In the house at Highgate Betty Wallingford was lying awake. She was wholly wretched. Her mother, after they had returned from that secret conversation in Holborn, in which she had not been allowed to take part, had sent her to bed. She had wished to protest; she had wished to ring up Jonathan. But it would have been quite useless. She could not remember a time when it would not have been useless. If she had been Lady Wallingford’s real daughter, she might have had a better chance, or so sometimes she thought. But since, years ago, Lady Wallingford had spoken of her adoption, she had always felt at a disadvantage. No allusion was ever made to it now. She had tried, once or twice, to ask Lady Wallingford about her real parents, but her adopted mother had only said: “We will not talk of that, Betty,” and so of course they did not. As for Sir Bartholomew, she had been forbidden to mention it to him, and anyhow he was hardly ever at home, and was only interested in air matters. So she only knew she was not what everyone thought she was.
Everyone in London, that is. There was in the north, in Yorkshire, a small house where she and Lady Wallingford sometimes went. They always went by themselves, and when they got there she was not even treated as a daughter. She was, purely and simply, the servant. It was supposed to be training for her, in case (as might happen, Lady Wallingford said) she ever had to earn her own living. She did the work; she showed in the Vicar or any other local visitor, and then she went back to her nice bright kitchen, where she had that morning’s Daily Sketch (which Lady Wallingford took in for her) and her radio on which she was only allowed to listen to the most popular music (because, Lady Wallingford said, that was what girls of that class liked). She was called Bettina there. “Ridiculous names these girls have nowadays!” Lady Wallingford had once said to the Vicar as he was leaving; and the Vicar had said: “Not at all ridiculous! a very good name.” But he had not looked very attentive, and Lady Wallingford never let her go out alone; so there was no help there. And anyhow there was no need for help; what was there to help?
It had been going on for a long time, even before she had left school. She had always been in terror lest any of the other girls should pass and see her from a car. Or even, quite impossibly, call. She had tried to think what she would say, and to practise saying it. There would be nothing unusual in her mother and herself being there, but to be treated as a housemaid. . . . She knew they would never believe anything she could say, and still more certainly that she could never say it. She used to lie awake by night thinking of it, and wondering if the next day would bring them, but it never did; and presently the two of them always went back to London, and then she was Betty Wallingford again — only of course she was no more Betty Wallingford than she was a housemaid. She was nothing and no one. Her mistress — mother, her mother — mistress, told her what to do; she and the man who sometimes came to see her, this Father Simon.
Of all the girls at school, two only now remained in her mind; indeed, she knew them a little still. She would have liked to be friends with Lester Grantham, who was now Lester Furnival, but it had never come about. At school Lester had never wanted to be bothered with her, though she had been in a vague way half-scornfully kind, and when she and Lady Wallingford met they had never got on very well. Lester had once or twice called with Evelyn Mercer, who was the other girl, but Betty did not like Evelyn. She might have borne Lester knowing about her being Bettina, but she would have been anguished by Evelyn’s finding out, and Evelyn was the sort of person who did find things out. When Evelyn came to see her, she used to sit and talk to her; she had hunted her down at school sometimes just to talk to her. But it used to be horrible, and she would cry, and even now Evelyn would ask so many questions and tell so many horrid stories that Betty felt she could not bear it. Of course, she had to, because Evelyn sat, eyeing her and talking. So that presently she became the very image of Betty’s fear, more even than Lady Wallingford; and one of her worse nightmares was of running away from Evelyn who was racing after her, calling “Bettina! Bettina!” And other acquaintances she had none.
During the war she had thought she would have to do a job and perhaps go away from home. She had registered, and she had been interviewed, by a nice oldish — woman. But nothing else had happened. She had been a little surprised, and she had even spoken of it to Lady Wallingford, who had only said: “You’re not strong enough — mentally strong enough, I mean.” So she supposed — and she was right — that Lady Wallingford had taken steps. After that, she had begun to worry over her mind; after that rather nice refugee had disappeared. During the little time she had known him, he had been rather comforting, but presently he had ceased to be about. And there was no one again.
Until there had been Jonathan Drayton. She could not remember how they had first met, and they had certainly not met often. If her mother had not wished to have a painting of Father Simon, they would have met less often. But even Lady Wallingford was sometimes compelled to allow one obstinacy to get in the way of another. She had been startled — though not much more startled than Betty — when Jonathan began to talk of an engagement. Betty remembered how she had clung to him the first time he had kissed her, and what he had said of her, but she tried not to remember that, for she had always known it would be no good, and now Lady Wallingford had chosen to be offended at his painting, and it was all ended. Very soon they would be in the country again. Lady Wallingford was always saying that, now the war was over, they would go there permanently — “and then you shall settle down. I shall have to go up sometimes, but you need never leave it again,” Betty was beginning to look on it as a refuge; once there, she would be Bettina altogether, and perhaps that would be peace.
But to — night it was no refuge. Jonathan was too near. He had sometimes talked to her about painting, and she had tried to understand, and even ask questions, though her mistress — no her adopted mother — had said “Betty’s rather backward” and repeated that she was mentally weak. But Jonathan had only said: “Thank God she’s not cultured! and anyhow I’m not much more than adolescent myself,” and gone on talking, and she had wanted to cry on his shoulder, as once or twice inexplicably she had. She never would again. She would be taken to hear Father Simon speak on Love. In a way that was a relief. While he talked she sat in a kind of trance and forgot everything. That was in Holborn; when he came to Highgate it was different and not so peaceful. She had to do something. He was always saying to her: “Do not trouble yourself; only do as I say.” She would; in that and the maid’s kitchen were her only hope.
She lay, waking and waiting — waiting for her mind to grow weaker, waiting for her memory of Jonathan to cease, waiting for an end. She was afraid of Lady Wallingford and desperately afraid of Evelyn. Evelyn would get everything about Jonathan out of her, and would tell people — no, she would not, for Evelyn was dead. In her sheer rush of gratitude Betty sat up in bed. It was almost her only individual movement for years. She drew a deep breath. Something of horror had stopped for ever. Evelyn, Evelyn was dead. Of course. Lester was dead too; she was a little sorry about Lester, but Lester had never wanted her. That had been Lester’s husband this afternoon; he looked nice. At the time of the wedding she had been in Yorkshire; not that she would have been asked anyhow. Yorkshire — Oh, well, Yorkshire; but Evelyn could never, never come to Yorkshire now. “Evelyn,” she said to herself, clasping her knees, “Evelyn’s dead.” In her entire joy, she even forgot Jonathan — in her sudden sense of a freedom she had not known. She had at least no consciousness of impropriety; she was mentally strong enough for joy. She said it again, drawing breath, hugging herself, savouring it: “Evelyn’s dead. ”
The door opened. Lady Wallingford came in. She switched on the light and saw Betty. Betty saw her, and before a word could be spoken or a glance exchanged, she thought: “People die.” Lady Wallingford said: “Why are you sitting up like that?” and Betty answered, because it was so important: “Evelyn’s dead.”
For once Lady Wallingford was taken aback. She had never had much interest in Evelyn, though she was not as hostile to her as she had been to Lester, for she knew Betty was afraid of Evelyn. She did not altogether wish Betty to lose this, and she answered, almost immediately — but there had been a second’s pause, a moment in which Betty all but triumphed: “Yes. But remember that that means she is still alive.” She did not give this time to settle; she was well assured that the thought would return. She went on: “But we can’t think of it now. Our Father needs you.”
“Oh not now — ” Betty exclaimed. “I’m so tired. I can’t — after this afternoon — Mother, I can’t.” She spoke with more boldness than usual. The sense of freedom that Evelyn’s death had given her was still strong, and an even larger sense that changes could happen which had risen in her mind when Lady Wallingford entered. People died. She looked at her mother almost as an equal; her mother would die. But she could not maintain her gaze. Lady Wallingford stared her down. As the girl’s eyes fell, she said: “We are waiting. Dress and come down.” She stayed for a moment, still staring; then she turned and went out.
Discouraged and miserably helpless, Betty got up and put on her clothes. She knew what would happen; it had happened before. She knew she went out, but where and with what result she did not know — only that afterwards she was again back in the house, and exhausted. Lady Wallingford always kept her in bed the next day. These occasions were known to the servants as “Miss Betty’s turns”. It was vaguely understood that Miss Betty was subject to something not quite nice. Something mental. Nor indeed were they far wrong, for the mind as well as the body suffered from those lonely excursions, and it was a question for her directors how long she would be able to bear them.
Her hands were trembling as she finished dressing. She had put on, and with difficulty fastened, a pair of outdoor shoes. If only, she thought, she did not have to leave the house! Or if she could know where she went and what she did! She might be braver then. It was this getting ready to go that frightened her, and the not knowing. Her tyrants never by any chance referred to her compulsory expeditions, except on the nights themselves. They would be waiting for her. She had forgotten Evelyn’s death, and Lady Wallingford was perpetual. She looked at the clock; it was half-past one. There was no use in delay. She went down.
They were waiting, as she had known, in the drawing-room. Lady Wallingford was sitting by a table. Simon was walking softly up and down. When she came in he stopped and scanned her. Then he pointed to a chair. He said, in that husky voice she dreaded, though it was never unkind: “I want you to go out. ”
She was without initiative. She went to the chair and sat down. She said: “Yes, Father.”
He said: “You shall be at peace soon. You could be at peace now if you did not fight. In a moment you will not fight; then you will be in peace. Presently you will always be at peace. Let yourself be in my will. I can send you; I can bring you back; only take the peace. Be in peace and you will be in joy. Why do you — no, you will not fight; you are not fighting; you are dying into peace; why should you not die in peace? Peace. . . . ..
The quiet husky soothing voice ran on, recapitulating the great words, bidding the sufficient maxims. She knew she would lose herself, now it did not seem so horrid; now she wondered she was not quicker to let go. She usually was. But to — night something interfered with the words. Her hands, quiet though they lay, were strangely warm, and the blood in them seemed to beat. Her body (though she did not then realize it) held a memory that her mind had forgotten. The strength of Jonathan’s hands was still in her own, and rose up her arms, and stirred in her flesh. His voice, still subconditionally remembered in her ears, stirred in her corridors. She did not think of it but all her living body answered “Jonathan!” and on that cry rose against the incantation that all but appeased her. The word love, when the Clerk uttered it, was only a dim sound of distant wind, but it said “Jonathan!”; the word peace was great waters on a gentle shore, but it murmured “Jonathan!”; the wordjoy was an echo and no more, but it echoed: “Jonathan!” Even the afternoon, even the painting and all, had but made him more intense; as a man in sleep utters his love’s name, so now, as she all but slept, her body sighed for its friend. She did not speak, but as she yielded to the spell, she moaned a little; she slept though with waking eyes, and she did not sleep peaceably. The Clerk knew it. He came near her; he spoke over her — he had a very great courage — those august words: “peace, joy, love”. He used them for what he needed, and they meant to him — and to her — what he chose.
Lady Wallingford covered her eyes. She could not quite bear to see the nullification of life in the intellectual centre of life. She detested her daughter, and she wished to distress and pain her. But then she wished her, while she lived, to be still herself so that she should be distressed and pained. That other, who stood over the girl who was his daughter also, did not wish her to be herself, or even that only for a purpose. He wished her to be an instrument only; peace, joy, love, were but names for the passivity of the instrument. He was unique; yet he was no more than any man — only raised to a high power and loosed in himself.
Presently Lady Wallingford heard his voice near her. It said: “You didn’t tell me she was so enamoured. It doesn’t matter. I’ve found her in time.” She moved her hand. He was standing by her, looking over to Betty where now she sat quietly in her chair, her eyes open, her body composed. He drew deep breaths; he said, so quietly that Lady Wallingford hardly heard, so strongly that the entranced girl rose at once to obey: “Go now and bring me the news.”
She rose. Her eyes looked at him, simply, almost lingeringly. She gave him her attention, with a kind of delight. The last revolt had been abolished; a docile sweetness possessed her. Docility and sweetness were natural to her. In a quiet that might have been peace, in an attraction that might have been love, in a content that might have been joy, she turned from her director towards the door. Her exhaustion on the next day would come not only from what she was about to do, but from this surrender which would then have ceased. Yet every time her restoration was a little less; a day might come when this hypnotic quiescence would occupy her whole life. That day (the Clerk thought) would be soon. Then he would be able to send her for ever into the world she could now only visit.
Betty went out of the room. The Clerk followed her, and Lady Wallingford, drawn by a desire she half-dreaded, joined him and went with him. The house was warm and quiet. Sir Bartholomew was in Moscow; the servants were asleep in their rooms. Betty went to a lobby, took out a raincoat and a rough hat, and put them on. The two stood motionless, the tall man and the shorter woman, their arms hanging by their sides, their feet precisely together, their eyes fixed on the girl. They watched her go to the front door and open it wide. Beyond her lay the empty street, lit by the moon to a bluish pallor. The silence of it rushed in on them, a silence in which the quiet hall sounded as if, but a moment before, it had been noisy. Betty went out. The Clerk went quickly down the hall and almost closed the door, leaving it open but a chink. He stood by it, his head bent, intently listening. Lady Wallingford remained where she was, trembling a little. Hardly five minutes had passed when, in that perfect silence, deeper than any lull in any town, any stillness in any countryside, the faint sound of slow dragging feet was heard. They were literally dragging, each was pulled along the path. The Clerk let go the door and stood back. It was pushed open a little farther, and through the crack Betty squeezed herself in. She was very pale, her eyes were almost shut, she drooped with the heaviness of her fatigue. She came in; she made a motion to push the door to; she stumbled forward and fell. The Clerk caught her; she lay against him. The clerk looked over his shoulder at Lady Wallingford, who as at a sudden call ran forward. She bent down and picked up her daughter’s feet. Between them the two creatures carried the girl upstairs; their monstrous shadows rising against the walls. They took her to her room and laid her on her bed. They undressed her and got her into the bed, all in silence and with the softest and quickest movements. Then they drew up chairs and sat down, one on each side. Lady Wallingford took up a notebook and a pen. The Clerk leaned his head close to Betty’s and said something in her ear. He moved his head so that his ear was close to Betty’s mouth, and in a voice hardly to be heard, with broken phrases and long intervals, she began to speak. He repeated, in a voice harder than was usual with him, what she said. Lady Wallingford wrote down the words. It was almost morning before the triple labour was done. The Clerk stood up frowning. Lady Wallingford looked at him. He shook his head slowly, and presently they both left the room, she to her own, he to the staircase and the hall.
Betty had gone out from the house into the street. She did not consciously remember what she had to do, and as she stood in the shadow of the porch she drew a deep breath or two. Something — if in the porch she had had a shadow, it would have been like her shadow, but it was not, and it was more solid — lay in the porch, against the door behind her. She did not notice it. She began to walk down the street, towards Highgate Hill and the City that lay below. She went lightly and gaily; these times were always happy and fortunate; she could not compare them with others, for she knew no others. All but these joyous hours were secluded from her. Ignorant of what she obeyed, but in a perfect volition of obedience, she went along. She did not know through what spectral streets she moved; she knew roads and turnings and recognized her way, but she did not name them. She was not thinking of them, for now she did not think. All that was, for the time, done. She only knew. But she did not know that the silence was any but an earthly silence, nor that the sky above her was the sky under which Lester and Evelyn walked. Nor did she think of any insolidity; if for a moment the fronts of the houses looked unearthly, she unconsciously attributed this to the effects of the moon. The world was as familiar as this world, and to her less terrifying.
It lay there, as it always does — itself offering no barriers, open to be trodden, ghostly to this world and to heaven, and in its upper reaches ghostly also to those in its lower reaches where (if at all) hell lies. It is ours and not ours, for men and women were never meant to dwell there long; though it is held by some that certain unaccountable disappearances have been into that world, and that a few (even living) may linger there awhile. But mostly those streets are only for the passing through of the newly dead. It is not for human bodies, though it has known a few — “Enoch, Elijah, and the Lady” though they not in London, but in the places where they died. It has certainly been thought, but the speculation is that of dreamers, that in the year of our great danger the grand attack of our enemies succeeded; that London and England perished; and that all we who then died entered it together and live there till we have wrought out our salvation — to enjoy (purgatorially) a freedom unpermitted on earth; and that our conquerors live on that earth, troubled and frenzy — driven by a mystical awareness of our presence. More justly, it is held by learned doctors that in times of much bloodshed that world draws closer (so to call a neighbourhood we cannot define) to this, that chance entry for the living is easier, and that any who wish to drive others there for their own purposes find the deathly work lighter. One day perhaps it will indeed break through; it will undo our solidity, which belongs to earth and heaven, and all of us who are then alive will find ourselves in it and alone till we win through it to our own place. It is full enough of passengers, but mostly alone, though those who died together may have each other’s companionship there, as Lester and Evelyn had, and a few more fortunate friendships and intimate loves.
Betty Wallingford knew nothing of this. She walked in peace and gay, in her seeming body. She had been compelled in her body, and in her body she had left the house. That actual body lay now crouched in the porch of the house, unconscious, waiting her return. Lester’s and Evelyn’s flesh no longer waited them so; they had to find another way to the reintegration of the great identity of flesh and soul. But the day,3 that had passed since their death had not held more for them than the few minutes since she had left the house had for her. In that state there might be ignorance, but even ignorance and fear meant only definite pause or definite action. The vagueness, the dreaming, the doubtful hanging-about are permitted only on the borders of intellectual life, and in this world they were rare. Neither angels nor insects know them, but only bewildered man. Far below Betty, as she came down the Hill, Lester and Evelyn walked. The City about them had not changed nor they. They were still troubled in their hearts by what did not at all trouble her.
She walked on. It was already morning; the day had rushed, in brightness and freshness, to meet her. It was a clear October morning — a little cold, with a few clouds, but agreeable to all her senses. She almost smelt it — a new pleasant smell mingling with the old London smell, but that itself (though heavier than the other) no longer unpleasant, if indeed it ever had been; the ground-bass of the whole absorbed music with which the lighter sun and sky mingled. Indeed the same effect struck her in sound, for she heard, as on similar journeys she had done, the distant noise of the waking City. It always seemed to her at first strange and then not strange. In general its citizens hardly notice it; they are a part of it, and their ears are deafened by it. But her hearing was now cleared and fresh, and she knew that it was happy and that she was happily going to it. She had to find it, or rather something in it, something which helped to compose it. All the sounds and times which went to make it were not equally important to her now. It was a question of time; she would come to the right time, for she had been directed to it, but there was a way to it, a part to be gone through first, a part of the City, not exactly disagreeable but strange. It was as if she were going through a part of her own past, though it was not always the same part, nor the same past. She knew that she only remembered certain parts of it. Someone had once told her that her mind wasn’t very strong, “and indeed it isn’t”, she thought gaily, “but it’s quite strong enough to do what it’s got to do, and what it hasn’t got to do it needn’t worry about not doing.” Who was it who had so joyously teased her so? to whom she had so joyously replied?
She began, as she came to the bottom of the Hill, to remember more clearly what did happen at these times. She had — they were hardly waking dreams, but she could not think of another word. Sometimes she seemed to be in a shadowy house, with the street faintly visible through the wall; sometimes she saw herself going by in a car with her mother. One way or another she was always in the dreams, and of some of them she was a little ashamed because she seemed to be making a frightful fuss. In ordinary dreams, as far as she knew, you did not criticize yourself. You were doing something or other and you were just doing it, but you rarely thought you might have done it very much better. Her shame however did not do away with her enjoyment; there was an agreeable exhilaration in her severe comments on herself She began to try and recollect one or other of her dreams, but it was difficult, for she was now coming into the busy streets, and there was colour and sound and many people, and the sky was sparkling, and her heart swelled with mere delight. And in the midst of it all she was at King’s Cross Station.
It was crowded but not unpleasantly. She knew at once what she had to do, or the first thing. She had to go and find that other self and say a kind encouraging word to it; she had to help herself. Cleverer people, no doubt, would help others, but she did not envy them, though she did admire. Helping herself was almost like helping another, and helping another was much like helping yourself. She made for the platform where the York train stood. The happy exhilaration of action was upon her. She remembered that you had to change at York for Palchester, and at Palchester for Laughton; and she remembered how that other she grew more and more distressed at each change and less and less capable of showing it. The reason, for the moment, evaded her, but it ought not to be so. “Be yourself, Betty,” she said admonishingly, and saw herself on the platform outside a compartment. This, she knew at once, was her most recent journey. She and her mother had gone down in July, and this was July, and there was she and there was her mother. Her mother — she was in these dreams always surprised at her mother, for she definitely remembered her as domineering and powerful, but whenever she saw her in this world there seemed to be something lacking; she looked so blank and purposeless and even miserable. And there by her mother was the other Betty, quiet, wan, unhappy. The porters were calling out “Grantham, Doncaster, York”; the passengers were getting in. Betty came to the compartment. The dream was very strong. There was herself, her sister, her twin. She laughed at her; she said, gaily and yet impatiently: “Oh don’t worry! Isn’t it all a game? Why can’t you play it?”
She did not know why she was so sure of the game, nor how she knew that it was her mother’s game, and only a courtesy, if she could, to play it well. She added: “It won’t hurt you.” The other Betty said: “It does hurt me.” She answered: “Well, if you can’t stand a pinch — Oh darling, laugh!” The other Betty stood wretched and mute. Lady Wallingford said: “Get in, Betty. You travel first class as far as Laughton, you know.” She added to a porter: “This part is for York?” The porter having just called out “Grantham, Doncaster, York”, exercised a glorious self-restraint, and said: “Yes, lady.” He spoke perhaps from habit, but here habit was full of all its past and all. its patience, and its patience was the thunder of the passage of a god dominant, miraculous and yet recurrent. Golden-thighed Endurance, sun-shrouded justice, were in him, and his face was the deep confluence of the City. He said again: “Yes, lady,” and his voice was echoed in the recesses of the station, and thrown out beyond it It was held in the air, and dropped, and some other phrase in turn caught up and held. There was no smallest point in all the place that was not redeemed into beauty and good — except Lady Wallingford’s eyes and her young companion’s white face. But the joyous face of that Betty who stood on the platform, whom her mother did not see, leaned towards her, and as the train began to move, cried out to her twin: “A game! only a game!” The girl in the train momentarily brightened and almost tried to smile.
Betty stood and watched it go. When it had disappeared into a part, into a past, of this world — she turned. She paused, not quite knowing what she should do. Her exhilarated heart saddened a little: a touch of new gravity showed in her face. She felt as if she had delayed on an errand, yet she had been right to delay, for she had been directed by the City itself to this meeting. It had been given to her and enjoined on her but it had been somehow for her personal sake; now she must do her business for some other. She tried to remember what she had been bidden, but she could not. That did not matter; in this blessed place it would be shown to her. She walked slowly up the platform, and as she went the whole air and appearance of the station changed. With every step she took a vibration passed through the light; the people about her became shadowy; her own consciousness of them was withdrawn. She moved in something of a trance, unaware of the quickening of the process of time, or rather of her passage through time. The perfect composure of the City in which all the times of London existed took this wanderer into itself, and provided the means to fulfil her errand. When she had left her house, it had been late October; she had stood on the platform in the fullness of the preceding July; she walked now through the altering months, to every step a day, till when she came to the bookstall, some six months had gone by, and she stood by it on a dark morning in January, the January her mortal body in the porch of the house had not yet known, nor Simon the Clerk, nor any on earth. She had moved on into the thing happening, for here all things were happening at once. These were the precincts of felicity. The felicity of the City knew its own precincts, but as yet, while she was but a vagrant here, she could not know them as such. She was happy, yet as she came to the book-stall a vague contradiction of felicity rose in her heart and faded. It was right that she should do whatever it was she was about to do, yet she did not quite like it. She felt as if she were being a little vulgar, though she could not guess how. She was holding — how she could not guess; and the question hardly occurred to her — a few coins. Before her on the bookstall were the morning and weekly papers. Apologetically — she could not help feeling apologetic — she bought a number. She went into the waiting-room and sat down to read.
The reading had absolutely no meaning to her. Her eyes ran over, her memory took in, the printed lines. But for herself she neither understood nor remembered them. She was not doing it for herself but because she had been commanded She read one paper, finished it, folded it, laid it down, took up another, and so through all. She read the future, but the future was not known to her; it was saved, by the redemption that worked in that place, for the master who had sent her there. Let him make his profit of it; her salvation was his peril. The activities and judgments of the world in that new January were recorded in her, but she, being magically commanded, was yet free. She lightly rose at last and left the papers lying. She went out of the waiting-room and of the station; she took her way again towards Highgate. By the time she had come into the street, she had moved again through receding time. It was again October, and a fresh wind was blowing.
Her mind now was a little subdued from her earlier joy. She caught herself looking forward to a tiresomeness, some kind of dull conversation. There were people waiting for her who would want things repeated or explained. “And I’m not”, Betty protested, “very good at explaining. I’ve been trying to explain something to my mother for a long time, but I’ve never got it over.” She spoke aloud, but not to anyone present; indeed there were few people present; the streets were emptier, and there was no one by or in front of her. She spoke almost to the City itself, not in defence or excuse, but as a fact. She heard no answer, except that the air seemed to heighten, and the light in it to grow, as if it proposed to her something of encouragement and hope. If she had seen Jonathan’s other picture she might have recognised the vibration of that light, though neither she nor anyone could have guessed why or how he had been permitted that understanding of a thing he had never known in itself. “And”, she went on, “I shan’t feel as good as this presently. I— I shall very likely have a headache too, which’ll make it worse.” The remark died into the air; she walked on, trying not to be peevish. She came — so quickly — to the bottom of the Hill, and as she saw it waiting to be climbed (so conscious did all the streets seem) she said, with the first touch of real distress: “It does seem a shame.” It did — to leave this goodness for the stupid business before her; she knew it would be stupid, and she could feel the first symptoms of the headache. However, it could not be helped; someone had to do the job, and if it were she — She became conscious that she was making something of a difficulty out of climbing the Hill, and quickened her steps. The dullness she expected would be but a game, and she would play it well. But as she mounted, the sense that she was near to leaving the City grew on her. She turned once or twice and looked back. It lay, lovely and light before her, but away to the East it was already a little shadowed, and the West was already rose and crimson as the sun sank. She would not, she knew, be here when it did sink; the night in this City was not for her. Another night waited her. It seemed to her that never when she had walked here before, had she felt it so hard to return. Then the sadness and the pain had taken her suddenly at the end. Now there was preparation; they approached, and she had become protestant, almost rebellious at their approach. Why leave? why leave? She was already on the edge of the shadow over the Hill’s height, and all before her the sunset, over the City — another sunset, another sun-glowed not as if the light were going but as if the night were coming, a holier beauty, a richer mystery. She closed her hand at her side, and it was warm as if she held another hand in hers, and that hand-holding surely belonged here. On the very junction of the two worlds — rather, in the very junction of them within her — the single goodness of the one precipitated itself into the other. She knew its name; she knew who it was who, in that, belonged to this. There someone was denying it; here it was native. She called aloud: ‘Jonathan!” On the edge of shadow, so near and so near the dark house that waited her, so near some power in which this bright self and joyous life would be again lost, she cried out on her lover. She stamped one small foot on the pavement. The demands of the other Betty were rising in her, but the energy of this was still with her. She just stopped herself saying: “I won’t go!”; that would be silly, but she called, her very mildness mutinying, on the name of her only happiness, wishing to claim and clutch that happiness — she called again: “Jonathan! Jonathan!” Freely and fully her voice rang out, as never in all her young tormented life had her mortal mouth called. Immortal, she cried to immortality; and the immortal City let the word sound through it and gave it echo and greater meaning in the echo: “Jonathan! Jonathan!” Alone in the growing shadow, she looked down the Hill, and listened and waited. If he were there, perhaps she could be there; if not — The night about her grew; she lingered still.
Far away, in London’s mortal measurement, but brief time enough immortally, the two dead girls walked. It was not, to them, so very long since they had left the Parka few days or even less. But Evelyn had reached what would have been on earth the point of exhaustion from tears; there was here no such exhaustion, but as if by a kind of reflexive action she stopped. She might begin again when she would have been capable of beginning again; at present she could not. She did not dare leave Lester, though she did not like Lester any the better for that. Lester still interfered with her chatter, and without her chatter this world was almost unbearable to her. She was afraid of losing that escape from its pressure, nor did she know how Lester could bear that pressure. And if Lester would not listen, there was no one else to do so. Her fright required of her that relief, and she hated Lester for depriving her of it. Yet Lester still held her arm, and in default of better she dare not lose that pressure. And sometimes Lester did say something and encourage her to answer — only generally about silly uninteresting things.
Once, as they had been coming along Holborn, Lester had stopped and looked in one of those curious windows which were no windows. She had said hesitantly to her companion: “Evelyn, look, can you see any difference?” Evelyn had looked, but she had not seen anything particular. It seemed to be a shop with electric lamps and fires displayed — all vague and unreal enough. But Lester was looking at them seriously. She said: “That’s the kind I’ve always meant to get. Do you — see, the one in the back row?” Evelyn did not even want to look. She said in a high strained voice: “Don’t be silly, Lester. What’s the good?” It gave her some pleasure to retaliate; besides, she never had been interested in such convenient details. She would complain if things went wrong, but she would take no care to have them go right. Lester almost smiled; it was a sad little smile, but it was her first unpremeditated smile. She said: “No. But they do somehow look more real. And we both meant to get one. Richard was going to try and get me one for my birthday. Do be interested, Evelyn.” Evelyn said sullenly: “You wouldn’t be interested in what I was saying,” and pulled away.
Lester with a small sigh had turned with her. That shop had for a moment seemed less like a facade and more like a shop. It had held the sort of thing that had once concerned her — not only for her own convenience, or to improve on her neighbours, but for a pleasure in its own neatness and effectiveness. As she turned away, at a corner, Evelyn felt her stop so suddenly that she herself gave a little squeal of fright. The grip on her arm relaxed, and then was so tightened that she squealed again in protest. But Lester had been rough and unkind. She had said: “Keep quiet — ” and had choked and drawn a deep breath or two. Evelyn felt how unfair it was; first she was to talk, and then not to talk, and how could anyone know? She felt herself beginning to cry, and then they had gone on again in silence, up northward, till they had come out of all the parts of London she knew, and were in some long sordid street. There was still no one else.
But suddenly there was another sound. High beyond and above them a voice called, piercing the air and shaking their hearts. Both girls abruptly stood still. It was a human voice, a girl’s voice, crying high in the silence, with assurance and belief. Lester threw up her head; she did not recognize the voice but the note of it lifted her. It was a woman’s call; and that was the way a woman should call in this City, the way she should call if she — if she too could dare. She thought of Richard as she had just now seen him in Holborn, and she opened her mouth to send his name also ringing over the streets, as this other name which she could not yet catch was ringing. She heard her voice, “as if hoarse with long disuse”, say dully: “Richard!” The sound horrified her. Was this all she could do? She tried again. It was.
She made a third effort, and again she heard from her own mouth only the flat voice of the dead. She was possessed by it. Death, it seemed, was not over; it had only just begun. She was dying further. She could not call; presently she would not be able to speak; then not to see — neither the high stars nor the meaningless lights — yet still, though meaningless, faintly metropolitan. But she would find even this pale light too much, and presently would creep away from it towards one of those great open entrances that loomed here and there, for inside one of them she could hide from the light. Then she would go farther in, so as not to see even the entrance, in spite of the brick wall that stood before it; farther in, and a little way down the coiling stairs. If Richard came along the street then . . . no; perhaps she would wait at the entrance till he did, and then call him in this faint croak. She had pushed him away once, but now she would not push him away; she would call him and keep him; let him too find it — all the stairs, all the living dead. It was not the dead, as she had thought, it was the living who dwelled in those tunnels of earth — deep and O deep beyond any railways, in the tubes they themselves, thrusting and pushing, hollowed out for their shelter. Richard should no longer be pushed away; he should be there with her, prisoner with her, prisoner to her. If only he too would die, and come!
She saw all this in her mind for as long as it took that other voice to call once more. She saw it clearly — for an aeon; this was what she wanted; this was what she was. This was she, damned; yes, and she was damned; she, being that, was damned. There was no help, unless she could be something other, and there was no power in her to be anything other. As she stood, in a trance of horror at herself or at hell, or at both, being one, a word pierced her brain. The word was “Jonathan!” The far voice was calling: “Jonathan!” She knew the word; it was the name of Richard’s friend. She had not herself much interest in Jonathan, but she had asked him to dinner because Richard liked him, she had studied his paintings with goodwill because Richard liked him. She recognized the name, and the name struck through her vision of the Pit. She was not yet so; no, she was not yet there; she was in the streets, and breathed still the open air, and knew the calls of love. Something, in or out of her mind, said to her: “Would it be unfair?” She answered, with the courage and good sense native to her, but with a new and holy shyness: “It would be perhaps extreme.” “It would be your own extreme,” the voice, if it were a voice, continued. She said: “Yes.”
The unspoken dialogue ceased. The call from above had ceased. She seemed to have shut her eyes; she opened them. She saw Evelyn in front of her, running hard. She called, and even as she did so she realized that she could call Evelyn easily enough, and that that was not surprising — she called: “Evelyn!” The silent running figure looked back over its shoulder, and Evelyn’s thin voice came to her clearly. It said: “That was Betty.” It turned its head again and ran on. Lester also began to run. The face that had looked back had startled her; it had been excited and pleased. She remembered Betty, and she remembered that Evelyn had not been very nice to Betty. They had once all three run in this way through the grounds of their school by the sea; indeed, as she ran, the bushes of those grounds showed through the houses and shops. Betty had run away, and Evelyn had run after Betty, and suddenly she herself had run after Evelyn. It had not been often she took the trouble, for Betty bored her, and anyhow Evelyn never did anything to Betty; even then she had been calling: “I only want to talk to you.” But something in the talk made Betty cry, and for once Lester had interfered; and now, as then, they ran down the path; no, not down the, path but up the street, towards Highgate, out to the bottom of the Hill. High above them a single figure watched them come.
Betty watched them; they were at first far away, and she did not know them. While she had gone out on her appointed way, she had been free from pain. But the terrible laws of that place gave her what she wanted when she insisted on it. Her distress, and now the nearness of her distress, might excuse a rebellion; it could not modify its results. She had stamped on the pavement, and (as in the old tales) the inhabitants of that place sprang at once into being. She had called on something she knew. But that something was more deeply engaged on its work in the world of the shadow behind her, and this world would not give her that. She saw at a distance the two running women, strange and remote as in a painting or a poem. She watched them curiously, and the time went by, as long to her as to Evelyn racing up the slope or to Lester outdistanced behind. Lester lost ground; she did not know clearly why she went, but Evelyn did; therefore the one ran faster and the other slower, for still in the outer circles of that world a cruel purpose could outspeed a vague pity. But the cruelty could not reach its end. Betty waited till, halfway up the Hill, the first running figure lifted its head slightly, so that she saw the face and knew it for Evelyn’s. She took a step or two back, and the night of this world into which she had hesitated to advance took her as she retreated. Her nightmare possessed her; now it was happening. She screamed and turned and fled.
Evelyn called: “Betty! Betty! stop!” but to Betty’s cars the name rang confused. It had been “Bettina!” in her dreams; it was “Bettina!” now. She ran. There was but a short street or two between her and the house; they were to her the natural streets, the sad unhappy streets of Highgate. She forgot her fear of the house in her fear of Evelyn. “Bettina! Bettina!” O lost, lost! but now nearer the house, and the cold quiet thing that waited her in the porch. “Bettina! Bettina!” Noshe was there, and she and the shape by the door were no longer separate. A great exhaustion fell on her; her eyes closed; her body failed; she pushed weakly at the door and stumbled through. She fell; someone caught her; she knew nothing more.
Outside the house Evelyn stopped. For her that other world had not changed. It was as quiet and empty, as earthly and unearthly as ever. It was not quite dark; it never yet had been quite dark. The soft, intense, and holy darkness of that City was not known to her. She stood, gently panting, as a girl might who has wholeheartedly run from and been pursued by a welcome lover: so, and yet not so, for that swift and generous animality was not hers. The kind of rage that was in her was the eager stirring ‘of the second death. She had wanted Betty, and now she did not know what she wanted. The house was before her, but she was afraid to try to enter it.
At that moment Lester caught her up. She said, with an imperious demand: “What are you doing, Evelyn? Can’t you let her be?” and as she spoke she seemed to herself again to be saying something she had said before — away in those gardens by the sea, a great sea the sound of which, beyond her own voice, she could dimly hear as she had so often heard it in her bed at school. It was almost as if, behind her, the whole City moved. She half-lifted her hand to catch Evelyn by the shoulder, and that too she had once done; but she let it fall, for now the revolt in her flesh was too strong. Yet, as if she had been swung round by that once-impetuous hand, Evelyn turned. She said, as she had said before, in that foolish slurred voice whose protestations provoked disbelief: “What do you mean? I wasn’t doing anything.”
The answer shocked Lester back into fuller consciousness. They were no longer schoolgirls; they were — what were they? Women; dead women; living women; women on whose lips such words could have no meaning. The excuse of a child in a garden by the sea might have been accepted, if it had not been repeated here. But here it became dreadful. In the Park Lester could have half-smiled at it; she could not smile now. She spoke with a fuller and clearer voice than ever it had been in this world; she spoke as a woman, as Richard’s wife, as something more than a vagrant, even if not yet a citizen; and she said: “Don’t, my dear. It isn’t worth it — ” and as if by compulsion she added: “here.”
Evelyn stopped, almost as if detaching herself from the other’s hand, and took a step away. Lester looked up at the house. It seemed to her strange and awful. Betty had taken refuge in it, as once on a garden-seat among the bushes. Over it, close to it, a lone star hung. The other houses were shadowy and uncertain; this alone was solid and real. It stood out, and within its porch the entrance was as black as one of those other dark entrances which she feared. As she gazed, there came from the house a small human sound. It was someone crying. The half-suppressed unhappy sobs were the only noise that broke the silence. Evelyn’s sobs and chattering teeth had broken it in the Park, but Evelyn was not crying now. It was Betty who was crying — among the bushes, in the house, without strength, without hope. Lester, with her own yearning in her bones, stirred restlessly, in an impatient refusal of her impatient impulse to go and tell her to stop. In those earlier days, she had not gone; she had hesitated a moment just so, and then turned away. Betty must really learn to stand up for herself. “Must she indeed?” Lester’s own voice said to her. She exclaimed, with the fervent habit of her mortality: “Hell!”
The word ran from her in all directions, as if a dozen small animals had been released and gone racing away. They fled up and down the street, beating out the echo of the word with their quick pattering feet, but the larger went for the house in front of them and disappeared into the porch, She saw them, and was appalled; what new injury had she loosed? There was then no help. She too must go there. And Richard? She had thought that in this terrible London she had lost Richard, but now it seemed to her that this was the only place where she might meet Richard. She had seen him twice, and the second time with some undeclared renewal of love. What might not be granted a third time? voice? a word? Ghosts had spoken; ghost as he was to her in those first appearances, he too might speak. To go into the house might be to lose him. The quiet crying, still shockingly suppressed, continued. Lester hung irresolute.
Behind her, Evelyn’s voice said: “Oh come away!” At the words Lester, for the first time in her life saw a temptation precisely as it is when it has ceased to tempt — repugnant, implausible, mean. She said nothing. She went forward and up the steps. She went on into Lady Wallingford’s house.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02