The Daughters of the Late Colonel
by Katherine Mansfield
THE week after was one of the busiest weeks of their lives. Even
when they went to bed it was only their bodies that lay down and
rested; their minds went on, thinking things out, talking things
over, wondering, deciding, trying to remember where . . .
Constantia lay like a statue, her hands by her sides, her feet just
overlapping each other, the sheet up to her chin. She stared at the
"Do you think father would mind if we gave his top-hat to the
"The porter?" snapped Josephine. "Why ever the porter? What a very
"Because," said Constantia slowly, "he must often have to go to
funerals. And I noticed atat the cemetery that he only had a
bowler." She paused. "I thought then how very much he'd appreciate a
top-hat. We ought to give him a present, too. He was always very nice
"But," cried Josephine, flouncing on her pillow and staring across
the dark at Constantia, "father's head!" And suddenly, for one awful
moment, she nearly giggled. Not, of course, that she felt in the
least like giggling. It must have been habit. Years ago, when they
had stayed awake at night talking, their beds had simply heaved. And
now the porter's head, disappearing, popped out, like a candle, under
father's hat. . . . The giggle mounted, mounted; she clenched her
hands; she fought it down; she frowned fiercely at the dark and said
"Remember" terribly sternly.
"We can decide tomorrow," she said.
Constantia had noticed nothing; she sighed.
"Do you think we ought to have our dressing-gowns dyed as well?"
"Black?" almost shrieked Josephine.
"Well, what else?" said Constantia. "I was thinkingit doesn't
seem quite sincere, in a way, to wear black out of doors and when
we're fully dressed, and then when we're at home"
"But nobody sees us," said Josephine. She gave the bedclothes such
a twitch that both her feet became uncovered and she had to creep up
the pillows to get them well under again.
"Kate does," said Constantia. "And the postman very well might."
Josephine though of her dark-red slippers, which matched her
dressing-gown, and of Constantia's favourite indefinite green ones
which went with hers. Black! Two black dressing-gowns and two pairs of
black woolly slippers, creeping off to the bathroom like black cats.
"I don't think it's absolutely necessary," said she.
Silence. Then Constantia said, "We shall have to post the papers
with the notice in them tomorrow to catch the Ceylon mail. . . . How
many letters have we had up till now?"
Josephine had replied to them all, and twenty-three times when she
came to "We miss our dear father so much" she had broken down and had
to use her handkerchief, and on some of them even to soak up a very
light-blue tear with an edge of blotting-paper. Strange! She couldn't
have put it onbut twenty-three times. Even now, though, when she said
over to herself sadly "We miss our dear father so much," she
could have cried if she'd wanted to.
"Have you got enough stamps?" came from Constantia.
"Oh, how can I tell?" said Josephine crossly. "What's the good of
asking me that now?"
"I was just wondering," said Constantia mildly.
Silence again. There came a little rustle, a scurry, a hop.
"A mouse," said Constantia.
"It can't be a mouse because there aren't any crumbs," said
"But it doesn't know there aren't," said Constantia.
A spasm of pity squeezed her heart. Poor little thing! She wished
she'd left a tiny piece of biscuit on the dressing-table. It was awful
to think of it not finding anything. What would it do?
"I can't think how they manage to live at all," she said slowly.
"Who?" demanded Josephine.
And Constantia said more loudly than she meant to, "Mice."
Josephine was furious. "Oh, what nonsense, Con!" she said. "What
have mice got to do with it? You're asleep."
"I don't think I am," said Constantia. She shut her eyes to make
sure. She was.
Josephine arched her spine, pulled up her knees, folded her arms
so that her fists came under her ears, and pressed her cheek hard
against the pillow.
Another thing which complicated matters was they had Nurse Andrews
staying on with them that week. It was their own fault; they had asked
her. It was Josephine's idea. On the morningwell, on the last morning,
when the doctor had gone, Josephine had said to Constantia, "Don't you
think it would be rather nice if we asked Nurse Andrews to stay on for
a week as our guest?"
"Very nice," said Constantia.
"I thought," went on Josephine quickly, "I should just say this
afternoon, after I've paid her, 'My sister and I would be very
pleased, after all you've done for us, Nurse Andrews, if you would
stay on for a week as our guest.' I'd have to put that in about
being our guest in case"
"Oh, but she could hardly expect to be paid!" cried Constantia.
"One never knows," said Josephine sagely.
Nurse Andrews had, of course, jumped at the idea. But it was a
bother. It meant they had to have regular sit-down meals at the
proper times, whereas if they'd been alone they could just have asked
Kate if she wouldn't have minded bringing them a tray wherever they
were. And meal-times now that the strain was over were rather a trial.
Nurse Andrews was simply fearful about butter. Really they
couldn't help feeling that about butter, at least, she took advantage
of their kindness. And she had that maddening habit of asking for just
an inch more of bread to finish what she had on her plate, and then,
at the last mouthful, absent-mindedlyof course it wasn't
absent-mindedlytaking another helping. Josephine got very red when
this happened, and she fastened her small, bead-like eyes on the table
cloth as if she saw a minute strange insect creeping through the web
of it. But Constantia's long, pale face lengthened and set, and she
gazed awayawayfar over the desert, to where that line of camels
unwound like a thread of wool. . . .
"When I was with Lady Tukes," said Nurse Andrews, "she had such a
dainty little contrayvance for the buttah. It was a silvah Cupid
balanced on theon the bordah of a glass dish, holding a tayny
fork. And when you wanted some buttah you simply pressed his foot and
he bent down and speared you a piece. It was quite a gayme.
Josephine could hardly bear that. But "I think those things are
very extravagant" was all she said.
"But whey?" asked Nurse Andrews, beaming through her eyeglasses.
"No one, surely, would take more buttah than one wantedwould one?"
"Ring, Con," cried Josephine. She couldn't trust herself to reply.
And proud young Kate, the enchanted princess, came in to see what
the old tabbies wanted now. She snatched away their plates of mock
something or other and slapped down a white, terrified blancmange.
"Jam, please, Kate," said Josephine kindly.
Kate knelt and burst open the sideboard, lifted the lid of the
jam-pot, saw it was empty, put it on the table, and stalked off.
"I'm afraid," said Nurse Andrews a moment later, "there isn't any.
"Oh, what a bother!" said Josephine. She bit her lip. "What had we
Constantia looked dubious. "We can't disturb Kate again," she said
Nurse Andrews waited, smiling at them both. Her eyes wandered,
spying at everything behind her eyeglasses. Constantia in despair went
back to her camels. Josephine frowned heavilyconcentrated. If it
hadn't been for this idiotic woman she and Con would, of course, have
eaten their blancamange without. Suddenly the idea came.
"I know," she said. "Marmalade. There's some marmalade in the
sideboard. Get it, Con."
"I hope," laughed Nurse Andrewsand her laugh was like a spoon
tinkling against a medicine-glass"I hope it's not very bittah
But, after all, it was not long now, and then she'd be gone for
good. And there was no getting over the fact that she had been very
kind to father. She had nursed him day and night at the end. Indeed,
both Constantia and Josephine felt privately she had rather overdone
the not leaving him at the very last. For when they had gone in to say
good-bye Nurse Andrews had sat beside his bed the whole time, holding
his wrist and pretending to look at her watch. It couldn't have been
necessary. It was so tactless, too. Supposing father had wanted to say
somethingsomething private to them. Not that he had. Oh, far from it!
He lay there, purple, a dark, angry purple in the face, and never even
looked at them when they came in. Then, as they were standing there,
wondering what to do, he had suddenly opened one eye. Oh, what a
difference it would have made, what a difference to their memory
of him, how much easier to tell people about it, if he had only opened
both! But noone eye only. It glared at them a moment and then . . .
It had made it very awkward for them when Mr. Farolles, of St.
John's, called the same afternoon.
"The end was quite peaceful, I trust?" were the first words he
said as he glided towards them through the dark drawing-room.
"Quite," said Josephine faintly. They both hung their heads. Both
of them felt certain that eye wasn't at all a peaceful eye.
"Won't you sit down?" said Josephine.
"Thank you, Miss Pinner," said Mr. Farolles gratefully. He folded
his coat-tails and began to lower himself into father's arm-chair, but
just as he touched it he almost sprang up and slid into the next chair
He coughed. Josephine clasped her hands; Constantia looked vague.
"I want you to feel, Miss Pinner," said Mr. Farolles, "and you,
Miss Constantia, that I'm trying to be helpful. I want to be helpful
to you both, if you will let me. These are the times," said Mr
Farolles, very simply and earnestly, "when God means us to be helpful
to one another."
"Thank you very much, Mr. Farolles," said Josephine and
"Not at all," said Mr. Farolles gently. He drew his kid gloves
through his fingers and leaned forward. "And if either of you would
like a little Communion, either or both of you, here and now,
you have only to tell me. A little Communion is often very helpa
great comfort," he added tenderly.
But the idea of a little Communion terrified them. What! In the
drawing-room by themselveswith nono altar or anything! The piano
would be much too high, thought Constantia, and Mr. Farolles could not
possibly lean over it with the chalice. And Kate would be sure to come
bursting in and interrupt them, thought Josephine. And supposing the
bell rang in the middle? It might be somebody importantabout their
mourning. Would they get up reverently and go out, or would they have
to wait . . . in torture?
"Perhaps you will send round a note by your good Kate if you would
care for it later," said Mr. Farolles.
"Oh yes, thank you very much!" they both said.
Mr. Farolles got up and took his black straw hat from the round
"And about the funeral," he said softly. "I may arrange thatas
your dear father's old friend and yours, Miss Pinnerand Miss
Josephine and Constantia got up too.
"I should like it to be quite simple," said Josephine firmly, "and
not too expensive. At the same time, I should like"
"A good one that will last," thought dreamy Constantia, as if
Josephine were buying a nightgown. But, of course, Josephine didn't
say that. "One suitable to our father's position." She was very
"I'll run round to our good friend Mr. Knight," said Mr. Farolles
soothingly. "I will ask him to come and see you. I am sure you will
find him very helpful indeed."
Well, at any rate, all that part of it was over, though neither of
them could possibly believe that father was never coming back.
Josephine had had a moment of absolute terror at the cemetery, while
the coffin was lowered, to think that she and Constantia had done this
thing without asking his permission. What would father say when he
found out? For he was bound to find out sooner or later. He always
did. "Buried. You two girls had me buried! " She heard his
stick thumping. Oh, what would they say? What possible excuse could
they make? It sounded such an appallingly heartless thing to do. Such
a wicked advantage to take of a person because he happened to be
helpless at the moment. The other people seemed to treat it all as
a matter of course. They were strangers; they couldn't be expected to
understand that father was the very last person for such a thing to
happen to. No, the entire blame for it all would fall on her and
Constantia. And the expense, she thought, stepping into the
tight-buttoned cab. When she had to show him the bills. What would he
She heard him absolutely roaring. "And do you expect me to pay for
this gimcrack excursion of yours?"
"Oh," groaned poor Josephine aloud, "we shouldn't have done it,
And Constantia, pale as a lemon in all that blackness, said in a
frightened whisper, "Done what, Jug?"
"Let them bu-bury father like that," said Josephine, breaking down
and crying into her new, queer-smelling mourning handkerchief.
"But what else could we have done?" asked Constantia wonderingly.
"We couldn't have kept him unburied. At any rate, not in a flat that
Josephine blew her nose; the cab was dreadfully stuffy.
"I don't know," she said forlornly. "It is all so dreadful. I feel
we ought to have tried to, just for a time at least. To make perfectly
sure. One thing's certain"and her tears sprang out again "father
will never forgive us for thisnever!"
Father would never forgive them. That was what they felt more than
ever when, two mornings later, they went into his room to go through
his things. They had discussed it quite calmly. It was even down on
Josephine's list of things to be done. Go through father's things
and settle about them. But that was a very different matter from
saying after breakfast:
"Well, are you ready, Con?"
"Yes, Jugwhen you are."
"Then I think we'd better get it over."
It was dark in the hall. It had been a rule for years never to
disturb father in the morning, whatever happened. And now they were
going to open the door without knocking even. . . . Constantia's eyes
were enormous at the idea; Josephine felt weak in the knees.
"Youyou go first," she gasped, pushing Constantia.
But Constantia said, as she always had said on those occasions,
"No, Jug, that's not fair. You're the eldest."
Josephine was just going to saywhat at other times she wouldn't
have owned to for the worldwhat she kept for her very last weapon,
"But you're the tallest," when they noticed that the kitchen door was
open, and there stood Kate. . . .
"Very stiff," said Josephine, grasping the door- handle and
doing her best to turn it. As if anything ever deceived Kate!
It couldn't be helped. That girl was . . . Then the door was shut
behind them, butbut they weren't in father's room at all. They might
have suddenly walked through the wall by mistake into a different flat
altogether. Was the door just behind them? They were too frightened to
look. Josephine knew that if it was it was holding itself tight shut;
Constantia felt that, like the doors in dreams, it hadn't any handle
at all. It was the coldness which made it so awful. Or the
whitenesswhich? Everything was covered. The blinds were down, a cloth
hung over the mirror, a sheet hid the bed; a huge fan of white paper
filled the fireplace. Constantia timidly put out her hand; she almost
expected a snowflake to fall. Josephine felt a queer tingling in her
nose, as if her nose was freezing. Then a cab klop-klopped over the
cobbles below, and the quiet seemed to shake into little pieces.
"I had better pull up a blind," said Josephine bravely.
"Yes, it might be a good idea," whispered Constantia.
They only gave the blind a touch, but it flew up and the cord flew
after, rolling round the blind-stick, and the little tassel tapped as
if trying to get free. That was too much for Constantia.
"Don't you thinkdon't you think we might put it off for another
day?" she whispered.
"Why?" snapped Josephine, feeling, as usual, much better now that
she knew for certain that Constantia was terrified. "It's got to be
done. But I do wish you wouldn't whisper, Con."
"I didn't know I was whispering," whispered Constantia.
"And why do you keep staring at the bed?" said Josephine, raising
her voice almost defiantly. "There's nothing on the bed."
"Oh, Jug, don't say so!" said poor Connie. "At any rate, not so
Josephine felt herself that she had gone too far. She took a wide
swerve over to the chest of drawers, put out her hand, but quickly
drew it back again.
"Connie!" she gasped, and she wheeled round and leaned with her
back against the chest of drawers.
Josephine could only glare. She had the most extraordinary feeling
that she had just escaped something simply awful. But how could she
explain to Constantia that father was in the chest of drawers? He was
in the top drawer with his handkerchiefs and neckties, or in the next
with his shirts and pyjamas, or in the lowest of them all with his
suits. He was watching there, hidden awayjust behind the
door-handleready to spring.
She pulled a funny old-fashioned face at Constantia, just as she
used to in the old days when she was going to cry.
"I can't open," she nearly wailed.
"No, don't, Jug," whispered Constantia earnestly. "It's much
better not to. Don't let's open anything. At any rate, not for a long
"Butbut it seems so weak," said Josephine, breaking down.
"But why not be weak for once, Jug?" argued Constantia, whispering
quite fiercely. "If it is weak." And her pale stare flew from the
locked writing-tableso safeto the huge glittering wardrobe, and she
began to breathe in a queer, panting away. "Why shouldn't we be weak
for once in our lives, Jug? It's quite excusable. Let's be weakbe
weak, Jug. It's much nicer to be weak than to be strong."
And then she did one of those amazingly bold things that she'd
done about twice before in their lives: she marched over to the
wardrobe, turned the key, and took it out of the lock. Took it out of
the lock and held it up to Josephine, showing Josephine by her
extraordinary smile that she knew what she'd doneshe'd risked
deliberately father being in there among his overcoats.
If the huge wardrobe had lurched forward, had crashed down on
Constantia, Josephine wouldn't have been surprised. On the contrary,
she would have thought it the only suitable thing to happen. But
nothing happened. Only the room seemed quieter than ever, and the
bigger flakes of cold air fell on Josephine's shoulders and knees.
She began to shiver.
"Come, Jug," said Constantia, still with that awful callous smile;
and Josephine followed just as she had that last time, when
Constantia had pushed Benny into the round pond.
But the strain told on them when they were back in the
dining-room. They sat down, very shaky, and looked at each other.
"I don't feel I can settle to anything," said Josephine, "until
I've had something. Do you think we could ask Kate for two cups of
"I really don't see why we shouldn't," said Constantia carefully.
She was quite normal again. "I won't ring. I'll go to the kitchen
door and ask her."
"Yes, do," said Josephine, sinking down into a chair. "Tell her,
just two cups, Con, nothing elseon a tray."
"She needn't even put the jug on, need she?" said Constantia, as
though Kate might very well complain if the jug had been there.
"Oh no, certainly not! The jug's not at all necessary. She can
pour it direct out of the kettle," cried Josephine, feeling that would
be a labour-saving indeed.
Their cold lips quivered at the greenish brims. Josephine curved
her small red hands round the cup; Constantia sat up and blew on
the wavy steam, making it flutter from one side to the other.
"Speaking of Benny," said Josephine.
And though Benny hadn't been mentioned Constantia immediately
looked as though he had.
"He'll expect us to send him something of father's, of course. But
it's so difficult to know what to send to Ceylon."
"You mean things get unstuck so on the voyage," murmured
"No, lost," said Josephine sharply. "You know there's no post.
Both paused to watch a black man in white linen drawers running
through the pale fields for dear life, with a large brown-paper parcel
in his hands. Josephine's black man was tiny; he scurried along
glistening like an ant. But there was something blind and tireless
about Constantia's tall, thin fellow, which made him, she decided, a
very unpleasant person indeed. . . . On the veranda, dressed all in
white and wearing a cork helmet, stood Benny. His right hand shook up
and down, as father's did when he was impatient. And behind him, not
in the least interested, sat Hilda, the unknown sister-in-law. She
swung in a cane rocker and flicked over the leaves of the Tatler.
"I think his watch would be the most suitable present," said
Constantia looked up; she seemed surprised.
"Oh, would you trust a gold watch to a native?"
"But of course, I'd disguise it," said Josephine. "No one would
know it was a watch." She liked the idea of having to make a parcel
such a curious shape that no one could possibly guess what it was.
She even thought for a moment of hiding the watch in a narrow
cardboard corset-box that she'd kept by her for a long time, waiting
for it to come in for something. It was such beautiful, firm
cardboard. But, no, it wouldn't be appropriate for this occasion. It
had lettering on it: Medium Women's 28. Extra Firm Busks. It
would be almost too much of a surprise for Benny to open that and
find father's watch inside.
"And, of course, it isn't as though it would be goingticking, I
mean," said Constantia, who was still thinking of the native love of
jewellery. "At least," she added, "it would be very strange if after
all that time it was."
Josephine made no reply. She had flown off on one of her tangents.
She had suddenly thought of Cyril. Wasn't it more usual for the only
grandson to have the watch? And then dear Cyril was so appreciative
and a gold watch meant so much to a young man. Benny, in all
probability, had quite got out of the habit of watches; men so seldom
wore waistcoats in those hot climates. Whereas Cyril in London wore
them from year's end to year's end. And it would be so nice for
her and Constantia, when he came to tea, to know it was there. "I see
you've got on grandfather's watch, Cyril." It would be somehow so
Dear boy! What a blow his sweet, sympathetic little note had been!
Of course they quite understood; but it was most unfortunate.
"It would have been such a point, having him," said Josephine.
"And he would have enjoyed it so," said Constantia, not thinking what
she was saying.
However, as soon as he got back he was coming to tea with his
aunties. Cyril to tea was one of their rare treats.
"Now, Cyril, you mustn't be frightened of our cakes. Your Auntie
Con and I bought them at Buszard's this morning. We know what a man's
appetite is. So don't be ashamed of making a good tea."
Josephine cut recklessly into the rich dark cake that stood for
her winter gloves or the soling and heeling of Constantia's only
respectable shoes. But Cyril was most unmanlike in appetite.
"I say, Aunt Josephine, I simply can't. I've only just had lunch,
"Oh, Cyril, that can't be true! It's after four," cried Josephine.
Constantia sat with her knife poised over the chocolate-roll.
"It is, all the same," said Cyril. "I had to meet a man at
Victoria, and he kept me hanging about till . . . there was only
time to get lunch and to come on here. And he gave mephew"Cyril put
his hand to his forehead"a terrific blow-out," he said.
It was disappointingto-day of all days. But still he couldn't be
expected to know.
"But you'll have a meringue, won't you, Cyril?" said Aunt
Josephine. "These meringues were bought specially for you. Your dear
father was so fond of them. We were sure you are, too."
"I am, Aunt Josephine," cried Cyril ardently. "Do you mind
if I take half to begin with?"
"Not at all, dear boy; but we mustn't let you off with that."
"Is your dear father still so fond of meringues?" asked Auntie Con
gently. She winced faintly as she broke through the shell of hers.
"Well, I don't quite know, Auntie Con," said Cyril breezily.
At that they both looked up.
"Don't know?" almost snapped Josephine. "Don't know a thing like
that about your own father, Cyril?"
"Surely," said Auntie Con softly.
Cyril tried to laugh it off. "Oh, well," he said, "it's such a long
time since" He faltered. He stopped. Their faces were too much for
"Even so," said Josephine.
And Auntie Con looked.
Cyril put down his teacup. "Wait a bit," he cried. "Wait a bit,
Aunt Josephine. What am I thinking of?"
He looked up. They were beginning to brighten. Cyril slapped his
"Of course," he said, "it was meringues. How could I have
forgotten? Yes, Aunt Josephine, you're perfectly right. Father's most
frightfully keen on meringues."
They didn't only beam. Aunt Josephine went scarlet with pleasure;
Auntie Con gave a deep, deep sigh.
"And now, Cyril, you must come and see father," said Josephine.
"He knows you were coming to-day."
"Right," said Cyril, very firmly and heartily. He got up from hs
chair; suddenly he glanced at the clock.
"I say, Auntie Con, isn't your clock a bit slow? I've got to meet a
man atat Paddington just after five. I'm afraid I shan't be able to
stay very long with grandfather."
"Oh, he won't expect you to stay
very long!" said Aunt
Constantia was still gazing at the clock. She couldn't make up her
mind if it was fast or slow. It was one or the other, she felt almost
certain of that. At any rate, it had been.
Cyril still lingered. "Aren't you coming along, Auntie Con?"
"Of course," said Josephine, "we shall all go. Come on, Con."
They knocked at the door, and Cyril followed his aunts into
grandfather's hot, sweetish room.
"Come on," said Grandfather Pinner. "Don't hang about. What is it?
What've you been up to?"
He was sitting in front of a roaring fire, clasping his stick. He
had a thick rug over his knees. On his lap there lay a beautiful pale
yellow silk handkerchief.
"It's Cyril, father," said Josephine shyly. And she took Cyril's
hand and led him forward.
"Good afternoon, grandfather," said Cyril, trying to take his hand
out of Aunt Josephine's. Grandfather Pinner shot his eyes at Cyril in
the way he was famous for. Where was Auntie Con? She stood on the
other side of Aunt Josephine; her long arms hung down in front of her;
her hands were clasped. She never took her eyes off grandfather.
"Well," said Grandfather Pinner, beginning to thump, "what have
you got to tell me?"
What had he, what had he got to tell him? Cyril felt himself
smiling like a perfect imbecile. The room was stifling, too.
But Aunt Josephine came to his rescue. She cried brightly,
"Cyril says his father is still very fond of meringues, father dear."
"Eh?" said Grandfather Pinner, curving his hand like a purple
meringue-shell over one ear.
Josephine repeated, "Cyril says his father is still very fond of
"Can't hear," said old Colonel Pinner. And he waved Josephine away
with his stick, then pointed with his stick to Cyril. "Tell me what
she's trying to say," he said.
(My God!) "Must I?" said Cyril, blushing and staring at Aunt
"Do, dear," she smiled. "It will please him so much."
"Come on, out with it!" cried Colonel Pinner testily, beginning to
And Cyril leaned forward and yelled, "Father's still very fond of
At that Grandfather Pinner jumped as though he had been shot.
"Don't shout!" he cried. "What's the matter with the boy?
Meringues! What about "em?"
"Oh, Aunt Josephine, must we go on?" groaned Cyril desperately.
"It's quite all right, dear boy," said Aunt Josephine, as though he
and she were at the dentist's together. "He'll understand in a
minute." And she whispered to Cyril, "He's getting a bit deaf, you
know." Then she leaned forward and really bawled at Grandfather
Pinner, "Cyril only wanted to tell you, father dear, that his
father is still very fond of meringues."
Colonel Pinner heard that time, heard and brooded, looking Cyril
up and down.
"What an esstrordinary thing!" said old Grandfather Pinner. "What
an esstrordinary thing to come all this way here to tell me!"
And Cyril felt it
"Yes, I shall send Cyril the watch," said Josephine.
"That would be very nice," said Constantia. "I seem to remember
last time he came there was some little trouble about the time."
They were interrupted by Kate bursting through the door in her
usual fashion, as though she had discovered some secret panel in the
"Fried or boiled?" asked the bold voice.
Fried or boiled? Josephine and Constantia were quite bewildered
for the moment. They could hardly take it in.
"Fried or boiled what, Kate?" asked Josephine, trying to begin to
Kate gave a loud sniff. "Fish."
"Well, why didn't you say so immediately?" Josephine reproached
her gently. "How could you expect us to understand, Kate? There are a
great many things in this world you know, which are fried or
boiled." And after such a display of courage she said quite brightly
to Constantia, "Which do you prefer, Con?"
"I think it might be nice to have it fried," said Constantia. "On
the other hand, of course, boiled fish is very nice. I think I prefer
both equally well . . . Unless you . . . In that case"
"I shall fry it," said Kate, and she bounced back, leaving their
door open and slamming the door of her kitchen.
Josephine gazed at Constantia; she raised her pale eyebrows until
they rippled away into her pale hair. She got up. She said in a very
lofty, imposing way, "Do you mind following me into the drawing-room,
Constantia? I've got something of great importance to discuss with
For it was always to the drawing-room they retired when they
wanted to talk over Kate.
Josephine closed the door meaningly. "Sit down, Constantia," she
said, still very grand. She might have been receiving Constantia for
the first time. And Con looked round vaguely for a chair, as though
she felt indeed quite a stranger.
"Now the question is," said Josephine, bending forward, "whether
we shall keep her or not."
"That is the question," agreed Constantia.
"And this time," said Josephine firmly, "we must come to a
Constantia looked for a moment as though she might begin going
over all the other times, but she pulled herself together and
said, "Yes, Jug."
"You see, Con," explained Josephine, "everything is so changed
now." Constantia looked up quickly. "I mean," went on Josephine,
"we're not dependent on Kate as we were." And she blushed faintly.
"There's not father to cook for."
"That is perfectly true," agreed Constantia. "Father certainly
doesn't want any cooking now whatever else"
Josephine broke in sharply, "You're not sleepy, are you, Con?"
"Sleepy, Jug?" Constantia was wide-eyed.
"Well, concentrate more," said Josephine sharply, and she returned
to the subject. "What it comes to is, if we did"and this she barely
breathed, glancing at the door"give Kate notice"she raised her voice
again"we could manage our own food."
"Why not?" cried Constantia. She couldn't help smiling. The idea
was so exciting. She clasped her hands. "What should we live on, Jug?"
"Oh, eggs in various forms!" said Jug, lofty again. "And, besides,
there are all the cooked foods."
"But I've always heard," said Constantia, "they are considered so
"Not if one buys them in moderation," said Josephine. But she tore
herself away from this fascinating bypath and dragged Constantia after
"What we've got to decide now, however, is whether we really do
trust Kate or not."
Constantia leaned back. Her flat little laugh flew from her lips.
"Isn't it curious, Jug," said she, "that just on this one subject
I've never been able to quite make up my mind?"
She never had. The whole difficulty was to prove anything. How did
one prove things, how could one? Suppose Kate had stood in front of
her and deliberately made a face. Mightn't she very well have been in
pain? Wasn't it impossible, at any rate, to ask Kate if she was making
a face at her? If Kate answered "No"and, of course, she would say
"No"what a position! How undignified! Then, again, Constantia
suspected, she was almost certain that Kate went to her chest of
drawers when she and Josephine were out, not to take things but to
spy. Many times she had come back to find her amethyst cross in the
most unlikely places, under her lace ties or on top of her evening
Bertha. More than once she had laid a trap for Kate. She had arranged
things in a special order and then called Josephine to witness.
"You see, Jug?"
"Now we shall be able to tell."
But, oh dear, when she did go to look, she was as far off from a
proof as ever! If anything was displaced, it might so very well have
happened as she closed the drawer; a jolt might have done it so
"You come, Jug, and decide. I really can't. It's too difficult."
But after a pause and a long glare Josephine would sigh, "Now
you've put the doubt into my mind, Con, I'm sure I can't tell
"Well, we can't postpone it again," said Josephine. "If we
postpone it this time"
But at that moment in the street below a barrel-organ struck up.
Josephine and Constantia sprang to their feet together.
"Run, Con," said Josephine. "Run quickly. There's sixpence on
Then they remembered. It didn't matter. They would never have to
stop the organ-grinder again. Never again would she and Constantia be
told to make that monkey take his noise somewhere else. Never would
sound that loud, strange bellow when father thought they were not
hurrying enough. The organ-grinder might play there all day and the
stick would not thump.
It never will thump again,
It never will thump again,
What was Constantia thinking? She had such a strange smile; she
looked different. She couldn't be going to cry.
"Jug, Jug," said Constantia softly, pressing her hands together.
"Do you know what day it is? It's Saturday. It's a week to-day, a
A week since father died,
A week since father died,
barrel-organ. And Josephine, too, forgot to be practical and sensible;
she smiled faintly, strangely. On the Indian carpet there fell a
square of sunlight, pale red; it came and went and cameand stayed,
deepeneduntil it shone almost golden.
"The sun's out," said Josephine, as though it really mattered.
A perfect fountain of bubbling notes shook from the barrel-organ,
round, bright notes, carelessly scattered.
Constantia lifted her big, cold hands as if to catch them, and
then her hands fell again. She walked over to the mantelpiece to her
favourite Buddha. And the stone and gilt image, whose smile always
gave her such a queer feeling, almost a pain and yet a pleasant pain,
seemed to-day to be more than smiling. He knew something; he had a
secret. "I know something that you don't know," said her Buddha.
Oh, what was it, what could it be? And yet she had always felt there
was . . . something.
The sunlight pressed through the windows, thieved its way in,
flashed its light over the furniture and the photographs. Josephine
watched it. When it came to mother's photograph, the enlargement over
the piano, it lingered as though puzzled to find so little remained of
mother, except the ear-rings shaped like tiny pagodas and a black
feather boa. Why did the photographs of dead people always fade so?
wondered Josephine. As soon as a person was dead their photograph died
too. But, of course, this one of mother was very old. It was
thirty-five years old. Josephine remembered standing on a chair and
pointing out that feather boa to Constantia and telling her that it
was a snake that had killed their mother in Ceylon. . . . Would
everything have been different if mother hadn't died? She didn't see
why. Aunt Florence had lived with them until they had left school, and
they had moved three times and had their yearly holiday and . . . and
there'd been changes of servants, of course.
Some little sparrows, young sparrows they sounded, chirped on the
window-ledge. Yeepeyeepyeep. But Josephine felt they were not
sparrows, not on the window-ledge. It was inside her, that queer
little crying noise. Yeepeyeepyeep. Ah, what was it crying,
so weak and forlorn?
If mother had lived, might they have married? But there had
been nobody for them to marry. There had been father's Anglo-Indian
friends before he quarrelled with them. But after that she and
Constantia never met a single man except clergymen. How did one meet
men? Or even if they'd met them, how could they have got to know men
well enough to be more than strangers? One read of people having
adventures, being followed, and so on. But nobody had ever followed
Constantia and her. Oh yes, there had been one year at Eastbourne a
mysterious man at their boarding-house who had put a note on the jug
of hot water outside their bedroom door! But by the time Connie had
found it the steam had made the writing too faint to read; they
couldn't even make out to which of them it was addressed. And he had
left next day. And that was all. The rest had been looking after
father and at the same time keeping out of father's way. But now? But
now? The thieving sun touched Josephine gently. She lifted her face.
She was drawn over to the window by gentle beams .
Until the barrel-organ stopped playing Constantia stayed before
the Buddha, wondering, but not as usual, not vaguely. This time her
wonder was like longing. She remembered the times she had come in
here, crept out of bed in her nightgown when the moon was full, and
lain on the floor with her arms outstretched, as though she was
crucified. Why? The big, pale moon had made her do it. The
horrible dancing figures on the carved screen had leered at her and
she hadn't minded. She remembered too how, whenever they were at the
seaside, she had gone off by herself and got as close to the sea as
she could, and sung something, something she had made up, while she
gazed all over that restless water. There had been this other life,
running out, bringing things home in bags, getting things on approval,
discussing them with Jug, and taking them back to get more things on
approval, and arranging father's trays and trying not to annoy father.
But it all seemed to have happened in a kind of tunnel. It wasn't
real. It was only when she came out of the tunnel into the moonlight
or by the sea or into a thunderstorm that she really felt herself.
What did it mean? What was it she was always wanting? What did it all
lead to? Now? Now?
She turned away from the Buddha with one of her vague gestures.
She went over to where Josephine was standing. She wanted to say
something to Josephine, something frightfully important, aboutabout
the future and what . . .
"Don't you think perhaps" she began.
But Josephine interrupted her. "I was wondering if now" she
murmured. They stopped; they waited for each other.
"Go on, Con," said Josephine.
"No, no, Jug; after you," said Constantia.
"No, say what you were going to say. You began," said Josephine.
"I . . . I'd rather hear what you were going to say first," said
"Don't be absurd, Con."
"Oh, Jug! "
A pause. Then Constantia said faintly, "I can't say what I was
going to say, Jug, because I've forgotten what it was .. . that I was
going to say."
Josephine was silent for a moment. She stared at a big cloud where
the sun had been. Then she replied shortly, "I've forgotten too."