Miss Pym Disposes, by Josephine Tey


The only person who was moved by Edward Adrian’s incursion into the College world was Madame Lefevre. Madame, as the representative of the theatre world in College, evidently felt that her own share in this visit should have been a larger one. She also gave Miss Lux to understand that she had, in the first place, no right to know Edward Adrian, but that, in the second place, having known him she had no right to keep him to herself. She was comforted by the knowledge that on Friday she would see him in person, and be able to talk to him in his own language, so to speak. He must have felt greatly at sea, she gave them to understand, among the aborigines of Leys Physical Training College.

Lucy, listening to her barbed silkinesses at lunch on Thursday, hoped that she would not ingratiate herself sufficiently with Adrian to be included in the supper party; she was looking forward to Friday night, and she most certainly would not look forward any more if Madame was going to be watching her all evening with those eyes of hers. Perhaps Miss Lux would put a spoke in her wheel in time. It was not Miss Lux’s habit to put up with something that was not to her mind.

Still thinking of Madame and Miss Lux and tomorrow night, she turned her eyes absently on the students, and saw Innes’s face. And her heart stopped.

It was three days, she supposed, since she had seen Innes for more than a moment in passing; but could three days have done this to a young girl’s face? She stared, trying to decide where the change actually lay. Innes was thinner, and very pale, certainly, but it was not that. It was not even the shadows under her eyes and the small hollow at the temple. Not even the expression; she was eating her lunch with her eyes on the plate in apparent calm. And yet the face shocked Lucy. She wondered if the others saw; she wondered that no one had mentioned it. The thing was as subtle and as obvious as the expression on the face of the Mona Lisa; as indefinable and as impossible to ignore.

So that is what it is to “burn up inside,” she thought. “It is bad to burn up inside,” Beau had said. Verily it must be bad if it ravaged a face like that. How could a face be at the same time calm and — and look like that? How, if it came to that, could one have birds tearing at one’s vitals and still keep that calm face?

Her glance went to Beau, at the head of the nearer table, and she caught Beau’s anxious look at Innes.

“I hope you gave Mr Adrian an invitation card?” Miss Hodge said to Lux.

“No,” said Lux, bored with the subject of Adrian.

“And I hope you have told Miss Joliffe that there will be one more for tea.”

“He doesn’t eat at tea-time, so I didn’t bother.”

Oh, stop talking little sillinesses, Lucy wanted to say, and look at Innes. What is happening to her? Look at the girl who was so radiant only last Saturday afternoon. Look at her. What does she remind you of? Sitting there so calm and beautiful and all wrong inside. What does she remind you of? One of those brilliant things that grow in the woods, isn’t it? One of those apparently perfect things that collapse into dust at a touch because they are hollow inside.

“Innes is not looking well,” she said in careful understatement to Lux as they went upstairs.

“She is looking very ill,” Lux said bluntly. “And would you wonder?”

“Isn’t there something one can do about it?” Lucy asked.

“One could find her the kind of post she deserves,” Lux said dryly. “As there is no post available at all, that doesn’t seem likely to materialise.”

“You mean that she will just have to begin to answer advertisements?”

“Yes. It is only a fortnight to the end of term, and there are not likely to be any more posts in Miss Hodge’s gift now. Most places for September are filled by this time. The final irony, isn’t it? That the most brilliant student we have had for years is reduced to application-in-own-handwriting-with-five-copies-of-testimonials-not-returnable.”

It was damnable, Lucy thought; quite damnable.

“She was offered a post, so that lets Miss Hodge out.”

“But it was a medical one, and she doesn’t want that,” Lucy said.

“Oh, yes, yes! you don’t have to convert me; I’m enlisted already.”

Lucy thought of tomorrow, when the parents would come and radiant daughters would show them round, full of the years they had spent here and the new achievement that was theirs. How Innes must have looked forward to that; looked forward to seeing the two people who loved her so well and who had by care and deprivation managed to give her the training she wanted; looked forward to putting Arlinghurst in their laps.

It was bad enough to be a leaving student without a post, but that was a matter susceptible to remedy. What could never be remedied was the injustice of it. It was Lucy’s private opinion that injustice was harder to bear than almost any other inflicted ill. She could remember yet the surprised hurt, the helpless rage, the despair that used to consume her when she was young and the victim of an injustice. It was the helpless rage that was worst; it consumed one like a slow fire. There was no outlet, because there was nothing one could do about it. A very destructive emotion indeed. Lucy supposed that she had been like Innes, and lacked a sense of humour. But did the young ever have the detachment necessary for a proper focusing of their own griefs? Of course not. It was not people of forty who went upstairs and hanged themselves because someone had said a wrong word to them at the wrong moment, it was adolescents of fourteen.

Lucy thought she knew the passion of rage and disappointment and hate that was eating Innes up. It was enormously to her credit that she had taken the shock with outward dignity. A different type would have babbled to all and sundry, and collected sympathy like a street singer catching coins in a hat. But not Innes. A sense of humour she might lack — oil on her feathers, as Beau said — but the suffering that lack entailed was her own affair; not to be exhibited to anyone — least of all to people she unconsciously referred to as “them.”

Lucy had failed to think of a nice non-committal way of expressing her sympathy; flowers and sweets and all the conventional marks of active friendship were not to be considered, and she had found no substitute; and she was disgusted with herself now to realise that Innes’s trouble, even though it was next-door to her all night, had begun to fade into the back-ground for her. She had remembered it each night as Innes came to her room after the “bedroom” bell, and while the small noises next-door reminded her of the girl’s existence. She had wondered and fretted about her for a little before falling to sleep. But during the crowded many-faceted days she had come near forgetting her.

Rouse had made no move to give a Post party on Saturday night; but whether this was due to tact, an awareness of College feeling on the subject, or the natural thrift with which, it seemed, she was credited, no one knew. The universal party that had been so triumphantly planned for Innes was no more heard of; a universal party for Rouse was something that was apparently not contemplated.

Although, even allowing for the fact that Lucy had not been present at the height of the excitement when presumably tongues would have wagged with greater freedom, College had been strangely reticent about the Arlinghurst appointment. Even little Miss Morris, who chattered with a fine lack of inhibition every morning as she planked the tray down, made no reference to it. In this affair Lucy was for College purposes “Staff”; an outsider; perhaps a sharer in blame. She did not like the idea at all.

But what she liked least of all, and now could not get out of her mind, was Innes’s barren tomorrow. The tomorrow that she had slaved those years for, the tomorrow that was to have been such a triumph. Lucy longed to provide her with a post at once, instantly, here and now; so that when tomorrow that tired happy woman with the luminous eyes came at last to see her daughter she would not find her empty-handed.

But of course one could not hawk a P.T.I. from door to door like a writing-pad; nor offer her to one’s friends like a misfit frock. Goodwill was not enough. And goodwill was practically all she had.

Well, she would use the goodwill and see where it got her. She followed Miss Hodge into her office as the others went upstairs, and said: “Henrietta, can’t we invent a post for Miss Innes? It seems all wrong that she should be jobless.”

“Miss Innes will not be long jobless. And I can’t imagine what consolation an imaginary post would be to her meanwhile.”

“I didn’t say imagine, I said invent; manufacture. There must be dozens of places all up and down the country that are still vacant. Couldn’t we bring the job and Innes together somehow without her going through the slow suspense of applying? That waiting, Henrietta. Do you remember what it used to be like? The beautifully written applications and the testimonials that never came back.”

“I have already offered Miss Innes a post and she has refused it. I don’t know what more I can do. I have no more vacancies to offer.”

“No, but you could get in touch with some of those advertised vacancies on her behalf, couldn’t you?”

“I? But that would be most irregular. And quite unnecessary. She naturally gives my name as a reference when she applies; and if she were not commendable ——”

“But you could — oh, you could ask for particulars of the post since you have a particularly brilliant student ——”

“You are being absurd, Lucy.”

“I know, but I want Innes to be very much sought-after by five o’clock this afternoon.”

Miss Hodge, who did not read Kipling — or indeed, acknowledge his existence — stared.

“For a woman who has written such a noteworthy book — Professor Beatock praised it yesterday at the University College tea — you have an extraordinarily impulsive and frivolous mind.”

This defeated Lucy, who was well aware of her mental limitations. Punctured, she stood looking at Henrietta’s broad back in the window.

“I am greatly afraid,” Henrietta said, “that the weather is going to break. The forecast this morning was anything but reassuring, and after so long a spell of perfect summer we are due for a change. It would be a tragedy if it decided to change tomorrow of all days.”

A tragedy, would it! My God, you big lumbering silly woman, it is you who have the frivolous mind. I may have a C3 intelligence and childish impulses but I know tragedy when I see it and it has nothing to do with a lot of people running to save their party frocks or the cucumber sandwiches getting wet. No, by God, it hasn’t.

“Yes, it would be a pity, Henrietta,” she said meekly, and went away upstairs.

She stood for a little at the landing window watching the thick black clouds massing on the horizon, and hoping evilly that tomorrow they would swamp Leys in one grand Niagara so that the whole place steamed with damp people drying like a laundry. But she noticed almost immediately the heinousness of this, and hastily revised her wish. Tomorrow was their great day, bless them; the day they had sweated for, borne bruises and sarcasm for, been pummelled, broken, and straightened for, hoped, wept, and lived for. It was plain justice that the sun should shine on them.

Besides, it was pretty certain that Mrs Innes had only one pair of “best” shoes.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01