Unfinished Portrait Agatha Christie A stunning novel of death and destiny.Bereft of the three people she has held most dear - her mother, her husband and her daughter - Celia is on the verge of suicide. Then one night on an exotic island she meets Larraby, a successful portrait painter, and through a long night of talk reveals how she is afraid to commit herself to a second chance of happiness with another person, yet is not brave enough to face life alone. Can Larraby help Celia come to terms with the past or will they part, her outcome still uncertain?Famous for her ingenious crime books and plays, Agatha Christie also wrote about crimes of the heart, six bittersweet and very personal novels, as compelling and memorable as the best of her work. Copyright (#u64e98943-65fd-5352-ba5e-7045f7b3aff9) HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by Collins 1934 Copyright © 1934 Rosalind Hicks Charitable Trust. All rights reserved. www.agathachristie.com (http://www.agathachristie.com) Cover by ninataradesign.com (http://www.ninataradesign.com) © HarperCollins 2017 Agatha Christie asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. Source ISBN: 9780008131470 Ebook Edition © June 2017 ISBN: 9780007534968 Version: 2018-04-11 Contents Cover (#u86010525-7fca-5186-94ed-54782f09205b) Title Page (#ua72bd6ba-d8eb-5038-858c-6fce85fafedf) Copyright Foreword BOOK I: The Island Chapter 1. The Woman in the Garden Chapter 2. Call to Action BOOK II: Canvas Chapter 1. Home Chapter 2. Abroad Chapter 3. Grannie Chapter 4. Death Chapter 5. Mother and Daughter Chapter 6. Paris Chapter 7. Grown Up Chapter 8. Jim and Peter Chapter 9. Dermot Chapter 10. Marriage Chapter 11. Motherhood Chapter 12. Peace Chapter 13. Companionship Chapter 14. Ivy Chapter 15. Prosperity Chapter 16. Loss Chapter 17. Disaster Chapter 18. Fear BOOK III: The Island Chapter 1. Surrender Chapter 2. Reflection Chapter 3. Flight Chapter 4. Beginning Also by Agatha Christie About the Publisher Foreword (#u64e98943-65fd-5352-ba5e-7045f7b3aff9) My Dear Mary: I send you this because I don’t know what to do with it. I suppose, really, I want it to see the light of day. One does. I suppose the complete genius keeps his pictures stacked in the studio and never shows them to anybody. I was never like that, but then I was never a genius—just Mr Larraby, the promising young portrait painter. Well, my dear, you know what it is, none better—to be cut off from the thing you loved doing and did well because you loved doing it. That’s why we were friends, you and I. And you know about this writing business—I don’t. If you read this manuscript, you’ll see that I’ve taken Barge’s advice. You remember? He said, ‘Try a new medium.’ This is a portrait—and probably a damned bad one because I don’t know my medium. If you say it’s no good, I’ll take your word for it, but if you think it has, in the smallest degree, that significant form we both believe to be the fundamental basis of art—well, then, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be published. I’ve put the real names, but you can change them. And who is to mind? Not Michael. And as for Dermot he would never recognize himself! He isn’t made that way. Anyway, as Celia herself said, her story is a very ordinary story. It might happen to anybody. In fact, it frequently does. It isn’t her story I’ve been interested in. All along it’s been Celia herself. Yes, Celia herself … You see I wanted to nail her in paint to a canvas, and that being out of the question, I’ve tried to get her in another way. But I’m working in an unfamiliar medium—these words and sentences and commas and full stops—they’re not my craft. You’ll remark, I dare say, que ça se voit! I’ve seen her, you know, from two angles. First, from my own. And secondly, owing to the peculiar circumstances of twenty-four hours, I’ve been able—at moments—to get inside her skin and see her from her own. And the two don’t always agree. That’s what’s so tantalizing and fascinating to me! I should like to be God and know the truth. But a novelist can be God to the creatures he creates. He has them in his power to do what he likes with—or so he thinks. But they do give him surprises. I wonder if the real God finds that too … Yes, I wonder … Well, my dear, I won’t wander on any more. Do what you can for me. Yours ever, J.L. BOOK I (#u64e98943-65fd-5352-ba5e-7045f7b3aff9) The Island (#u64e98943-65fd-5352-ba5e-7045f7b3aff9) There is a lonely isle Set apart In the midst of the sea Where the birds rest awhile On their long flight To the South They rest a night Then take wing and depart To the Southern seas … I am an island set apart In the midst of the sea And a bird from the mainland Rested on me … CHAPTER 1 (#u64e98943-65fd-5352-ba5e-7045f7b3aff9) The Woman in the Garden (#u64e98943-65fd-5352-ba5e-7045f7b3aff9) Do you know the feeling you have when you know something quite well and yet for the life of you can’t recollect it? I had that feeling all the way down the winding white road to the town. It was with me when I started from the plateau overhanging the sea in the Villa gardens. And with every step I took, it grew stronger and—somehow—more urgent. And at last, just when the avenue of palm trees runs down to the beach, I stopped. Because, you see, I knew it was now or never. This shadowy thing that was lurking at the back of my brain had got to be pulled out into the open, had got to be probed and examined and nailed down, so that I knew what it was. I’d got to pin the thing down—otherwise it would be too late. I did what one always does do when trying to remember things. I went over the facts. The walk up from the town—with the dust and the sun on the back of my neck. Nothing there. The grounds of the Villa—cool and refreshing with the great cypresses standing dark against the skyline. The green grass path that led to the plateau where the seat was placed overlooking the sea. The surprise and slight annoyance at finding a woman occupying the seat. For a moment I had felt awkward. She had turned her head and looked at me. An Englishwoman. I felt the need of saying something—some phrase to cover my retirement. ‘Lovely view from up here.’ That was what I had said—just the ordinary silly conventional thing. And she answered in exactly the words and tone that an ordinary well-bred woman would use. ‘Delightful,’ she had said. ‘And such a beautiful day.’ ‘But rather a long pull up from the town.’ She agreed and said it was a long dusty walk. And that was all. Just that interchange of polite commonplaces between two English people abroad who have not met before and who do not expect to meet again. I retraced my steps, walked once or twice round the Villa admiring the orange berberis (if that’s what the thing is called) and then started back to the town. That was absolutely all there was to it—and yet, somehow, it wasn’t. There was this feeling of knowing something quite well and not being able to remember it. Had it been something in her manner? No, her manner had been perfectly normal and pleasant. She’d behaved and looked just as ninety-nine women out of a hundred women would have behaved. Except—no, it was true—she hadn’t looked at my hands. There! What an odd thing to have written down. It amazes me when I look at it. An Irish bull if there ever was one. And yet to put it down correctly wouldn’t express my meaning. She hadn’t looked at my hands. And you see, I’m used to women looking at my hands. Women are so quick. And they’re so soft-hearted I’m used to the expression that comes over their faces—bless them and damn them. Sympathy, and discretion, and determination not to show they’ve noticed. And the immediate change in their manner—the gentleness. But this woman hadn’t seen or noticed. I began thinking about her more closely. A queer thing—I couldn’t have described her in the least at the moment I turned my back on her. I would have said she was fairish and about thirty-odd—that’s all. But all the way down the hill, the picture of her had been growing—growing—it was for all the world like a photographic plate that you develop in a dark cellar. (That’s one of my earliest memories—developing negatives with my father in our cellar.) I’ve never forgotten the thrill of it. The blank white expanse with the developer washing over it. And then, suddenly, the tiny speck that appears, darkening and widening rapidly. The thrill of it—the uncertainty. The plate darkens rapidly—but still you can’t see exactly. It’s just a jumble of dark and light. And then recognition—you know what it is—you see that this is the branch of the tree, or somebody’s face, or the back of the chair, and you know whether the negative is upside down or not—and you reverse it if it is—and then you watch the whole picture emerging from nothingness till it begins to darken and you lose it again. Well, that’s the best description I can give of what happened to me. All the way down to the town, I saw that woman’s face more and more clearly. I saw her small ears, set very close against her head, and the long lapis-lazuli earrings that hung from them, and the curved wave of intensely blonde flaxen hair that lay across the top of the ear. I saw the contour of her face, and the width between the eyes—eyes of a very faint clear blue. I saw the short, very thick dark brown lashes and the faint pencilled line of the brows with their slight hint of surprise. I saw the small square face and the rather hard line of the mouth. The features came to me—not suddenly—but little by little—exactly, as I have said, like a photographic plate developing. I can’t explain what happened next. The surface development, you see, was over. I’d arrived at the point where the image begins to darken. But, you see, this wasn’t a photographic plate, but a human being. And so the development went on. From the surface, it went behind—or within, whichever way you like to put it. At least, that’s as near as I can get to it in the way of explanation. I’d known the truth, I suppose, all along, from the very moment I’d first seen her. The development was taking place in me. The picture was coming from my subconscious into my conscious mind … I knew—but I didn’t know what it was I knew until suddenly it came! Bang up out of the black whiteness! A speck—and then an image. I turned and fairly ran up that dusty road. I was in pretty good condition, but it seemed to me that I wasn’t going nearly fast enough. Through the Villa gates and past the cypresses and along the grass path. The woman was sitting exactly where I had left her. I was out of breath. Gasping, I flung myself down on the seat beside her. ‘Look here,’ I said. ‘I don’t know who you are or anything about you. But you mustn’t do it. Do you hear? You mustn’t do it.’ CHAPTER 2 (#u64e98943-65fd-5352-ba5e-7045f7b3aff9) Call to Action (#u64e98943-65fd-5352-ba5e-7045f7b3aff9) I suppose the queerest thing (but only on thinking it over afterwards) was the way she didn’t try to put up any conventional defence. She might have said: ‘What on earth do you mean?’ or ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Or she might have just looked it. Frozen me with a glance. But of course the truth of it was that she had gone past that. She was down to fundamentals. At that moment, nothing that anyone said or did could possibly have been surprising to her. She was quite calm and reasonable about it—and that was just what was so frightening. You can deal with a mood—a mood is bound to pass, and the more violent it is, the more complete the reaction to it will be. But a calm and reasonable determination is very different, because it’s been arrived at slowly and isn’t likely to be laid aside. She looked at me thoughtfully, but she didn’t say anything. ‘At any rate,’ I said, ‘you’ll tell me why?’ She bent her head, as though allowing the justice of that. ‘It’s simply,’ she said, ‘that it really does seem best.’ ‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ I said. ‘Completely and utterly wrong.’ Violent words didn’t ruffle her. She was too calm and far away for that. ‘I’ve thought about it a good deal,’ she said. ‘And it really is best. It’s simple and easy and—quick. And it won’t be—inconvenient to anybody.’ I realized by that last phrase that she had been what is called ‘well brought up’. ‘Consideration for others’ had been impressed upon her as a desirable thing. ‘And what about—afterwards?’ I asked. ‘One has to risk that.’ ‘Do you believe in an afterwards?’ I asked curiously. ‘I’m afraid,’ she said slowly, ‘I do. Just nothing—would be almost too good to be true. Just going to sleep—peacefully—and just—not waking up. That would be so lovely.’ Her eyes half closed dreamily. ‘What colour was your nursery wallpaper?’ I asked suddenly. ‘Mauve irises—twisting round a pillar—’ She started. ‘How did you know I was thinking about them just then?’ ‘I just thought you were. That’s all,’ I went on. ‘What was your idea of Heaven as a child?’ ‘Green pastures—a green valley—with sheep and the shepherd. The hymn, you know.’ ‘Who read it to you—your mother or your nurse?’ ‘My nurse …’ She smiled a little. ‘The Good Shepherd. Do you know, I don’t think I’d ever seen a shepherd. But there were two lambs in a field quite near us.’ She paused and then added: ‘It’s built over now.’ And I thought: ‘Odd. If that field weren’t built over, well, perhaps she wouldn’t be here now.’ And I said: ‘You were happy as a child?’ ‘Oh, yes!’ There was no doubting the eager certainty of her assent. She went on: ‘Too happy.’ ‘Is that possible?’ ‘I think so. You see, you’re not prepared—for the things that happen. You never conceive that—they might happen.’ ‘You’ve had a tragic experience,’ I suggested. But she shook her head. ‘No—I don’t think so—not really. What happened to me isn’t out of the ordinary. It’s the stupid, commonplace thing that happens to lots of women. I wasn’t particularly unfortunate. I was—stupid. Yes, just stupid. And there isn’t really room in the world for stupid people.’ ‘My dear,’ I said, ‘listen to me. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve stood where you are now—I’ve felt as you feel that life isn’t worth living. I’ve known that blinding despair that can only see one way out—and I tell you, child—that it passes. Grief doesn’t last forever. Nothing lasts. There is only one true consoler and healer—time. Give time its chance.’ I had spoken earnestly, but I saw at once that I had made a mistake. ‘You don’t understand,’ she said. ‘I know what you mean. I have felt that. In fact, I had one try—that didn’t come off. And afterwards I was glad that it hadn’t. This is different.’ ‘Tell me,’ I said. ‘This has come quite slowly. You see—it’s rather hard to put it clearly. I’m thirty-nine—and I’m very strong and healthy. It’s quite on the cards that I shall live to at least seventy—perhaps longer. And I simply can’t face it, that’s all. Another thirty-five long empty years.’ ‘But they won’t be empty, my dear. That’s where you’re wrong. Something will bloom again to fill them.’ She looked at me. ‘That is what I’m most afraid of,’ she said below her breath. ‘It’s the thought of that that I simply can’t face.’ ‘In fact, you’re a coward,’ I said. ‘Yes.’ She acquiesced at once. ‘I’ve always been a coward. I’ve thought it funny sometimes that other people haven’t seen it as clearly as I have. Yes, I’m afraid—afraid—afraid.’ There was silence. ‘After all,’ she said, ‘it’s natural. If a cinder jumps out of a fire and burns a dog, he’s frightened of the fire in future. He never knows when another cinder might come. It’s a form of intelligence, really. The complete fool thinks a fire is just something kind and warm—he doesn’t know about burning or cinders.’ ‘So that really,’ I said, ‘it’s the possibility of—happiness you won’t face.’ It sounded queer as I said it, and yet I knew that it wasn’t really as strange as it sounded. I know something about nerves and mind. Three of my best friends were shell-shocked in the war. I know myself what it is for a man to be physically maimed—I know just what it can do to him. I know, too, that one can be mentally maimed. The damage can’t be seen when the wound is healed—but it’s there. There’s a weak spot—a flaw—you’re crippled and not whole. I said to her: ‘All that will pass with time.’ But I said it with assurance I did not feel. Because superficial healing wasn’t going to be any good. The scar had gone deep. ‘You won’t take one risk,’ I went on. ‘But you will take another—a simply colossal one.’ She said less calmly, with a touch of eagerness: ‘But that’s entirely different—entirely. It’s when you know what a thing’s like that you won’t risk it. An unknown risk—there’s something rather alluring about that—something adventurous. After all, death might be anything—’ It was the first time the actual word had been spoken between us. Death … And then, as though for the first time a natural curiosity stirred in her, she turned her head slightly and asked: ‘How did you know?’ ‘I don’t quite profess to be able to tell,’ I confessed. ‘I’ve been through—well, something, myself. And I suppose I knew that way.’ She said: ‘I see.’ She displayed no interest in what my experience might have been, and I think it was at that moment that I vowed myself to her service. I’d had so much, you see, of the other thing. Womanly sympathy and tenderness. My need—though I didn’t know it—was not to be given—but to give. There wasn’t any tenderness in Celia—any sympathy. She’d squandered all that—and wasted it. She had been, as she saw herself, stupid about it. She’d been too unhappy herself to have any pity left for others. That new hard line about her mouth was a tribute to the amount of suffering she had endured. Her understanding was quick—she realized in a moment that to me, too, ‘things had happened’. We were on a par. She had no pity for herself, and she wasted no pity on me. My misfortune was, to her, simply the reason of my guessing something which on the face of it was seemingly unguessable. She was, I saw in that moment, a child. Her real world was the world that surrounded herself. She had gone back deliberately to a childish world, finding there refuge from the world’s cruelty. And that attitude of hers was tremendously stimulating to me. It was what for the last ten years I had been needing. It was, you see, a call to action. Well, I acted. My one fear was leaving her to herself. I didn’t leave her to herself. I stuck to her like the proverbial leech. She walked down with me to the town amiably enough. She had plenty of common sense. She realized that her purpose was, for the moment, frustrated. She didn’t abandon it—she merely postponed it. I knew that without her saying a word. I’m not going into details—this isn’t a chronicle of such things. There’s no need to describe the quaint little Spanish town, or the meal we had together at her hotel, or the way I had my luggage secretly conveyed from my hotel to the one she was staying at. No, I’m dealing only with the essentials. I knew that I’d got to stick to her till something happened—till in some way she broke down and surrendered. As I say, I stayed with her, close by her side. When she went to her room I said: ‘I’ll give you ten minutes—then I’m coming in.’ I didn’t dare give her longer. You see, her room was on the fourth floor, and she might override that ‘consideration for others’ that was part of her upbringing and embarrass the hotel manager by jumping from one of his windows instead of jumping from the cliff. Well, I went back. She was in bed, sitting up, her pale gold hair combed back from her face. I don’t think she saw anything odd in what we were doing. I’m sure I didn’t. What the hotel thought, I don’t know. If they knew that I entered her room at ten o’clock that night and left it at seven the next morning, they would have jumped, I suppose, to the one and only conclusion. But I couldn’t bother about that. I was out to save a life, and I couldn’t bother about a mere reputation. Well, I sat there, on her bed, and we talked. We talked all night. A strange night—I’ve never known a night like it. I didn’t talk to her about her trouble, whatever it was. Instead we started at the beginning—the mauve irises on the wallpaper, and the lambs in the field, and the valley down by the station where the primroses were … After a while, it was she who talked, not I. I had ceased to exist for her save as a kind of human recording machine that was there to be talked to. She talked as you might talk to yourself—or to God. Not, you understand, with any heat or passion. Just sheer remembrance, passing from one unrelated incident to another. The building up of a life—a kind of bridge of significant incidents. It’s an odd question, when you come to think of it, the things we choose to remember. For choice there must be, make it as unconscious as you like. Think back yourself—take any year of your childhood. You will remember perhaps five—six incidents. They weren’t important, probably; why have you remembered them out of those three hundred and sixty-five days? Some of them didn’t even mean much to you at the time. And yet, somehow, they’ve persisted. They’ve gone with you into these later years … It is from that night that I say I got my inside vision of Celia. I can write about her from the standpoint, as I said, of God … I’m going to endeavour to do so. She told me, you see, all the things that mattered and that didn’t matter. She wasn’t trying to make a story of it. No—but I wanted to! I seemed to catch glimpses of a pattern that she couldn’t see. It was seven o’clock when I left her. She had turned over on her side at last and gone to sleep like a child … The danger was over. It was as though the burden had been taken from her shoulders and laid on mine. She was safe … Later in the morning I took her down to the boat and saw her off. And that’s when it happened. The thing, I mean, that seems to me to embody the whole thing … Perhaps I’m wrong … Perhaps it was only an ordinary trivial incident … Anyway I won’t write it down now … Not until I’ve had my shot at being God and either failed or succeeded. Tried getting her on canvas in this new unfamiliar medium … Words … Strung together words … No brushes, no tubes of colour—none of the dear old familiar stuff. Portrait in four dimensions, because, in your craft, Mary, there’s time as well as space … BOOK II (#ulink_b3d6aa73-e256-58a8-ac42-71f08917ec4e) Canvas (#ulink_b3d6aa73-e256-58a8-ac42-71f08917ec4e) ‘Set up the canvas. Here’s a subject to hand.’ CHAPTER 1 (#ulink_ae2edca1-0a4e-5145-9ca2-d4eba458b5f9) Home (#ulink_ae2edca1-0a4e-5145-9ca2-d4eba458b5f9) Celia lay in her cot and looked at the mauve irises on the nursery wall. She felt happy and sleepy. There was a screen round the foot of her cot. This was to shut off the light of Nannie’s lamp. Invisible to Celia, behind that screen, sat Nannie reading the Bible. Nannie’s lamp was a special lamp—a portly brass lamp with a pink china shade. It never smelt because Susan, the housemaid, was very particular. Susan was a good girl, Celia knew, although sometimes guilty of the sin of ‘flouncing about’. When she flounced about she nearly always knocked off some small ornament in the immediate neighbourhood. She was a great big girl with elbows the colour of raw beef. Celia associated them vaguely with the mysterious words ‘elbow grease’. There was a faint whispering sound: Nannie murmuring over the words to herself as she read. It was soothing to Celia. Her eyelids drooped … The door opened, and Susan entered with a tray. She endeavoured to move noiselessly, but her loud and squeaking shoes prevented her. She said in a low voice: ‘Sorry I’m so late with your supper, Nurse.’ Nurse merely said, ‘Hush. She’s asleep.’ ‘Oh, I wouldn’t wake her for the world, I’m sure.’ Susan peeped round the corner of the screen, breathing heavily. ‘Little duck, ain’t she? My little niece isn’t half so knowing.’ Turning back from the screen, Susan ran into the table. A spoon fell to the floor. Nurse said mildly: ‘You must try and not flounce about so, Susan, my girl.’ Susan said dolefully: ‘I’m sure I don’t mean to.’ She left the room tiptoeing, which made her shoes squeak more than ever. ‘Nannie,’ called Celia cautiously. ‘Yes, my dear, what is it?’ ‘I’m not asleep, Nannie.’ Nannie refused to take the hint. She just said: ‘No, dear.’ There was a pause. ‘Nannie?’ ‘Yes, dear.’ ‘Is your supper nice, Nannie?’ ‘Very nice, dear.’ ‘What is it?’ ‘Boiled fish and treacle tart.’ ‘Oh!’ sighed Celia ecstatically. There was a pause. Then Nannie appeared round the screen. A little old grey-haired woman with a lawn cap tied under her chin. In her hand she carried a fork. On the tip of the fork was a minute piece of treacle tart. ‘Now you’re to be a good girl and go to sleep at once,’ said Nannie warningly. ‘Oh! Yes,’ said Celia fervently. Elysium! Heaven! The morsel of treacle tart was between her lips. Unbelievable deliciousness. Nannie disappeared round the screen again. Celia cuddled down on her side. The mauve irises danced in the firelight. Agreeable sensation of treacle tart within. Soothing rustling noises of Somebody in the Room. Utter contentment. Celia slept … It was Celia’s third birthday. They were having tea in the garden. There were éclairs. She had been allowed only one éclair. Cyril had had three. Cyril was her brother. He was a big boy—eleven years old. He wanted another, but her mother said, ‘That’s enough, Cyril.’ The usual kind of conversation then happened. Cyril saying ‘Why?’ interminably. A little red spider, a microscopic thing, ran across the white tablecloth. ‘Look,’ said his mother, ‘that’s a lucky spider. He’s going to Celia because it’s her birthday. That means great good luck.’ Celia felt excited and important. Cyril brought his questioning mind to another point. ‘Why are spiders lucky, Mum?’ Then at last Cyril went away, and Celia was left with her mother. She had her mother all to herself. Her mother was smiling at her across the table—a nice smile—not the smile that thought you were a funny little girl. ‘Mummy,’ said Celia, ‘tell me a story.’ She adored her mother’s stories—they weren’t like other people’s stories. Other people, when asked, told you about Cinderella, and Jack and the Beanstalk, and Red Riding Hood. Nannie told you about Joseph and his brothers, and Moses in the bulrushes. (Bulrushes were always visualized by Celia as wooden sheds containing massed bulls.) Occasionally she told you about Captain Stretton’s little children in India. But Mummy! To begin with, you never knew, not in the least, what the story was going to be about. It might be about mice—or about children—or about princesses. It might be anything … The only drawbacks about Mummy’s stories were that she never told them a second time. She said (most incomprehensible to Celia) that she couldn’t remember. ‘Very well,’ said Mummy. ‘What shall it be?’ Celia held her breath. ‘About Bright Eyes,’ she suggested. ‘And Long Tail and the cheese.’ ‘Oh! I’ve forgotten all about them. No—we’ll have a new story.’ She gazed across the table, unseeing for the moment, her bright hazel eyes dancing, the long delicate oval of her face very serious, her small arched nose held high. All of her tense in the effort of concentration. ‘I know—’ She came back from afar suddenly. ‘The story is called the Curious Candle …’ ‘Oh!’ Celia drew an enraptured breath. Already she was intrigued—spellbound … The Curious Candle! Celia was a serious little girl. She thought a great deal about God and being good and holy. When she pulled a wishbone, she always wished to be good. She was, alas! undoubtedly a prig, but at least she kept her priggishness to herself. At times she had a horrible fear that she was ‘worldly’ (perturbing mysterious word!). This especially when she was all dressed in her starched muslin and big golden-yellow sash to go down to dessert. But on the whole she was complacently satisfied with herself. She was of the elect. She was saved. But her family caused her horrible qualms. It was terrible—but she was not quite sure about her mother. Supposing Mummy should not go to Heaven? Agonizing, tormenting thought. The laws were so very clearly laid down. To play croquet on Sunday was wicked. So was playing the piano (unless it was hymns). Celia would have died, a willing martyr, sooner than have touched a croquet mallet on the ‘Lord’s Day’, though to be allowed to hit balls at random about the lawn on other days was her chief delight. But her mother played croquet on Sunday and so did her father. And her father played the piano and sang songs about ‘He called on Mrs C and took a cup of tea when Mr C had gone to town.’ Clearly not a holy song! It worried Celia terribly. She questioned Nannie anxiously. Nannie, good earnest woman, was in something of a quandary. ‘Your father and mother are your father and mother,’ said Nannie. ‘And everything they do is right and proper, and you mustn’t think otherwise.’ ‘But playing croquet on Sunday is wrong,’ said Celia. ‘Yes, dear. It’s not keeping the Sabbath holy.’ ‘But then—but then—’ ‘It’s not for you to worry about these things, my dear. You just go on doing your duty.’ So Celia went on shaking her head when offered a mallet ‘as a treat’. ‘Why on earth—?’ said her father. And her mother murmured: ‘It’s Nurse. She’s told her it’s wrong.’ And then to Celia: ‘It’s all right, darling, don’t play if you don’t want to.’ But sometimes she would say gently: ‘You know, darling. God has made us a lovely world, and He wants us to be happy. His own day is a very special day—a day we can have special treats on—only we mustn’t make work for other people—the servants, for instance. But it’s quite all right to enjoy yourself.’ But, strangely enough, deeply as she loved her mother, Celia’s opinions were not swayed by her. A thing was so because Nannie knew it was. Still, she ceased to worry about her mother. Her mother had a picture of St Francis on her wall, and a little book called The Imitation of Christ by her bedside. God, Celia felt, might conceivably overlook croquet playing on a Sunday. But her father caused her grave misgivings. He frequently joked about sacred matters. At lunch one day he told a funny story about a curate and a bishop. It was not funny to Celia—it was merely terrible. At last, one day, she burst out crying and sobbed her horrible fears into her mother’s ear. ‘But, darling, your father is a very good man. And a very religious man. He kneels down and says his prayers every night just like a child. He’s one of the best men in the world.’ ‘He laughs at clergymen,’ said Celia. ‘And he plays games on Sundays, and he sings songs—worldly songs. And I’m so afraid he’ll go to Hell Fire.’ ‘What do you know about a thing like Hell Fire?’ said her mother, and her voice sounded angry. ‘It’s where you go if you’re wicked,’ said Celia. ‘Who has been frightening you with things like that?’ ‘I’m not frightened,’ said Celia, surprised. ‘I’m not going there. I’m going to be always good and go to Heaven. But’—her lips trembled—‘I want Daddy to be in Heaven too.’ And then her mother talked a great deal—about God’s love and goodness, and how He would never be so unkind as to burn people eternally. But Celia was not in the least convinced. There was Hell and there was Heaven, and there were sheep and goats. If only—if only she were quite sure Daddy was not a goat! Of course there was Hell as well as Heaven. It was one of the immovable facts of life, as real as rice pudding or washing behind the ears or saying, Yes, please, and No, thank you. Celia dreamt a good deal. Some of her dreams were just funny and queer—things that had happened all mixed up. But some dreams were specially nice. Those dreams were about places she knew which were, in the dreams, different. Strange to explain why this should be so thrilling, but somehow (in the dream) it was. There was the valley down by the station. In real life the railway line ran along it, but in the good dreams there was a river there, and primroses all up the banks and into the wood. And each time she would say in delighted surprise: ‘Why, I never knew—I always thought it was a railway here.’ And instead there was the lovely green valley and the shining stream. Then there were the dream fields at the bottom of the garden where in real life there was the ugly red-brick house. And, almost most thrilling of all, the secret rooms inside her own home. Sometimes you got to them through the pantry—sometimes, in the most unexpected way, they led out of Daddy’s study. But there they were all the time—although you had forgotten them for so long. Each time you had a delighted thrill of recognition. And yet, really, each time they were quite different. But there was always that curious secret joy about finding them … Then there was the one terrible dream—the Gun Man with his powdered hair and his blue and red uniform and his gun. And, most horrible of all, where his hands came out of his sleeves—there were no hands—only stumps. Whenever he came into a dream, you woke up screaming. It was the safest thing to do. And there you were, safe in your bed, and Nannie in her bed next to you and everything All Right. There was no special reason why the Gun Man should be so frightening. It wasn’t that he might shoot you. His gun was a symbol, not a direct menace. No, it was something about his face, his hard, intensely blue eyes, the sheer malignity of the look he gave you. It turned you sick with fright. Then there were the things you thought about in the daytime. Nobody knew that as Celia walked sedately along the road she was in reality mounted upon a white palfrey. (Her ideas of a palfrey were rather dim. She imagined a super horse of the dimensions of an elephant.) When she walked along the narrow brick wall of the cucumber frames she was going along a precipice with a bottomless chasm at one side. She was on different occasions a duchess, a princess, a goose girl, and a beggar maid. All this made life very interesting to Celia, and so she was what is called ‘a good child’, meaning she kept very quiet, was happy playing by herself, and did not importune her elders to amuse her. The dolls she was given were never real to her. She played with them dutifully when Nannie suggested it, but without any real enthusiasm. ‘She’s a good little girl,’ said Nannie. ‘No imagination, but you can’t have everything. Master Tommy—Captain Stretton’s eldest, he never stopped teasing me with his questions.’ Celia seldom asked questions. Most of her world was inside her head. The outside world did not excite her curiosity. Something that happened one April was to make her afraid of the outside world. She and Nannie went primrosing. It was an April day, clear and sunny with little clouds scudding across the blue sky. They went down by the railway line (where the river was in Celia’s dreams) and up the hill beyond it into a copse where the primroses grew like a yellow carpet. They picked and they picked. It was a lovely day, and the primroses had a delicious, faint lemony smell that Celia loved. And then (it was rather like the Gun Man dream) a great harsh voice roared at them suddenly. ‘Here,’ it said. ‘What are you a-doing of here?’ It was a man, a big man with a red face, dressed in corduroys. He scowled. ‘This is private here. Trespassers will be prosecuted.’ Nurse said: ‘I’m sorry, I’m sure. I didn’t know.’ ‘Well, you get on out of it. Quick, now.’ As they turned to go his voice called after them: ‘I’ll boil you alive. Yes. I will. Boil you alive if you’re not out of the wood in three minutes.’ Celia stumbled forward tugging desperately at Nannie. Why wouldn’t Nannie go faster? The man would come after them. He’d catch them. They’d be boiled alive in a great pot. She felt sick with fright … She stumbled desperately on, her whole quivering little body alive with terror. He was coming—coming up behind them—they’d be boiled … She felt horribly sick. Quick—oh, quick! They were out on the road again. A great gasping sigh burst from Celia. ‘He—he can’t get us now,’ she murmured. Nurse looked at her, startled by the dead white of her face. ‘Why, what’s the matter, dear?’ A thought struck her. ‘Surely you weren’t frightened by what he said about boiling—that was only a joke—you knew that.’ And obedient to the spirit of acquiescent falsehood that every child possesses, Celia murmured: ‘Oh, of course, Nannie. I knew it was a joke.’ But it was a long time before she got over the terror of that moment. All her life she never quite forgot it. The terror had been so horribly real. On her fourth birthday Celia was given a canary. He was given the unoriginal name of Goldie. He soon became very tame and would perch on Celia’s finger. She loved him. He was her bird whom she fed with hemp seeds, but he was also her companion in adventure. There was Dick’s Mistress who was a queen, and the Prince Dicky, her son, and the two of them roamed the world and had adventures. Prince Dicky was very handsome and wore garments of golden velvet with black velvet sleeves. Later in the year Goldie was given a wife called Daphne. Daphne was a big bird with a lot of brown about her. She was awkward and ungainly. She spilled her water and upset things that she perched on. She never became as tame as Goldie. Celia’s father called her Susan because she ‘flounced’. Susan used to poke at the birds with a match ‘to see what they would do,’ as she said. The birds were afraid of her and would flutter against the bars when they saw her coming. Susan thought all sorts of curious things funny. She laughed a great deal when a mouse’s tail was found in the mousetrap. Susan was very fond of Celia. She played games with her such as hiding behind curtains and jumping out to say Bo! Celia was not really very fond of Susan—she was so big and so bouncy. She was much fonder of Mrs Rouncewell, the cook. Rouncy, as Celia called her, was an enormous, monumental woman, and she was the embodiment of calm. She never hurried. She moved about her kitchen in dignified slow motion, going through the ritual of her cooking. She was never harried, never flustered. She served meals always on the exact stroke of the hour. Rouncy had no imagination. When Celia’s mother would ask her: ‘Well, what do you suggest for lunch today?’ she always made the same reply. ‘Well, ma’am, we could have a nice chicken and a ginger pudding.’ Mrs Rouncewell could cook soufflés, vol-au-vents, creams, salmis, every kind of pastry, and the most elaborate French dishes, but she never suggested anything but a chicken and a ginger pudding. Celia loved going into the kitchen—it was rather like Rouncy herself, very big, very vast, very clean, and very peaceful. In the midst of the cleanliness and space was Rouncy, her jaws moving suggestively. She was always eating. Little bits of this, that, and the other. She would say: ‘Now, Miss Celia, what do you want?’ And then with a slow smile that stretched right across her wide face she would go across to a cupboard, open a tin, and pour a handful of raisins or currants into Celia’s cupped hands. Sometimes it would be a slice of bread and treacle that she was given, or a corner of jam tart, but there was always something. And Celia would carry off her prize into the garden and up into the secret place by the garden wall, and there, nestled tightly into the bushes, she would be the Princess in hiding from her enemies to whom her devoted followers had brought provisions in the dead of night … Upstairs in the nursery Nannie sat sewing. It was nice for Miss Celia to have such a good safe garden to play in—no nasty ponds or dangerous places. Nannie herself was getting old, she liked to sit and sew—and think over things—the little Strettons—all grown-up men and women now—and little Miss Lilian—getting married she was—and Master Roderick and Master Phil—both at Winchester … Her mind ran gently backwards over the years … Something terrible happened. Goldie was lost. He had become so tame that his cage door was left open. He used to flutter about the nursery. He would sit on the top of Nannie’s head and tweak with his beak at her cap and Nannie would say mildly: ‘Now, now, Master Goldie, I can’t have that.’ He would sit on Celia’s shoulder and take a hemp seed from between her lips. He was like a spoilt child. If you did not pay attention to him, he got cross and squawked at you. And on this terrible day Goldie was lost. The nursery window was open. Goldie must have flown away. Celia cried and cried. Both Nannie and her mother tried to console her. ‘He’ll come back, perhaps, my pet.’ ‘He’s just gone to fly round. We’ll put his cage outside the window.’ But Celia cried inconsolably. Birds pecked canaries to death—she had heard someone say so. Goldie was dead—dead somewhere under the trees. She would never feel his little beak again. She cried on and off all day. She would not eat either her dinner or her tea. Goldie’s cage outside the window remained empty. At last bedtime came. Celia lay in her little white bed. She still sobbed automatically. She held her mother’s hand very tight. She wanted Mummy more than Nannie. Nannie had suggested that Celia’s father would perhaps give her another bird. Mother knew better than that. It wasn’t just a bird she wanted—after all, she still had Daphne—it was Goldie. Oh! Goldie—Goldie—Goldie … She loved Goldie—and he was gone—pecked to death. She squeezed her mother’s hand frenziedly. Her mother squeezed back. And then, in the silence broken only by Celia’s heavy breathing, there came a little sound—the tweet of a bird. Master Goldie flew down from the top of the curtain pole where he had been roosting quietly all day. All her life Celia never forgot the incredulous wonderful joy of that moment … It became a saying in the family when you began to worry over anything: ‘Now, then, remember Goldie and the curtain pole!’ The Gun Man dream changed. It got, somehow, more frightening. The dream would start well. It would be a happy dream—a picnic or a party. And suddenly, just when you were having lots of fun, a queer feeling crept over you. Something was wrong somewhere … What was it? Why, of course, the Gun Man was there. But he wasn’t himself. One of the guests was the Gun Man … And the awful part of it was, he might be anybody. You looked at them. Everyone was gay, laughing and talking. And then suddenly you knew. It might be Mummy or Daddy or Nannie—someone you were just talking to: You looked up in Mummy’s face—of course it was Mummy—and then you saw the light steely-blue eyes—and from the sleeve of Mummy’s dress—oh, horror!—that horrible stump. It wasn’t Mummy—it was the Gun Man … And you woke screaming … And you couldn’t explain to anyone—to Mummy or to Nannie—it didn’t sound frightening just told. Someone said: ‘There, there, you’ve had a bad dream, my dearie,’ and patted you. And presently you went to sleep again—but you didn’t like going to sleep because the dream might come again. Celia would say desperately to herself in the dark night: ‘Mummy isn’t the Gun Man. She isn’t. She isn’t. I know she isn’t. She’s Mummy.’ But in the night, with the shadows and the dream still clinging round you, it was difficult to be sure of anything. Perhaps nothing was what it seemed and you had always known it really. ‘Miss Celia had another bad dream last night, ma’am.’ ‘What was it, Nurse?’ ‘Something about a man with a gun, ma’am.’ Celia would say: ‘No, Mummy, not a man with a gun. The Gun Man. My Gun Man.’ ‘Were you afraid he’d shoot you, darling? Was it that?’ Celia shook her head—shivered. She couldn’t explain. Her mother didn’t try to make her. She said very gently: ‘You’re quite safe, darling, here with us. No one can hurt you.’ That was comforting. ‘Nannie, what’s that word there—on that poster—the big one?’ ‘“Comforting”, dear. “Make yourself a comforting cup of tea.”’ This went on every day. Celia displayed an insatiable curiosity about words. She knew her letters, but her mother had a prejudice against children being taught to read too early. ‘I shan’t begin teaching Celia to read till she is six.’ But theories of education do not always turn out as planned. By the time she was five and a half Celia could read all the story books in the nursery shelves, and practically all the words on the posters. It was true that at times she became confused between words. She would come to Nannie and say, ‘Please, Nannie, is this word “greedy” or “selfish”? I can’t remember.’ Since she read by sight and not by spelling out the words, spelling was to be a difficulty to her all her life. Celia found reading enchanting. It opened a new world to her, a world of fairies, witches, hobgoblins, trolls. Fairy stories were her passion. Stories of real-life children did not much interest her. She had few children of her own age to play with. Her home was in a remote spot and motors were as yet few and far between. There was one little girl a year older than herself—Margaret McCrae. Occasionally Margaret would be asked to tea, or Celia would be asked to tea with her. But on these occasions Celia would beg frenziedly not to go. ‘Why, darling, don’t you like Margaret?’ ‘Yes, I do.’ ‘Then why?’ Celia could only shake her head. ‘She’s shy,’ said Cyril scornfully. ‘It’s absurd not to want to see other children,’ said her father. ‘It’s unnatural.’ ‘Perhaps Margaret teases her?’ said her mother. ‘No,’ cried Celia, and burst into tears. She could not explain. She simply could not explain. And yet the facts were so simple. Margaret had lost all her front teeth. Her words came out very fast in a hissing manner—and Celia could never understand properly what she was saying. The climax had occurred when Margaret had accompanied her for a walk. She had said: ‘I’ll tell you a nice story, Celia,’ and had straight away embarked upon it—hissing and lisping about a ‘Printheth and poithoned thweth.’ Celia listened in an agony. Occasionally Margaret would stop and demand: ‘Ithn’t it a nithe thtory?’ Celia, concealing valiantly the fact that she had not the faintest idea what the story was about, would try to answer intelligently. And inwardly, as was her habit, she would have recourse to prayer. ‘Oh, please, please, God, let me get home soon—don’t let her know I don’t know. Oh, let’s get home soon—please, God.’ In some obscure way she felt that to let Margaret know that her speech was incomprehensible would be the height of cruelty. Margaret must never know. But the strain was awful. She would reach home white and tearful. Everyone thought that she didn’t like Margaret. And really it was the opposite. It was because she liked Margaret so much that she could not bear Margaret to know. And nobody understood—nobody at all. It made Celia feel queer and panic stricken and horribly lonely. On Thursdays there was dancing class. The first time Celia went she was very frightened. The room was full of children—big dazzling children in silken skirts. In the middle of the room, fitting on a long pair of white gloves, was Miss Mackintosh, who was quite the most awe-inspiring but at the same time fascinating person that Celia had ever seen. Miss Mackintosh was very tall—quite the tallest person in the world, so Celia thought. (In later life it came as a shock to Celia to realize that Miss Mackintosh was only just over medium height. She had achieved her effect by billowing skirts, her terrific uprightness, and sheer personality.) ‘Ah!’ said Miss Mackintosh graciously. ‘So this is Celia. Miss Tenderden?’ Miss Tenderden, an anxious-looking creature who danced exquisitely but had no personality, hurried up like an eager terrier. Celia was handed over to her and was presently standing in a line of small children manipulating ‘expanders’—a stretch of royal blue elastic with a handle at each end. After ‘expanders’ came the mysteries of the polka, and after that the small children sat down and watched the glittering beings in the silk skirts doing a fancy dance with tambourines. After that, Lancers was announced. A small boy with dark mischievous eyes hurried up to Celia. ‘I say—will you be my partner?’ ‘I can’t,’ said Celia regretfully. ‘I don’t know how.’ ‘Oh, what a shame.’ But presently Miss Tenderden swooped down upon her. ‘Don’t know how? No, of course not, dear, but you’re going to learn. Now, here is a partner for you.’ Celia was paired with a sandy-haired boy with freckles. Opposite them was the dark-eyed boy and his partner. He said reproachfully to Celia as they met in the middle: ‘I say, you wouldn’t dance with me. I think it’s a shame.’ A pang she was to know well in after years swept through Celia. How explain? How say, ‘But I want to dance with you. I’d much rather dance with you. This is all a mistake.’ It was her first experience of that tragedy of girlhood—the Wrong Partner! But the exigencies of the Lancers swept them apart. They met once more in the grand chain, but the boy only gave her a look of deep reproach and squeezed her hand. He never came to dancing class again, and Celia never learnt his name. When Celia was seven years old Nannie left. Nannie had a sister even older than herself, and that sister was now broken down in health, and Nannie had to go and look after her. Celia was inconsolable and wept bitterly. When Nannie departed, Celia wrote to her every day short, wildly written, impossibly spelt letters which caused an infinitude of trouble to compose. Her mother said gently: ‘You know, darling, you needn’t write every day to Nannie. She won’t really expect it. Twice a week will be quite enough.’ But Celia shook her head determinedly. ‘Nannie might think I’d forgotten her. I shan’t forget—ever.’ Her mother said to her father: ‘The child’s very tenacious in her affections. It’s a pity.’ Her father said, with a laugh: ‘A contrast from Master Cyril.’ Cyril never wrote to his parents from school unless he was made to do so, or unless he wanted something. But his charm of manner was so great that all small misdemeanours were forgiven him. Celia’s obstinate fidelity to the memory of Nannie worried her mother. ‘It isn’t natural,’ she said. ‘At her age she ought to forget more easily.’ No new nurse came to replace Nannie. Susan looked after Celia to the extent of giving her her bath in the evening and getting up in the morning. When she was dressed Celia would go to her mother’s room. Her mother always had her breakfast in bed. Celia would be given a small slice of toast and marmalade, and would then sail a small fat china duck in her mother’s wash basin. Her father would be in his dressing-room next door. Sometimes he would call her in and give her a penny, and the penny would then be introduced into a small painted wooden money box. When the box was full the pennies would be put into the savings bank and when there was enough in the savings bank, Celia was to buy herself something really exciting with her own money. What that something was to be was one of the main preoccupations of Celia’s life. The favourite objects varied from week to week. First, there was a high tortoiseshell comb covered with knobs for Celia’s mother to wear in her black hair. Such a comb had been pointed out to Celia by Susan in a shop window. ‘A titled lady might wear a comb like that,’ said Susan in a reverent voice. Then there was an accordion-pleated dress in a white silk to go to dancing class in—that was another of Celia’s dreams. Only the children who did skirt dancing wore accordion-pleated dresses. It would be many years before Celia would be old enough to learn skirt dancing, but, after all, the day would come. Then there was a pair of real gold slippers (Celia had no doubt of there being such things) and there was a summer house to put in the wood, and there was a pony. One of these delectable things was waiting for her on the day when she had got ‘enough in the savings bank’. In the daytime she played in the garden, bowling a hoop (which might be anything from a stagecoach to an express train), climbing trees in a gingerly and uncertain manner, and making secret places in the midst of dense bushes where she could lie hidden and weave romances. If it was wet she read books in the nursery or painted in old numbers of the Queen. Between tea and dinner there were delightful plays with her mother. Sometimes they made houses with towels spread over chairs and crawled in and out of them—sometimes they blew bubbles. You never knew beforehand, but there was always some enchanting and delightful game—the kind of game that you couldn’t think of for yourself, the kind of game that was only possible with Mummy. In the morning now there were ‘lessons’, which made Celia feel very important. There was arithmetic, which Celia did with Daddy. She loved arithmetic, and she liked hearing Daddy say: ‘This child’s got a very good mathematical brain. She won’t count on her fingers like you do, Miriam.’ And her mother would laugh and say: ‘I never did have any head for figures.’ First Celia did addition and then subtraction, and then multiplication which was fun, and then division which seemed very grown up and difficult, and then there were pages called ‘Problems’. Celia adored problems. They were about boys and apples, and sheep in fields, and cakes, and men working, and though they were really only addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in disguise, yet the answers were in boys or apples or sheep, which made it ever so much more exciting. After arithmetic there was ‘copy’ done in an exercise book. Her mother would write a line across the top, and Celia would copy it down, down, down the page till she got to the bottom. Celia did not care for copy very much, but sometimes Mummy would write a very funny sentence such as ‘Cross-eyed cats can’t cough comfortably,’ which made Celia laugh very much. Then there was a page of spelling to be learnt—simple little words, but they cost Celia a good deal of trouble. In her anxiety to spell she always put so many unnecessary letters into words that they were quite unrecognizable. In the evening, after Susan had given Celia her bath, Mummy would come into the nursery to give Celia a ‘last tuck’. ‘Mummy’s tuck,’ Celia would call it, and she would try to lie very still so that ‘Mummy’s tuck’ should still be there in the morning. But somehow or other it never was. ‘Would you like a light, my pet? Or the door left open?’ But Celia never wanted a light. She liked the nice warm comforting darkness that you sank down into. The darkness, she felt, was friendly. ‘Well, you’re not one to be frightened of the dark,’ Susan used to say. ‘My little niece now, she screams her life out if you leave her in the dark.’ Susan’s little niece, Celia had for some time thought privately, must be a very unpleasant little girl—and also very silly. Why should one be frightened of the dark? The only thing that could frighten one was dreams. Dreams were frightening because they made real things go topsy-turvy. If she woke up with a scream after dreaming of the Gun Man, she would jump out of bed, knowing her way perfectly in the dark, and run along the passage to her mother’s room. And her mother would come back with her and sit a while, saying, ‘There’s no Gun Man, darling. You’re quite safe—you’re quite safe.’ And then Celia would fall asleep again, knowing that Mummy had indeed made everything safe, and in a few minutes she would be wandering in the valley by the river picking primroses and saying triumphantly to herself, ‘I knew it wasn’t a railway line, really. Of course, the river’s always been here.’ CHAPTER 2 (#ulink_b1f20046-4448-5d49-9d0e-23eeedec95c4) Abroad (#ulink_b1f20046-4448-5d49-9d0e-23eeedec95c4) It was six months after Nannie had departed that Mummy told Celia a very exciting piece of news. They were going abroad—to France. ‘Me too?’ ‘Yes, darling, you too.’ ‘And Cyril?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And Susan and Rouncy?’ ‘No. Daddy and I and Cyril and you. Daddy hasn’t been well, and the doctor wants him to go abroad for the winter to somewhere warm.’ ‘Is France warm?’ ‘The south is.’ ‘What is it like, Mummy?’ ‘Well, there are mountains there. Mountains with snow on them.’ ‘Why have they got snow on them?’ ‘Because they are so high.’ ‘How high?’ And her mother would try to explain just how high mountains were—but Celia found it very hard to imagine. She knew Woodbury Beacon. It took you half an hour to walk to the top of that. But Woodbury Beacon hardly counted as a mountain at all. It was all very exciting—particularly the travelling bag. A real travelling bag of her very own in dark green leather, and inside it had bottles, and a place for a brush and comb and clothes brush, and there was a little travelling clock and even a little travelling inkpot! It was, Celia felt, the loveliest possession she had ever had. The journey was very exciting. There was crossing the Channel, to begin with. Her mother went to lie down, and Celia stayed on deck with her father, which made her feel very grown up and important. France, when they actually saw it, was a little disappointing. It looked like any other place. But the blue-uniformed porters talking French were rather thrilling, and so was the funny high train they got into. They were to sleep in it, which seemed to Celia another thrilling thing. She and her mother were to have one compartment, and her father and Cyril the one next door. Cyril was, of course, very lordly about it all. Cyril was sixteen, and he made it a point of honour not to be excited about anything. He asked questions in a would-be indolent fashion, but even he could hardly conceal his passion and curiosity for the great French engine. Celia said to her mother: ‘Will there really be mountains, Mummy?’ ‘Yes, darling.’ ‘Very, very, very high?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Higher than Woodbury Beacon?’ ‘Much, much higher. So high that there’s snow on top of them.’ Celia shut her eyes and tried to imagine. Mountains. Great hills going up, up, up—so high that perhaps you couldn’t see the tops of them. Celia’s neck went back, back—in imagination she was looking up the steep sides of the mountains. ‘What is it, darling? Have you got a crick in your neck?’ Celia shook her head emphatically. ‘I’m thinking of big mountains,’ she said. ‘Silly little kid,’ said Cyril with good-humoured scorn. Presently there was the excitement of going to bed. In the morning, when they woke up, they would be in the South of France. It was ten o’clock on the following morning when they arrived at Pau. There was a great fuss about collecting the luggage, of which there was a lot—no less than thirteen great round-topped trunks and innumerable leather valises. At last, however, they were out of the station and driving to the hotel. Celia peered out in every direction. ‘Where are the mountains, Mummy?’ ‘Over there, darling. Do you see that line of snow peaks?’ Those! Against the skyline was a zigzag of white, looking as though it were cut out of paper. A low line. Where were those great towering monuments rising up into the sky—far, far up above Celia’s head? ‘Oh!’ said Celia. A bitter pang of disappointment swept through her. Mountains indeed! After she had got over her disappointment about the mountains, Celia enjoyed her life in Pau very much. The meals were exciting. Called for some strange reason Tabbeldote, you had lunch at a long table of all sorts of strange and exciting dishes. There were two other children in the hotel, twin sisters a year older than Celia. She and Bar and Beatrice went about everywhere together. Celia discovered, for the first time in her eight solemn years, the joys of mischief. The three children would eat oranges on their balcony and throw over the pips on to passing soldiers gay in blue and red uniforms. When the soldiers looked up angrily, the children would have dived back and become invisible. They put little heaps of salt and pepper on all the plates laid for Tabbeldote and annoyed Victor, the old waiter, very much indeed. They concealed themselves in a niche under the stairs and tickled the legs of all the visitors descending to dinner with a long peacock’s feather. Their final feat came on a day when they had worried the fierce chambermaid of the upper floor to the point of distraction. They had followed her into a little sanctum of mops and pails and scrubbing brushes. Turning on them angrily and pouring forth a torrent of that incomprehensible language—French—she swept out, banging the door on them and locking it. The three children were prisoners. ‘She’s done us,’ said Bar bitterly. ‘I wonder how long it’ll be before she lets us out?’ They looked at each other sombrely. Bar’s eyes flashed rebelliously. ‘I can’t bear to let her crow over us. We must do something.’ Bar was always the ringleader. Her eyes went to a microscopic slit of a window which was all the room possessed. ‘I wonder if we could squeeze through that. We’re none of us very fat. What’s outside, Celia, anything at all?’ Celia reported that there was a gutter. ‘It’s big enough to walk along,’ she said: ‘Good, we’ll do Suzanne yet. Won’t she have a fit when we come jumping out on her?’ They got the window open with difficulty, and one by one they squeezed themselves through. The gutter was a ledge about a foot wide with an edge perhaps two inches high. Below it was a sheer drop of five storeys. The Belgian lady in No. 33 sent a polite note to the English lady in No. 54. Was Madame aware of the fact that her little girl and the little girls of Madame Owen were walking round the parapet on the fifth storey? The fuss that followed was to Celia quite extraordinary and rather unjust. She had never been told not to walk on parapets. ‘You might have fallen and been killed.’ ‘Oh! No, Mummy, there was lots of room—even to put both feet together.’ The incident remained one of those inexplicable ones where grown-ups fuss about nothing at all. Celia would, of course, have to learn French. Cyril had a young Frenchman who came every day. For Celia a young lady was engaged to take her for walks every day and talk French. The lady was actually English, the daughter of the proprietor of the English bookshop, but she had lived her whole life in Pau and spoke French as easily as English. Miss Leadbetter was a young lady of extreme refinement. Her English was mincing and clipped. She spoke slowly, with condescending kindness. ‘See, Celia, that is a shop where they bake bread. A boulangerie.’ ‘Yes, Miss Leadbetter.’ ‘Look, Celia, there is a little dog crossing the road. Un chien qui traverse la rue. Qu’est-ce qu’il fait? That means, what is he doing?’ Miss Leadbetter had not been happy in this last attempt. Dogs are indelicate creatures apt to bring a blush to the cheek of ultra-refined young women. This particular dog stopping crossing the road and engaged in other activities. ‘I don’t know how to say what he is doing in French,’ said Celia. ‘Look the other way, dear,’ said Miss Leadbetter. ‘It’s not very nice. That is a church in front of us. Voilà une église.’ The walks were long, boring, and monotonous. After a fortnight, Celia’s mother got rid of Miss Leadbetter. ‘An impossible young woman,’ she said to her husband. ‘She could make the most exciting thing in the world seem dull.’ Celia’s father agreed. He said the child would never learn French except from a Frenchwoman. Celia did not much like the idea of a Frenchwoman. She had a good insular distrust of all foreigners. Still, if it was only for walks … Her mother said that she was sure she would like Mademoiselle Mauhourat very much. It struck Celia as an extraordinarily funny name. Mademoiselle Mauhourat was tall and big. She always wore dresses made with a number of little capes which swung about and knocked things over on tables. Celia was of opinion that Nannie would have said she ‘flounced’. Mademoiselle Mauhourat was very voluble and very affectionate. ‘Oh, la chère mignonne!’ cried Mademoiselle Mauhourat, ‘la chère petite mignonne.’ She knelt down in front of Celia and laughed in an engaging manner into her face. Celia remained very British and stolid and disliked this very much. It made her feel embarrassed. ‘Nous allons nous amuser. Ah, comme nous allons nous amuser!’ Again there were walks. Mademoiselle Mauhourat talked without ceasing, and Celia endured politely the flow of meaningless words. Mademoiselle Mauhourat was very kind—the kinder she was the more Celia disliked her. After ten days Celia got a cold. She was slightly feverish. ‘I think you’d better not go out today,’ said her mother. ‘Mademoiselle can amuse you here.’ ‘No,’ burst out Celia. ‘No. Send her away. Send her away.’ Her mother looked at her attentively. It was a look Celia knew well—a queer, luminous, searching look. She said quietly: ‘Very well, darling, I will.’ ‘Don’t even let her come in here,’ implored Celia. But at that moment the door of the sitting room opened and Mademoiselle, very much becaped, entered. Celia’s mother spoke to her in French. Mademoiselle uttered exclamations of chagrin and sympathy. ‘Ah, la pauvre mignonne,’ she cried when Celia’s mother had finished. She plopped down in front of Celia. ‘La pauvre, pauvre mignonne.’ Celia glanced appealingly at her mother. She made terrible faces at her. ‘Send her away,’ the faces said, ‘send her away.’ Fortunately at that moment one of Mademoiselle Mauhourat’s many capes knocked over a vase of flowers, and her whole attention was absorbed by apologies. When she had finally left the room, Celia’s mother said gently: ‘Darling, you shouldn’t have made those faces. Mademoiselle Mauhourat was only meaning to be kind. You would have hurt her feelings.’ Celia looked at her mother in surprise. ‘But, Mummy,’ she said, ‘they were English faces.’ She didn’t understand why her mother laughed so much. That evening Miriam said to her husband: ‘This woman’s no good, either. Celia doesn’t like her. I wonder—’ ‘What?’ ‘Nothing,’ said Miriam. ‘I was thinking of a girl in the dressmaker’s today.’ The next time she went to be fitted she spoke to the girl. She was only one of the apprentices; her job was to stand by holding pins. She was about nineteen, with dark hair neatly piled up in a chignon, a snub nose, and a rosy, good-humoured face. Jeanne was very astonished when the English lady spoke to her and asked her whether she would like to come to England. It depended, she said, on what Maman thought. Miriam asked for her mother’s address. Jeanne’s father and mother kept a small café—very neat and clean. Madame Beaugé listened in great surprise to the English lady’s proposal. To act as lady’s-maid and look after a little girl? Jeanne had very little experience—she was rather awkward and clumsy. Berthe now, her elder daughter—but it was Jeanne the English lady wanted. M. Beaugé was called in for consultation. He said they must not stand in Jeanne’s way. The wages were good, much better than Jeanne got in the dressmaking establishment. Three days later Jeanne, very nervous and elated, came to take up her duties. She was rather frightened of the little English girl she was to look after. She did not know any English. She learnt a phrase and said it hopefully. ‘Good morning—mees.’ Alas, so peculiar was Jeanne’s accent that Celia did not understand. The toilet proceeded in silence. Celia and Jeanne eyed each other like strange dogs. Jeanne brushed Celia’s curls round her fingers. Celia never stopped staring at her. ‘Mummy,’ said Celia at breakfast, ‘doesn’t Jeanne talk any English at all?’ ‘No.’ ‘How funny.’ ‘Do you like Jeanne?’ ‘She’s got a very funny face,’ said Celia. She thought a minute. ‘Tell her to brush my hair harder.’ At the end of three weeks Celia and Jeanne could understand each other. At the end of the fourth week they met a herd of cows when out on their walk. ‘Mon Dieu!’ cried Jeanne. ‘Des vaches—des vaches! Maman, maman.’ And catching Celia frenziedly by the hand, she rushed up a bank. ‘What’s the matter?’ said Celia. ‘J’ai peur des vaches.’ Celia looked at her kindly. ‘If we meet any more cows,’ she said, ‘you get behind me.’ After that they were perfect friends. Celia found Jeanne a most entertaining companion. Jeanne dressed some small dolls that had been given to Celia and sustained dialogues would ensue. Jeanne was, in turn, the femme de chambre (a very impertinent one), the maman, the papa (who was very military and twirled his moustache), and the three naughty children. Once she enacted the part of M. le Curé and heard their confessions and imposed dreadful penances on them. This enchanted Celia, who was always begging for a repetition. ‘Non, non, mees, c’est très mal ce que j’ai fait là.’ ‘Pourquoi?’ Jeanne explained. ‘I have made a mock of M. le Curé. It is a sin, that!’ ‘Oh, Jeanne, couldn’t you do it once more? It was so funny.’ The soft-hearted Jeanne imperilled her immortal soul and did it again even more amusingly. Celia knew all about Jeanne’s family. About Berthe who was très sérieuse, and Louis who was si gentil, and Edouard who was spirituel, and la petite Lise who had just made her first communion, and the cat who was so clever that he could curl himself up in the middle of the glasses in the café and never break one of them. Celia, in her turn, told Jeanne about Goldie and Rouncy and Susan, and the garden, and all the things they would do when Jeanne came to England. Jeanne had never seen the sea. The idea of going on a boat from France to England frightened her very much. ‘Je me figure,’ said Jeanne, ‘que j’aurais horriblement peur. N’en parlons pas! Parlez-moi de votre petit oiseau.’ One day, as Celia was walking with her father, a voice hailed them from a small table outside one of the hotels. ‘John! I declare it’s old John!’ ‘Bernard!’ A big jolly-looking man had jumped up and was wringing her father warmly by the hand. This, it seemed, was a Mr Grant, who was one of her father’s oldest friends. They had not seen each other for some years, and neither of them had had the least idea that the other was in Pau. The Grants were staying in a different hotel, but the two families used to foregather after déjeuner and drink coffee. Mrs Grant was, Celia thought, the loveliest thing she had ever seen. She had silver-grey hair, exquisitely arranged, and wonderful dark-blue eyes, clear-cut features, and a very clear incisive voice. Celia immediately invented a new character, called Queen Marise. Queen Marise had all the personal attributes of Mrs Grant and was adored by her devoted subjects. She was three times the victim of attempted assassination, but was rescued by a devoted young man called Colin, whom she at once knighted. Her coronation robes were of emerald green velvet and she had a silver crown set with diamonds. Mr Grant was not made a king. Celia thought he was nice, but that his face was too fat and too red—not nearly so nice as her own father with his brown beard and his habit of throwing it up in the air when he laughed. Her own father, Celia thought, was just what a father should be—full of nice jokes that didn’t make you feel silly like Mr Grant’s sometimes did. With the Grants was their son Jim, a pleasant freckle-faced schoolboy. He was always good-tempered and smiling, and had very round blue eyes that gave him rather a surprised look. He adored his mother. He and Cyril eyed each other like strange dogs. Jim was very respectful to Cyril, because Cyril was two years older and at a public school. Neither of them took any notice of Celia because, of course, Celia was only a kid. The Grants went home to England after about three weeks. Celia overheard Mr Grant say to her mother: ‘It gave me a shock to see old John, but he tells me he is ever so much fitter since being here.’ Celia said to her mother afterwards: ‘Mummy, is Daddy ill?’ Her mother looked a little queer as she answered: ‘No. No, of course not. He’s perfectly well now. It was just the damp and the rain in England.’ Celia was glad her father wasn’t ill. Not, she thought, that he could be—he never went to bed or sneezed or had a bilious attack. He coughed sometimes, but that was because he smoked so much. Celia knew that, because her father told her so. But she wondered why her mother had looked—well, queer … When May came they left Pau and went first to Argelès at the foot of the Pyrenees and after that to Cauterets up in the mountains. At Argelès Celia fell in love. The object of her passion was the lift boy—Auguste. Not Henri, the little fair lift boy who played tricks sometimes with her and Bar and Beatrice (they also had come to Argelès), but Auguste. Auguste was eighteen, tall, dark, sallow, and very gloomy in appearance. He took no interest in the passengers he propelled up and down. Celia never gathered courage to speak to him. No one, not even Jeanne, knew of her romantic passion. In bed at night Celia would envisage scenes in which she saved Auguste’s life by catching the bridle of his furiously galloping horse—a shipwreck in which she and Auguste alone survived, she saving his life by swimming ashore and holding his head above water. Sometimes Auguste saved her life in a fire, but this was somehow not quite so satisfactory. The climax she preferred was when Auguste, with tears in his eyes, said: ‘Mademoiselle, I owe you my life. How can I ever thank you?’ It was a brief but violent passion. A month later they went to Cauterets, and Celia fell in love with Janet Patterson instead. Janet was fifteen. She was a nice pleasant girl with brown hair and kindly blue eyes. She was not beautiful or striking in any way. She was kind to younger children and not bored by playing with them. To Celia the only joy in life was some day to grow up to be like her idol. Some day she too would wear a striped blouse and collar and tie, and would wear her hair in a plait tied with a black bow. She would have, too, that mysterious thing—a figure. Janet had a figure—a very apparent one sticking out each side of the striped blouse. Celia—a very thin child (described indeed by her brother Cyril when he wanted to annoy as a Scrawny Chicken—a term which never failed to reduce her to tears)—was passionately enamoured of plumpness. Some day, some glorious day, she would be grown up and sticking out and going in in all the proper places. ‘Mummy,’ she said one day, ‘when shall I have a chest that sticks out?’ Her mother looked at her and said: ‘Why, do you want one so badly?’ ‘Oh, yes,’ breathed Celia anxiously. ‘When you’re about fourteen or fifteen—Janet’s age.’ ‘Can I have a striped blouse then?’ ‘Perhaps, but I don’t think they’re very pretty.’ Celia looked at her reproachfully. ‘I think they’re lovely. Oh, Mummy, do say I can have one when I’m fifteen.’ ‘You can have one—if you still want it.’ Of course she would want it. She went off to look for her idol. To her great annoyance Janet was walking with her French friend Yvonne Barbier. Celia hated Yvonne Barbier with a jealous hatred. Yvonne was very pretty, very elegant, very sophisticated. Although only fifteen, she looked more like eighteen. Her arm linked through Janet’s, she was talking to her in a cooing voice. ‘Naturellement, je n’ai rien dit à Maman. Je lui ai répondu—’ ‘Run away, darling,’ said Janet kindly. ‘Yvonne and I are busy just now.’ Celia withdrew sadly. How she hated that horrible Yvonne Barbier. Alas, two weeks later, Janet and her parents left Cauterets. Her image faded quickly from Celia’s mind, but her ecstatic anticipation of the day when she would have ‘a figure’ remained. Cauterets was great fun. You were right under the mountains here. Not that even now they looked at all as Celia had pictured them. To the end of her life she could never really admire mountain scenery. A sense of being cheated remained at the back of her mind. The delights of Cauterets were varied. There was the hot walk in the morning to La Raillière where her mother and father drank glasses of nasty tasting water. After the water drinking there was the purchase of sticks of sucre d’orge. They were twirly sticks of different colours and flavours. Celia usually had ananas—her mother liked a green one—aniseed. Her father, strangely enough, liked none of them. He seemed buoyant and happier since he came to Cauterets. ‘This place suits me, Miriam,’ he said. ‘I can feel myself getting a new man here.’ His wife answered: ‘We’ll stay here as long as we can.’ She too seemed gayer—she laughed more. The anxious pucker between her brows smoothed itself away. She saw very little of Celia. Satisfied with the child being in Jeanne’s keeping, she devoted herself heart and soul to her husband. After the morning excursion Celia would come home with Jeanne through the woods, going up and down zigzag paths, occasionally tobogganing down steep slopes with disastrous results to the seats of her drawers. Agonized wails would arise from Jeanne. ‘Oh, mees—ce n’est pas gentille ce que vous faites là. Et vos pantalons. Que dirait Madame votre mère?’ ‘Encore une fois, Jeanne. Une fois seulement.’ ‘Non, non. Oh, mees!’ After lunch Jeanne would be busy sewing. Celia would go out into the Place and join some of the other children. A little girl called Mary Hayes had been specially designated as a suitable companion. ‘Such a nice child,’ said Celia’s mother. ‘Pretty manners and so sweet. A nice little friend for Celia.’ Celia played with Mary Hayes when she could not avoid it, but, alas, she found Mary woefully dull. She was sweet-tempered and amiable but, to Celia, extremely boring. The child whom Celia liked was a little American girl called Marguerite Priestman. She came from a Western state and had a terrific twang in her speech which fascinated the English child. She played games that were new to Celia. Accompanying her was her nurse, an amazing old woman in an enormous flopping black hat whose standard phrase was, ‘Now you stay right by Fanny, do you hear?’ Occasionally Fanny came to the rescue when a dispute was in progress. One day she found both children almost in tears, arguing hotly. ‘Now, just you tell Fanny what it’s all about,’ she commanded. ‘I was just telling Celia a story, and she says what I say isn’t so—and it is so.’ ‘You tell Fanny what the story was.’ ‘It was going to be just a lovely story. It was about a little girl who grew up in a wood kinder lonesome because the doctor had never fetched her in his black bag—’ Celia interrupted. ‘That isn’t true. Marguerite says babies are found by doctors in woods and brought to the mothers. That’s not true. The angels bring them in the night and put them into the cradle.’ ‘It’s doctors.’ ‘It’s angels.’ ‘It isn’t.’ Fanny raised a large hand. ‘You listen to me.’ They listened. Fanny’s little black eyes snapped intelligently as she considered and then dealt with the problem. ‘You’ve neither of you call to get excited. Marguerite’s right and so’s Celia. One’s the way they do with English babies and the other’s the way they do with American babies.’ How simple after all! Celia and Marguerite beamed on each other and were friends again. Fanny murmured, ‘You stay right by Fanny,’ and resumed her knitting. ‘I’ll go right on with the story, shall I?’ asked Marguerite. ‘Yes, do,’ said Celia. ‘And afterwards I’ll tell you a story about an opal fairy who came out of a peach stone.’ Marguerite embarked on her narrative, later to be interrupted once more. ‘What’s a scarrapin?’ ‘A scarrapin? Why, Celia, don’t you know what a scarrapin is?’ ‘No, what is it?’ That was more difficult. From the welter of Marguerite’s explanation Celia only grasped the fact that a scarrapin was in point of fact a scarrapin! A scarrapin remained for her a fabulous beast connected with the continent of America. Only one day when she was grown up did it suddenly flash into Celia’s mind. ‘Of course. Marguerite Priestman’s scarrapin was a scorpion.’ And she felt quite a pang of loss. Dinner was very early at Cauterets. It took place at half-past six. Celia was allowed to sit up. Afterwards they would all sit outside round little tables, and once or twice a week the conjurer would conjure. Celia adored the conjurer. She liked his name. He was, so her father told her, a prestidigitateur. Celia would repeat the syllables very slowly over to herself. The conjurer was a tall man with a long black beard. He did the most entrancing things with coloured ribbons—yards and yards of them he would suddenly pull out of his mouth. At the end of his entertainment he would announce ‘a little lottery’. First he would hand round a large wooden plate into which every one would put a contribution. Then the winning numbers would be announced and the prizes given—a paper fan—a little lantern—a pot of paper flowers. There seemed to be something very lucky for children in the lottery. It was nearly always children who won the prizes. Celia had a tremendous longing to win the paper fan. She never did, however, although she twice won a lantern. One day Celia’s father said to her, ‘How would you like to go to the top of that fellow there?’ He indicated one of the mountains behind the hotel. ‘Me, Daddy? Right up to the top?’ ‘Yes. You shall ride there on a mule.’ ‘What’s a mule, Daddy?’ He told her that a mule was rather like a donkey and rather like a horse. Celia was thrilled at the thought of the adventure. Her mother seemed a little doubtful. ‘Are you sure it’s quite safe, John?’ she said. Celia’s father pooh-poohed her fears. Of course the child would be all right. She, her father, and Cyril were to go. Cyril said in a lofty tone, ‘Oh! is the kid coming? She’ll be a rotten nuisance.’ Yet he was quite fond of Celia, but her coming offended his manly pride. This was to have been a man’s expedition—women and children left at home. Early on the morning of the great expedition Celia was ready and standing on the balcony to see the mules arrive. They came at a trot round the corner—great big animals—more like horses than donkeys. Celia ran downstairs full of joyful expectation. A little man with a brown face in a beret was talking to her father. He was saying that the petite demoiselle would be quite all right. He would charge himself with looking after her. Her father and Cyril mounted; then the guide picked her up and swung her up to the saddle. How very high up it felt! But very, very exciting. They moved off. From the balcony above, Celia’s mother waved to them. Celia was thrilling with pride. She felt practically grown up. The guide ran beside her. He chatted to her, but she understood very little of what he said, owing to his strong Spanish accent. It was a marvellous ride. They went up zigzag paths that grew gradually steeper and steeper. Now they were well out on the mountain side, a wall of rock on one side of them and a sheer drop on the other. At the most dangerous-looking places Celia’s mule would stop reflectively on the precipice edge and kick out idly with one foot. It also liked walking on the extreme edge. It was, Celia thought, a very nice horse. Its name seemed to be Aniseed, which Celia thought a very queer name for a horse to have. It was midday when they reached the summit. There was a tiny little hut there with a table in front of it, and they sat down, and presently the woman there brought them out lunch—a very good lunch too. Omelette, some fried trout, and cream cheese and bread. There was a big woolly dog with whom Celia played. ‘C’est presque un Anglais,’ said the woman. ‘Il s’appelle Milor.’ Milor was very amiable and allowed Celia to do anything she pleased with him. Presently Celia’s father looked at his watch and said it was time to start down again. He called to the guide. The latter came smiling. He had something in his hands. ‘See what I have just caught,’ he said. It was a beautiful big butterfly. ‘C’est pour Mademoiselle,’ he said. And quickly, deftly, before she knew what he was going to do, he had produced a pin and skewered the butterfly to the crown of Celia’s straw hat. ‘Voilà que Mademoiselle est chic,’ he said, falling back to admire his handiwork. Then the mules were brought round, the party was mounted, and the descent was begun. Celia was miserable. She could feel the wings of the butterfly fluttering against her hat. It was alive—alive. Skewered on a pin! She felt sick and miserable. Large tears gathered in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. At last her father noticed. ‘What’s the matter, poppet?’ Celia shook her head. Her sobs increased. ‘Have you got a pain? Are you very tired? Does your head ache?’ Celia merely shook her head more and more violently at each suggestion. ‘She’s frightened of the horse,’ said Cyril. ‘I’m not,’ said Celia. ‘Then what are you blubbing for?’ ‘La petite demoiselle est fatiguée,’ suggested the guide. Celia’s tears flowed faster and faster. They were all looking at her, questioning her—and how could she say what was the matter? It would hurt the guide’s feelings terribly. He had meant to be kind. He had caught the butterfly specially for her. He had been so proud of his idea in pinning it to her hat. How could she say out loud that she didn’t like it? And now nobody would ever, ever understand! The wind made the butterfly’s wings flap more than ever. Celia wept unrestrainedly. Never, she felt, had there been misery such as hers. ‘We’d better push on as fast as we can,’ said her father. He looked vexed. ‘Get her back to her mother. She was right. It’s been too much for the child.’ Celia longed to cry out: ‘It hasn’t, hasn’t. It’s not that at all.’ But she didn’t because she realized that then they would ask her again, ‘But then what is it?’ She only shook her head dumbly. She wept all the way down. Her misery grew blacker and blacker. Still weeping she was lifted from her mule, and her father carried her up to the sitting-room where her mother was sitting waiting for them. ‘You were right, Miriam,’ said her father. ‘It’s been too much for the child. I don’t know whether she’s got a pain or whether she’s overtired.’ ‘I’m not,’ said Celia. ‘She was frightened of coming down those steep places,’ said Cyril. ‘I wasn’t,’ said Celia. ‘Then what is it?’ demanded her father. Celia stared dumbly at her mother. She knew now that she could never tell. The cause of her misery would remain locked in her own breast forever and ever. She wanted to tell—oh, how badly she wanted to tell—but somehow she couldn’t. Some mysterious inhibition had been laid on her, sealing her lips. If only Mummy knew. Mummy would understand. But she couldn’t tell Mummy. They were all looking at her—waiting for her to speak. A terrible agony welled up in her breast. She gazed dumbly, agonizingly, at her mother. ‘Help me,’ that gaze said. ‘Oh, do help me.’ Miriam gazed back at her. ‘I believe she doesn’t like that butterfly in her hat,’ she said, ‘Who pinned it there?’ Oh, the relief—the wonderful, aching, agonizing relief. ‘Nonsense,’ her father was beginning, but Celia interrupted him. Words burst from her released like water at the bursting of a dam. ‘I ’ate it. I ’ate it,’ she cried. ‘It flaps. It’s alive. It’s being hurt.’ ‘Why on earth didn’t you say so, you silly kid?’ said Cyril. Celia’s mother answered: ‘I expect she didn’t want to hurt the guide’s feelings.’ ‘Oh, Mummy!’ said Celia. It was all there—in those two words. Her relief, her gratitude—and a great welling up of love. Her mother had understood. CHAPTER 3 (#ulink_5b9b7137-5543-5435-9d3f-cffad2f15542) Grannie (#ulink_5b9b7137-5543-5435-9d3f-cffad2f15542) The following winter Celia’s father and mother went to Egypt. They did not think it practicable to take Celia with them, so she and Jeanne went to stay with Grannie. Grannie lived at Wimbledon, and Celia liked staying with her very much. The features of Grannie’s house were, first, the garden—a square pocket handkerchief of green, bordered with rose trees, every tree of which Celia knew intimately, remembering even in winter: ‘That’s the pink la France—Jeanne, you’d like that one,’ but the crown and glory of the garden was a big ash tree trained over wire supports to make an arbour. There was nothing like the ash tree at home, and Celia regarded it as one of the most exciting wonders of the world. Then there was the WC seat of old-fashioned mahogany set very high. Retiring to this spot after breakfast, Celia would fancy herself a queen enthroned, and securely secluded behind a locked door she would bow regally, extend a hand to be kissed by imaginary courtiers and prolong the court scene as long as she dared. There was also Grannie’s store cupboard situated by the door into the garden. Every morning, her large bunch of keys clanking, Grannie would visit her store cupboard, and with the punctuality of a child, a dog, or a lion at feeding time, Celia would be there too. Grannie would hand out packets of sugar, butter, eggs, or a pot of jam. She would hold long acrimonious discussions with old Sarah, the cook. Very different from Rouncy, old Sarah. As thin as Rouncy was fat. A little old woman with a nut-cracker wrinkled face. For fifty years of her life she had been in service with Grannie, and during all those fifty years the discussions had been the same. Too much sugar was being used: what happened to the last half pound of tea? It was, by now, a kind of ritual—it was Grannie going through her daily performance of the careful housewife. Servants were so wasteful! You had to look after them sharply. The ritual finished, Grannie would pretend to notice Celia for the first time. ‘Dear, dear, what’s a little girl doing here?’ And Grannie would pretend great surprise. ‘Well, well,’ she would say, ‘you can’t want anything?’ ‘I do, Grannie, I do.’ ‘Well, let me see now.’ Grannie would burrow leisurely in the depths of the cupboard. Something would be extracted—a jar of French plums, a stick of angelica, a pot of quince preserve. There was always something for a little girl. Grannie was a very handsome old lady. She had pink and white skin, two waves of white crimped hair each side of her forehead, and a big good-humoured mouth. In figure she was majestically stout with a pronounced bosom and stately hips. She wore dresses of velvet or brocade, ample as to skirts, and well pulled in round the waist. ‘I always had a beautiful figure, my dear,’ she used to tell Celia. ‘Fanny—that was my sister—had the prettiest face of the family, but she’d no figure—no figure at all! As thin as two boards nailed together. No man looked at her for long when I was about. It’s figure the men care for, not face.’ ‘The men’ bulked largely in Grannie’s conversation. She had been brought up in the days when men were considered to be the hub of the universe. Women merely existed to minister to those magnificent beings. ‘You wouldn’t have found a handsomer man anywhere than my father. Six foot tall, he was. All we children were afraid of him. He was very severe.’ ‘What was your mother like, Grannie?’ ‘Ah, poor soul. Only thirty-nine when she died. Ten of us children, there were. A lot of hungry mouths. After a baby was born, when she was staying in bed—’ ‘Why did she stay in bed, Grannie?’ ‘It’s the custom, dearie.’ Celia accepted the mandate incuriously. ‘She always took her month,’ went on Grannie. ‘It was the only rest she got, poor soul. She enjoyed her month. She used to have breakfast in bed and a boiled egg. Not that she got much of that. We children used to come and bother her. “Can I have a taste of your egg, Mother? Can I have the top of it?” There wouldn’t be much left for her after each child had had a taste. She was too kind—too gentle. She died when I was fourteen. I was the eldest of the family. Poor father was heart-broken. They were a devoted couple. He followed her to the grave six months later.’ Celia nodded. That seemed right and fitting in her eyes. In most of the child’s books in the nursery there was a deathbed scene—usually that of a child—a peculiarly holy and angelic child. ‘What did he die of?’ ‘Galloping consumption,’ replied Grannie. ‘And your mother?’ ‘She went into a decline, my dear. Just went into decline. Always wrap your throat up well when you go out in an east wind. Remember that, Celia. It’s the east wind that kills. Poor Miss Sankey—why, she had tea with me only a month ago. Went to those nasty swimming baths—came out afterwards with an east wind blowing and no boa round her neck—and she was dead in a week.’ Nearly all Grannie’s stories and reminiscences ended like this. A most cheerful person herself, she delighted in tales of incurable illness, of sudden death, or of mysterious disease. Celia was so well accustomed to this that she would demand with eager and rapturous interest in the middle of one of Grannie’s stories, ‘And then did he die, Grannie?’ And Grannie would reply, ‘Ah, yes, he died, poor fellow.’ Or girl or boy, or woman—as the case might be. None of Grannie’s stories ever ended happily. It was perhaps her natural reaction from her own healthy and vigorous personality. Grannie was also full of mysterious warnings. ‘If anybody you don’t know offers you sweets, dearie, never take them. And when you’re an older girl, remember never to get into a train with a single man.’ This last injunction rather distressed Celia. She was a shy child. If one was not to get into a train with a single man, one would have to ask him whether or not he was married. You couldn’t tell if a man was married or not to look at him. The mere thought of having to do such a thing made her squirm uneasily. She did not connect with herself a murmur from a lady visitor. ‘Surely unwise—put things into her head.’ Grannie’s answer rose robustly. ‘Those that are warned in time won’t come to grief. Young people ought to know these things. And there’s a thing that perhaps you never heard of, my dear. My husband told me about it—my first husband.’ (Grannie had had three husbands—so attractive had been her figure—and so well had she ministered to the male sex. She had buried them in turn—one with tears—one with resignation—and one with decorum.) ‘He said women ought to know about such things.’ Her voice dropped. It hissed in sibilant whispers. What she could hear seemed to Celia dull. She strayed away into the garden … Jeanne was unhappy. She became increasingly homesick for France and her own people. The English servants, she told Celia, were not kind. ‘The cuisinière, Sarah, she is gentille, though she calls me a papist. But the others, Mary and Kate—they laugh because I do not spend my wages on my clothes, and send it all home to Maman.’ Grannie attempted to cheer Jeanne. ‘You go on behaving like a sensible girl,’ she told Jeanne. ‘Putting a lot of useless finery on your back never caught a decent man yet. You go on sending your wages home to your mother, and you’ll have a nice little nest egg laid by for when you get married. That neat plain style of dressing is far more suitable to a domestic servant than a lot of fal-lals. You go on being a sensible girl.’ But Jeanne would occasionally give way to tears when Mary or Kate had been unusually spiteful or unkind. The English girls did not like foreigners, and Jeanne was a papist too, and everyone knew that Roman Catholics worshipped the Scarlet Woman. Grannie’s rough encouragements did not always heal the wound. ‘Quite right to stick to your religion, my girl. Not that I hold with the Roman Catholic religion myself, because I don’t. Most Romans I’ve known have been liars. I’d think more of them if their priests married. And these convents! All those beautiful young girls shut up in convents and never being heard of again. What happens to them, I should like to know? The priests could answer that question, I dare say.’ Fortunately Jeanne’s English was not quite equal to this flow of remarks. Madame was very kind, she said, she would try not to mind what the other girls said. Grannie then had up Mary and Kate and denounced them in no measured terms for their unkindness to a poor girl in a strange country. Mary and Kate were very soft spoken, very polite, very surprised. Indeed, they had said nothing—nothing at all. Jeanne was such a one as never was for imagining things. Grannie got a little satisfaction by refusing with horror Mary’s plea to be allowed to keep a bicycle. ‘I am surprised at you, Mary, for making such a suggestion. No servant of mine shall ever do such an unsuitable thing.’ Mary, looking sulky, muttered that her cousin at Richmond was allowed to have one. ‘Let me hear nothing more about it,’ said Grannie. ‘Anyway, they’re dangerous things for women. Many a woman has been prevented from having children for life by riding those nasty things. They’re not good for a woman’s inside.’ Mary and Kate retired sulkily. They would have given notice, but they knew that the place was a good one. The food was first class—no inferior tainted stuff bought for the kitchen as in some places—and the work was not heavy. The old lady was rather a tartar, but she was kind in her way. If there was any trouble at home, she’d often come to the rescue, and nobody could be more generous at Christmas. There was old Sarah’s tongue, of course, but you had to put up with that. Her cooking was prime. Like all children, Celia haunted the kitchen a good deal. Old Sarah was much fiercer than Rouncy, but then, of course, she was terribly old. If anyone had told Celia that Sarah was a hundred and fifty she would not have been in the least surprised. Nobody, Celia felt, had ever been quite so old as Sarah. Sarah was most unaccountably touchy about the most extraordinary things. One day, for instance, Celia had gone into the kitchen and had asked Sarah what she was cooking. ‘Giblet soup, Miss Celia.’ ‘What are giblets, Sarah?’ Sarah pursed her mouth. ‘Things that it’s not nice for a little lady to make inquiries about.’ ‘But what are they?’ Celia’s curiosity was pleasantly aroused. ‘Now, that’s enough, Miss Celia. It’s not for a little lady like you to ask questions about such things.’ ‘Sarah.’ Celia danced about the kitchen. Her flaxen hair bobbed. ‘What are giblets? Sarah, what are giblets? Giblets—giblets—giblets?’ The infuriated Sarah made a rush at her with a frying pan, and Celia retreated, to poke her head in a few minutes later with the query, ‘Sarah, what are giblets?’ She next repeated the question from the kitchen window. Sarah, her face dark with annoyance, made no answer, merely mumbled to herself. Finally, tiring suddenly of this sport, Celia sought out her grandmother. Grannie always sat in the dining-room, which was situated looking out over the short drive in front of the house. It was a room that Celia could have described minutely twenty years later. The heavy Nottingham lace curtains, the dark red and gold wallpaper, the general air of gloom, and the faint smell of apples and a trace still of the midday joint. The broad Victorian dining table with its chenille cloth, the massive mahogany sideboard, the little table by the fire with the stacked-up newspapers, the heavy bronzes on the mantelpiece (‘Your grandfather gave £70 for them at the Paris Exhibition’), the sofa upholstered in shiny red leather on which Celia sometimes had her ‘rest’, and which was so slippery that it was hard to remain in the centre of it, the crocheted woolwork that was hung over the back of it, the dumbwaiters in the windows crammed with small objects, the revolving bookcase on the round table, the red velvet rocking chair in which Celia had once rocked so violently that she had shot over backwards and developed an egg-like bump on her head, the row of leather upholstered chairs against the wall, and lastly the great high-backed leather chair in which Grannie sat pursuing this, that, and the other activity. Grannie was never idle. She wrote letters—long letters in a spiky spidery handwriting, mostly on half sheets of paper because it used them up, and she couldn’t bear waste. (‘Waste not, want not, Celia.’) Then she crocheted shawls—pretty shawls in purples and blues and mauves. They were usually for the servants’ relations. Then she knitted with great balls of soft fleecy wool. That was usually for somebody’s baby. And there was netting—a delicate foam of netting round a little circle of damask. At tea time all the cakes and biscuits reposed on these foamy doilies. Then there were waistcoats—for the old gentlemen of Grannie’s acquaintance. You did them on strips of huckaback towelling, running through the stitches with lines of coloured embroidery cotton. This was, perhaps, Grannie’s favourite work. Though eighty-one years of age, she still had an eye for ‘the men’. She knitted them bed socks, too. Under Grannie’s guidance Celia was doing a set of washstand mats as a surprise for Mummy on her return. You took different-sized rounds of bath towelling, buttonholed them round first in wool, and then crocheted into the buttonholing. Celia was doing her set in pale blue wool, and both she and Grannie admired the result enormously. After tea was cleared away, Grannie and Celia would play spillikins, and after that cribbage, their faces serious and preoccupied, the classic phrases falling from their lips, ‘One for his knob, two for his heel, fifteen two, fifteen four, fifteen six, and six are twelve.’ ‘Do you know why cribbage is such a good game, my dear?’ ‘No, Grannie.’ ‘Because it teaches you to count.’ Grannie never failed to make this little speech. She had been brought up never to admit enjoyment for enjoyment’s sake. You ate your food because it was good for your health. Stewed cherries, of which Grannie was passionately fond, she had nearly every day because they were ‘so good for the kidneys’. Cheese, which Grannie also loved, ‘digested your food’, the glass of port served with dessert ‘I have been ordered by the doctor.’ Especially was it necessary to emphasize the enjoyment of alcohol (for a member of the weaker sex). ‘Don’t you like it, Grannie?’ Celia would demand. ‘No, dear,’ Grannie would reply, and would make a wry face as she took the first sip. ‘I drink it for my health.’ She could then finish her glass with every sign of enjoyment, having uttered the required formula. Coffee was the only thing for which Grannie admitted a partiality. ‘Very Moorish, this coffee,’ she would say, wrinkling up her eyelids in enjoyment. ‘Very moreish,’ and would laugh at her little joke as she helped herself to another cup. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/unfinished-portrait/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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