a
coward to address her. In her mind she went over every detail of her
friendship with Toby. It had become suddenly unreal, like a thing that
had happened years before. And yet the throb of pain belonging to her
sense of his cruelty was immediate. Every detail was clear to her; and
the whole was blurred. He was a stranger; and yet his presence would at
once have given life to her memories. They had been written, as it
were, in invisible ink, which needed only the warmth of a fire to
produce their message vividly once again. Sally sobbed from time to
time; but she was no longer crying. Her pain was too deep to be
relieved by tears, which with her were the result of weakness, since
she was not naturally liquid. And as the memory was exhausted in its
evocation she began to think as of old. Her quick brain was recovering
its sway. She was no longer an overwrought child. And yet when she
strove to plan a discomfiture for Toby, who had so wickedly hurt her,
she shrank from that also; so it was still a restless and undetermined
Sally who returned home to find her mother dozing by the feeble warmth
of a dying fire.
The next day passed in a variety of moods, and in the evening Sally
found in herself the determination to call upon Mrs. Perce. She had
explained her non-arrival of the previous night to May, and had removed
her grievance with a recital of all she had done during the stolen day.
She had endured Miss Jubb's sour scrutiny of her hair, which was
accomplished without comment. And she had almost, but not quite, told
Miss Jubb of her proposed change. At times her courage was very nearly
high enough, but it never reached the necessary point, or the
opportunity was ruined at the vital moment by some interruption. So
Miss Jubb worked innocently, not guessing the blow that was to fall.
That it would be a serious blow only Sally suspected. Miss Jubb had
never even supposed it possible that Sally would leave her. The three
of them spent the day in the little workroom, which managed by the end
of the afternoon to be the coldest and the closest room in the
neighbourhood, perhaps owing to Miss Jubb's use of a defective stove
for heating, and her own radical immunity from chilblains.
After tea Sally went straight to Hornsey Road. In thinking of Toby
as she left the house she made a light gesture with her fingers to show
that he no longer existed. If she had met him she would have attempted
no greeting, for such was her present temper. At the Barrows' she was
received with acclamation. Old Perce, who had enjoyed a good deal of
four-ale during the day, and had a jugful of it now at his elbow,
collapsed at sight of her. He bayed a little, but with an expression of
admiring wonder that gave Sally her best tribute. Mrs. Perce, the
expert, nodded. She had received a letter in the morning from Madame
Gala. So to her all the news was known. All the same, Sally spent a
happy couple of hours in the flat, and collected her outdoor clothes
with unwillingness. Each time she had been to see Mrs. Perce she had
felt more strongly than of old the contrast between her
always-cheerless home and their warm, prosperity-laden atmosphere. The
recognition acted powerfully upon her. It was the creation in her mind
of a standard of physical comfort, as the visit to Madame Gala had
created a standard of decorative colour. She was frowning at the new
perception as she left the house, and was half-absorbed in her
consciousness of it.
The feeling did not prevent her, at first with a sharp tingling of
surprise, and then, as she grasped the significance of the fact, a
start of emotional disorder, from seeing a familiar figure in the light
of the Supply Stores. Her heart jumped, and began to flurry in her
breast. The figure she saw was that of Toby. He stood a little to the
side of the Stores, watching the doorway from which Sally came. As she
flinched, he came across the road. Sally pretended not to notice him,
and knew that he was following her. But Toby made no attempt to speak
to her while they were in the light of the shops. She saw that he had
his cap pulled very low down over his eyes, and that his hands were not
in his pockets, but hanging loose. He was dressed in a rough dark tweed
suit, and looked like a fighter, but not a professional boxer. His
carriage was clumsy, but light. His dark face was marked by a sort of
determinationnot bravado, not impudence, but a solid resoluteness.
His eyes she had never properly seen. His mouth was large, but the lips
were thin; the nose was coarse, but not big. He was ugly, but he was
very obviously strong. He was not tall, but was very sturdily built,
and gave the air of considerable strength. As he followed her she could
hardly keep from looking back; it was only with a great effort that she
kept her eyes forward, and as she turned into Grove Road she increased
her pace. Sally knew quite well what he would do. He would wait until
she had passed the block of shops and had come to the comparative
darkness of the houses beyond. Then he would walk abreast and speak to
her. And while she tried to think what to do her heart was strangling
her. She was so excited that her breath was coming almost in sobs. She
was excited, but she did not therefore feel at his mercy.
It happened as Sally had foreseen. As soon as she was past the shops
she heard his urgent voice at her elbowSally! For a moment she
ignored it. Then she turned, very coldly, and with a slight sneer
looked at him. They were side by side now. He was keeping step with her
as easily as he could have kept step with a child. Sally, he
repeated. Sally stopped dead.
What are you following me for? she asked, viciously. Why can't
you leave me alone? Following me like that! I never heard of such a
I been waiting outside for you all the time. I've had no grub. I
followed you from the house. I saw you start out just as I was getting
Well, what of it? I didn't ask you to follow me, did I? demanded
Sally. But in the darkness of the street her eyes softened. Her heart
swelled at the thought that he had waited for her in the Hornsey Road
for fully two hours. Toby took her defiance as a matter of course. He
was still standing doggedly before her, and as she began once again to
walk rapidly in the direction of home he followed her, half a step
behind. At the darkest part of the road he put out a hand to check her
progress. Sally snatched away her arm, but he had been prepared for
that, and caught her immediately. He held her, panting, as she pressed
against a big stone gate-post.
Let me be! cried Sally, hoarsely and breathlessly. Let me be.
She did not scream. She was too impressed by his exhibition of
strength. He continued to hold her, and they stood breast to breast,
Sally panting, and Toby with a kind of stolid determination.
Will you come for a walk quietly? he asked, jerking his head.
No, said Sally, I won't. There was no mercy, no humility. Only a
Yes, you will. He pulled her towards him, so that Sally could not
escape. She was now wholly within the circle of his arm, not
struggling, but with her poor thin arms staving him off. Her body was
tense. But she made no sound, and if there were any passers they knew
that this was only a typical lovers' tiff, common to the neighbourhood,
and largely a matter of physical strength and feminine vituperation.
Yes, you will. See? Come on, Sally.
You let me go, she demanded.
Say you'll come. I'll let you go the moment you say that.
Sally hesitated, then bowed her head in a slow acquiescence. He
released her, and she ran; but he easily overtook her, and she was once
again held, still with her back to a pillar. Both were now breathing
hard. Sally's head was lowered. She was suffocating. She seemed to be
in complete darkness. And she had no sense of what was happening. The
mere technique of the row absorbed her. They were almost like two
quarrelling cats, both sullen, both glowering and full of resentment
rather than burning anger.
Will you come? asked Toby. Just for a walk. Half an hour.
What d'you want me to come for?
Want to talk to you.
Yes, well, I don't want to talk to you. Understand? Sally was
suddenly trembling with a passionate rage. Her voice quivered as she
spoke, and the words tumbled out in a savage incoherence.
I'm going to talk to you. So you may as well make up your mind to
come. You don't want to stand here all night, do you? He was as savage
as she, and more grim. Sally made an attempt to escape, and was further
pinned. He was breaking down the defence of her tired arms. One of his
knees was against her leg. She was slipping, slipping, and her resolve
to fight against him was fading as rapidly in her sense of the physical
contact. She burst into tears. For an instant he loosed her, at that,
but as she sobbingly began to run away he resumed his former hold,
pressing her against him, a broken little girl, and no longer the
triumphant Sally of the morning. Her hand was to her eyes, and she was
biting her lip to restrain her sobs. Toby put his free hand up and
touched hers, held it, drew it away from her wet face.
Sally, he said. I want you. Don't cry, Sally.
His arm tightened. His face was close. Although she turned away her
head, and tried to wrench herself free, Sally knew his lips were
relentlessly following her own. She was conscious of all the joy of
surrender, incapable of moving from those strong arms, incapable of
avoiding his kiss. Her eyes closed, her heart rose; she was limp in his
embrace, not as yet returning his caresses, but accepting them with a
feeling of miserable thankfulness. Her hat was tilted back, and she
felt his cheek against hers, his body against her own. How long they
stood she did not know; but at last she put her hands up, put them
round his neck, and feverishly kissed him, welcoming this joy that was
D'you love me? she asked breathlessly.
They were alone in the dark street, in the invisible world; and she
had never been so happy. So at last Toby had his way, and they walked
about the streets for an hour, until it was long past the time when
Sally should have been in bed. Only then did they part, and Sally was
half-undressed when she heard Toby passing upon his way upstairs. Her
cheeks were burning, her eyes shining, her heart exultant. Sometimes,
as she lay wakeful during the long night, she was so happy that she
could hardly breathe. But a moment came when happiness seemed
overwhelmed in a poignance of emotion that resembled rather a terrible
apprehensiveness, and it was then that Sally felt the tears trickling
from her eyes. It was only the reaction from excessive joy; but she was
deeply affected. She longed again for Toby's arms to be round her,
pressing her face into the pillow to comfort herself with the pretence
that he was still there. Exhausted, she slept.
All the next day she could not work for preoccupation with her
happiness. She was mad with it, and reckless in her madness. It even,
when rebuke came from Miss Jubb, gave her courage to mention Madame
Gala. And that was a further cause for delight, since Miss Jubb's mouth
dropped open at the news and she could hardly speak to her two girls
for the rest of the afternoon. Sally, chuckling to herself, and every
now and then grimacing at May Pearcey, abandoned herself to
anticipations of the evening. She would see her dear Toby, would show
how much she loved him, would feel herself loved, would hear and say
all the little secrets they had never spoken until now. She would know
at last what it was to be in love, and with the man who loved her. How
wonderful it was! What joy! What fun! Sally could not conceal her grin
of happiness. Her white face was as if it had become plump, so
immediately did happiness transfigure her. And she looked at silly old
Miss Jubb, and soppy May, and thought how they had no lovers. May had
her boysshe could keep them. Sally had Toby. Toby was not a boy: he
was a man. He shaved; she had felt the roughness of his chin. May's
boys looked as if they had smooth faces, or if they shaved it made
their skins powdery. Miss Jubb had never had a boy at all, she
shouldn't think. You couldn't fancy Miss Jubb as a young girl. She must
be quite oldas old as Sally's motherperhaps forty. But ma had been
unlucky to strike dad. He had never been any good. Not like Toby. Toby
was getting almost a pound a week already, he said; and when he was
older he would have lots of money, and never be out of a job, because
he worked with his hands, with engines, and a man who understood
engines would never want for work. He was twenty, and he kept himself.
He just took his meals with his aunt, and lived in his own room the
rest of the time. How she would like to see his room. She longed for
them both to get older. But she wanted to get on herself, first. She
thought: if Toby's out all day, and we just have a little home, I shall
be able.... She thought she might be a dressmaker herself, and employ
twenty hands, and have a waiting-room that was all grey-blue. She had
told Toby about Madame Gala, and how he could come to fetch her
Saturdays, and they'd have the afternoons together. Sally was brimming
In the middle of them there came a knock at Miss Jubb's door. Miss
Jubb went, thinking it might be a customer. But she came back again in
a minute, with a face even longer than it had been since she heard
Sally's news. She could hardly speak, but stood against the dingy door,
which she held closed, and swallowed quickly before she could say a
Sally dear, there's a man here from the hospital. Get on your hat
and coat, there's a good girl. He says your mother's been taken there.
She turned dizzy just now when she was crossing the road, and was
knocked down by a van, and run over. She's asking for you, Sally.
You're to go. It's not serious, he says. So don't worry about it.
You're just to go and see her.
Mother? Ma knocked down by a van! Sally was on her feet in an
instant. As Miss Jubb went out again to glean further details from the
man, Sally struggled into her hat and coat. She turned with a
callousness which showed that she did not in the least realise what
might have happened, and addressed the startled and gaping May.
We may not be princesses, she said with a sort of wild gaiety;
but we do see life!
After she had seen her mother in the hospital Sally was again aware
of that sinking feeling of having time to filla feeling of emptiness
of immediate plan,which she had felt in Hyde Park on the Monday. At
seven she was to see Toby outside the house. It was not yet five. What
was she to do? Not go back to Miss Jubb's, that was certain! Her mother
had been lying in a cot in a big ward, and her arm was bandaged, and
she said both her legs felt as though they had red-hot nails in them;
but she was conscious, and they had told her she would soon be about
again. Sally was to see Mrs. Roberson and tell her the news, and to go
to two other places to let them know that Mrs. Minto would not be able
to come for a time. And she was to be a good girl, and not worry, but
to take the three shillings and ninepence which was in Mrs. Minto's
purse, and look after herself, and explain to the landlady what had
happened.... She had a host of things to do, and she paid her three
calls within ten minutes. So far the question of money had not troubled
her. She did not think that three shillings and ninepence was very
little to live on for perhaps a month. Her emotions at the moment were
so blithe that all she perceived in herself was a sense of liberty. Ma
would not be worrying her every minute she was indoors to do this or
that, and not to do the other. Ma would not be talking all the time
about her head. Ma would not be watching her, asking what she was
doing, playing the policeman, grumble, grumble, grumble. It was a fine
liberation for Sally. That was the way in which she saw it.
Her first shock was when she arrived home and found her own
breakfast dishes still strewn about the table as she had left them, the
fire unlighted and the old ashes still lying in the grate and upon the
hearth, the bed unmade. She was sobered. She first of all found the
oil, filled the lamp, and set a match to it. Then she swept the hearth
and carefully made a small fire. The coal-blocks took a long time to
catch, as they always did, and they quickly burned dull. Upon them she
set a kettle, washed the dishes in cold water, and laid the table for
tea. The kettle took a century to boil, and she knelt close to the
fire, warming herself and waiting for the first spiral of steam.
Everything now made her feel splendid. She invented a game that she was
married to Toby, and that she was expecting him home; so that for this
evening all her work was thoroughly done. Even the bed was made with
care. And when she had finished tea she cleared away, and spread a
little old red cloth upon the table, and once more snuggled close to
the puny fire. As she did so all her thoughts were for Toby. Already
she began to listen for him, although it was long before his time.
Thought of her mother's accident did not disturb her at all. Thought of
the future was abandoned. Only the sweet delight of being with Toby
again was her incessant reverie.
At last she heard him, and started to her feet. Her impulse was to
run to the door and whisper to him at once; but on the way thither she
checked herself. Some scruple of prudence, lest he should think her too
eager for him, made Sally allow the steps to pass on up the stairs. But
for all that she watched the clock, and listened almost passionately
for any sound from above. The fire died. She put on her coat and hat,
standing near the fireplace to catch the last waves of heat, with her
foot upon the fender and her eyes fixed upon the purplish glow, so
rapidly fading to mauve and to grey. She was tense with expectancy. She
had no consciousness of anything but her strained hearing.
Tick-tick-tick. The clock raced on, but the hands all the time appeared
to remain still, by so much did her eager heart outstrip them.
Then there was a thud upstairs, as of a door closed; and quick steps
sounded in Toby's room. He stayed there a few minutes, his feet moving
a little, and Sally guessed that he was washing himself. Then, noisily,
he came down the stairs and left the house. He was barely past the door
when Sally blew out the lamp; but she stood mutely in the darkness for
more than a minute afterwards. Only when her own patience was gone did
she obey her impulse and follow him, creeping down the stairs in the
subdued brown light of the house. Out of doors all was black. She
peered for Toby. He was there just under the lamp at a few yards
distance, and she saw him move farther away at her approach. That
action, and the sense of him, gave Sally the most extraordinary tremor
of excitement and happiness, and her cheeks grew warm. She greeted him
with the lightest touch of the arm, and felt in return his hand to her
elbow. They walked without speech to the end of the road, and by common
impulse to a dark turning where at this time of the evening they knew
there would be no passers; and there Toby caught her in his arms. There
was no moon, and no sound in the street. They were entirely alone, and
separated from the rest of mankind by an impassable wall of obsession.
They stood pressed close to one another, kissing from time to time, and
did not speak. They had at first nothing to say, but there was no
shyness between them. They were absorbed in this physical contact. But
after some time Sally told him her news, and made him tell her what he
had done during the day, and felt a great proprietary interest in him
all the while. They spoke in low tones, lovers and amorous lovers even
in the middle of humdrum confidences. Toby was shocked about Mrs.
Mintofar more shocked than Sally had been or could have been; but she
airily reassured him in her first delicious abandonment to a sense of
common life. She said Oo, she's all right. Quite comfortable. More
than if she was at home. And it's nicer for me, being alone. See, she
grumbles at mealways at itwhat Mrs. Roberson says, and about her
head, and what I ought to do, and that. 'Tisn't that there's really
anything to grumble at; only, you know, it's her nature. I never
grumble. That's one thing about me. Doesn't matter what happens,
I never ... you know ... keep on at it, like mother does. What's the
good? Crying won't do any good, or grumbling either. I shall be happier
while she's awaydo what I like. Be on my own.
Won't you be lonely? Toby asked.
Not with you. Different if I hadn't got you. But if I get
frightened I shall just yell for you; and I shall think of you all the
time, upstairs, and wonder if you're thinking of me. Will you be?
Course I shall, Toby swore, hugging her until she gasped. All the
Will you? It's nice to have somebody to ... you know, like you.
Is it? he asked gruffly.
Don't you feel like that? she asked artfully. Her reward,
another choking hug, was immediately forthcoming. You are
strong, Sally went on, and with a sense of daring and ownership and
pride felt his arm for muscle. I'm strong. In a way. Not massive, or
anything of that kind. I can stand a lot. Mustn't think I'm weak
because I'm small; but.... Well, you know what I mean.
Strong, but got no strength, suggested Toby. Sally shook him,
chuckling proudly at his wit and will to tease. It was like shaking a
tree, so immovable was he by the exerted strength of her weak arms.
Saucy! she said. Though I s'pose it's what I meant. Toby, you do
like ... you know ... this? she suddenly asked, not bent upon a
caress, but in a sudden doubt. Her arms were warmly about his neck as
she spoke. Toby left her no doubt. He was not talkative; he had no
ready flow of compliment; but he could speak the language which a young
girl in love best understands. He could crush her almost to ecstatic
forgetfulness in his vigorous arms. Thus embraced, Sally was in
Paradise, and her one desire was to remain there, in a sort of
annulment of every other interest; but even in Paradise she found her
thoughts irrepressible. So she chattered on, while Toby grunted or did
not say anything, or occasionally grew marvellously glib and told
something about his work, or an anecdote about himself which she
sometimes thought he must have read somewhere. And ever and anon they
were lost in silence, and their closeness to one another, and their
long breathless kisses, which made Sally lean her forehead against
Toby's breast and enjoy exquisitely the sense of being weaker than he
and of surrendering all her will to his.
If it had not been so cold they might have stood in this way for the
whole evening; but the wind was searching, and presently they began to
walk along, he with his arm about her so closely that they walked
almost with one motion. Toby smoked his cigarettes, and when he wanted
one he put his left hand in his pocket, and drew out a cigarette, and
Sally felt for his matches, and struck one, and held it for him, and
received smoke in her face, and blew the match out, and received a
kiss, Toby all the time never ceasing to hold her within his right arm.
She wished there were more cigarettes, so much did she enjoy the sense
of intimacy. Sometimes she could not resist the temptation to put her
arm round Toby's waist, and give him a little private hug of her own,
to show how happy she was. She loved the darkness more and more,
because it made her bolder. And the sky was so dark that the lamps were
like small nickers, and if anybody passed it was impossible for a face
to be seen. And Sally was alone in this dream world with Toby. She
wished it might continue like this for ever, night and day, beautifully
quiet and secret, with Toby all the time loving her as much as he did
now. It was lovely. It was lovely. She was happy. She did not feel
tired or cross or mean or worldly any longer; but only happy, and full
At last they heard a clock striking eleven, and Sally gave a jump.
Mercy! Eleven o'clock. Must go home. Good job mother's not there.
Else she'd be asking questions. She laughed as she spoke. She'd want
to know something. I shouldn't half have a time. 'Eleven o'clock: where
you been?' I shouldn't mind. I'd take no notice. I don't take any
notice of her, because ... you know ... it encourages her if you take
any notice. Oo, the way she keeps on. You wouldn't believe. Drive me to
drink, it would, if I had it all the time. But she's not there....
Sally hugged Toby. Isn't it lovely! Nobody to grumble. Nobody to mind
what time I get in.... Well, you know what I mean. I must go in now.
But when it came to the moment of parting she clung to him. I don't
want to go. I don't want to go, she cried. It's been so nice, and
I've been so happy. To her horror she felt that she had begun to cry.
With an effort she pulled herself free. Well, I suppose I must.
And you'll think of me, won't you? Just downstairs. And I'll think of
you, and wish you were there.... Oh, fancy me saying that! Toby....
She was passionately serious. Say you love me!
Love you! said Toby.
She turned and waved to him when she was a few steps away, flew back
to his arms, and stayed there for a few minutes. Then, this time with
more resolution, she ran towards home, letting herself in with a sense
of brazen guilt at her lateness, and treading softly up the stairs.
When she was in the room, she shuddered a little, at the cold, and in
her excitement. Then she lighted the lamp and looked at herself in the
mirrorat her bright, betraying eyes, at her mouth, which was also
betraying, and at her hair and cheeks and brows and hands. She was
laughing, but not aloud. Her laughter was the mirth of happy
excitement. And, still so happy, she began to undress; and then thought
she would make herself a cup of tea. So she finished undressing while
the kettle boiled, and was sitting up in bed drinking her tea when she
heard Toby go upstairs. His movements made her start, and the tea
dribbed over the side of the cup. Into her head suddenly came a memory
of her own words: And I'll think of you, and wish you were there.
And so I do, she suddenly whispered. So I do. Oh, I'm wicked. I'm
wicked! She was trembling, and forgetting everything, her eyes fixed
upon the wall vaguely grey before her, outside the pale ray of the
lamp. Mechanically, she sipped again, and the tea ran warmly into her
throat. No, I'm not wicked, Sally argued. I'm not. 'Tisn't wicked to
love any one like I do Toby. It's wonderful. Fancy me in love! And Toby
... well, liking me. Oo, he is strong and big. Wonder if he's brave? I
should think so. You couldn't be as strong as him and not be brave. Oh,
I love him. She remembered their caresses, unembarrassed and exulting.
She knew what it was to be loved. She knew ... she knew everything.
Everything that made people love each other and want to be always
together. Her mind persistently went on kneading into a general memory
the detached memories of the evening, and she was excited and full of
longing for Toby. Slowly she drank her tea, without thinking of it at
all, but accepting its comfort. Her shoulders began to feel cold, and
she shivered as she finished the cup.
Sally slid out of bed to replace the cup and to put out the lamp. As
her hand was outstretched she thought she heard a faint noise, but a
moment's startled listening reassured her. It had been nothing. She
lowered the wick, and blew out the remaining small blue rim of light.
Another instant, and she would have been back in bed, snuggled down in
the warmth. But at that instant she heard a further sound, this time
the turning of the door handle. She froze with sudden dread. In the
darkness she could see nothing.
Who's there? she whispered.
The door must slightly have opened. She could now see it open in the
It was Toby. Joy took the place of fear. He was inside the door, and
she was in his arms, and the door was closed again behind them.
My dear, Sally was saying, in a thick little caressing voice. My
Had to come, mumbled Toby, hoarsely. Thought of you all alone. I
wanted you. See, I had to come.
Of course you did, murmured Sally, her spirit leaping up and up in
tempestuous excitement. Toby, you do love me? You do truly love
She had no sense then of anything but her love for him and his love
for her. She was carried right past caution and thought. She was in his
arms, and she was happy. And Toby, a dim figure of burly strength, was
kissing her until she was blinded and choking with excitement beyond
all she had ever felt. Everything conspired to affect herall
suppressions, all knowledges, all curiosities and vanities. Nothing but
caution could have restrained her, and caution was forgotten. She was
vehemently moved and beyond judgment or reflection. Her one desire was
to give herself to the man she loved, the man who loved her. And the
opportunity was upon them as they were in the first fever of their
BOOK TWO: GAGA
Ten days later, Sally began her work with Madame Gala. She arrived
punctually, but found Nosey before her, keeping a record of arrivals.
She also found one or two other girls, who stared at her in an
inquisitive fashion and went on talking among themselves. Only when a
forewomanMiss Summersarrived did the big room take on any air of
being used for work, and within five minutes all the girls were in a
state of preparation. Sally saw that they all had sleeved pinafores or
overalls; she had none. As she had not a farthing to buy material to
make such a thing, and had only a couple of slices of bread and
margarine in her coat pocket for lunch, and would have to walk all the
way home, Sally could not fight against the chilling of her heart which
quick glances about the workroom produced. The girls were of all sorts
and sizes, some of them smartly dressed and coiffed; others wearing
clothes less expensive even than her own, and with a general air of not
knowing how to make the best of themselves. Looking round at the faces
she could see none that indicated cleverness or special intelligence.
One ferrety-looking little thing seemed as though she might be either
sharp or half-witted; a tall dark girl who was rather pretty and had
beautiful hair used her hands with assurance; but observation did not
make Sally feel ashamed of herself or of her ability. These girls could
do almost as they were told, but not quite. But the pinafore was a
serious question. Sally had never been used to such a thing. She had
not even brought an apron.
While the others settled down, whispering among themselves and
looking sharply at Sally, the forewoman, after a greeting, ignored her
until she had attended to all that was more important. In her hands was
the giving out of work. Sally saw that she was supposed to know what
each girl could do. She also saw that some girls were favourites and
others not. If she were to make progress here she must be a favourite.
She must show quickly that she had the brains and could work well. It
took a very short time to make her realise that. For a moment she was
inclined to be over-confident; but that mood collapsed before a side
glance and a titter from two of the girls. Their instinctive ridicule
warned and stiffened Sally. They did not know her. She would have to
prove her qualities. She then concentrated upon Miss Summers, watching
how she turned, how she smiled and frowned, and how she explained what
had to be done to each girl who was receiving new work. Miss Summers
was a short stout woman with cat's eyes and a long nose. She licked her
lips like a cat. She was inconsistent and short-tempered; but Sally
afterwards found that while she was extraordinarily vain she was rarely
unkind. But in general she was severe, because severity was the only
course to pursue with these chattering girls, who were full of
scratches and jealousies, and who would have taken advantage of
weakness with rapid unscrupulousness. So the little stout woman, feline
and easily exasperated, was a good person to control the room. Her
kindness might be part of her vanity, but it was not assumed. She loved
her work, and she was always glad to praise good work from the girls,
and to encourage it by favouritism to good workers. It was not the
pretty ones or the sly ones who were the favourites. It was the
workers. Following each girl with her eye, Sally could not observe that
at the beginning; but it did not take her long to add it to her now
formidable collection of facts.
When at last Sally was called to Miss Summers's side, and
questioned, she walked the length of the room feeling as though her
legs had no joints, and as though her shoulders were fixed. There were
only eleven girls in the room besides herself, but they were all
looking at her. And when she stood before Miss Summers in her little
black dress she looked so slight, with her slim body and thin pale
face, that several of the girls went on with their work again
immediately, having lost interest in her. Sally, confronted by Miss
Summers's cat-like eyes, which were a gooseberry green, twisted her
fingers, and blurted out:
I'm sorry, I got no pinafore. I didn't know I had to have one.
She was relieved when Miss Summers smiled and licked her lips.
Well, let's make you one for a start-off. Shall we?
Sally could have fallen down, so astonished was she at this retort.
Still she blurted further:
I got no money for the material.
Again Miss Summers smiled. She might almost have given a purr. She
rubbed her cold nose with the back of her hand, like a cat washing its
That's all right, she said. We'll find some stuff. It can come
off your wages. I want to see what you can do, d'you see? And that's as
good a way as any. I shall be able to notice how you do it, and give
you a word of advice if you want it. And you won't waste much time, and
you won't waste much material. And so why not? Just stand here while I
get the length. As she measured the length of Sally's frock, and
allowed a few additional inches for the pinafore, she sharply said in a
low voice that only Sally could hear: That's right: never use scent.
It's vulgar. From the look of you I was afraid you'd use scent and be
saucy. But I'm glad you aren't.
Oh, no, miss, answered Sally. Quite truthfully, she added: I've
never thought of using scent. I don't like it. Only common girls use
it. Unconsciously she was emphasising all her sibilants.
Well, some of the girls here do, said Miss Summers. Hold still.
The pinafore was a simple matter for both Miss Summers and Sally;
and before the morning was over Miss Summers had visited Madame Gala.
The new little girl's a quick worker, she said. Very clever. I
think she'll be very useful.
At which Madame Gala raised her straight brows and looked piercingly
at Miss Summers. If Sally could have heard and appreciated the speech
as Madame Gala did she would have known that she had become a favourite
at a bound. She did not even guess it, so absorbed was she in deserving
commendation, until the end of the week, when she received her full
wages, without deduction. She was tempted. How easy to say nothing, and
take the risk of it being remembered! She could easily say she was
sorry she had forgotten all about it. Then some strong impulse of
honesty made her go up to Miss Summers.
You haven't taken off the money for the pinafore, she whispered.
That's all right, said Miss Summers. Good girl to come to me
Good girl! Sally wondered if she really was such a very good girl.
She was not, morally, being a very good girl; for her mother was
still in the hospital, and she and Toby were taking risks. So far there
had been no discovery; but they were getting bolder, and only the day
before going to Madame Gala's, when his aunt had been out for the
afternoon and evening, Toby had had Sally to tea in his aunt's room,
and they had sat together over a good fire, and had silently made love
to each other for hours. The more love-making they had, the more they
wanted, and Sally had been living all the week for the time she spent
with Toby. But her mother would be coming home soon, even though she
would be unable to work; and both knew that the wild ecstasy would end
with her return. It was that, probably, which made them less careful,
or, if not less careful, at any rate less cautious in the use of their
opportunity. Sally had a dread, which she would not face, and if Toby
had any dread he never told her. For all her feeling of intimacy with
him, Sally never reached below his manner and his strength; and her
ignorance of him it was that gave the whole relation its charm for her.
He was mysterious, a compelling strength outside her, a strange man who
responded to all her wishes and who loved her as she wished to be
lovedbrutally and dominatingly. She was dazzled and infatuated. But
already, in her first days with Madame Gala, she had recovered
sufficient of her old coolness to be set upon definite personal
success. This was her strongest impulse. Her love was outside it, a
gratification now, and not a torment. She had no sense whatever of
wrong-doing; only of hostility to her mother because her mother's
return would interrupt the tenour of her life. Once only she said to
Toby, secure in her trust of his love and care: Toby ... if I have a
baby, you'll ... you'll marry me, won't you? And Toby gave her the
necessary promise in obvious good faith. Neither, therefore, troubled
about the future. They were both too anxious to live only in the
But at last Mrs. Minto returned, and by that time Sally was living
upon money borrowed from Mrs. Perce, her one friend and protector. Mrs.
Minto could not work. She wrote to Aunt Emmy, and Aunt Emmy helped her
from her prizewinnings, and for several weeks they were thus enabled to
stave off want. Once Mrs. Minto was back at home the old order of
parsimony was revived, and it cost them very little to keep life going
on from day to day. Sally's seven shillings a week helped. And at last
Mrs. Minto was allowed to go out, and Mrs. Roberson took her back.
Slowly, half-starving, they managed to exist. Sally still had her
evenings with Toby, with their glory dimmed; and as the weeks went on
she knew that she was safe from the causes of her dread, and carried
herself jauntily, and she began to earn a little extra money by working
in the evenings for Miss Jubb. This meant that she saw Toby less often,
and Toby now had a man friend from the works where he was employed, and
was sometimes with this man Jackson. Sally had her seventeenth
birthday: her figure had improved, and so had her appearance. She was
still meagre, because she had not enough to eat; but some compensation
of Nature allowed her to maintain her health and to mature.
One day, when she had gone to practise upon Mrs. Perce's piano, as
she had not done all the time they had been away from the flat, Sally
attracted Mrs. Perce's attention by singing unusually well. Her friend
listened; and then looked into the room.
What's that you're singing? she demanded. Suits you. You'll never
be able to play the piano, Sally, because you'd have to practise every
day for hours to do that; but you've got a big voice for your body. I
suppose your lungs are good. Ever heard me sing? It's like a baby
crying. But that song 'The Love Path' suits you. You might do something
with your voice. Not much, I expect; but something. You just try and
get hold of somebody who knows about such things. Might do a turn on
the Halls. You never know. If I come across anybody I'll ask them; but
I don't see many people now, and what I do are all in the 'public'
line. It's worth thinking about, for a girl like you, with your way to
make. Unless you marry, of course; and you say you're not going to do
that in a hurry. So there you are. Make the most of yourself, I say;
and let the Devil go hang himself if he's a mind to it.
Sally, who had never thought of such a thing, promised. For a time
she was flattered by the vision of singing to audiences. But that soon
faded. She met nobody outside Madame's, except for one or two young men
who spoke to her on the way home; and so she kept to her sewing and
machining for Miss Jubb. It pleased her to be able to tell Toby, who,
however, frowned, and did not seem pleased.
Seems to me you're always thinking you'll do something wonderful,
he said sourly. Doesn't seem to come to much, as fur as I can see.
Oh, doesn't it! cried Sally. She shook herself free from him, and
marched off in anger. And Toby did not follow. It was a tiff. By the
next evening both were contrite, and the matter was never spoken of
again. All the same, Sally remembered it. She remembered it the more
unforgivingly because Toby's remark had been true. Nothing so far had
happened to prove definitely that her confidence in exceptional powers
was justified. He was jealous of her! Sally laughed almost scornfully.
Fancy a big fellow like Toby being jealous of a little thing like her.
Men! They were all alike. All right as long as they were playing first
fiddle! That was it: Toby didn't want her to have a chance at all. He
wanted her always to be number two. Sally shook her head obstinately.
All right, Master Toby! she said to herself. There was no more in
it than thata momentary revolt;but once the notion had arisen it
began to revolve in her mind. She could not remember if she had ever
told Toby of her plan to be a successful dressmaker; but what would he
say to that? Would he like his wife to make money, and to have real
ladies coming to her as they did to Madam? It seemed from this that he
would not. He preferred to be top dog. Sally was to be nothing upon her
own accountmerely to fetch and carry, and do what she was told, and
husband his paltry little earnings. He'd rather be poor than owe
anything to his wife, in case she became bigger than himself. Was that
it? Was that Master Toby's idea? If so, it was not Sally's. She
suddenly understood that Toby thought of her as his wife, as his
chattel; and that she had never ceased, except in the passionate
excitement of their early relations, to think of herself as one who
belonged to herself and was going to make some sort of life for
herself. This came as a shock to Sally. She had never thought of it
before. She was beginning to grow up. From that time she first began to
criticise Toby. Until then he had been the burly man she loved. Her
thoughts of him, as her love for him, had been merely physical. She was
now to search more deeply into the needs of life, still crudely, but
examiningly. It was not enough, then, to love a man if you were going
to have something else to do in life besides love him. The idea was
new. It puzzled her. It was something outside the novelettes she had
read, and outside her own precocious thoughts. Love was loveall knew
that. She loved Toby; she had given herself to him; they were
practically married; and now it appeared that something was wrong
somewhere. Toby did not want her to be Sally: he wanted her to be just
a sort of moon-Toby. Another girl would have wanted nothing better.
Sally told herself that she was different. She went out by herself, one
evening, instead of working; and walked up to Highgate. And as she went
up the hill she sang to herself the ballad The Love Path. It began:
When you and I go down the love path together,
Birds shall be singing and the day so long,
and she could play the simple accompaniment to it with very few
mistakes. She remembered Mrs. Perce's words. What if she could
do something with her voice? Did she sing well? She allowed herself to
glimpse another glorious future.
In the middle of the walk Sally stopped dead.
Oh, doesn't it.... she said aloud. Well, we'll just see. We'll just see about it. That's all. And having as it were made her
formal protest she resumed the journey, and arrived home tired out,
ready for bed; and before she had been in bed more than two minutes she
was fast asleep, dreaming of motor cars and footmen standing on the
pavement with fur rugs in their hands. In her dream she was alone in
the cars. Even the chauffeur had no smallest resemblance to Toby. And
yet she still loved him with all her heart, and when she was with him
she felt that she extraordinarily belonged to him. Love had again at
last encountered ambition, and battle was joined.
Dreams of luxurious motor-cars, and footmen with fur capes and long
fawn-coloured overcoats, holding fur rugs to cover her knees, were now
constant in Sally's mind. She saw such things occasionally in Regent
Street, and loved to look in at the windows of motor broughams
upholstered in fawn-coloured corduroy, with arm straps and little
hanging vases of fresh flowers. The freshness of these cars was her
delight. She had no notion of the income it was necessary to have in
order to possess such cars, with their attendant footman and chauffeur;
but that income, whatever it was, became her ideal. Money! Lots of
money! With money you could have comfort. When she said that, and was
warned by conventional wiseacres that money did not produce happiness,
she sneered at the timid ones. Bet I'd be happy, she said.
What's happiness? She wondered what it was. For her it had been
oblivion in Toby's arms. It was so no longer. That was not all she
desired. It was not by any means all. And she shrank more and more
strongly from a life of squalid toil such as her mother had hadsuch
as she would still have had if Mr. Minto had been a sober man. All her
life she had slaved and slaved, and now she was worn out with it. Not
for Sally! She had other plans. She had gone to the West End, and the
West End was in her blood. She was looking round at life with some of
her old calculating determination to exploit it. The death of her
father, the passion for Toby,these had distracted her. With
increasing confidence in her position at Madam's, and a new sense of
what money could actually do in the way of procuring food and clothes
and ordinary or extraordinary physical comforts, Sally had returned to
her old faith. She began to have a little money to buy things for
herself. Once or twice Miss Summers gave her quite good-sized pieces of
material, and there were always scraps to be gathered and utilized. And
Sally was enabled to dress carefully. She became the smartest of the
girls in the room, for she had a natural sense of smartness. The other
girls did not like her, but they all envied her and admired her. It was
not that she was unpopular; but that they felt in her the hard
determination to get on, and were resentful of her manifest ability to
achieve what she meant to do.
The other girls were all sorted out in Sally's mind. There was not
one of them into whose nature she had not some biting insight. She had
become so practised that she knew all their dresses (as of course all
the others did, so that a new one was an event), and knew what
everything they owned had cost. She could recognise anything that had
been dyed, any brooch or adornment, any stockings. She would have made
a good house-detective. But she never told tales. If she knew, she
knew, and that was all. It was not for Sally to play the policeman. All
knowledge went into her memory. It would be devastatingly produced on
the occasion of a row, but Sally rarely quarrelled. With her, nothing
ever came to a quarrel. There was no need for it to do so. She was
neither jealous nor censorious. One does not quarrel with one who
neither loves nor blames nor is stupid or too anxious to show
cleverness. Sally merely was, and the other girls knew it. For this
reason she was not liked, but neither was she feared or unpopular. They
did not hide things from her, but they did not show them eagerly. Sally
was Sally. She enjoyed being Sally. She meant always to be Sally.
And at last there came into Sally's life, when she had been at
Madame Gala's for about six months, a new interest, and a singular one.
One day, when they were all working very hard, and the electric light
was on, Madame came into the workroom with another person. And this
person was a young man with a grey, thin face, rather tall and
stooping, with a hesitating manner, and a general air of weakness. He
followed Madame Gala round the room in an idle way, nodding to several
of the girls; and Sally thought he had a very attractive smile. She
found him looking at herself with a pair of large soft brown eyes, like
chocolate which has been in a warm place. It was a rather dumb look. A
little nick came between Sally's brows. She was busy making an
inventory of the young man visitor's traits, his features, his clothes.
He dressed well, and he was not bad-looking. With more stamina he might
have been almost handsome; but he was obviously not in good health. The
stoop, the vagueness of all his movements, his soft eye, all betokened
as much. Sally turned to Muriel Barrett, who worked next to her.
Who's he? she asked, indicating the stranger.
That's Bertram ... Madame's son. Mr. Merrick, his real name is. But
we call him Gaga.
Wodjer call him that for? asked Sally. Isn't he right in his
Oo, well one of the gelsshe's gone now, Mary Smith,made it up.
She said he was Mr. Gala, you know. Then she called him Bertie Gaga,
for fun; and it got to Gaga. I never spoken to him, so I don't know.
Look out, he's looking at us. Oo, I believe he's got a crush on you,
Presently the young man followed his mother out of the room, and
there was a little buzz when they were gone. The girls leaned together,
and whispered, laughing among themselves. Muriel Barrett turned again
to Sally, and became confidential. She herself was a pink, snub-nosed
blonde, with untidy hair, who was always sniffing over her work. She
jerked her head at Rose Anstey, the tall dark girl whom Sally had
noticed when first she came.
Rose thought he was in love with her once, Muriel said. Well, he
was, a bit; but not as much as she thought. I mean, he used to look at
her, and all that, but he never give her anything, or took her out. I
think ... you know ... she's a bit struck on him. That's more like it.
She thinks he's a very tall handsome man. Well, he's not my taste.
Funny, if you're tall, I s'pose you want a tall man to fall in love
with you. It's different, being small, I suppose. My Elf's only about
inch taller than me. You can't hardly see there's any difference
between us. If I've got my hair frizzed he looks....
Muriel went on talking. Sally took a glance at Rose, who, with eyes
downcast, was sewing rapidly. Sally wished she had known that about
Rose and Gaga while he was in the room: then she would have been able
to look at Rose and make up her mind about that affair. She did not
suppose really that there was anything in it, either way. Muriel was a
little foollike a little pink pig. That was just what she was like.
And she chattered like a monkey. She had said that because he looked at
her twice Gaga had got a crush on Sally. Well, Sally didn't mind. He
could have any old crush he liked, for all she cared. Gaga was
dismissed from her immediate attention, although she sometimes
recollected a pair of soft brown eyes, that made her want to say Moo
as if in response to their dumb longing.
The outcome of this visit, which occurred towards the end of May,
was a day's outing for the girls at the beginning of June. They all
went into the country by train, on a day which at first promised to be
typical of all days unfortunately chosen for staff outings, but which
cheered up later and became brilliantly fine. Only the girls were
there, with Miss Summers and another forewoman, Miss Rapson, to see
that nobody fell into mischief. They had a good picnic lunch in woods,
and ran or walked or sat about all the afternoon, until it was time for
tea. They then trooped into an hotel in which a room had been engaged,
and scrimmaged for places round a big table. The tea was an enormous
meal: Sally, who had not hitherto enjoyed herself any more than most of
the other girls had noisily done, felt herself grown to twice her
normal size. It was the biggest meal she had ever eaten, and there were
cream and milk and sugar, and there were cakes and lettuce and jam and
all sorts of other encouragements to appetite. And every time anybody
laughed the sound went up to the varnished rafters, and billowed so
much that the two elder women had at last to break in upon a laughter
competition. Sally held aloof from the laughter, scornfully regarding
the laughers. She had been rather serious all day.
And when the noise and fun were at their height Madam and Gaga and
another man and woman came into the room, having motored to the hotel,
taken their tea in another room, and determined to join the party. The
tea had been so late, and so prolonged, that it was already nearly
eight o'clock, and as the sky had grown overcast and the day was
drawing to a close the lights suddenly popped up to illumine the faces
of both feasters and visitors. A piano was opened at the far end of the
room, and the woman who was with Madam sat down at it and began to
play. But only one or two of the girls danced: the others had eaten too
much to be able to do so. Then Rose sang a song, in which she said that
her heart was aching and breaking at somebody's forsaking, and the
girls looked at one another significantly; and there were more songs,
and the girls sat back in their chairs with flushed faces, and each of
them in turn seemed to be doing something to entertain the party. With
a bored feeling, Sally was sipping her last cup of tea, when she became
aware that Gaga had taken the chair next to her, and with his chocolate
eyes was looking pleadingly into her face.
Don't you sing? he asked. I wish you'd sing.
I got no music, said Sally.
Mrs. Roach would be able to make an accompaniment. She understands
music very wellif you hummed her a song. I wish you'd sing.
Sally rose to her feet. The other girls all watched her with
narrowed eyes. She was wearing such a pretty dress of light grey cotton
poplin that she looked smarter than ever, they thoughtin fact, almost
pretty. She went close to the piano, and spoke to the pianist. Oo,
swank! whispered the girls, when they saw that Sally was to play
her own accompaniment. It was a thing none of them could have done.
'When you and I go down the love path together,
Birds shall be singing and the day so long....'
sang Sally, in her clear voice, and made everybody arch their brows
'Your heart mine, and mine in your keeping,
List while I sing to you love's tender song.
Ah, love, have done with your repining,
See how the day is clear;
Heart of my heart,
On your fond heart reclining
Dear, oh my Dear....'
She played with care, and struck no false notes. She sang her best.
Her voice was the best voice of the afternoon, a mezzo-soprano, but
with clear upper register and a fulness that suggested training. It was
not a great performance, but it thrilled the others. Sally had
triumphed. With one accord the girls clapped.
My best worker, said Miss Summers, rubbing her cold nose and
turning to the accompanist of the afternoon.
A clever little girl, agreed her neighbour.
But Gaga was stupefied. He had remained in the chair next to
Sally's, and when she resumed her place his mouth was still open with
delight and admiration. Again he leaned forward, and she met his
melting chocolate eyes.
That was beautiful, he said, in a low tone of commendation.
Glad you liked it, she said, almost brusquely. Instinctively she
shot a glance in Rose's direction. Rose, her cheeks mantling, was
observing the two with interest. Sally's brain clicked an impression,
and she listened to a stammering from Gaga which aroused her contempt.
He's hardly a man at all, she thought. He's soppy. Rose can have
him. I wish her joy of him. She can have himand twenty like him, if
she wants.... I don't know so much about that. Why should she? She's
stuck up. Why shouldn't I have some fun, if I want to? It's nothing to
do with Rose Anstey what I do, and what Gaga does....
Her demand was unanswerable, because it was addressed to one who did
not habitually withdraw herself lest she should give pain to others. If
Rose was jealous, that showed the sort of cat she was. And in any case,
who was Rose? Sally was bright in her responses to the soft voice, so
that Gaga was pleased; but the girls could all see that her manner was
cool, and not the flustered eagerness of a beggar. Rose's neighbour
whispered. When the evening was over and Gaga and his mother had gone,
and the girls had all piled into two railway compartments, somebody,
whose voice was unrecognisable in the darkness, called from the other
What price Gaga on the love path? Whey!
There was great laughter. Even Sally joined in it. Going home, the
other girls in her carriage all insisted upon hearing the song again,
and as they all had the quick ear of Cockneys they could sing it in
chorus by the time the train reached its journey's end. Sally had
become, for a time, the heroine of the occasion. Only Rose, in the
other carriage, had made her protest against the song and its singer.
Love path! she said, in a warm voice of indignation. She's
nothing but a cocketa white-faced cocket. That's what she is. She
nothing but a white-faced cocket, that Sally Minto!
From that time onward that was Sally's name among the
girlsCocket, or White-faced Cocket. Rose had coined the phrase
which would stick. When Sally heard her name the next day, through
Muriel's indiscretion, she looked over at Rose with pinched nostrils
and a little dry smile. She was flattered. The name was the product of
Rose's jealousy and injured vanity; but it was life to Sally, for it
was a testimonythe first she had ever hadto her charm and her
She did not tell Toby the next night about her singing. She rather
carefully refrained from telling him, not out of considerateness, but
from a sort of scorn for his jealousy. To herself she said Anything
for a quiet life. Toby never dreamed that such a person as Gaga
existed, any more than he guessed at any of Sally's encounters with
young men on the way home. Sally had discretion. Had he been a lover,
she might have told him; but as he was more to her than that she saw no
reason to arouse his jealousy. And really, if a man spoke to her, and
looked all right, where was the harm in letting him walk a little way
with her? She never made appointments, and after a time, when they
found she could take care of herself, and did not want a non-committed
male friend, these fellow-pedestrians soon left her alone. For Sally,
each of them was practice. To mention them to Toby would have been to
give them all too great importance. And he might have made a fuss, and
unnecessarily interrupted her fun. Where ignorance is bliss, thought
Sally, 'tis folly to call out the guard. And, further, Let sleeping
dogs lie until the milk is stolen. And so Toby pursued his own path,
and never knew a tenth of what went on in Sally's life and mind.
Compared with Sally, he knew nothing at all. She grew each day more
rusée, more cunning in knowledge of the world. And Toby blundered
where he should have been most astute. It was his fate.
Sally told him about the outing, because she saw he was in a gloomy
mood on the daya Sundayafter the girls' treat. She described it at
length as they walked in Waterlow Park, hanging on to his arm, and all
the time searching his tell-tale face and guessing at the cause of his
manifest depression. She told about the picnic and the woods, and the
tea, and the journey home; and she saw his mouth slightly open as he
grunted. She could see the tiny points of hair that were beginning to
make a perceptible blueness upon his chin, and the moulding of his
cheek, and a little patch of fine down upon his cheek bone, and the
hair at his temples which she had so often kissed. And she knew by his
averted eye that something was the matter with him. She began to try
drawing him on the subjecthis aunt, had he heard from his mother (who
had married again when Toby was a baby, and lived with her husband in
the North), what had he been doing at the Works? Ah! That was it. Toby
had started, and frowned. It was something at the Works. Oh, he was
easy for Sally to read!
What's the matter? she suddenly asked. Toby flushed and scowled
down at her, very dark and ugly in his irritation, his mouth twisted.
Matter? he demanded. What d'you mean? Nothing's the matter.
That's why you're so cheerful, I suppose, retorted SallyAt the
Works, I mean. Toby gave her a quick, angry look in which there was an
admixture of fear and suspicion.
There's nothing the matter, he said, in a tyrannic voice.
Have you got the sack? Sally was merciless. She replied to his
tyrannic voice with one as hard and stabbing as a gimlet. Ah, I
thought that was it. What you been doing?
Nothing, said Toby. And anyway, what's it to do with you?
Well, I'm out walking with you. See? And I got to do all the
talking. See? And if you're going to be surly I'll go home by myself.
That's what it's got to do with me. And, besides, it is
something to do with me, and don't you forget it. You got no right to
keep things from me.
Toby was cowed by her handling of him. He might be strong, but
brains are always more potent than muscle in such circumstances. And
men are always afraid of the women they love.
Yes, I got the push, he defiantly said.
And what's that for? demanded Sally, with the severity of a
mother to her baby. There was no answer. What's that for? she
repeated. Come on, Toby, you'll feel better if you tell me about it.
Toby, d'you love me? Well, there's nobody about ... quick! They
kissed, and her arms had been round his neck, and Toby was her
sheepish, scowling, smiling slave. Sally had a faint consciousness of
joy in her power.
Well, you see.... he began, haltingly. Jackson and I ... we been
... well, we wanted to make a bit, you see. Andtiddent his fault, but he....
Been pinching stuff, said Sally. Clumsy. Got found out. Well?
Well, they found out about me, too.
What had you been doing?
I never took anything; but I found a lot of old things among the
rubbish, and I showed them to Jackson. Well, they asked him if anybody
had been with him; and he said 'no.'
That was all right, Sally said. I like Jackson.
But then the man he'd been dealing with said Jackson had talked
about his 'mate.' And they knew that was me. And I ... told 'em a
I bet! cried Sally, scornfully. And got caught in it, too.
Well, they fired us both yesterday, and said we was lucky they
Did they pay you? What you going to do now?
I dunno. Toby stared stubbornly before him. Get something else, I
suppose. Jackson's going for a sailor. Guess I'll do that, too.
Go for a sailor? demanded Sally, with a heart that went dump into
her boots. What d'you want to do that for?
I'd be with Jackson, see, if I went for a sailor.
And what about me? Sally's voice was no longer hard or dry. D'you
want to leave me? Are you tired of me, Toby? I believe you are. Are
No, I'm not. And I don't want to leave you. But if I went for a
sailor I'd make a bit of money, perhaps, and then after a little while
I could come back and begin again. It would get over having no
reference. They'd say 'Where you been working?' and I'd say 'Been at
sea for the last year.' Then they wouldn't know anything but what I
told 'em. I wouldn't go long voyages, Sally. Only just short ones. I'd
often come home, and we'd have a spree.
Sally's quick brain was at work. She did not want him to go; but if
he went, and if she saw him often, in spite of his being away, perhaps
it would not be so bad.
But suppose you got wrecked? she exclaimed.
Rot. D'you suppose every ship gets wrecked? Don't be a fool!
No. But yours might get wrecked. How am I to know, supposing
there's a storm? It won't not get wrecked because you're on it. Would
you come home very often? Would you wear sailor clothes? Wonder how
you'd look! Oh, I knowyou mean a jersey. Would it have letters across
your chest? Where d'you have to go?
Sally was so interested that she was even making up Toby's mind for
him. By the time they went in it was decided that he and Jackson were
going to sea, and that Sally should be taken down to visit his ship if
it happened to be at the Docks or at Tilbury. She had dancing visions
of Toby in a navy blue jersey, with Queen of the Earth or La
Marguerite or Juanita across it in white letters. She could see his
dark hair blown by the wind, and the veins in his wrists standing out
as he hauled a rope. It was rather fun! she thought. My boy's a
sailor. She would be able to touch him for luck. Sailors were lucky.
She sang to herself a song one of the workgirls knew:
Sailors are lads. Sailors are lads.
Sailors they make you laugh!
Before night she was wholly reconciled to the idea that Toby would
go to sea. She soon had a dim perception of the fact that it would do
him good to go. It would get him away from the atmosphere of the Works,
where there seemed to be a lot of stupid larking and work-dodging. Now
that he was dismissed she began to realise all this. She was glad he
was away from it. She was glad he was going to sea. It would be a
complete change. It would do him good. He had been fiddling about too
long at the Works, in his overalls and in the grime and oil and general
dodginess of the place. The ship would take him about, and show him the
way people did things. It would open his eyes and his brains.
Electrically, something self-protective within her added the further
message: it would keep him out of the way for a time. Sally breathed
deeply. An unreadable smile was upon her lips, and no smile at all was
in her eyes. Afar off she scented change; but what manner of change she
did not as yet recognise. It was her instinct at work, her instinct for
turning life to her own advantage. It was an infallible instinct, like
that of birds for a coming storm.
It was some weeks before Sally again saw Gaga, and this time he came
into the premises of Madame Gala one Saturday morning. Sally had taken
something in to Madam, and was waiting her judgment, when one door
opened and Gaga came in. He was dressed, as usual, in a morning coat
and top hat, and his trousers were creased to an inconceivable point of
accuracy. Besides which, his tailors had been able to do what most
tailors cannot achieve; the creases arrived at the precise centre of
Gaga's fawn spats. Sally was not such an expert in male clothing to
recognise from this that Gaga's tailors were supermen; but she could
tell that he looked like a gentleman of leisure. She was the more
astonished, therefore, to see him carrying a parcel of some size under
his arm. His mother was evidently quite as astonished.
What on earth's that, Bertie? she demanded. Gaga looked at her in
a timid way.
Oherit's ... it's a new fertiliser, he said. I.... I'm going
to take it on to the office after lunch. Goodmayes is coming back then.
Perrip says it's wonderful stuff, and I want Goodmayes to go into it.
We're going into all that mattergood morning, Miss Mintothis
afternoon. I.... I think we may be able to get through quite a lot. You
see, as it's Saturday, we shan't be interrupted....
That will do, Sally, said Madam, gravely and slowly nodding her
head in dismissal.
Sally went with regret. She had been interested in the conversation.
She had taken it for granted that Gaga did nothing for a living. Now he
talked of going to an office, and of two men whose opinions he
evidently valued, and of fertiliser; and although his words and his
manner were still those of a hesitating man he did not speak as an
absolute fool. Sally felt a stir of curiosity. What sort of business
was it that he was in? Fertiliser ... wonderful stuff ... something to
do with gardening, would it be? As she was closing the door, Sally
looked back and saw mother and son standing together. The likeness was
remarkable. Both were tall, grey-faced, and slightly stooping. Gaga was
weak-looking for a man, and Madam had more severity; but there were
such lines upon her face that she looked like an old woman. A sudden
realisation shook Sally. As she went back to Miss Summers with an
explanation of Madam's deferred judgment she had this sharp new
knowledge about Madame Gala.
Well she won't live for ever, thought Sally, definitely.
And then she had recourse to her usual informant, Muriel, and asked
her Gaga's business. Muriel did not know. Sally was therefore left to
conjecture. She forgot all about Madam and Gaga, for Toby was going to
meet her after business on his first leave from the Florence Drake.
She was dressed in her most destructive raiment, had searched the skies
for rain, and was watching the clock. So fertilisers went the way of
all secondary things, and Toby became her dominating thought. He had
become the more splendid by his absence. She imagined him standing in
the street below, dressed equally in his best clothes, and looking the
finest boy on earth. They were going into Hyde Park and Kensington
Gardens, and he had promised to take her in a boat on the Serpentine,
if one could be hired, and somewhere to tea, and at night to the
Marlborough Theatre in Holloway Road. It was worth while to lose him
for a time in order to recover a Toby more dear, and so much more
extravagant on her behalf. He explained his generosity by the fact that
he would be drawing his wages that day. Good to be a sailor, and have
your money in a lump like that! Sally thought she would not altogether
mind if he remained at sea for a time. He could save, and she could get
on; and then they would both be happy, with a house somewhere, and a
maid, and everything spick and span. No babies. Sally had taken that to
heart, and she appreciated the value of old Perce's advice. A girl who
wanted to get on did not need babies to drag her down. She wanted
As the clock slowly crawled to the hour of liberation all the girls
began to put away their things, so that a real busyness was observable
in the room. Sally was apparently no more eager than the others, and
yet she could hardly keep herself from running to the window to see if
Toby was in the street below. Sedately she prepared to leave, walking
down the stairs slowly instead of rushing at them as she wished to do.
She buttoned her little gloves, and set her hat straight, and made
herself appear nonchalant. And that was how it happened that Gaga
overtook her at the front door, and stood with her for a moment upon
Lovely day it is, Gaga said, agreeably. You going to get away?
Away? Oh, no, I'm going home, Sally said brightly. Then, looking
at him, she saw that there was nothing to disturb the impression that
he was a gentleman of leisure. Oh Mr. GaMr. Bertram ... you haven't
got your parcel! she cried.
He slapped one hand upon the other, with a most dramatic gesture.
Idiot! he exclaimed. Thank you so much, Miss Minto. You've
saved my afternoon. And with that, raising his top hat, he went back
up the stairs, leaving Sally to congratulate herself upon her memory
and her presence of mind. For she knew the rooms would all be locked by
Miss Summers before she left.
She looked round for Toby, and saw him, as fine as a bird, upon the
opposite path. Crossing over, she took his arm with such pride and
delight that Toby, who had been frowning as he greeted her, was almost
appeased. She looked so charming in her very pale green dress with the
artfully-brimmed hat that he also had looked proud and happy at her
first appearance. But Toby had received a shock. Standing there in his
dark tweed suit, with a rakish Trilby hat and a fascinating cane, he
had felt a fit companion for any girl, and as he was shaven, and his
square face was browned with the sun and the sea wind, he had been
content. And then Sally, looking like a princess....
Who the devil's that silly fop? he demanded, jerking his head.
Sally gave a jump, and a mischievous peep up into Toby's brown face.
Jealous? she asked. That's right: be a man. They're never happy
unless they're jealous. That's Gaga. And if you want to know who Gaga
is, he's Madam's son. See?
Well, he'd better not come fooling around you, growled Toby. Or
he'll get a thick ear. With his top hat and his kid gloves and all.
Hark at it! jeered Sally. Quite the little man! Don't you think
he's awfully good-looking, Toby? We're all mad about him. All us
No, I don't, said Toby, deliberately. But I expect he's the sort
the girls like. Well, he's got a harem there, and no mistake, all
fussing round him. Is he there all the time?
No. Toby, what's fertilisers? Sally's curiosity had been revived.
Don't you know? Oh, shut up about Gaga. Anybody'd think he was a
devil. He isn't. He's soppy. He wouldn't dare to make love to any of us
girls. If I was to look at him he'd run away.
Yes, said Toby, grimly. I see he didn't like you looking at him.
Well, I'll tell you something else, Toby, added Sally, with a
persuasively dry candour. If Madam was to see me looking at him I
should get the sackspiff! See?
Toby was impressed. More, he was silenced. They spent a happy
afternoon and evening, with no further reference to Gaga. Nor did Sally
think of Gaga during the whole of the weekend. He might have been mixed
and pounded with his own fertiliser for all she cared. For Sally had
One night Miss Summers and Sally were working late upon a rush
job, and Madam was also in her room. The girls had all gone; but Sally
had been chosen by Miss Summers to help her, and Sally was always ready
to do this because it meant a small addition to her weekly money. Madam
was doing her books, and Gaga was helping her. Sally was sewing
busilybeautiful fine work that caused Miss Summers to purr and lick
her lips with relish;and as they worked they exchanged remarks which
would have been impossible if they had not been alone. Miss Summers
always spoke of the business, which absorbed her, and Sally gleaned
innumerable details in this way, without seeming to be doing such a
thing. She, on her side, gave Miss Summers a low-toned picture of her
own life, concentrating upon domestic circumstances and enhancing Miss
Summers' respect for her bravery and her willingness. When they had
been silent once for a little while, and Sally had finished the first
of her difficult and gratifying tasks, Sally fell into thought, and at
last said to Miss Summers:
Wish I knew about accounts. I don't know anything. Is it hard to
Miss Summers shook her plump face, and rubbed the tip of her nose
with the back of her hand.
No, she reassuringly said. It's easy. You know what twice one
are? Well, that's all it is. You put down on one side how much you
charged, and when you get the money you put it down on the other side,
and draw a line to show they balance. And every month or every quarter
you go through your books, and see who hasn't paid; and if it isn't
anybody special you send them a fresh account. And if it's a real lady
you don't worry her. You have to know who's who in a business like
this. That's the chief thing.
Does GagaMr. Bertram know who's who?
No! Miss Summers's tone was conclusive. But his mother tells him
who to write to, or who to send an account to, and he knows
book-keeping, and how much is at the bank; and he draws cheques for her
to sign, and that sort of thing. Between you and me, Sallymind, this
is quite between ourselves,I don't think Mr. Bertram's got a
very good head for figures. You have to be a bit smarter than he is. Of
course, he's very kind and good-looking; but if I wanted good sound
common sense I wouldn't go to him. Not a good head for figures. He's
not very sharp. Now Madam's as sharp as a needle. It's funny how a
really sharp woman sometimes has a son who'swell, not so sharp....
Would you say I was sharp? asked Sally innocently.
Like a knife, declared Miss Summers, with a quick dart of her
Really? Sally was eager. She gave a little chuckle of pleasure at
such emphatic praise.
You'd be able to do the books, but you're better where you are.
When you've been here another three months, Sally, you'll be getting
more money. It isn't only that you're a good worker, and quick, but
you've got more sense than the other girls. I oughtn't to say this to
you. I don't generally praise the girls here. But if you want to get
on, you've only got to stay where you are. You'll find Madam
appreciates you. And so do I.
You've been awfully good to me, murmured Sally, with downcast
eyes. I'm not just saying that, Miss Summers; I mean it, every word.
When I came here I didn't know anything; and now I don't know a lot;
but.... She gave a small cluck of her tongue, and a smile to show how
much she had learned. It was true. And she was even learning to speak
better, through listening to Madam and Miss Summers and at times a
customer; and she had enough sense to avoid the extravagant refinements
of Nosey. Presently she resumed: Miss Summers, what does Mr. Bertram
do? He's got a business of his own, hasn't he?
Miss Summers looked across at the door leading to Madam's room, and
lowered her voice.
It's only something Madam put him into. It's a business all to do
Farms? Sally laughed. Well, he doesn't look much like a
No, it isn't exactly farms; but chemical things they use on farms.
Now you see there's the soil. Sally nodded, so deeply interested that
she ceased her work. Some soil's good for growing things, and some
isn't. Well, when a soil's not good the farmers mix stuff with it, to
make it better.
I know, cried Sally, joyously. Fertiliser.
Yes. And then from the good soil they'll get a crop early in the
year, and then, by using stuff, they'll get another crop later. All
that sort of thing. And if cows have the mange, or the rickets, or
whatever it is cows have, Mr. Bertram's got something to give them.
D'you see what I mean? And all sorts of chemical things. Stuff to kill
weeds, stuff to give chickens to make them have bigger eggs.... He's
got an inventor, and a manager, and others who are interested in the
business, and he's got a share, and he goes to the office and goes
about the country sometimes. Miss Summers screwed up her nose and
lips, looking very like an old pussy, and in a whisper added: Doesn't
really do very much. She put her finger to her lips at that, and
Sally, resuming her work, reassured her by a glance. Of course, said
Miss Summers, he's very agreeable, and good-looking, and he's got
plenty of money.
Money! Sally's eyelids flickered. She gave a charming grin.
Wish I'd got plenty money, she said.
You will have, answered Miss Summers, confidently. Don't fret.
Your time's coming. You're young yet, and all sorts of things might
happen to you.
Sally made no response. She fell into silence for a time. She had
learnt with the greatest interest about Gaga's business, and about the
books. She learned a great deal from Miss Summers, whom she had grown
to like very much. She was by no means insensitive to kindness,
although she was not sentimental over it. And, as she thought, she came
round again to the two workers in the next room.
D'you think Madam will live long? she unexpectedly asked.
Within half an hour the job was finished, and Miss Summers took it
in to Madam. She closed the door after her, and so Sally could not hear
what was said. She stood up, stretching her arms, and looking down into
the street, for it was barely growing dusk, and she could see a few men
and women walking along in either direction. She yawned slightly,
raising her hand to her mouth, her muscles stiff. And as she stood thus
she heard the door opened and closed again, and, still yawning, said
Oo, I'm so tired!
Are you? she heard behind her, in a very soft and sympathetic
voice. Sally wheeled.
I thought it was Miss Summers, she cried.
Gaga stood there smiling shyly, and looking at her with his
appealing eyes. In this light he looked very handsome, and Sally felt
almost sorry to see that he also looked tired. His face was quite grey,
and his movements were those of an exceedingly nervous person who would
always shrink from roughness.
I'm so sorry you should have had to work so late, he said.
Oo, it's nothing, cried Sally. Do me good. If I was at home I
should only be working there, she added, explanatorily. Work, work,
Don't you ever get any fun? asked Gaga, timidly. I mean, go out,
Sally shook her head. She was silhouetted against the light.
No, she told him. Not often. It was strange how refined her
voice automatically became when she was talking to Gaga. She was
altogether restrained. You can't if you've got to earn your own
living. And have to get here early in the morning.
Gaga hesitated, half turned away, came back.
I'm very sorry, he said, in his gentle, weak way. Don't you like
it? I mean going out. Or is it just that you don't get the chance? Poor
little girl. ErI'm sorry. Erit's a beautiful night, isn't it?
Lovely, agreed Sally. I'm going to walk home.
He considered that. He did not seem to have anything more to say.
Sally moved to her place, and mechanically put away her scissors and
thimble. She was still in her pinafore, and she could not take that off
and roll it up while Gage was in the room. So they stood there,
separated by several yards. He took out a cigarette case, and lighted a
cigarette, throwing the match under the long table at the side of the
Yes, he said reflectively. Are you going to have dinner first?
Me? laughed Sally. She shook her head. When I get home. If I had
dinner in London it would take all my wages, and more, at a single go.
She laughed again, but not woundingly.
Gaga looked at his shoes, again at Sally, again at his shoes.
Look here, he blurted out, I wish you'd....
Sally's ears were pricked; but they heard only the opening of the
door of Madam's room as Miss Summers returned. Both Sally and Gaga
turned away, as if in slight chagrin. Then Gaga backed out of the
workroom. The conversation was over. It was time to go home. Slowly
Sally removed her pinafore and rolled it, thinking rapidly. Miss
Summers was so pleased at Madam's satisfaction with the dress that she
was beaming and purring and rubbing her hands together. She nodded
benevolently at Sally.
Well, you get off, Sally, she said, in a full tone of delight.
It's quite all right. Madam's very pleased with the dress. Don't hang
about now, but get home to your supper. You've been a very good girl.
Sally put on her hat.
Good night, Miss Summers. And as she passed the door of Madam's
room she gave a little silent nod towards it, and a little grimace
also. She was out upon the stairs. She was out of doors. And as she
walked along she heard rapid footsteps behind her, shrank a little, and
looked up to see Gaga standing beside her, quite breathless, as if with
a hurried journey.
ErMiss Minto, he panted. I'm sorry.... I ... will you take
these? Ergood night.
He raised his hat, and went into the building, leaving Sally mutely
clasping a box of chocolates which he had thrust into her hand. She
looked round, but he had disappeared, and she began to march homeward,
still clasping the chocolates. Only when she was in Regent Street with
her treasure did Sally dare to laugh. Then the whole scene came back to
her so vividly that she could control her mirth no longer, but stared,
shaking, into a shop window. He must have hurried out to buy the
chocolates after being interrupted by Miss Summers.
My! she whispered to herself. My! For a time that was all she
could say; but as she resumed her journey she exclaimed: Chocolates!
He never gave Rose anything at all. Ee! He was going to ask me to
dinner. Wish he had! He didn't dare! My word, he hasn't half got a
crush on me! Old Gaga! She was consumed with delighted laughter, that
made her break into smiles at intervals during the whole of the dismal
walk which followed.
Here, have a chocolate, ma, said Sally. Mrs. Minto was sitting
beside the empty grate reading, with the aid of a magnifying glass, a
piece of newspaper which had been wrapped around Sally's mended shoes.
She looked very frail and meagre, but she was very much better than she
had been, and but for the ugliness of the room and the drabness of her
clothes she would not have appeared miserable. She was, in fact, a
pathetic figure; but thanks to Sally they were no longer starving, or
in immediate danger of it.
Chocolates! cried Mrs. Minto. Then, sternly and suspiciously, she
said in her weak voice of warning, Where did you get them from,
Won 'em in a raffle, declared Sally.
Oo, gambling! reproved Mrs. Minto. It's very wrong of young
Fiddlesticks! They're good chocolates, too, said Sally. Don't
make yourself sick. It's a nuisance. Besides, I want some myself. I
am hungry. I've been working all the evening.
Working! grumbled her mother, incredulously.
Well.... I ... have! asserted Sally. Perhaps you'd like me
to get Miss Summers to give me a certificate? You'll see. I shall have
a bit more money at the end of the week. Then you'll rub your eyes.
You'll apologiseI don't think! No, I'm a bad girl, wasting my time
gadding about. You never think of that when you get the money, or the
money if I'm late.
Hush! Hush! begged her mother. I never said you was a bad girl.
You're a very good girl. But when you bring home a box of chocolates at
this hournine o'clock, and pastand say you won them in a raffle,
and you've been workingwell!
What's that you're reading? asked Sally, pointing to the small
Mrs. Minto straightened the sheet of newspaper, and held it up to
It's an old paper, she said. A trial.
Lor! Murder? Sally almost left her supper. What's it all about?
Well ... oo, he must a been a wicked wretch. He poisoned the old
lady. He'd robbed her before he did it. Took all her money to give her
an annuity, and then he poisoned her.
Poison! Whew! What sort of poison?
Flypapers, it was. Not them sticky ones, but the brown, what you
put in water. Got arsenic in them, they have.
Mrs. Minto looked over her magnifying glass at Sally in a bewildered
I don't know. It's poison. I never poisoned anybody. Not that I
No, agreed Sally. She thought to herself: She ought to have
poisoned dad. All of us. Melancholy seized her, a dreadful passing fit
of depression. Suddenly she longed for Toby. Aloud, she proceeded, more
seriously: If it's in the flypapers, why don't we all get poisoned,
Well, it seems he soaked the papers, and drained off the water,
with the poison in it, and mixed it with her foodbeef tea, and that.
She never noticed anything. She had awful pains, and diarrhoea, and
was sick; and then she died, poor thing.
Hn, said Sally, reaching out for the chocolates. I'll read it. I
Hush! cried Mrs. Minto, in horror. Read themyes; but say you
like murders! What wicked people there are in the world, to be sure. I
hope they hanged him.
Doesn't it say? mumbled Sally, dealing with a chocolate with
caramel inside it.
It's torn across. It's what I got your shoes in, Sally. It's a....
It's 'Stories of Famous Trials,' in the Weekly Something.... I can't
see what it is.
For the next quarter of an hour Sally ate chocolates and read about
the trial of Seddon for murdering Miss Barrow.
Miss Barrow! she exclaimed. Wonder if she was any relation to old
Perce! I'll ask Mrs. Perce about it. Oofancy Tollington Park! Quite
near us in Hornsey Road.
Mrs. Minto shuddered, and looked furtively at the clock, longing for
her bedtime. Sally caught the glance, shut up the box of chocolates,
and folded the paper.
You going to work? asked her mother.
Wash my hair.
You're always washing ... washing, you call it! cried Mrs.
Sally ignored the sneer, and proceeded to her occupation. There was
a silence. Mrs. Minto yawned. She looked at Sally making her
preparations, and into her face came a watchful anxiety that was
mingled with profound esteem. There was a chic about her girl
that made Mrs. Minto assume this expression quite often, and Sally knew
it. She knew it now, and was elaborately unconscious of it. As she
waited for the kettle and moved the lamp so that it would illumine the
washstand, she whistled to show how blind she was to any sign of
emotion from her mother. When the whistle was unavailing, she said
Don't you think this is a pretty frock, ma?
Mrs. Minto sighed heavily, and pulled herself up out of her chair.
Far too pretty, if you ask me, she said. Looks to me
fast. She was full of concern, and did not try to hide it from Sally.
Oo! cried Sally. You are stupid, ma! And with that she
whipped the dress over her head and revealed the fact that she wore no
petticoat. Her mother was the more outraged.
Sally began to sing.
'When you and I go down the love path together,
Stars shall be shining and the night so fair.'
Well, it's a good thing nobody else sees you like that, sniffed
her mother, rebukingly. I don't know what they would think!
Sally forebore to make the obvious retort. Her mother prepared for
For the next fortnight Sally did not see Gaga, and only at the end
of the period did she learn that he had been away from London on
business. This was one of the journeys of which Miss Summers had
spoken, to the agricultural districts. Sally could not discover whether
Gaga actually acted as traveller for his own firm; but she gathered
that he found it useful to see how the country was behaving itself in
the matter of agriculture. She suspected also that he went away for his
health. She speculated as to what he looked like with his handsome coat
off, and recalled wrists that could have been spanned with ease by her
own small fingers. In contrast, when she saw Toby, she saw with
swelling pride how big his hands were, and felt his already increased
muscles. Once he swung her clear from the ground with one arm, so that
her feet kicked against his leg in helplessness. He was getting
stronger and stouter than ever, and his eyes were clear and his skin
tanned and smoothed by the breeze. She adored him. He wanted her to go
away with him during one of his leaves; but Sally did not dare to go,
because her mother had been specially grumbling and suspicious. So they
saw each other rarely for the rest of the year, and their meetings
became the more precious for that reason.
Soon after Gaga returned, Madam went away. She had had no holiday,
and she had fallen ill, with headaches and bilious attacks and a threat
of jaundice. So it happened that Gaga came each day to the dressmaking
establishment and took charge of the cash and the accounts, while Miss
Summers and Miss Rapson interviewed any customers who came about
dresses. Miss Rapson, a tall, thin, dark woman, was in another room,
with eight girls under her; but Miss Summers was really in charge while
Madam was away, because she understood the whole business, and was a
more experienced woman than Miss Rapson. Sally had hardly ever seen
Miss Rapson until this time, so much did she keep to her own room; but
now, when the two who were in charge had to arrange their work
together, there was more interchange. Sally had often to go into the
other room with messages or work, and she came to understand very
quickly what went on there. Miss Rapson was strict, and rather
disagreeable. Her girls were like mice, unless she was absent; and her
sallow face gave the clue to her disagreeableness. She did not like
Sally at all, because she was jealous of her. Sally was quick to
perceive this, but she did not retaliate. She formed her own cool
conclusions about Miss Rapson. She understood the complexion, and she
was more concerned with the details of the work than with anything
else. Besides, she was in a strong position. She had nothing to fear
from Miss Rapson. She soon recognised that she had not much to learn
from her, either. Miss Rapson was forty, angular, shortsighted. She was
inclined to be fussy and self-important and lacking in self-reliance.
If anything went wrong she lost first her head and then her temper.
Hysterics! thought Sally, cruelly. And Miss Rapson was very anxious
indeed to have the reversion of Miss Summers' place of trust. She had
set her heart upon it, although she knew that as Miss Summers was no
older than herself, and as little likely to marry, she might
fruitlessly wait a lifetime. Anything which suggested a possible rival,
even though it might only be in the distant future, was a cause of
sleeplessness to her, and after a sleepless night, when all possible
causes of grief, summoned from memory and the inventions of her own
unquiet spirit, came into her head, Miss Rapson was one of the most
insufferable women in the dressmaking. If I was boss here, thought
Sally, and I had any trouble with her, she'd go like a shot. Easily
get someone in her place. But she did not show that she was
thinking this. She said: Yes, Miss Rapson. No, Miss Rapson. I'll tell
Miss Summers, Miss Rapson, in the most respectful way. It was Miss
Rapson who first suspiciously sounded Miss Summers about Sally. Do you
think she's deep? she asked.
Now that Miss Summers had more to do, Sally was very useful to her.
Also, Sally came to admire Miss Summers more than ever. She might be
funny, with her eternally cold nose and her cat-like appearance, but
she was an extraordinarily capable woman. She rose to emergencies,
which is the sign of essential greatness. Not once did Sally see Miss
Summers lose her nerve. True, there was no need for diplomacy or large
generalship; but when work has to be arranged so that all customers are
satisfied, not only with its quality but with the promptness of its
delivery, a good deal of skill and management is required. It was
forthcoming; and Sally was at hand to give important aid. The weak spot
in the government of the business seemed to be Gaga, who betrayed
incessant vacillation, and came in so often to consult Miss Summers
that she became quite ruffled and indignant with him. Such nonsense!
she would say to Sally. A grown up man like that asking such silly
questions. Why a girl would do it better. She had all the
capable woman's contempt for the average member of her own sex.
Girls! she would sniff. Shrewdly, Sally watched the comedy; but for
all her shrewdness she never quite understood the cause of Gaga's
weakness. It was that Madam had insisted upon early obedience in days
when Gaga's precocious ill-health made him pliable; and a docile child
becomes a tractable boy and finally a man who needs constant guidance.
Sally only saw the last stage. She nodded grimly to herself one day.
Wants somebody to look after him, she said. Somebody to manage him.
With one of her unerring supplements she added confidently: I could
manage him. And look after him, too, for that matter. Poor lamb!
The extra work kept Miss Summers and Miss Rapson late almost every
evening, and Sally also stayed, so that in the evenings she often saw
Gaga. She even, once or twice, when Miss Summers had gone to consult
Miss Rapson (who stood upon her dignity and kept to her own room),
sought pretexts for going into the room where Gaga was. She went in to
look at the Directory, or she pretended that she had supposed Miss
Summers with him; and on these occasions she stood at the door, and
talked, until Miss Summers' imminent return made her fly innocently
back to her seat. She enjoyed observing Gaga's pleasure, and even
excitement, at her approach. It gratified her naughty vanity and her
impulse to the exploitation of others. One evening when she had thus
stolen five minutes, she found Gaga ruffling his hair over an account,
and at his great sigh of bewilderment she turned from the book she was
Got a headache, Mr. Bertram? she timidly and commiseratingly
Gaga looked up at her gratefully, a comic expression of dismay upon
his face. The books lay before him upon the table, and an account had
been transferred from one to another. A litter of papers was also
there. He was in the last stages of perplexity.
No, he said. It's this account. I can't make it out. See if you
Sally went and stood close to him, leaning over to examine the
books, so that his shoulder touched her side. She knew that the contact
thrilled him, and for an instant was so occupied with the recognition
that she could not collect her thoughts. He had been adding up in
pencil on a sheet of paper the two series of entries, and there was a
discrepancy between them. Sally checked his figures: there seemed
nothing wrong with them. She herself added the two series of entries.
Then, with a pointed finger she counted the entries. One of them had
been omitted. Another examination showed which of them it was. She had
solved his mystification. Her small forefinger pointed to that entry
which accounted for the difference in the two casts. Gaga looked up at
her in wondering admiration.
What a marvellous girl you are! he impulsively ejaculated. I've
been worrying over this for ten minutes. Thank you. Erthank you.
Still she did not immediately leave him, and he made no attempt to
move. It would have been the easiest thing for Gaga to encircle her
with his arm, but he did not do so. At last Sally started away.
I must go, she said breathlessly.
Thank you, Miss Minto. I'm.... I'm so much ... obliged, stammered
Gaga. She was at the door. Oh, Miss Minto.... Sally turned, a
mischievous expectancy upon her face. Er.... Gaga swallowed. A faint
colour rose to his grey cheeks. I say, I wish you'd come out to dinner
with me. I....
Oh, Mr. Bertram, murmured Sally. It's very kind of you. I....
Do come. I'm ... so much obliged to you, you know. I mean,
Sally gave a quick nod. She peeped to see that Miss Summers had not
Well, you see, she said. Then: All right, I will. Thank you very
To-night? In half an hour? Splendid. I'll be at the corner of the
street. Just outside that big corner place. Thank you. That'll be
fine. He was jubilant. Sally went back to her place with her mouth
puckered into a curious smile that nobody could have understood. She
felt that she had embarked at last upon the inevitable adventure with
Gaga, and her sensation for the moment was one of pure triumph. A
moment later, triumph was suffused with a faint derision. She thought
how easy it was to handle Gaga. She felt how easy, how temptingly easy,
it would be always to handle him. But all the same she was rather
excited. It was the first time she had been out to dinner with a man.
She knew he would look handsome and like a gentleman; she knew he would
have plenty of money. She was glad to think that she was wearing her
newest frock, the smartest she had. Well, she demanded of herself, why
not? It'll please him, or he wouldn't have asked me! Would they have
wine to drink? she wondered. A momentary self-distrust seized her in
the matter of table-manners; but she shook it off. She would watch what
Gaga did. She mustn't drink too much. She must mind her step. Then,
irresistibly: What a lark! murmured Sally. She was very demure upon
Miss Summers' return, and listened with equanimity to a few remarks
made by Miss Summers as to the capacity of Miss Rapson. In reality her
thoughts were occupied with speculations as to the entertainment which
lay ahead. So Gaga had never given Rose anything; more fool Rose! Rose!
She didn't know how to manage a man! She didn't know anything at all.
She had been born pretty, and she thought that was all you had to do.
Sally had not been born pretty; she had had to fight against physical
disadvantages. It had taught her a great deal. It had taught her the
art of tactics. Sally was very much wiser than she had been a year
earlier. She had learnt immeasurably from her contact with Toby. She
had kept her eyes open. She was unscrupulous. It was of no use to be
scrupulous in this world; you lost all the fun of the fair. Sally was
hilarious at her own irreverent unscrupulousness.
Half an hour later she slipped out, and along the street Gaga was
waiting. He raised his hata thing Toby would never have done if he
had left her so recentlyand fell into step beside her. Sally shot a
bright eye full of assurance. As Gaga showed himself nervous, so her
Where would you like to go? asked Gaga.
Oo, you know better than ... I do, answered Sally, meekly. He
stopped for a moment; then turned eastward; then stopped afresh,
hesitating until Sally slightly frowned.
Yes, we'll go to the Singe d'Or, he explained. Unless you.... No,
we'll go to the Rezzonico. You'd like to have music, I expect. You
know, it's awfully good of you to come. I've wanted to talk to you ever
since I heard you sing so beautifully.
The Love Path! Sally gave a start. What had Mrs. Perce said! Sally
might not have a fortune in her voice, she mischievously thought; but
at least she had a dinner! Well, master Toby; and what did he think of
that, if you please?
I'm very fond of music, she said, glibly.
I could tell.... There was a pause. Do you ... do you sing much?
No, not much. Sally was speaking like a lady. Ai ... a ... don't
get very much taime. I'm very fond of. It's so ... it's so.... She was
rather lost for a phrase that should sound well.
Quite, quite, agreed Gaga, eagerly.
I wish I could play, Sally hurried to say, feeling that she had
failed in effectiveness. He was loud in protest against her modesty.
Well, I mean, I've neverwell, hardly everhad any lessons. No, nor
my voice. It's just ear. Mrs. Pa friend of maine says I've got a
very quick ear. Every now and then Sally was betrayed into Nosey-like
refinement. She fought against it from an instinctive feeling that it
was meretricious. But at the same time she was speaking with
instinctive care, so as to avoid Cockney phrases, and pronunciations,
and tones. She wanted him to think hersomething that she called
nice. They walked the length of Regent Street, chatting thus; and at
last reached the gilded Rezzonico, where there were liveried men who
seized Gaga's hat and stick, and maîtres d'hôtel who hurried them this
way and that in search of a table in the crowded, din-filled room. The
walls were covered with enormous mirrors which were surrounded by gaudy
mouldings. Tables were everywhere, and all appeared to be occupied. Men
and women in evening dress, men and women in morning clothes, some of
the women painted, others ordinary respectable members of the
bourgeoisie, were sitting and dining and smoking and chattering loudly.
Glasses, cigarettes, bottles, all sorts of dishes, strewn upon the
tables, caught Sally's bewildered eye. Above all, a scratching
orchestra rasped out a selection from one of Verdi's operas. A huge
unmanageable noise of talk and laughter swelled the torrent of sound.
Deafened, her nerve destroyed, Sally timidly followed the apparently
aimless wanderings of Gaga and the maîtres d'hôtel, her shoulders stiff
with self-consciousness in face of so many staring eyes and well-fed,
well-dressed creatures; and at last they found a table. It was a bad
table, in the middle of the room, near the band and the cash desk and a
sort of sideboard into which bottles were ceaselessly dumped. A very
old waiter, with white side whiskers like those of the late Emperor
Franz Josef, very foreign and therefore particularly liable to
misconstrue Gaga's stammered orders, served them with hors d'oeuvres,
slashing down upon Sally's plate inconceivable mixtures of white and
red and green fragments; and then hurried away as fast as his bunions
allowed. Gaga was left to choose the wine, which he managed to do after
many consultations with Sally and the waiter, and many changes of mind
upon his own account. Sally riddled all his uncertainties with a
merciless eye. He apparently knew a wine-list when he saw one; but his
nervousness was so palpable that she was inclined even to suspect his
knowledge. It was an injustice. She soon realised that the band was too
noisy for talk, and the sideboard too shattering even for coherent
thought. She knew, in fact, at the first encounter, that this was a bad
table, and that bad tables were to be avoided by any expert eye. She
knew the waiter was a bad waiter, and that Gaga was a bad host. She had
her first lesson in the art of dining out at a restaurant.
But she dined! She drank more wine than she had intended to do, and
it went to her head. She laughed, and became talkative, forgetting her
refined accent, and thereby enjoying herself very much more than she
would otherwise have done, and becoming a good and lively companion for
the meal. Gaga could not respond to her talk, because it quickly became
evident that, with all the good will in the world, he could not talk;
but as the wine reached his head also he began to laugh at her remarks,
and to look at her with such an expression of adoration in his
chocolate eyes that Sally grew more and more at ease and more and more
familiar with the passing of each minute, and the increasing effect of
the wine she had taken. She sparkled, less in her speech than in her
exhilarated and exhilarating manner. She was all nerves, all dancing
Don't look at me like that! she pleaded, archly. Gaga's
eyes glowed, and his mouth was stretched with laughing. Make me feel
How do I look at you? How does it make you feel? asked Gaga with
that kind of persistent seriousness with which a man talks to a pretty
girl when he has drunk enough wine. Tell me, Sally, how does it make
you feel, Sally? He reached his hand across the table, and laid it
upon hers. I mean, Sally.... I mean, if it makes you feel.... I'm
sorry, d'you see? I look at you as I feel. I don't know how I look at
you. I look at you....
Gaga was not at all drunk; he was merely sententious and
sentimental. Sally darted a roguish eye, first round her, and then at
Gaga, enjoying very specially this stage of the meal. It was all fun to
her, all flattering to her vanity, all a part of the noise and
excitement and well-being that was making her spirits mount. She
allowed her hand to remain under his for a moment; then tried to draw
it away; then pinched his thumb gently and recovered her liberty. Gaga
was unlike Toby. He had not the assurance of the physically vigorous.
He was gentle, mild, stammering, and ineffective. But he was giving
Sally a glorious evening's entertainment. At one step they had
overleapt all that separated them, and were friends. He began to tell
her, unasked, about his business, about his mother, about everything.
My mother's a wonderful woman, he said. Wonderful! She's made
that business with her own hands. She began in a small way, and the
business is almost out of her control. Not quite; but.... She's done it
all herself. All herself. Wonderful woman. And yet, you know, Sally;
she's hard. I wonder if you understand what I mean? She's always been a
good mother to me. I wish I could tell you how good. There's the
business I'm in, for example. But Sally.... I'm not a business man....
If I had somebody to do the business side, I've got.... I can design
dresses. That's what I'm good at. She knows. She lets me design them,
sometimes. I've got a touch, d'you see? But she's hard. She's so afraid
of anybody meddling. She's made that business herself, and she won't
let anybody else touch it. She has me to help her with the accounts;
but, as I say, I'm not a business man. She thinks I'm a fool. You
don't think I'm a fool, do you, Sally?
Me? You? cried Sally, looking at him guilelessly. Mr. Bertram!
She's very ill, Sally. Very ill indeed. I can see it. You know, you
feel something. You see her keeping on and keeping on. Something's
bound to go, sooner or later. It worries me, Sally. It worries me.
From his long and unusually consecutive speech, Gaga fell into a
silence. Meaninglessly, he repeated: It worries me. That's one reason
I asked you to come out to-night, Sally. I'm worried.
Poor man! murmured Sally.
You know, you're kind, Sally. I can see your little bright eyes
shining; and they make me ... they make me.... He was once again the
old, incoherent Gaga, fingering his unused cheese knife and looking at
her with an expression of pathetic helplessness that made Sally wary
lest she should betray amusement. I feel you understand. You're not
very old, Sally; but I feel you understand. And.... I've always felt
that. You're such a wonderful little girl. I mean.... He broke off
with a gesture of vague despair of his power to say what he actually
did mean. I feel you can help me.
Can I? asked Sally, swiftly. I'd love to.
Would you really? Gaga's tone was a fresh one, one of hope and
Course I would, responded Sally. Already she was aware of
practical advantages. Her heightened spirits were sobered immediately.
But her face did not betray this. Her face continued the demure face of
a young girl, not from any artfulness, but because she was in fact a
demure young girl, and her hidden mental calculations did not yet show
in her habitual expression.
You'll be friends with me? Gaga said, as though he asked a great
If you'll let me, answered Sally, as though she conferred one.
The movement of hands was almost simultaneous, but it began with
Sally. Gaga clasped her left one in his right. Only for a minute. Then
Sally could not resist a giggle, and the compact was unsignalised. They
talked further, Sally once again in a state of delight, and Gaga
inclined to be repetitious. And then, as it was nine o'clock, Sally
said she must go. He saw her to her omnibus, and they parted as
friends. From her seat inside, as the bus moved off, Sally waved to
him; and afterwards settled down to the journey, full of memories and
reflections of a curious and enchanting character. Not of Gaga were
these reflections, save with an occasionally frowning brow of doubt;
but of the remarkable vista which had been opened by his demand for
friendship and help. An excited recollection of the lights and the
mirrors and the overwhelming noise of the restaurant intoxicated her
afresh. Her whole face was shining with excitement. She smiled to
herself, occupied with such a mixture of sensations and imaginings that
at one moment she wondered whether she was Sally Minto at all, and
whether some magician had not changed that Sally for a new creature
born to spend her days in gaudy restaurants and among all the noise and
luxury of such a life as she had led this evening for an hour and a
One moment at home was enough to convince Sally that no magician had
been at work. It was the same squalid house, and the same squalid room
that she reached after the splendour of her dinner. And it was the same
fretful mother who complained of her lateness and chided her for the
dangers she ran in being about the streets so late. Sally made no
answer. She looked in the mirror at the dilated pupils of her glowing
eyes, and at her flushed cheeks and laughing lips; and her heart first
sank and then violently rebelled against the contrast of this hideous
place with the light and colour she had left. She was a rebel. The
contrast was too great. How could she live in a room like this? How
could anybody live? It was not life at all, but a mere grovelling. And
Sally had tasted something that thrilled her. She had come into contact
with a life resembling the life led by those who travelled in the motor
broughams she so much admired. She was ravenous for such a life. Her
natural arrogance was roused and inflamed by the comparison she so
instinctively made between her natural surroundings and those to which
she felt she was entitled by her capacities. She thought with contempt
of the other girls at Madame Gala's. The wine she had drunk, the noises
she had heard, mounted higher. She was primed with conceit and
excitement. Hitherto she had only determined by ambition to use the
world and attain comfort and success. Now she felt the power to
attain this success. She could not experience the feeling without
despising every other feeling. She looked round the room in scornat
the dull, shabby bed, and the meagre furniture, and at the little old
woman who sat by the empty fireplace with so miserable an air of
confirmed poverty. She looked higher, at Miss Jubb, and saw afresh the
stupid incompetence of such a creature. Even old Perce and Mrs. Perce
led in her new vision a life that was good enough for them, but not
good enough for Sally. There was a better way, and Sally would not rest
until she had secured that way. And she had the opportunity opening to
her. Gaga had shown her as much. With the vehement exaggeration of
youth that is still half-childhood, Sally saw her own genius. She felt
that the world was already in her grasp. She felt like a financier
before a coup. She felt like a commander who sees the enemy waver. For
this night triumph seemed at hand, through some means which the heat of
her brain did not allow her to analyse, but only to relish with
In the morning Sally had a heavy head as the result of her unusual
entertainment, and she awoke to a sense of disillusion. The room was
the same ugly room, but her dreams had fled. So must Cinderella have
felt upon awaking after her first ball. The colours had faded; the
rapturous consciousness of power had died in the night. Sally felt a
little girl once more, younger and more impotent than she had been for
months. The walk to Regent Street restored her. She once again imagined
herself into the talk with Gaga; she stressed his offer of friendship
and his plea for help. It would be all right; it was all right.
She had made no mistake. Only, she was not as carelessly happy as she
had been in the first realisation. She had recognised that the battle
was not yet won, and that much had still to be done before she could
claim the victory which last night had seemed in her hands. At all
events, hatred of her little ugly home was undiminished. She felt
horror of it.
Arrived at the work room, Sally saw it in a new light. She was
permanently changed. The girls had become nothing; even Miss Summers
had become a very good sort of woman, but subtly inferior. There was
not one of the girls who could help Gaga as she was going to do; not
one of them who could earn the advantages which Sally was going to
reap. She settled almost with impatience to work which last night had
been left unfinished. All the time that she was engaged upon it her
thoughts were with other prospects, other deliberate intentions. She
was restless and uneasyfirst of all until she had seen Gaga and
gauged her effect upon him in the morning's grey, finally because
another secret conflict was going on beneath her attention. She did not
understand what she was feeling, and this made her the more easily
exasperated when cotton knotted or a sudden noise made her head throb.
I'm out of sorts, she thought. She tried to laugh in saying: The
morning after the night before. Her malaise was something more than
Gaga came into the room during the morning, haggard and
anxious-looking. The lines in his pallid face were emphasised; his eyes
had a faintly yellowish tinge like the white of a stale egg. In
shooting her first lightning observation of him Sally clicked
Bilious. There was a little smile between them, and Gaga went out of
the room again, languid and indifferent to everything that was
occurring round him. Sally had an impulse to find some reason for going
into his room, but she did not dare to go. She sewed busily. Perhaps
she would see him later. She peeped into the room at lunch-time, but he
was not there, and in the afternoon she heard from Miss Summers that he
was unwell, and would not be coming back that day. She heard the news
with relief; but also with sudden fright. Ififif he should have
become afraid of her! If he should have repented! If, instead of
allowing her to help and to benefit, Gaga should become her enemy! Men
were so strange in the way they behaved to girlsso suspicious and
funny and brusquethat anything might have happened in Gaga's mind.
Sally recollected herself. This mood was a bad mood; any loss of
self-confidence was with her a sign of temporary ill-health. She
magnificently recovered her natural conceitedness. She was Sally.
In the evening she went home early, to her mother's interest and
pleasure; but there was nothing to do at home and the atmosphere was
insufferable. It drove her forth, and she walked in the twilight,
longing for Toby to be with her. He would not have understood all she
was thinkinghe would angrily have hated most of itbut his company
would have distracted her mind and occupied her attention. She thought
of Toby at sea on this beautiful evening, with the stars pale in an
opal sky; and she could see him standing upon the deck of the Florence
Drake in his blue jersey without a hat, with the breeze playing on his
crisp hair and his brown face. A yearning for Toby filled her. Tears
started to her eyes. She loved him, she felt, more than she had ever
done: she needed him with her, not to understand her, but to brace her
with the support of his strong arms. Sally dried her eyes and blew her
nose. Here! she said to herself. Stop it! I'm getting soppy!
She presently passed the ugly building of a Board School, not the
one which she had attended, but one nearer her present home. Outside
it, and within the railings protecting the asphalted playground from
the footpath, was a notice-board upon which was pasted a bill
advertising the evening classes which would be held there during the
Autumn Session. Idly, Sally stopped to read down the list of
subjectsand the first that caught her eye, of course, was
dressmaking. She gave a sniff. Funny lot of girls would go to that.
Girls trying to do Miss Jubb out of a job. Sally glimpsed their
efforts. She had seen girls in dresses which they had made themselves.
Poor mites! she thought. Paper patterns for somebody twice their size,
and bad calculations of the necessary reductions. Tape-measures round
their own waists, and twisted two or three times at the back, which
they could not see. Blunt scissors, clumsy hands, bad material.... It
was a nightmare to Sally. She did not go far enough to imagine the
despairs, the aching hands, the tears, which attended the realisation
of an evening's botch. She was not really a very humane person. She had
both too much imagination for that infirmity of the will, and not
enough. She passed from dressmaking to the other subjects.
There was one that made her jump, so much did it seem to be named
there for her own especial benefit. It was Book-keeping. Sally was
taken aback. She scanned the details. Two lessons a week, on Mondays
and Thursdays, at eight o'clock. A disdain filled her. She would not be
as the other girls. She would learn book-keeping. She would understand
figures. Then she could help Gaga with precisely that work which he
confessed himself unable to do. Sally memorised the details. It was
enough; she was ready for anything. As the following Monday was the
first night of the session she would be present then.
And so, her ambition mounting once more to arrogance, Sally returned
to bed and her mother, and bread and margarine, and the dingy room on
The book-keeping class was held in one of the ordinary classrooms,
separated from others by high partitions of wood which were continued
to the ceiling in panes of glass. The room was filled with forms and
desks, but the class was so small that all those composing it (and
there were fewer still after the first six lessons) were put into the
first two or three rows of desks. The teacher was a little sandy man
who made well-trodden jokes and talked in a wheezy voice well suited to
his appearance. He used the blackboard, and stood upon tiptoe to scrawl
upon it in a large handwriting. That was at the beginning. Later,
methods developed; but for the present Sally and the others were merely
initiated into the first movements of the difficult craft. With
amazement she began to learn the mysteries of the signs Dr. and
Cr., the words Balances", carried forward", etc. and the meanings
of such things as ruled diagonal lines. It was to her like the game of
learning chess, and she had the additional pleasure of knowing that
with the solution of each problem she was adding appreciably to her
knowledge, and to a knowledge which henceforward would not be wasted,
as she could turn it, as of all things she most desired, to immediate
use. Madam's accounts would no longer be a source of trouble or
bewilderment to her. She knew very soon that they would be mere child's
play to her instructed intelligence.
From the teacher and the lessons, Sally turned to her fellow pupils.
There were about twenty of these, the sexes almost equally represented,
but with the girls in a slight majority. One or two of the young men
were pale and spectacled, and so they did not interest her. The girls
were generally of a higher class than her own, were obviously already
employed as clerks in offices, and were rather older than herself. They
were the daughters of tradesmen or clerks, and all lived at home in the
better streets of the neighbourhood. They were neatly dressed, but she
was easily the smartest of the audience. The other girls looked at her
hair and her complexion, and then at each other; and a feud began.
Sally was consoled by the evident interest of the young men, who often
cast glances in her direction. She sat demurely, as if unconscious, but
in her wicked heart there was glee at the knowledge that this same
young person Sally, once the despised companion of May Pearcey, had in
a year attained such new charm as to be attractive to these young men.
She shrugged her shoulders at the thought of it. Had she been an
onlooker she would have been amused or cynical. As she was the cynosure
of the emotional eye of the whole class she could view the natural
processes of all such gatherings with satisfaction. Her shrugs were for
the respectable and alienated girls, who were like sparrows chattering
over a brilliant intruder; to the young men she offered an air of
imperviousness to their cajoleries which made her seem to at least
three of them a young person whom it might be pleasant and titillating
to know. The general arrangement of feelings towards her was evident at
the third lesson. By the fourth it had taken a quite definite form. She
had exchanged conversation with the three men: she had smiled
provokingly at the girls. The girls mentioned her at home, and to their
friends; the young men did not mention her to anybody.
The men were all older than she, were in employment, and although
some of them were still at home the majority of them were in lodgings
in Holloway, were lonely, and were desirous of improving their
positions. This was the case with Sally's three admirers. Of the three,
her immediate favourite, because he most nearly resembled Toby in
physical type, was a thickset dark young man with a budding black
moustache and polished eyes and a strong pink upon his cheekbones. But
after she had looked at him a few times she decided that he had Jewish
blood, and Jews were among her aversions. So, although his name was
Robertson, she passed him over in favour of a tall, rather bony fair
youth of about three and twenty with smooth hair and a lean, conceited
humorous face. He had assurance, which she adored, and his great length
made it queer to be talking to him, because she had to look high up to
see his face. He always wore a light-coloured tweed suit, and a knitted
tie of about ten different colours, and his aquiline nose and jaunty
manner gave him an air of knowingness which she much appreciated. He
was a stockkeeper in a publishing house, and came from the South of
England. His voice was light in tone, and he had a delightful burr.
This young man, Harry Simmons, became her friend and soon walked part
of the way home with her after each lesson. He talked politics to her,
and explained all sorts of things which she had never before known. He
told her how books were made, and how they were delivered unbound in
great bales; and when she said a book meaning a paper, he corrected
her. Sally liked him. Of the three men she now knew well he was the
best-informed. Accordingly she learnt more, intellectually, from him
than from either of the others. He quickly fell in love with her, which
was an added pleasure; and she once or twice let him kiss her, without
promising anything or revealing the existence of Toby. She never kissed
Harry in return, a fact which she cherished as a proof of her
innocence. But she liked him very much, and told him more about herself
than she had ever told anybody else. And as there is nothing like the
use of such care and such flexible and uncertain kindness, when it is
not calculated, for tantalising a young man who is agreeably in love
with a young girl, Sally had a new delight, a new self-flattery, to
cosset. The affair did not become very desperate in Harry's casehe
was too conceited, and he knew the rules of the game too welland at
length it subsided normally; but it lasted pleasantly and instructively
enough for perhaps four months, and the memory for both was one of
smiling amusement, untempered by chagrin. Sally's one dread in the
whole course of her friendship with Harry was a dread lest Toby should
see them together. That Harry should see her with Toby she did not
mind, because she could at any time have relinquished Harry without a
qualm; but she loved Toby, and took care to keep secret from him on
their infrequent meetings anything which might disturb his ardent
thoughts of the little girl he had left at home.
So book-keeping went on. And so Harry went on. But by now Sally's
interests had become many, for she was leading a busy life, and the
difficulty of maintaining all her affairs at the necessary pitch of
freshness and importance in her attention was increasing. She had to
think of her work, of Madam and her now frequent fits of illness, of
Gaga, of Miss Summers, of money, of Harry, of book-keeping, of clothes,
and of her mother. Mrs. Perce she rarely saw during this period,
because as Sally found new preoccupations she was bound to shed some of
her old ones. She thought very nicely of Mrs. Perce; but she had at the
moment no time for her. Mrs. Perce belonged to a passing stage, and had
not yet a niche in the new one. Toby she saw still more seldom than
anybody; but for Toby Sally's feelings underwent no obvious change.
They developed as her character matured, but they did not alter. She
embraced him, as it were, with her mind. Toby was somehow different
from all the others. He was a part of herself. She did not know why,
but he stood alone, whenever she thought of him, wonderfully strange,
and strong, and enduring, as much Toby as she was Sally. She did not
fear him. In some ways she despised him, for being so little pliable,
so little supple in his way of managing the world. But she adored him
as a man, and as a simple-minded baby who unerringly made her happy by
his assurance, and flighted her by behaving as though she was something
belonging solely to himself. So long as she was confident that about
nine-tenths of her life was outside the range of Toby's understanding,
Sally enjoyed his delusion. It gave her such a sense of superiority
that she relished her submission to his will in all trifles. She never
felt that his absences made him a stranger. Rather, she felt that they
increased and intensified her love and her desire for him. These at
least were unabatedmore ardent than ever. And the absences certainly
made Toby all the more boisterously glad to see her whenever he
returned from a voyage, and more demonstratively affectionate when they
were alone together.
Madame Gala had returned to work and Gaga had gone into the country
by the time Sally had joined her book-keeping class; and so that matter
seemed to be in abeyance. The ease with which the fabric of her newest
plan had been made to collapse discomfited Sally, who was always
impatient for quick results; but she did not abandon hope. She believed
in her star. She had seen very little of Gaga since their dinner. He
had avoided her, with some tokens of slight constraint, although his
greetings had been almost furtively reassuring. That alone would have
made her believe that he had not forgotten his promise. Sally bade
despair stand back. Always, hitherto, she had found her own level: she
would do it again in this instance. She had the grit of the ambitious
person who succeeds. Hers was not a vague or unwarrantable conceit: she
would work for its fulfilment. It is the mark of the great.
While she was waiting, she one day received a letter from Toby,
announcing his imminent arrival in London. He would wait outside Madame
Gala's, and they would spend his leave together. It was now the
beginning of October, and a fine Autumn had begun. The days, although
rapidly growing shorter, were warm and cordial. They were better than
the summer days. There was a crispness in the air, but there was no
chill. Filled with pleasure, Sally wore her prettiest clothes that
morning, and Toby was waiting in the sunshine at the corner of the
street, and they met with light hearts. It was just one o'clock. At
once they found a tea-shop, and had lunch; and then Toby sprang upon
her a proposal that they should go to Richmond for the afternoon, and
to Brighton the following day. He appeared to have plenty of money for
both jaunts. He had planned them as soon as he knew the date of his
O-o-o! cried Sally. Brighton! The sea! Will you take me out in a
boat? Better not: I should be sick. Take me on the river this
afternoon, instead. No: we'll just walk in Richmond Park. Ever been to
Kew, Toby? The girls say it's lovely there. What's Brighton like? I
went there once when I was a kid. Wasn't half fine. What d'you do
there? Sit on the beach and throw stones in the water? We might paddle.
Like to see me paddling? What time do we start?
Here, hold on, said Toby. They were walking to catch a Richmond
omnibus. You ask a lot of questions and don't wait for no answers. I
say ... look at that young woman there.... Look at her!
Well? demanded Sally. It's only because her shoes don't fit. She
doesn't know how to wear high heels. That's all it is. That frock cost
Did it? Toby jerked his head. Well, you ought to know, I suppose.
It's not as smart as yours.
D'you like it, Toby? asked Sally, eagerly. He had never said
anything before about her clothes. She was suddenly sportive with pride
in his interest.
Toby nodded. He had been betrayed into his speech of approval. It
was not natural to him.
It's all right, he nonchalantly said. I've seen worse.
Sally shook his arm, provoked by a variety of feelings. She loved
him to tease her. How strange! She felt a hundred years older than
Toby, and yet she felt like a little girl. And when she was with him
she did not have to mind her tongue, but could be as slangy and as
natural as she pleased. Toby did not know any better. She had not
always to be thinking, with him, of what a real lady might be expected
to say. He was a relaxation for her.
That's right, she said. Flatter me. Make me get swelled head.
Don't think of the consequences. Ladle it out. Tell me I look a little
No, Sally. I wouldn't do that, answered Toby, possessively. I
don't want you to get above yourself. You're a bit uppish as it is.
Noticed it? Well, I have. And that's a thing I want to talk to you
Oh, said Sally in a dangerous tone. What is? Look, there's a
With Sally's nimbleness and Toby's muscle they obtained seats upon
the top of the bus, and, seated together, resumed their conversation in
low, grumbling tones. She first repeated her question with new
aggressiveness, not at all deterred from the possibility of a row by
her delight in Toby's company.
About you, said Toby. You see, smartness is all very well; but if
you're going to be a sailor's wife you got to look where you're going.
Now, your last letter. It said you was being a good girl, and taking
evening classesthat's because I told you my aunt see you out with a
fellow one night, coming from the schools. Now what the Hell's the good
of evening classes to a sailor's wife; and who is this fellow
aunt seen you with?
I suppose even a sailor's wife wants to know how to cook, remarked
Oh cooking, grimly said Toby. Does the fellow learn cooking,
Sally was impudent. She was enjoying herself. She rejoiced that he
should be so jealous and authoritative when she knew that she could
always play with him.
I don't know which fellow your aunt saw, she answered flippantly.
There's so many of them at the classes. I can't tell which it might
be. Did she tell you what he was like?
She told me you was arm in arm.
That's a lie, said Sally, curtly. Nosey old cat. She never saw me
arm in arm with anybody. And even if I had been, what business is it of
hers? What does she know about me? About me and you?
She see us last time I was home. See us twice. That's why she told
me about you and this other fellow. See? She saysthat girl I see you
with seems to have got another young manlight come, light go.
O-o-oh! Sally gritted her teeth. I would like to have your
aunt by the back hair, Toby! Old cat! She's made it up, I expect.
Interfering old beast! But, after all, there's a lot of fellows at the
class, and we all come out together, and sometimes they walk a bit of
the way home with me. That's all it is. Nothing to make a fuss about.
I'm not a nun, got to pass men by on the other side of the road, am I?
Well, I won't have it! cried Toby, restless in his seat. His dark
face was darker. There was a red under his tan, and a gleam of his
teeth that made him like an angry dog. And that's enough of it. I
won't have it. You belong to me. See? And if I catch another fellow
nosing round I'll split his head open. Damned sauce! Just because I'm
away, you think you can go marching about....
He sulked for several minutes, frowning, and biting a torn
What you done to your thumb? demanded Sally taking it quickly
between her own fingers. Toby made no answer, but, very flushed, drew
his thumb away. With her chin a little out, and an air of quietly
humming to herself, Sally looked at all the shops and houses upon their
route, and at the people walking sedately upon the pavements. As it was
Saturday afternoon, many of the West End stores were shuttered; but as
the bus went farther west, and into suburban areas, there was great
marketing activity. Sally watched all the people and observed all the
shops with an absorbed childish interest that was almost passionate in
its intensity. She took no notice of Toby for a quarter of an hour. He
might not have been there. This was his punishment for being outspoken
and suspicious. She was not going to have that sort of thing from
anybody. But if Sally was supercilious, Toby was stubborn. Once his
grievance had been voiced, and had been taken flippantly, he was
reduced to glowering. At Sally's continued disregard, and after a going
over in his own mind of all they had said, Toby began to feel
uncomfortable. He began to feel a fool. At the precise moment when his
sensation of foolishness was strongest upon him, Sally turned and
slipped her arm within his, and pressed his elbow warmly against her
side. They did not speak; but peace was made. Presently Sally began to
draw Toby's attention to things they passed, and although at first he
was surly in his responses, Toby was gradually and surely appeased by
her masterly handling of him. He was not free from suspicionshe did
not want him to be, because it enhanced her value; but he was dominated
by her cajolery.
When they arrived in Richmond, and had climbed the hill, and had
looked down from the Terrace Gardens upon that lovely piece of the
Thames which is to be seen from the height, Sally and Toby walked arm
in arm about the Deer Park. They saw the leaves falling, quite yellow,
although the trees were still dense with foliage; and the crisp air
exhilarated them. In the sun it was hot and dazzlingly bright.
Tell me about what you've seen, Toby, suddenly asked Sally.
Seen? Toby fumbled a minute in his mind. What d'you meanseen?
At sea, and when you go ashore. You know. Ships and places.
Toby looked puzzled. Well, what's there to tell? he questioned. A
ship's a ship. You wouldn't understand if I was to tell you I'd seen a
schooner, or a barque, or a cattle-boat, or a dinghy. He was rather
lofty. I mean, you wouldn't know.
How do you know, then? How can you tell the
difference? she persisted.
Toby laughed at the fact that she had not recognised how he had
slipped in the dinghy among recognisable ships. He had supposed
everybody knew what a dinghy was. He pointed that fact out to Sally,
who could not see that she had betrayed such glaring foolishness.
Pressed to confine himself to comparable vessels, Toby condescendingly
It's a question of the size, and the rig.... All that. He was
elaborately the expert, sure that an amateur could never understand.
Sally might have retorted with baffling words about seams and camisoles
and voile; but she was shrewd in mystic silence. You'd have to see the
ships.... Then I could point it all out to you. I mean, a gunboat or a
cruiser or a trawler.... What I mean, they're different. See a
big liner going out from Liverpool: I tell you, it's a sight. Flocks of
people, and the old thing moving along like grease. Leaves you
standing. At first you don't half feel a fool. But on a boat like ours
there's no time to look about. We're under-manned. That's what it is.
Not enough of us to make it light for everybody. Ought to be altered.
Got to be doing chores the whole time. Swabbing down, cooking
Can you cook? Sally was swift, arch, incredulous.
Toby grinned. Then he remembered her classesher cooking
classesand his aunt's message, and grew suddenly serious.
Look here, Sally. That cooking. I don't like them other fellows,
he said. I mean to say, meeting them at classes, and walking home, and
Sally held his arm tightly. A look of scorn appeared upon her face.
In her heart a feeling arose of impatience and amused enjoyment of his
concern about a thing that was to her so trivial compared with her love
You going to begin that again? she demanded. Silly. Here, put
your face down. There! D'you think I don't love you. Think I don't
believe you're worth ten of those others? Well, I do. And that's enough
Toby was obstinate. He wanted her to be his property. Nevertheless,
his tone was milder.
It's not right, Sally, you going about with other fellows. What I
mean, you think it's all right, but what do they think?
I don't care what they think. I don't care what anybody
thinks, except you. And if you don't trust me, well....
Toby was manifestly terrified at the removal of her arm from his. He
caught it again, but she wrenched free. For a few moments they walked
along together in dead silence, gloomy and disunited. Toby clenched his
fists. He looked about him, and uneasily rocked his head and cleared
his throat. Sally knew that he was reassuring himself by saying
internally that if that was the tone she was going to take....
You see.... he began.
Oh, shut up! cried Sally, savagely. I've had enough of it. A
moment later he heard a little sob from her, and moved close, overcome
with his consternation. At his touch she started away. Here it was that
Toby's physical strength served. He was easily able to put his arms
round her, and hold her closely. A voice from the faintly struggling
Sally wailed: You don't trust me.... You'd better get some other
I do! I do! Toby swore. Damn it all, Sally. I mean to say....
Bring me out ... make me miserable.... came the strangled little
Toby was conquered. Sally knew that she had him at her mercy. She
had known it all along. She had been enjoying herself, enjoying this
second quarrel as much as the first one, because she knew exactly what
the outcome would be. A quarrel is always worth while to a loving girl,
for the sake of the reconciliation. They were the sweetest moments of
the day, because in them was begun the true softening of hearts and
rousing of the emotions which later gave them so much delight. Toby and
Sally were happy all the rest of the afternoon and evening, and loved
one another; and when it was dark, and none could observe them, Toby
kissed Sally with all the fervour that he had saved up in his long days
away from her. He kissed her lips and her cheeks and her eyes, and
crushed the life out of her with his powerful arms. And Sally, at first
laughing, had grown quieter and quieter in his arms as her joy in his
love had deepened. They stood there, far above the river, in the
gloaming, with the leaves whispering and slowly floating down through
the air as they fell from above. Presently the moon rose, and in the
moonlight the two wandered together, and forgot all their plans and
ambitions and jealousies. Both were given over entirely to the moment
and to the passion of the moment, which was still as strong as it had
A fortnight passed. Gaga came and went. Sally had no word with him,
because he could not speak to her in the workroom or in his mother's
room, and because she never met him (as she half expected to do) in the
street. Sally often thought of their evening together, but gradually,
as Gaga took no further step, she became sceptical about his plan, and
she hardened towards him. Already her active mind was casting about for
new outlets. She visited Mrs. Perce, and repaid ten shillings of the
amount she owed her. She wrote to Toby, walked with Harry Simmons, had
conversations with Miss Summers and Muriel and Mrs. Minto. And so the
days passed. But at length Gaga took the awaited step. He met her one
evening, as if by accident, upon the stairs, and immediately stopped.
She had gone past him when Gaga found his tongue, and checked Sally's
progress by a stammering. She waited.
Er ... I never ... see you now, he began. Sally looked up at his
tall figure, thrown sharply into relief by the clear light from a
window upon the stairs, and by the pale grey distemper of the wall
behind him. Again she noticed that creeping redness under the grey of
his cheeks, and the almost liquid appeal which he directed at her. I
... er ... I meant to ask you.... To-morrow....
Oh, thank you, Mr. Bertram! I'd love to, cried Sally, quickly. He
was passionately relieved, as she could see. Not only by her acceptance
of his intended suggestion, but at the salvation of his tongue.
At the corner? Seven o'clock? At the corner? Where ... where ...
where we met before? Really? Fine! He nodded, and took off his hat,
and climbed the stair. Sally, very sedate, descended. Well, she was
still all right, then. How strange, she was quite cool! She was not at
all elated! That was because of the delay, which had encouraged
indifference; but it was also because the invitation was expected and
because Sally was no longer to be shaken as she would have been by a
novelty. She was ready. She was once again a general surveying the
certainties of combat with a foe inferior in resources to herself.
So the next evening she deliberately stayed later than the other
girls, and worked on with a garment which had occupied her attention
all the afternoon. She was doing some plain embroidery upon a silk
frock. It was upon this occasion that she received a great mark of
favour from Miss Summers. Miss Summers, trusting Sally entirely, showed
her how to lock the door after her. She had just to slip the catch, and
slam the door, and nobody could enter the room without first using a
key. And Miss Summers went, leaving Sally alone in the workroom. It was
a thing hitherto unknown. It showed trust which had never been given to
one of the other girls. Apart from Madam and Gaga, if one or both of
them should still be working in Madam's room, Sally was at liberty, and
in sole occupation of the establishment. It did not occur to Sally to
think so; but Miss Summers would never have given her this privilege if
she had not known that Madam also would approve. It would have been too
dangerous a responsibility for Miss Summers unsupported. Madam must
have seen that petty theft was a thing which did not tempt Sally. She
was too ambitious for that, and obviously so. Keen judge of character
as Madam was she must have known it all. But neither Madam nor Miss
Summers could have realisedas both, with their experience of girls,
should have donethat there were possibilities other than theft. Sally
had listened to the explanation of the door catch, and had promised to
shake the door when she left, so as to make sure that it was fast; but
her only conscious thought had been one of surprise and delight that
she should be left alone. Alone to do as she pleased. Alone to sing,
dance, loiter. Alone, perhaps, with Gaga. At that notion she had a
curious little thrill of excitement. Her eyes became fixed for a
moment. She did not speak, or give any other sign. She was not
thinking. Merely, her general awareness was pierced by a sudden ray.
Had she been sure that Gaga was by himself in the next room, Sally
would have found some excuse to go in there. It would have been such an
opportunity as she had never had before. But although she went close to
the door, and listened eagerly, there was no sound within. The room
might have been empty. Or Madam might be there; and if Sally sang,
which would please Gaga, Madam might come out, find her in the workroom
without real excuse, and give her the sack. Sally was too wise to
believe that in such a case Gaga could save her. She could imagine him
stammering a defence, and being crushed, and perhaps being kind to her
for a little while and fussing about to find her a job elsewhere. And
that would be the end of that. She neither sang nor whistled. Every now
and then she again listened, until she was impatient with uncertainty.
Her impatience made her laugh. Fancy being impatient for seven o'clock!
And for Gaga! It wasn't natural. It waslike Gaga himselfridiculous.
Seven o'clock struck before she was ready; but Sally did not care.
She had no objection to the thought of Gaga waiting in patience at the
corner of the street. Toby would have been a slightly different matter.
Not that she was more afraid of Toby now than she was of Gaga. All the
same, she would not have kept him waiting. Neither Toby nor Gaga would
have kept Sally waiting. Toby would have been punctual; Gaga had been
standing at the corner already for five minutes. It was a curious moral
effect that Sally had. She was not to be treated lightly. Even now, she
was learning her power, and in this case she was illustrating it. She
did not join Gaga until she was satisfied that every smallest fold in
her dress was in perfect order, her hat precisely at the desired angle,
her gloves buttoned. Then, shutting the door with a steady bang which
rendered any shaking needless, she kept her appointment, not a timid
dressmaker's assistant, but a woman of the world. At seventeenfor she
had not yet reached her eighteenth birthday, although it was now very
nearshe was more of a woman of the world than she would be at
twenty-eight, when her first intuitions had been blunted by actual
Gaga was standing thoughtfully leaning upon his walking stick. His
shoulders were bent, and the slim, and rather graceful, outline of his
figure made him appear almost pathetic in his loneliness. SallySally
the hard and ambitiouswas struck by a sharp irritation and pity,
almost by compunction. She did not know what her feeling for Gaga was;
but principally it was composed of contempt. He had good looks, and he
had money. He could help her at present as nobody else could do. But at
heart Sally dismissed him with a word which, to her, was fatal. He was
soppy. Not mad, not altogether stupid, but painfully lacking in vital
energy and confidence. Of all things Sally best loved assurance, and
Gaga had none of it. He drooped in waiting, and the message of his fine
clothes was contradicted by his pose, and not reinforced by it.
I'm sorry I'm late, she said perfunctorily, at his start of
recognition and delight. Gaga's face changed completely. From one of
gloom, his expression became one of joy. I didn't notice the time. I
was working there aloneMiss Summers had gone. I was finishing
something. I didn't know if you'd gone or not. I couldn't hear anything
from Madam's room. Didn't like to knock, or anything.
Gaga said nothing. He walked by her side, and Sally looked up at him
almost as she might have done at a policeman or a lamp-post. He was
tall, she thought, when he straightened his back. And he dressed like a
prince. At that instant she was proud to be walking by his side. She
thought: I must look a shrimp beside him! Him so bigso tall, and me
so little. But I'm as smart as he is, any day in the week. Wish he
always held himself up like that! What salmony lips he's got, and ...
it's his long lashes that make his eyes look so soft. Chocolate
eyes.... Funny! He's got a weak chin. No, his chin's all right.
It's ... you can't see his jaw at all: goes right in, and gets lost.
And a funny nosegot no shape to it. Just a nose. She had the
curiosity to wonder what his grey cheek felt like. She would like, one
day, to touch it with her finger, just to see. It looked dry and soft.
All this she glimpsed and considered like lightning while they walked
quickly towards Piccadilly Circus; and her notions gathered and grew in
Were you working? Sally presently asked, trying to say something
to begin a conversation.
Gaga shook his head, stealing a shy glance down at her.
No. Not working, he said. I had rather a headache, so I went for
a walk in the Park.
Oo. Sorry you've got a headache. Sally unconsciously became
sympathetic. Is it very bad? It's nerves, I expect. If you're nervous
you have splitting headaches. My mother's always talking about
her head. She gets so tired, you know; and it goes to her head; and she
sits still and can't think about anything else. Is ... is Madam quite
well now? She was looking so ill....
Gaga became mournful. The mention of his mother always, it seemed to
Sally, made him miserable. Silly Gaga! He then did something which had
an imperceptible effect upon Sally's thought of him. It was a mistake,
because it illustrated his lack of initiative and his powerlessness to
strike out a fresh path. He made straight for the Rezzonico again. He
ought to have taken Sally to another restaurant; but he instinctively
took her to the place where they had dined happily before. In that he
betrayed to her merciless judgment the fact of his inexperience.
Silently, they entered the big dining-room. The band was not playing at
the moment, and, as they were early, the room was less full than it had
been upon the first occasion. The enormous mirrors reflected their
hesitating movements. Gaga made his way vaguely towards their former
table; but Sally laid a hand upon his arm. It was time for her to take
command. Into her expression there crept the faintest hardness, almost
a tough assurance, that was tinged with the contempt which was her
deepest feeling for Gaga.
Couldn't we get a table against the wall ... down there? she
It was done. They were installed, and a young and rapid waiter was
attending to them. This time Sally helped to choose the dinner. She
could not read the menu, because she knew no French; but the waiter,
with an uncanny insight, realised that he would do well to address her
and to explain the dishes to Sally instead of to Gaga; and so, to the
relief of all three, they were quickly served, and wine was brought,
and Sally began to feel creeping upon her all the old pleasure and
excitement of noise and wine and an intriguing situation. Her hardness
vanished. She sat almost with complacency, breaking her roll with two
small hands, and looking at Gaga with that thin little grin which
caused her meagre face to be so impish and attractive. The brilliant
lights which made Sally more and more piquante had a ghastly effect
upon Gaga. His grey cheeks were cruelly betrayed.
I'm afraid mother's ... mother's not what she ought.... I'm afraid
mother's ill, began Gaga, stammering. Then, impulsively: I say....
I'm so glad you came to-night. I.... I've beenyou know, my headI've
been miserable, and.... I've been bad-tempered all day. But I'm better
now. Couldn't help ... feeling better, seeing you there....
Sally grinned again. If her cheeks had been plumper he could have
seen two dimples; but all that was observable was the row of tiny
pointed teeth that made her smile so mischievous. Sally's eyes looked
green in the electric lightgreen and dark and dangerous, like deep
sea; and her pallor was enhanced, so that she was almost beautiful.
There was something both naïve and cat-like in her manner, and the tilt
of her head. She surveyed Gaga with eyes that were instinctively
half-closed. She could delightedly perceive the effect she was having
upon him. He sometimes could not look at her at all, but fixed his
attention upon his plate while she was speaking, or no higher than her
neck when he was himselfas he rarely didmaking an attempt to
entertain. And all Gaga's hesitations and shynesses made Sally amused
and sure of herself, and she began to take pleasure in dominating him.
When she found that Gaga not only did not resent this, but was pleased
and thrilled by her domination, Sally grew triumphant. She chose the
sweet for them both, sweeping her eye down the prices and listening to
the waiter's translation of each title. She sipped her wine with a
royal air of connoisseurship. And she kept such control of the
situation that Gaga was afraid to give words to the timid ardour which
shone from his expressive glance. Sally was herself: it was still she
who conferred every favour, and not Gaga.
Presently she had a thought that whipped across her mind like a
D'you know what I've been doing since we came here before? she
demanded. I've been taking lessons in book-keeping. I'm getting on
fine. The teacher says I've got a proper head for figures. He says I
shall be a cashier in no time, and understand all that you can know
about accounts. Isn't that good? So I shall be able to help youlike
Gaga gave an admiring gesture. He was overwhelmed.
Oh, but you're ... marvellous! he cried. Simply marvellous!
Here's Miss Summers says you're the best hand, for your age, that she's
Did she say that? Sally jumped for joy. Really? She gave a
triumphant laugh, so naïve and full of ingenuous conceitedness that
Gaga was overcome afresh with admiration.
You ought to have been two people, he answered. Two little
Half a dozen! Sally proclaimed. You see, I'mit sounds
conceited, and I expect I am; but it's trueI'm clever. I'm not soppy.
Other girlsRose Anstey.... They're soppy. They can't do anything. I
can do all sorts of things because I'm cleverI can sew, and ... you
know, all sorts of things.
Gaga glowed at her words.
I know, he eagerly agreed. That's why you're so wonderful. Most
girls can only do one thing. They can't even do that very well.
That's true. Takes them a week to do it; and then somebody has to
do it over again for them. They haven't got any brains. They got no
sense. They don't think. Sally was impetuous.
They've got no brains at all, said Gaga. They're like
vegetables. Both laughed, in great spirits and familiarity. Well,
Sally.... My mother's.... She's a wonderful woman, too. She's been
marvellous. Marvellous! She must have been like you....
Bigger than me, she murmured, brooding upon an unwelcome
No. Not bigger. She's nearly three times as old as you. My father
died, you see.... I was a child. She had to make a living. Had
So have I got to, whispered Sally. I got no father; and mother's
in her second childhood.
Gaga stopped. He looked at her. A singular expression crossed his
Now, you have to, he said. Er, I mean.... Well, ... you won't
Mean, I'll marry? demanded Sally, sharply. Give it all up to cook
the dinner and wash the front step? She shrugged again.
Gaga reddened slightly.
I.... I didn't think you'd do that, he said, hesitatingly. I only
meant.... What I wanted to say ... mother's not well. She's ill. She's
really ill. She'll have to take a holiday. I wonder.... His hesitation
was more prolonged than usual. He became as it were lost in a kind of
doubtful reverie. Sally could not tell whether he was thinking or
whether the wheels of his mind had altogether ceased to revolve. His
mouth gaped a little. At last he concluded: I wonder if I could ... if
I could borrow you from Miss Summers. If she'd mind. If she'd let you
There was a silence, while both thought of this possibility.
Look here, cried Sally, confidently. Like this evening, Miss
Summers left me thereall alone. I mean to say, she didn't mind. She wouldn't leave any of the other girls like that; but she left me.
She knew it was all right. Well, I wouldn't mind stopping in the
evenings and helping you. I'd like to. I'm quick. I could get through a
lot of work.
Oh, but it wouldn't be fair, he objected.
Why not? I'd love it. See, I'd get overtime.
Sally was really prompting Gaga in this last sentence. He frowned,
and moved one of his long hands impatiently across some crumbs which
lay before him on the table.
Oh, money.... he said. More than overtime. We'd.... I say, it's
splendid of you. It's a splendid way to do it.
Would you like it? breathed Sally, her heart beating faster at the
implication. Gaga reddened. His lips were pressed together.
It would be perfect! he cried, vigorously.
How lovely! Sally's face broke once more into that expressive
grin. They sat smiling at each other, almost as lovers do who have
stumbled upon an unsuspected agreement in taste. The mood lasted
perhaps a minute Then it changed ever so slightly. Would Madam mind?
next urged Sally.
Gaga's face clouded. She was watching him breathlessly, and saw his
fists clenched. His tongue moistened the lips so lately compressed. His
head was inclined. At last, dubiously, he spoke.
I wonder, he muttered. I haven't said anything to her. I don't
think.... His face fell still more, until it was undetermined. I'm
afraid.... I'm afraid ... perhaps she mightn't like it. You see, she's
... she's ... rather.... She doesn't like anybody.... She mightn't
quite ... understand.
Sally's contentment vanished abruptly. Her heart became fierce, and
her tone followed. It was rough and hard, with a suggestion of despair
and of something less than respect for Gaga.
It's no good! she cried. It's no good. I'm a girl. Girls can
never do anything! A man can do all sorts of things; but, just because
she is a girl, a girl can't do one of them!
She was watching him all the time she was speaking, and only half
realised that her indignation was warmly simulated in order to produce
an effect upon him and stiffen a wavering determination. For a moment
Gaga did not speak. He was turning the matter over in his mind, and
Sally saw the changes of opinion that passed across his face. Weakness,
submission, obstinacy, bewilderment were all to be observed. Above all,
weakness; but a weakness that could be diverted into defiance through
dread of her own contempt. The moment was desperate. Tears sprang to
Sally's eyes. She became tense with chagrin and stubbornness. A gesture
would have swept her wineglass to the floor.
Never mind! she cried, savagely, now really moved to anger and
despair. You see how it is! I always knew it wouldn't be any good.
Knew it! Oh, I ought to have....
Gaga was roused. His voice, when he spoke, was strangled.
Don't be silly! he cried. We'll do it ... er ... we'll ...
somehow we'll do it. Sally waited, her anger cooling, a hope rising
once again in her breast. Cruel knowledge of him surged into her
thoughts. At last the determination she desired came from Gaga. He
said, in a grim tone: She needn't know. We won't tell her.
Sally's eyes closed for a moment. As if she had willed this, she had
attained her end. No longer was there to be any doubt. They had an
understanding. They were going to do something together which must be
kept secret between themselves. She did not make even a tactical
display of unwillingness. She too greatly desired the end to endanger
(though it should be to confirm) her aim by any further display of
finesse. It was enough. She was hot in her glimpse of the triumph she
had secured. She would be able to stay. The rest of their evening was
now unimportant, because they had need only to speak of details, and of
matters unconnected with the plan.
Upon the day following this dinner and momentous conversation, Sally
was working listlessly amid the hum of girls' chatter, which proceeded
unchecked while Miss Summers was out of the room, when she had a
singular knowledge of something in store. She was struck almost by
fear. Quickly she looked up, and across at Rose Anstey, and beyond Rose
to the door of Madam's room. Miss Summers stood in the doorway,
smiling, and beckoning to Sally. Smilingso it could not be
anything.... Madam wanted Sally; but Madam would not tell Miss
Summers.... Had she found out about Gaga? Sally's heart was like lead.
But Miss Summers was smiling kindly and significantly, which she would
not have done if she had thought the interview promised to be
unpleasant. Besides, Gaga had said Miss Summers called Sally her best
worker. It was nevertheless a nervous girl who went into the room,
heard the door close behind her, and found herself alone with Madam.
The room was that tawny one in which Sally had first seen Madame
Gala. It was lighted by one large window and it was not really a large
room, although it contained Madam's enormous table and a bureau and a
number of shelves upon which reference books stood. It was very quiet
and cool in summer, and warm in winter; and Madam sat at her writing
desk in a stylish costume unconcealed by any overall. Seated, she did
not look so terrifyingly tall; but her faded eyes had still that
piercing scrutiny which had disturbed Sally at the first encounter. Her
face was lined; her hair bleached and brittle; but the long thin nose,
and hard thin mouth, and parched thin cheeks all gave to her glance a
chilling quality hard to endure. Her hands were those of a skeleton:
all the bones could be seen white under the cream skin. Sally, abashed
and full of flutterings of secret guilt, stood before her as she might
have stood before one omniscient; but her brain was not abashed, and
her hearing was as strained as her alert wits. So the two hard
personalities encountered. Presently Madam smileda smile that was
tortured, like Gaga's, and showed anæmic gums but a row of
astonishingly good teeth.
Sally, she said. Sit down there, will you. Now, you've been here
nearly a year. D'you know that? You were seventeen when you came.
You're eighteen now.
Nearly, interjected Sally.
Well, when you came you had seven shillings a week. We're going to
make it ten shillings from now. And of course overtime as usual. You
understand that I don't want you to talk outside about your wages. At
the end of what we call the financial year we may be able to give you
more. I can't promise that. But Miss Summers tells me that you are a
good and willing worker; and I can tell for myself that you are
intelligent. I think it will be worth while for you to stay here; and
if you go on as you have begun I shall hope to keep you. Now don't get
the idea that you're indispensable. Don't get conceited. But be
encouraged by knowing that I take an interest in you. That will do,
Sally, thank you....
Thank you, Madam, responded Sally, demurely. She stood in an
attitude of humility, a tremulous smile of candid satisfaction playing
round her mouth.
Nobody in the workroom could have guessed from her manner the
turbulence of Sally's emotions. Pleasure, relief, self-confidence
struggled within her. She felt an enormous creature surveying a pigmy
world; and yet, mechanically, she resumed her sewing at the point where
she had left it. The other girls all turned inquisitive faces in her
direction. Was it the sack? A row? A rise? Nothing at all? Sally was a
baffling creature ... a white-faced cocket. She was deep. That word of
Miss Rapson's had entered the hearts of the girls. Sally had heard it;
she knew that they felt her superiority, and gaped at it with faint
resentment. A flash told her now that they were all on tiptoe, and her
nonchalance was a piece of acting which she enjoyed for its effect upon
the others. She most mischievously enjoyed her privilege. And she had a
new cause for triumph, a double success. She felt herself a schemer, an
intriguer, which she was not. She was merely an opportunist, seizing
the main chance. Not only had she a secret understanding with Gaga; she
had also a secret understanding with Gaga's mother. She was most
marvellously Sally Minto. The world was open to her. It was not the
extra three shillings a week that intoxicated her: it was the sense of
a difficult and engaging future. Her ambition had never been so strong.
She turned her thoughts to the miserable room at home, to her mother,
to Mrs. Perce. She wandered afield to the dinners with Gaga, to her
recent talk with Madam. Not merely wealth, but power, seemed to lie
ahead. She saw once more Madam's bad health; the probable exaltation of
Miss Summers. If she took care, she would presently lie in the very
heart of the business. Its accounts would be under her hand in the
evenings; its work visible to her eye in the daytime. Miss Summers
liked her and trusted her; she was sure of her own ability, her own
shrewdness; without deliberately planning it, she had earned the
good-will of the three people who really mattered, so far as her
progress was concerned.
What if Madam were away ill? What if she died? Sally trembled at the
prospect. She trembled lest some accident should interfere with what
was otherwise inevitable. She knew that with Miss Summers she had no
rival; her compact with Gaga was secure, unless his weakness betrayed
them. Even here, she knew she might rely upon his integrity. Gaga would
keep to his word. Sally saw herself installed as bookkeeperoh, if she
were only older! If she were older, if she were twenty-five, she would
hold the business in the hollow of her hand. She was already learning
how to speak to the ladies who came to give orders; her shrewdness
would quickly show her which were good accounts and which required
watching; and her work never grew careless. With each perception
Sally's brain and her capacity for adapting herself to every
circumstance seemed to expand. She was already much older than her
years. With a little more experience she would be in a commanding
position. But Madam must be ill, Madam must.... Madam must be very ill;
and yet not before Sally had made sure of Gaga. Gaga was the key with
which she would enter into her proper sphere. He must be her mascot.
With her head bent Sally stitched busily on, never allowing ambition
to distract her from the immediate task. Baffled, the girls fell again
to their work. That Sally Minto was deepyou couldn't tell what she
was doing, what she was thinking. She was deep. Under her breath Sally
was humming a tune, a familiar tune. A slow grin spread over her white
face, and faded again. Looking up, she caught Miss Summers's eye, and
smiled faintly, gratefully, reassuringly. She recognised at once how
pleased and proud Miss Summers was at Sally's progress. If her mind had
not been so busy, Sally would have felt a little warmth stealing into
her heart; but she was not aware of anything except Sally Minto and her
plans for worldly advancement. She for this moment saw Miss Summers
also merely as an instrument, a plump, pussy-faced woman with an
eternally cold nose and a heart quick to respond to the best efforts of
her favourite hand.
It was with a jump of excitement that Sally heard, in the following
week, that Madam was very ill indeed. Gaga came in the morning with a
haggard face, having spent the night by his mother's bedside. He had a
few words with Miss Summers, who came out of the room with a comically
solemn look upon her plump face. She made no remark to the girls, but
at lunch time, when the others were out, or were dispersed in the part
of the building where they were allowed to eat whatever they had
brought for lunch, Sally stole into Madam's room and found Gaga there,
sitting at the desk with his hands covering his face. When Sally
approached him he did not seem to have heard her, but continued sitting
thus lost in a depressed stupor. Sally knew that there was nobody in
the room behind her: they were quite alone.
Mr. Bertram! she said, quietly. Still he made no response. Her
heart quickened. Was he asleep? Was hewas he dead? She took a further
step, and then spoke his name again. There was a slight movement. He
was awake, and merely very unhappy and perhaps exhausted. With the
slightest feeling of self-consciousness she advanced to Gaga's side,
and laid a hand upon his shoulder. She could see the thinning hair upon
the top of his head, and the long slim fingers pressed to his temples.
Mr. Bertram, I'm so sorry, whispered Sally. Her arm slipped
farther round his shoulders, and her breast was against his head, so
gently pressing there that Gaga was only conscious of the faintest
contact. He relaxed slightly, and his hands fell. Two gloomy eyes
looked up into Sally's face. She withdrew her arm, standing now beside
him, altogether apart.
You made me feel queer, Sally went on. Thought you were in a
faint or something. Are you ill? Oh, say something, say something!
All Sally's little thin body grew rigid as she spoke, for Gaga
looked at her with an air of distraction. He seemed not to recognise
her. His eyes were yellow and suffused, his mouth was open, his
appearance that of one who was hardly sane.
I'm all right, came at last with an effort from his dry lips. All
right, Sally. Only tired ... ever so tired. There followed a stiff
attempt to smile, and then his face was hidden once again by the long
hands. My head's throbbing. It's like pincers in my head.
Have you got any medicine? she asked, quite moved by his weakness.
Go out and get some. Quick! Get a chemist to.... The head was slowly
shaken. You ought to. You can't do anything if you're ill.
Can't do any work, or help Madam, or anything.
Better presently, groaned Gaga. That's ... that's all right,
Sally. Good little girl to be so kind. I've been up all night. She's
very bad, Sally; very bad. I've been up all night. Never mind; I'll be
better presently. He relapsed into his former comatose state,
nerveless and lethargic.
You ought to get some sleep now. Go home to bed, urged Sally.
It's no good trying to work if you're sick. Go home now. She did not
know how motherly, how caressing and wise, her voice had become. She
was absorbed in his state of exhaustion and passivity. It's not
right, she went on. You can't do any good. Get the doctor to give you
something to make you sleep.
Gaga groaned again, still lost in his own sensations.
No good, he murmured. I can't sleep. That's what's the matter.
Nothing does any good. I can't sleepcan't forget. Only sit here like
this, and feel stupid. Never mind, Sally. Good little girl. He spoke
thickly, like a man who has been drinking; but he was stupidly
unshakable. She could do nothing with him. Having withdrawn her arm she
could not again lay it upon his shoulders; but stood silent, feeling
helpless and on tiptoe, with a sense of strain. She was not miserable
nor anxious about him; she could almost hear her own voice, so nearly
had detachment come upon her. And with something like cramp in her
limbs, and paralysis of her ingenuity, she remained by his side, one
hand resting for support upon Gaga's desk. Presently he withdrew one of
his own hands, and patted hers; and as if that released her Sally went
very quietly back to the workroom. There she saw two or three of the
girls busy reading a paper, and in a little while Miss Summers came
back and work was resumed. By the time Sally could again go into
Madam's room Gaga had disappeared, and they did not see him all the
Two days later he returned, and dully went on with his work as
though it had no interest for him. Miss Summers had several times to
suffer the ordeal of debilitating interviews; and towards the end of
the afternoon was exasperated to tears. Sally could tell this from the
sniffs and nose-rubbings that became more and more frequent. Miss
Summers's eye-rims were quite pink, and her funny eyes were moist. She
looked more than ever like a disconsolate tabby, and her hands were
restless and clumsy. She had to ask Sally to thread her needle, and
even to finish work that she was doing badly because of her agitation.
Thank you, my dear, murmured Miss Summers. So kind. Then, in a
low tone, Do for goodness' sake go in and see what Mr. Bertram's
doing. He's quite absurd, like somebody mad. He's not in his senses,
that's clear; and it's enough to drive anybody crazy.
Sally left the girls and slipped into Madam's tawny room. At her
entrance Gaga gave a start, and his ruler fell clattering to the floor.
But when he saw who was there his face brightened. A faint smile spread
across the grey cheeks, making Gaga look so charming, in spite of his
illness, that Sally was unexpectedly relieved. Her own smile was
instantly responsive, and she stood almost roguishly before him in her
short frock, and the demure pinafore which she was wearing over it.
Miss Summers sent me, she explained. Thought you might want some
Gaga shook his head, the smile still apparent. He shook his head
again, trying to find words to express himself, and failing.
No, Sally, he at last ventured. No help. I'm better ... almost
better, to-day. I can understand ... understand what I'm doing. I'm
afraid ... er ... afraid I was very stupid the other day. I've thought
of that since. Er.... I say.... I wish you'd ... come out to dinner
Really? Sally beamed upon him. She gave her little grin, and
nodded. If you'd like me to, of course I will. I'll be ready. Thank
you very much.
Gaga made a heroic effort. He began to stammer, checked himself, and
at last succeeded in imposing coherence upon his wandering words.
It's you who ... ought to be thanked, he answered. You cheer me
Do I? Sally's tone was eager, her reply instant. I'm so glad. I
like to feel I ... you know, cheer you. Does me good.
They exchanged shy smiles, and parted; Gaga to resume his labours,
Sally to report his increasing sanity to Miss Summers. And then there
followed the unwanted hours that always lie between the making of a
desired appointment and the enjoyment of its arrival. Sally stitched
with a will, for her anticipations for this evening were not of an
ambitious kind. She knew all the time she was working that she looked
forward to the outing, and she was not at all puzzled at her own
expectancy, because in any case a dinner with Gaga would always make a
break in her often monotonous days and evenings. But she could never
altogether fail to make impulsive plans and it was as the result of
unconscious reflection that she checked Gaga in the course of their
Don't let's go to the Rezzonico, she said, quickly. Let's go
As a result, they turned eastward, into the region of the smaller
restaurants, and looked at several before Sally picked one called Le
Chat Blanc. It seemed to her to be the quietest and cleanest they had
seen, and at any rate it would be a new experience to dine there. The
doorway was modest, and the windows curtained low enough (in a red and
white check) to permit a glimpse of the small but shining interior.
Within, all was grey and white. Sally led the way into the place, and
to a remote table, and seated herself with an air of confidence
remarkable in one who dined, as it were, for the third time only. She
glanced at the two waitressesboth very dark girls with earrings, who
wore their black hair coiffed high upon their heads. They were
Italians, agreeable and inquisitive; and the food-smells also were
Italian and full flavoured. As soon as the two were seated they became
the property of one of the two waitresses, who stood over them so
maternally that she seemed to have no desire but for their good-fortune
in choosing the meal aright. She plunged both Sally and Gaga into a
muddle by her persuasive translations of the menu, but she made up for
her linguistic deficiencies by this anxious interest and by a
capricious smile. Scared and curious, they looked round the plain grey
walls of the clean little room, and at the four or five other people
who sat near them, and at the ceiling, and at each other.
It's funny! whispered Sally, exultingly. Never seen anything like
I.... I've never seen one ... so ... so clean, stammered Gaga.
Near them a conceited young man with a hard voice and small eyes was
talking impressively to an untidy-looking girl in green with a mauve
chiffon scarf. While he talked, the girl smoked his cigarettes, and
interjected remarks of superior quality. Sally heard her say Ah, in
sign of agreement, and once Oh, yes, of course Flaubert....
What's Flaubert? she asked Gaga. He appeared startled.
Er ... I don't know, he answered. What put it into your head?
That girl said it. Listen. They listened. The young man was
arguing about something. He was arguing about something of which
neither Sally nor Gaga could discover the purport. Sally said: They're
both woolly. Woolly-wits, they are. Both got maggots. What's 'art,'
anyway? Pitchers? And all that about values?
Gaga was buried. He had a sudden inspiration.
Don't listen to them, he said. It's something they ... they
I bet they don't, remarked Sally. You don't talk about things you
Well, let's talk about what we don't understand.... He was
beseeching in his tone, and his soft eyes glowed. The waitress
approached, bearing two large plates piled high with spaghetti.
Golly! ejaculated Sally. Howjer eat it? Fingers?
They had little time to talk while they were engaged with the capers
of this surprising food; but when both were tired of playing with the
spaghetti they turned their attention to the straw-covered bottle of
Chianti which had been brought. Sally made a wry mouth at her first
venture. She had yet to learn that the wine was heavier than any she
had yet drunk. She strained her ears to catch more of what the
fascinatingly conceited young man was saying about his inexhaustible
topic. Good-looking boy, if he cut his hair and shaved his moustache
off. She saw Gaga look anxiously and wonderingly across at her, with a
kind of hunger; and she was shaken by a mischievous notion. She had
never done such a thing before, but she put her foot forward so that it
touched one of his, and smiled right into Gaga's chocolate eyes. The
slow red crept up under his skin, and they had no need to talk. Sally
was laughing to herself, and eating some beautifully cooked veal, and
she knew that Gaga was glowing with contentment. She at last observed
the two talkers slouch out of the restaurant, the man in very
baggy-kneed trousers and a loose coat, and the girl in a dress of home
make. A quick wrinkle showed in Sally's grimacing nose as she brought
her professional eye to bear; and then the two talkers were gone and
were forgotten. Sally and Gaga were quite alone at their end of the
room, in a corner, favorably remote for intimate conversation from the
Funny us not knowing what they were talking about, mused Sally.
You don't, you know. It's very hard to know what anybody talks about.
To understand it, I mean. Hard to know anybody, too.
I shouldn't have thought I was hard to know, ventured Gaga.
I wasn't thinking about you, said Sally, with unconscious cruelty.
I was thinking.... I've forgotten. Isn't this wine sour! No, I'm
getting used to itgetting to like it. Hasn't halfI mean, it's got a
nice smooth way of going down. As Sally checked herself she realised
that she was now so much at ease with Gaga that she no longer worried
about her pronunciation or her words when she was with him. Worry?
Sally's conceitedness soared into the air and frowned down upon the
faltering Gaga with something like scorn. Poor Gaga! thought Sally.
Instantly her hardness returned, and she looked at his lined face and
the pale lips that hung a little away from his teeth in sign of
ill-health. She saw his dark grey morning coat, and the slip inside the
waistcoat, and his sober tie. And it seemed to Sally that she saw right
into the simple mind of Gaga. He was so simple, like the hire purchase
system. He was about the simplest man she had ever seen, for his tongue
could hardly utter more than the tamest of words and phrases, and he
never seemed to Sally to keep anything back.
And yet, you know, she went on, following Gaga's remark and this
train of thought, there's lots more to know about people than just
what you seeand what they do and say. If you know them ever so well,
you only know a bit of them. You don't know me. You think I'm a little
girl in the workroom, and a worker, and all that.
I think you're a marvel! ejaculated Gaga.
Yes, well, when you've got to the end of thinking I'm a marvel,
what happens? You don't know me any better. I might be a
poisoner, or a ... or a.... Sally's invention failed her. I might
keep a shop, or serve a bar, or be an actress, she went on, recovering
fertility. I mean, in the evenings.
Yes, said Gaga, dubiously. I suppose you might. He was struck
with a rather superfine notion. But you're not, he concluded. He
enjoyed a manifest triumph.
No. Sally raised a declamatory finger. But if I was, you
wouldn't know it.
They had reached an impassable spot in their talk. Sally had
confounded Gaga. Neither he nor she was quite as mentally alert as they
had both been when hungry; and the Chianti was beginning to make them
drowsy and rather slow-witted. But having embarked upon the question of
possible knowledge of character they could not, in consideration of
their slight heaviness, be expected to relinquish a topic so circular
and so suggestive of personal intimacy. As the wine acted more
powerfully upon them it was more and more to themselves that their
thoughts and speeches turned.
I feel sometimes that I'm a great fool, confessed Gaga. But I'm
not really a fool. I see a lot, and ... I don't seem able to act on it.
D'you understand what I mean?
Weak, Sally vouchsafed, wine-candid. Gaga glanced quickly at her.
I don't think I'm weak. I.... His thoughts strayed. See, I've
never had much of a chance to show what I can do. My mother's such a
much stronger character than I am.
Sally nodded, and sipped again at the thick glass from which she was
I'm strong, she said. I'm hard ... tough. If I make up my mind....
Yes. I'm like that, insisted Gaga. It was so preposterous that
Sally could only look measuringly at him with a puzzled contempt that
might have been read.
I'm stronger'n you are, she answered. I'm small; but I don't mind
what I do. You're a good boy. I'm not. I'm bad. I'm ... you
don't know what goes on in my head. Suddenly exasperated, she went on:
That's what I meant. You think I'm just a quiet little thing. I'm not.
You don't know what I think about. I want to do all sorts of
things. I want to be rich, and have a good time, and have lots of ...
lots of power. I want to get on. If anybody gets in my way I
push 'em out of it. If anybody gets in your way you stand
I don't. I get my own way, but not by fighting, Gaga said.
Oho! I don't fight, retorted Sally. They're afraid to fight me.
They're afraid of hurting you, he suggested. But I know just what
you mean. His confidence was unshakable.
I kick 'em in the stomach, Sally asserted. Anywhere.
Yes. They wouldn't take liberties with you.
Not unless I wanted them to, said Sally, abruptly sober. They
wouldn't try it on. None of the girls ever worry me. When I first came
they did. They were saucy. I soon stopped that. I got a tongue, and
they found it out. Now Miss Summers
Don't let's talk about the business, pleaded Gaga. Sally was
Funny! she exclaimed. We haven't, have we!
It's so much nicer being ... friends.
One of Gaga's hands was stretched across the table. With a sense of
mischief Sally allowed him to take her own hand. Then she moved it
They're looking at us, she whispered to him. Those waitress
girls. Instantly she was free. She had the thought that a real man
would have held her hand for a moment longer. All the same, she enjoyed
her power over Gaga. The little unreadable smile that so excited him
was upon her face, and the knowledge of power was in her heart.
They sat for a little while over coffee; and then Sally began to put
on her gloves. A few minutes later they were out in the dark street,
and pausing to discover the points of the compass. As they stood, a
great gust of wind came sweeping along from the southeast, and at its
onset the two became strangely embraced, Gaga's arm being round Sally,
and the brim of her hat against his breast. They both laughed, and
Sally stood upright; but she did not move so violently that Gaga must
withdraw his arm. She was amused and elated at contact with him. Gaga,
encouraged, drew her closer.
Oo! murmured Sally. She let him see her laughing face.
Gaga, very excited, lowered his head. Sally jerked her own head upon
one side with lightning speed, and felt his lips clumsily upon her ear.
Twice he kissed her convulsively hugging her to his side. Then Sally,
rather breathless, but not at all discomposed, pulled herself away.
Now, now; that's enough, she said. They were both grinning; but of
the two only Sally was cool. She could tell that Gaga was trembling
slightly, and when a little later they parted he held her hand for a
long time, and sought timidly to draw her to him again for another
kiss. Sally, however, ignored the pressure, and left him standing in
the yellow shop and street lights, while she rode securely homeward in
her omnibus. Her last glimpse was of newspaper bills lying upon the
pavement, and of men and women in motion against the lights, and Gaga
standing watching her out of sight. Then she looked round the omnibus,
at some other girls, and an old man who wore two waistcoats, and the
conductor; and her face again puckered into a smile.
Doesn't half think he's a devil, she thought, demurely.
Then other thoughts of Gaga arose, and Sally frowned a little. She
had a sudden feeling that she was on difficult ground. She was not
afraid, not nervous; but her imaginings darted swiftly here and there
at the bidding of a knowledge that she must not at this juncture make
any false step.
All the way home Sally had the one subject, the one series of
speculations, hammering at her attention. She was again sensible; she
was shrewd and perceptive. Gaga was a funny old stick, she thought;
funny and weak and nice. She could play upon him with ease. A touch,
and he was thrilled; a kiss, and he was beside himself. And yet what
did he wantwhat did he think he wanted? And what did Sally
herself want? She did not know. She felt at a loss, excited and almost
wanton. Yet so much depended upon all this that she dared not make a
mistake. Gaga's good-will was of enormous importance. In his hands lay
some of her future. If she could help him, earn rewards, understand the
business, she could master everything. And Madamwhat if Madam died?
Supposing she suddenly died, and left Gaga in control of the business,
what would happen? Sally hoisted her shoulders in doubt. Gaga might
sell the whole thing. He might run it himself. He would keep Miss
Oh, I wish I was older! cried Sally, impatiently. I could do it,
but they wouldn't let me. They'd think I couldn't. I could! Not all at
once, but in a little while. If he'd hold on. Supposing he ... wants
me.... Her thoughts flitted away. She had a quick picture of Gaga as a
lover, of herself managing everything by keeping him at her side with
cajolery and parsimoniously-yielded delights. But he might grow tired
of her; and then where would she be? Sally did not trust men now; she
too clearly saw that once they were no longer tantalised they were
liable to become sated and uneager. She was face to face with that
speculation here. It all depended upon Gaga, upon the strength of her
hold upon him. Could she so play that she reaped all the advantage she
needed without giving anything at all? She was desperately tempted. She
so greatly craved the power which only Gaga could give her. Well, what
did he want? It was not enough that she should recognise her power to
excite him: she needed much more than a few odd favours. And she was
afraid to do anything to force him to grant whatever he could. In any
case, what could he give her? She was too observant to be deceived as
to his powerlessness. She saw him as a cypher; but as one who might one
dayperhaps quite soonown the whole business. Who else was there to
make him do anything with it? There was nobody. Sally knew her own
strength. What she could not guess was the best means of using it to
her own advantage.
She arrived home to find her mother in bed, with her short grey hair
scantily bedecking the pillow. At Sally's entrance, Mrs. Minto opened
weary eyes, and looked at her with a sort of hatred. Sally knew the
expression: it was full of suspicion and dread and solicitude, the
result of Mrs. Minto's lonely evening of speculation.
Hullo, ma! she cried, recklessly. Here I am. And I haven't been
working. And there's nothing to fuss about. And that's all about that.
Where you been? sternly demanded Mrs. Minto.
Well, began Sally, if you must know, Madam's worse. She's
ill. Think she's going to die. And I been talking to Mr. Bertram, and
giving him good advice. I'm a mother to that man. What he'd do without
me I can't think.
Oo, Mr. Bertram! It was clearly a warning cry. Mr. Bertram! Oo,
Soppy, ma. We call him 'Gaga.' He's weak, you know. Cries over his
work, like a kid. Wants somebody to give him a bit of backbone.
Confidence, suggested Mrs. Minto, intrigued by the picture. She
said no more, but rolled over and stared at the dim wall until sleep
crept upon her and annulled her reflections.
Sally was struck by the word. Confidence! That was what Gaga needed!
Half the time he was afraid of his own shadow. Quickly her brain
refashioned the meal she had had with Gaga. Poor lamb, he hadn't got
any confidence! Madam had kept him down. He wanted rousing. Once get
his blood up, and he might do something really.... For the first time
Sally was genuinely interested in Gaga. She had never honestly thought
of helping him for his own sake. All she had thought of was her own
future. And now her mother had put Gaga in a new light. Sally almost
thought well of him. He might be rather bigger than she had supposed.
What if he were?
Yes, but what did Gaga want of Sally? You don't kiss a girl because
she is anything but a girl. It was a profundity. Gaga had kissed Sally
Sally turned away to hide from any glance of her sleeping mother the
gleeful smile which had made her face radiant. She had been kissed
because she had encouraged Gaga to kiss her; but he was so timid that
he would never have done it if he had not very greatly desired to kiss
her. She wondered what he thought about her. He talked of their being
friends; he was half silly about her; he had kissed her and had
wanted to kiss her again. Having begun, he would want to go on kissing
her. And then, what? He would be afraid to kiss her at their next
meeting; but he would all the time be watching his opportunity to do
so. Was Sally going to give him his opportunity? Was she going to give
him the confidence necessary for the task of using his opportunity? She
was still gay, still amused and self-confident; but there was a doubt
in her eyes. She wanted to know more. She wanted to know all that was
still hidden from her. All the same, during the whole of her
questioning of Gaga's ultimate aspirations, she never once lost the
consciousness that the next step lay with herself. Was she going to
give him that necessary confidence?
Oh, I think so, thought Sally, deliberately; and smiled almost to
laughter as she lay with her face upon the pillow and was aware of the
whole of her warm body, from the tip of her nose to her round heels and
the eager fingers bunched close to her breast. I think so.... she
repeated, with more humorousness. She had a vision of Gaga with his
chocolate eyes glowing into her own as the result of the wine and his
proximity to herself. She saw his thin lips stretched, and the faint
red under his grey cheeks, and his thin hair. She felt his lips
clumsily kissing her ear, the nervous clutching of his arms. Sally was
pleased. She knew that sleep was almost upon her, and heard Mrs.
Minto's deep breathing a foot away from the back of her head.
Yawningly, she snuggled more comfortably into her pillow, and as
consciousness slipped away a distant murmur seemed to repeat: Yes ...
yes.... I ... think so. In a mood of expectant triumph she slept, sure
for the moment of the course of future events.
All the next day Sally's nerves were on edge. She had slept heavily,
and had awakened unrefreshed. She had made her way to Madame Gala's in
a tame morning mood, once again self-distrustful, very much waiting
upon events. The sight of Nosey checking the times of arrival, and
still more the gloomy aspect of a half-empty workroom, chilled her.
Miss Summers looked spiteful, Rose Anstey was sniffling with a cold,
the others were listless and tired. It was a muggy morning, and all
spirits were low. Sally's were lower than any others in the room. She
began to work with only half her ordinary attentiveness, broke her
cotton, snapped a needle, fidgetted. Her eyelids were hot, and she felt
a headache begin to throb faintly in promise of greater effort later in
the day. She was restless and wretched, looking at the door which
probably hid Gaga. Even the memory of last night's kisses was stale and
unsatisfactory. As she drew her breath in a half-sob, Sally longed
suddenly for Toby. She longed for his strong arms, his possessive air,
his muscular strength. And as she thought of Toby a tear came to her
eye, and she felt that life was not worth living. A consciousness of
childish need for support destroyed all her confidence at a blow. How
she hated all these stupid girls! How she longed for somethingshe
could not imagine whatwhich should take her out of their company.
Complaint filled her mind. Why should she have to work, to go backwards
and forwards between the workroom and that miserable home where her
mother stewed incessantly and followed the course of her monotonous
days? It was a mood of pure reaction, but it made Sally desperate. Her
head began to ache more noticeably. She was almost crying.
That, perhaps, was the condition of them all. None of the girls
spoke, and all looked black and miserable as they bent over their work,
or slacked and glanced around them. Outside, the rain began to fall,
and the sky was grey with cloud. The lights had to be switched on, and
they cast a deceptive glow upon all work, and idiotic shadows of the
moving fingers of the girls. Miss Summers glowered and rubbed the tip
of her nose; and at each crack or rustle of a chair or a piece of
material she glanced sharply up, as though she were fighting with an
impulse to scream. Sally felt that if Miss Summers had screamed they
would all have screamed. She herself was tempted to scream first, so as
to see what would happen. She thought that all work would be instantly
thrown down, and that everybody would answer her cry, and then begin
noisily to sob. Even miserable as she was, the thought of this
avalanche of feminine excitability made Sally snuffle with amusement.
She pictured Gaga running out of his room, distraught, looking yellow
and bilious, his eyes staring wildly out of his head, as do the eyes of
prawns. And then? And then Rose Anstey would fall bellowing into his
arms, and Sally would tear her away, and claim Gaga before them all....
How astounded he would be! But anything would be better than this
wretched suppressed exasperation which was making the atmosphere of the
workroom unbearable. Fortunately a girl finished the work she was
doing, and took it to Miss Summers.
Very bad! snapped Miss Summers. It's not even straight! You must
do it again. Naughty girl, to waste that silk like this!
The girl began weakly to cry. All the others stared viciously at
her, gloating over her distress, hating her, and thankful to have some
object at which to discharge their suppressed venom. They would have
liked to beat her. Savagery shone in their malignant eyes. All became
sadistic in their enjoyment of the weeping girl as she crept back to
her place. Only Miss Summers grew rather red, and swallowed quickly,
and was ashamed.
Nancy! she called. What is it? Aren't you well?
Nancy put her head upon her outstretched arms, and they could hear
the long dreadful sobs that shook her body. Upon every face Sally read
the same message; the curled lips, the pinched nostrils, all indicated
the general strain.
We're all like that this morning, Miss Summers, she said, almost
with defiance. It's the weather. That's what it is.
The other girls all turned from Nancy and transferred to Sally their
mounting malevolence. They would have liked to see her swept from her
place. They could have scratched and bitten her with fury. And yet, a
moment or two after she had spoken, there was a perceptible relief.
Nancy stole out of the room, to finish her cry and bathe her face, and
one of the girlsher friendwent after her. There was a pause in
work. A window was opened, and some air lightened the oppression. Sally
remained seated, while the others crowded to the window, and slowly
recovered her own composure. And then, in five minutes, when everybody
resumed, it was found that things were not so bad after all, and
Nancy's work was rectified, and Rose Anstey blew her nose and looked
disagreeable, and some of them talked; so that presently all became
more animated, and the sky lightened, and the day was less trying. Only
Sally's head continued to ache, and her spirits to falter. But she no
longer sighed for Toby. A curious dread of him came into her
consciousness, which she could not understand. She was afraid. She felt
defensive towards him, and explanatory. Under her attention all sorts
of impulses were at work. Pictures of Toby in different circumstances
began to flash into her mind, always blurring in an instant; while the
memory of her dinner with Gaga grew stronger and more remarkable. Not
knowing what she was doing, Sally pushed her work away, and sat in a
brown study, until she became aware that she was under observation.
Sally met these cruel stares with immediately assumed equanimity,
and she once more drew the work towards her; and in a few moments the
girls forgot Sally, and chattered a little together. And by the time
their attention was withdrawn wholly it was the luncheon interval which
meant more to all of them than usual, since it once more gave the girls
an opportunity for standing up and moving about. They grouped, and went
slowly towards the room where they always ate; and Sally was able to
open the other door for an instant, only to discover that Madam's room
was empty. With a sinking heart she followed the others, again beset by
a loss of confidence.
In the afternoon she was sent out by Miss Summers to match some
silk, and this gave Sally relief without which she must have ended the
day feeling ill. As it was she came back just as they were making tea,
and her own cup of tea sent the headache away. For the first time that
day, Sally heard herself laughing. She was telling Muriel of a fight
between two dogs, and how a man had been overthrown in the mud through
trying to part the dogs; and when Muriel laughed Sally laughed also,
which made the other girls prick up their ears and grow more lively.
There was a great change in the general atmosphere after tea. The
constraint disappeared, and everybody became more normal. Needles were
more adroitly used; the light improved; a general air of contentment
arose. Sally no longer thought of Toby, or of Gaga. She was making a
dream for herself, out of a motor car she had seen, and a handsome
soldier, and the way a commissionaire had stepped out of her way. She
needed few materials for her dream, and was a fine lady for the rest of
Dreaming, however, has its penalties; and for this occasion Sally
was punished by having to stay rather late in order to finish what she
was doing. The other girls began to go home; but Sally and Miss Summers
remained at their tasks. The delay produced a strange experience for
Sally, because when they were alone together Miss Summers began
abruptly to talk. She hummed a little at first, and then broke into a
long speech which had been seething all day in her mind.
I hope you don't think I was nasty to Nancy this morning, Sally.
She's a funny girl. She's in love, you know; and thinks of nothing but
this man. And he's a married man, too, and not a good man, Sally. He'd
think nothing of leading a girl like Nancy into doing wrong, and
leaving her to get on as well as she can. Well, that's not right,
Sally. Miss Summers felt for her handkerchief, and Sally noticed with
astonishment that there were tears in her eyes. You see, when a man's
married he ought to be careful what he does. Now once, when I was a
girl, I'd got my head full of the sort of things that young girls
havenot you, Sally; you're too sensible;and I met a man, and
thought he was the ... well, I thought he was the finest man in the
world. He wasn't. He'd got a poor wretched wife that he neglected, and
he drank, and when he ran away they found he'd been betting with money
that didn't belong to him. And he very nearly took me with him.
Fortunately, I didn't go. I was afraid to gothough I didn't know
about his wife. He said he'd marry me when we got away. Well, I thought
it was funny. I said, 'Why not before?' and he said, 'You don't
understand. What if we didn't suit each other?' I said, 'Why shouldn't
we? Other people get married.' And all that sort of thing I said. Well,
I wanted to go, and wanted to go; and at last I didn't, and I was
thankful afterwards. Now Nancy's man is a shopwalker somewhere. He's
got no money, but he's good-looking, you know, and girls think a lot of
that when they're young; and also he's one of those men who give a girl
the idea that he can have twenty others if he wants them. That's what
upsets a girl. She thinks she's got to make her mind up in a hurry, or
lose him, d'you see?
More fool she, remarked Sally. Pooh!
So I say. Mind, in Nancy's case, she's just in love. He may
not want her. She doesn't know. And it's the uncertainty that keeps her
like this. Far better if she married some steady young fellow who'd
make her a good husband. But girls don't think of that. They don't like
steady fellows, any more than young fellows like steady girls.
That's true, said Sally, thoughtfully. They want a bit of
Well, sometimes I think nobody ought to marry until they're well on
They'd miss a lot, Sally murmured.
Eh? Well, it's a puzzle to me. Look at Nancy. What is it she wants?
She's got forty or fifty years more to live.
But you don't think like that, breathed Sally. It's love.
Miss Summers gave a great sigh, and rubbed the tip of her nose with
the back of her forefinger. She was seriously perplexed at the
interruption from one so sagacious.
You'll think twice before you marry for just love, and
nothing else, said she.
Sally's little white face was turned away. She was apparently
concentrated upon her work.
Perhaps I shall, she admitted. You never know what you'll do till
the time comes.
You can make up your mind to be careful, said Miss Summers. It's
not the first man who makes the best husband.
Sally crouched in her place. Her heart was beating so fast that she
felt as though she were suffocating. Miss Summers could not appreciate
the effect of her words, because she had gone back again to the subject
of Nancy and her married shopwalker.
You ought to have seen that child's work to-day!
Perhaps she's going to have a baby? suggested Sally. It gave Miss
Summers a great shock.
Oh! D'you think so? she exclaimed, her eyes wide open with horror.
You'd have thought they were all going to have 'em, the way the
girls all looked and acted this morning. They were all potty. Silly
Miss Summers gave a sigh of relief, and then she laughed a little.
We were all rather grumpy this morning, she admitted. It's the
weather. Always upsets people. Doctor Johnson said it didn't.
Who's he? Doctors don't know anything at all. Only take advantage
of other people's ignorance. They frighten people, you know, looking
wise, and making you put out your tongue, and all.
I don't know what we should do without them, sighed Miss Summers.
Of course, there's always the patent medicines; but I never found
anything that cured my indigestion.
Only chewing prop'ly, grimly suggested Sally.
Miss Summers abruptly rolled up her work at this unsympathetic
remark, and took off her pinafore. She stood uncertainly by the window.
I've been keeping you, she said. But I am worried about
that child. I do hope she hasn't been silly. At her age they've got no
sense at all. They can't see an inch before their nose. You coming now,
Sally? All right, slam the door after you.... Don't stay too late.
Ten minutes afterwards Miss Summers had gone. Sally waited a little
while, to give her time to reach the street and remember anything that
might bring her back. Then, very quietly, she took off her own
pinafore, and stole across the room and listened at Gaga's door. She
could hear nothing. Sharply, she tapped, and listened again.
Come in! said a voice.
Sally opened the door, standing there in her grey dress, with her
hair brilliant, and her whole face smiling. And Gaga, looking up from
his work, saw her thus as a vision, a happy vision for tired eyes. He
smiled in return and Sally advanced, without any shyness or assumed
shyness, into the room.
Wondered if you were here, she said cheerfully. Everybody else
has gone. Miss Summers and all. I'm working on something. Oo, hasn't it
been a day! The girls all had the fidgets. I've been quite ill all
Ill? demanded Gaga. Not ... not really ill? Oh, I'm.... I'm so
sorry. Poor Sally!
Headache, mentioned Sally, rather lugubriously, so as to encourage
Headache? Oh, poor little girl! So have I.
Sally gave a little laugh. It contained all sorts of provocative
shades of meaning.
Hn, she said. Funny us both having headaches. You still
Gaga nodded. She went farther towards him, hesitated, and then still
Very bad, groaned Gaga, and Sally could see the heaviness round
I'm so sorry, she said in a soft voice. Then: My hand's cool.
Shall I? She put her hand to Gaga's forehead, and felt how burning it
was. She felt him grow rigid at the contact, and saw his face betray
his sensitiveness to her touch. Sally's smile deepened in mischief. She
was playing with him, playing with fire and Gaga at the same time, and
only lightly amused at her employment. But she was still apart from
him, standing erect, with her right arm outstretched. There was not yet
any intimacy in her attitude. Nor could she see his face very plainly
without peeping over her arm.
That better? she asked.
Beautiful. Gaga tried to move his head. Failing, he put his hand
to her wrist, pulled it down, and pressed his lips to her fingers.
Now, now! warned Sally. I'm curing your headache.
Mildly he permitted the withdrawal of her hand and its replacement
upon his brow. But in a moment Sally, perhaps growing more daring,
exchanged her right hand for her left; and this meant approaching Gaga
more closely, and the partial encirclement of his head with her arm.
She was quite near him, as Gaga must have known; but he did not dare to
put his arm round her, as he might easily have done. Sally, so
experienced, guessed at his temptation, at his fear, and relished both.
She was also aware of a singular tenderness towards him, a protective,
superior wisdom that made Gaga seem to be a child in his trepidation.
To her an embrace meant so much less than it meant to him, and she knew
quite well that a flirtatious man would have recognised the game that
was in progress and risked a rebuff because of the successive return.
Sally was still so far from deliberately exploiting Gaga that she did
not feel impatient at his slowness. She savoured it, appreciating the
fact that he shrank, knowing that when she wanted him to do anything
she could always manage Gaga with the lightest touch. And that was why,
in a moment, she allowed herself contact with his shoulder. Gaga's arm
mechanically rose, and was about her waist, quite unpossessively. His
face was moved with a conflict of emotions. Sally recognised temptation
and self-consciousness, and also with amusement, a sense of his own
You are a devil, aren't you! she whispered. Instantly she
knew that she had made a mistake. His arm relaxed. It was only when she
drew his aching head to her breast that she recovered her mastery of
him. It was the only mistake she had made, and it was at that time the
last, for she learnt at once that he was sensitive to ridicule. She had
stepped too far, and had thereby, for a moment, endangered her sport.
She was smiling again, but she had breathed quickly, at the knowledge
How's the head? she asked. My hand's getting hot.
Very bad, answered Gaga, dreading her withdrawal.
Let me get a wet handkerchief.
No, no. Don't move. I.... I don't want you to move.
Unconsciously, Sally gave a little sigh. It was all so easy, so much
a question of his being content with whatever she gave, that the
adventure was fading. It was ceasing to amuse her.
That's enough, she said. Now I'm going home. She did not move,
and Gaga's clasp tightened.
No, he murmured entreatingly. Not yet.
Must go. She took her hand away from his forehead,
lingeringly. Gaga held her to him with rigidity. Let me go. He took
no notice, and Sally's hand rested gently upon his shoulder. At last:
Well? said she.
There was the slightest struggle, and Sally was free. Gaga's face
was quite red. She stood looking down at him, on her lips that same
quizzical smile. Gaga could not bear it. He rose quickly, and at her
flight followed breathlessly. She was again lightly imprisoned, her
head to his breast, and his arms giving small convulsive pressures as
he sought to retain her. She could tell his physical weakness, and his
feeble, excited desire for her, and she felt his face pressed to her
hair. Again Gaga kissed Sally, but she continued to withhold her lips,
so that he approached no nearer than her cheek.
You ... you must know I love you, breathed Gaga.
Do I? asked Sally, coolly. I don't. Why should I?
Can't you tell? He was speaking directly into her ear, so that she
felt his breath. I love you ... like this! He held her with all his
strength, and gave her cheek a fevered, gnawing kiss. D'you see,
Sally? I love you.
How's your headache? asked Sally.
I ... oh, Sally. Better ... better. But Sally! I love you. Don't
you love me a little? Sally! There was a long silence. Consideringly,
Sally looked down, faintly excited, but unemotional. He vainly sought
to achieve a mutual kiss; but she kept her head turned away. Strange!
Her brain was perfectly clear! She was aware of every contact with him,
knew his every wish; and was unmoved. How different it was from when
she was with Toby! Gaga's voice resumed: I think you ... love me a
little, Sally, my dear, my angel.
Angel! Good lord! ejaculated Sally. She put her hands to his
breast, forcing him a little away. D'you think I'm an angel?
Yes! came defiantly from Gaga.
You're mad! cried Sally, with contempt. You don't know what
you're talking about. And even if you are in love with me, as
you say, what does it mean? You'd soon get tired of me. You'd begin to
think I wasn't an angel. What's the good of it all?
Gaga looked astounded.
But if you love me, he stammered.
Sally's face was darkened. She had tears in her eyes, and her mouth
was thin and hard. There was altogether a hardness in her expression
that terrified Gaga.
Even if I did, she said in a grim voice.
But we could be married, he urged.
Married! Sally's heart gave a jump. Her cheeks were suffused.
Married! She could hardly conceal her amazement. He had flown right
past her expectation by that single word. Sally was aghast, forced to
exercise all her self-control to prevent him from seeing how staggered
Married! she said, deprecatingly. What would you want to marry a
girl like me for? But as she spoke she no longer meant the words which
had been conceived in honesty. A storm of temptation was upon her.
Married to Gaga! Why, nothing could stop her! Married to him,
she would be unassailable. It was not to be believed.
Because I love you. Sally, do say 'yes.' He was beseeching. His
grey face was flushed, his lips eagerly parted, his eyes radiant. Gaga
seemed transfigured. And his embrace was strengthened each instant by
his vehement desire for her.
You love me? Sally's voice had become thick and stupid as she
struggled to maintain her clearness of judgment in face of this
Say 'yes,' urged Gaga. Say 'yes.' It would be so wonderful.
Sally, I've never ... never been in love before. I've ... never wanted
a girl like this. You're so....
What am I? Sally's voice was tender, lingering. The tears came
again to her eyes, so touched was she by his earnestness and his
gentleness, so puzzled by the unforeseen situation.
So lovely, Gaga breathed. His lips came nearer, and she did not
withdraw. He kissed her mouth at last, and again; and at her response
the kiss became long and possessive. You lovely girl, he went on.
We'll be married ... and ... and so happy.
I don't know, cried Sally. I don't know.
Dear! he begged.
I'm not sure. Perhaps you'll be sorry to-morrow that you asked me.
Will you? Sorry? Such things have been known to happen. Her
voice was quite hard, because her temptation was so great.
I'll never change. I love you.
I wonder. Sally shook her head. I'll tell you to-morrow. She was
still dubious, suspicious.
Let me get a license.
Sally's heart jumped again. He had once more surprised her, and she
had supposed herself altogether beyond surprise. A license! Her quick
glance could fathom no deceit, no inconceivable sportiveness in Gaga.
Oh! You are in a hurry! she exclaimed, delayingly.
Frightened you will change.
I'm frightened of losing you.
Sally laughed a little, held up her face, and kissed him. Still she
To-morrow. But you'll be sorry by then. I won't promise.
She found it not unpleasant to be loved in this fervid, nervous
fashion. It amused her. But she was curiously unmoved, and when he had
put her into her omnibus Sally breathed almost with relief. Strange to
feel that relief after parting from the man you might be going to
marry! Sally jerked her head. She remembered suddenly that Miss Summers
had said earlier in the day. You'll think twice before you
marry for just love, and nothing else, Miss Summers had said. You're
right, my dear, thought Sally. And then there came galloping into her
memory a recollection that made Sally blanch. It's not the first man
who makes the best husband, Miss Summers had said. Not the first man!
The reason for Sally's fear was explained. She had known all along why
she was afraid and had pressed back the knowledge from her attention,
so that it should not interfere with her actions. The first man was
Toby; and it was of Toby that she was afraidof Toby and his love for
her; and, more than all, of her strangely smouldering love for Toby.
What had she been doing to forget Toby? Had she forgotten him at
all? Somehow Toby had a little faded from her mind in these days,
because he was on a voyage longer than usual, and she had not heard
from him. Toby, her lover! Only when she had been a little frightened
or distressed had she longed for his protective arms. Otherwise he had
slipped into a sure place in her self-knowledge. He was the man she
loved, strong and rough, the first to capture her heart, and until now
the only man to hold her imagination. At the thought of deserting him
Sally shrank. She belonged to Toby. Toby belonged to her. She had been
going to marry him. If she had not loved Toby she would ruthlessly have
shouldered him aside; but she could not do that, because he was her
lover. And she was afraid. If once she betrayed him, Toby might kill
her. She became terrified at the idea. Men killed their girls for
jealousy's sake. She had often read in the papers of what were called
Sally did not want to die. She wanted to rise to power, to riches.
And Gaga offered her the way to attain her ambition. Married to him she
could have all, or almost all, she wanted. If she refused him she might
lose everything. She might lose her place with Madame Gala, she
might.... How harassed she was! It was such a temptation! Gaga, with
money, and everything that he could offer; and Toby, with love that she
craved, and years of waiting, and a poky house, and his opposition to
all she might want to do upon her own account. She had a vision of his
lowering face, his savage mouth. She remembered all her joys in his
arms. A shudder shook Sally at thought of his vengefulness, his fierce
strength. And then, when she was married to Gaga, she would be mistress
of so much that she desired. It was a desperate problem. The more she
thought of it, the more tormented Sally became.
She was still in active distress when she reached home; and her
headache of the morning had returned. Bright colour showed in her pale
cheeks, and her eyes were brilliant with excitement. She was at high
tension. The first sight of their room, and her mother's squalid
figure, produced a violent effect upon Sally's thoughts. Anything to
escape from this! Anything! But what of Toby? His strong hands could
crush the life out of her. His jealousy would be so unmeasured.... He
would kill Gaga. He would kill her. Sally was carried to an extreme
pitch of fear. Life was so precious to her. And she loved Toby.
Did she still love him? Did he still love her? They were both older;
separation had made each of them less dependent upon the other than
they had been at first, and even although her love was jubilant when
Toby returned on leave she was no longer the rapturous girl of even a
year before. Long and long Sally remained torn between her two desires.
She did not sleep at all, but lay turning from side to side and longing
for oblivion or the daylight. She had never been so confronted with
great temptation and great fear. Her head ached more and more. She
could not cry, or sleep, or forget. She lay with open eyes, watching
the window for the dawn. And when the morning broke she was still
undetermined. The choice was too difficult.
Breakfast was uneatable; her journey to work was a dream. She shrank
from going into the workroom, from seeing Gaga. All her confidence had
disappeared. She was a bewildered little girlnot eighteen, but a
child still without sense of direction. At one minute Toby seemed the
only choice to make, but principally because she was afraid of what he
might do if she married Gaga; and when she forgot her fear she no
longer hesitated between love and ambition. She argued that she no
longer loved Toby. She never once considered her feeling for Gaga. She
hardly thought of him, or of what marriage to him might mean. Her eye
was all to the consequences. It was so throughout, whether she thought
of Toby or his new rival. All her thoughts were anticipations.
As she sat at work she began to lose fear of Toby. She felt she
could always manage him, explain to him. She pretended that they would
be friends; though the thought of Toby married to another girl gave her
a sharp horror. If she married, it was different. She did not imagine
what Toby might feelonly what he might do. She was thus the complete
egoist. Not Toby's happiness or unhappiness was implicated; but only
her own dominant desire. If she had still been unsatisfied in her love
for Toby, she might have valued him more; but she knew all that he
could teach her of love, and already her strong eagerness for him was
becoming old and accustomed. The one restraint she had was fear of what
he might do; and that fear was beginning to decline in face of stronger
impulses towards the opportunity which marriage with Gaga would
produce. And just in this crucial stage of her reflections came a most
striking fresh influence. It was brought by Miss Summers, who returned
from the telephone with a solemn expression upon her face.
Sally, she said. Come here. When Sally approached her, Miss
Summers pretended to give some instructions; but in reality, under her
breath, she murmured: Sally, don't tell the other girls; but Madam's
worse this morning. Her temperature's 103. Her warning frown
emphasised the meaning of the words. It made Sally's heart begin to
beat fast. Madam ... Madam....
With her head low, Sally bent over her work. But that frown had
brought decision to her mind. She would marry Gaga. It was so important
that she should not miss this chance that she would marry him at once.
She must do so. It was essential. What if he had grown
That was her new spur of fear. Toby was forgotten. She was on fire
for the marriage. It had now become the only conclusion to her doubts.
She must take the earliest opportunity of seeing Gaga, of conveying her
acceptance, of making sure of him. Her fingers trembled, so important
did time now seem to Sally. Her one anxiety was lest she should have to
kindle his eagerness anew. Troubled but resolute, she tried in vain to
work. Every sound made her start. All her attention was distracted from
the sewing and concentrated upon the possibility of an interview with
Gaga. Yet a shyness made her afraid to leave her place and go into
Madam's room. The other girls would notice. What if they did? They
would soon know that they could not treat her with anything but
humility. She would have untold power over them. Sally almost recoiled
from the knowledge of what power she would wield in the business once
she was Gaga's wife. It seemed to her incredible. Her mind strayed to
Miss Summers, Miss Rapson, the jealous Rose.... How would they like it?
What would they do? Sally imagined the news reaching them, imagined
their fear of her, their jealousy, their cutting remarks about herself.
And she laughed, knowing that she would be out of reach of any of the
harm that they might wish her.
While she was thus contemplating a development, the door of Gaga's
room opened, and he came quickly into the workroom. Sally's heart
seemed to stop beating. She felt sick with dread. He wore a flower in
his buttonhole. His first glance was for Sally, as her own lightning
scrutiny showed. He was white, but he smiled. His eagerness of inquiry
was manifest. Sally could not help smiling in return, although she was
trembling, and knew that he too must be trembling. She gave the
faintest possible nod, and saw the colour start to his cheek. Gaga was
checked for an instant in his progress. His smile broadened, his head
was thrown back. At that moment he looked almost like a determined man,
so vividly did Sally's nod cause a new ichor of confidence to run in
On a bright morning about ten days later, Sally lay in bed watching
her mother prepare the breakfast upon their oil stove. Although the
year was in its last months it was still warm and sunny, and Mrs. Minto
clambered about the room half-dressed, with her grey hair hanging
behind in ragged tails. With her bodice off she looked more than ever
meagre, her thin face sharper and greyer than of old, and her movements
more uncertain. As Sally watched her mother she realised that the
unsightly walls and battered furniture were just of a piece with the
creeping figure. What she did not understand was that Mrs. Minto was so
used to the furniture, which she had known during the whole of her
married life, that she did not recognise its dilapidation. But Sally
had no time for thought of her mother. She was excited. Her tongue came
out between her teeth, and she looked at the ceiling. At last, in a
laconic voice, she said:
Ma! Mrs. Minto glanced wearily at her. Sally considered her speech
with a further smile, so that Mrs. Minto became irritated, and went on
with her preparations in a rather indignant way. Ma, resumed Sally,
relishingly, I shan't be home to-night.
Mrs. Minto started. She became instantly alert.
Oh yes you will, my girl, she cried sternly. None o' that!
Yes, I shan't be home to-night, repeated Sally. Nor to-morrow
Mrs. Minto left her work and came to the bedside. She was like a
snarling bitch, savage over her threatened young.
Sally! she exclaimed, in a rough voice. What you doing! What
d'you mean? Of course you'll be home. You're not going to play any
tricks with me, my gel.
I shan't be coming home, continued Sally. Not ever. I'm getting
Mrs. Minto sat down upon the bed.
Married! she screamed. Married! Why, who you going to marry! What
d'you mean? Silly girl, trying to frighten me!
Don't get excited, ma. I'm going to look after you. The fact is,
I'm ... well, you'll be all right. Nothing to worry about.
Who is he? demanded Mrs. Minto. Who is he? She was
desperately agitated. Sally, I'm your mother.... Oh, you bad girl! You
been hiding.... I knew you was hiding something. I knew where them fast
frocks was leading you!
Sally was enjoying the scene. But she suddenly checked herself.
Ma, I'm marrying a rich man. I'm marrying Madam's son.
Yes. She was complacent. Those fast frocks lead to the registry
Reg.... Not in church? It's.... Sally!
What I say, cried Sally.
A rich man!
Mr. Bertram. And what's more he loves me. And you won't have to do
any more charing. Only sit here and gorge yourself on the police news,
like a lady, and....
Married! gasped Mrs. Minto. She gave a foolish giggling laugh, and
the tears ran down her cheeks. Is it true, Sally?
Sally held up her left hand, brought it blazing from under the
bedclothes. Mrs. Minto seized the hand, squeezed it hard, and pored
over the brilliants.
Well! she exclaimed. Then she shook her head, and wiped the tears
from her cheeks. A great sobriety appeared in her expression. Anxiety
was her dominating concern. D'you love him, Sally? You ought to have
told me. I ought to have seen him. He hasn't asked for you. He ought to
have come and asked your mother.
Madam's ill. I told him I'd tell you. You got to give your consent,
'cause I'm so young. He's got no time to get away. I'm very fond of
him, and he thinks I'm.... Sally hoisted her shoulders. She had spoken
You said he was soppy.
Sally turned a cold eye upon her mother.
You got too good a memory, she remarked. What I've said to
you.... Well, I knew you'd worry about him, and think I was going to
get into trouble, and.... Anyway, we're getting married this morning,
and going for our honeymoon this afternoon.
Where you going?
In the country. Penterby. It's on the river, near the sea. You get
to the sea in no time. GaBertramBert says it's lovely. Quiet, and
... you know, you can get about.
Married! I can't believe it!
I'll show you my certificate, when I get it. Don't you believe me?
Mrs. Minto sat quite still upon the bed for a minute, her face
intensely pale. She seemed unable to say anything more. Then, very
slowly indeed, she recovered the power of motion, and rose wearily to
her feet. She did not look at Sally, but kept her eyes away. She stood
upright, and took two or three steps. But as she paused again her
emotion became overwhelming, and she clutched feebly at the bedrail.
With her head resting upon both thin arms she began to cry aloudgreat
turbulent sobs which shook her whole body.
My baby! My baby! she wailed noisily. Oh, what shall I do! My
Sally's lips quivered. She tried to smile. Slowly she crept out of
bed, and put her arms round her mother.
Sh! Sh! she whispered. Ma! Ma! You're making me blubber, too. You
old fool! It's not a funeral!
Strange emotion shook Sally as well as her mother. But they were
different. A thoughtful pucker came between her brows, and she had a
smile that was almost contemptuous.
Ma! she repeated, as the sobs remained vehement. Shut up, ma! Oh,
what an old image! Talk about a noise! Anybody'd think it was you
who was getting married!
She had recovered her own nerve. She could not see the future; but
her head was cool, and she stared over her mother's shoulder at the
sunlight bleaching the outer grime of the neighbouring roofs. In her
thin nightgown she looked like a child, and her face was so impish that
she seemed to regard her marriage as one more in a long series of good
jokes. Her eyes were wide open, and her lips smiling.
BOOK THREE: CONSEQUENCES
The MerricksSally and Bertramwent for their honeymoon to
Penterby, a little South of England town near the sea but not actually
upon the coast. The honeymoon was to be a short one, the barest
weekend, and so they could not go far from London; and for some reason
Gaga could not stand the sea itself. Strong air made him ill, and even
sight of rolling waves made him feel sick. Sally, still elated and not
as yet very confident or assertive, immediately agreed when he
suggested this country town; but she had no real notion of what was in
store for her. She was all half-amused trepidation. The scuffled
marriage-ceremony, after which the registrar's clerk hurried to call
for her for the first time by her new name, was fun to her. It meant
nothing: I, Sarah, Margaret Minto, call on these present.... It was
all a part of a game, a rather exciting game; and Gaga was no more to
her after the ceremony than he had been before it. He was a tall
agitated grey creature, very tremulous and muffled in his speech, and
nothing like a husband. What was a husband? How did one feel
towards a husband? All Sally knew was that her husband was a stranger.
He was one man out of millions of men, no more and no less than the
others. The thought that she was binding herself to him for life did
not trouble her. It did not enter her head.
Nevertheless, she felt triumph at her wedding ring, and clutched
Gaga's arm as they came out of the register office with their two
casually-acquired witnesses. They were instantly alone, and walking
along the street together in the autumn sunshine, married and excited,
but merely two strangers on their way to lunch. And yet that was not
quite all, because when they were seated at lunch Sally felt the
slightest sensation of flurry at Gaga's possessive stare. She returned
it boldly, quite unembarrassed; but across her mind flitted a knowledge
which came there of its own accord. He was a weak man, weak in his
possessiveness as he had been weak in his stammering; and the
possessiveness (which in a strong man might have excited her) gave
Sally an uncomfortable sense that Gaga might bother her. She had never
realised this. She saw in this instant that he would be jealous,
exacting, amorous. She did not love him, and the amorousness of the
unloved is a bore. Sally knew she could always deal with Gaga; but she
did not want a profusion of excited caresses from him. It was this
realisation that gave her a jerk of dismay. It was not that she shrank
from him. It was that with her cold little brain she imagined him in a
fever about her, fretful, tantalised by her coolness, rebuffed, sulky,
ineffably tedious.... As she knew all this her eyes darkened. It was
all very well to play with Gaga; but he was now her husband, and that
meant an association so constant that in future, so far from tempting
him, she would forever be engaged in battles with his exasperating,
petty claims to her person and her attention. He would not ever be able
to understand her wish to be alone, or to be self-engrossed. Febrile
himself, he would be dumfounded at her reserve, which he would take for
The knowledge came to Sally so unexpectedly that she did not respond
to Gaga's unspoken appeals. The frown in her eyes deepened. All round
her were the gilded mirrors of the Rezzonico, and the general noise and
movement of a busy restaurant. Opposite was Gaga, smiling with a sort
of joy which made his long face appear to shine. She could tell that he
was almost beside himself with excitement. And she was cool. There was
no current of understanding between them. They had neither physical nor
spiritual rapport. Slowly Sally's gaze took in all that was
revealed in Gaga's face and his nervously extended hands. Slowly a
little cruel smile played round her small mouth. She had married him.
She was sure of him. But there was a price. He would be a nuisance, a
futile nuisance to her. He would demand kisses, he would pry, would
watch her, would fuss. He would be a lover with all the empty ardour of
the neurotic man. Sally's heart sank. She did not want a restrained
lover, because she was young and high-spirited; but this singular
trembling possessiveness would soon be intolerable. He would be a
nuisance. Again and again the threat pressed itself upon Sally's
Men! That was what Sally thought. She had no deliberate mental
process. All her intuitions were summarised in the one word. Men!
Toby.... Gaga! Gravely, she looked round the restaurant. There were fat
men and thin men, dark and fair, ugly and good-looking and negligible.
And as she looked at them in turn, puzzled, Sally shrugged her
shoulders. She came back to Gaga. She gave him a false, alluring smile,
secure in her power to excite him still further; but her gravity was
constant. She had glimpsed for the first time a thing which she could
not have known before marriage. It was that one married for different
reasons, but that one had to endure the disadvantages accompanying any
choice. She was not afraid, but she was ruffled. She was ruffled by
that exulting possessiveness which shone from Gaga. Had she loved him,
her joy might have been comparable with his. If she had loved him and
he had seemed not to desire her, Sally's happiness would have been
undermined. But in her present coolness, the sense that Gaga was
personally inescapable was enough to depress her. He would be a
She found it so when they were in the taxicab on their way to
Victoria. Her smallness made her unable to stem the torrent of his
excited caresses. For a time she submitted to them, still entirely
serious. Then a kind of petulant composure enabled her to chill him.
Gaga laughed in a sort of giggle, holding Sally's hands, and looking
adoringly into her eyes, and trying to kiss her. Instead of giving him
kisses, instead of wishing him to kiss her, Sally found herself aware
already of a slight repugnance. As she looked forward to spending days
and nights with him her heart sank. She was not shocked. She was not
afraid. She knew that there would come a time when, after boring her,
Gaga's kisses would become troublesome. And it was too late now to
withdraw. She was too deeply into her new scheme of life. But this
feverish, insatiably amorous, weak Gaga would get on her nerves. So
this was what marriage might be. Sally's jaw stiffened. Yes, if she
allowed it to be so. But Sally was Sally. Kisses should presently be
favours. Gaga should learn his place. A hardness showed. She pushed
aside the clinging arms, and sat erect.
No, cried Sally, sharply, at his convulsive motion of return. Not
now. We're.... People looking at us....
She did not want to be hard. She did not want to grow hard and
bitter. She had seen women who were both, and she disliked them. But
with Gaga she would have to be hard. Otherwise he would bore her to
desperation. So there was at this moment no longer any softness in
Sally's heart towards Gaga. She resented him. As they pushed through
the crowd at Victoria, Sally had a sudden impulse to run away. A
shudder fled through her. A girl with less resolute will, or perhaps of
greater delicacy, would have made some movement. But Sally merely stood
with her head lowered, and considered the position. It was not his love
that she minded; it was his hysterical possessiveness, the sense that
he would always be there and claiming convulsively those small
incessant intimacies which accompany marriage. Sally could not put her
perception into coherent terms; but she was assured of the fact. Gaga
would want too much, and that not in an adorably masterful way, but
with exacting and pertinacious excitement bred from his weakness and
neurotic avidity. The domination of the weak man would be a tyranny, as
it always is. Sally thought: He'll be a nuisance. I shall want to do
him in by the time we get back. Oh, Lor! You done for yourself, Sally,
my gel! You come a mucker! Look at your husband! Look at him! She
could see Gaga in the distance, moving agitatedly about a porter and
the guard, and tripping over luggage, and interrupting other eager
passengers, and stretching his long arm over their shoulders in order
to touch the guard. That's your husband, that is! Man who's
lost his head. Man they all love. Fancy living with it for fifty years!
Oh, Lor! A whole lifetime. Three-hundred-and-sixty-five days in the
year, too. All day, every day! Makes you start thinking! And she
watched Gaga speeding exultantly towards her.
All right. We've got a first, he panted, quite out of breath. To
ourselves. I've tipped the guard. It's ... it's all right. Come along.
This way. Come along!
Oo! cried Sally, with archness. To ourselves! What a surprise!
Strange! And to herself, returning to her own sober thoughts: If you
did too much thinking you'd lose the use of your legs. And if girls
thought a bit before they got marrying, they'd.... Funny! I wonder what
they would do!
What she would herself have done Sally had no time to consider; for
they were hurried to their compartment and were locked in by the
obliging and amused guard. They then sat demurely upon opposite sides
of the carriage until the train began to move. Every time anybody
peered in at the window Sally, who had recovered her good spirits,
began to laugh; and Gaga was full of consternation. But at last even
that anxiety was removed, and in the afternoon sunlight the country
began to glow under their eyes and race round in a sweeping circle with
an intoxicating effect not to be appreciated by those who are staled
for railway travelling. Sally allowed Gaga to embrace her; but she kept
her face resolutely turned from him for a long time while she relished
her new joy in rushing thus through the increasingly-beautiful
districts which bordered the track. It was only when Gaga became
expostulatory that she abandoned this pleasure and yielded to his
tumultuous affection, with a listlessness and a sense of criticism
which was new to her. Silly fool; why couldn't he sit still and be
quiet! She belonged to herself, not to him. Almost, she thrust him away
They reached Penterby by four o'clock in the afternoon, and were
turned out upon the platform with their two light bags, like the
stranded wanderers they were. And then they walked out into the roughly
paved road leading through the town to higher land behind, and onward,
along a road to which they turned their backs, and which wavered, past
the railroad station, up an incline in the direction of the distant
sea. Gaga carried both bags, and led the way, and Sally saw for the
first time a wide street, and shops and houses quaintly built, and a
church spire with houses below it, arranged in terraces, all warm in
the dying sun. It was still summer here, she thought, and the
atmosphere was pleasant. The houses were not at all crowded, but stood
up at the first glance as if they were proud of great age and their
height above the road from the station.
We going up there? demanded Sally, pointing to the hill, and the
houses erect upon it.
No, darling.... See ... that ... that ... lamp.
Sally looked up at Gaga's face. Oh, if it had only been Toby! The
blood suddenly rushed to her cheeks. Toby! She wanted Toby! As quickly,
she was chilled by fear. What would Toby do? What would he try to do?
Yes, well Toby didn't know yet that she was married. And she was
married to Gaga, and she had done this thing with her eyes open. There
was no going back. Marriage was a thing you could not repudiate. It was
final. The blood flowed away from Sally's face. She was cool again in
an instant. Her eyes were fixed upon the lamp which Gaga had indicated,
and upon the ivy behind it. Upon a suspended board she read in gold the
letters RIVER HOTEL", and as she appreciated the meaning of this name
Sally observed that the street went onward past the hotel over an
Is that the river? she asked. Is the hotel on the river?
Where we stay?
Yes. You'll see.... You'll like it. Gaga was entreating, now
rather frightened by Sally's lack of response to his feverish
endearments, already inclined to suspicion and sidelong glances of
Sure I shall! cried Sally, perfectly composed once more. It's
nice. Does the river go just there?
Gaga became suddenly very enthusiastic. He motioned with the hand in
which both small bags were carried. He began to walk at a quicker pace.
You see the front of the hotelall ... all ivy. Well at the end
the wall goes ... goes right down into the water. And there's a balcony
... all ... all covered with glass, on the first floor. Our room opens
on this balcony. You can look right down into the river.
Is it a nice river?
He was rather hesitating in face of her sharp tone of inquiry.
Well, er.... Nice? It's ... it's a tidal river. It flows up and
down. In ... in the summer things get carried.... I mean, it's not ...
not very clean. It's mud.
Oo. Sally's little nose wrinkled. Does it smell? I mean, is it
healthy? But at this new question Gaga looked very perplexed and
rather unhappy, so that she quickly abandoned her curiosity about the
river, knowing that she would presently be able to satisfy it more
effectively by personal observation. Without further speech they came
abreast of the hotel, and turned in under the arched entrance. To the
left of them was a door with the legend COFFEE ROOM; to the right
another door above which hung a little sign HOTEL. It was by this
right-hand door that they entered, and it was here, by a glass enclosed
bar, that they waited. Upon an extended shelf there was lying a
newspaper which had come through the post for some departed visitor.
Beyond the bar Sally noticed decanters and bottles and upturned
glasses. Before her was another door, open, which revealed a table upon
which glasses had left little circular stains. She was all curiosity.
This must be the saloon. She gave a sharp mischievous hunching of the
shoulders, and hugged Gaga's arm. Then, as a stout woman came out of
another room, she grew sedate, and stood free from her husband in case
they should be supposed to be upon their honeymoon.
Good afternoon, Mr. Merrick.
She knew him, then. He was no stranger here.
Mrs. Tennant.... How ... how d'you do? This.... I've brought my
wife with me this time, stammered Gaga proudly. Sally, this is Mrs.
Pleased to meet you, announced the stout woman. Sally scrutinised
her. She had been pretty, but had grown fat. She had puffs round her
eyes, and swollen lips, and a cat-like expression of geniality. Behind
her agreeable smile there was suspicion of all mankind, suspicion and
wariness, due to her constant need of self-control in the difficult
business of managing noisy or cantankerous guests. Sally did not like
her. Tabby! she thought at once. But immediately afterwards she knew
that it would be worth while to make a friend of Mrs. Tennant. She gave
her little friendly grin, and saw its effect. That's that, reflected
Sally. And it was so. Mrs. Tennant cordially led the way up to the
first floor, talking of the weather, and of the number of visitors who
were at present staying at the River Hotel.
Does Mrs. Merrick play? she asked. Do you? We've got a very good
piano in the drawing-room.... I'm passionately fond of music myself.
It's the sorrow of my life I can't play.
Sally grimaced. The drawing-room was glimpseda room with settees
and big chairs and a strident carpet and antimacassars and small palms
in pots. Large windows made it beautifully light. And as she took in
these details Sally hurried on, and found herself in a narrow
dun-coloured passage, where brown doors with numbers upon them
indicated the bedrooms. It was into the second of these rooms that she
was led, and in spite of the frowst she looked with eagerness at a
further door and windows that opened upon the balcony of which Gaga had
spoken. The windows were lace-curtained, but she could see through the
curtains to what seemed like a conservatory.
You see the door opens on to the balcony, explained Mrs. Tennant,
while Gaga put down the bags and wiped his hands with his handkerchief.
Looks right across the river. I'm afraid the tide's out now; but when
it's up you see all sorts of things floating up and down.
What sort of things? demanded Sally, going to the glass sides of
the building and peering down at the mud.
Oh, all sorts.... Mrs. Tennant was a little confused, but
conversational. That old building you see across there is ... well, it
used to be a granary; but nobody's used it for a long time. There's a
dinghy in the mud over there. It's Mr. Scuffle's....
Dinghy! Instantly Sally's mind jerked back to a day she had spent
with Toby, when he had teased her about her ignorance of boats. Toby!
So that was a dinghy! Just like any other boat.
The balcony was empty; but trays still lay upon two of the light
iron tables, and a newspaper had been tossed upon the matted floor. All
the chairs were of wicker, and in them lay little hard cushions covered
with dirtied cretonne. Through the long glass side one could see the
slowly-flowing river (for the tide was about to turn), and the already
dimming sky, and the houses upon the rising ground that lay beyond the
farther bank, and the bridge upon which people were walking. Sally
looked up and down the momentarily sinister river. She was afraid of
water, afraid of its secrecy and its current; and she turned away from
her contemplation with a sense of chill.
I'm cold, she said, brightly. Bertram.... Could we have some tea,
Certainly. You'd like a wash? I'll get the tea at once....
Back in the room, Sally was immediately again embraced. She did not
now trouble about Gaga; she was glad of his arms around her, and his
breast upon which she could lay her head. Married ... river ... married
... river ... ran her thoughts. And she turned away from Gaga to the
washstand, and poured cold water from the ewer into the basin.
Let me alone.... she laughingly said. Be ... get away.... I'm
going to wash.
And when the water touched her face Sally was alert once more,
cleansed and freshened. With tea before her she could face even
marriage and that drearily-flowing river and the hideous mud, so thick
and so oozily sinister.
On the following day Sally, dogged everywhere by Gaga, was perfectly
aware of her contempt for him. Twenty-four hours had been enough to
show her the exacting and irritating characteristics of her new
husband. Did she stir, he looked up; his hand was ever ready for her
hand; those chocolate eyes were eternally suffused with a love that
moved Sally to impatience. He did not even amuse her by his calf-like
pursuit. All that was ruthless in her rose up and sneered at his
weakness and his timid assurance, which had the same effect as one of
those horrible streamers of cobweb that catch the face as one walks
unwarily along a dusky lane. Only her native resoluteness enabled her
to show Gaga a false patience. Only her insensitiveness made his
constant caress endurable. Sally blinked sometimes at his grabbing
sentimentality; but she already began to slip neatly aside and avoid
his carefully-planned contacts. She was not yet hard or perverse.
And while Gaga lay down in the afternoon, as she found he was in the
habit of doing, in order that his physical strength might last through
the day, Sally found the empty drawing-room and with often-strained
ears began the difficult task which she had set herself. Below her was
the thick, powerful current of the now sinking river, laden with refuse
which flowed backwards and forwards past the hotel; and upon the
windows and casual brightnesses of the tall houses on the hill across
the river she could see the crystal sparkling of reflected sunshine.
She had a feeling that all about Penterby was open green country,
sometimes flat, but always in the distance crowned and adorned with
hills; and she knew the brown of the river and the mud, and the green
slime which decorated the wall opposite. It was unforgettable. She
would always think of it. And her task was the writing of a letter to
Toby. She had planned to write to him upon this daythe first free day
of her married life; and she was bent upon keeping to her plan. He must
be told at once, and yet as she held the pen above a sheet of plain
paper she was stunned by the extraordinary difficulty of the
composition. Only then, for the first time, did she grasp the
definiteness of the step she had taken. She would never see Toby again.
Never? Nevernevernever. Sally's eyes filled with tears. A thick,
painful sob forced its way through her. Never.
She began to write. She put no address, but only, in her plain
handwriting, still that of a schoolgirl, the words My dear. It was at
this point that Sally began to discard all the phrases which she had
earlier composed in her head. She considered that if she were never to
see Toby again it did not matter what he thought of her. The bald
announcement would do very well. It was best, and easiest, and safest.
And then she knew again that she was afraid of Toby, and of what he
might do. She was a true woman in being unable to face a conclusion.
She could not imagine that she would never see him again. It was
incredible. So incapable was she of realising the fact of a complete
break that she thought herself possessed by an instinct that they must
meet and continue as before. Sally was much more afraid that he would
kill her. It was the reason why she was putting no address at the head
of the letter. He must not find her with Gaga. She wrote at last.
My dear. I have been a bad wicked girl and married another
Do not try to find me. I shall be all right. Find some other
and be happy with her. I shall never be happy without you. My
husband is very kind and good. Don't forget me.
At the end of this letter she put no signature, but a single cross
to indicate a kiss. Then she addressed an envelope, stamped it, slipped
down the stairs and along to the post office. By the time Toby got the
letter she and Gaga would no longer be there; and he would not be able
to find her afterwards. London was so big. She was afraid of him, and
yet she longed to see him again. Five minutes later she was back in the
drawing-room, seated at the piano, and singing softly in her clear
voice the song that had first so greatly charmed Gaga.
'Your heart mine, and mine in your keeping,
List while I sing to you love's tender song.'
As she sang, Sally looked up and at the doorway. There, adoringly,
stood Gaga, all his love making a radiance in his face which she had
not previously seen so distinctly. He came slowly towards her, and as
she continued her song he kissed the back of her neck where the hair
was brushed up in the first soft incalculable wave. Sally for the first
time shrank a little; but she pursued her song unhesitatingly, so
schooled was she in her determination that the price she was paying was
to be borne.
'When you and I go down the love path together,
Stars shall be shining and the night so fair.'
We'll go ... go walking in the moonlight to-night ... shall we?
whispered Gaga. Sally nodded, making her voice quaver by the motion.
Gaga could not see her face; but Sally knew that even if he had done so
he would have been quite unable to read her thoughts, which were dry
and inflexible. He remained by her side until she had finished the
song, and then fiercely pressed her head back until he was able by
stooping to kiss her lips from above. His hand was under her chin. He
kissed her many times, oppressivelylittle ravenous pecks that were
febrile rather than loving; and assertive of his new proprietorship.
His kisses left Sally unmoved and slightly frowning. She was surprised
at Gaga's simplicity in imagining that any girl valued or could
possibly value such ceaseless demonstrative action, such ugly hard
little parrot-like caresses.
Only a soppy kid would, she thought. She'd like it, I suppose.
Think quantity meant love. It doesn't. Like a beak. Silly fool! And
aloud she said quite firmly: There, that's enough. Shan't have any
face left, at this rate. I shall come out in spots. What's the time?
To soften her words she held and pressed his hand; but only for an
instant. Then she rose abruptly from the piano and walked over to the
window. With his arm immediately at her waist Gaga followed, like a
long, abject greyhound.
The tide's out, he said, indicating the sun illumined mud by the
Ugh! shuddered Sally. Fancy getting your feet in that stuff!
You'd never get out.... Gives me the horrors, it does! She leaned back
into his arms.
They left Penterby by a very early train on the Monday morning, and
while Gaga took the two bags to an hotel where the Merricks were to
stay for the present Sally went direct to Madame Gala's. She had
obtained special permission to be an hour late in the morning, and so
she entered the workroom without confusion. It was the same as it had
always beenthe long benches, and the girls, and Miss Summers sitting
apart, as plump and feline as ever. There was, of course, curiosity
about Sally. Few of the girls supposed that she had been away with a
girl friend, which had been the story; and all looked at her with a
knowing suspicion. Only Miss Summers was completely trusting. Sally had
slipped off her wedding-ring, and it lay in her purse. She took in the
whole scene as she entered, and measured the assumptions of the girls
with cool indifference. But she would have done that in any case; for
Sally had nothing to learn about workgirls and their thoughts and
interpretations, and she had also none of the false self-consciousness
which makes wrong-doers imagine that their actions have been
providentially revealed to all observers. Had she and Gaga arrived
together the case would have been different; but nothing had occurred
to make the girls suppose that there was any relation between them, and
Sally was perfectly safe from that most dangerous of all recognitions.
She was still, to the girls, Sally Minto; and to some of them still the
white-faced cocket of Rose Anstey's jealous outburst. Sally looked
boldly at Rose as she sat industriously working. Then, with greater
stealth, at Miss Summers. That plump face had a solemnly preoccupied
expression that gave Sally a faint start of doubt. Immediately,
however, she knew that Miss Summers must be worried, not upon Sally's
account, but on account of some message respecting Madam which had been
received earlier in the morning. This made her seize an excuse to
approach Miss Summers.
How's Madam? she whispered, surreptitiously.
Miss Summers shook her head with foreboding.
Still the same. No better; no worse. Sally, I'm afraid.
Sally looked down at Miss Summers. How strangely their relation had
been altered by this weekend's doings! Wherever Sally glanced she knew
that what she saw was now potentially her own. By the simple act of
marrying Gaga she had become, as it were, mistress of the place. And
she knew it. She knew it plainly and without swollen conceitedness. Not
yet was her power unquestionable; but it was none the less genuine.
Even Miss Summers....
I hope she gets better, said Sally.
Miss Summers shot a quick glance upwards. She started, and a faint
redness came into her plump cheeks. The tip of her nose was irritated,
and she rubbed it with her knuckle.
Oh, I do hope so, breathed Miss Summers. It would be
awfulawful for all of usif she didn't. You see....
She'll have to die some time, remarked Sally.
But now! The head was shaken afresh. Miss Summers gave a heavy
sigh. She had no such youthful confidence as Sally's. She was a born
follower, a born sheep; and with Madam removed she could see nothing
ahead but disaster to the business. Sally had a little difficulty in
keeping back her smile. She thought of this poor old pussycat in fear
of her life, and her lip slightly curled at the knowledge that she
alone had superior knowledge of the situation. Already Sally was
casting round for channels in which her new power might be used. She
wanted opportunity. It was both a chagrin and a secret relief to her
that Madam could not yet be told of the marriage. If she knew it, and
disapproved, as Sally knew that she must do, Madam could at any moment
annul Sally's hopes of taking a leading part in the business. She could
alter her will. Therefore, if she lived, she must be kept ignorant. It
would be a trouble. And yet in spite of her assurance Sally was still
suspicious of her own ability to master every detail in time to carry
on the whole establishment without a great lapse into momentary
failure. She planned as a middle-aged woman. At eighteen her plans were
profound. But instinctively, and in spite of colossal conceit, she
understood that eighteen was not an age at which control can
successfully be taken of a large business. Therefore she was fighting
against unacknowledged fear.
During that day she hardly saw Gaga at all. He was at home with his
mother, and did not come to business until the afternoon. Only in the
evening did she creep into his room and submit to his endearments. She
then left, and went to the hotel at which for the present they were to
stay; and here, in the little sitting-room attached to their bedroom,
she was for the first time able to be alone for half-an-hour with her
post-nuptial reflections. They were not all pleasant, and they called
for the exercise of her natural resoluteness. She had comfort, and the
knowledge that she need never again trouble about food and clothing.
But she also knew that a husband is a different sort of person from a
lover. He seemed to her to be a sort of omnipresent nuisance. Her
trouble was that thoughts and ambitions were in conflict with Gaga's
amorousness. He could never understand her. He could understand her no
better than Toby, and as she had no use for him otherwise than as the
instrument of her ambition, she was already, within two days of
marriage, bored with him. Sally awaited Gaga's arrival with calm
unwillingness. She did not realise how rapid would be her instinctive
progress to repugnance; but she had no illusions about her marriage.
At last Gaga arrived, his own eagerness unabated, but he was still
shaken by the fact that his mother was seriously ill. With Sally in his
arms he whispered or murmured alternately professions of love and
anxiety. She was all the time secretly astonished at his devotion to
Madam, because it corresponded to nothing in her own nature; but she
comforted Gaga because it was her impulse to do so. She did not dislike
him in this mood. She felt pity for him. It was only for his tremulous
persistency in caress that Sally felt contempt. Gradually she began to
be able to divert his mind to other mattersto their own future, and
the flat they were to take and to furnish; and to the plans they must
make for a slow change of her position in the business. Already Sally
was obtaining a grasp of the details, but she could go little further
until her access to the books and accounts was free. She could do
nothing until some scheme had been made. So the two sat together after
dinner and discussed what they were to do, and where they were to live,
and how the rooms of the flat were to be furnished. It was all, upon
Sally's side, practical and clear; and for Gaga a wonderful revelation
of Sally's wisdom. He became more and more infatuated, as Sally became
more and more cool. And they talked the whole evening through, without
realising that with each moment Sally's dominion was more firmly
It was only towards the end of the evening that Gaga, unhinged by
excitement, became desperately pale, and confessed to a headache. He
found his customary drugs, and took them. But to Sally this headache
was a new and emphatic indication of Gaga's troublesome temperament.
Ugliness and squalor she knew; but sickliness was new to her. In face
of a groaning and prostrate man, she turned away. Her heart sank a
little. Then, with a shrug, she turned to the advertisements of flats
to let in London which she found in various newspapers; and made notes
of the addresses of house agents. This occupation she continued until
Gaga called almost fretfully from the next room, when she turned off
the electric light and joined him. An hour later, while Gaga still lay
staring into the darkness, Sally was fast asleep. She had no dreams.
For the present she was occupied with facts alone; and she did not
suspect that she was unhappy, because she had been absorbing too many
details to be able to reflect upon the sinking of her heart and its
The next evening Sally went to see her mother. Her first object was
to get Mrs. Minto away from the room in which they had lived; because
it was essential that if Toby came back, as she believed he could not
do for some days, he should be unable to trace Sally or her mother. It
was for fear of Toby that the removal was to be made. Once get Mrs.
Minto away, to some other part of North London, and Toby might seek
news of Sally in vain. Only if he came and waited outside Madam's would
he be able to find her; and in that case she could still baulk him, as
she was going to stay late every evening for the future in order to
work with Gaga. But first of all, Sally must arrange to get her mother
out of the old house. She would not want to go. She must go. She would
pretend that she could keep herself. She would show the stubborn pride
of many old people of the working class, who will work until they kill
themselves rather than accept charitable doles. Very well, Sally knew
that Mrs. Minto could not keep herself; and she knew also that these
same old people have no similar delicacy in taking from their
children's earnings. She was going to explain that she was still
working, and that what Mrs. Minto would receive came from Sally
herself, and not from Sally's husband. And she would herself find a
room for her mother in Stoke Newington, a suburb which is farther from
Holloway than many more distant places for the reason that no dweller
in Holloway has any curiosity about Stoke Newington or any impulse to
go there as an adventure.
Sally found Mrs. Minto in a familiar attitude, stooping over a very
small fire; but as she ran up the stairs very softly, with a nervous
dread of Toby, she had no conception of the welcome which awaited her.
She opened the door and went into the dingy room, and stood smiling;
and to her great surprise she saw her mother rise almost wildly and
come towards her. Two thin arms pressed and fondled her, and a thin old
cheek was pressed hard against her own. To herself Mrs. Minto was
ejaculating in a shivering way: My baby, my baby! Only then did Sally
understand how much the separation had meant to her mother. She herself
had never once thought of that lonely figure at home.
Poor old thing! Sally found herself saying. Was she lonely then?
She patted her mother's bony shoulders, and hugged her, affected by
this involuntary betrayal of love. Mrs. Minto had never been
demonstrative. I wish I'd brought you something, now. A present. I
never thought of it.
Is it all right? Are you happy, my dearie? demanded Mrs. Minto,
with a searching glance.
I knew what I was doing, ma, proclaimed Sally. There's not much I
It was an evasion; a confession of something quite other than the
happiness about which she had been asked.
Ah, that's what I was afraid of.... breathed her mother. That's
what young people always think. You don't know nothing at all, Sally.
I know more'n you do! It was a defiance.
You think you do. Why, you're only a baby.... Mrs. Minto shook her
head several times, with lugubrious effect. But her last words had been
full of a smothered affection, more truly precious than a hundred of
Gaga's kisses or a dozen of Toby's animal hugs.
In your days I should have been. Sally withdrew herself, and led
her mother back to her chair. Not know! Why, the girls know a lot more
now than they used to when you was a girl. No more timid little
They only think they know more, declared Mrs. Minto,
trembling. And it takes 'em longer to find out they don't know nothing
at all. It takes a lot of time to get to know. You're in too much of a
hurry, my gel. You don't know nothing. Nothing whatever, for all your
talk of it. I been thinking about it all these daysfrantic, I've
All these years! jeered Sally. Look here, ma.... Here's my
marriage license! And as she spoke she waved the folded paper before
her mother's eyes in such a way that it fell open and showed the
official entries. Even as she did this so lightly, Sally was able to
catch the sharply hidden expression of relief which crossed Mrs.
Minto's face at the reassurance. She made no pretence of
misunderstanding. Say I don't know anything? she demanded. Think I
don't know enough for that? Silly old fool? What did I tell you?
There's about twenty million things I know that you don't know. And
never will know, what's more. Wake up! I tell you one thing, ma.
The people who don't know think a lot worse than the people who
do. They fancy more. See? It's a little way they got. All goes on
inside their heads, and shakes about. People like me haven't got time
to think a lot of muck. We do things ... and do them thorough.
Mrs. Minto, reproved, sank into contemplation.
Well, I don't know, Sally, she went on, after a pause. You talk a
lot. I'd rather think than talk. You say he's rich. Sometimes girls get
Not me, though, Sally assured her. Soppy ones do. I'm not soppy.
And I'll tell you what. I'm going to get you out of this place.
I ain't going to live with you and him! declared Mrs. Minto in
alarm. I wouldn't!
No. You're going to live somewhere else. I want you to get away
from here. You're going to have two decent rooms ... in Stoke
Newington. Real paper on the walls, and a carpet, and new mattress that
isn't like two horse troughs.
I won't take nothing from him.
No. From me. Out of my wages.
You ain't going to have.... Don't be silly. I'm well off where I
I'm going to keep on at Madam's. I'm going to have plenty money.
And you're going to move. Got it? I'll see about it to-morrow night,
get you in Thursday or Friday. Won't take an hour to settle you in.
Then you'll be comfortable.
I'm very well as I am, said Mrs. Minto, obstinately. I can keep
myself. I'm not going to sponge on you. Not likely.
You'll move Thursday or Friday, I tell you.
It was final. The poor thin little old woman had no fight in her.
She looked up at Sally, and her face was the anxious face of a monkey,
or of a sick beast that is being tended. Now that she had been
comforted about Sally she had nothing left to say. She made a last
I don't want to move. Mrs. Roberson....
Your head'll get better if you keep quiet and have real coal and a
bath or two. Sally was imperious, and enjoyingly so. Her spirits had
risen. She was a general. She looked down protectingly at her mother,
and a ghost of ancient love rose breathing in her heart. Silly old
thing! she murmured, with a touch of softness; and knelt suddenly.
Got to look after you a bit, she added. It's you who's the baby now.
What a lot of kids people are! Makes me feel a hundredand overwhen
I see what fools they are. I'm sorry for you, and that's the truth. You
and Miss Summers and Gaga.
He's Mr. Sally Minto, said Sally with mystic insolence. That's
who Gaga is. He calls himself my husband, but he's no more my husband
than you are, ma. And never will be. But oh, Lor! He's going to be the
worry of my life! Ma, did Pa chase you all over the place when you was
married? I mean, chase you all about trying to kiss you and fuss you?
No, dear, said Mrs. Minto. He was drunk. He didn't know what he
Hn, Sally grunted. Then she stood up again. I'm going now, she
announced. I'm going back to Gaga. He's ill. I expect he's being
And before her mother could make startled enquiries, Sally had
kissed her and gone to the door. She ran in high spirits down the
stairs and out of the front door not laughing, but in a curious way
moved by this conversation and the strange turn which it had taken. She
slammed the door after her, and met with a sudden squall of wind. And
as she went away from the house she was conscious of a feeling of
relief. She had escaped from it, and her heart was beating rather fast.
All the time, under her speech and her thoughts, she had unconsciously
been listening for Toby's step upon the stair. Even now, she knew that
her shoulders were contracted with apprehensiveness.
She hurried along in the direction of Holloway Road, still
flinching, with her nerves uncommonly strained. It was such an odd
feeling that she had in thus revisiting her ugly old home. She had
noticed it all afreshthe tired linoleum, and the oil stove and the
tiny fire made from coal blocks, and the stupid old bed and the browned
wallpaperand she felt that it all belonged to a time when she had
been a different girl altogether. She had never before been away from
home, without her mother, for so long. She had never once been away
from this room for a night, until her marriage. And to come thus into
the dark street, in a wind, with the door slamming behind her, took
Sally's memories uncontrollably back to the days which followed their
first arrival, the days when she had met Toby and talked to him and
walked with him about the streets. She recalled her visit to Mrs.
Perce, and the sight of that grim figure relentlessly waiting for her
outside the Stores; and the struggle with Toby, and her resultant
happiness; and the night when he had first come to the room while her
mother lay in the hospital. Heigho! She had been young in those days;
now she felt an old woman, with all the sense of ageless age which the
young feel after a transition from one kind of life to another. She was
in a sense disillusioned. She had taken her step, and cut the link that
bound her to this neighbourhood and the starveling room. She had cut
the link that bound her to Toby. And he was now swiftly back in her
consciousness, in her heart; so that she knew she would never forget
him because he was the first man she had loved, and thus forever her
idea of a lover. So strong was her emotion that she felt a strange
little dryness in her throat and her burning eyes, and fancied she
heard his voice. It was as though two years had been taken away, as
though she once againas she done two years agolonged and feared to
As Sally, with her head bent and her thoughts active, pressed
onward, she heard the clanging bell of a passing tramcar, and saw its
brilliant lights rush by along the Holloway Road. A cart rattled on the
rough stones of the road, and the wind blew the leaves of the bushes in
the gardens she passed. And as she shivered a little at the wind's
onset she again imagined that she heard Toby's voice, and inevitably
turned in the direction from which the sound had appeared to reach her.
Everything was quite dark; but there was a blackness just behind her
that was like the figure of a man. It took shape; it came nearer and
nearer. Sally's heart stopped beating, and she shrank back against the
railing of one of the houses. She felt a deadly sickness upon her, a
It was Toby. He was abreast, inescapable. He loomed over her
like a figure of vengeance. Her heart was like water. She was
Hallo, Sally! Toby was by her side, and his arms round her, and
his kisses on her cheek. Why, aren't you going to kiss me?
Sally's eyes opened wide at his tone of innocent surprise. She
suffered him to kiss her lips. Toby had not received her letter! He was
on leave, and.... She gasped. An indescribable relief caused her to
rest limply and unprotestingly in his arms. Once again they were
engulfed in merciful darkness, hidden from each other and from anybody
who might happen to pass. She could not think at all; but she was
thankful at this reprieve. Not yet would he kill her. And as they stood
embraced she was suddenly happy, with a passion that astonished her.
TobyToby, her love; and she herself in his arms again, as she had
never thought to be. A strange laugh, low and tender, came from her
lips. Her cheek was gently rubbed against his, and her body quite
relaxed. Every one of Sally's difficulties suffered an oblivion; they
were all dispersed in the extraordinary mist of sensation which
I was surprised, she murmured, kissing him with all her
heart. Didn't expect to see you. Funny to see you ... so funny
... and when I was thinking of you. I must have known you were coming.
I just got in, Toby said. I say, where you going, Sal?
Sally flinched again. Immediately she was conscious of terror.
Stoke Newington, she cried; in a flash. What was she to do? What
was she to do? She was desperate. Fear was strong; but love was
stronger. It was not only now that she did not dare to tell him the
truth in case he killed her; much more than that was her understanding
of the fact that she could not bear to lose him. Such gust of
thankfulness had shaken Sally when she knew that Toby had not received
her letter that she was brimming now with joy. It was impossible to
lose her rapture at the moment of its full glory. She could not
Stoke Newington? Whatever for? Here, wait till I've had some
grub.... No, I'll come with you now. Get some grub later. Have you got
to go there now?
You musn't come, Toby.
Why not? He was instantly suspicious. His grip tightened, and he
forced her to look at him.
Didn't you get my letter?
When? Now? I've had no letter. What you going to Stoke Newington
for? No, I want to know. You going to meet another chap? I believe you
are, you little devil! By Christ! If you.... I will come! Toby
was now fiercely suspicious. She could tell from his ferocious grip,
and the urgency of his tone. If you're playing that game, I'll kill
you. By Christ, I will!
I'm not. I'm not, cried Sally. You're hurting me, Toby!
You swear it? He relaxed his hold, which was strangling her. In
the darkness he again strove to see her expression and judge for
himself of her honesty.
I'm not going to see anybody. I swear I'm not.
Why did you ask if I'd had your letter? What you bin writing to
Oo, a lot of lies.... breathed Sally. Silly talk and rubbish.
That's all it was.
What about? He was still intense. Sally could hardly breathe, and
her courage was fading. They were so much in the darkness that they
could not be seen, and she was entirely dominated by Toby's physical
strength. Within his grasp she was helpless, and not all her
dartingly-imagined expedients would be enough to secure her escape.
Hastily she improvised a story.
Well, I'm not living with ma any longer. I gone out to live in,
Lost your job?
He was baffled! but he knew that something was amiss. Sally could
feel him drawing deep breaths. In the shadow she could imagine that his
jaw was firmly set. It was strange to feel so happy in his arms, so
afraid of death, so frustrated in the composition of any tale by which
she could free herself and thus gain time to make some fresh plan.
Sally had never been in a comparable quandary.
Where you living? he next demanded.
Don't be rough. You're hurting. Well, I'm living. I forget the
address. Only went there last night. I'm with a friend.
What sort of a friend? A girl? What's her name?
Toby considered. He had heard that name, Sally knew, and must
remember it. She felt that at last she had stumbled upon something
which would seem to him probable enough to allay immediate suspicion.
She's your forewoman or something, isn't she? he demanded.
Yes. She's very kind. She's ever so nice. Sally prayed that he
might believe her. There was a long pause of doubt, during which
hysteria, rising, nearly provoked a frantic struggle for freedom and
flight. But she remembered a former occasion, and her knees were weak
at the foreknowledge of failure. He would not be merciful. She feared
him and adored him.
Well, Toby said at last, in a grumble; when do I see you? Eh?
Thank God, his voice had changed. He had spoken slowly and in
acceptance of the tale. Sally conquered a sob that would have betrayed
her. Toby had been tricked. There was still a chance that she might be
able to manage him for the present.
Sally thought for a moment, but in a distracted blur. All her plans,
made upon the assumption that he would be at sea for at least a week
longer, had miscarried. There was now no sense in moving her mother
hurriedly and secretly. Toby, in the room above, would be aware of
everything. She must arrange this differently. It would need a careful
scheme. When would Toby receive his letter? Probably it would not be
forwarded at all, but would be kept at the offices of the shipping
company. That was what had happened once or twice before. He would be
at home a week. She had a week. How tired she was! She must get away
now, and have a chance to think; but she must see Toby again. She
To-morrow, Sally gasped. To-morrow night. Eight o'clock. Marble
Arch. Eight o'clock, or a bit after. I might be kept a little late.
To her inexpressable thankfulness, Toby rather grumblingly agreed.
We'll go to the pictures, he said. There's a picture house
Wherever you like. Toby, I must go.
They kissed long and passionately; and when Sally was alone, sitting
in the tramcar on its way to Holborn, she found that she was trembling
from head to foot. She was in consternation, and prevented from crying
only by the steadily inquisitive stare of a stout woman opposite. Sally
had never been so afraid, so distraught. She had never been in such a
bewildering and terrifying difficulty. She was only half conscious.
And when she reached the hotel their sitting-room was in darkness.
Gaga had evidently been home, for the evening paper had been thrown
upon the floor, and his hat and coat were upon one of the chairs. Sally
remembered what she had told her mother, and went quickly to the
bedroom door. It was true. Gaga lay groaning in bed, and there was a
faint smell of sickness in the air. Sally instinctively recoiled, and
went back into the sitting-room. Her hands came together and jerked in
a gesture of despair. Everything was against her. The white face was
whiter; the mischievous eyes were sombre. She was a lonely and
frightened child without any support in her life. She was too young, in
spite of her vivacity, to endure such trials unbroken; and in this
situation she was overwhelmed.
With her hands to her mouth, Sally stumbled to the hearthrug, and
bowed her head against the arm of a chair. Painful sobs shook her body.
Oh, I wish I was dead! I wish I was dead! she wailed.
In that moment of lost hope she was faced only with the
impossibility of dealing with all her trials. She had been
over-excited, and she was desperate. Everything had gone wrong. She was
thus early face to face with the consequences of her own blithe and
over-confident actions; and the consequences threatened disaster. Death
would really at this moment have seemed better than the effort she must
make to grapple with her problems. It would have been so much easier,
and she was without courage. Afraid lest her sobs might arouse Gaga and
bring him groaning to her side, she stifled them. But they made her
body heave for a long time, until at last with tear-filled eyes she
stared at the fire, and knew that the fit was over.
What was Sally to do? There was the fatal letter already waiting
somewhere for Toby, or on its way to him. The thought of it made her
body feel as though it were covered with prickles. She could not keep
still, but started to her feet and took several paces, her hand to her
cheek, as she remained deep in disturbed thought. If she saw Toby the
next night, and was again afraid to tell him of her marriage, what
would become of her? Sooner or later he was bound to know. The letter
would tell him. Oh, if only she had not written that letter! She would
have had time, and time was what she neededtime to remove her mother,
to cover her own tracks. And yet she knew now that she could not give
Toby up. And yet to give up her ambitions was now a proposition equally
impossible. She could not. She would not. She wanted everything. She
wanted Toby; but she wanted her opportunity with the business. If Toby
would only ... what? She could not bear the idea of his marrying
another girl. She wanted him for herself. But if he would only accept
the situationfor the present. If he would keep quiet. He would not.
She could not control him, because he was another human being, with
desires and impulses as insistent as her own.
Her mind came round to another position. If she had not married
Gagaif she had kept on playing with him, tantalising him, until she
had been indispensable! No; that was impossible. Wretched creature
though she felt him at this moment to be, Gaga also was a human being.
Sally was in conflict with the world, because the world opposes to the
wilfulness of the individual a steady pressure that is without mercy
because it is without considerateness. Nothing is more selfish than the
individual, except the mass of individuals, which has greater power.
Again, in her torment, Sally longed for death. Then, quickly
tangential, she returned to Toby and their coming meeting. If she did
not tell him, but let him find her lettershe would have lost him. He
would be savagely angry. He would infallibly kill her, because she
would have deserved his vengeful hatred.
A moan reached Sally's ears. Her name was called. Gaga must have
seen from his bed the light in the next room. She hesitated, repugnance
and cruelty struggling in her mind with the knowledge that she must
submit to her burden. Then she again turned to the bedroom, fighting
down her distaste, her horror of sickness and illness, of invalidism,
of Gaga in particular. She saw his grey face all pointed and sunken in
the electric light, and took in the general bareness of the bedroom,
with its plain iron bedstead and cream coloured crockery and worn
carpet and walls of a cold pale blue.
Sally, groaned Gaga. I've been waiting for you.
You ill? she asked, perfunctorily. Is your head bad?
Dreadful! How long you've been. Gaga's voice was feeble. He spoke
with difficulty. His hand was reached out for hers. With an effort
Sally took it, and bent and kissed Gaga's temple. He looked ghastly,
and his face was moist with perspiration. Had Gaga seen the aversion in
Sally's eyes he would have released her in horror; but he was
self-engrossed. He had been longing for her, and as Sally sat on the
edge of the bed smoothing the hair back from his brow he nestled closer
to her, appeased by the contact, and genuinely comforted by her
presence. His eyes closed. He made no attempt to speak.
So they remained for several moments. Then Sally tried to move, and
he resisted her movement with a clinging protest.
I'm just going to tidy up a bit, she said. Then I'm coming to
I wish you'd get me something.... Some Bovril ... or ...
something. Gaga was like a wasted child, not fractious, but fretful
and wanting to be petted. Sally shuddered as she took steps to gratify
him; and was glad to have some occupation that carried her out of the
room and gave her something to do. She was momentarily diverted from
thought of Toby; but she had a new desire to be away from the hotel,
and in some house or flat which she could control by herself. It would
be so much easier. It would....
When she was in bed she was prevented from sleeping by her now
recurring difficulties. She was absolutely unable to make a plan for
Toby. She was disgusted with Gaga and his sickness. She was afraid and
rebellious and exasperated. And as she lay there she felt Gaga moving,
and heard his faint groaning, and shook with a frenzy that was a
thousand times more than irritation at the tangle in which she was
placed. Like all young people, she imperiously demanded a fresh
startto cut all this mess away, and begin again as though nothing at
all had happened. She tried to repudiate her own actions. It was no
good. She could not cancel them. What she had done was done, and the
consequences were inexorable. It was with consequences alone that she
had to deal. Stifled screams rose within her. She turned frantically
from side to side.
Sally! peevishly protested Gaga. I can't get ... get to sleep if
you fidget like that. You're keeping me ... awake. Disturbing me.
Am I? cried Sally, with suppressed anger steeling her voice. I
can't get to sleep either. It's deadly!
But you're ... fidgetting.
Oh.... I thought I was lying quite still! she exclaimed, with
irony. A bitter laugh was checked upon her lips.
There was a silence, and Sally tried to sleep. It was of no use.
With a deep sigh that was almost a passionate exclamation, she once
again gave way to her uncontrollable restlessness.
Sally! came the grizzling voice of Gaga.
What? she shouted, past all self-restraint.
Well! Who wouldn't? You groaninggroaninggroaning. Enough to
make anybody fidget. Why, you're making me sick! Why can't you look
after yourself?... What's the use of eating things that make you ill?
I didn't, groaned Gaga. I only want to get to sleep.
Ooh! It was a savage, inhuman sound of horror and despair.
Sally, unendurably exasperated, slipped out of bed, and put on a skirt
and coat. Then she went into the sitting-room, made up the fire, and
curled herself up in one of the armchairs. A thin voice followed her.
Sally! It was a direct call to hysteria. Sally.... Sally....
Oh, shut up! cried Sally. I can't stand it. I can't stand it.
She ignored Gaga; but she could not sleep. Although he called no
more, she heard him still occasionally making some plaintive sound,
while she continued to lie curled in the chair until her limbs were
cramped. Long she pondered upon her fate and her situation; and the
morning found her still irresolute, filled with distaste for Gaga, and
fear of Toby, and a general loathing of the difficulties which she and
they had jointly created. She was unhappy in a way that she had never
previously known, helplessly indignant, and all the time argumentative
and explanatory to herself because she knew that for all that was now
threatening her she alone was at heart to blame. But this did not
prevent Sally from disliking Gaga as she had not hitherto disliked him;
for Gaga was the person whom she had most injured, and the person who
now stood in the way of complete liberty. It was as yet only an
hysterical exasperation due to her search for some scapegoat; but his
sickness and his peevish complaints of her restlessness had added to
Sally's feeling an ingredient of distaste which she could not overcome.
In the morning, when they met, Gaga was sulkily distant; and Sally
sat opposite to him at their chilly breakfast with a puckered brow and
a curled lip. It was not hatred that fired her, but repugnance. If Gaga
had made any motion towards an embrace she would wildly have pushed him
from her. She could not have borne his touch. She was even thankful
that he was so silent. In this estrangement she found momentary relief.
And all the time, hammering in her head, was the one thoughtToby,
Toby. What was she to do with Toby? As she left Gaga at breakfast she
was still on the borders of hysteria. She was suffering so much from
the trials of the night that she was hardly in her senses.
The workroom, with its routine and the need for hiding her feelings,
gave her more relief. She could at least take some pains to sew
accurately, to watch the other girls, and to notice how Miss Summers
started at the slightest noise. Miss Summers, Sally knew, was worrying
about Madam and Madam's health. By now Gaga would be on his way to his
mother's home, equally concerned. Only Sally was indifferent to Madam's
health. She had no interest in it. Where she would, but for Toby, have
followed every report with curiosity, she was now more than callous.
Madam was the least of her dilemmas. Sally's eyes closed; slowly she
rocked to and fro, forgetting even the girls, and ignoring her work
altogether. Toby. Her heart contracted with fear. Toby.
And yet the day wore on, and she came to no conclusion. Late in the
afternoon there came a telephone message. Gaga was on the line, asking
for Sally. A thrill went round the workroom. GagaSally! All the girls
looked at one another. With a quickly-beating heart Sally went into the
telephone box and answered. As if directly in her ear, Gaga spoke; but
his voice was so strained that she hardly recognised it. She was still
unforgiven. The voice said: Sally, my ... my mother's very ill. I must
stay here. I shan't come to the hotel to-night. You ... you'll be all
Like lightning Sally answered: I'll go home to-night.
The voice said Wha-at? and she repeated her reply. Gaga seemed
almost pleased. He commended the plan. And Sally hung up the receiver
with a sudden flush that made her whole body feel warm. It was a
profound relief to her. And in the midst of relief she found another
emotion more vehement still. She found passionate joy, and overwhelming
temptation, and then again a sharp icy fear. The emotions were all gone
in an instant. She was once more self-possessed. She returned to the
workroom with an impassive face.
He didn't say anything about Madam. He wants me to take round a
parcel he left here last night, she glibly explained. He's not coming
in to-day at all. I'm to take it round after I leave work.
With immediate care, she went into Madam's room and made up a small
parcel containing a cheap novel which Gaga had left there. This she
brought to her place and kept before her. Incredulously, the other
girls watched and sneered. It was the first inkling they had had of any
special relationship between Sally and Gaga. To the minds of all
occurred memory of that scene in the country, when Gaga had been
entranced by Sally's song. They remembered the unknown girl's joyous
yell, What price Gaga on the love path! Whey! And they remembered
Miss Rapson's word about Sallydeep. The white-faced cocket! Rose
Anstey stared angrily at Sally, who returned the glance with a coolness
the more destructive because it arose from indifference. But Sally knew
all that was going on around her. Gaga had been a fool to ask for her
pointedly; and yet what else, in the circumstances, could he have done?
Her excitement rose as the afternoon progressed; and by the evening
she was in a fever. When all the other girls were gathering together
their work and their out-of-door clothes she joined the general mêlée
with something that approached fierceness. It was not that Sally had
any need to hurry, for there were two hours ahead of her; but she was
on fire to be gone, to take her little parcel to the hotel, to give the
clerk there news of her intended absence for the night, and to make a
careful toilette before her appointment. The time was too slow for
Sally. She was biting her lips with impatience more than an hour before
the time agreed upon for the meeting. Her old longing for Toby had come
back with extraordinary strength. As the darkness grew she slipped out
of the hotel and into the night-sheltered streets. For long she walked
rapidly about London, examining each clock she passed until the
vagaries of them all so heightened her passion that she could have
shrieked at their fresh discrepancies.
And at last it was nearly eight o'clock, and she walked round and
round the Marble Arch in the tortured light of the ballooned lamps, and
round the outer side of the wide road thereabouts. There was as yet no
sign of Toby. It wanted two or three minutes to the hour. A rush of
traffic made Oxford Street roar as if with fury. It was like the sea,
but without gradations of sound. Big red motor-omnibuses thundered
along, and cabs flew by. There were occasional electric broughams such
as she coveted, which tinkled a bell instead of sounding some one of
the ugly horns which added their noise to the general racket. And Toby
did not come. A panic seized her. Perhaps her letter after all had been
forwarded to him? Perhaps he was not coming? Much as she had dreaded
his violence, such a failure now impressed her as even more sinister.
She had stopped dead in the violence of this sudden thought, and was
for the moment blinded and deafened, when Toby gently took her arm.
Sally's first jump of horror was followed by such an abandonment to his
arms that she was rendered quite unconscious of the place and the
notice of those who passed. Only she recognised that Toby was there,
that he was not angry, that he was the same strong lover she had always
known, ready and determined, her lover among all men.
Not the pictures. Not the pictures, she pleaded, with tears in her
voice. Come for a walk. Come this way!
She pulled at Toby's arm, and drew him towards the entrance to Hyde
Park. Her arm was hugging his, her body pressed against Toby's. Only
when they were out of that circle of light did she feel safe, appeased,
able to think with any of her old clearness. She had been a frightened
child. Now she was an exultantly happy one, given over to the great joy
of the moment.
They were immediately lost in the darkness of the Park, hidden from
all, and oblivious of the flashing lamps of vehicles which drove
endlessly up the broad road from Piccadilly. And Sally was in Toby's
arms, straining him to her, sobbing and uttering little sounds of love
Hullo, hullo! cried Toby, jerking her chin up with a rough hand.
I thought you'd never come! I thought you wouldn't come! whispered
Sally. Oh, Toby, I thought you'd never come! She was hysterical in
Course I come! exclaimed Toby. Wodjer take me for?
Well, I didn't know. Sally was quite unguarded. Thought
you might have.... She checked herself. Her body was shaken with a
little thrill of laughterlaughter of silly joy. She hugged him
closer. Been away a long time this time, she said. Quite a sailor,
ain't you?... Did you have rough weather? Ship all sloppy with the
waves? And you dancing about to keep your feet?
It's always rough weather, gloried Toby. Sea goin' all the
time. But she's a daisy to keep steady. Wouldn't hardly notice you was
I'm sure! cried Sally, ironically. And you and the captain
chatting together in the cabin, and all.
No. Toby was condescending under chaff. But we're quite....
Skipper, he's called. You don't call him captain. He's just like me.
He's no better; only he....
Only he knows how to sail a boat, mocked Sally.
So do I. I sailed her up the river. He was recklessly and
untruthfully boastful, as instinct told her.
I should think so. Sally's voice was so jeering that it
laughed his pretensions to nothing at all. And then you woke up.
Toby became expostulatory. But all the time Sally was not listening.
She was not thinking of his words at all; but was only conscious of the
warm glow running through her at his nearness and his strong clasp.
Every now and then she prompted him to kiss her; and when Toby kissed
her she felt as though she did not know what unhappiness was. He was so
strong, and his chin so firm and rough; and he had such an air of the
salt sea about him, that she was like a baby at the breast. She loved
him. No thought of Gaga came. Only the moment's delight absorbed them
Presently they began to walk along the dark path, Toby's arm still
pressing Sally to his side, and his head every now and then almost
savagely down against her hair. The small hat she had worn was taken
off, and was carried, swinging. Sally was so small and so comparatively
weak beside Toby's burly strength that she was all the time relishing
his power entirely to subdue her; and her wits were so quick that she
never had a moment's hesitation as to the right way to tease him. She
was without any least sensation of unhappiness. She had never been so
glad of Toby since their first exulting days of passion, and her whole
nature was bubbling and trembling towards him in the old way, as if
they had come together again after some long dreadful estrangement.
And then Sally remembered Gaga. She had been laughing so much in
herself at this long evening of freedom, that the recollection was like
ice to her heart. It was all a mockery, a fantasy; and Toby was no more
hers. She was separated from him for ever, and the more closely she was
embraced by him the less she felt herself free to belong to him. A
revulsion of feeling shook her. With an instinctive movement almost
savage, she escaped from his arm and walked onward, her face set and
her spirits banished.
No, she cried, when Toby sought to re-establish his protective
hold. She was as if deep in thought; but in fact she was not thinking
at all, but was only overwhelmed by the old horror of her situation
which had newly arisen after this short respite of dreaming. Toby let
her walk alone, and lighted a cigarette, slouching beside her with his
hands in the pockets of his jacket. He was a dim hunched figure in the
gloom. Sally could not see him clearly; her sense of him was simply of
his strength and his responsiveness to her own physical inclinations.
The sense evoked in her heart longing which made Sally bow her head.
She sighed deeply; her fixed eyes were closed. She was quite blind. For
an instant she was lost in grave humility. Her smile in the darkness
held such sweetness that it gave proof of her true love, her beautiful
and entranced adoration.
What time you got to be back? Toby abruptly questioned in a
matter-of-fact tone. It was like the unexpected tearing of calico, so
sharply did such a demand break the vision and show his insensitiveness
to her mood.
Back? Sally was dazed. She could not understand Toby's speech.
Back where? She had an extraordinary feeling of shock. Her peace was
Sally caught her breath. In a strained tone that sounded, as she
meant it to sound, as though she had been merely inattentive, she made
Oh, I.... I'm going home to-night. Holloway. Stopping with mother.
Toby had looked at his watch before throwing his match away.
It's ha' parce eight, he mentioned.
A fierceness shook Sally. It was more than she could bear. She
turned upon him in a fury. With such a snarling venom did she speak
that Toby drew himself almost defensively to his full height.
Don't let me keep you! she cried. I didn't know you were in a
hurry. If you want to go home, go. Go! She ended almost in a
scream, and her fists were frantically jerked.
Here! Toby was disconcerted. What you talking about? I only said
the time. He seized her, and Sally struggled as of old. But she could
not resist him. There was too great a discrepancy in their strength,
and in their will, when her own will so dangerously betrayed her. Toby
held her closer and closer. His grip was tyrannic. Sally's breath was
short, sobbing; her eyes were again closed, and her lips tragically
pressed together. Her face might have been marble. And as he held her
fast, Toby forced back Sally's head and many times kissed her hotly and
possessively. What's the row? he demanded. She heard the savagery of
his tone, and felt his warm breath on her cheek; and some undertone of
his husky voice vibrated in her ear. Ain't you well, Sal? he
whispered. I never meant I wanted to go home. I don't. You know that.
I only said the time. Only ... how long had we got? Sally, old
All right, all right! Sally did not know what she was saying. Her
brows were knitted in distraction. Then: Oh, any old time.... And as
she spoke temptation suddenly swept her with a tingling heat, and her
mouth was dry and her body tense with the excitement of the
overwhelming moment. Her heart beat so fast that she was quite
breathless. With an impulse too strong for resistance she returned her
lips to Toby's, half-crying, and in vehement surrender. She could see
no further, could endure no more. At the withdrawal she cried
gaspingly: I needn't ... needn't go home at all ... to-night. Nobody
... expects me. Toby!
In the morning Sally awoke with a heavy heart. Foreboding was more
gloomy than she had ever known it. The hotel bedroom in which they had
slept was very small, and the walls towered above her. It was a dirty
room, and the bright sunlight that came through the slats of the blinds
revealed the thick London dust in the curtains and on the walls. Toby
was by her side, fast asleep. She had no sense of wrong-doingit never
troubled Sally, who judged her own conduct by exceptional standards;
but she was again full of fear. Lightly she touched Toby's thick strong
hair, and kissed it, half raised from her pillow; and bending over him.
Her love was undiminished, but her fear of him was suddenly increased.
And as she withdrew her hand and sat upright she caught sight of the
wedding-ring which she had taken from her purse and slipped onto her
finger before they reached the hotel. They had come without luggage,
and it had been an impulse of caution which had led her to wear the
ring. Slowly she turned it round and round upon her finger, not
recalling that it was Gaga's ring, not considering her use of it an
added dishonour to Gaga, but looking at it abstractedly. The ring meant
so much, and so little. Her marriage had meant so much and so little. A
faint smile stole to her lips and played about them.
A stirring of Toby's body made her glance quickly down. His eyes
were open, and he was staring solemnly at her. His hair was all
roughened, and his dark face was puffed with sleep. He looked like her
big baby, irresistibly lovable. The smile deepened; but she did not
speak. She made no movement at all; and Toby, stretching out a lazy
arm, put it round her waist.
Ugh! he said, grunting with satisfaction. With calm pleasure she
enjoyed the knowledge of his great muscular strength; but she did not
respond to him at all. Toby jerked towards her, so that his head rested
against her side, and Sally mechanically crooked her arm lightly over
his further cheek. Toby blinked a little, and yawned, and looked at the
sunshine. Wha's time? he gaped. Oh-o-oo.
Dunno. Oo, bless me! Sally roused herself. I mustn't be late.
She reached out for Toby's watch, on the table at his side of the bed,
and held it up to the light. The time was half-past-seven. She looked
at the old watch, a cheap one with a loud tick. I'll give you a
watch, one day, she said, condescendingly. A watch.
Here! Toby's voice changed. He caught her wrist sharplyso
sharply that Sally almost dropped the watch on the quilt. What's
that? His tone was so strange that she was surprised, and tried to
follow his glance. It rested upon her handupon the wedding ring.
Sally's blood froze.
Oh, that? she said, with an attempt to be easy. Can't come into a
place like this.... I mean, without a ring of some sort.
Oh? asked Toby, sternly. You know all about it, don't you?
Well? Sally was frightened, but simulating defiance. It's true,
Where'd you get it?
Shop. She was so afraid that she was insolent.
I s'pose you're used to this sort of thing, cried Toby. He
sat up beside her, his face deeply crimsoned, his expression accusing.
Used to it, are you?
No! answered Sally.
What did you get it for?
Sally could not hide her trembling. She was blanched, and her
shoulder was raised as if to avoid a blow. It came. Toby released her
wrist, and seized her shoulder. Roughly, he so shoved her away from him
that she was thrown upon her face. She scrambled out of bed, and stood
panting before him, while Toby, kicking down the bedclothes, seemed
crouched upon the bed as if he might murderously spring at her. She
watched his hands, fascinated by an imagination of their grip upon her
What did you get it for? Toby repeated, in a voice of madness.
To come here.
Liar! He leapt out of bed, and Sally, in a panic, turned to fly.
She could not escape. Toby held her shoulder again. Again he savagely
pushed her, so that she fell against the wall, her head striking it.
Sally slid to the floor, shrinking from him, terrified now that death
seemed so near. She did not scream. She could still have done so; but
it was not her instinct to cry out. You liar! Toby said again. What
did you get it for? Christ! He dragged Sally once again to her feet.
His fingers were bruising her arm. She was physically helpless and
half-stunned. Is that the way you make your living? demanded Toby,
No! It was Sally's turn to shout. No, you fool. You fool!
You dirty little liar! It is!
It's not! cried Sally. With a tremendous effort for self-control
she checked a sob that would have plunged her into hysteria. I'm
Toby fell away, his mouth open. The release sent Sally against the
wall once more. He stood looking at her, his face grey, his eyes
You tell me that? he said. Married!
He did not speak. He eyed her with a sombre and threatening
appraisement. Then, more quietly, he went on:
You can't be. You're mine. You belong to me. Nobody
else can't have you!
Nobody else can have me. But I'm married, all right, Sally told
him. She was recovering some composure. When she moistened her lips she
glanced sideways at him, like lightning. Toby had not struck her. He
was too surprised.
Married.... And you come here with me. Liar!
My husband's away.... We don't.... His mother's ill. I don't love
himnever did. We were only married a few days ago. I wrote to you.
You never got the letter.
Oh, that's why.... Toby's tone was vengeful. His fists were
See, Toby, I only love you. Only you. But he's rich. We.... I don't
sleep with him, Toby. He's never....
You liar! Toby approached her. Sally could see his teeth
I swear it's true. Toby!
Toby suddenly caught her a blow on the arm which sent her spinning
across the tiny room. She held on to the mantelpiece to save a fall.
They were both panting now; but Toby was like a bulldog. The colour was
returning to his cheeks. He was watching Sally, as she was watching
him. She was ready to dodge a further blow; but she knew that if he was
determined to kill her nothing would stop him. She was filled with
abject fear at her own physical powerlessness. But by now her wits were
alert again. Toby made a movement, and Sally started, ready to dart
away. He did not come nearer. A stupidity seemed to descend upon him.
A loud rap at the door startled them both.
Hot water. Half-past seven. And less noise there! came a loud
voice. The whole scene was transformed by the interruption. Both became
Married! Toby said, as if to himself. He shook his head.
I love you, Sally told him.
He sat dully upon the bed. Timidly, for fear of another outburst,
Sally approached him. At last, standing by his side, she held Toby's
head to her breast, kissing him with little fierce kisses that must
have carried their message to his heart. At last Toby's arms were
raised, and around her, and she was pressed to him once more. Their
lips met. Toby made a muffled, snarling sound that was a mixture of
love and hatred and masterfulness. He held her with ferocity. Then, as
suddenly, his muscles relaxed, until Sally by repeated endearments
baffled his indignation and softened his anger. She was struggling with
all her might to keep possession of him, moving each instant with more
assurance among his dull thoughts and his easily-roused passions. As
the moments passed she knew that she had kept him, and at this
knowledge her own passion rose until it equalled Toby's.
My love, she whispered. My dear love.
Later in the day, when she was able to think of all that had
happened, Sally had an unexpected glimpse of the situation. She
realised that she was a victor. She was almost too satisfied. She had
no shame, no contrition; she merely knew that if she might still keep
Toby her marriage with Gaga would be bearable. She had none of the
turmoil of the conventional married woman who takes a lover; but then
she had never been trained to be scrupulous. She was still young enough
to be intoxicated by her own prowess. She could manage Gaga; she could
manage Toby; she could manage the businessthere was no end to her
power. More than anything else, it was necessity to her to gratify her
sense of power. If that necessity had been removed she would have known
herself for a reckless fool; but the demand for power obliterated every
inconvenient thought of risk. As for a sense of honour, Sally had been
born without one.
All the girls looked at her very old-fashioned, as they would have
said, when she arrived in the morning; but as the day wore on, and
there was no further telephone message for her from Gaga, they began to
forget what had happened on the previous day. Sally worked like a
mouse, her brain exulting in its vivid memories of her time with Toby;
and she did not think of Gaga at all. She only hoped that he would not
come to the office. She was feeling too tired to deal effectively with
any peevishness from Gaga; although, the causes of her hysteria having
been removed, she was not likely to repeat the failure of that other
restless night. A heaviness hung upon her as the day wore on; a kind of
thick readiness for sleep. She yawned over her work. The workroom
seemed stuffy, the day unusually long. The nervous strain of the past
few days was reacting, and even Sally's vitality was shaken by the
consequences of her successive excitements. When tea-time came she was
relieved. But there had been no news of Gaga, or from him: not even a
message through Miss Summers. Miss Summers grew more and more fidgetty
and anxious as the hours went by.
I do hope nothing's happened, she clucked. So funny not having
heard. I wonder if I ought to telephone to ask. Perhaps Mr. Bertram's
ill. Did you see him last night? D'you think I ought to ring up?
I'm so worried. It's so strange, and Madam being so ill, and that.
I shouldn't worry, urged Sally. He'll 'phone fast enough if
there's anything to say. Look at yesterday.
Yes; but perhaps he's ill himself.
Sick, commented Sally. He's bilious, you know.
Miss Summers shook her head, and sighed.
Yes, she readily agreed. I'm afraid he's not the man his mother
They had hardly finished speaking when Miss Summers was called to
the telephone. She was away for two or three minutes; and returned with
tears streaming down her cheeks. All their pink plumpness was softened
into a blur of tearful weakness. She was bent and dissolved under
disaster. As she made her way up the long workroom to her place the
girls all craned their necks to look at Miss Summers, and one or
twothe kinder onesrose to see if they could do anything to comfort
her. But it was to Sally that Miss Summers turned, and within an inch
of Sally's cheeks that she shook her tear-stained face. At first she
could not speak; but grimaced like a child, as if her cold nose was
smarting. Sally was first to hear the news; but all of them had known
it from the first glimpse of Miss Summers in tears.
She's gone, cried Miss Summers, Poor soul, she's gone. And what
will happen to us I don't know.
We'll be all right, Sally murmured, with singular
confidence. A shock had slightly discomposed her, but it was not a
shock of sorrow for the death of Madame Gala. Rather was it a passing
thrill of dismay at her own responsibility, which her reassuring speech
had been intended to remove.
She's dead.... Madam's dead.... ran through the workroom. One girl
hurried to tell Miss Rapson and the workers in her department, who came
crowding immediately into the room, agog with excitement. They all
gathered together in a body, and then in detached groups, talking fast.
I s'pose we'll all have a day off for the funeral, somebody said
with a giggle.
Oo, yes. Sure to. And have to wear mourning, added another girl,
more solemnly and hopefully.
Sally stood, as if by right, with Miss Summers and Miss Rapson. She
was definitely a principal figure in the scene. Just as the other girls
began to notice this, and murmuringly to comment upon it as a piece of
characteristic impudence, Miss Summers had a quick return of memory.
Gesticulating with helpless impatience, she said:
Oh, Sally; I'd quite forgotten. Mr. Bertram is ill. And the
nurse said he was asking to see you. Yes, asking to see ... Miss
Asking to see Sally Minto! There was a thrill among the girls that
was even greater than the one which they had felt at the news of
Madam's death. Gaga asking to see Sally Minto! Whew! Everything became
electric. Rose Anstey coloured deeply, and turned upon her heel. Sally
knew they were all staring at her, like fish in an aquarium. With
something approaching dignity she ignored them and directly addressed
Did you mean he wanted me to go at once? she asked.
Yes, child. Yes. At once. Better run along now.... Miss Summers
was distracted, tearful, inclined to kiss Sally, and altogether without
knowledge of what she was doing or what she ought to do. Wait.... Tell
himperhaps I ought to write a letter? Oh, dear! I don't know.... She
pressed her fingers to her temples. No, tell him how sorry we all are.
Say if he wants me.... Run along, run along!
Yes, Miss Summers.
In a very leisurely manner, Sally rolled up her pinafore and put her
work away. Then she washed and dressed herself to go out. She walked
back through the workroom like a queen, sedately bidding Miss Summers
good-afternoon and smiling a cool farewell to the girls. The buzz of
their amazed whispering followed her into the waiting-room. She felt
their eyes like stings in her back. On the way downstairs the memory of
the scene and an understanding of the girls' feelings made her laugh.
Well, that was that; and she was face to face with her problem in its
entirety. Unconsciously, Sally walked more erect.
Sally never went back to the workroom. She hurried from it to the
old house in Kensington in which the Merricks had lived for years; and
as she saw the house, so black with dust, and the steps that led up to
the heavy front door, even Sally's heart quailed. She hesitated for
several minutes before going up the steps, and loitered there, a little
figure in a grey dress, trim and chic, but not at all the girl
to take control of such a mansion and of the difficulties which lay
within. She could not tell what a mass of custom the house indicated;
but her instinct was enough to make her feel extraordinarily small,
extraordinarily untrained and incapable. It had been very well for her
to suppose that everything could be seized and controlled at a glance.
The reality was too solid for a longer dream. Thoughtless,
over-confident as her fantasy had been, she had the sense which a child
has when a running man comes threateningly nearof a great shape, of
unexpected size and dangerousness, looming out of the focussed picture,
and setting all previous conceptions at nought. Here was this giant
house, and Madam lying dead in it, and servants who would resent her
appearance, and Gaga; and Sally was such a little girl in the face of a
definite trial. She was a little girl, and she would never be able to
deal with what lay ahead. It was a long, devastating spasm of doubt,
like a trembling of the earth. The house towered above her, huge and
gloomy; and other houses, equally oppressive, continued from the
Merricks' house, with basements and railings and great black fronts and
lace curtains, until the road turned and its end was unseen. And Sally,
who had lived all her life in small flats and single rooms, was shaken.
Her heart sank. She entered the house. Her head was high, from pride;
but her qualms were intense. An atmosphere of solemn melancholy made
everybody speak in low tones. She had difficulty in remaining calm.
All the rooms were large rooms, filled with large furniture and old
pictures and prints. Madam had made her home for comfort; and the taste
which had marked her other work was here subdued. An old clock ticked
steadily; and if there were no ancient horrors at least the house
within did not belie its serious front. Sally was like a little doll,
shrinking under the weight of such solid comfort, and not yet able to
appraise it in terms of possession and disposal. She was still shy and
timid. Wherever, upon this first entrance, she looked round for
encouragement, she found none. During that first evening she was so
miserable that she could have run away. She was like a child that goes
for the first time to school, and feels bereft of every familiar
support and association.
But in the morning Sally found everything better. She saw Gaga's
doctor, and she talked to the three servants. She telephoned to Miss
Summers and asked her to come to the house in the afternoon. She wrote
to Mrs. Perce and to Toby. She nursed Gaga and refused to see the dead
body of his mother. Every minute which she spent in the house increased
her familiarity with it; and her youth and smallness captivated the
three middle-aged servants, who were glad to have somebody there whom
they could advise. Sally had long been able to behave as somebody other
than a workgirl, and the servants were so well-behaved that they did
not make any attempt to be too much at ease with her. Sally, moreover,
looked down with all the contempt of her class upon women who worked in
domestic serviceSKIVVIES! She was drawlingly refined with them, but
not grotesquely so, and they respected her.
First in importance among the things which Sally had to seem to
arrange was the funeral. She handed all the details to the undertaker.
This showed her to be a general. From the first she followed the only
possible planto give carte blanche to those who had to deal
with matters of urgency. Gaga was all the time ill. His mother's death
had so broken down his strength and his self-control that Sally often
found him weak with crying; a pathetic figure, in bed, woebegone and
feeble. His delight at seeing her was so violent that he had covered
her hands with kisses before he fell back exhausted upon his pillow. He
constantly called for her. The servants noticed with clucked tongues
how feverish was his devotion; but they also recognised Sally's
patience. Sally was angelic to Gaga. She tended him so protectively
that one might have thought her loving. And in the rest of her free
time she tried hard to learn about the house. Mistakes she made, of
course, and many of them; but she was still shrewd, and if she was
often superficial and hasty, at least she was alert.
Miss Summers Sally found invaluable. Once Miss Summers had overcome
her surprise at the new order and once she had found that Sally was the
old Sally, who relied upon her, she rose to every call. Her kindness
and her generalship were unfailing. She it was who kept the business
moving at a trying time. In her hands orders were filled with the
expected promptitude and the customary excellence. She obsequiously
interviewed those who came to be fitted; and her knowledge of the
business enabled her to satisfy these customers and make them
understand that in spite of the extraordinary conditions they could
still rely upon proper attention. She was unsparing of her time and her
devotion. She had at last a satisfactory mission.
And all this Sally recognised. While Gaga claimed her attention, and
household affairs worried her, she did not trouble very much about the
business. Miss Summers would come in the evening to Kensington, tell
her the news, and give advice upon other matters. The two had long
talks at night. Sally suddenly knew how valuable a friend she had in
Miss Summers. She knew the value of an unselfish readiness to serve;
and she herself was generous enough and, in a sense, imaginative enough
not to exploit Miss Summers. There was a good understanding between
them. And Sally, as she looked round at the mahogany furniture in this
old house, and saw the dull carpets and engravings which Madam had
gathered together in other days for the suitable adornment of her
rooms, could think of no better repayment than a gift of some of the
things which Miss Summers might prize, and which Sally and Gaga could
never use. It was characteristic of her that she made this definite
reservation; but with Gaga's consent she finally made Miss Summers
happy by such a lavish present that Sally might have done many strange
things without ever losing the loyalty of her adjutant.
She slept by herself in a room connected with Gaga's room by an open
door. She was thus able to tend him during his frequent fits of
sickness and weakness, which often took the form of long
hypochondriacal attacks; and was at the same time given opportunity for
active thought and planning. Sally was very happy in these days, for
nothing gives greater happiness than incessant occupation that is
flattering to the vanity. She walked with a new air, looked about her
with confidence and a sense of ownership. Above all, she had reached
that almost super-human stateshe knew herself to be indispensable.
When Gaga seemed to be well enough, they went out for a time each
day, and Sally tried to interest him in plans for a change of home. He
was still so feeble that he was rather listless and querulous; but when
she told him the sort of flat she wanted nearer town, and the sort of
furniture, Gaga caught fire, and became enthusiastic. His eyes glowed.
Much more gently than ever before, and to that extent more tolerably,
he kissed her. He proclaimed Sally's genius. Everything she suggested
appeared to him more excellent than the last thing: if she had been a
silly girl she might have been made reckless. But having interested him
she became rather afraid of his eager support. The flat was to be
her flat. She did not want Gaga blundering in with enthusiastic
mistakes. And another thing was that the doctor warned her about the
dangers of excitement.
Your husband's not a strong man, Mrs. Merrick, he said. He's not
even a sound man. You don't want him to get too excited. It's bad for
him. Go slow.
I'll try, agreed Sally. But it was with a shrug. You see how he
is. I mustn't be out of his sight; and yet something's got to be
You're a very plucky girl, remarked the doctor feebly; and he went
Sally's shrug had been sincere. She would have preferred to do
everything alone; but to do so would have been to make Gaga fully as
ill as any over-excitement could do. They accordingly went about
together, looking for a flat. They discovered one at last in Mayfair;
and decorations were begun there. It was not a large flat, and the
rooms were not all large; but it was cosy, and the furnishing of it was
going to give Sally a satisfaction hard to exceed. The two of them
exulted in the flat. They walked through and through it. They saw the
wallpapers and the paint, and admired everything in the most delicious
And then the doctor's warning was justified. Gaga collapsed. He
fainted in the flat, overcome by the smell of paint and the excitement
of proprietorship. With the help of one of the painters Sally took him
home in a cab and put him to bed. The doctor arrived, nodded, and was
not in the least surprised or alarmed. Sally was merely to be Gaga's
nurse once more. It did not matter to the doctor, who had no interest
in Gaga except as a patient.
It's rough on you, though, he said to Sally. He was a bald man of
fifty, with a cold eye and a cold, fish-like hand. He was interested in
nothing outside his profession and his meals. To him Sally was a plucky
little thing; but Sally could not find that he thought anything more
about her. She shrugged again. So sorry, said the doctor. Good-bye.
When he had gone, Sally frowned. Bother! All her plans were
interrupted. Her energies were subdued. Thoughtfully, she began to
consider how far she might act alone. She wondered whether she might
persuade Gaga to let her go out in the mornings or the afternoons. He
must do so, and yet she knew he would not like it. Although the
decision always lay with her, he had the sick and nervous man's fussy
wish to seem to make a choice. He wanted to be there, to be heard, to
announce Sally's decision in a loud voice as his own.
What a man he is! thought Sally. Big kid. Got to have a say in
everything. And he can't! The last words were spoken aloud, so
vehemently did she feel them. He can't, because he doesn't know.
She beat one hand upon the other, in a sudden passion. For a moment
she had an unexpected return of hysteria. And as she took two or three
fierce paces Sally without warning felt dizzy. She clung to a chair;
and the dizziness immediately passed. It frightened her, none the less,
because she had been feeling unwell for some days, and she had a horror
Here, here! she exclaimed. None of that. I mustn't get
ill. Oh, lor! If I was to get ill wouldn't there be a shimozzle!
Gaga'd go off his head. And everything elsepouf!
It amused her to realise this. It made her forget the unexplained
sick dizziness which had given rise to her reflections, because the
thing which Sally above everything else had always desired was to be as
important as she now found herself. At the age of eighteen she was
dominating a world which she had long since determined to conquer.
During the week following, Sally had no time for any thing but
attendance upon Gaga. She was herself feeling sick and wretched; and
Gaga was very ill indeed. He was sometimes extremely feeble, so that a
lethargy fell upon him and he lay so quiet that Sally believed him to
be asleep. But at her first movement he would unclose his eyes and
groan her name, groping with his finger to detain her. So she sat in
his big square bedroom with the drab walls and the plain furniture,
watching the daylight fade and pondering to herself. It was a gloom
period, and it had a perceptible effect upon her vitality. At other
times Gaga would rally, would even sit up and talk in his old stammer,
his grey face whitened and sharpened by illness. Always he demanded her
kisses, although at times she had such horror of being made love to by
one so ill that she was pricked by a perfect frenzy of nerves. He would
sit by the fire, passing his thin hand across her shoulders, stooping
and caressing her and catching her neck with his fingers in order to
bring her cheek the more submissively to his own. His lips were ever
encroaching, and his fevered clasp was so incessant and so vibrant with
overstrung excitement as to create a sense of repulsion. It was a
tyranny, to which Sally listlessly yielded because she had not the
spirit to resist. She also knew that resistance would make him ill
again; and however much she chafed at his kisses she chafed still more
at the constant attention demanded by Gaga's state of health, which
kept her ever there and delayed intolerably the execution of those
plans which would have interposed a relief from these intimacies. Then
again he would be seized with fits of vomiting which shook his frame
and made him so ill that he had to be helped back to bed and comforted
as if he were a child. It was a weary time, much shorter than it
appeared to be in her slow watching of the clock; and she could not
have endured it at all if her resolution had been less tough.
Sometimes, too, Sally knew that she was rather fond of Gaga. Her
feeling for him was a mixture of emotion; but she never actively
disliked him, even when she was bored by his constant show of
possessiveness. The truth was that she had grown to be afraid. She was
like a Frankenstein, and her monstrous plan had become too great to be
carried through alone. She was frightened that Gaga would die; and she
did not want him to die. He was necessary to her, because at present he
was the key to her scheme of immediate life.
Each evening Miss Summers came; and the tale she brought of orders
given and executed was satisfactory. But even Miss Summers knew that
things were not going well. All that practical direction which Madam
had brought to the business was lost. Everything that had given
distinction in the choice of material and style was in danger. There
were new purchases to be made, and new designs furnished. All that vast
part in the business which occurred before a customer entered into
negotiations had been managed entirely by Madam, and it was suspended
in her absence. Some of this work was routine, and could be conducted
without her; but as the days passed it became evident that important
matters were being delayed, that they were accumulating, that unless
something could be done quickly to check the slide the business would
become mechanical and its individuality be destroyed. Thus Sally learnt
that her ambition had led her to grasp at power which she could not
wield. If she had been able to go to work she could have learnt very
easily. She had such quick taste, and such confidence, that, with Miss
Summers at her side, in spite of many mistakes, she could have dealt
with much that was now slipping. But she was unable to leave Gaga. When
she tried to explain the needs of the moment to him Gaga turned weakly
away, incapable of grasping more than the fact that she was his wife
and that he needed her. At a speech concerning the business he shrugged
his shoulders, and became stupidly ineffective.
One night, when she was in bed, Sally thought of all this, and was
first despondent and then dispirited. The mood intensified. Once it had
gripped her she knew no peace. She was in helpless torment. Before she
knew quite what she was doing she had drawn the bedclothes over her
head and was bitterly sobbing. Little disjointed phrases were jerked
from her lips in this painful abandonment to fear and the sense of
lonely powerlessness. She was at last unrestrained in her admission of
failure. She did not know ... she did not know. By herself she
could do nothing. And there was nobody to whom she could turn for
succour. Her mother was useless, Mrs. Perce was useless. Her one
support was Miss Summers, and Miss Summers this evening had been unable
to hide her trepidation, but had sat licking her lips and blinking her
eyes, which held such concern that she could in no way disguise the
cause of her gloom. Miss Summers also, then, was full of foreboding;
and Sally, tied fast here, a child, thrown off her balance by illness
and nervous excitement, had lost confidence in her star.
When she was calm again she slept; but in the morning the
preoccupation returned to her, and her head ached, and the tears filled
her eyes as though she were fighting against grief. And her first visit
to Gaga disgusted her and made her feel the more miserable. She had
often been more poignantly affected, but never had she experienced such
a sense of complete distaste for life. She was like a child given an
impossible task to perform; and instead of being able to rise on the
wings of her arrogance as she was in the habit of doing, Sally was
weighed down by leaden sickness and fear. She went slowly downstairs to
have her breakfast, and sat solitary in the big brown dining-room which
overlooked a square of grass and a high wall. A dismal grey oppressed
the atmosphere, and an autumn chill. She could not eat, could only
sniff despairingly and drink a cup of tea and wander to the fire and
lay her forehead against the mantelpiece, which was cooling indeed, but
without comfort. Its hard coldness was unbearable. Sally's arms crept
up as a pillow. She stared downwards at the dead fire.
O-o-oh! she groaned bitterly. I wish I was dead! I do wish I was
dead! And at the sound of her wretched voice Sally once more gave way
completely and began to sob aloud. She was beaten, and her spirit was
And so more days passed, each filled with a sort of numbing dread.
Sally thought of the business, of her future, of Tobyfrom whom she
had received several letter reflecting his moods of ferociousness and
resentment,and of the bonds which kept her tied to the house. She
knew during all this time no peace. She grew thinner, and began to take
less care of herself. She was not aware of the beginning of a loss of
self-respect, but it was there. Sheshe who had always been so strict
in regard to her toilette and dress, whatever her state of mindwent
down to breakfast one morning in a kimono which she had found in
Madam's wardrobe and shortened for herself. It was a proof that she no
longer cared for her appearance. She lay through the nights often only
half-asleep, in a stupor which presently led her to an attitude almost
of indifference to the needs of the day. And for the rest of the time
Sally was so lethargic that it one morning occurred to her to think
that she had caught from Gaga whatever was the unnamed illness from
which he was suffering. The thought once arisen, flew to her head. It
became a horror. She had heard of bad fruit corrupting fruit that was
sound and this was a new preoccupation for her. When Gaga would have
kissed her lips she turned away in sudden nausea, fighting
instinctively against a subjection which her indifference had hitherto
made allowable. And she had several times to invent an excuse to be
alone, so active had her distress become; and in these absences she
would walk vehemently up and down the dining-room until she was forced
by exhaustion to sit or by a message from Gaga to return to his room.
Why, whatever's come to me? she demanded. It's awful! I'm
The doctor called every day to see Gaga, and spoke as though there
was a definite improvement in his patient's health. The medicine Gaga
was taking would finally give him strength. Already he was beginning to
eat more, and beginning also to retain what he had eaten.
It's nerves, you know, the doctor told Sally one day. Mere
nerves. Your husband's run down. He's not strong. He's had a shock. As
soon as he's well enough he ought to be got away for a holiday. You
take him away. About the end of next week, if he makes good progress.
Take him to the sea.
He hates it, cried Sally. Upsets him.
Oh. The doctor considered. Where did you go for your honeymoon?
Penterbywell, that would do, if you can take drives to the sea. He
doesn't want too bracing a place. And now, Mrs. Merrick, I've been
noticing you lately. You're run down, too. We can't have you
ill. You've been very plucky; but you've had a great strain, and all
this nursing has worn you out. I'm going to have a look at you....
Sally was conscious of a sinking of the heart.
I'm quite all right! she protested. She could not have told what
intuition had created this panic; but her heart had begun instantly to
thump in her breast, and she became, as she had done once before,
almost dizzy. She could not say anything more. She submitted to his
examination, and answered his questions. It was an ordeal, and she
watched his serious face with its cold eyes, and felt his chilly hand,
and guessed at what he would say. The doctor seemed appallingly slow,
appallingly deliberate and immovable and ruthless in his perceptions.
She was terrified. The room wavered before her; and her fright grew
greater and greater. He was very patient. She felt strange trust in
him; but always the same dread, which made her teeth chatter a little.
Soon he had finished; and then he looked at her with a slight smile and
Yes, he said, reflectively. Oh, there's nothing to be alarmed
about at all. Nothing. All you've got to do is to take care of
yourself, and not worry; and it will do you good to get away. Women in
your condition, especially if it's the first, often....
My condition! exclaimed Sally. It was like a blow.
Nothing to be alarmed at, he repeated. You'll be very happy after
a bit. You know, you're going to have a baby. He stood away from her,
smiling in a friendly way.
A baby! Sally was shaken from head to foot. She stared at the
doctor in an extremity of horror. A baby!
He patted her arm. Before she was able to collect herself he had
gonea busy doctor with a long round and a large practice. Sally sat
looking at the fire. Then she rose. A scream came to her lips. Again
and again she shuddered. A baby! A baby! Toby's baby!
The news confirmed what Sally had never consciously thought, but
what she now felt she had known for days. If anything had been needed
to complete her despair it was this. She felt suicidal. She could have
borne illness, even failure in the business, even all the complications
of distress which she had been already experiencing; but the knowledge
of ultimate disgrace so inevitable drove her mad. Vainly Sally's mind
flew in every direction for reliefthe doctor might be wrong; the
coming of babies could be prevented; perhaps Gaga might never knowshe
could persuade him to go away, could go away herself, could do a
hundred things to tide over the difficulty. And at the end of all these
twistings of the mind she would find herself still terribly in danger,
and would fight against hideous screaming fits by lying on the floor or
on a couch and crushing her handkerchief into her mouth. She was quite
overcome by her new disaster, the fruit of wild temptation, and the
consequence of her whole course of action. Used as Sally was to meeting
every emergency with cool shrewdness, she could not bring to her
present situation the necessary philosophy, because she was ill, and
fear-stricken, and made crazy by the impossibility of finding a
solution to her anxieties.
Hour after hour was spent with horrible nightmarish imaginings, in
frenzied self-excuses and improvised expedients. And never did there
come one moment of peace in the midst of all this panic. Sally had no
friend. More and more she began to realise this. She had no friend. She
had made use of people, they were fond of her, would submit to her; but
she had no friend. More than anything in the world she now needed a
friend. There was nobody in whom she could confide, from whose love and
sympathy she could draw the strength which at this point she so greatly
needed. She had a husband, a lover, a motherto none of these could
she go with the truth. It needed all Sally's egotism to make the truth
seem capable of justification, or indeed to make it seem even credible,
so different is the standard by which we judge our own actions from
that which we apply to others. Sally saw everything so much in relation
to all that she had ever thought and felt that she could not understand
how her impulses might horrify one coming to them only after
translation into action. She only knew that she could not betray
herself unreservedly to anybody with the hope of being found innocent.
The knowledge made her at first full of terror; and the terror and the
successive elaborate self-explanation, given to an unresponsive silence
which she could easily suppose to be hostile, made her obstinate; then
she became the more passionately afraid. She could have stormed, lied,
wriggled; but she could never hope to escape the consequences that she
At times Sally could not bear to be with Gaga at all. She told him
she was ill, and that the doctor said she must go out; and in spite of
his protests she would run from the house and walk rapidly for an hour
about Kensington, and even into Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The
weather made no difference to her. She was desperate, and must seek
some relief from the horror of being cooped up in that house with her
secret. She had begged the doctor to give no hint of it to Gaga, and
had tried to pretend to herself that he had been mistaken in his
diagnosis; but her pretence was of no avail, because each day she
became more certain that he had been right. And still she could not
think of any way out. She had been betrayed by a single act of
Presently, as her frenzy spent itself, Sally began to think more
collectedly. She remembered Toby's last letter. She began to think of
him. She thought even that she could run away and be divorced and
abandon all her schemes for the sake of the baby. But as soon as Sally
had such an imagining she knew that it was an impossibility for her.
Only as a last resource could she accept her disaster. All her
self-confidence fought against it. She must find some other way. At
first she thought it would be simple to do so; but as her brain worked
upon the problem she found so many difficulties in the way that she
again lost hope. The baby would ruin everything. Finally the return of
Toby seemed to her to be the first necessity. She must see him. She
could do nothing until she saw him. Longing seized hera quick sense
that at least he was her lover, and therefore her partner. She wrote to
Toby, asking him to come and meet her as soon as he reached London.
Then she waited, her exhausted torments having left her in a mood of
glittering-eyed sullen misery that might at any moment rise sharply to
angry shrillness. Calm hid genuine fear, and it was the calm of one who
has no hope other than self-control.
Gradually Sally came to know the big house in exact detail, because
in these days she was forced to find occupation for herself. The
drawing-room, the dining-room, all the rooms upstairs, were ransacked.
They held no treasures, indeed; but they gave Sally a rather
distracting interest because they aroused her sense of possession. She
had wanted to own thingsand these, although they were not what she
had pictured, were property. There was the beginning of bourgeoise
acquisitiveness and pride of ownership in her, after all. Scratch the
worker and you found the bourgeoise. There were carefully-hoarded
lengths of rich material in the cupboards, lace and ribbons and shawls
in different chests of drawers; upon Madam's dressing-table was a
manicure set and a set of tortoiseshell-backed brushes; in the drawers
of the same table were perfumes in great variety. Far below stairs,
Sally found the wine cellar, and although it was small in size it
contained more kinds of wine than she had been able to imagine
hitherto, and filled her with an almost grinning satisfaction. Not yet
was her sense of social ambition roused; but it was born. She began to
look ahead. Parties, with the wine as a feature of them, were imagined.
She began, in a manner, to picture what she would lose by defeat. The
baby would ruin all. And she was helpless, because she could speak to
nobody. She was condemned. There would be ruin, dreadful ruin, and she
was glimpsing the very things which she might have enjoyed. Fresh
paroxysms shook Sally. Somehowsomehow, and by some means not as yet
to be discovered, she must save the situation. And Toby must save her.
Toby must find a way. He must do it because he loved her. It was his
duty. He must find a way to save her. And even as she
frantically said this, Sally knew that she herself must control the
situation. Thus early in her life she had learnt that for a girl of her
type men, whatever her desire for any other state, must always be
employed under her direction. Toby would obey. He might do the
donkey-work; but in fact Sally must lead. It was her fate, the fate of
the girl with her own star to follow.
Nevertheless, it was upon Toby that the immediate future depended.
Not yet has woman the power to attain her ends except by and through
men. Sally waited in ever-increasing excitement for some word from
Toby, some hint of his coming. She was kept within the house at all
times except during her short flights in the morning or afternoon. She
could not be long away from the house. And she must rely upon a letter,
and then perhaps a brief meeting, for her purposes. The time was going.
Gaga was getting better, was growing more and more like the man in
whose company she had gone to Penterby. His demand upon her presence
was increasing in power, because he was sitting up, leaving his room,
coming in search of her. Sally felt that already he was beginning to
exercise an inquisition. A tremor shook her nerves. Sometimes it seemed
to her that Gaga's glance held a strangeness, almost a faint suspicion.
When she thought that she was conscious of a feeling akin to aversion.
Aversion had not yet arrived. Gaga was still to be despised. But
Sally already felt that she might presently find her task of deception
very hard under the constant scrutiny of such futile devotedness as he
displayed. And Toby did not write. She had no means of knowing where he
was, whether the voyage upon which he was engaged would be long or
short, how much more time must elapse before their meeting. The
suspense was killing her. More than once, hearing Gaga calling to her,
Sally had hidden from him, and, at discovery, had been unable to
conceal the hard coldness of her feeling for him. If Toby would only
come! If he would only come! She thought that her nerve must before
long give way, and once it had gone she would be prematurely ruined.
She felt trapped. She even, desperately, would slip on a coat at nights
and walk up and down outside the house, in case Toby should be lurking
near on the chance of seeing her. She thought he might come thus. And
on each occasion when she went out of the house in this way she
returned to find Gaga standing in the dining-room, with the door open
in such a way that he could command a view of the inside of the front
door. The knowledge that he was waiting for her, and watching her,
filled Sally with cold fury. His innocent delight at her return had the
air of being a pretence. She could not suppose his eager caresses to be
other than penitence for suspicion or an assertion of his claims upon
her in perpetuity. The distress made her unresponsive, even repressive.
Her foot tapped upon the floor even while she could not wholly quell
his convulsive nervous embrace. And Toby did not come.
At last, one evening, her guess was justified. She had taken her
coat, and had walked to the end of the road; and just as she turned
back, without hope, she saw a burly figure almost opposite. It was
Toby, in a sailor's short thick jacket, and his neck muffled, and a cap
over his eyes. He was standing in the shadow, and as she crossed to him
allowed Sally to enter that same embracing darkness which safely hid
them both. She gave a little savage cry, and was in his strong arms,
almost crazed with relief and her physical sense of his so long
withheld nearness. She could feel herself shuddering and trembling, but
she was not directly conscious of this. All she felt was a passionate
joy at being able to abandon all her nervous self-control to this
firmness and clenched vigour.
Oh, Toby, Toby! she whimpered, clutching him; and then no more for
several minutes. Toby did not speak. He hugged Sally until she was
breathless, and his hot kiss made her cheek burn. She pressed her
forehead with all her strength against his breast, and longed that in
this moment she might for ever lose all knowledge of the trials which
beset her. The trembling persisted for a long time; and then, as she
was comforted, it began to subside.
My girl, my girl! muttered Toby, in a thick voice, warm against
Toby, listen.... Toby, I'm going to have a babyit's your baby.
What shall I do? Toby! Sally clung to him. I'm so frightened,
Baby? Christ! As suddenly, he repulsed her. You say it's me. It's a lie! How d'you know? You little liar, you. What's your game?
Of course it's yours, fiercely cried Sally. I told you.
D'you think I believe that! He was brutally incredulous. He held
her away. Why, you dirty little liar, you'd swear anything.
A ghastly anger took command of Sally.
I told you, she steadily repeated. But she made no attempt to go
back to him. They stood quite apart in the difficult gloom.
I know you did. You told me you loved me. You married him.
I told you, she obstinately went on. I told you. I don't
know what to do. He'll find out. He's bound to find out.
He'll think it's his, said Toby. By God, I believe it is.
You're mad! cried Sally. He knows it can't be. And you
know it, too. I tell you I shall be found out and disgraced. She was
not crying. Her pride was aroused. She was full of scorn for one who
could disbelieve what she herself knew to be true.
Well? Toby demanded. What of it? Whose fault is it? He was
brutally angry, and a little frightened and blustering. They were still
at arm's length in the darkness of the deserted street. There was no
lamp near them, and the houses behind were unlighted. Sally's heart
fell. She was almost paralysed at Toby's tone. She was puzzled and
chagrined and angry. And then a change of mood came abruptly upon her.
Don't you love me? she mournfully asked. I thought you did. I
love you, Toby. I thought you loved me.
I used to, came the grim reply out of the night. He sounded
Not any longer? She withdrew herself wholly from him. They were
completely sundered. Toby was failing her. She was stone cold to
himcold to all the world.
Who says I don't? asked Toby, in a grumbling way. He put out his
arm, but Sally stepped back. Here.
No, she cried, sharply. Toby was not to take her for granted, not
to hold her and make love to her. She was in earnest, and he was giving
himself away as one who had taken what he could get.
I do. At last Toby's sullen assent reached Sally.
You think I'm a liar, she persisted. You don't love me. It was
There was a silence. Toby was almost invisible. Both were lost in
the dull estrangement of that troubled mood.
Yes, I do, he muttered. You are a liar.
I'm not. It's true what I say. If Gaga finds out....
Well? What d'you suppose I can do? I can't do
anything. It's you who's got to do something.
Sally thought for a moment at that savagely bullying tone, which was
without love or understanding. She had a sudden sweep of hatred of Toby
as an animal that took no heed of responsibility or consequences. The
chill she had felt already deepened and filled her heart. Her
loneliness was intensified. She gave a short laugh of bitter
distraction. A greater fierceness shook her, and she began to walk
slowly away from him.
Oh, well then, I'm done, she said, with cold recklessness. All
Sally! He came slowly after her; but his pursuit was not the old
vigorous insistence for which she longed. He wanted Sallynot a baby,
not a difficulty. He would shirk anything but the fulfilment of his
passion. Instantly, she felt that he never would have married her if
the time had come.
No! It was a harsh cry. Don't touch me. Go on, push off.... I'm
done with you. She walked more rapidly. She was only a little way now
from the house, a hatless, disconsolate figure, oppressed and rigid.
Sally. But he was still slow to follow. Sally cracked her fingers.
She was finished with him. Her heart and her feet alike were leaden.
She was too far gone for tears or sobs. It was not anguish that she
felt; but bitterness so great that she could only hate Toby. She had
loved him so much! And this was the end of him. She felt her love
killed at a blow, and she was without resource.
Suddenly strong fingers were upon Sally's shoulder. In other days
she would have been dominated. Not so now. She wrenched herself free,
and walked on. There was no attempt to run. She was finished ...
finished. Some further sound she heard; but it was unintelligible.
Toby, presented with a real problem which a man who loved her would
have solved, had been proved a doubting coward. She felt wronged,
deceived. She had always expected violence from him, but she had always
expected him to know that she truly loved him, whatever her actions
might seem otherwise to suggest. Realisation of his ignorance destroyed
her. Even at the gate Sally might still have been won; but as she came
abreast of it she saw that the front door was open, and Gaga standing
upon the top step. Coldly, she shut the gate; and walked resolutely up
the steps. Toby was left dodging out of the circle of light, a pitiful
conspirator. Gaga was silhouetted, a long lean figure, against the
light of the hall. He peered down into the darkness.
Sally, is that you? he exclaimed. I was quite anxious.
Were you? It was listless, scornful.
As she passed him, Gaga gazed still into the darkness.
Is that somebody with you? he asked. It looks....
Sally went into the house, and as he followed her she closed the
front door quietly. It was strange to come from the black chilliness of
the street into this new solid warmth and comfort. In the hall they
faced one another. For once Sally was as grey as heas grey and
I thought.... I thought it was a man, said Gaga.
Oh, did you? Sally slipped off her coat, and threw it upon a
chair. She was listening intently.
Wasn't it? Gaga did not touch her. He looked down with a startled
expression. It looked like a man out there.... Wasn't it?
You'd better go out and see, advised Sally, with snapping teeth.
Then you'll be sure. As a fury possessed her, she turned upon him
like a cat at bay, all her teeth showing. Funny if you were spying on
me without any reason, wouldn't it be!
She was so reckless that she did not measure consequences. She was
in no mood to be cautious or considerate. Leaving him there Sally went
into the dining-room, and when Gaga entered upon her heels she went out
of the room again and slowly up the stairs.
But all the time, although she seemed to ignore him, Sally with a
part of her consciousness was listening and watching. She dreaded to
hear the groan of the gate upon its rusted hinges, the noise of a
knock, or the gentle sound which the front door would make if Gaga
accepted her challenge. Her heart was almost silent as she waited, and
then, as the minutes passed without interruption, her relaxation was
half relief and half disappointment. Something within her had craved
this crisis which had not arrived. Some sensual longing for violence
was frustrate. Sally was alone with Gaga, and Gaga, humble and
obedient, was in her track, coming slowly and affectionately after her.
As she saw from the landing the top of his dark, grey-streaked head she
almost screamed with fury. It was in that moment that aversion for him
rose in a tumult from her heart. She hated Toby, but for his base
cruelty alone. She hated Gaga for his inescapable possessiveness and
gentle persecution. It was a horror to Sally in her abnormal condition.
She began to run up the next flight of stairs, and tripped upon her
skirt. The stumble brought some little sense to her. She rose, holding
the balustrade. Shot through and through with bitterness as she was,
she yet clutched at sanity. When Gaga came abreast of her Sally took
his arm; and they completed the journey together.
Sorry I was beastly, she said, with a little pinch of the arm.
Got the jumps.
I know.... I know, whispered Gaga. We'll go away. We'll go very
... very soon.
Now? Sally demanded. To-morrow? Could we go to-morrow?
Well ... well, perhaps not ... to-morrow. The day after? He was
hesitant, and did not oppose her. Sally's lip curled. What a man! Yes
... yes ... yes; but the baby! She was again desperately shaken.
Why not to-morrow? she cried, almost spitefully. Why hang about?
Gaga wavered. He began to kiss her. His hands, holding hers, were
clammy. She had a glimpse of the black space under his eyes, and the
swollen yellowness of the whites of his eyes, and his grey cheeks, so
lined and creased, and the dreadful salmon colour of his dry lips. In
his arms though she was, Sally shuddered violently, aversion recurring
with such strength that she could not control her repugnance. This was
her husbandher husband. Her eyes were strained away from him.
You're cold, Gaga murmured. Poor little girl.... You're ...
Yes, I'm cold, agreed Sally, with a violent effort for grim
self-repression. That's what's the matter with me. I stayed out too
long. I oughtn't to have gone out this evening. She again laughed
slightly, her laugh so sneering that even Gaga looked up as though he
had been startled.
We'll go to bed early, he said. It's cold to-night. Let's have
something hot, and go to bed. We can't have ... have you falling ill.
It's nursing me that's made you ... queer.
Yes, it's all my nursing. Sally spoke in a dry voice, and when he
released her she went over to the fire without heeding Gaga, and looked
down at its brightness. Still her ears were alert to catch some
violence below; and as there was none her heart sank once more. Toby
was gone. She had dismissed him and he had gone. She was more forlornly
alone than ever. If Gaga had not been with her she must have sought
relief in some physical effort, some vehement thumping of the
mantelpiece and a burst into wild crying. The repression which Sally
was forced to exercise tortured her. The agony she suffered was almost
unbearable. Her mouth was stretched in a horrible grimace, so poignant
was her feeling.
I.... I'd like something hot, Gaga proceeded, in innocence. Some
... some cocoa ... or....
I'll get you some. It was with passionate exasperation that Sally
spoke; but she was thankful to know that she might leave him for a few
minutes. The room seemed to stifle her. She plunged to the door,
walking past Gaga with her head averted, so that he might not see her
face. The stairs were cold, and she was upon the ground floor in an
instant. A servant, called from below, came slowly to receive
instructions; but there was no cocoa in the house. Nothing? No coffee?
Nothing of the kind was available. Still thankful for the opportunity
of turning her mind to details, Sally hurried upstairs again. Gaga was
already half-undressed, and stood in front of the fire folding his
coat. His thinness was grotesque in the bright light of the gas.
Oh dear! he cried. I wanted it.
All the shops'll be shut now, declared Sally.
Gaga thought for a moment, his face drawn. He was forced to sit down
upon the edge of the bed.
I.... I used ... used to have cocoa in my ... my study, he said.
I'll look. Sally went down to the half-landing and into the small
room which Gaga had always used for evening work before his marriage.
It was quite tiny, and there was a gas fire there, and an armchair, and
above the fireplace were some small shelves with a few books upon them.
Upon other shelves were many tins and packets and bottles, most of them
containing preparations handled by the firm in which Gaga had an
interest. Strange: she had not had to trouble at all about that! The
room was very cold, and Sally shivered as she stood examining the
contents of the shelves. The tins and packets were all in confusion,
large and small jostling one another; and many had their descriptive
labels turned to the wall. Sally read upon some of them words the
meaning of which she could not understand. Nearly all of them were
chemicals relating to the enrichment of soil or to the general
improvement of farm produce. Some were quite tiny, with little crystals
in them. Others were large, and still within wrappings. She hurriedly
read the lettering, darted away to the cupboard, back again to the
shelves, and once more to the cupboard. Here there was a litter of
papers also, for Gaga was temperamentally fussy and untidy, and
everything he owned was in disorder. She put her hand upon a cocoa-tin.
It contained white pellets which looked like rice. There was another
tin, and this was half-full of cocoa. She gave a cry of satisfaction.
And then, as she replaced the lid of this tin she saw another; straight
before her eyes; and something made her stop as if she had been
paralysed. Fascinated, she read: POISON: This preparation of Sheep Dip
contains Arsenic. There followed some particulars, of which she caught
only the word grains. Poison! Sally cautiously took the tin in her
hand, reading again more carefully the words printed upon the label.
Funny thing to have in the house, she thought.... Poison. She replaced
the tin upon the cupboard shelf, and carried the cocoa to Gaga.
That cocoa? she demanded. It's all mixed up with poison and
stuff. Don't want to kill you.
Gaga, by this time in bed, looked at the cocoa, and proclaimed its
Yes ... that's ... co ... cocoa, he stammered.
There was a pause of some minutes while the cocoa was mixed; and
they both drank it slowly, Sally conscious, as its warmth stole through
her body, that she was less extremely unhappy than she had been. She
felt a little better. She even kissed Gaga in wishing him goodnight,
and received his eager kisses in return without flinching. At last she
too went to her bed in the adjoining room, and undressed and lay down
in the darkness. From where she lay Sally could hear Gaga moving, and
could see the glimmer of the light in his room which would burn until
the morning. And as she lay there all her tragic thoughts came flooding
back with the intensity of a nightmare. The horrors, for a short time
repelled, were stronger than ever. She was tensely awake. Every word
exchanged between Toby and herself came ringing into her head. She was
aghast at the stupidity, the cruel and brutal stupidity, of her lover.
He her lover! Love! why he didn't know what love meant! He would take
everything she had to give; and when he was asked to stand by her Toby
would repudiate her claim upon him. She was filled with vicious hatred
at his betrayal. That was what men were! That was what they did!
Shirkers! They were all like that, except when they were ridiculous
half-men like Gaga. What was she to do? What could she do? Her
brain became very clear and active. It was working with painful
alertness, so rapidly that she often did not reach the end of one
channel before she was embarked upon another. Toby was hopeless. She
must act by herself. And what could she do?
Supposing she could do nothing? Disgrace, failure.... She was
frightened. Better anything than disclosure so ignominious. She thought
of Gaga: very well, there was still time. He would be better soon, and
once he was better she could easily persuade him that he was the father
of her baby. That was the simplest plan, and one which had been so much
taken for granted that she had not taken it sufficiently into account
as the only safe course. Gaga could be deceived because he had no
suspicion of all that went on in her mind, or of anything that had
happened in her life. He would soon be better, and when once they were
united he would be wholly in Sally's hands. Not yet, though. He must
get well. A quick rush of relief came to her as a reassurance. She
could have laughed at her own panic. Of course Gaga was the solution.
He could be made to believe almost anything. But supposing ...
supposing that he would always be ill? Then indeed she would be better
dead. Dead? But how could she die? She might long for death; but death
was not an oblivion that could be called up at will. Sally pondered
upon the possibilities.
The word POISON returned to her memory. Quickly there followed the
word arsenic. Arsenic: what did she recall? Suddenly Sally remembered
that evening long ago when she had found her mother reading an account
of the Seddon trial. What had Seddon done? All the details came
crowding to her attention. He had given poison in food ... in food. And
Miss ... what was her name? Same as old Perce'sBarrow. Seddon had
given Miss Barrow arsenic. It had made her sick. Sally shuddered. She
did not want to be sick. She had had enough of sickness in these past
few weeks. To her sickness was the abomination of disease.
A terrible shock ran through Sally's body. She lay panting, her
heart seeming to throb from her temples to her feet. Miss Barrow had
been constantly sick through taking arsenic, and they had only found it
out.... Gaga.... Sally's face grew violently hot. She could not
breathe. She sat feverishly up in bed, staring wildly. An idea had
occurred to her so monstrous that she was stricken with a sense of
guilt and self-horror such as she had never known.
All that night Sally dwelt with her terrible temptation. The more
she shrank from it the more stealthily it returned to her, like the
slow fingers of an incoming tide. So many circumstances gave colour to
her belief that the poison could be given without discovery that Sally
found every detail too easy to conceive. Gaga would be sick again and
again, would weaken, would.... Always her imagination refused to
complete the story. She covered her face with her hands and sought
frantically to hide from this loathsome whisper that pressed temptation
upon her. Ill and frightened, she lay turning into every posture of
defiance and weakness and irresolution, until the daylight was fully
come; and then Gaga's voice called feebly from the next room, and she
must rise to tend him with something of the guilt of a murderess
oppressing her and causing her during the whole talk to keep her face
But she found in the interview strength enough for the moment to
baffle temptation. To know that Gaga lay helpless there before
herhardly moulded into recognisable form by the clinging
bedclotheswas a reinforcement to Sally's good will. His position
appealed to the pity she feltthe pity and the contempt. He was so
thin and weak, so exceedingly fragile, that Sally could not
deliberately have hurt him. Instead, she was bent upon his salvation.
Bertram, she said. We must get away to-day. This morning.
D'you see? We must.
O-o-oh! groaned Gaga, in unformulated opposition.
We must. We'll go to Penterby this morning.
But my dear! it was a long wailing cry, like that of an old woman.
We've got to go. Got to go. I'll get everything
ready. You shan't have to worry about anything at all.
Sal-ly! Again Gaga wailed. He tried to pull her down to him,
gently and coaxingly. In a sort of hysteria, Sally jerked herself free,
looking steadily away. Her mouth was open, and brooding resolve was in
her eyes. She was not tragic; she was in confusion, set only upon a
single purpose, and otherwise passively in distress. Obstinately she
It's no good talking. We must go. I'm ill, as well as you.
The doctor says we must both go away. At once. She was so resolute
that Gaga could not resist her. He lay quite still, and for that reason
she was forced to look down at him. To Sally's surprise there was upon
Gaga's face an expression of such sweetness that she was almost
touched. He loved her. There! she murmured, as if to a baby; and bent
and kissed him. Gaga kissed her several times in return and continued
to watch her, still with that strange expression of kindness that was
almost worship. He stirred at last.
I'll get up, he said. I'll get up now. It's a ... it's a fine
idea. We'll catch the morning train, if we hurry. We'll be ... be there
in time for lunch.
Sally was in such a whirl of thankfulness that she flew to her
dressing and packing. She and Gaga were both downstairs and at
breakfast within half-an-hour, seated at the big dining-table, and
looking very small in that great room. As they sat, Gaga was so happy
that he repented of his promise to go away, and wanted to remain at
ease in such pleasant circumstances. He began to think of reasons why
they should not go away at all. He spoke with regret of the new flat,
of their preparations ... even of the business. But already Sally was
upon her feet. A few minutes later she was telephoning to Miss Summers
explaining the sudden change of situation; and then immediately began
to pack. It was not a difficult task. She herself had few things to
take away. Presently Gaga joined idly in the work; and the two of them
neatly folded his clothes and slipped into his dressing-case the
articles he was bound to need while they were away.
My medicine! exclaimed Gaga, clutching at an excuse.
Got enough for to-day; and I've got the prescription. Sally was
grim. She was moreshe was driven by instinct. It was essential that
they should go immediately. For one thing Toby might return, and any
thought of Toby was so horrible to her at this moment, when her first
hatred was giving way to uncontrollable longing for him, that it was
like a scourge. And for another thing Sally was in terror of the
nightmare temptation. She was fighting against that with all the
strength that remained. Even now, if she looked at Gaga, she shuddered
What's the time? called Gaga.
Miriam ... telephone for a cab! Sally was simultaneously giving
instructions to a servant. She went to a desk in which she kept money,
and found that she had very little remaining. Bert, got any money?
Well, your cheque book?
In the study.
It was a fatal word, so carelessly spoken, but like a blow in its
sharp revival of something that was being suppressed. Sally hurried to
the door of her bedroom. As suddenly, she stopped dead. The study! In a
wave all her memory of the previous night's wicked temptation came back
to her. It was only with a great effort that she went further. More
than a moment passed in a silent struggle. Almost blindly, she entered
the study, and its chill atmosphere was tomb-like in its effect upon
her. Again Sally shuddered. Groping, she found Gaga's cheque book, and
turned again to the door. The walls of the tiny room seemed to rise
forbiddingly around her, to come closer, to begin to topple over as if
in ruin. Sally gasped for breath. She cowered. Everything became
dark.... A long time passed before she was again conscious. Clasping
the cheque book, Sally felt her way unsteadily, with her eyes closed,
until she stood upon the threshold. She was breathing slowly and
deeply, and she could see nothing. And at last, fighting still, but
incapable of conquering the stronger influence which was being
exercised upon her will, she went back into the room, and stood there
with her face towards the cupboard. Quietly, as if on tiptoe, she
passed in a dream to the cupboard and unfastened it, and without ever
once looking about among the other contents of the shelf put her hand
upon the fatal tin which she had found while looking for Gaga's cocoa.
With this tin in her hand she hastened back to her room, closing the
door as silently as she had opened it. The tin was quickly laid among
her clothes, right in the corner of her dressing-case, hidden from any
prying eye. Then Sally straightened herself, listened and bent down
again to fasten the bag. Within ten minutes she and Gaga were out of
the house, sitting in a taxi on their way to Victoria Station. Sally
pressed herself back in the corner of the cab, not touching Gaga, so
that nobody should see her; and at the station she was on fire until
they were settled in the railway carriage and the train was slipping
gently out from the platform. Then at last she sighed deeply, as if
with relief, and the corners of her mouth drooped until she looked like
a little girl who was going to cry. The houses became blurred.
Gaga and Sally reached Penterby in a very different mood and a very
different state of health from that which had marked their arrival on
the previous visit. The station, with its confusing platforms and
connecting bridges, was by now familiar to Sally, and she was able to
turn at once to a porter and give him instructions. Whereas before they
had walked the short distance between the station and the hotel they
were now forced to take an open, horse-drawn, cab. It stood waiting
when they reached the small station yard, the horse still nibbling
feebly at dropped oats upon the paving and with its breath blowing them
farther away. The few little cottages near the station were passed in
an instant, and the old-fashioned main street of Penterby, reached
after a short run between a hedge upon one side and a tall wooden
paling upon the other, was about them. Above, the sky was brilliantly
blue. In front the houses rose towards the hill-top as of old. There
was peace here, if Sally could find it. And she could see the bridge,
and the ivy-covered hotel, and the gold-lettered board. She sat as if
crushed in her seat in the cab, staring out at the hotel with an
expression of strain and eagerness. Beside her Gaga, tired by the
journey, yawned behind his long hand, his hat tilted over his eyes, and
his mouth always a little open. It was a strange return, and Sally had
ado to preserve any lightness of step and tone as she jumped down from
the cab and went into the hotel. As before, she noticed the silence and
emptiness of the small bar, and the room beyond; and as she tapped
loudly Mrs. Tennant came from another room. This time it was Sally who
took charge of everything. Gaga drooped in the background, a feeble
figure. But he gathered strength to smile at Mrs. Tennant and to greet
I'm not well, Mrs. Tennant, he said. I've come to get ... get ...
get well. My wife's ill, too. You ... you must be very kind to us.
My! exclaimed Mrs. Tennant, in a fat voice of concern. Her swollen
lips were parted in dismay. But you both look so bad! Of
course: you can have the same room you had before. Come up!
She led the way. Sally again caught a glimpse of the drawing-room
carpet in its brilliant mixture of reds and blues and yellows, and was
immediately afterwards drawn into the old dark bedroom opening upon the
glass-covered balcony. She stood in dismay, suddenly regretful that
they had come to be stifled there.
Can we have some lunch? she asked. My husband's....
Of course. Mrs. Tennant's geniality was benignant. But in her eyes
there remained that unappeasable caution which Sally had previously
noticed. At once.
Sally slipped out of the room with her. They stood in the narrow
drab passagetwo black-clothed figures notably contrasted in age and
development. Mrs. Tennant was so stout, and Sally so slim, that the
difference between them was emphasised by the similarity of clothing.
My husband's mother's dead. He was awfully fond of her. He's been
ill ever since, and the doctor said he'd better come away.
You're ill yourself, you know, Mrs. Merrick, exclaimed Mrs.
I've been nursing him a monthnight and day. He's not strong. We'd
barely got back when she died. What with his illness, and the
businessit's been terrible!
Sally was watching Mrs. Tennantshe did not know why. She felt
defensive. All was the result of her own position and the dreadful
knowledge which she had of her last night's temptation. She looked like
a young girl, but so pale and hollow-eyed that she would have aroused
pity in any woman of experience.
But it's you. I know Mr. Merrick. I've often seen him queer.
But you're so changed. When you were here before....
I know. I'm ill.
I said to my sister how strong and bright you were. We both thought
you'd make awell, a new man of Mr. Merrick.
It's only his mother's dying like that. He was worried about her,
and then she died; and he just went to pieces. He had to be put to bed
at once. I'll put him to bed again as soon as we've had something to
eat. He's so weak. It's the change he wants, and the fresh air.
And you too, my dear. Mrs. Tennant seemed really to be kind.
When he's asleep I'll go for a walk. I'll soon be well. Sally was
reassuring; but she was made aware of her own weakness by having had
attention drawn to the appearance of it.
They parted with smiles. Sally made as if to re-enter the bedroom;
but, instead, she went through the drawing-room and on to the balcony.
The river was running swiftly up-stream, so that the thick mud was
hidden. Back along its course came little floating masses of collected
material, like miniature islands in progress up and down the river.
Sally stood watching one of these masses, until it grew indistinct as
the result of her intentness. The sun was making the houses beyond the
river glitter anew, and the whole town was beautified in its light. A
feeling of great misery seized Sally. She stared down at the
discoloured stream, and her eyes filled with tears. She was again
consumed with a sense of loneliness; and a faint horror of the
returning tide caused her to break once again from her contemplation,
to walk back through the drawing-room, and to rejoin Gaga. He was
sitting upon the bed, regarding with a vacant expression the two
dressing-cases which had been brought up to the room and which stood
together against the wall. The room was cold and dark. Sally
impulsively went to the French windows opening upon the balcony and
drew back the curtains.
There now, she said. You're going to get better. You can see the
Gaga smiled gently. Sally came back to him and stood with her hand
ruffling his thin hair. She too smiled, but with abstraction. She was
numbed by illness and horror and the journey and her vision of the
dirty merciless water.
When they had eaten their lunch, Sally helped Gaga to undress and
left him in bed with the curtains again closed and the bedroom, thus
darkened, smelling close and dank, as if it were the haunt of
blackbeetles. When the curtains were drawn the whole room faded to a
uniformity of grey-brown, and the pictures and ornaments became dim
shadows, and the mirror upon the dressing-table took upon itself a
mysterious air, as though in its depths one might read something of the
hidden future. All was sunk in a sorrowful gloom, and the
barely-outlined recumbent figure of Gaga might have been that of a dead
man. Upon tiptoe, Sally stole quietly from the room. For a little while
she sat alone over a fire which had been lighted in the drawing-room;
but the evening was beginning to cast darkness over everything; and in
the west the last hot reflections of the sun were cast upon two or
three casual clouds. Sally therefore rose, and took her hat and coat,
which were lying near the piano. As it was the middle of the week, and
in autumn, the hotel was almost empty, and would not be occupied with
any visitors for two or three more days. It was a dull place once the
sun had set. For a moment Sally hesitated in putting on her hat; but at
last she ventured forth, and was out in the greying street, and upon
the bridge across the river. The water, as she hurried by, ran silently
below, blackened and threatening, and as there would be no moon the
night was coming with great darkness. Over the bridge Sally noticed the
early lights in the post office, and a few street lamps. One road ran a
little way up the hill and was immediately checked by houses. Another
turned off to the north-west, and it was here that she would find a
shop at which she could leave the prescription for Gaga's medicine.
Once she had performed her task Sally walked briskly on until she came
to the end of the houses and into a road to the edges of which trees
grew and grass came irregularly running. Beneath the trees darkness
already obliterated all shape, and the fringes of the wood were so bare
of leafage that she could already look up to the grey sky between the
boughs and their filmy branches. No vehicles passed. She was alone upon
this broad road, with nothing upon either hand but unexplored depths of
shadow and silence. Every now and then a stationary light spotted the
dusk. She was appalled by her loneliness.
Quickly as she had walked away from Penterby, Sally returned to the
town with even greater speed, warmed by the exercise, but chilled by
her thoughts and perplexities. When she was alone, and so hemmed in by
sinister darkness, Sally was brought quickly back to her forebodings.
She remembered the solitary figure which she had left, and thought of
Gaga was shrinking. Of Toby she could only find herself thinking with
anger. Yet it was not wholly anger, for she was also afraid and filled
with longing. Her anger was even obliterated by her love, so much did
she adore Toby's strength. His cruelty, his brutal indifference, were
spurs to her unreasoning affection. Whatever Toby might do, Sally loved
him. The love which she had believed herself indignantly to have cast
out was still paramount. Finally, in all her fleeting considerations of
the moment and the future, she could not ignore the baby which was
coming. She had no thought of it other than fear and loathing. Not yet
had desire for a child created in her mind a new longing. If she could
have killed it she would have done so; and she was prevented from
contemplating this possibility only by the ignorance which inexperience
and friendlessness imposed upon her. Sally was awed and terrified by
the gloom which gathered in her heart and about her. She sped onwards
until she reached the bridge, and here for several minutes she
uncontrollably paused. All was now black, and the tide had turned.
Already the water was flowing to the sea, and she could imagine the
coagulated masses vaguely swirling beneath her, borne unresisting upon
the outgoing tide. The hotel was in darkness, excepting for the room
beneath the balcony where the walls descended straight to the water and
the mud. Here there was a dim light. All above was sombre until she
reached in her steady upward glance the sky's faint background and saw
its unfathomable arch of grey.
The bar of the hotel was empty. Unperceived, Sally went upstairs and
into the bedroom where Gaga lay. She closed the door behind her and
switched on the electric light. To her surprise Gaga was lying on his
side, and his face was turned towards her.
You awake? she whispered. At his soft sound of greeting she went
forward and sat upon the bed. It's half-past-four, Sally continued.
Like some tea? Going to get up again?
I.... I'm so tired, murmured Gaga. He had taken her hand, and held
it to his cheek, so that Sally had to lean forward. In this mood he was
so like a child that Sally's heart softened. She found him pathetic,
and her own strength was emphasised by his weakness.
Better stay in bed, she said.
But you? Aren't you ... aren't you lonely?
Mm. Nobody here. Nothing to do. I been for a walk and got
I'll get up. Yes, I will. After tea we'll walk along that av ...
avenue. In the moonlight. Like your song.
There's no moon up yet, Sally told him, not moving. You stay
where you are. Stay nice and warm in bed. I shall be all right. I'll go
for a walk along the avenue by myself.
And be f ... frightened again.
Shan't wait to be frightened, Sally said. See me dart back!
Gaga fondled her hand and reached for the other one, which she
You ... you're so nice, he murmured. So good to me.
I? Good? Sally's shoulders were hoisted. She almost withdrew her
Yes. But Sally.... I.... He was overcome, and could not proceed.
Tears had started to his eyes. I haven't been sleeping. I've been
thinking. Last night....
Last night! Sally convulsively jerked her hands away, and as
quickly restored them.
You thought I'd ... I'd ... been ... been spying.
Of course you weren't. I was ill. I was a beast.
Sally, I never did. You ... you have a lot.... I've been thinking
... a lot to put up with. Marrying a ... a sick man; and you....
Sally could not bear him to talk thus. She freed herself, and rose.
Here's a lot of talk! she protested. You get well, old son. Then
Gaga did not say anything for a moment. At last he spoke again.
Sally, would you ... would you mind very much if I did ... didn't
get well? he asked.
Course I should! But Sally was filled with alarm at this
conversation. She turned upon Gaga, but she could not meet his soft
eyes. Here, you're talking silly!
Sally.... I.... I wasn't spying, said Gaga, slowly. But I.... I
did see a man at the gate last night.
Sally clutched the back of a chair. For a moment she thought she
must be going to faint. Then, with a tremendous effort, she controlled
What d'you mean? she demanded.
Behind you. With you.
Gaga continued to regard her. His smile was no longer visible. She
only noticed that he was paler, that his nostrils were pinched and his
I wish you'd tell me the truth, he said.
I tell you there was nobody with me, lied Sally. Nobody.
There may have been a man behind me. I did get a bit of a start.
Somebody came out of a gate. I didn't notice.
Sally.... I.... I heard him call you 'Sally.'
She was stricken with terror at his quietness.
Nobody called me Sally! she cried. I don't know anybody.
Gaga sighed, and his head fell sideways, so that he no longer looked
at her. They spoke no more. She believed that he knew she had been
lying; but she had been caught unawares, and could not retract her
assertions. Without a further word she began to prepare a basin of
water, and washed herself. Then she went to ask that tea might be
brought to the bedroom. They drank the tea in silence, both very grave.
When they had finished, Sally took the tray to the end of the passage,
where there was a projecting ledge, and then returned to the room.
Shall I go and sing to you? she asked.
Not ... not now. Go for your wa ... walk. I shan't have any dinner.
I'll just have a cup of cocoa.
Cocoa! Sally was transfixed.
Oh, not cocoa! she cried. Not cocoa! It was a
desperate appeal. It came from the depths of her heart. She had been
alarmed at his speech. She had been afraid of what he might do. But
more than all she was afraid of the horrible voice that had followed
fear with its imaginings of the means to her own salvation. At his
further silence, she went quickly out of the room and out of the hotel.
She walked at a rapid pace along the avenue, where others also were
walking, as it was a favourite promenade; and she found herself shaking
with emotion as the result of the disclosure which Gaga had made. He
knew. He knew. What did he know? And what would he do? Sally
laughed hysterically. Oh, let him do it soon! It was suspense
that she could not bear. It was the ghastly sense of muddle and
falsehood that was oppressing her now. Deathpunishmentthese were
things of indifference. It was the fear of either that made her
torture. To know the worst, to face it, to suffer for all she had done
that was wrong, would satisfy her. But to be kept in this horrible
suspense much longer would send her mad. Why had she not told Gaga the
truth? She began hysterically to condemn herself. She should have told
him the truth. She should have said that Toby was an old lover,
jealous, angry, threatening. Now she could not tell any such tale,
because she had denied that a man had used her name. To confess would
make him disbelieve anything she ever said. Sally shrugged. He did not
believe her now. He would never believe her. Once he was well he would
find out everything. He would suspect her. He would persecute her with
suspicions. He would suspect that she was going to have a baby. He
would suspect ... he would know....
Creeping, creeping into Sally's mind came temptation. She walked
more swiftly until she reached a part of the road which bordered the
river. The water was less muddy here. The river looked in this aspect
like a big pool of liquid lead. It was less sinister. It carried to her
heart no sense of horror. She turned and began to walk back, meeting
every now and then a couple of pedestrians, or little knots of people,
or solitary individuals like herself, who strolled to and fro along the
broad avenue. But it was very dark, and she could not well see the
faces of those who passed, except when they were in the neighbourhood
of a light. She did not recognise anybody; and when she came once more
to the bridge she did not tarry, but walked straight across it. Upon
the face of the river were reflected the lights of the hotel, for the
balcony was now faintly illumined, and she could see that the curtains
had been drawn at the corner windows, although not elsewhere. Again
unperceived, she made her way upstairs and into the drawing-room, where
she removed her coat and hat and seated herself at the piano.
But Sally did not stay at the piano. She was restless and
apprehensive. She did not dare to strike a note, in case Gaga should be
asleep. And she could not go into the bedroom. She tried to do so, but
she so shrank from meeting Gaga after their talk that every impulse
held her faltering here. Instead, Sally went through the door which led
from the drawing-room to the balcony. Only one light was burning, at
the farther end, and this cast such a tiny ray that it threw up the
shadows of no more than a single enamelled iron table and wicker chair.
For the rest, everything was in a monotonous grey twilight, bereft of
all incidental colourings and of all significance. The electric bulb
was grimed with age and the action of the air, and the light was quite
yellow, as that from an oil lamp would have been. The matting with
which the floor of the balcony was covered was in shadow. Through the
windows Sally could see only a blackness in which the water and the
opposite bank and the buildings farther away were all obscured. She
went towards the light, and sat here in an armchair, staring straight
before her, and thinking the one word ... poison ... poison ... poison.
She must have been sitting upon the balcony for several minutes in
this state approaching stupor, when she heard a faint sound. It was
like the brushing of leaves against a passing body. Her heart
quickened, and she looked quickly towards the darker end of the
balcony, near the door leading to the drawing-room. She could see
nothing at all, but her nerves did not relax their tenseness. She could
see nothing; but she felt that somethingsomebody was there, watching
her. Somebodywhom could it be? Sally knew how deserted the bar was,
how easy it would be for a man to slip up the stairs without being
seen. She was defenceless. If she had been well, she would have gone
straight along the balcony, to discover the cause of her alarm; but she
was ill, and she shrank back in her chair, watching the pulsing
Sally knew that there were only two people who could wish her
harmGaga and Toby. If Gaga had gone out of his bedroom by the inner
door he might have come round through the drawing-room, and might be
standing there in the darkness. He might have gone away again. He might
have found the poison. In a passion of fear, she rose. If it was Gaga,
she would soon confront him. She would satisfy herself of his presence
in the bedroom. She took two steps, and then stopped, her heart
frantically beating. There was somebody there.
Sally, came a sharp whisper. Sally. Don't be afraid.
It was Toby, hidden still from sight, but waiting there at the dark
end of the balcony.
Sally's eyes flew instantly to the window of the bedroom. All there
was dark. She could not tell if the blinds were drawn or not. She no
longer dreaded Toby: she too violently desired to see him, to be in his
arms and saved from her nightmare thoughts by a moment's oblivion.
Hush! she whispered, and went silently along the balcony. What
I want you. Toby's voice came hissing into her ear, and she saw
him at last. He was standing, a burly figure, in the shadow of a
screen, and remained quite still, hidden.
What did you come for? How did you get here?
Went to your house. Frightened 'em. Toby laughed grimly. Thought
you'd got away, didn't you? Well, here I am. His tone became suddenly
You can't ... we can't talk. My husband's therein that room.
He'll hear. He saw you last night.
I got to see you, Toby whispered, obstinately. See? I mean to
say, I got to know what you're going to do.
Sally gave a contemptuous laugh. So he had followed her for that!
Well, I'm well rid of you, she answered. I see what you
Oh, you do, do you.... said Toby. He gripped her arm. Not so much
of that, Sal. D'you see? I won't have it. You belong to me.
I don't! But Sally was only waiting for his fierce embrace, and
longing for it. I don't like you. I don't want you. I've had enough.
You let me down.
Toby started. His voice became thick with anger.
My Christ! Who let anybody down? What did you do to me? Eh? You
married this chap. You did it for yourself. Let you down, do I? Oh, I'm
a good mind to kill you, Sal.
Sally shivered. She knew he might do it. He could do it. It
was his nature. But she answered him defiantly, sneeringly.
Yes, if you want to be hung for it.
Toby was holding her so that her arms were being bruised. He pulled
her towards him, and kissed her again and again. He was crushing her.
See? he said. That's how you belong to me.
Well, what about it? panted Sally. Let me go.... Just because
You're coming off with me. See? Now.
I'm not. She was equally determined.
Now. Can you get your hat?
I'm not, repeated Sally.
Toby swung her off her feet with one arm.
See? he announced again. That's what.
Go on, that's all you can do, answered Sally, savagely. You clear
off. I've had enough of it. She dived suddenly, and escaped from him.
She was a few steps away, and Toby was in pursuit. As he followed, he
kicked against one of the little iron tables, which he had not seen in
the half-light, and sent it crashing to the floor. Amid their silence
it made a hideous noise. Sally drew herself upright, terrified into
rigidity. This was the finishthe finish. It was all over now. She was
beaten. She.... And as she stared she saw that the French window of the
bedroom was openhad been open, perhaps, all the time,and that Gaga
was standing there, as if he had overheard all that they had said.
Sally! he cried in a sharp voice of alarm. Oh, my God! Oh, my
Gaga came leaping out upon the balcony as Toby stumbled on towards
Sally. The two men were sharply in conflict, and Gaga's arm was raised.
She could see it even in the shadowthe raised arm, and the impact of
the two bodies. Gaga was in his sleeping-suit, spectral in his
gauntness and his pallor. Maddened, Toby swept his enemy aside with one
violent blow that would have killed the strongest man. Gaga went down,
his head and body thrown with great force against the brick wall of the
hotel, and sliding to the ground with such momentum that there was a
Toby! shrieked Sally. Toby! You've killed him!
Gaga lay in the shadow, quite motionless, a horrible twisted body
without life. And the two others stood panting in the twilight, staring
down at his ghastly upturned face. Toby was as if paralysed by the
sight, his hand sleepily raised to his brow.
A voice sounded from downstairs.
Did you call, Mrs. Merrick? And then ascending steps followed.
Sally made a frantic gesture.
Get out! she cried. Quick. They're coming. They'll find you. He's
dead. Get out! She waved to the windows.
With one glance round, and with fear at his heels, Toby ran to the
side of the balcony, pulled aside one of the windows, and climbed out
into the darkness. Sally saw him no more. She was only aware that
something terrible happened, and that he missed his footing and plunged
downwards towards the running water and the sickening mud. Then, as she
convulsively jerked the window close again, she was overcome with
deadly faintness, and herself fell upon the matting, striking her head
as she fell, and losing consciousness.