“MRS. FLANDERS”—“Poor Betty Flanders”—”Dear Betty”—”She’s very attractive still”—“Odd she don’t marry again!” “There’s Captain Barfoot to be sure — calls every Wednesday as regular as clockwork, and never brings his wife.”
“But that’s Ellen Barfoot’s fault,” the ladies of Scarborough said. “She don’t put herself out for no one.”
“A man likes to have a son — that we know.”
“Some tumours have to be cut; but the sort my mother had you bear with for years and years, and never even have a cup of tea brought up to you in bed.”
(Mrs. Barfoot was an invalid.)
Elizabeth Flanders, of whom this and much more than this had been said and would be said, was, of course, a widow in her prime. She was half-way between forty and fifty. Years and sorrow between them; the death of Seabrook, her husband; three boys; poverty; a house on the outskirts of Scarborough; her brother, poor Morty’s, downfall and possible demise — for where was he? what was he? Shading her eyes, she looked along the road for Captain Barfoot — yes, there he was, punctual as ever; the attentions of the Captain — all ripened Betty Flanders, enlarged her figure, tinged her face with jollity, and flooded her eyes for no reason that any one could see perhaps three times a day.
True, there’s no harm in crying for one’s husband, and the tombstone, though plain, was a solid piece of work, and on summer’s days when the widow brought her boys to stand there one felt kindly towards her. Hats were raised higher than usual; wives tugged their husbands’ arms. Seabrook lay six foot beneath, dead these many years; enclosed in three shells; the crevices sealed with lead, so that, had earth and wood been glass, doubtless his very face lay visible beneath, the face of a young man whiskered, shapely, who had gone out duck-shooting and refused to change his boots.
“Merchant of this city,” the tombstone said; though why Betty Flanders had chosen so to call him when, as many still remembered, he had only sat behind an office window for three months, and before that had broken horses, ridden to hounds, farmed a few fields, and run a little wild — well, she had to call him something. An example for the boys.
Had he, then, been nothing? An unanswerable question, since even if it weren’t the habit of the undertaker to close the eyes, the light so soon goes out of them. At first, part of herself; now one of a company, he had merged in the grass, the sloping hillside, the thousand white stones, some slanting, others upright, the decayed wreaths, the crosses of green tin, the narrow yellow paths, and the lilacs that drooped in April, with a scent like that of an invalid’s bedroom, over the churchyard wall. Seabrook was now all that; and when, with her skirt hitched up, feeding the chickens, she heard the bell for service or funeral, that was Seabrook’s voice — the voice of the dead.
The rooster had been known to fly on her shoulder and peck her neck, so that now she carried a stick or took one of the children with her when she went to feed the fowls.
“Wouldn’t you like my knife, mother?” said Archer.
Sounding at the same moment as the bell, her son’s voice mixed life and death inextricably, exhilaratingly.
“What a big knife for a small boy!” she said. She took it to please him. Then the rooster flew out of the hen-house, and, shouting to Archer to shut the door into the kitchen garden, Mrs. Flanders set her meal down, clucked for the hens, went bustling about the orchard, and was seen from over the way by Mrs. Cranch, who, beating her mat against the wall, held it for a moment suspended while she observed to Mrs. Page next door that Mrs. Flanders was in the orchard with the chickens.
Mrs. Page, Mrs. Cranch, and Mrs. Garfit could see Mrs. Flanders in the orchard because the orchard was a piece of Dods Hill enclosed; and Dods Hill dominated the village. No words can exaggerate the importance of Dods Hill. It was the earth; the world against the sky; the horizon of how many glances can best be computed by those who have lived all their lives in the same village, only leaving it once to fight in the Crimea, like old George Garfit, leaning over his garden gate smoking his pipe. The progress of the sun was measured by it; the tint of the day laid against it to be judged.
“Now she’s going up the hill with little John,” said Mrs. Cranch to Mrs. Garfit, shaking her mat for the last time, and bustling indoors. Opening the orchard gate, Mrs. Flanders walked to the top of Dods Hill, holding John by the hand. Archer and Jacob ran in front or lagged behind; but they were in the Roman fortress when she came there, and shouting out what ships were to be seen in the bay. For there was a magnificent view — moors behind, sea in front, and the whole of Scarborough from one end to the other laid out flat like a puzzle. Mrs. Flanders, who was growing stout, sat down in the fortress and looked about her.
The entire gamut of the view’s changes should have been known to her; its winter aspect, spring, summer and autumn; how storms came up from the sea; how the moors shuddered and brightened as the clouds went over; she should have noted the red spot where the villas were building; and the criss-cross of lines where the allotments were cut; and the diamond flash of little glass houses in the sun. Or, if details like these escaped her, she might have let her fancy play upon the gold tint of the sea at sunset, and thought how it lapped in coins of gold upon the shingle. Little pleasure boats shoved out into it; the black arm of the pier hoarded it up. The whole city was pink and gold; domed; mist- wreathed; resonant; strident. Banjoes strummed; the parade smelt of tar which stuck to the heels; goats suddenly cantered their carriages through crowds. It was observed how well the Corporation had laid out the flower-beds. Sometimes a straw hat was blown away. Tulips burnt in the sun. Numbers of sponge-bag trousers were stretched in rows. Purple bonnets fringed soft, pink, querulous faces on pillows in bath chairs. Triangular hoardings were wheeled along by men in white coats. Captain George Boase had caught a monster shark. One side of the triangular hoarding said so in red, blue, and yellow letters; and each line ended with three differently coloured notes of exclamation.
So that was a reason for going down into the Aquarium, where the sallow blinds, the stale smell of spirits of salt, the bamboo chairs, the tables with ash-trays, the revolving fish, the attendant knitting behind six or seven chocolate boxes (often she was quite alone with the fish for hours at a time) remained in the mind as part of the monster shark, he himself being only a flabby yellow receptacle, like an empty Gladstone bag in a tank. No one had ever been cheered by the Aquarium; but the faces of those emerging quickly lost their dim, chilled expression when they perceived that it was only by standing in a queue that one could be admitted to the pier. Once through the turnstiles, every one walked for a yard or two very briskly; some flagged at this stall; others at that.
But it was the band that drew them all to it finally; even the fishermen on the lower pier taking up their pitch within its range.
The band played in the Moorish kiosk. Number nine went up on the board. It was a waltz tune. The pale girls, the old widow lady, the three Jews lodging in the same boarding-house, the dandy, the major, the horse-dealer, and the gentleman of independent means, all wore the same blurred, drugged expression, and through the chinks in the planks at their feet they could see the green summer waves, peacefully, amiably, swaying round the iron pillars of the pier.
But there was a time when none of this had any existence (thought the young man leaning against the railings). Fix your eyes upon the lady’s skirt; the grey one will do — above the pink silk stockings. It changes; drapes her ankles — the nineties; then it amplifies — the seventies; now it’s burnished red and stretched above a crinoline — the sixties; a tiny black foot wearing a white cotton stocking peeps out. Still sitting there? Yes — she’s still on the pier. The silk now is sprigged with roses, but somehow one no longer sees so clearly. There’s no pier beneath us. The heavy chariot may swing along the turnpike road, but there’s no pier for it to stop at, and how grey and turbulent the sea is in the seventeenth century! Let’s to the museum. Cannon-balls; arrow-heads; Roman glass and a forceps green with verdigris. The Rev. Jaspar Floyd dug them up at his own expense early in the forties in the Roman camp on Dods Hill — see the little ticket with the faded writing on it.
And now, what’s the next thing to see in Scarborough?
Mrs. Flanders sat on the raised circle of the Roman camp, patching Jacob’s breeches; only looking up as she sucked the end of her cotton, or when some insect dashed at her, boomed in her ear, and was gone.
John kept trotting up and slapping down in her lap grass or dead leaves which he called “tea,” and she arranged them methodically but absent-mindedly, laying the flowery heads of the grasses together, thinking how Archer had been awake again last night; the church clock was ten or thirteen minutes fast; she wished she could buy Garfit’s acre.
“That’s an orchid leaf, Johnny. Look at the little brown spots. Come, my dear. We must go home. Ar-cher! Ja-cob!”
“Ar-cher! Ja-cob!” Johnny piped after her, pivoting round on his heel, and strewing the grass and leaves in his hands as if he were sowing seed. Archer and Jacob jumped up from behind the mound where they had been crouching with the intention of springing upon their mother unexpectedly, and they all began to walk slowly home.
“Who is that?” said Mrs. Flanders, shading her eyes.
“That old man in the road?” said Archer, looking below.
“He’s not an old man,” said Mrs. Flanders. “He’s — no, he’s not — I thought it was the Captain, but it’s Mr. Floyd. Come along, boys.”
“Oh, bother Mr. Floyd!” said Jacob, switching off a thistle’s head, for he knew already that Mr. Floyd was going to teach them Latin, as indeed he did for three years in his spare time, out of kindness, for there was no other gentleman in the neighbourhood whom Mrs. Flanders could have asked to do such a thing, and the elder boys were getting beyond her, and must be got ready for school, and it was more than most clergymen would have done, coming round after tea, or having them in his own room — as he could fit it in — for the parish was a very large one, and Mr. Floyd, like his father before him, visited cottages miles away on the moors, and, like old Mr. Floyd, was a great scholar, which made it so unlikely — she had never dreamt of such a thing. Ought she to have guessed? But let alone being a scholar he was eight years younger than she was. She knew his mother — old Mrs. Floyd. She had tea there. And it was that very evening when she came back from having tea with old Mrs. Floyd that she found the note in the hall and took it into the kitchen with her when she went to give Rebecca the fish, thinking it must be something about the boys.
“Mr. Floyd brought it himself, did he? — I think the cheese must be in the parcel in the hall — oh, in the hall —” for she was reading. No, it was not about the boys.
“Yes, enough for fish-cakes to-morrow certainly — Perhaps Captain Barfoot —” she had come to the word “love.” She went into the garden and read, leaning against the walnut tree to steady herself. Up and down went her breast. Seabrook came so vividly before her. She shook her head and was looking through her tears at the little shifting leaves against the yellow sky when three geese, half-running, half-flying, scuttled across the lawn with Johnny behind them, brandishing a stick.
Mrs. Flanders flushed with anger.
“How many times have I told you?” she cried, and seized him and snatched his stick away from him.
“But they’d escaped!” he cried, struggling to get free.
“You’re a very naughty boy. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times. I won’t have you chasing the geese!” she said, and crumpling Mr. Floyd’s letter in her hand, she held Johnny fast and herded the geese back into the orchard.
“How could I think of marriage!” she said to herself bitterly, as she fastened the gate with a piece of wire. She had always disliked red hair in men, she thought, thinking of Mr. Floyd’s appearance, that night when the boys had gone to bed. And pushing her work-box away, she drew the blotting-paper towards her, and read Mr. Floyd’s letter again, and her breast went up and down when she came to the word “love,” but not so fast this time, for she saw Johnny chasing the geese, and knew that it was impossible for her to marry any one — let alone Mr. Floyd, who was so much younger than she was, but what a nice man — and such a scholar too.
“Dear Mr. Floyd,” she wrote. —“Did I forget about the cheese?” she wondered, laying down her pen. No, she had told Rebecca that the cheese was in the hall. “I am much surprised . . . ” she wrote.
But the letter which Mr. Floyd found on the table when he got up early next morning did not begin “I am much surprised,” and it was such a motherly, respectful, inconsequent, regretful letter that he kept it for many years; long after his marriage with Miss Wimbush, of Andover; long after he had left the village. For he asked for a parish in Sheffield, which was given him; and, sending for Archer, Jacob, and John to say good-bye, he told them to choose whatever they liked in his study to remember him by. Archer chose a paper-knife, because he did not like to choose anything too good; Jacob chose the works of Byron in one volume; John, who was still too young to make a proper choice, chose Mr. Floyd’s kitten, which his brothers thought an absurd choice, but Mr. Floyd upheld him when he said: “It has fur like you.” Then Mr. Floyd spoke about the King’s Navy (to which Archer was going); and about Rugby (to which Jacob was going); and next day he received a silver salver and went — first to Sheffield, where he met Miss Wimbush, who was on a visit to her uncle, then to Hackney — then to Maresfield House, of which he became the principal, and finally, becoming editor of a well-known series of Ecclesiastical Biographies, he retired to Hampstead with his wife and daughter, and is often to be seen feeding the ducks on Leg of Mutton Pond. As for Mrs. Flanders’s letter — when he looked for it the other day he could not find it, and did not like to ask his wife whether she had put it away. Meeting Jacob in Piccadilly lately, he recognized him after three seconds. But Jacob had grown such a fine young man that Mr. Floyd did not like to stop him in the street.
“Dear me,” said Mrs. Flanders, when she read in the Scarborough and Harrogate Courier that the Rev. Andrew Floyd, etc., etc., had been made Principal of Maresfield House, “that must be our Mr. Floyd.”
A slight gloom fell upon the table. Jacob was helping himself to jam; the postman was talking to Rebecca in the kitchen; there was a bee humming at the yellow flower which nodded at the open window. They were all alive, that is to say, while poor Mr. Floyd was becoming Principal of Maresfield House.
Mrs. Flanders got up and went over to the fender and stroked Topaz on the neck behind the ears.
“Poor Topaz,” she said (for Mr. Floyd’s kitten was now a very old cat, a little mangy behind the ears, and one of these days would have to be killed).
“Poor old Topaz,” said Mrs. Flanders, as he stretched himself out in the sun, and she smiled, thinking how she had had him gelded, and how she did not like red hair in men. Smiling, she went into the kitchen.
Jacob drew rather a dirty pocket-handkerchief across his face. He went upstairs to his room.
The stag-beetle dies slowly (it was John who collected the beetles). Even on the second day its legs were supple. But the butterflies were dead. A whiff of rotten eggs had vanquished the pale clouded yellows which came pelting across the orchard and up Dods Hill and away on to the moor, now lost behind a furze bush, then off again helter-skelter in a broiling sun. A fritillary basked on a white stone in the Roman camp. From the valley came the sound of church bells. They were all eating roast beef in Scarborough; for it was Sunday when Jacob caught the pale clouded yellows in the clover field, eight miles from home.
Rebecca had caught the death’s-head moth in the kitchen.
A strong smell of camphor came from the butterfly boxes.
Mixed with the smell of camphor was the unmistakable smell of seaweed. Tawny ribbons hung on the door. The sun beat straight upon them.
The upper wings of the moth which Jacob held were undoubtedly marked with kidney-shaped spots of a fulvous hue. But there was no crescent upon the underwing. The tree had fallen the night he caught it. There had been a volley of pistol-shots suddenly in the depths of the wood. And his mother had taken him for a burglar when he came home late. The only one of her sons who never obeyed her, she said.
Morris called it “an extremely local insect found in damp or marshy places.” But Morris is sometimes wrong. Sometimes Jacob, choosing a very fine pen, made a correction in the margin.
The tree had fallen, though it was a windless night, and the lantern, stood upon the ground, had lit up the still green leaves and the dead beech leaves. It was a dry place. A toad was there. And the red underwing had circled round the light and flashed and gone. The red underwing had never come back, though Jacob had waited. It was after twelve when he crossed the lawn and saw his mother in the bright room, playing patience, sitting up.
“How you frightened me!” she had cried. She thought something dreadful had happened. And he woke Rebecca, who had to be up so early.
There he stood pale, come out of the depths of darkness, in the hot room, blinking at the light.
No, it could not be a straw-bordered underwing.
The mowing-machine always wanted oiling. Barnet turned it under Jacob’s window, and it creaked — creaked, and rattled across the lawn and creaked again.
Now it was clouding over.
Back came the sun, dazzlingly.
It fell like an eye upon the stirrups, and then suddenly and yet very gently rested upon the bed, upon the alarum clock, and upon the butterfly box stood open. The pale clouded yellows had pelted over the moor; they had zigzagged across the purple clover. The fritillaries flaunted along the hedgerows. The blues settled on little bones lying on the turf with the sun beating on them, and the painted ladies and the peacocks feasted upon bloody entrails dropped by a hawk. Miles away from home, in a hollow among teasles beneath a ruin, he had found the commas. He had seen a white admiral circling higher and higher round an oak tree, but he had never caught it. An old cottage woman living alone, high up, had told him of a purple butterfly which came every summer to her garden. The fox cubs played in the gorse in the early morning, she told him. And if you looked out at dawn you could always see two badgers. Sometimes they knocked each other over like two boys fighting, she said.
“You won’t go far this afternoon, Jacob,” said his mother, popping her head in at the door, “for the Captain’s coming to say good-bye.” It was the last day of the Easter holidays.
Wednesday was Captain Barfoot’s day. He dressed himself very neatly in blue serge, took his rubber-shod stick — for he was lame and wanted two fingers on the left hand, having served his country — and set out from the house with the flagstaff precisely at four o’clock in the afternoon.
At three Mr. Dickens, the bath-chair man, had called for Mrs. Barfoot.
“Move me,” she would say to Mr. Dickens, after sitting on the esplanade for fifteen minutes. And again, “That’ll do, thank you, Mr. Dickens.” At the first command he would seek the sun; at the second he would stay the chair there in the bright strip.
An old inhabitant himself, he had much in common with Mrs. Barfoot — James Coppard’s daughter. The drinking-fountain, where West Street joins Broad Street, is the gift of James Coppard, who was mayor at the time of Queen Victoria’s jubilee, and Coppard is painted upon municipal watering-carts and over shop windows, and upon the zinc blinds of solicitors’ consulting-room windows. But Ellen Barfoot never visited the Aquarium (though she had known Captain Boase who had caught the shark quite well), and when the men came by with the posters she eyed them superciliously, for she knew that she would never see the Pierrots, or the brothers Zeno, or Daisy Budd and her troupe of performing seals. For Ellen Barfoot in her bath-chair on the esplanade was a prisoner — civilization’s prisoner — all the bars of her cage falling across the esplanade on sunny days when the town hall, the drapery stores, the swimming-bath, and the memorial hall striped the ground with shadow.
An old inhabitant himself, Mr. Dickens would stand a little behind her, smoking his pipe. She would ask him questions — who people were — who now kept Mr. Jones’s shop — then about the season — and had Mrs. Dickens tried, whatever it might be — the words issuing from her lips like crumbs of dry biscuit.
She closed her eyes. Mr. Dickens took a turn. The feelings of a man had not altogether deserted him, though as you saw him coming towards you, you noticed how one knobbed black boot swung tremulously in front of the other; how there was a shadow between his waistcoat and his trousers; how he leant forward unsteadily, like an old horse who finds himself suddenly out of the shafts drawing no cart. But as Mr. Dickens sucked in the smoke and puffed it out again, the feelings of a man were perceptible in his eyes. He was thinking how Captain Barfoot was now on his way to Mount Pleasant; Captain Barfoot, his master. For at home in the little sitting-room above the mews, with the canary in the window, and the girls at the sewing-machine, and Mrs. Dickens huddled up with the rheumatics — at home where he was made little of, the thought of being in the employ of Captain Barfoot supported him. He liked to think that while he chatted with Mrs. Barfoot on the front, he helped the Captain on his way to Mrs. Flanders. He, a man, was in charge of Mrs. Barfoot, a woman.
Turning, he saw that she was chatting with Mrs. Rogers. Turning again, he saw that Mrs. Rogers had moved on. So he came back to the bath-chair, and Mrs. Barfoot asked him the time, and he took out his great silver watch and told her the time very obligingly, as if he knew a great deal more about the time and everything than she did. But Mrs. Barfoot knew that Captain Barfoot was on his way to Mrs. Flanders.
Indeed he was well on his way there, having left the tram, and seeing Dods Hill to the south-east, green against a blue sky that was suffused with dust colour on the horizon. He was marching up the hill. In spite of his lameness there was something military in his approach. Mrs. Jarvis, as she came out of the Rectory gate, saw him coming, and her Newfoundland dog, Nero, slowly swept his tail from side to side.
“Oh, Captain Barfoot!” Mrs. Jarvis exclaimed.
“Good-day, Mrs. Jarvis,” said the Captain.
They walked on together, and when they reached Mrs. Flanders’s gate Captain Barfoot took off his tweed cap, and said, bowing very courteously:
“Good-day to you, Mrs. Jarvis.”
And Mrs. Jarvis walked on alone.
She was going to walk on the moor. Had she again been pacing her lawn late at night? Had she again tapped on the study window and cried: “Look at the moon, look at the moon, Herbert!”
And Herbert looked at the moon.
Mrs. Jarvis walked on the moor when she was unhappy, going as far as a certain saucer-shaped hollow, though she always meant to go to a more distant ridge; and there she sat down, and took out the little book hidden beneath her cloak and read a few lines of poetry, and looked about her. She was not very unhappy, and, seeing that she was forty-five, never perhaps would be very unhappy, desperately unhappy that is, and leave her husband, and ruin a good man’s career, as she sometimes threatened.
Still there is no need to say what risks a clergyman’s wife runs when she walks on the moor. Short, dark, with kindling eyes, a pheasant’s feather in her hat, Mrs. Jarvis was just the sort of woman to lose her faith upon the moors — to confound her God with the universal that is — but she did not lose her faith, did not leave her husband, never read her poem through, and went on walking the moors, looking at the moon behind the elm trees, and feeling as she sat on the grass high above Scarborough . . . Yes, yes, when the lark soars; when the sheep, moving a step or two onwards, crop the turf, and at the same time set their bells tinkling; when the breeze first blows, then dies down, leaving the cheek kissed; when the ships on the sea below seem to cross each other and pass on as if drawn by an invisible hand; when there are distant concussions in the air and phantom horsemen galloping, ceasing; when the horizon swims blue, green, emotional — then Mrs. Jarvis, heaving a sigh, thinks to herself, “If only some one could give me . . . if I could give some one. . . . ” But she does not know what she wants to give, nor who could give it her.
“Mrs. Flanders stepped out only five minutes ago, Captain,” said Rebecca. Captain Barfoot sat him down in the arm-chair to wait. Resting his elbows on the arms, putting one hand over the other, sticking his lame leg straight out, and placing the stick with the rubber ferrule beside it, he sat perfectly still. There was something rigid about him. Did he think? Probably the same thoughts again and again. But were they “nice” thoughts, interesting thoughts? He was a man with a temper; tenacious, faithful. Women would have felt, “Here is law. Here is order. Therefore we must cherish this man. He is on the Bridge at night,” and, handing him his cup, or whatever it might be, would run on to visions of shipwreck and disaster, in which all the passengers come tumbling from their cabins, and there is the captain, buttoned in his pea-jacket, matched with the storm, vanquished by it but by none other. “Yet I have a soul,” Mrs. Jarvis would bethink her, as Captain Barfoot suddenly blew his nose in a great red bandanna handkerchief, “and it’s the man’s stupidity that’s the cause of this, and the storm’s my storm as well as his” . . . so Mrs. Jarvis would bethink her when the Captain dropped in to see them and found Herbert out, and spent two or three hours, almost silent, sitting in the arm-chair. But Betty Flanders thought nothing of the kind.
“Oh, Captain,” said Mrs. Flanders, bursting into the drawing-room, “I had to run after Barker’s man . . . I hope Rebecca . . . I hope Jacob . . . ”
She was very much out of breath, yet not at all upset, and as she put down the hearth-brush which she had bought of the oil-man, she said it was hot, flung the window further open, straightened a cover, picked up a book, as if she were very confident, very fond of the Captain, and a great many years younger than he was. Indeed, in her blue apron she did not look more than thirty-five. He was well over fifty.
She moved her hands about the table; the Captain moved his head from side to side, and made little sounds, as Betty went on chattering, completely at his ease — after twenty years.
“Well,” he said at length, “I’ve heard from Mr. Polegate.”
He had heard from Mr. Polegate that he could advise nothing better than to send a boy to one of the universities.
“Mr. Floyd was at Cambridge . . . no, at Oxford . . . well, at one or the other,” said Mrs. Flanders.
She looked out of the window. Little windows, and the lilac and green of the garden were reflected in her eyes.
“Archer is doing very well,” she said. “I have a very nice report from Captain Maxwell.”
“I will leave you the letter to show Jacob,” said the Captain, putting it clumsily back in its envelope.
“Jacob is after his butterflies as usual,” said Mrs. Flanders irritably, but was surprised by a sudden afterthought, “Cricket begins this week, of course.”
“Edward Jenkinson has handed in his resignation,” said Captain Barfoot.
“Then you will stand for the Council?” Mrs. Flanders exclaimed, looking the Captain full in the face.
“Well, about that,” Captain Barfoot began, settling himself rather deeper in his chair.
Jacob Flanders, therefore, went up to Cambridge in October, 1906.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14