What’s the use of trying to read Shakespeare, especially in one of those little thin paper editions whose pages get ruffled, or stuck together with sea-water? Although the plays of Shakespeare had frequently been praised, even quoted, and placed higher than the Greek, never since they started had Jacob managed to read one through. Yet what an opportunity!
For the Scilly Isles had been sighted by Timmy Durrant lying like mountain-tops almost a-wash in precisely the right place. His calculations had worked perfectly, and really the sight of him sitting there, with his hand on the tiller, rosy gilled, with a sprout of beard, looking sternly at the stars, then at a compass, spelling out quite correctly his page of the eternal lesson-book, would have moved a woman. Jacob, of course, was not a woman. The sight of Timmy Durrant was no sight for him, nothing to set against the sky and worship; far from it. They had quarrelled. Why the right way to open a tin of beef, with Shakespeare on board, under conditions of such splendour, should have turned them to sulky schoolboys, none can tell. Tinned beef is cold eating, though; and salt water spoils biscuits; and the waves tumble and lollop much the same hour after hour — tumble and lollop all across the horizon. Now a spray of seaweed floats past-now a log of wood. Ships have been wrecked here. One or two go past, keeping their own side of the road. Timmy knew where they were bound, what their cargoes were, and, by looking through his glass, could tell the name of the line, and even guess what dividends it paid its shareholders. Yet that was no reason for Jacob to turn sulky.
The Scilly Isles had the look of mountain-tops almost a-wash. . . . Unfortunately, Jacob broke the pin of the Primus stove.
The Scilly Isles might well be obliterated by a roller sweeping straight across.
But one must give young men the credit of admitting that, though breakfast eaten under these circumstances is grim, it is sincere enough. No need to make conversation. They got out their pipes.
Timmy wrote up some scientific observations; and — what was the question that broke the silence — the exact time or the day of the month? anyhow, it was spoken without the least awkwardness; in the most matter-of-fact way in the world; and then Jacob began to unbutton his clothes and sat naked, save for his shirt, intending, apparently, to bathe.
The Scilly Isles were turning bluish; and suddenly blue, purple, and green flushed the sea; left it grey; struck a stripe which vanished; but when Jacob had got his shirt over his head the whole floor of the waves was blue and white, rippling and crisp, though now and again a broad purple mark appeared, like a bruise; or there floated an entire emerald tinged with yellow. He plunged. He gulped in water, spat it out, struck with his right arm, struck with his left, was towed by a rope, gasped, splashed, and was hauled on board.
The seat in the boat was positively hot, and the sun warmed his back as he sat naked with a towel in his hand, looking at the Scilly Isles which — confound it! the sail flapped. Shakespeare was knocked overboard. There you could see him floating merrily away, with all his pages ruffling innumerably; and then he went under.
Strangely enough, you could smell violets, or if violets were impossible in July, they must grow something very pungent on the mainland then. The mainland, not so very far off — you could see clefts in the cliffs, white cottages, smoke going up — wore an extraordinary look of calm, of sunny peace, as if wisdom and piety had descended upon the dwellers there. Now a cry sounded, as of a man calling pilchards in a main street. It wore an extraordinary look of piety and peace, as if old men smoked by the door, and girls stood, hands on hips, at the well, and horses stood; as if the end of the world had come, and cabbage fields and stone walls, and coast-guard stations, and, above all, the white sand bays with the waves breaking unseen by any one, rose to heaven in a kind of ecstasy.
But imperceptibly the cottage smoke droops, has the look of a mourning emblem, a flag floating its caress over a grave. The gulls, making their broad flight and then riding at peace, seem to mark the grave.
No doubt if this were Italy, Greece, or even the shores of Spain, sadness would be routed by strangeness and excitement and the nudge of a classical education. But the Cornish hills have stark chimneys standing on them; and, somehow or other, loveliness is infernally sad. Yes, the chimneys and the coast-guard stations and the little bays with the waves breaking unseen by any one make one remember the overpowering sorrow. And what can this sorrow be?
It is brewed by the earth itself. It comes from the houses on the coast. We start transparent, and then the cloud thickens. All history backs our pane of glass. To escape is vain.
But whether this is the right interpretation of Jacob’s gloom as he sat naked, in the sun, looking at the Land’s End, it is impossible to say; for he never spoke a word. Timmy sometimes wondered (only for a second) whether his people bothered him. . . . No matter. There are things that can’t be said. Let’s shake it off. Let’s dry ourselves, and take up the first thing that comes handy. . . . Timmy Durrant’s notebook of scientific observations.
“Now . . . ” said Jacob.
It is a tremendous argument.
Some people can follow every step of the way, and even take a little one, six inches long, by themselves at the end; others remain observant of the external signs.
The eyes fix themselves upon the poker; the right hand takes the poker and lifts it; turns it slowly round, and then, very accurately, replaces it. The left hand, which lies on the knee, plays some stately but intermittent piece of march music. A deep breath is taken; but allowed to evaporate unused. The cat marches across the hearth-rug. No one observes her.
“That’s about as near as I can get to it,” Durrant wound up.
The next minute is quiet as the grave.
“It follows . . . ” said Jacob.
Only half a sentence followed; but these half-sentences are like flags set on tops of buildings to the observer of external sights down below. What was the coast of Cornwall, with its violet scents, and mourning emblems, and tranquil piety, but a screen happening to hang straight behind as his mind marched up?
“It follows . . . ” said Jacob.
“Yes,” said Timmy, after reflection. “That is so.”
Now Jacob began plunging about, half to stretch himself, half in a kind of jollity, no doubt, for the strangest sound issued from his lips as he furled the sail, rubbed the plates — gruff, tuneless — a sort of pasan, for having grasped the argument, for being master of the situation, sunburnt, unshaven, capable into the bargain of sailing round the world in a ten-ton yacht, which, very likely, he would do one of these days instead of settling down in a lawyer’s office, and wearing spats.
“Our friend Masham,” said Timmy Durrant, “would rather not be seen in our company as we are now.” His buttons had come off.
“D’you know Masham’s aunt?” said Jacob.
“Never knew he had one,” said Timmy.
“Masham has millions of aunts,” said Jacob.
“Masham is mentioned in Domesday Book,” said Timmy.
“So are his aunts,” said Jacob.
“His sister,” said Timmy, “is a very pretty girl.”
“That’s what’ll happen to you, Timmy,” said Jacob.
“It’ll happen to you first,” said Timmy.
“But this woman I was telling you about — Masham’s aunt —”
“Oh, do get on,” said Timmy, for Jacob was laughing so much that he could not speak.
“Masham’s aunt . . . ”
Timmy laughed so much that he could not speak.
“Masham’s aunt . . . ”
“What is there about Masham that makes one laugh?” said Timmy.
“Hang it all — a man who swallows his tie-pin,” said Jacob.
“Lord Chancellor before he’s fifty,” said Timmy.
“He’s a gentleman,” said Jacob.
“The Duke of Wellington was a gentleman,” said Timmy.
“Lord Salisbury was.”
“And what about God?” said Jacob.
The Scilly Isles now appeared as if directly pointed at by a golden finger issuing from a cloud; and everybody knows how portentous that sight is, and how these broad rays, whether they light upon the Scilly Isles or upon the tombs of crusaders in cathedrals, always shake the very foundations of scepticism and lead to jokes about God.
“Abide with me:
Fast falls the eventide;
The shadows deepen;
Lord, with me abide,”
sang Timmy Durrant.
“At my place we used to have a hymn which began
Great God, what do I see and hear?”
Gulls rode gently swaying in little companies of two or three quite near the boat; the cormorant, as if following his long strained neck in eternal pursuit, skimmed an inch above the water to the next rock; and the drone of the tide in the caves came across the water, low, monotonous, like the voice of some one talking to himself.
“Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee,”
Like the blunt tooth of some monster, a rock broke the surface; brown; overflown with perpetual waterfalls.
“Rock of Ages,”
Jacob sang, lying on his back, looking up into the sky at midday, from which every shred of cloud had been withdrawn, so that it was like something permanently displayed with the cover off.
By six o’clock a breeze blew in off an icefield; and by seven the water was more purple than blue; and by half-past seven there was a patch of rough gold-beater’s skin round the Scilly Isles, and Durrant’s face, as he sat steering, was of the colour of a red lacquer box polished for generations. By nine all the fire and confusion had gone out of the sky, leaving wedges of apple-green and plates of pale yellow; and by ten the lanterns on the boat were making twisted colours upon the waves, elongated or squat, as the waves stretched or humped themselves. The beam from the lighthouse strode rapidly across the water. Infinite millions of miles away powdered stars twinkled; but the waves slapped the boat, and crashed, with regular and appalling solemnity, against the rocks.
Although it would be possible to knock at the cottage door and ask for a glass of milk, it is only thirst that would compel the intrusion. Yet perhaps Mrs. Pascoe would welcome it. The summer’s day may be wearing heavy. Washing in her little scullery, she may hear the cheap clock on the mantelpiece tick, tick, tick . . . tick, tick, tick. She is alone in the house. Her husband is out helping Farmer Hosken; her daughter married and gone to America. Her elder son is married too, but she does not agree with his wife. The Wesleyan minister came along and took the younger boy. She is alone in the house. A steamer, probably bound for Cardiff, now crosses the horizon, while near at hand one bell of a foxglove swings to and fro with a bumble-bee for clapper. These white Cornish cottages are built on the edge of the cliff; the garden grows gorse more readily than cabbages; and for hedge, some primeval man has piled granite boulders. In one of these, to hold, an historian conjectures, the victim’s blood, a basin has been hollowed, but in our time it serves more tamely to seat those tourists who wish for an uninterrupted view of the Gurnard’s Head. Not that any one objects to a blue print dress and a white apron in a cottage garden.
“Look — she has to draw her water from a well in the garden.”
“Very lonely it must be in winter, with the wind sweeping over those hills, and the waves dashing on the rocks.”
Even on a summer’s day you hear them murmuring.
Having drawn her water, Mrs. Pascoe went in. The tourists regretted that they had brought no glasses, so that they might have read the name of the tramp steamer. Indeed, it was such a fine day that there was no saying what a pair of field-glasses might not have fetched into view. Two fishing luggers, presumably from St. Ives Bay, were now sailing in an opposite direction from the steamer, and the floor of the sea became alternately clear and opaque. As for the bee, having sucked its fill of honey, it visited the teasle and thence made a straight line to Mrs. Pascoe’s patch, once more directing the tourists’ gaze to the old woman’s print dress and white apron, for she had come to the door of the cottage and was standing there.
There she stood, shading her eyes and looking out to sea.
For the millionth time, perhaps, she looked at the sea. A peacock butterfly now spread himself upon the teasle, fresh and newly emerged, as the blue and chocolate down on his wings testified. Mrs. Pascoe went indoors, fetched a cream pan, came out, and stood scouring it. Her face was assuredly not soft, sensual, or lecherous, but hard, wise, wholesome rather, signifying in a room full of sophisticated people the flesh and blood of life. She would tell a lie, though, as soon as the truth. Behind her on the wall hung a large dried skate. Shut up in the parlour she prized mats, china mugs, and photographs, though the mouldy little room was saved from the salt breeze only by the depth of a brick, and between lace curtains you saw the gannet drop like a stone, and on stormy days the gulls came shuddering through the air, and the steamers’ lights were now high, now deep. Melancholy were the sounds on a winter’s night.
The picture papers were delivered punctually on Sunday, and she pored long over Lady Cynthia’s wedding at the Abbey. She, too, would have liked to ride in a carriage with springs. The soft, swift syllables of educated speech often shamed her few rude ones. And then all night to hear the grinding of the Atlantic upon the rocks instead of hansom cabs and footmen whistling for motor cars. . . . So she may have dreamed, scouring her cream pan. But the talkative, nimble-witted people have taken themselves to towns. Like a miser, she has hoarded her feelings within her own breast. Not a penny piece has she changed all these years, and, watching her enviously, it seems as if all within must be pure gold.
The wise old woman, having fixed her eyes upon the sea, once more withdrew. The tourists decided that it was time to move on to the Gurnard’s Head.
Three seconds later Mrs. Durrant rapped upon the door.
“Mrs. Pascoe?” she said.
Rather haughtily, she watched the tourists cross the field path. She came of a Highland race, famous for its chieftains.
Mrs. Pascoe appeared.
“I envy you that bush, Mrs. Pascoe,” said Mrs. Durrant, pointing the parasol with which she had rapped on the door at the fine clump of St. John’s wort that grew beside it. Mrs. Pascoe looked at the bush deprecatingly.
“I expect my son in a day or two,” said Mrs. Durrant. “Sailing from Falmouth with a friend in a little boat. . . . Any news of Lizzie yet, Mrs. Pascoe?”
Her long-tailed ponies stood twitching their ears on the road twenty yards away. The boy, Curnow, flicked flies off them occasionally. He saw his mistress go into the cottage; come out again; and pass, talking energetically to judge by the movements of her hands, round the vegetable plot in front of the cottage. Mrs. Pascoe was his aunt. Both women surveyed a bush. Mrs. Durrant stooped and picked a sprig from it. Next she pointed (her movements were peremptory; she held herself very upright) at the potatoes. They had the blight. All potatoes that year had the blight. Mrs. Durrant showed Mrs. Pascoe how bad the blight was on her potatoes. Mrs. Durrant talked energetically; Mrs. Pascoe listened submissively. The boy Curnow knew that Mrs. Durrant was saying that it is perfectly simple; you mix the powder in a gallon of water; “I have done it with my own hands in my own garden,” Mrs. Durrant was saying.
“You won’t have a potato left — you won’t have a potato left,” Mrs. Durrant was saying in her emphatic voice as they reached the gate. The boy Curnow became as immobile as stone.
Mrs. Durrant took the reins in her hands and settled herself on the driver’s seat.
“Take care of that leg, or I shall send the doctor to you,” she called back over her shoulder; touched the ponies; and the carriage started forward. The boy Curnow had only just time to swing himself up by the toe of his boot. The boy Curnow, sitting in the middle of the back seat, looked at his aunt.
Mrs. Pascoe stood at the gate looking after them; stood at the gate till the trap was round the corner; stood at the gate, looking now to the right, now to the left; then went back to her cottage.
Soon the ponies attacked the swelling moor road with striving forelegs. Mrs. Durrant let the reins fall slackly, and leant backwards. Her vivacity had left her. Her hawk nose was thin as a bleached bone through which you almost see the light. Her hands, lying on the reins in her lap, were firm even in repose. The upper lip was cut so short that it raised itself almost in a sneer from the front teeth. Her mind skimmed leagues where Mrs. Pascoe’s mind adhered to its solitary patch. Her mind skimmed leagues as the ponies climbed the hill road. Forwards and backwards she cast her mind, as if the roofless cottages, mounds of slag, and cottage gardens overgrown with foxglove and bramble cast shade upon her mind. Arrived at the summit, she stopped the carriage. The pale hills were round her, each scattered with ancient stones; beneath was the sea, variable as a southern sea; she herself sat there looking from hill to sea, upright, aquiline, equally poised between gloom and laughter. Suddenly she flicked the ponies so that the boy Curnow had to swing himself up by the toe of his boot.
The rooks settled; the rooks rose. The trees which they touched so capriciously seemed insufficient to lodge their numbers. The tree-tops sang with the breeze in them; the branches creaked audibly and dropped now and then, though the season was midsummer, husks or twigs. Up went the rooks and down again, rising in lesser numbers each time as the sager birds made ready to settle, for the evening was already spent enough to make the air inside the wood almost dark. The moss was soft; the tree-trunks spectral. Beyond them lay a silvery meadow. The pampas grass raised its feathery spears from mounds of green at the end of the meadow. A breadth of water gleamed. Already the convolvulus moth was spinning over the flowers. Orange and purple, nasturtium and cherry pie, were washed into the twilight, but the tobacco plant and the passion flower, over which the great moth spun, were white as china. The rooks creaked their wings together on the tree-tops, and were settling down for sleep when, far off, a familiar sound shook and trembled — increased — fairly dinned in their ears — scared sleepy wings into the air again — the dinner bell at the house.
After six days of salt wind, rain, and sun, Jacob Flanders had put on a dinner jacket. The discreet black object had made its appearance now and then in the boat among tins, pickles, preserved meats, and as the voyage went on had become more and more irrelevant, hardly to be believed in. And now, the world being stable, lit by candle-light, the dinner jacket alone preserved him. He could not be sufficiently thankful. Even so his neck, wrists, and face were exposed without cover, and his whole person, whether exposed or not, tingled and glowed so as to make even black cloth an imperfect screen. He drew back the great red hand that lay on the table-cloth. Surreptitiously it closed upon slim glasses and curved silver forks. The bones of the cutlets were decorated with pink frills-and yesterday he had gnawn ham from the bone! Opposite him were hazy, semi-transparent shapes of yellow and blue. Behind them, again, was the grey-green garden, and among the pear-shaped leaves of the escallonia fishing-boats seemed caught and suspended. A sailing ship slowly drew past the women’s backs. Two or three figures crossed the terrace hastily in the dusk. The door opened and shut. Nothing settled or stayed unbroken. Like oars rowing now this side, now that, were the sentences that came now here, now there, from either side of the table.
“Oh, Clara, Clara!” exclaimed Mrs. Durrant, and Timothy Durrant adding, “Clara, Clara,” Jacob named the shape in yellow gauze Timothy’s sister, Clara. The girl sat smiling and flushed. With her brother’s dark eyes, she was vaguer and softer than he was. When the laugh died down she said: “But, mother, it was true. He said so, didn’t he? Miss Eliot agreed with us. . . . ”
But Miss Eliot, tall, grey-headed, was making room beside her for the old man who had come in from the terrace. The dinner would never end, Jacob thought, and he did not wish it to end, though the ship had sailed from one corner of the window-frame to the other, and a light marked the end of the pier. He saw Mrs. Durrant gaze at the light. She turned to him.
“Did you take command, or Timothy?” she said. “Forgive me if I call you Jacob. I’ve heard so much of you.” Then her eyes went back to the sea. Her eyes glazed as she looked at the view.
“A little village once,” she said, “and now grown. . . . ” She rose, taking her napkin with her, and stood by the window.
“Did you quarrel with Timothy?” Clara asked shyly. “I should have.”
Mrs. Durrant came back from the window.
“It gets later and later,” she said, sitting upright, and looking down the table. “You ought to be ashamed — all of you. Mr. Clutterbuck, you ought to be ashamed.” She raised her voice, for Mr. Clutterbuck was deaf.
“We ARE ashamed,” said a girl. But the old man with the beard went on eating plum tart. Mrs. Durrant laughed and leant back in her chair, as if indulging him.
“We put it to you, Mrs. Durrant,” said a young man with thick spectacles and a fiery moustache. “I say the conditions were fulfilled. She owes me a sovereign.”
“Not BEFORE the fish — with it, Mrs. Durrant,” said Charlotte Wilding.
“That was the bet; with the fish,” said Clara seriously. “Begonias, mother. To eat them with his fish.”
“Oh dear,” said Mrs. Durrant.
“Charlotte won’t pay you,” said Timothy.
“How dare you . . . ” said Charlotte.
“That privilege will be mine,” said the courtly Mr. Wortley, producing a silver case primed with sovereigns and slipping one coin on to the table. Then Mrs. Durrant got up and passed down the room, holding herself very straight, and the girls in yellow and blue and silver gauze followed her, and elderly Miss Eliot in her velvet; and a little rosy woman, hesitating at the door, clean, scrupulous, probably a governess. All passed out at the open door.
“When you are as old as I am, Charlotte,” said Mrs. Durrant, drawing the girl’s arm within hers as they paced up and down the terrace.
“Why are you so sad?” Charlotte asked impulsively.
“Do I seem to you sad? I hope not,” said Mrs. Durrant.
“Well, just now. You’re NOT old.”
“Old enough to be Timothy’s mother.” They stopped.
Miss Eliot was looking through Mr. Clutterbuck’s telescope at the edge of the terrace. The deaf old man stood beside her, fondling his beard, and reciting the names of the constellations: “Andromeda, Bootes, Sidonia, Cassiopeia. . . . ”
“Andromeda,” murmured Miss Eliot, shifting the telescope slightly.
Mrs. Durrant and Charlotte looked along the barrel of the instrument pointed at the skies.
“There are MILLIONS of stars,” said Charlotte with conviction. Miss Eliot turned away from the telescope. The young men laughed suddenly in the dining-room.
“Let ME look,” said Charlotte eagerly.
“The stars bore me,” said Mrs. Durrant, walking down the terrace with Julia Eliot. “I read a book once about the stars. . . . What are they saying?” She stopped in front of the dining-room window. “Timothy,” she noted.
“The silent young man,” said Miss Eliot.
“Yes, Jacob Flanders,” said Mrs. Durrant.
“Oh, mother! I didn’t recognize you!” exclaimed Clara Durrant, coming from the opposite direction with Elsbeth. “How delicious,” she breathed, crushing a verbena leaf.
Mrs. Durrant turned and walked away by herself.
“Clara!” she called. Clara went to her.
“How unlike they are!” said Miss Eliot.
Mr. Wortley passed them, smoking a cigar.
“Every day I live I find myself agreeing . . . ” he said as he passed them.
“It’s so interesting to guess . . . ” murmured Julia Eliot.
“When first we came out we could see the flowers in that bed,” said Elsbeth.
“We see very little now,” said Miss Eliot.
“She must have been so beautiful, and everybody loved her, of course,” said Charlotte. “I suppose Mr. Wortley . . . ” she paused.
“Edward’s death was a tragedy,” said Miss Eliot decidedly.
Here Mr. Erskine joined them.
“There’s no such thing as silence,” he said positively. “I can hear twenty different sounds on a night like this without counting your voices.”
“Make a bet of it?” said Charlotte.
“Done,” said Mr. Erskine. “One, the sea; two, the wind; three, a dog; four . . . ”
The others passed on.
“Poor Timothy,” said Elsbeth.
“A very fine night,” shouted Miss Eliot into Mr. Clutterbuck’s ear.
“Like to look at the stars?” said the old man, turning the telescope towards Elsbeth.
“Doesn’t it make you melancholy — looking at the stars?” shouted Miss Eliot.
“Dear me no, dear me no,” Mr. Clutterbuck chuckled when he understood her. “Why should it make me melancholy? Not for a moment — dear me no.”
“Thank you, Timothy, but I’m coming in,” said Miss Eliot. “Elsbeth, here’s a shawl.”
“I’m coming in,” Elsbeth murmured with her eye to the telescope. “Cassiopeia,” she murmured. “Where are you all?” she asked, taking her eye away from the telescope. “How dark it is!”
Mrs. Durrant sat in the drawing-room by a lamp winding a ball of wool. Mr. Clutterbuck read the Times. In the distance stood a second lamp, and round it sat the young ladies, flashing scissors over silver-spangled stuff for private theatricals. Mr. Wortley read a book.
“Yes; he is perfectly right,” said Mrs. Durrant, drawing herself up and ceasing to wind her wool. And while Mr. Clutterbuck read the rest of Lord Lansdowne’s speech she sat upright, without touching her ball.
“Ah, Mr. Flanders,” she said, speaking proudly, as if to Lord Lansdowne himself. Then she sighed and began to wind her wool again.
“Sit THERE,” she said.
Jacob came out from the dark place by the window where he had hovered. The light poured over him, illuminating every cranny of his skin; but not a muscle of his face moved as he sat looking out into the garden.
“I want to hear about your voyage,” said Mrs. Durrant.
“Yes,” he said.
“Twenty years ago we did the same thing.”
“Yes,” he said. She looked at him sharply.
“He is extraordinarily awkward,” she thought, noticing how he fingered his socks. “Yet so distinguished-looking.”
“In those days . . . ” she resumed, and told him how they had sailed . . . “my husband, who knew a good deal about sailing, for he kept a yacht before we married” . . . and then how rashly they had defied the fishermen, “almost paid for it with our lives, but so proud of ourselves!” She flung the hand out that held the ball of wool.
“Shall I hold your wool?” Jacob asked stiffly.
“You do that for your mother,” said Mrs. Durrant, looking at him again keenly, as she transferred the skein. “Yes, it goes much better.”
He smiled; but said nothing.
Elsbeth Siddons hovered behind them with something silver on her arm.
“We want,” she said. . . . “I’ve come . . . ” she paused.
“Poor Jacob,” said Mrs. Durrant, quietly, as if she had known him all his life. “They’re going to make you act in their play.”
“How I love you!” said Elsbeth, kneeling beside Mrs. Durrant’s chair.
“Give me the wool,” said Mrs. Durrant.
“He’s come — he’s come!” cried Charlotte Wilding. “I’ve won my bet!”
“There’s another bunch higher up,” murmured Clara Durrant, mounting another step of the ladder. Jacob held the ladder as she stretched out to reach the grapes high up on the vine.
“There!” she said, cutting through the stalk. She looked semi-transparent, pale, wonderfully beautiful up there among the vine leaves and the yellow and purple bunches, the lights swimming over her in coloured islands. Geraniums and begonias stood in pots along planks; tomatoes climbed the walls.
“The leaves really want thinning,” she considered, and one green one, spread like the palm of a hand, circled down past Jacob’s head.
“I have more than I can eat already,” he said, looking up.
“It does seem absurd . . . ” Clara began, “going back to London. . . . ”
“Ridiculous,” said Jacob, firmly.
“Then . . . ” said Clara, “you must come next year, properly,” she said, snipping another vine leaf, rather at random.
“If . . . if . . . ”
A child ran past the greenhouse shouting. Clara slowly descended the ladder with her basket of grapes.
“One bunch of white, and two of purple,” she said, and she placed two great leaves over them where they lay curled warm in the basket.
“I have enjoyed myself,” said Jacob, looking down the greenhouse.
“Yes, it’s been delightful,” she said vaguely.
“Oh, Miss Durrant,” he said, taking the basket of grapes; but she walked past him towards the door of the greenhouse.
“You’re too good — too good,” she thought, thinking of Jacob, thinking that he must not say that he loved her. No, no, no.
The children were whirling past the door, throwing things high into the air.
“Little demons!” she cried. “What have they got?” she asked Jacob.
“Onions, I think,” said Jacob. He looked at them without moving.
“Next August, remember, Jacob,” said Mrs. Durrant, shaking hands with him on the terrace where the fuchsia hung, like a scarlet ear-ring, behind her head. Mr. Wortley came out of the window in yellow slippers, trailing the Times and holding out his hand very cordially.
“Good-bye,” said Jacob. “Good-bye,” he repeated. “Good-bye,” he said once more. Charlotte Wilding flung up her bedroom window and cried out: “Good-bye, Mr. Jacob!”
“Mr. Flanders!” cried Mr. Clutterbuck, trying to extricate himself from his beehive chair. “Jacob Flanders!”
“Too late, Joseph,” said Mrs. Durrant.
“Not to sit for me,” said Miss Eliot, planting her tripod upon the lawn.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01