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Title: The Debate Continues
Author: Marjorie Bowen
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1300751h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Feb 2013
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The Debate Continues
Being the Autobiography of Marjorie Bowen


Marjorie Bowen
Writing as Margaret Campbell


First published by William Heinemann Ltd., London, 1939



Ever since The Viper of Milan the public has tended to take Marjorie Bowen for granted. For thirty years she has ransacked history for our entertainment, and the repetition of her successes has made her name the hall-mark of historical fiction. But of the woman behind all this nothing is known.

Here at last is her autobiography.

It is a story of early hardships, sudden success and ceaseless struggle, but above all it is a story of courage, for it is as much through her courage and character as by her knowledge of history and genius for romance that she has succeeded.

The sixteen-year-old girl who wrote The Viper of Milan was self-educated, self-disciplined and self-supporting. Her marriage took her to Italy where she lived during part of the War of 1914-1918. This is a homely account of what made her spirit and mind what it became, and of life as it seemed to her; the title shows that she has reached no conclusions and drawn no morals. The facts are related without any of the professional tricks or effects that could easily have been used, for the woman is a writer. It is not embroidered, helped with quotations, or padded with anecdotes of well-known people or events, or the author's opinions, save as far as these affect her character or her story. The aim has been to give a stripped narrative of fact and the resulting effect on one woman of having to face the facts.


A woman who earned her living by writing fiction—with occasional essays in that kind of history deplored by historians—decided to write of her own life.

There were many reasons against this decision, but as the matter was of little importance either way, she allowed herself to be deceived into hoping that some old ghosts would be exorcised by being pinned on paper, and deceived into ignoring the fact that a swift oblivion would overtake her book. For she had a desire to pay a tribute to some people and some things before she too would be as dead as they are now dead, everywhere save in her heart and mind.

It was not, she knew, a remarkable or exciting life; much of it was commonplace, and when she could detach herself sufficiently to regard her own figure from a distance, she saw that it was, often enough, that of a fool. However, there seemed something to be said on this subject that only she could say, and she felt impelled to say it, urged by an impulsion selfish, maybe, save in the need to chronicle something of the merits of those she had loved—so well and so long.

She often thought of herself by the name Margaret under which she was baptized, a name borne by many Scotswomen since a royal saint made it popular. Some tales it is not easy to tell in the first person, so she resolved to write of herself, here and there, at least, as Margaret Campbell.

As for the truth of her narrative, she could not claim to know what the absolute of truth was, much less to be able always to command it, but she undertook with herself to set down events and people as they appeared to her. Fear of vexatious disputes and the desire not to hurt the feelings of those adversely described moved her to use fictitious names. Even in employing this device she had to restrain her candour. Some things it is not decent to write of the dead, or prudent to write of the living.

She was well aware that her own character as depicted by herself might well be a subject for ridicule or censure, and this knowledge was not agreeable, since she had always been timid before sneers or blame. But a second's reflection convinced her that this, also, was of no importance.

M. C.
London, 1939.


I was born in Hayling Island in the cottage of an old woman named Mrs. Cole, of whom I know nothing save that she made a quantity of sloe gin and hoarded it, leaving it to be drunk on the day of her funeral. My birth hour was between the days of All Saints and All Souls; this was supposed to give the gift of second sight. I had no other distinction at my first appearance in the seaside cottage, and I inherited a double misfortune—the unhappiness of my parents and their poverty.

I was a second child; the first girl had died under deplorable circumstances in a London lodging. My father's sister, after whom I was named and who was my godmother, was kind to an infant who was an embarrassment and a burden.

She provided me with clothes and my mother with good advice. My parents' marriage pleased no one, least of all themselves. It was safe to predict that I could never be anything but a vexation.

My mother gave me a French name to follow the dutiful Margaret; she was herself named Josephine because of her own mother's sympathy with an Empress who seemed both wronged and saintly to the provincial Englishwoman. So a sentimental flavour of faded romance passed almost furtively from one generation to another; royal wives, royal mistresses—these poor women liked to dream of such remote foreign splendours.

Very little more was ever told me of my early childhood, save that the girl hired to carry me out in my first spring and summer had St. Vitus's dance and frightened me into convulsions before it was discovered that she grimaced and grinned uncontrollably into the face of her charge.

Soon, however, I began to notice things for myself. Some of these recollections remain in the form of pictures: myself in bed, watching a red flower in a pot on the window-sill, blue beyond, and a woman buttoning up her tight bodice—that is about the first picture.

For a long time I was happy; everything seemed perfect. There was a farm-house room, with sloping floors, black-and-white birds in a glass case, and an old woman by the fire. There was hopping, a time of enchantment, and light falling through the wreaths of hops, and my being lifted up to look at them in the bin. Everyone seemed to smile. A hop-pole was made into a wigwam and I was given toys cut out of turnips and carrots.

I saw a fire in the distance—paper-mills burning, I was told. I went for a ride in a gig, borne swiftly, a long way from the ground.

I drank out of cups with gold flowers in the bottom, and ate my meals in front of windows where there were either boys playing in a yard or a very high church steeple to be seen.

I saw a river, barges, an old church with ivy outside and tattered flags within.

It was all delightful, and I can remember it now with great pleasure.

About my fourth birthday things began to change for the worse. I became conscious of the three people who had complete power over me—my father, my mother, and Nana. I became aware, too, of their disquieting doctrines of sin and punishment. Disillusionment was plainly round the corner. If places, things and animals were still enchanting, people began to be terrifying.

Told to ask the fairies for a birthday present, I demanded a hoop. I found one on the front-door mat and was told that the fairies had put it through the letter-box. I refused to believe that and was "smacked" for naughtiness. The incident haunted me; I tried to bend the hoop. I dreamed of it, collapsed, pushed through the slit in the door. I tried to bowl it, and could not do so. Large, heavy, and somehow unpleasant, it kept falling about until one day it rolled into the river.

I was scolded for losing it, and then the water washed it up again and it was taken away because I was so naughty.

All this was disagreeable and bewildering.

The place was Maidstone, and I was taken to the Museum. There I saw two terrible sights. A model of a bird of prey attacking a sheep, and a plaster relief of the entrails of a fish. It was my first experience of cruelty, suffering and dismemberment. I suffered profoundly; the disembowelled fish, the bleeding sheep, joined the sinister hoop in my waking fancies and my dreams.

There was a fourth horror—perhaps the worst; in a yellow-covered book I found a picture of a negro yelling and running along. Unfortunately, my dread of this picture was discovered, and I was playfully teased by being shown it at unexpected moments. My yells of anguish were usually punished, as were the fits of sickness that followed the forcible eating of some food, such as rhubarb, fat or cold potatoes which I loathed.

Otherwise I was still happy.

I could then distinguish the difference between the three people who ruled me. I preferred my father—he was always kind, let me ride on his shoulder and brought me odd things to play with—little china dogs, sunflower beads and pellets of quicksilver. He sang and whistled, too, tunes I remember yet, and he was so tall and large that when I was with him I felt all terrors kept at bay.

I saw little of my mother; she used to play the piano a good deal and her gusts of rage bewildered and alarmed me. When I was with her I always seemed to be naughty.

Nana was my main concern; she ruled me as a complete dictator at this time. I was fond of her, but in a wary fashion. The way she forced food on me, her constant scoldings and punishments made me timid and resentful. I could not understand what it was all about. I had a sensation, even then, of being in the way.

The best times were when my father took me out, for hours as it seemed to me.

He usually went by the river where the sedges and grasses were thick. Once I picked an iris bud and it opened in my hand; that was the first time I felt important.

In the spring after my fourth birthday we left Maidstone and went to a cottage in a village outside Canterbury. The landlady's name was Mrs. Judges. That of the woman in Maidstone had been Alcock.

These landladies were such powerful people I early noted them; exacting and bad-tempered as they were, never were they to be offended.

This new place was beautiful. I noticed a number of things that pleased me very much—the hairy gooseberries in the garden, and a thick pink flower growing out of the wall.

My father took me for walks again, and by the streams we found forget-me-nots, bulrushes, mint, sorrel and thick, silver grass.

This seemed exciting and important, as if we were discovering treasure. I have never forgotten the names he told me, nor what he termed "touchwood," white crumbling stuff we used to pick up under the willows.

I was grateful for this happiness; these memories served me well afterwards at a time when there were only memories that were happy. This English landscape of low-lying meadows with willow trees, bulrushes, forget-me-nots and lush water plants has always remained for me the most romantic of backgrounds, and has often served as the scene for people with romantic fantasies.

I remember the high road into Canterbury; it seemed extremely straight, long and wide. There were deep ditches on either side, and at one point a glue factory that stood back in the fields. There was a certain air of excitement and adventure about this. People talked a great deal about the stench from this factory, but I do not remember ever smelling it myself, though I saw people with handkerchiefs to their noses hurrying past. I thought about it frequently; I did not then know what glue was made of, but the whole subject seemed horrible.

I went constantly about with my father and saw less and less of my mother, Nana and Mrs. Judges, the landlady. He took me to various cottages, where I used to play with flowers, mostly sunflower heads, sometimes in company with dogs and chickens, quite contented in a back garden or front yard.

I can recall also the churchyard and the strong, fleshy pink flowers—I do not know their name—that grew out of the wall. And one day there was an adventure, it was almost a disaster, yet pleasurable, too.

We were standing on a bridge together watching the water-beetles, it was amazing to see how they sped along on the surface of the stream. I should like to have been one of them; anything to do with air or water was delightful. Then I slipped, and my leg was badly grazed against the rotten planks. I was carried home and the wound was bandaged up; there was a fuss made and I felt important.

My first memory of food is associated with these times. I used to have, in those country cottages, boiled eggs and bread and butter. It was delicious.

But one day a new character appeared on the scene, a woman whose appearance I can recall as being brilliant—pink and white, and yellow hair, fine teeth, and a face continually laughing. I was told that she was my Aunt Gertrude, and that she had come to take me away to the seaside.

I went with pleasure, but I had no idea how delightful it could be. I think the place was Clacton, and the weather was sunny and blue, the salt smell enchanting. Looking down a narrow side-street I saw for the first time the masts of ships and fishing boats drawn up on the sand and the sea beyond. This gave me a thrill of ecstasy, I do not know why.

There were, too, shops with buckets and spades hanging outside and an air of gala over everything. I was taken on to the pier and had bloater-paste sandwiches sitting on a stone wall. It began to rain and we went away. As we left I noted that the place where I had been sitting was dry and a different colour from the rest of the stone; this was most pleasurable, too.

My aunt had with her a man and a little boy. I was told to call them Mr. Poynter and my cousin, Simon. The man was short; he seemed to me dwarfish after my father's large stature, but I liked him. He had a big brown moustache and a straw hat, and seemed always smiling and agreeable. My cousin, who was about my own age, I regarded with indifference. He had long curls while my hair was short, and wore velvet suits with long lace collars. Having been brought up in Paris he chattered French more readily than English.

We played on the sands together. On a placid day I sent my bucket out to sea. It was very amusing to lie flat so that the sea was just on a level with your eyes and watch the bucket lazily floating outwards. I did not get into trouble for this; my aunt laughed at everything I did, and I began to forget that it was possible to be naughty. Naughty, however, in Nana's sense of the word, I certainly was.

I fought my cousin violently, but without vindictiveness or even (for I always won) triumph. I must have been larger and stronger than he was. We went in a goat carriage along the front and fought in it, for some reason I have forgotten, and both fell out.

I was told I might go into a shop and help buy a surprise for tea, and while I was selecting it from the piled-up tins and jars on the counter, Simon came rushing in. I fought him then in the shop and drove him out, and everybody laughed; there was an air of amusing pleasantness over everything.

We must have been staying in a country cottage, for I remember again the fruit bushes, and playing under them, running up to my aunt's room and knocking on the door, and her opening it and putting out a bare arm half-covered with a towel.

I thought she was beautiful and liked her much better than her sister, my own mother.

That is all I can remember of this extremely happy time when my spirit danced with ecstasy and there seemed to be no trouble or difficulty in the world. It is a bright and indelible, yet vague picture.

When I returned to my parents everything seemed different. I was told that I had a baby sister; my mother seemed to regard me with aversion and I saw less of my father. Gradually I was beginning to understand that something was very wrong with all these people.

The atmosphere perceptibly darkened that autumn. The baby sister was a matter of indifference to me, save that Nana and Mrs. Judges insisted on saying the fairies had brought her. I did not disbelieve in fairies or in anything else, but their tales were unconvincing and Nana, at least, I knew to be a liar. I had realised already that she told any tale that suited her convenience, and that if any little thing went wrong that she was likely to be blamed for, she used to say that I was the culprit.

It was my mother's behaviour that made me understand that our circumstances were unhappy, even terrible. Adults seldom pause to consider how early and how quickly children will observe and judge. Probably my mother had no idea that I was taking the least notice of her passions, but everything she said and did made a great impression on me. I hardly saw her but she scolded me for something or other and she was continually making me stand in the corner with my hands on my head and overwhelming me with half-incomprehensible reproaches from which, however, I could gather the words, "You ought never to have been born."

My mother used to tell me that I had my father's temper, and Nana used to take me away with a phrase that afterwards became very familiar to me—"I was to efface myself." I soon understood that the words meant that I was to get out of the way, and I became quite adroit at doing that.

It was not difficult to escape my mother, who was much absorbed in her own sad affairs, nor was there much mischief that I could get into. I mostly played in the garden, looking out for my father whom I no longer saw. My Aunt Gertrude came and went and when I begged her to take me away with her to the seaside again, this imprudence provoked fresh outbursts from my distracted mother, who accused me of ingratitude and hardness of heart.

All my outward delight having ceased, these things occupied my thoughts when alone. I became introspective and reserved. At five years of age an intelligent child has a pretty shrewd idea of what is going on round about it. Out of the delightful golden world, so new, so interesting and so exciting that I had found, sad and gloomy figures began to form.

I understood that something awful had taken place about me in which I was inevitably involved. I could no more escape than I could have escaped a thunderstorm if I had been caught alone and naked on a barren heath.

I heard shouts, quarrels, echoes of scenes—battles or fights, they seemed to me. I was hustled from one room to another, shut in sometimes for hours together, very much afraid and wondering what was happening. Someone would open the door and push in a glass of milk and a slice of bread and butter, and once, I remember, a rag doll, and tell me to be quiet or to "efface myself," or to "run away and play, there's a good girl."

My father disappeared altogether. The autumn set in and we returned to town.

My mother and Nana were completely absorbed in the new baby, who was extremely pretty and charming. I soon sensed that I had never been either, and that I was now a vexation—"nuisance" was the word. Try as I would to keep out of the way, I always seemed to be offending someone.

I tried to do as I was told just in order to keep out of trouble, but this was of little use. When it suited Nana to excuse her own negligence or incompetence the resultant trouble or offence would always be blamed on me. It was I who had stolen or upset the baby's milk, even if I had never been near it. It was I who had wilfully torn my clothes; the truth being that they had never been mended. It was I who had taken the jam, though Nana herself had gluttonously eaten it.

A child of that age, too young to defend itself yet old enough to accomplish any amount of mischief, was an easy scapegrace.

These things made a great impression upon me. I began to acquire quite a store of worldly wisdom. The great object of my days was to escape blame or punishment, for active pleasure or amusement was beyond hope.

I do not recall my fifth birthday; I do not think there was so much as a hoop for me on that occasion. But soon after it we went to London, and all glitters of happiness were over for a very long time.

We moved into what seemed to be a permanent gloom and fog, into a Bayswater lodging—two floors in a large pretentious house. I loathed the place from the first glimpse; it was dark and ugly. This was my first experience of the active distress caused by hideous surroundings. I can recall now details of the huge dark furniture that seemed to me monstrous, the great mirror above the mantelpiece, the clutter of useless ornaments, blackened canvases depicting some incomprehensible subject, with enormous gilt frames, and the very high windows with Venetian blinds, the slats of which were always going awry and always loaded with dust.

There was a certain fascination in prying through them and drawing one's finger along them to gather up the dirt. These things were forbidden, and if discovered, punished.

Here I noticed gas for the first time; it hung from the ceiling in the centre of the room. There were white globes and inside them wide heart-shaped flames, blue in the centre and at the tips. Taps and strings were used to turn them on and off; these often seemed to go wrong and there was an acrid smell. The light, too, was detestable.

Curiosity, however, kept me lively and, to a certain degree, satisfied. I was rather like somebody going through a tunnel—everything was horrible at the moment, but surely any minute we were coming out to something else.

My mother's hysterical ill-humour continued. I did not see very much of her, but lived on the upper floor with Nana and the baby sister. She had now a high chair into which she was fastened by a bar of wood, also a wooden spoon with which she drummed on the table. I can remember nothing else about her, except the continual praises lavished on her by Nana and my mother, when she came to the nursery, for her sweetness and beauty were supposed to be in painful contrast to my plainness and villainous disposition.

I did not, however, feel jealous because she did not enter sufficiently into my existence and I felt, in those days, a tolerable self-confidence. If I could only get clear of this set of circumstances I might do well for myself. Lack of personal beauty did not trouble me at all in those days, but I should have liked to have had very long hair. If I could get hold of a ball of string, unravel it, fasten it to my head and walk up and down I was happy in the imagined possession of flowing golden locks.

Nana had pleasant traits, and one of the best was her habit of telling fairy-tales and singing nursery rhymes. When I could sit at her knee in front of the fire that we had in our room and listen to her telling stories or singing I was quite happy. The fairy-tales were completely satisfying, I wanted nothing but to go on hearing them for ever and ever.

This strange woman had a motherly way with her, too, and a broad bosom, and could make one feel cosy and at home. I began to be attached to her and to overlook her tyrannies, not the least of which was the way she used to pull my hair when she combed it and the fashion in which she would knuckle my eyes and ears when washing my face.

Several times I heard my father's voice in the room down below and struggled to get downstairs to him, but this was forbidden. The sense of disaster, almost of horror and gloom, deepened.

Once I was allowed to go down and see him and he was standing in front of the high, hideous chimney-piece that so impressed me. My mother was sitting in the arm-chair, smoking cigarettes—that was the first time I remember her doing this—one after another, and throwing the stubs into the flames. And her face frightened me, it was so bloodless and frowning.

My father seemed the same as ever, he was so pleasant that when he went away I cried and was punished for that.

I did not understand then, and do not understand now, in what way I so deeply exasperated my mother, for I was very eager to please and certainly did not offend wilfully.

An agonising experience now began; she decided to teach me to read and write. I was stupid and she was impatient, and every lesson exploded in a scene, as it was termed. Worse, it usually ended by my being slapped on the back of the hands with a hair-brush and stood in the corner, I do not know for how long, but it seemed like hours to me. I stood in the corner of the room with my hands on my head; sometimes I was shut into the room without food, and Nana used to come down with a glass of water and a slice of bread. I gathered she was not allowed to do this, but was moved to pity by my plight. The worst part of the punishment was the darkness that gradually came huddling into the empty room; everything in it seemed hostile and repulsive.

There was a sense of agony, too, in the fact that I really did not know these words that I was supposed to be refusing to spell out of obstinacy. But it was impossible to make my mother believe this; she thought that I was being sullen and naughty, when really I was only timid and ignorant.

Nana had gentler methods. She gave me some books with words of one syllable and I did begin to spell them out with the help of pictures. But I was not in any way bright or clever, and life seemed dark, heavy and difficult when I was faced with these problems.

I remember nothing outside the house but taking walks along streets of indescribable gloom; on either side there were large houses of the same kind as that in which we lived. There seemed to be no shops, but a point of interest was a railway bridge. I liked that, and seeing the trains with the windows lit up pass over it.

This bridge mingled with the fairy-tales that Nana told me. I thought it was going to some of the places, the towns, forests, villages and cottages in those enchanting stories. It seemed to give me a link with them.

Once I was taken out to see the funeral procession of some great man, I do not know who it was, and I do not remember anything about it except that Nana said to me that men were crying, and it seemed to me extraordinary and stuck in my mind, for adults, "grown-ups" as I labelled them, were then, I thought, omnipotent and it was strange that they should cry just as I did when I was helpless and in trouble. But then I was happily ignorant of the meaning of death and funerals; those terrors were to come.

Once my father came and took me out. I can remember dancing along the pavement holding his hand. We went into a shop where we had a drink of soda-water. I can remember the white tiles, pictures of swans and rushes, in the middle of the wall. I hoped we might be going to the country again, but no. I returned to the dismal house, and it was years before I saw him again for more than a brief and miserable glimpse.

An intolerable episode now showed me that life could be much worse than I had believed possible.

I was sent to stay with my grandmother in Hampstead. Why this experience was so frightful I do not know; the horror of it is only just now beginning to die away. It haunted me for years, and the mere recollection seemed for long to stand between me and any chance of happiness.

It was a large house; it seemed to me larger than the one in which we had been staying, and I at once loathed it and everything in it with an intense dislike.

No doubt my relatives and everyone who had anything to do with me were all good, kind, wise and understanding; one cannot very well suppose it to have been otherwise. No doubt, also, I was in everything a wayward and disagreeable child. That I do not know, it is impossible for me to judge of the impression I made on others. I only know of my own intense unhappiness, that my sufferings were literally unmitigated, for I do not remember any comfort, consolation or pleasure during the whole time that I stayed at Hampstead.

Quite why this should have been so and what combination of circumstances produced these miseries for me I cannot tell. I detested the house and the place, and I have never been able to regard Hampstead with equanimity since.

I can recall a good many details of that dismal mansion, that black-and-white pavement in the hall, the coloured glass of the hall windows, the enormous red plush curtains that hung in front of the door of a room known as the library, in which was a gigantic, black carved bookcase. The drawing-room was a round room looking on the garden and had a curved door that I could never learn to open. In this room was a large, shining piano and cabinets with glass fronts padded with blue satin that were filled with little china figures. There was also a mirror with a frame made of glass flowers.

This room looked on the garden, a square of grass bordered by a gravel path and, beyond this, some poplar trees.

The dining-room looked out on to the front, and was the worst room in that dreadful house. There were dark pictures on the wall, an enormous dark sideboard—a "chiffonier," I believe it was called—a long table. The only tolerable thing about this room was that a chenille cloth hung from the table right down to the ground, and I could get under it and escape observation for quite a long time at a spell.

I did not see much of my grandfather; he was only at home in the evenings. He was kind, but I did not like his long face and grey whiskers.

It was my grandmother and one of my aunts that I saw most of, but I did not see very much even of them. In some strange way I seemed to be frequently alone in the great house, for great it seemed to me, save for the servants. I far preferred them to anyone else and liked very much to go down into the kitchen that was bright and cheerful, with the silver closet and the china closet.

A gloomy room was on the ground floor, the old nursery or garden room, that was then shut up. It opened straight on to the garden. I hated that, especially, with the old scribbled drawings on the walls and the shelves of tattered books.

I was not, however, allowed to go downstairs to the servants. I could only slip down now and then, when there was little chance of my being discovered. Often when alone in the house I would sit at the top of the kitchen stairs with the baize door that shut off these premises from the rest of the house. I would keep this open, just to see the light from the kitchen fire coming up the stairs, and to hear voices.

I slept in a small room, a dressing-room I think it must have been, that looked on to the top of the porch. This flat space was lined with lead and the water collected there and looked to me inexpressibly dull and dreary.

But the rooms above were the worst of all. Someone must have told me about ghosts, devils and demons, for I soon peopled those top rooms with every imaginable terror. One of them was empty and disused, there was a large hole in the floor and I was told that somebody had once lost a diamond ring down it. This hole filled me with the greatest possible horror. There were also two empty glass cases in that room, and I disliked them, too, with a frightened hatred.

Another horror of these regions was an enormous dark picture. It hung on the stairs and my uncles, when boys, had used it for a target, for it was full of small holes.

My sufferings were acute; night after night I lay awake listening to what I supposed were footsteps overhead, crouching under the bedclothes in terror of the ghosts and demons that I believed would at any moment descend upon me. All these terrors were a secret that I kept to myself, so no one was to be blamed for this mental anguish, which became so acute that I would have destroyed myself had I known how.

Apart from this, the days were filled with a dreadful boredom. There was nothing to do. I was afraid of opening a book for fear of seeing some terrible picture like that of the Negro which had so frightened me in Maidstone.

Once, however, this that I had so dreaded occurred. A book was shown me, no doubt with the greatest good will, in which was a picture of an old man coming down a ladder through a hole in the ceiling. That was enough for me. I expected the old man nightly.

I was fond of drawing and had scribbled since I could first remember, but here was neither paper, chalk nor pencil. I loitered about through days that seemed of interminable length, in everyone's way, a nuisance, and a misery.

I developed a great affection for one of my uncles, and ran behind him whenever I could get the opportunity. But I did not see very much of him. Sometimes he took me out with him on Hampstead Heath, and though I liked his company principally I think because he was like my father, I detested Hampstead Heath.

I do not know how long I was in my grandmother's house, but I remember the spring there and it seemed worse than the winter. There were some lilac trees in the garden and their leaves had a nasty, livid look against the grey sky. I have always disliked flowers in London gardens.

I tried once to make mud pies, and dug up a quantity of worms that filled me with great disgust. I tried to persuade myself that I liked making these pies. But I did not.

The house next door was empty and in charge of a caretaker; the neglected gardens and the blank windows that one could see when looking down added to the gloom.

My grandmother's room was perhaps the pleasantest in the house. I liked her large cupboard full of wools—she always had some kind of woolwork in her hand. I cannot remember anything about her save that she had a curious accent—Irish, I afterwards learned. She was upright and handsome and, as I thought, incredibly old, as well as dry and formidable. She must have been a woman in middle life, and she was handsome in a stately fashion. She wore a lace cap with a Parma violet ribbon.

I do not think my grandparents then kept a carriage, but I sometimes went riding with my grandmother in one. Beyond Hampstead we were almost at once in the country. I can recall fields with buttercups and low bushes with white flowers—hawthorns. It was not in the least like the country of my earlier childhood. Everything was tainted and tarnished. It really was as if this part of my life had passed in a kind of delirium; unhappily for me it could not be forgotten like the fevered dreams of delirium.

The walks with my aunt or grandmother were terrible. On these walks the streets seemed endless, the pavements so hard, and I particularly loathed the sun-blinds. I have never been able to see them since without hatred—those flat, expressionless houses, every one with a sun-blind out. Boredom seemed to brood like a miasma over everything—a perpetual Sunday afternoon.

The food was a difficulty, too. When we were in the London lodgings I had often had to stand in the corner because I could not eat fat, or half-cold boiled potatoes. Here the bugbears were stew, rice, Normandy pippins—that were "good for me," despite the fact that they always made me sick. I was a healthy child but suffered much from a queasy stomach. A sight or a sound that I found disgusting would fill me with nausea that often would last for hours, and repellent food that I was forced to eat really made me sick. Being "for my own good" denied everything I could have eaten until I had forced down the nauseous supper "like a good girl," I was often hungry.

There was an ugly episode when I found the chiffonier unlocked and stole some jam. Unfortunately I left some sticky finger-marks on the high-polished surface; the crime was discovered, punished by an application of the hair-brush and being sent to bed in daylight. There I lay for hours in the pale pink sunshine streaming into that hideous room, thinking of the ghosts and devils that were marching overhead and who, no doubt, would soon descend upon me.

Once or twice—not very often, I think—I was taken to some sort of chapel on Sundays. A man with a beard preached, and the seats were all of light varnished pitch-pine. My hair was tied up in a knot with a white ribbon on the top of my head, a straw hat was fastened under my chin with an elastic which I was forbidden to touch, and the knot of ribbon pressed most uncomfortably into my head. That is all that I can remember of my first experiences of religion.

It was during this visit I learned—I do not know how, but children are quick to sense an atmosphere and the meaning of a stray word or so—that I was in a position not humiliating only but in some way denoting that I was lost and disgraced.

I heard my relatives talking of my mother and referring to her as "a certain person," but I knew whom they meant. She came once, and I was very happy to see her. She seemed in that moment dear and desirable. I remember that she had some artificial dandelions in her hat, and I wept bitterly because she would not take me away with her.

My father came too, and I heard him quarrelling with his relatives while I hid under the long table-cloth in the dining-room. I did not know what it was all about; it was vague and dreadful like the shadows of giants fighting.

But I soon had a conviction of being an outcast, unwanted, and undesirable. It is difficult at six years of age to know how to face such problems.

Several of my cousins came to visit my grandparents and I was made aware, by what subtle means I do not know, of my gross inferiority to them. I was prepared to admit this, too; they seemed to me wonderful creatures, gay and free and handsome, blessed as much as I was cursed.

One of them had the measles while staying in the Hampstead house and I caught it after she had been sent away convalescent. I had to be isolated in the room that looked on to the horrible lead-top of the porch. I cannot remember any suffering from the illness, only the boredom of the long hours alone with nothing to do but to dwell on ugly fancies.

The one agreeable thing about this kind of imprisonment was that the meals of rice and Normandy pippin could be thrown out of the window without discovery. By slipping them at the side of the porch the messes went down into the garden of the empty house. Strangely enough, for I was not often so lucky, these crimes were never discovered.

This illness brought me my first taste of oranges. They were so pleasant to look at lying on the pillows that I disliked eating them.

When I recovered and was delivered from this incredible tedium it was autumn, and the barren garden was littered with leaves from the poplar trees at the far wall. My grandmother, in an admirable attempt to give me something to do, suggested that I should pick up these leaves and gave me a large wastepaper basket for the purpose. I refused. I did not like the task because the leaves were sooty and had a rough feel and an acrid smell. I have always disliked poplar leaves and the trees themselves are only pleasing from a distance.

My grandmother insisted, however, that I should collect the leaves and took her repose on what was then termed a chaise-longue outside the French windows of the old schoolroom while I performed the task. Moved by I know not what impulse of vain rebellion I filled the wastepaper basket with the distasteful leaves, then, approaching her as she dozed, emptied the contents over her head.

This was real and indisputable naughtiness and the expected punishment fell. I was shut in the schoolroom until my grandfather returned and then delivered to him for judgment. He took the crime quite lightly and showed me his watch, opening it and displaying the works. This confirmed me in my opinion that it was far better to deal with men than with women. I already had a dislike, not untinged with contempt, for my own sex.

I made one more gesture of independence before I left. A fit of hysterics gave me great relief.

My favourite uncle was paying one of his rare visits and had promised to take me for a walk, but I had committed some naughtiness, and at the last moment was forbidden to go. When I saw the door shut on him and knew that the promised treat had vanished, I rushed to the detested velvet curtains that hung in the library, clung to them and swung round and round, screaming for my uncle at the top of my voice.

This was quite a pleasurable sensation and made me regret my continual reserve, for I found the display inspired a certain awe and the women kept away from me until I had quietened down, and then my punishment was no worse than being held under the kitchen tap by the cook. I did not altogether dislike the sensation of the water on my head and I was curious to notice that the cook's fingers smelt of onions and that there was a large paper of stoned raisins on the kitchen table. The fact of the stones being on one side of the paper and the raisins on the other was interesting. I had always found the kitchen a delightful place.

I think it must have been soon after this that my mother came to fetch me away. I danced with joy all the way back, or at least, as far as we walked.

I know "home" was two small rooms in Bayswater, overlooking a railway goods yard. This was much preferable to Hampstead. I did not, indeed, object to it at all. The coal-yard was very diverting to watch; men and horses came and went regularly and there was something attractive in the great heaps of coal. In particular there was a white horse, of which I became fond.

The rooms themselves were very small, but cosy. My sister, who was now walking about and a stranger to me, shared the front one with Nana and myself. My mother had an even smaller room at the back. It was very comforting to have baby and Nana in the same room. I had a bed to myself with a screen round it, but beyond the screen I could see the glow the fire made in the evening until it was allowed to die out after we went to bed.

Nana again took up the task of teaching me how to read and soon and all at once I found that I could tackle simple books. Though I cannot remember everything clearly, I suppose I must have been dependent on the landlady's shelf of books for all my earliest readings. These modest lodging-house libraries were subsequently all that I had in the way of literature. In any case, Mrs. Markham's history of England, Little Arthur, came into my hands. I liked it so much, and was so animated and inspired by the engravings, that I soon learned to spell out a good part of it. What I could not understand Nana explained to me, and my mind soon became busy on these amazing and entrancing stories.

Those were good days. There was the cheerful busy life of the coal-yard; there was the room, homely enough, though crowded by the beds and the table and the screen in the fireplace. There was a large picture of a gloomy-looking mansion in shades of brown over the mantelpiece, and Nana told me that that was the great home from which I had been banished and to which I should one day return. This romantic tale was the first reference I heard of my family history and I do not know why I suspected it even then of being completely fictitious.

The house in which we lived was one of a row. They were small houses with little gardens in front and so contrasted very pleasantly with the large, gloomy abode in Hampstead. There were, too, some shops at the corner and one of them was of the kind that I always favoured—a general shop with stacks of firewood in the doorway. These had a pleasant smell from the tarry strings with which they were bound. There were all manner of curious and agreeable things in the shop, that was small and comfortable.

Nana procured me, too, some boxes of chalk and some scraps of paper—wrapping paper and the backs of old letters. On these I was delighted to draw representations of the scenes that were beginning to fill my mind—heroes and heroines, from the history of England and from fairy-tales.

Sometimes my mother went away for quite a long time, as it seemed to me. Then I was allowed to occupy the small upstairs room; I liked this very much. And, strangely enough (it is odd what things will please and what will terrify a child), a long white boa of coarse feathers that she used to leave behind hanging on the door gave me considerable pleasure.

The life in this terrace opposite the coal-yard was broken by two incidents which, though in themselves horrible and disagreeable, did not disturb me as much as the least happening had disturbed me at Hampstead. Once a five-pound note was lost and a card of buttons; I can remember quite well the phrases "five-pound note," "card of buttons." They had been taken, I think, by a servant-girl from my mother's drawer, and though I realised the disaster was tremendous and involved a great number of people, I was interested but not moved.

On another occasion there was a wild knocking on the door late, or it seemed late to me, at night. We were all roused up and there was a great commotion that reminded me of the old days in Mrs. Judges's house: shoutings, screamings, and runnings to and fro. Nana lit the candle and I wondered why it was not the gas; my mother came in and embraced me wildly and said I had no longer a father. I understood that there were a group of men below in the garden who had come to say that my father had drowned himself in the Serpentine, and that my mother must go out and look at him. I had begun to forget him and was not much disturbed by this. The father of whom I had been so fond seemed to have been dead long ago and, perversely enough, I was not gripped by the horror of this tragedy.

My mother and, I think, the landlady went out with this group of men into the dark while my sister and I sat on the edge of the big bed and watched Nana get the fire lit and make some tea—she always made tea at a crisis.

The picture darkens in confusion again in my memory.

But I recall hearing soon after that the whole grotesque episode had been a joke or trick played upon my mother by my father and his companions. And I then began to hear, both from her and from Nana, of the iniquities of the parent whom I had liked so much. He was never to be spoken of, his behaviour was altogether dreadful and the cause of our present misfortunes. I had scarcely realised until now that there were misfortunes, but a child soon becomes precocious and from the kind of life I was leading I began to realise pretty quickly our desperate plight.

First, there was never enough to eat. For a long while I was content with the thought that there was not enough food in the world to go round; indeed there was very little to be seen in the quarter in which I lived. I do not recall any shop except the little general store that sold only small quantities of poor food. Luxuries of any kind were unheard of and unseen.

It was not difficult to be satisfied with our rations. For me and Nana—our mother never had her meals with us, so I do not know what she ate—it was usually rice and potatoes, boiled over the fire in our room and mashed together with salt. It was quite an appetising dish. Sometimes there was not even the salt. My sister had Nestle's milk out of a tin; I did not envy her this because I detested the stuff. Sometimes we had porridge, also with potatoes beaten into it, and sometimes bread. Being always hungry one always had a good appetite, and this kind of plain food was far preferable to being forced to eat nauseous stuff like cold mutton, Normandy pippins and boiled rice with sugar.

I had a loathing of anything that was sweet, and it was often a great regret to me that I could not obtain sufficient salt. Sometimes, however, even this meagre food ran short and there would be a whole day without anything, except perhaps a small piece of bread. Such a condition was speedily taken for granted and was not very troublesome to me.

My worst terrors began to fade into the background; they must have been bred from the large, dark house and the lonely hours in Hampstead. Here, in the more cheerful surroundings, they began to vanish into the background, and I became quite absorbed with my scribbling and my reading.

Among the books I got hold of was one of verse; and among this was the poem "Lucy Gray" by William Wordsworth. I could read simple stuff fairly well by then and read the poems myself. This was an experience different from anything I had ever undergone before. The poem had a frightful fascination for me, something like the fascination of the picture of the negro in that old yellow-backed book that had been shown me at Maidstone. At the same time there was pleasure, amounting to ecstasy in this terror.

The last verse came upon me with a shock. I have never forgotten it and cannot think of it now without a shiver. So intense was my emotion that I could not conceal it. I cried, and presently was sick. Nana, exasperated by what seemed my unwarrantable moodiness—temper, I suppose it was called—put me to bed in disgust.

I did not care; I can remember lying there with the queer yellowish light of the gas that came round the screen thinking about Lucy Gray speeding over the moors and whistling the song that followed in the wind behind her. The most awful touch was that she never looked behind.

I think I was different from that day. Something in me must have changed or expanded. I was conscious of another world which was not the world either of the fairy-tales or of those appalling devils and demons that had haunted the great house at Hampstead.

I do not know what manner of child I seemed to those who had to look after me; I do not know what I looked like beyond that I was always tall for my age and had straight yellow hair; I do not know what clothes I wore nor what my manners were. I believe that I passed for a difficult, arrogant, moody child, with a violent temper. All these charges may have been true; I only know what I felt, which was timid, shy, and desperately anxious to please, to like and be liked, and if possible to be loved.

The fierce, emotional scenes still went on about me, for Nana and my mother quarrelled often, and in my presence. The sense of desperate insecurity and of some impending doom made me very reserved and withdrawn into myself. It also produced fears or obsessions and the queer kind of twilight happiness that belonged to this stay in the terrace opposite the coal-yard faded into darkness again.

We moved into other lodgings, where we stayed but a little while. What I can remember of these is that a very fair girl with protuberant blue eyes used to sit on my bed and cry. I think that she was the landlady's daughter and that her name was Eva. I shrank from her lachrymose sentimentality. She gave me a book to read and in this did me an ill-service, for it was about a miserable little girl who was left to look after her younger brother and poisoned him by giving him a glass of beer to drink—I suppose some temperance society tract. It made, however, a dismal impression upon me. I was by then becoming almost ludicrously susceptible to the sufferings of others; I needed all my pity for myself.

But this compassion was not a virtue or even a generous emotion, for I felt disintegrated as if I was part of all these other people. I never could see a wretched figure in the streets, a miserable cat or dog, or read of any suffering without at once feeling part of it. All this vicarious anguish was unspeakably harrowing.

I had very little to distract me; such books as I could get hold of were missionary tales with very strong morals. I liked and approved them, they gave my mind a definite turn towards the more austere virtues. I quite agreed with all these sad sermons; it seemed to me not only desirable but necessary that one should be self-sacrificing, truthful, upright and hard-working.

I was often told afterwards, especially by my mother, that a Puritan or Nonconformist strain had come out in me. Perhaps this was so; the pleasures of self-indulgence or wrongdoing did not tempt me at all. I was always on the side of the angels and enthusiastically subscribed to the teachings of these extremely grim and drab stories.

We moved again to a fairly cheerful house that still stands in a street not very far from where I am living at present. There were gardens in front of these houses and opposite them a house that had a bust on the wall. Near to that was another house with its name in gilt letters; the fact that we could see these from our windows seemed to give us an added distinction, I thought. There was also a little terrace of shops towards the end of the street, one of them an old furniture shop, and there I saw some quite exciting pictures, including one of a man in Eastern dress writhing in front of the throne of a gloomy potentate. I was told that this personage had been ordered to have a tooth out and that the experiment had been tried on the servant first to see if it hurt. How well I have remembered the picture that stood beside a little clock on two dingy chairs, and the anecdote connected with it.

Next to this was a baker's shop with cakes in the window, and at the other end of the street was a cooked-meat shop. Our diet, however, remained the same. But one day the landlady sent me up some cucumber sandwiches for supper; this experience stands out as one of the brilliant highlights of my life.

Once my Aunt Gertrude and my Cousin Simon came to see us in these new rooms—a sitting-room and a bedroom, I think they were, on the first floor, and a small room upstairs for my mother. I was pleased to see my Aunt Gertrude, of whom I had such dazzling recollections, but she took no notice of me. I was told to play with my cousin. We were now shy with one another; he looked to me much the same, for his hair was still long and he wore a lace collar, but I felt no desire to fight him.

While we stood by the sideboard staring at each other in the mirror, and making sly grimaces—I was always very good at these—my aunt and my mother had a highly dramatic quarrel. I looked round at them and I observed them as if they had nothing to do with me, with a deep and yet detached interest. Three gas globes of a milky colour lit the round table on which was a hateful chenille cloth. It tempted you to draw your finger-nails backwards along it, yet to do so gave you an odious sensation.

At one side of the table stood my mother and at the other her sister; I noticed the likeness between them. My aunt wore a sealskin coat fitting close to the waist, with large puff sleeves and a sealskin hat on which was a seagull. She had a little muff with a bunch of violets, and her face was as I remembered it before, a clear pink and white like china, with glittering teeth.

I do not remember a word of what the angry women said, but I admired the rhythm of their force and fluency. Drama was in the blood; nothing was ever conducted between them in an insignificant or mean style.

My aunt left in a rage, taking Simon with her, and I never saw either of them again.

I began now to observe my mother more closely, but I still did not see very much of her. Sometimes she was affectionate towards me, sometimes distracted, and sometimes returned to her old violent furies in which she told me that it would have been better had I never been born.

She attracted me, and I began to feel a warm and chivalrous affection for her, for Nana told me many and varied tales of her woes, wrongs and sufferings. It was impressed upon me that we were disinherited, exiled, fallen from some high position that should by rights be ours, but that we should in time return to this security and even splendour. The present unsatisfactory state of affairs was referred to as a "desert island"; some day a ship would come and take us off the desert island. My mother was the heroine of this inexplicable and incredible tragedy, and I began to feel a vast indignation on her behalf and a passionate desire to be her champion.

She was a very brilliant woman of an extraordinary fascination. I have never met anyone since who possessed so much charm; she could sway almost anyone when she chose to exert her personality. She was rather short and strongly built, with very regular, noble features and short lightish-brown hair. She was very well educated for an Englishwoman of her period, for she had been to school in Germany, where the standard was infinitely higher than it was in England. She knew French and German, she was well read and well informed on most subjects, and in her character were many warm and noble traits.

She detested cruelty and injustice, she was loyal to her friends, she had a quick sense of drama, imagination and many gifts. Above all, she possessed gaiety and high animal spirits; she could make a jest, and not a sour or bitter one, at a moment of crushing misfortune. Her temper was extremely violent, but in these days her gusts of fury were soon over. She had no taste whatever and understood nothing about clothes; she would dress herself anyhow in anything that was at hand and still look extremely attractive.

She was a good mimic, an excellent story-teller, and had a beautiful voice with an exquisitely clear and dramatic enunciation.

She attracted and impressed everyone; in fact, some people she overawed. The words "brilliant" and "wonderful" were used about her invariably and a great career was predicted for her by many enthusiastic friends.

I learned about this time that she wrote books and plays, and that these would be the means of making our fortune and putting us back in our rightful place.

A little later I heard the word genius used freely about her and readily subscribed to it. When she was kind to me I was enchanted; when she was overcast or violent I fell into an unfathomable gloom.

While we were in this house in the Richmond Road I began to notice some of her friends. They were, as I afterwards discovered, actresses and actors, gay, laughing, excitable. They used to smoke; I disliked that, I do not know why. My mother used to sit on the mat in front of the fire, lighting a cigarette from a taper thrust into the coals. The air used to be heavy with smoke; it made the food taste bitter. Sometimes her friends would have plates of bread and butter downstairs and what they did not eat would come up to me, and I used to think that I could taste the tobacco in the butter.

My mother, however, was only an intermittent companion, I did not see very much of her. Nana was with me always, and bit by bit I began to learn her version of her story.

It seemed that she had made enormous sacrifices to remain with me, sacrifices that were to be repaid on a munificent scale when we got off "the desert island." She was used, she informed me, to mansions, even to palaces, and to being waited on by under-servants. But she had left all these glories out of pity for my mother whom she was serving without a penny of pay.

This Richmond Road landlady was possessed of a fairly good shelf of books, and my reading had been extended considerably. I got hold of all manner of strange volumes, all evangelical, I think, in tendency and all eminently suitable for family reading, but from them I did glimpse a wider world than this and my early sense of incredulity was strengthened. I did not quite believe in any of the tales told me, and I thought that if I was to get off this "desert island" it would have to be by my own efforts.

I began now to be conscious of my sister, who was running about. She was extremely pretty; I remember her delicious oval face in the round bonnets. When company was present she used to be brought into the room to be admired; the women predicted a marvellous future for her. But still she did not concern me very much, and all I can recall about her at this time is that she got her head stuck between the railings of the steps and there was a frightful business in working it out again.

My numerous terrors that I only just kept at bay were here added to by the introduction of God.

Nana, my mother, and even the landlady, who was a kindly soul, thought it their duty to give me some brief and fragmentary teachings in the Christian mythology. I learned something of this, too, from the books I read.

God, it appeared, was watching me. My bad deeds were being put down in a large book, and do what I like when I was alone, God's eye was still upon me.

These were terrible thoughts and, like all children, I was most impressed with that point in the doctrines which related to the existence of Hell. In some of the tracts that I got hold of, Hell was freely mentioned as the punishment for the sinner, and I would wake up at night sweating with terror thinking that Hell had opened up beneath the bed and that I was slipping down into it. I had no hope of being "saved."

Resentment, also, was aroused in me, and sometimes indignation would quite drown my fears. I thought of this God as an active enemy, and decided to try to outwit Him.

Great pleasure was given to me, however, by Nana's suddenly deciding to take me to the Roman Catholic Church, "that in Silver-street," as it was then called. We used to go there on Sundays, not very often, I suppose, but I was deeply impressed by the warmth, the smell of incense, the statues and the monks in their brown robes. Had one of these got hold of me then, he could have done as he liked with me.

Once when I was there in this enchanting atmosphere a woman kneeling behind me gave me a picture on which was a man in a white gown seated in the clouds and a man in a brown gown standing beneath him. This, Nana explained to me, was God and God's son; I detested both of them.

But the church was delightful, and one priest in particular roused my affectionate adoration. I was taken to see the creche at Christmas; it seemed amazingly cheerful and comforting, but even better than this was the procession, when flowers were strewn on the church floor. After it was over I was allowed to pick one up, a white flower partly crushed. This was the first bloom that I had held in my hand since the day that I had played with the sunflowers in the cottage garden.

Certainly this church, though I recognised that it was not beautiful—the walls were of an ugly colour and the statues crude—was the pleasantest place I knew. The atmosphere was so warm and friendly, the singing and the incense were so soothing and there was nothing in the place to remind one of either Hell or death or funerals or God, save that one disappointing picture, that I quickly lost.

I suppose things got worse at this time, for we left the Richmond Road to go to Kennington, and here the lodgings were notably dingier, and the landlady notably coarser and rougher. Her name was Mrs. Lilly and she was enormously stout.

This house, again, was in a terrace. It was larger than the others, and must have been one of those flat-fronted eighteenth-century houses that had seen better times. We had one sitting-room and one bedroom.

I slept in a small bed beside that of my mother, and my sister in a small bed beside that of Nana. Of the furnishings I can remember nothing but two pictures on the walls of the sitting-room. One showed a boy and the other a girl against a background of blue ocean. They were delicately coloured and pleased me very much. The sea behind them made me think of the ocean that I had once seen at Clacton.

Everything now darkened under the storm that settled upon us. I began to notice that poverty meant not only not having enough food but not having enough of anything. Clothes, for instance. Nana cut up and sewed what pieces of stuff could either be bought cheaply or begged from slightly richer friends, into frocks for me and my sister.

Shoes were an embarrassing difficulty; when bought new they were always hideously uncomfortable, and I used to go and stand in puddles to ease them a little, but they soon got worn, sometimes so badly that one could not go out until after dark for fear they should be too noticeable.

A dreary and pathetic snobbishness was impressed upon me, and added greatly to my troubles. I was assured often and earnestly by Nana, in her mistaken loyalty, that I was far better than the people with whom for the moment I was forced to mix. My mother never disguised her disdainful rage at the position in which she found herself, though she could laugh and joke with the meanest wretch when it suited her, and she cajoled the landlady easily enough.

The same crowd of friends crossed the river to see us now and then, and there were parties in the one sitting-room.

There was a park near to which we used to be taken; it did not impress me very much, and I only remember two incidents in connection with it. One was when a man stopped us and asked if we were being sent to school. This gave great offence both to Nana and my mother. I gather the point was that we were "ladies" and should not have been included under this category. Somehow the matter did blow over and my mother escaped the necessity of sending us to school.

The other adventure was when the nurserymen were cutting the flowers, and a gardener handed me one over the railings. It was red—a geranium, I suppose.

The great focus of life in Kennington was the library. I had the use of a ticket there and my reading began in earnest. I already knew enough to have a few clues or guide as to what to select, and my mother, when she could spare the time, would get me a few titles. I was soon busily occupied in selecting and reading books. Some of them were rather dirty and evil-smelling, some even had crumbs shut into them within their leaves. All these things were very revolting, but my gratitude to the library was immense.

Like all children who are unrestrained, I read miscellaneous books, more or less pell-mell. There were a great number more of the missionary, moral stories that I still enjoyed. Every time I perused one I made up my mind to follow the precepts laid down therein. I took them all seriously and really believed that such evils as lingering illnesses and sudden death did follow the telling of lies or backbiting.

I also read history and poetry, myth and legend, and my drawings became much more ambitious. My mother used to give me her old manuscripts and my chalk would glow on the backs of the sheets covered by her beautiful handwriting.

This was not such an unhappy time, although I soon began to have an acute realisation of the grimness of my lot. Still, there were the books and the drawings, and my sister and I used to invent games and play them on the floor of the bedroom, or even sometimes on the floor of the sitting-room. But we lived in dread of the landlady; if we made the least noise or moved her furniture she would come upstairs and storm at us. I thought these chairs and tables must be of inestimable value and hardly dared touch them.

Food did not trouble me; I was quite used to the sparse diet and really rejected any other. Once a visitor gave me a packet of ginger biscuits. I ate them too greedily, for I was sick in the middle of the night, and thought of ginger biscuits with intense loathing for years afterwards.

Nana used to take us for long walks, along the Kennington Road over Waterloo Bridge, and sometimes even as far as the Park. I enjoyed these excursions, and I used to make the way bright with day-dreams, especially if there were any clouds in the sky. It was easy to look up and build countries and palaces there.

The way back was fatiguing, and I was too big to go in the shabby old mail-cart, as it was called, in which my sister was pushed along. The trick then, to while away exhaustion, was to shut one's eyes and go along as if blind, clinging to Nana's hand.

Disaster came again. We had to leave Kennington; I understood it was because we could pay no more rent, and the black trunk, a wicker affair with a shiny cover that contained all our belongings, had to be left behind.

We went to some place that was near a large common, and I had a room that looked out on to a square of green where a goat was tethered. At one end of this room was a conservatory full of shelves on which were dead ferns. The place fascinated and yet repelled. There were two pictures, and I was told that one—of a young man seated in a window-place with a girl leaning through towards him—was that of Raphael and the baker's daughter.

All such details impressed me deeply. But I do not think we were there very long. I now hardly saw my mother at all. My sister and I by then had invented the usual children's world that we peopled with creatures of our own imagining. There was a country, with inhabitants all of different names and characteristics that we knew by heart which we used to refer to in a kind of cipher language. This kept us occupied.

Sometimes we used to go to meet my mother, who would get off a tram and come home with us.

When we left this place I understood that we were no nearer to getting off the desert island.

I had plenty of opportunities of practising the austere virtues that I had come to admire and I rather welcomed these. I had read Samuel Smiles's Self-Help, Self-Taught Men and other books of that kind. I relished the fact that one must suffer and sacrifice before one could achieve anything. If one of our visitors or our mother gave me a penny or an orange or a piece of chocolate, I took real pleasure in giving it to my sister.

We moved next to lodgings in Vauxhall Bridge Road, where there were a number of shops. I liked to gaze at some object in a window that particularly attracted me, and remind myself that I could not have it and never should be able to have it. Here I saw shops with piles of food in the window; still loathing sweets nothing attracted me but the fruit, but it was pleasant to know that one did not really want it and was quite reconciled to doing without it.

I liked this part of London, and here again I had the freedom of an excellent library. My reading became wider. I looked into print shops, book shops and antique shops, and in such ways as these improved my general knowledge. I was taken, too, to the National Gallery, the British Museum and the South Kensington Museums, though not nearly as often as I could have wished, yet often enough to obtain a deep impression of what great men had accomplished in the world.

I already had my heroes, so single-mindedly and profoundly cherished that I do not like to write of them even now—secret they were then, and secret they always shall be. They were my inspiration and in a way my champions. I thought that their spirits were about me like pictures depicted in primary colours, and the thought that they had once lived was enough to fill me with subdued satisfaction.

I tried at this time to obtain permission to copy in the National Gallery, but my drawings were not considered good enough and the brusque rebuke cast me down.

The landlady at this time, Mrs. Ford, was never quite sober. She was either weeping or making scenes, and often she would disturb us by coming up in the middle of the night to "lay the table," as it was termed; in other words, to drag on a soiled cloth and throw down a little crockery in the middle of its grimy surface.

I recall one extraordinary experience. I was roused by Nana from my bed and taken to the window. There was a procession going by; there were Indians, and music, and crowds marching along. I was presently dressed and taken out to see more of such spectacles as these. It was not until some time afterwards that I understood that these people were taking part in the celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

Unfortunately for me, there was a block of well-to-do flats across the road and I could see into a nursery where there were two little girls and their nurse. Their mother used to come in to see them frequently; when the gas was lit I could see clearly every detail of this extremely pleasant room, with its charming furnishings and lavish supply of toys. I had never seen or even imagined anything like this before and it filled me with a profound melancholy. I realised for the first time what I might have had and what I had lost. A nursery of that sort remained my ideal for many years. If one could only creep into some such life, protected, secure, full of love and kindness. No need to talk of Heaven, that would have contented me.

I began to develop a mania for dolls; I would make them out of any scraps of stuff I could obtain—an old glove, a bit of paper, a scrap of rag. Sometimes I would obtain a halfpenny with which I would buy a tiny wooden doll or a doll with a sawdust body and china head, and dress it.

I liked making things with my hands as a change from the drawing or the reading, to knit or crochet up any morsel of wool I might obtain. But these were rare luxuries, the materials for all such pastimes were sadly lacking.

Being denied access to the National Gallery I began to copy "Old Masters," as they were termed, out of books. I had decided to become a great artist and I was quite prepared to undertake any labour to attain this end.

Soon after we left the Vauxhall Bridge Road there was a change from our lodging-house existence. We went to live with some friends of my mother's in King William Street. These were an actress, not without a certain following and popularity at the time, and her friend. My mother was very intimate indeed with them and was to live with them. Myself, Nana and my sister were given a room at the top of the old house that looked on to Gatti's Restaurant.

Before this our fortunes had fallen very low. We lived for a while in one basement room, given us out of pure charity, I think, by a woman who had a flat in the building above. This was a handsome house, close to where the present Westminster Cathedral now stands, but then not built; at least I remember nothing about it.

But I remember that this room was furnished very well, for my sister and I slept in a bed in an alcove with a curtain and that was a novelty. Beside the alcove was a picture of some children on the sea-shore with large waves breaking over them.

These details of pictures and ornaments were always important to me. I liked the novelty, too, of being able to see the feet of the passers-by against the railings of the area. But this really proved an added distress to us, for my sister, always full of nervous fancies, had lately taken a horror of railings. Whenever we went out she always had to walk on the side of the kerb. She also had a dread of spiders, and often would wake up in the night, thinking she was tangled in a spider's web and forced to walk in a narrow road with railings either side. These afflictions, that were known as feverish attacks, should of course have elicited my pity and sympathy, but I too suffered from horrors at least as strong, and I rather despised her for giving way and screaming and writhing in fear instead of controlling her agonies as I did so that no one knew about them. I did not realise that she was really in a state of delirium and was unconscious of what she said and did.

The woman who had given us this temporary shelter was, I understood, wealthy and also in some profound trouble, under the blight of a tragedy. I gathered that she also had a bad husband and had been treated shamefully. Almost every one we met seemed tarnished or tainted by some kind of scandalous misfortune. Or perhaps this was only the impression I received.

My mother used to go up and have meals with this kind benefactress who did not, I suppose, know that we had nothing to eat in our basement. Sometimes my mother would bring pieces of bread down; I was glad to get them but I always regretted that she could not smuggle some salt as well. Once on the service lift, itself a fascinating affair, there came a plate of food that was for Nana. I can remember it so well, the slice of meat, the vegetables and the gravy with the fat slightly congealing on it, and the pudding, something composed of bread and custard. I could not eat the share offered me; however hungry I was, I was always easily disgusted by food, and I had by then seen far too much of butchers' shops to be able to touch meat.

I was really happy in this place because I liked London so much, all that part of the world was to me infinitely more pleasurable than Kennington and in direct contrast to the nightmare that Hampstead had been.

I was never allowed out alone, but I was able to induce Nana sometimes to go to the National Gallery, and those were occasions of pure pleasure. I had by then a tolerable knowledge of painting and sculpture. I could read pretty well and had taught myself some elementary French and Italian. I was able to get books from the library and to read them without asking the help of reluctant or indifferent adults. When the weather was kind I would go into the Park and sit on a seat perusing the precious volumes.

I tried to interest my sister in these tastes of mine, but she was hostile to all such affairs and I was told, to my great disappointment, that she was not strong enough or well enough ever to be bothered with such things; that she must not, in fact, be pressed to learn to read or write. I saw her escaping all my pain and toil and I learned that there was a vast difference between us.

While it was fated for me to be able to work and to endure anything, she must be guarded and protected. When I ventured to remark on this with manifest disgust, I was told that I should be grateful for my gift of concentration; I ought to be thankful that I was able to work, for there were those who could not.

I do not think there was really any difference between us in our health or our capacities, mental or physical. My sister was very attractive, very young, at this time little more than a baby, and very much pampered, as far as our circumstances allowed of pampering, by both my mother and Nana. Nana thought she would prove a "little gold-mine" and, as the phrase went between my mother, Nana and our actress friends, "would marry an earl." I suppose, too, she was genuinely fond of her, having had to bring her up almost by herself on bottled and Nestlé's milk.

My mother, too, developed for her an obsession; this was yet in its early stages, but I could perceive it and it troubled and rather alarmed me, because where my sister was concerned my mother was not a reasonable human being, and I had to adjust myself to the fact that my sister and myself were to be judged by two totally different standards.

While we lived in the basement room a stout man, whom I remember very well, Oriental-looking and a Jew, I suppose, and a theatrical magnate of some importance, no doubt, came to see us and took me on his knee. I had always resented being handled by guests ever since I was a small child and had got "into trouble," as the saying went, often enough with my rude, ungracious ways and my struggles to get free from these people, who always smelt of alcohol and tobacco. But this was a marvellous occasion, for the kind Jew, struck no doubt by our stark poverty, gave me a sovereign with which, he said, I was to buy a doll. I had been always wanting a doll and now even lacked scraps to make one, and though I was quite sure I should not be able to keep this enormous amount of money, it was with a deadly pang that I gave it up.

We must have spent some part of the winter or autumn in this basement room, for I can recall the fogs and the misery of a cold in the head, a sore throat and running eyes and nose, and heaviness of the eyes. No remedy of any kind was ever applied, and sometimes I was ill for weeks with this disability.

Still, I kept my courage up. I had my own secret resolve, my own secret delights, for though there was now not even chalk with which to draw and seldom scraps of paper on which to write, I ran over a good deal in my head, committing things to memory, arranging stories and even verses, planning out pictures, seizing every opportunity to improve myself. There were always the shops where curiosities or antiques were to be seen if there was nothing else, things to be remembered and compared.

I did not know then my own gifts and tastes and I believed that what I was doing was just what every child did. I was not even aware that I was ambitious, I thought it was a usual thing to try to be grand and great.

From this basement we moved to the house in King William Street. It belonged, in part at least, to two friends with whom my mother had been for so long intimate. One was an actress, the other was a kind of guardian or chaperon. Their origins were never explained to me and I do not know now where they came from, but both, I believe, were Americans. I disliked and feared both of them, yet in a way I despised them too. I certainly wanted to get away from them, and I never could understand my mother's intimacy with them.

These three women seemed to be always together, talking, drinking whiskies and sodas, and smoking. A certain amount of money must have been flowing into the common coffers in those days, for there seemed no shortage of food, drink and cigarettes. I think credit had somehow been obtained and there was a kind of Jove in the background who dispensed benefits in a lordly fashion. This was an elderly (to me he seemed a very Methuselah) actor who had been quite famous in his time. At this period his day was somewhat that of the past, but he had a big name in the theatrical world and attracted a large number of pupils; my mother and her friends were among these. This man was spoken of by them with the greatest awe and respect; he was supposed to be a genius of the first rank, and, like almost everybody else we knew, he was badly treated and blighted by neglect.

I disliked him very much; he had a dry, cold, pompous air and seemed humourless and conceited. His head was fine, of the style known as "leonine," he had a quantity of white hair, regular features and a deep voice. He was far too short and there was, to me, something sinister and unpleasant about him. For a good many years, however, he seemed the orb around which our fortunes revolved.

His pet name was "Peachy," my mother in this set was known as "Jo," the young actress who was also supposed to be a genius, a second Rachel, was "Kitty," and her strange companion—who was a baroness but forbore to use the title—was known as "Pret."

The appearance of these two women soon became extremely familiar to me. The young one was little more than a girl. She had large, dark eyes, a bush of short dark hair, small features that were of a curious bronze colour, and a little, boyish figure. She liked to dress in boyish clothes, too, and smoked cigars. She could scarcely read or write, and spoke with a strange accent. In their sitting-room, into which I was sometimes allowed to peep, one of the walls was pasted with Press notices, and photographs of herself in various parts; but I never saw her studying in any way.

The house was silent for the greater part of the day and woke up in the afternoon. Life culminated in suppers and evening card-parties to which Peachy always came and for which, I suppose, he paid.

Other people came, too: actors, actresses, writers, various hangers-on in the theatrical world, none of them very prosperous or successful.

A slatternly old woman called Mrs. Brown came in to "do" for this household, and sometimes Nana descended to help from the top room where we lived. I thus spent a good deal of my time alone, for my sister, more friendly than I was, would go down with Nana and Mrs. Brown to the basement kitchen where the feasts were prepared.

I liked the Baroness, or "Pret," better than I liked Kitty, but her appearance alarmed me. Her features were like those of a snake, her skin was leaden in colour, and heavily powdered with freckles. Her age was indeterminate, and I do not know whether she had any hair, for I never saw her without a pork-pie hat. She wore a kind of mannish coat and skirt and was, I believe, a woman of great diplomacy and ability. It was she who, at a pinch, could be always trusted to find a little ready change or to raise some credit. She was up to a good many tricks and shifts, but the parties over which she presided did not often break up without a violent quarrel.

These scenes would wake me up in what seemed to me the middle of the night. I would hear doors slamming, voices shouting, all the old familiar sounds of what was known as a "row."

One of the men who used to come was a Pole. He was married to an English actress and had a small boy who sometimes came up to see me. This man was one of the loudest-voiced in the quarrels; I used to hear his shouts in broken English ringing up the stairs. Then a sudden and alarming silence would fall and I would lie awake waiting for something else to happen. It always seemed unnatural that people after making so much noise should be quiet so suddenly.

On one occasion we, as Nana termed it, "had the police in." She hung out of the window and watched the drama, and I pushed in by her side. I found this quite pleasing and exciting; I liked the policemen, whose appearance seemed to fill everybody else with deep consternation, and I wished that they would take every member of the noisy company away so that we could be quiet and respectable again.

Once, one of the men who had joined the party had lost a gold watch, he declared, and the Baroness disclaiming any knowledge of it, he had gone out and "fetched a policeman." The policeman battered on the door and finally came in. As I remember, the tale told was that the Baroness had shaken the cloth and tossed the watch out of the window into the gutter where, unfortunately, it never was found. I do not know how this blew over, but everyone laughed about it the next morning, and I was annoyed because they and not the police had triumphed.

On the other occasion the doctor was called in because Kitty had locked herself into her room and it was supposed that she had taken an overdose of belladonna, used to embellish her eyes.

The door was broken down finally, or the lock forced, and she was dragged out more dead than alive, and a doctor remained with her all night.

I was sorry that she recovered. I hardly ever saw her without a glass in her hand; it might be whisky or even hot lemon. Despite her brilliant beginning, she did not seem to be much of a success as an actress, but I was taken to see her in one play at the Lyceum, where she acted the part of a "black"—Australian aborigine, I believe—and leapt about over tables and chairs. Excitement, and perhaps some native talent, gave her a wild gusto on the stage. But she was already past her brief spell of triumph; she had become maudlin, and used to cry and storm at the wrong moment, or even forget her lines.

Peachy, however, continued to believe in her passionately. He intended to make a great actress of her. I used to hear him downstairs, sometimes, rehearsing her in the parts of Ophelia and Desdemona.

He gave me some lessons, too, the only lessons I ever had of a serious kind, and I too learned to recite passages from Shakespeare and the Bible.

There was some suggestion that I, too, should go on the stage, but I loathed the idea of it. For me it held no enchantment or attraction whatever. Nor had I any talent, though possibly I might have been trained as a comic player—a clown. I had a certain gift for mimicry and grimaces. I was quick, energetic and graceful and threw myself passionately into everything that I was taught.

But they soon lost interest in me; I had not the looks nor, it was declared, the temperament. I was by then very reserved and kept myself much to myself. The world in which I was forced to live was in direct contrast to the world I had built up for myself, and the principles and ideas I had imbibed from my reading, or, perhaps, inherited. For I had these ideas and principles at such a very early age that I do not know if they were inborn in me or had been impressed on me when my mind was like wax, by my early reading. Whatever the cause, I was set in that mould. I did not like this life, Bohemian as it was called then, I did not like all this idleness, talking, smoking, drinking, gambling. All these things had been held up as wrong in the books that had so impressed me, even as evil, and the work of the devil, and as far as I was concerned myself, so they were.

My mother's friends and the people who came to the house were not happy; I did not like their pasty faces, their dull eyes, and their general pettiness. When they dragged themselves out of bed in the morning after these parties there were always mutual accusations. Sums of money were missing, stamps, books. My mother had a first edition that she greatly valued, and she was sure that the Baroness had taken it and pawned it round the corner.

This sort of thing went on daily. Nana, I believed, enjoyed it; she divided her time between "looking after" us upstairs and going downstairs and chatting over all the doings of their queer household with Mrs. Brown.

Often there was no money to pay that good lady, and then she would be given a piece of theatrical finery, an old satin dress that had once served Ophelia, a pair of tinsel shoes or a lady's wig made of yellow tow.

Sometimes they all went away—on tour, I believe—and Nana, and I, and my sister were left alone in the house.

The pleasantest memory of those days was the sound of the hansom cabs that used to go by at night when I was in bed. I liked to hear the sound of the wheels, the horses' hoofs, and the jingle of the harness, and I liked to see the light from the lamps passing over the ceiling in a delightful pattern.

There were some good songs and tunes on the barrel-organs also, almost the first music I remember. It affected me deeply; a tune on the barrel-organ could change my mood. I have often heard these songs and melodies since, given as "period pieces" and labelled as the "Naughty Nineties." I did not, of course, at the time know that I was living through the "Naughty Nineties," nor through the last year of the reign of Queen Victoria. My world was exceedingly small materially and extremely large mentally.

I had then the run of the St. Martin's Lane library. Fortunately for me, the Baroness, whose previous history must have been as interesting as it was obscure, knew French extremely well and she had joined the library for the purpose of getting out French novels. She used to read these aloud, in a gabbling style, to Kitty, who would sit cross-legged on the divan wearing boy's Jäger pants and vest, and smoking a huge cigar with a glass of brandy balanced on her knee. I do not think she understood the French, but the Baroness now and then used to give rapid translations. There must have been something in the performance that soothed her, for it was repeated every day.

The non-fiction tickets I might have myself, and I put them to good use. I was, by then, able to arrange my reading and put some method into it. It was my one means of education; it was quite obvious that there would never be any money to spare to send me to school. To have teachers and, if possible, to win prizes, be encouraged and taught—these were my dearest wishes, but I knew from the first that they never could be realised.

It was the Baroness who once saw me trying to draw on a paper bag with stubs of pencil, and was kind enough to give me her old letters and a penny box of crayons. These made me very happy, and she told my mother that she thought my drawing ought to be encouraged, as there might be money in it.

My mother then decided that I should go to the Royal College of Arts in South Kensington. There was, unfortunately, before this entrancing goal could be reached, an entrance examination to take. I was also too young, but as I was tall and serious it was believed that I might pass for far older than I was.

I was given a book of free-hand drawings to practise on. I had never seen anything like them before and made a hopeless mess in endeavouring to copy them. When the moment came for the examination my mother had not the entrance fee and I had to wait until the next took place.

Then I was taken up and ignominiously failed. I was not good enough even to be taught.

This was a severe blow to my pride and ambition. It shook my mother's faith in me too; she decided that drawing was no good. What was I going to do? It was time I began to think of that. If I would not go on the stage, perhaps I might become a dresser.

Peachy got hold of me again, to my intense humiliation and exasperation, and put me through my paces. My elocution was not too bad, and I had a passionate and keen appreciation of Shakespeare. But I was, as he termed it, "reedy" and inclined to stoop. I showed myself so sullen and obdurate at these lessons that they were given up.

I got into trouble over that, of course, but Peachy and all the women who circled round him in attitudes of adoration, filled me with a physical aversion. I could never have worked with him.

As time passed, the fortunes of Kitty and the Baroness suffered a decline. We all moved together into another basement room, this time in Buckingham Street, Adelphi. Soon after we got there all the furniture was taken away, save one or two broken chairs and boxes, and I learned for the first time of the hire-purchase system. There was also grim difficulty because the furniture that was taken away was dirty and damaged.

Such as the rooms were—I think there were three of them—some sort of order was put into them, and we crowded in with various other actresses who came and went.

Christmas was spent in this place, and my spirits were particularly low. The day was one of thick fog, a peculiarly acrid kind that got into the nose and throat, and we had no fire or heating of any kind.

I had been promised an orange, but when the day came there were no oranges. Somebody gave me three halfpence with which I was to go out and buy milk.

I went up a little passage that led to the Strand to a tiny shop that sold milk and also cakes with shreds of coco-nut on the top.

Although it was only early afternoon the gas was lit, and there were one or two beggars in a doorway and I felt dispirited and downcast. The fact of going to buy this milk seemed to make everything worse, I do not know why.

But as I came back I saw the Water Gateway, in which I had already taken a great interest, showing through the fog, and that gave me a curious lift of the spirits. I felt, after all, life was worth living, the future seemed beautiful and I had my memories. I knew all about the Water Gate and could make up a tale and people it with ghosts and shadows. Some day I should, surely, get out of all this.

That Christmas Day was broken by a beam of light that proved, however, to be but a marsh fire.

A kindly woman called and left us presents; she was a journalist; I remember her face quite well, and her quick knocking at the door and handing the parcel through. It seemed incredible, literally too good to be true. And so it was. The present consisted of a box of sugared chestnuts, marrons glacés, and none of us could eat them. Still, it was a present and cheered up the day that I remember as one of the darkest, spiritually, I ever experienced. I think it was the fog that was so depressing, worse than the shabbiness or the lack of food.

When the spring came we were still in that basement, but there were some delights ready to hand. A band played in the Embankment Gardens nearby and we used to go and listen to it. This great treat could be had free, and we used to hear the concert from beginning to end. One could not have imagined anything more delightful. While I was listening to the music and watching the shapes of the leaves against the sky, I could invent any number of tales, plan scores of pictures and feel capable of endless noble deeds and feats of self-sacrifice.

The backs of the old houses on the Adelphi looked on to this garden, and I liked their flat design and square windows. The rooms behind those windows it was easy to fill with heroes and heroines of grand and poignant romances.

I asked nothing more than this exquisite and excellent daydreaming, but I did not intend to let it stay day-dreaming. I was resolved to do something, and to do it soon.

Outer events began to impinge on my conscience at this time. I was aware of a feverish excitement going on—a War. The Baroness used to burst into our room with news, that always seemed to be of some disaster. A man named Buller, I remember, had crossed or recrossed the Tugela and that meant something terrible. It was, in fact, the Boer War, and it seemed to make everyone very glum.

I was not very patriotic. I had already read far too much history and foreign literature, knew too much of foreign art to believe that Great Britain was the beginning and end of everything, and I was sufficiently imbued with the sense of justice instinctive with all children to want to know the other side of the question. This gave me a bias towards foreigners and a disgust of the books that extolled England and the English at the expense of everyone else. I began, on these principles, to feel sympathy with the Boers, but, of course, did not dare say so. When I heard that they had been finally defeated and everyone was going crazy with delight, I felt sorrier still. I had begun to have an intense interest in the Dutch—in the people and their country, their art and their heroes. I kept this to myself, knowing what happened when one spoke about the things in which one was really interested. One was always snubbed, laughed at, or told that "little girls shouldn't ask questions."

Men used to stand down the Strand with trays and buttons on which were the pictures of various generals. I didn't like the look of any of them. On one occasion I was taken to stand in a crowd in the Strand and watch the soldiers come home; they were very late, I remember, and the crowd got out of hand and closed up the fairway, so that when at last they came there was almost a hand-to-hand fight to get through. I think they were going to the Guildhall for lunch or some sort of celebration.

Here were some new experiences, though I did not grasp that they were of outstanding importance. I was interested in the sanded road, the wounded men in waggons, other men in uniform with the hats turned up in novel fashion with "C.I.V." on them. I was distressed at being in the crowd and at the surge of people round about me; at one moment I was pressed against the wall and a man in a stand in front of a window picked me and my sister up and seated us on the balcony in front of him. I heard talk afterwards about an accident round the corner in which several people were killed as a scaffolding gave way.

And yet, somehow, none of this really seemed exciting or important in the way that odd little personal things were—a picture I might see, or a book I might read, or that strange sensation of walking home in a clear, cool twilight and suddenly feeling the wind blow on my face and down my neck, making my flesh curdle. In those moments I felt capable of great deeds, and quite sure that they would come my way.

At this time I got hold of Idylls of the King: to me it was a perfect experience. I did not care in the least what material discomforts were about me as long as I had that book to read.

There was a piano in the basement flat in Buckingham Street, and my mother used to play it sometimes. To me these were occasions of perfect delight; if I could read the book and hear the piano at the same time I asked for nothing more.

These pleasures came to an end, however, for we were sent away into the country, Nana and I, and my sister. My mother, I suppose, pursued the fortunes of Kitty, Pret and Peachy.

I was not sorry to see the last of them, for a while at least. I did not like their noise, their smell, their talk, their food, anything about them, and I had some enchanting recollections of "the country," as it was vaguely termed.

I found that on this visit it was very different from what I was expecting. We went to a place in Dorset near the sea, a small, neglected and dirty village.

We were lodged in a tiny cottage up a lane, that after a few hundred yards ran into a field. At the junction of the lane and the field was a chapel—disused, I think—that had a round window and two nameless graves in the little yard adjoining it.

I was given some paints and paper, for there were revived hopes of my drawing talent proving of some service, and I did as much sketching and drawing as I could and encouraged my sister to do likewise. She had been put more or less in my charge: I was to look after her, see that she was not frightened, prevent her from overworking her delicate brain, and encourage her to exercise her talents for drawing that appeared to be far more considerable than mine.

I found her, however, indifferent and lazy; her design for living was peculiar to herself. I had already found that she believed in nothing that I believed in, least of all in hard work and industry.

I did what I could; when I was not drawing and painting I was writing or trying to teach myself a little more French and Italian. But I was cut off from the libraries, and it was hard going with the few books I found on the shelves of this cottage. Some were familiar, some I had not read before, but all were soon exhausted and a profound melancholy began to fall upon me.

I disliked the cottage, the lane, the chapel that I often sketched, and in the evening the gloom seemed intolerable. I could not resist creeping up to look at those two graves and at the field that had never been ploughed, the story said, since the "Bloody Assizes." Murdered peasants were supposed to be rotting underneath the hillocks. Whether that was so or not, it was a gloomy place at dusk and many of my old fears revived and tainted the whole countryside for me.

There was a white owl that used to come out, luminous in the purple dusk, hooting.

There was an old woman who sat at the end of the lane making nets, and an old man who seemed to be always digging potatoes. Everything seemed sinister.

Nana, deprived of the joys of town, became morose and spent most of her time gossiping with these neighbours. Sometimes she would make an effort and we would walk to Bridport. The road was long and made longer by two hills; the journey was really too much for us and we always arrived home in a state of complete exhaustion.

I began now to be conscious of fatigue; I could do very little without becoming tired. The long walks were dreary, and I found that I did not, after all, like the country. I preferred the rich, varied life of town, the galleries, the shops, museums.

I had read too much and I hardly went abroad without fearing to meet a murdered body in a ditch or to see a murderer lurking behind the trees. Unfortunately for my peace of mind I had come upon an old bound copy of a year's issue of the Illustrated London News. This was adorned by wood-cuts, and I always found there was a horror about wood-cuts that was not possessed by any other form of pictorial representation.

One wood-cut showed a man in a gig driving along a lonely road; from behind a tree another man was peering at him and firing. The look of terror in the victim's eyes reminded me of that old dreadful picture of the negro.

In later days and for a long time afterwards any stretch of lonely road was haunted for me by a phantom gig, victim and murderer.

My melancholy became intense. I tried to write verses, a narrative in elaborate stanzas after the model of the Faerie Queene, and another on Chaucerian lines. I also tried to dramatise some of Browning's longer poems in the form of plays. These were by way of literary exercises. I had read no really first-class fiction, only the missionary magazine stories and moral tales. I had not read any trashy fiction either.

I now understood that my mother was an authoress and that her main ambition was to get plays produced in London; when this happened we should all be rich and get away from the desert island. My mother had already, in brief intervals, taken some notice of me and told me something about herself, but the rest of her story I learned from Nana. This was, naturally, of absorbing interest to me.

I understood, for the first time, who I was, who my forbears were and what prospects lay before me. The tale was given in a highly dramatic fashion, and I did not realise that my mother was painting herself as one always wronged and always justified in all she did herself.

This tale showed her as the heroine. I did not notice that she was not only excusing but glorifying herself. I do not think she noticed it herself, for her account was given in all candour. She really believed in these dramatic episodes, and that she had been treated more vilely than any woman had been before.

It seemed that her father was a Moravian clergyman, and his father had been, before him, a bishop of that Church. Her mother was the daughter of a Plymouth shipbreaker who had left quite a fine sum of money behind him—ten thousand pounds apiece to his daughters on their wedding-day, I was told. This seemed fabulous to me, as richly improbable as the most fantastic fairy tale.

My mother's early life also seemed to have been spent in surroundings of a kind that surpassed anything I could imagine. The family had servants, they kept pony-traps, they were respected people. I visualised quite clearly the figures of my grandparents. My grandfather, it seemed, had held me on his knee when I was about three years old. I was shown a daguerreotype my mother had kept, together with a handful—little more—of family treasures. He was a large, robust man with a beard, and, as I was told, jovial and genial, with the eloquence that belonged to his race, for he was Welsh. His mother's name had been Elizabeth Bowen, and my mother had a tiny picture of her in a blue riding habit that I thought very lovely.

Both my great-grandfather and my grandfather had been for a long while in Jamaica as missionary priests, and thither my grandfather had taken his young wife. All her first children—four, I think—had died out there of yellow fever, and I was shown some little pencil drawings she had made of the graves. She had never recovered, I believe, from the shock and had been an "invalid" for the rest of her days. My mother told me she could only remember her lying on a sofa, with her hair that was the colour of a dead bay-leaf, closely banded round her face, and holding a bottle of smelling-salts in her hand. My mother had one brother and three sisters; they were all well educated, for they had been sent to school when they were about five years old—to Moravian schools first in England, and afterwards in Germany, at Baden-Baden.

My mother would dwell tenderly on these early years, yet they had been full of trouble. She was always indulging in wild escapades; a spirited and daring child, she had been continually the leader in mischievous tricks. These had become more dangerous when she had grown older. There had been flirtations, one peculiarly daring one with a German singer in Baden-Baden. From the very first she had been extremely attractive to men.

She gave me no connected story of her life, but I gathered here and there little anecdotes and episodes on which she liked to dwell of which she was always the heroine.

The family had been brilliant—that was the word always used. The brother had composed music, written verses and novels, made clever sketches—we had a few drawings of horses by him.

On my grandmother's death all these young people, so talented and, it seemed, so wild and hare-brained, had scattered. My grandfather had become blind and married again, and there had been a great number of dramatic family dissensions. He had also lost his money, through, I believe, the failure of the Turkish Government. But he had made enough out of Turkish Bonds to give his children an exceptionally good education for their position.

Consequent on all these chequered fortunes the lot fell on my mother to take her ailing brother to America, to go, I think, to California, where he had a position in a band. "Consumption" had seized him.

On the way out she had met my father, and leaving her brother to find his way as best he could for the rest of the journey, came to New York, where she married.

The brother in the south died, and she recalled this disaster with the most bitter remorse.

What her adventures were in America I do not know. She only mentioned them now and then, as if they were something too dark and sinister to be related. Indeed, a tragic gloom hung over the whole narration. It always seemed to me in those days too terrible to be true. Surely no one person's life could be full of quite so many dramatic horrors?

My father, it seemed, had been on his way to America for no definite reason but rather because his family was tired of him. He was what they used to call in those days a "ne'er-do-well" or a "black sheep." Handsome, intelligent, attractive, a giant in stature, everything had somehow gone wrong with him. His parents, exasperated and worn out by his delinquencies, had, following the traditional custom, sent him to America to try his fortunes. It was little to be expected that he would add a wife to his other difficulties.

The two returned from America after, it may be, a year or two, penniless and estranged from their families. I believe that while they were out there they had been living on small sums sent them by my grandfather, but now this source had dried up.

The other sisters, too, had gone their various wild ways to disaster or something very like it. One went to Germany, where she soon afterwards died under circumstances that my mother always declared were too painful to dwell upon. The other had had an adventurous career, and was that same Gertrude whom I remembered at Clacton so pleasantly.

The youngest had died at school at the age of fourteen, through her stepmother's neglect, as my mother averred, and herein again I was given to understand lay an unspeakable tragedy.

My mind revolted against all these gloomy horrors, yet I felt myself bound to believe them, and to be my mother's ardent champion.

After my parents' return to England they lived on allowances from my mother's and my father's people, as I gathered.

"Don't you remember," Nana used to say, "Tuesday, the day we used to have buns? That was the day the money used to arrive." I did remember it, though dimly.

Nana supplemented my mother's story, which was, both these women agreed, hardly credible. My mother used to complain constantly that people simply would not believe the wrongs she had suffered, they sounded so grotesque and uncommon.

I myself believed them, and became in fancy her sympathetic defender. I began to love her then and was very indignant indeed that she should have been made to suffer so sorely at the hands of villains.

At the same time, even in those days, I could not repress a certain feeling of exasperation at the recital of these stories of continued misfortune. There is something about the self-pity of a woman, as there is about the railings of a woman, which, though it may be quite justified, is certainly tiresome. A little common sense would help to dispose of so much of this feminine misery.

I felt that even then. Why should there be so much of this dwelling on the past? Why should these sinister happenings of yesterday darken to-day? But I was forced to admit that irreparable mischief had been done from which we could never recover. Although I revolted against this destiny, I was then obliged to accept it. Make no mistake, the blight, taint or stain was over all of us.

It was explained to me that my mother, as a woman living apart from her husband, had lost caste, and that this same disability attached to us. We had no home, no father, no relatives; we belonged to no world whatever except the shores of Bohemia, and a kind of shabby gentility that, in its way, was despised even by Bohemia itself. Yet my mother had her moments of dignity and class-consciousness in which she spoke very contemptuously of the people with whom she was obliged to mingle and whose loves and hates, quarrels and causes she shared so passionately.

I perceived that Nana was possessed of a venomous hatred of my father, and I began to perceive, though dimly, that she might have been one of the causes of the trouble between husband and wife. She was a curious creature, faithful, at least to her mistress, a woman who always stood apart from life, the eternal spectator who liked to provoke drama that she might have the pleasure of witnessing the consequences of it.

Her story came out, too. It was also a strange one. She had no relatives, no friends. There were some tales of a splendid aunt who kept a public-house called "The prince of Wales's Feathers." Her mother had been a professional cook of high standing, her father a courier. She had some little cards of Lake Constance coloured a bright blue that he had once brought home with him; she seemed to have no other souvenirs of any sort or kind. She told me that she had sold or pawned all her possessions to help us. This might have been true, for loyal she certainly was, but it was also clear that she enjoyed following these fallen fortunes that gave her so rich an experience of life at second hand, and allowed her so many opportunities for scandalous gossip and commentary.

She was my mother's confidante most of the time, like the waiting-maids in the old melodramas. She would listen and sympathise endlessly, and at the end of these confidences, when the tears came, was always ready to "slip out," as the term went, for a small bottle of gin or sal volatile, or to make a cup of tea.

I hated all these remedies for misfortune, most of all the tea, that was always Ceylon and made thick with milk.

Nana had her virtues, too. She looked after us, according to her standard, pretty well. A flavour of the nurseries in which she had been trained hung about us. She kept us clean, even when nothing more was to be got than a nut of hard, yellow soap. She prevented us from making undesirable acquaintances. Her insistence that we were "ladies" was not without its advantage for us. The splendours that we had lost became extremely exaggerated; there was hardly a large house that we passed or a carriage that passed us but Nana did not tell us that those should be ours if we had our rights.

My sister was impressed by these stories, and the natural sloth and sadness of her disposition increased by brooding over them. She dwelt a great deal as she grew up on what she had lost and what she ought to have.

These chimeras filled me with impatience; it was so obvious that we could only get not only splendours and glories but a spare measure of decent living and comfort by our own efforts. I wondered why these people, always complaining and always unsuccessful, did not do something. Was there not work in the world? One heard a great deal of the talk of genius being always unsuccessful, and all these people, including my mother, were supposed to be too brilliant and gifted to be able to earn money.

All this seemed to me suspect. I wanted to get away from this world; I wanted, somehow, to earn money so that I could restore my mother to an orderly kind of life. I remembered the nursery that I had glimpsed from the windows of the apartment in the Vauxhall Bridge Road, everything sweet and "respectable." My reading had given me a passionate desire for these things. I knew they existed, I could see them then about me.

I was glad when this time in the country came to an end. My mother came to fetch us away and there was a big scene between her and Nana because accounts had been run up at the little village shop. We had even indulged in unpaid-for jam. I do not think this was ever paid for. I remember my mother's going into the shop—I was with her—and bargaining with the woman, and giving her a little sum of money on account.

I was used to this; it was always so in London. When we first went to new apartments we lived rather well for a few weeks. Then our credit would run out, there would be certain streets down which we should no longer be able to go for fear the grocer or pastry-cook would see us from his window, and we fell back on what we could buy with the few pence available—potatoes and rice with an occasional herring.

I was not pleased, however, when I found that our return to London meant that we were to lodge at Peachy's flat. Yet I liked the place; it was in the part of an old building that was exactly facing the entrance to Somerset House, by Waterloo Bridge. I had always relished London, and here was the very heart of the city again.

The flat was quite luxurious. There was a large landing lined with books and there was a room at the back that looked out on to the Savoy Chapel, but here was a nasty drop that made me feel giddy.

We had, as usual, the top rooms, but they were quite pleasant. There was a large bed for me, a cot for my sister, a couch for Nana. There was also a long glass, the first one I had seen, called a cheval-glass. It was impossible to express how interesting all these novelties were.

Above the bed was a large engraving of Sir Noel Paton's "Midsummer Night's Dream." I hated it.

Here I was free of more books than had ever been under my hand at the same time before. Unfortunately, I found one that had uncut pages, and clumsily trying to cut these, tore them. It was an Herodotus, I believe, and there was a great deal of trouble about this, and afterwards I was forbidden to touch any of the more valuable books.

As recompense I was offered lessons. This seemed too good to be true, but there was, it appeared, a charitable lady—one of Peachy's pupils—who was quite willing to give me lessons, and to catalogue the collection of books at the same time.

Yet another delusion awaited me. She was not, after all, interested in me or the lessons, though she was a well-educated woman. She started me on Hume's History of England, but I already knew too much to enjoy this farrago. It ran counter also to my prejudices, that were always Whig and Protestant. Then she set me copying flowers in stump, and I despised that as well. However, I tried to get along with her and pick up what I could from her, for I was avid for all kinds of knowledge and self-improvement.

She was a distressingly plain woman with a pasty skin, protruding teeth and goggle eyes, and she usually wore a sealskin hat tied on under the chin by wide, white satin ribbons that offended me very much.

This creature, too, was hysterical like most of the people we seemed to know, and it seemed that the lessons she was giving me were a mere excuse for her to have the run of the flat. She was enamoured, as so many women were, of the detestable Peachy. It seemed that he was resenting her advances and there were scenes and swoonings, of which I was a forced and disinterested witness, whenever Peachy made a visit to his flat. He clearly loathed the woman, and would storm and rave at her in English and German. Nana told me, however, that he had borrowed large sums of money from her. She was—and this was a novelty in our set—wealthy.

More interesting were two other novelties—incandescent gas, of which there was a great deal of talk, for it did not work very successfully at first, and some kind of food craze that consisted of nuts and black bread. I liked anything that would let me off eating meat, and all these things seemed to widen my horizon and to open out the world around me. One unfortunate day I was given a dead hare to play with. I liked it at first, and was stupid enough to think it was stuffed, but the inside began to come out and I had another period of nightmares.

The drop from the window fascinated me. Peering out from this window I learned for the first time of the vertigo from 'Which I was to suffer for the rest of my life.

There were other excitements and novelties, however, in Peachy's flat besides those of the cheval glass and the engraving of the "Midsummer Night's Dream," the incandescent gas and the quantity of books.

A small, crooked staircase led from one floor to another, and this was in itself, in a curious way, interesting. I was always pleased when I went up and down it.

We had our disasters here, too. Something went wrong with the drains, and I had a poisoned thumb which throbbed very badly and had to be tied up to the bed at night. There was some kind of a scare about this—typhus, I suppose—but it did not affect me very much. What did trouble me was, that while these drains were being altered I had to sleep in the back room, where there was a stiff holland blind that used to flap against the window. When I was left there alone I always imagined there was somebody trying to get in. The old fears and dreads would recur, though by now I had a certain amount of mental stability and common sense with which to combat them.

I used to try and imagine these horrors in material forms, and to think that I was fighting them with my hands; it was always easier to get rid of them that way.

I had very pleasant dreams, too, and moments of ecstasy. Some of the happiest times used to be at evening when Nana and I and my sister were alone in the flat. We were not allowed to use the gas, so that when it was dark our sole diversion was to sit at the window and watch the halfpenny omnibus waiting to go over Waterloo Bridge. The play of light and shadows and the half-discerned stone figures on the portico of the great door opposite fascinated me. I could have sat there all night watching the little horse-bus pass and return, and imagine all manner of wondrous happenings taking place in that great stone-enclosed courtyard. The large building and the grandiose statues gave an air of splendour to our surroundings.

There was an aged porter who lived at the bottom of the building, and his name was Ogilvy, and I felt, in a way, that he too gave the place an added dignity.

Once while we were there the ceiling on the landing fell down; I suppose we had missed death by an inch because the floor space was impassable owing to heaped rubble, and looking up one could see the sky and the stars. But I was not greatly affected.

Here, too, I got hold of a book called The Picture of Dorian Gray. The book did not interest me at all, and I only remember it because it was taken from me and a great fuss made about the fact that I was reading it. That fixed it in my memory.

I liked the Savoy Chapel and the graves, that looked beautiful enough under the trees. But these troubled me a little. I was no longer afraid of Hell, nor even of the eye of God watching me perpetually, but I had learned to know inescapable death: no fable, this. I experienced to the full the profound melancholy at the thought of death that afflicts extreme youth.

I thought more of the death of those whom I loved and who were familiar to me than I did of my own. Unthinkable the world would be without my mother and my sister and Nana. I used to lie awake at nights turning this over in my mind. Funerals and funeral shops filled me with horror; I would resort to many manoeuvres on our walks so that I did not have to pass one of them. Nothing could be more ghastly than those dark interiors with the polished coffins, one on a trestle and the others standing on end.

Just immediately across Waterloo Bridge were some horrible shops. One had a wickerwork kangaroo hanging outside it, and the window was filled with shelves on which were rows of heads, likenesses of criminals, I suppose, for all had distorted expressions, and the wax gave them a peculiar and livid aspect. Real hair bristled from their heads and brows and chins; nothing could have been more disturbing.

Shops that showed waxworks of tortures at this time used to open in London for a short while. There was one in Leicester Square that I remember quite well, a figure of a man in the stocks in the window and another one writhing in some terrible position with a hook in his thigh. I was never allowed into one of these exhibitions, and could scarcely have been dragged there even if Nana's curiosity and her purse had run to such extremes. The sight of these objects in the windows was quite enough to fill me with dreadful forebodings and become the subject of continuous nightmares.

I made up my mind, however, that fortitude was a very desirable virtue and necessary to me, and I exercised all the will-power of which I was capable to fight my way through both privation and mental torment. In this I succeeded.

I do not think my disposition was altogether, or even naturally, melancholic. I was often gay and used to sing and dance and I could always see the humour of an incident or a person. I enjoyed very much watching the people round me and used to describe certain of them to myself when I went to bed at night. I would not only invent tales about them but try and re-tell famous stories that I had read and fit these characters into them.

I determined, then, on being a good many things. I was going to be a great painter, a great writer, and if possible an architect and sculptor. I was full of energy and believed that obstacles were only created to be overcome.

I was also of a practical turn of mind, and decided that it was stupid to linger more than was necessary in the kind of life I was leading. In my dreams I saw myself as a grand heroine rescuing my mother and my sister and Nana from the wretched existence that surrounded us.

There were a good many quarrels while we were in these old rooms. I did not take much heed of them, but I learned some lessons from the weaknesses of these powerful adults—the folly of wasting one's time in rows and scenes, the stupidity of idleness and so much excited emotionalism.

I decided to be different.

Soon afterwards we went—why I do not know—to rooms in Dorking. There, too, I was fairly happy until I learned that the bedroom where I slept was supposed to be haunted. An old man, Nana told me, had died there and his ghost might be seen nightly. I never saw it myself, but I was decidedly uneasy even though Nana slept in the same room.

There was also a house just outside the town that was haunted—my first experience of a haunted house. It was shut up and dreary-looking enough. I rather liked going past it and imagining the phantoms that no doubt used to lurk behind those dusty windows. I would not, however, for anything that could have been offered me, have passed half an hour of daylight in the house, let alone spend the night there.

I liked Dorking very much and the country outside. I remember mushrooms and blackberries and a little temple under some trees that were yellow, so I suppose I was there in the autumn. I also remember breaking a bar of the landlady's chair by putting my feet on it too heavily, and the dismal trouble that ensued.

There was an arch just outside Dorking with broken masonry, out of which grew ferns and flowers. This is associated always in my mind with the Idylls of the King. I never passed it but I saw one of Tennyson's knights going in or coming out of it.

Here, too, I learned to sew and knit and crochet, occupations that gave me great pleasure. I was always deft with my fingers, though there was no strength in my wrist; at anything that required much force I was useless.

About this time Queen Victoria died. I had never paid any heed to her before, and it did not interest me to hear that she was dead, though I was surprised to see so many people wearing black. It was the first time I had noticed anything to do with mourning. I was fascinated, too, by the expression "chapelle ardente" in which it was said the Queen was lying. I remember nothing more of this great historic event.

I began to be conscious, unfortunately for myself, of the newspapers. Sitting down on the floor I would read the backs of the sheets that Nana was gloating over, and gave myself a few more nightmares by reading particulars of horrible burglaries and murders. There were, too, in some of the humbler newspaper shops, dreadful pink sheets, the front pages, I believe, of a publication termed Police News. On these were rude cuts, nearly as detestable as those in the old Illustrated London News, of atrocious crimes. These, and the butchers' shops, and anything that came my way that reminded me of terror and suffering and death, helped to darken my days.

But there were many bright spots. For one thing, we used to go to penny readings and temperance lectures. They were the only free entertainments within our reach, that is, almost free—we could not always afford the penny for the readings. I enjoyed them very much—the warm, cosy, happy atmosphere, the songs and recitations, and the pictures from the magic lantern shown upon the screen.

Here I was more or less in my own world, that was much more congenial to me than the real world in which I lived. I passionately followed the adventures of the heroes and heroines in these temperance lectures. I dwelt with gusto on the difference between the ruined home of the drunkard and the prosperous home of the man who drank water only. I resolved that I would never touch alcohol of any kind; anyhow, not until I was a grownup woman.

Drink, as Nana did not hesitate to remind me, was the cause of my father's downfall. He had not been sober for months together; she took a delight in emphasising that he had always had a bottle of brandy hidden under his pillow, and "Look what that had meant to us." Well, here was a moral left for me. But I could not remember my father like that and I disliked Nana for so dwelling on this weakness. He had, at least, always seemed pleasant, and some of the wronged and virtuous people seemed so far from pleasant.

When we left Dorking we went to Hastings, and here it was melancholy. The sea was not the same as that I had remembered at Clacton, the town seemed gloomy, the landlady was disagreeable, and there were far too many funeral shops and graveyards.

However, there were occasional gleams of something delightful, the smell of sea-weed, a cool twilight as one went home, an unexpected treat in the shape of a bun or an orange. The books here were not very good. I was familiar with most of the works one could hope to find in theatrical lodgings, and I never joined public libraries save in London.

But I worked as well as I was able to and equipped myself, full of vigour and energy as I was, with a good deal of useless knowledge. At the same time I managed to arrange much of what I learned in some sort of system. I had already several ideas of how it might be put to use.

From Hastings we went to London again, and I gathered that some bitter trouble had descended upon us. There was talk of lawyers, and courts, and I went with my mother to stay for a couple of days in rooms near the Guildhall. I understood that she was engaged in some legal dispute with my father's family. What it was I did not know then, and I do not know now, but I can remember lying in the large, hired bedroom near the Guildhall, seeing two candles burning on the mantelpiece and reflected in the mirror and noticing how excited my mother was when she came and went.

We were away again—in Folkestone—and by then I had a pretty shrewd idea of the world into which I had been born and from which, somehow, I must wring a destiny. It was clear that I was not much wanted or even liked by anyone. My mother's affection, passionate and wilful, was intermittent. She still did not hesitate, when she was depressed or in a rage, to tell me that I was a burden and a nuisance, and that her grim fate was made even more intolerable by the presence of two children.

It was plain that I could hope for no education, and there was a certain consolation in that. If I was not wanted, at least I had cost no one anything. A human being could scarcely have been brought up at less expense—a five-pound note must have covered all the food I had ever eaten.

I knew now how we lived—debts, loans from friends, and a certain amount of hack-work, translations that my mother did. We owed a great deal of money; everywhere we went there were small debts left behind. This filled me with a kind of horror, nausea, I do not quite know why.

The food problem was acute at Folkestone. To disguise from the landlady that we had practically nothing to eat we used to take long walks, pretending that we would buy our lunch in the town and eat it in the fields.

We used to walk right out of Folkestone to a hill called the Sugar-loaf, from which we could see the ocean—blue and still as I remember it most dearly. This was very agreeable, even without food, and by then I was inured to going for hours with very little to eat. Bread, tea and an occasional bun was our sole fare, as far as I can recollect. But I was always healthy, except for the curse of a queasy stomach and sudden headaches.

It was decided to give me drawing lessons at Folkestone, but these were not a success. The woman who taught me was prim and conventional and set me to work again on copying flowers, with stumps and chalk. The lessons came to an end because my mother could not pay the fees, and after severe humiliation for me, because, totally unprovided with money, I would have to turn up without paper, pencil, or rubber, to the vexation and bewilderment of the drawing mistress.

I now began to be conscious of a good deal of tedium and boredom, brought on by forced idleness, and my too great familiarity with my companions. My sister, brilliantly clever with her brush and more charming with every year that passed, was not much of a companion for me. Our tastes were different in everything, and she disliked my eager industry as much as I disliked her sloth.

I had by now accumulated a good collection of tattered drawings as well as a pile of books filled with verses, stories and notes. Nothing much was thought of these, either by my mother or her friends, for in that set everyone did something, and I, as well as they, took it for granted that one wrote or drew.

It was one advantage of my upbringing that I was not aware of stupidity or dullness. All these people, however unbalanced, over-emotional or hysterical, were doing things or talking of doing things. I did not know that there existed people without any pretensions to some kind of gift or self-expression. Or if I did know vaguely that many of the people whom I passed in the street had no pretensions to any gift, I never realised it. One and all, they were to us the "general public"—the people who bought books and pictures and seats for the theatre and seats for the concert, and who were otherwise completely insignificant.

Returning to London, we lodged for a while in St. Martin's Lane, in a theatrical lodging kept by a retired schoolmistress and her companion, who used to quarrel continuously and instinctively. My mother entered with gusto into these frays, trying to adjust I know not what disputes between the two embittered women. One finally left, and upon the other—the schoolmistress—who had some considerable savings, my mother exercised her charm with such considerable effect that she invested some of this hoarded money in a theatrical project in which my mother and some friends were concerned.

The result of this, as it seemed, happy turn of fortune was that we had a little money in hand, and actually took a tiny flat of our own, furnished I know not how with oddments borrowed here and there. The flat was in a street that turned off Oxford Street, and I did not like it very much. The rooms were cramped and dark; it was situated over a laundry, and directly overlooking a public-house. The frequenters of the public-house kept up a noise, all through the night, as it seemed to me. I could hardly sleep at all, and used to go to the window, lift the blind and see people quarrelling on the pavement, women in shawls threatening each other with hat-pins, a glare of ugly yellow light, and sometimes a barrel organ playing.

I noticed, about this time, a great deal of drunkenness; on a p. Bank Holiday you could see the people lying in the gutter and no one taking any notice of them.

One of my mother's friends thought it was time—and indeed it was—that I should begin to do something. I must have been in my thirteenth year, for all the changes I have chronicled took place very rapidly, and we were always moving. She therefore introduced me to a firm of furniture-makers. With my talent for drawing, surely I could help paint the furniture!

I was only too eager to try to learn. At first I was clumsy and diffident, but soon picked up the art of painting shells, groups of musical instruments, bunches of trophies, and even little pictures on furniture. I was not, of course, allowed to do the more difficult part, but I was supposed to be a promising pupil and particularly good at touching-up old pictures. I was able to match the colours without any difficulty.

After I had been working there for some few weeks I was offered an apprenticeship—if I would remain for a couple of years I should be worth a decent salary. I was keen enough to accept the offer, for I liked the old, red-faced, bearded man who presided over the studio where I worked under the tuition of three pleasant girls. But my mother refused; she wanted payment for me at once, and of course I was not worth that yet awhile. So I returned to the old routine.

Going to this studio—though it was only just across Oxford Street, in Rathbone Place, I believe—had given me some measure of independence and I was now allowed out alone, free of the constant company of Nana and my sister, who were not interested in the things that pleased me most. This meant that I at once spent a great deal of time in museums and galleries, studying with the greatest relish everything that came under my nose, making notes when I could afford paper and pencil, and memorising what I could not make a note of. I copied things, too, when I had the materials, and by the aid of books that I could now obtain from the public libraries I gave myself a fair art education.

My mother then decided to send me to the Slade School, and a dreary period set in. At first the prospect sounded wonderful. I was at last to be able to learn "to draw and to paint properly," as my mother said, and I should soon be an artist able to earn my living.

I was speedily disillusioned. My brightly coloured chalk pictures of fantastic scenes, historical characters, and illustrations to bits of poetry were regarded as so much trash by the professors at the Slade School. They did not find me in the least talented. I was set to work to copy, with charcoal on rough paper, huge antiques, statues, and plaster casts. I already had done some of this on my own account at the British Museum; I did not find the work easy or even interesting. The medium was new to me, the chairs hard, the hours long. I had, besides, no luncheon, and when the other girls went out to get theirs I had to walk round the houses and pretend I had had mine. This made me unsociable; I could never join in with my fellow-students for fear I might be asked to share a meal with them.

Then, too, there were occasionally the appalling questions: "Who is your father? What does your father do?"

My mother, too, warned me that my father was here in London and might come to the school and try to see me.

So, between all these disabilities, I lived in a constant state of depression and terror. The masters were dry, uninterested, and one of them, at least, brutally unkind. On top of that, my fees were always overdue, and I had the humiliation of seeing my name "posted" in the hall.

I tried two examinations, the only two I have ever sat for—one was in anatomy and the other for perspective. I failed hopelessly in both, though I had worked hard from books. I began to feel that I was incurably stupid. Whenever I sent a sketch in to the little exhibitions of the students' work that were held, it was derided. The sternest realism seemed the order of the day, and that I not only could not achieve but did not like.

For a while I was almost crushed by depression and disappointment. Everyone in the school seemed to draw better than I could. I began to be aware of the disability of sex, too. I was a girl and no woman had been a great or even a tolerable painter.

The foolish drawings that I had amused myself with for so long now seemed worthless. I could not endure any more to put any phantasy down on paper; I started, instead, to write. I used to write on the back of my drawings when I was too weary to go on struggling with the charcoal and the michlet paper.

We used to have to rub our drawings out with pieces of bread that we bought for a halfpenny at the door as we entered. The bread was new and tempting, and when one had had no breakfast it was difficult to resist eating it. The soft part, however, had to be kept for pellets, but sometimes I could furtively nibble the crust.

At this time I felt almost defeated; my mother expressed her disappointment, too. After all, I had not so much talent. She had been deceived, she complained, because she knew nothing of "drawing."

We left the flat—owing the rent, no doubt. A friend, who to this day remains anonymous to me, lent us a handsome flat that was over a bank at the end of Henrietta Street. This gave on to Covent Garden and looked down from some of the rooms on to the portico of St. Paul's.

This I liked very much. I was reading Clarissa Harlowe at the time; I have never enjoyed a book more. I lived over every moment of the story, and being in Covent Garden was able to visit the scene of the heroine's adventures.

I liked all of this: the rich, varied life of the market, even the look of the decayed cabbage cast about on the large cobblestones, even the sound of the carts coming in in the dawn. All was agreeable.

The flat was large and very handsomely furnished. I saw for the first time a bathroom, but there was never any hot water in it, and we were always short of soap. Still, there seemed a kind of dignity in having a place that had a bathroom.

Here, too, there was a set of Sir Walter Scott's novels, and I read them for the first time. I was not so enchanted with Scott as I had been with many other writers, but became interested in some of the stories, especially The Pirates and Old Mortality.

Here my mother tried to teach me the piano, but it was a fiasco. She had no patience, and I had no skill or talent, absolutely "no ear," as it was termed, so there again I was a failure.

I kept on, however, with the writing and sometimes, tentatively, a little painting, though Slade School experience had cured me of venturing far in those fields.

Here we must have been very poor; we were often so shabby we could not go out until it was dark, and the long days in the flat with very little to do—for one could not obtain materials for any of one's activities—were wearisome.

I did not mind being so short of food, as it was far less humiliating than being shabby or owing money. There was even a kind of grandeur about it, and I got to take an interest in noting the effects on me of going without food—of acute hunger. After a while it did not hurt at all, and there was something pleasant about the accompanying light-headedness; one felt one's body float away from underneath one, and I know there was one point when the furniture in the room seemed to become detached and to move forward and everything was disembodied, as it were, and floating. A queasy sickness would follow this stage and one's eyesight would become troubled. Once or twice I thought I was going blind; my senses did really fail, I noticed it, one by one. First I could hardly see, then I could hardly hear, then as I put up my hand everything seemed soft; there was nothing hard, I think I had lost the sense of touch.

Still, I liked getting about in this quarter of London. When I had lived near here before—in King William Street—I had not been old enough to relish the locality as I did now.

The quarrels and scenes continued; my mother was always having passionate friendships and passionate partings. The only friend I had was named Louise. She was the daughter of a journalist, and they lived in a flat opposite. I went to stay with her once; there was some kind of a party on and bright things about. I do not remember it nearly as well as many things that happened much earlier than this.

Soon after this friendship was formed Louise died, and it gave me a strange feeling, almost of dignity, that I had been to a party with a little girl who was now dead.

Our next move was to Tooting, to another house that was lent us for a short time. It was large, or seemed so to me, and again well-furnished; it stood in quite a large garden and seemed the real country. I liked it. In the garden were roses and a large mulberry tree; I remember the soft squashy fruit and my mother sitting under the tree. She was extremely gay and had a party of friends about her. I realised, almost with a sense of shock, her intense charm, and how delightful a creature she was.

She went away from Tooting while we were there to go on a yachting trip, as I understood, with some wealthy people who might be going to back a play of hers, so after all we might get off this desert island and everything be splendid.

But of course this all came to nothing. When she came back she brought us some Edinburgh rock, and seemed still gay.

In this house there was a room kept shut up, which we were not allowed to enter, a box-room—I was told it was haunted by rats, and looking through the key-hole I saw one. I liked the rats as I liked the spiders that used to spin their great webs in the windows downstairs. Nothing at this time discomposed me, and I was getting past some of my worst melancholy terrors. I remember a picture on the wall of a beautifully painted water-colour showing a bird's nest with little blue eggs.

After we left Tooting—maybe I have not got all these changes in chronological order—I never kept a diary—but I think it was after we left Tooting, we went to stay in the country. The name of the place I cannot recall, but there was a lame cock and a large apple tree in the garden. I stole some of the apples and began the visit in disaster in that way.

I now wanted to wear long skirts and put my hair up. I must have been about fourteen. I had nearly finished the manuscript of a novel and had stacks of poems, short stories and notes. My mother paid no attention to any of these, though I tried to suggest to her that I might get some kind of literary work.

The long skirts and the hair turned up were forbidden, and during the rest of our stay there my mother was absorbed in passionate grief for the loss of a friend. Somebody she loved dearly had died—in his sleep, I understood. The horror of her desolation swept over me too, I could not endure to see her lying on the sofa, sobbing.

We gathered blackberries while we were there; I liked to pick them for the sake of picking, to get baskets full and bring home as many as possible, and I was vexed, in a narrow-minded fashion, because Nana and my sister ate half of those they plucked. I had a great instinct for law and order and industry, but no vent for these virtues or failings, whichever they might be.

My mother now had some luck; she obtained work, writing serials for women's papers. Of course, this was miserable employment for her splendid talents and I felt her humiliation keenly. But it meant that we could take another flat, though this too was a cramped, shabby affair in a street off Russell Square.

I liked the neighbourhood; there were splendid old squares full of magnificent trees, dark side-streets in which any mysterious happenings seemed possible, and rows of those flat-fronted, eighteenth-century houses that I had always admired so much.

The corner where we lived was very noisy; on Saturday night a market was held there in the street, and food and trumperies sold by the light of naphtha flares. I liked that too.

The building in which we lived was dingy; the rooms were small and crowded and the people overhead and down below were always making rows. However, there was a bathroom—the second one I had seen. Though the walls were an unhappy mustard-colour, it gave me great pride and pleasure.

We lived in a sort of rough, raggle-taggle comfort. However, I was dissatisfied with our life; it had not enough law and order for me and seemed to be leading nowhere. All the people who came and went appeared to be in the same boat as ourselves; there was no sign of prosperity on the horizon, nor of one of my mother's plays being accepted nor of one of her books making a success. She, too, was losing something of her glow and brilliancy and becoming embittered. She quarrelled with Peachy and on his death-bed he refused to see her.

I was wearied by the tales of the past that as I grew older were told me more frequently and in more vivid detail. All these family rows and quarrels seemed so dead, yet I was the fruit of them and they affected me profoundly.

I was able to use my common sense now and see that all the wrong could not have been on the other side. I could see for myself, too, that my mother was an impossible person to live with. Her emotionalism was most exhausting. There was always a passionate friendship, or flirtation, or love-affair or what you will in progress with man or woman, and these always ended in tragedies or quarrels or separations, and grim silences that were almost worse than the scenes.

Nana, too, began to fatigue me with her tales of the grand places that she had been in and the splendours that she had sacrificed for our sake, and I began to find out also that she too had been more or less a derelict waif and stray when she had attached herself to our curious destiny. As I grew older her company was less tolerable; her manners were so gross and her habit of romancing increased. She had lost all her teeth and become stout, and despite my mother's constant entreaties refused to visit either dentist or doctor.

She ran this flat for us and was gradually slipping from the position of nurse to that of general servant. She was lazy, untidy, and when we had any money, extravagant, yet always loyal.

I now began to earn a little myself. Through a journalist friend of my mother, I heard of various small research jobs in the British Museum, and these I undertook with the greatest pleasure, searching the files of old newspapers for "references" in M.P.s' speeches and that kind of thing. I used to get paid sometimes half a crown, sometimes five shillings, sometimes seven and sixpence, and I used to go myself to an office in Fleet Street and receive the coins over a counter. There was indescribable satisfaction in this, although the money just passed from my hand to that of my mother.

Once, through this same generous friend, I obtained the commission to look up the material for a lecture on British literature. A photographer went with me and I combed through books, wrote out a brief précis and selected the illustrations for lantern slides. Of course, my name did not appear in the transaction; the work went in as that of the friend who had put me on to it. But I received five pounds, and the possession of so large a sum of money seemed to change the world for me. There again, of course—and it was only right and fair—I had to hand the money over, but for a short time it had been actually in my possession. What was even more splendid was that a letter was shown to me from the man for whom I had collected the material, saying that the work had been very well done. This gave me the deepest delight, and I treasured that letter for years.

During this time I was getting along with my novel, and recast it several times. I was very particular as to the technique, as I was entirely self-taught and the grammar and spelling gave me a great deal of trouble: there seemed so much to remember and so many conflicting and baffling rules. However, I mastered these more or less and tried to set out and master other things as well. I even, in my boundless energy and youthful enthusiasm, tried to tackle science and read through text-books on astronomy, engineering and chemistry.

All this was altogether too much for me, but it left a kind of flavour in the mouth, like biting on something on which one's teeth had made no impression, but which had left a perfume or a taste on the tongue.

I knew at least where the reach of my mind stopped, and that there were problems with which I should never be able to grapple. But I had a lingering and wistful feeling that if I had found anybody who was interested in me, he could have taught me these things and others as well.

I tried to teach myself Latin, too, and did get a little way with this. I could at least make out inscriptions, texts and tags that came my way. I think I should have enjoyed learning this language and made a fair scholar; there was something about it that pleased me immensely. In Italian and French I was decently proficient; I could not, of course, speak these languages, but I could read them. I had early learned to understand a few words of French, because my mother had a way of talking in French when I was present and something was being said that I was not supposed to understand. I do not know how it came about, but I always did understand what she meant.

Nana found out while we were staying off Russell Square that we were near the scene of several recent, gruesome murders. I had got past the worst of my horrors and slept fairly well at night, and now even liked to hear these stories. They had for me a shuddering fascination and I liked to turn them over in my mind and see what good dramatic material they were, ponder over the motives of these people and think of their dresses, and how they looked and what they did in detail.

At this stage I could never see anything but I wanted to describe it. I particularly liked twilight and dark effects, the pools of light that the street lamps made, light falling under a gateway, the bright colours of the stalls under the naphtha flares on Saturday night, even the paper and straws in the gutter—all these seemed to me part of a rich and varied design that it was my business to set down.

At this time I obtained permission to copy at the National Gallery and set off there with high hopes.

It was difficult to obtain the money for canvases and paint; this always hampered me. I had to copy small pictures and those with not a wide range of colour. I enjoyed the work and learned a good deal about the technique of both oil and water-colour painting.

I had very little food at this time, but it did not seem to matter. Sometimes I would work all day without any food; sometimes my mother would meet me in Trafalgar Square at twelve o'clock and give me a sandwich. Very often, however, this would contain fat, and though I did not like to let her see that I could not eat it, I used to have to carry it back to the Gallery and cram the fat behind the hot-water pipes.

This happened in the British Museum, too, a place wholly delightful to me. I liked the smell of it, the floor polish and the disinfectant, there was something lofty and rich in the air. I liked the way the light fell on the great galleries, and the silence, the quiet way that people walked about. I liked best of all the vast stores of knowledge that one could pick up there, with a note-book and pencil or, if these failed, with one's memory only to rely upon.

I would go from room to room, spending hours among the glass and pottery and coins and books, really learning a good deal about these subjects.

I cannot remember now what use I thought all this knowledge would be to me, but its acquisition seemed to me in those days a necessity, and that I simply must know these things. I believed that when I went out into the world I should find that everyone was equipped with the same kind of knowledge and that if one had not a rudimentary acquaintance with coins, prints, books and statuary one would be considered an ignoramus. As these subjects were not very difficult to master, at least up to a certain point, I soon became something of an expert in them.

Unfortunately we had to leave this Russell Square flat. I think our affairs became involved again, and Miss Bertram, the schoolmistress from St. Martin's Lane who had loaned us the money some time ago, had put in an appearance here. She had fallen into some trouble herself and my mother had to repay the loan by weekly sums. This, I remember, was a great torment, and in a way a disgrace, too, for the unhappy woman had lost all her savings in some enterprise in which my mother was concerned.

We went to stay with a theatrical friend, the wife of a very popular actor-manager and herself a woman of some opulence. She lived in a horrible, haunted house in St. John's Wood, a large "villa" that I loathed, with an extensive, dank garden at the back with poplar trees that reminded me of Hampstead.

Here we had a large, semi-furnished room; I think the woman with whom we lived was half-crazy. She was handsome, with a quantity of curling grey hair, and used to dress herself in Eastern robes and wander about the stairs at night carrying a candle and singing to herself.

She kept a large Airedale that I was slightly afraid of, but made friends with after a while. Then one day, coming home, I saw a huge box being taken out by two men to the end of the garden; they proceeded to set it down and dig a hole. I learned with horror that the Airedale, for what reason I do not know, had been destroyed and his body was buried in the garden.

I was not at all happy here; I was a long way from the Museum and the galleries. I used to have to walk, and the way seemed very long, especially at evening when one was tired. Sometimes one was lucky and a military band or that of the Salvation Army passed and one could walk a long way keeping time with the rhythm.

I remember a good many bands in the streets of London in those days, and how people used to fall in behind or beside them on the pavement, and accompany the marching soldiers for miles.

There was a horse-bus that ran to the West End, with straw in the bottom during the winter, but I could never afford that.

Then I tried to do illustrations for newspapers, but never could succeed in capturing that market.

I went for a brief while to polytechnic classes and evening classes at a famous art school, but never for long enough to benefit much from them, and I never could pay for the requisite materials. I had a certain skill, but it was not of commercial value.

At that time I could have been trained for a good many things. I had a very sure taste and this, added to the knowledge with which I had crammed myself, would have gone to the making of a very fair decorator. I could have been trained also as an expert or critic in almost any branch of art, since I had laid pretty good foundations. Besides that, there was my pictorial talent. I could have done illustrations or decorative work of almost any kind. My drawings were vital and full of expression; I had an accurate sense of colour. My feeling for clothes was good, and my powers could easily have been turned to account as a milliner or dressmaker.

There was no one, however, to take any interest in me and see that I was trained for any of these positions and I was helpless to do anything more for myself than I had done already.

It was a disadvantage to me in one way, though stimulating in another, that I lived in a set of people who all did something. By reason of this my little gifts attracted little notice. It was considered only the usual thing that I should have these potentialities.

Two things I had not got, which these people most valued—a good appearance for the stage, and a talent for acting; indeed, the life of the theatrical folk I knew aroused in me the feeling of distaste and I set myself with a good deal of hostility against it. I had seen too much of the back of the stage ever to want to appear before the footlights. My great desire was to get away from all that atmosphere and achieve some success in a more sober and orderly way of life.

I was desperately shy about my writing, and having nowhere to put the sheets that I covered with pencil, coloured crayon, or ink if I could get it, I secured a safety-pin and used to—in the Maida Vale house—fasten the sheets by this safety-pin inside the thick red curtains in the back room. There they were safe.

My mother was naturally very pessimistic about a literary future for me; she warned me, seriously, against it. She had been trying then for a good many years to do something with her own work that everyone termed brilliant, but no one seemed willing to buy it or to back her literary ability.

She never showed me any of her own work, and her output was very small. She dissipated her talents and her energies in those endless emotional relationships. Poverty, too, and her strange position must have worn her down. Her work was extremely talented; on a first perusal it dazzled everybody, yet in a curious way it was unreal, for it dealt entirely with her own experiences of passion and poverty. She wrote again and again of misunderstood and wronged women and the various attractive, but faithless, men who had crossed their path. She wrote, too, constantly of the stinging poverty that had been her lot for so many years, a subject which could not fail to be deeply depressing to her readers.

I remember one fragment of hers that stung me for a long time. It was about a woman who had been so poor that she was buried in a pauper's grave. Afterwards, some man to whom she had been attached got hold of a little money—a few coppers—and he went to the rough mound under which she lay and thrust the coppers down through the rough soil—at last, and too late! Although the narrative was overcharged with melodrama and sensationalism, yet it had a solid foundation in truth.

My mother's work was something like that of George Gissing, but such stuff was not taken from women in those days. In one way she was before her time; some people who read her work were shocked. The opinion was generally held that if a woman had such experiences she should not write about them.

She tried, sometimes, to get the poverty strain out of her work, but she would say: "I have to think in farthings."

When, therefore, she found that I was writing, she was naturally most discouraging. She told me that it was quite hopeless to suppose that I, a young girl, fourteen or fifteen years of age, could write anything that would be acceptable. Even then the talk was of the overcrowded market, the enormous number of novels coming out, and the wearisome competition.

She advised me to hammer away at the drawing, and I did get one or two drawings—little comic black-and-white sketches—sold. Also, a little shop—a pawnshop, I think—took some watercolours of mine and these, too, were sold. I made several copies of "The Duchess of Devonshire" and such-like popular pictures on wood, and they brought in a few shillings.

But all this money amounted to so small a sum that it made no difference to our position, which seemed daily to grow worse. The largest sum I ever earned in those days, after the five pounds for the material for the lecture on British literature, was two pounds given me by an actress for whom I drew a "set" under her direction. I can remember it now—a garden scene with a seat in the middle. I further remember the trouble I had in getting the perspective right. I worked hard at it, altering it again and again to please her. She seemed to have money and was peevish and haughty and, I thought, overwhelmingly beautiful.

I used to go to her flat and work on the sketch, and she would come in smoking and wearing a pink gown edged with swan's-down, and I would feel absolutely crushed into the carpet by my plainness and shabbiness.

However, it was a grand moment when the two pounds was earned. For the first time I had some of it for myself. My mother gave me ten shillings, and in a moment of extraordinary recklessness I bought an umbrella. It was in a pawnshop, and had a handle of pink Connemara marble with a silver top. What use the umbrella was to me I do not know, for I had no clothes I wanted to save. I had scarcely had a hat in my life; I used to wear woollen tam-o'-shanters that I knitted or crocheted myself. However, the umbrella represented something; it seemed like a gauge from another world—respectability, a home, some sort of security. I cherished this possession deeply and always took it out, wet or fine. I had it for a long time, and I passionately regretted when at last it was lost by someone who borrowed it.

It was curious how living in the suburbs always overwhelmed me with depression. "Overwhelmed" is not quite the word, because I met it with some measure of courage and energy, but my spirits drooped very considerably when I had to go away from the centre of London. I would sooner have lived in one attic in a Bloomsbury slum than in a whole house in some suburb like Maida Vale, St. John's Wood or Hampstead.

Regent's Park I detested almost as deeply as I detested Hampstead.

Things seemed at a deadlock, when it was suggested that I might learn typing and possibly earn a pound or thirty-five shillings a week. I jumped at the idea—anything to earn any money—and I was sure that I could work hard and keep myself, perhaps even save, on a pound a week.

But someone—I do not know who—revived my mother's interest in my painting and she rashly decided to send me to Paris. She knew nothing about any art training, and the advice given her was extremely bad. There was no hope for me in Paris. I was not a type to lead a Latin-Quarter student's life, and the stage I had arrived at in my work at that period was not so far advanced as to enable me to benefit by a visit to Paris. Besides, my mother could not really afford this adventure.

I was sent to a boarding-house in Paris kept by an Englishwoman. The scheme was that I should go to a school, the name of which had been given to my mother, and continue to learn "to draw and to paint." But she could never afford to send the money for my board, much less the money for the fees. So I was stranded in Paris under the excuse "I am learning to paint," without a single halfpenny with which to achieve this end. My bill was always so long overdue at the boarding-house that I was looked on very askance by the somewhat dry Englishwoman who kept it, and reduced to all kinds of shifts and manoeuvres to conceal my condition from the other girls staying there.

At times my mother would send me a money order for a few shillings that she always made out to the head post office. As I was living in the Montparnasse district I used to have to walk right across Paris to the rue du Louvre to cash this small sum and arrive home quite exhausted.

I always spent this money, according to the arrangement I had made with her, on tuition, but she never sent enough for me to pay the fees at an art school; so I used to go to the sketching classes, where I paid a franc at the door. I was far too shy to go into the classes where men and women worked together from the nude, so I used to go and sketch from the costume model.

Soon even these scanty resources dried up and there was nothing left for me but to fall back on the museums and the picture galleries. Some of these were barred to me, for there was an entrance fee. I could not often afford materials for copying or sketching, but I could afford scraps of paper and stumps of pencil, and these were used to what I considered a fair advantage.

I became very interested in this life; it was lonely, it cut me off from all the people whom I might have mixed with who, poor as they were, always seemed to have sufficient money to pay the art-school fees and who led the ordinary student's life. I did not, besides, like this kind of existence; it was only an extension of what I had already experienced—untidiness, noisiness, a lot of bombastic talk of the future, and very little work going on in the present. I did not like the look of the untidy, dirty men and women; I suspected them of being bogus, as I could not persuade myself that they were great artists in embryo.

Meanwhile I set to work on my own lines and added to the accumulation of odd scraps of knowledge that I had obtained in London all that I could wring out of Paris.

I liked the city immensely; it gave me intense pleasure even to walk the pavements. I knew already a great deal of French history, and read up a good deal more from any French book I could obtain. I never spoke French really well, I was too timid to practise, but I could read it fluently. I had the "feel" of the nation, I do not know why. It was rather like coming home.

I visited all the historic buildings associated with great events of which I had read, with extraordinary gusto and enthusiasm. I knew the Louvre Museum end to end; the Luxembourg, the Cluny and all the smaller museums were constantly visited by me. For some I had a student's ticket, I could go to others on the free day.

No one ever bothered with me; I was never interfered with, criticised or rebuked, and those long days spent in acquiring what I considered necessary culture were wholly delightful.

I liked the city itself, too, the clear air, the grand bridges and statues, the huge piles of grandiose buildings. I even went out to slums and viewed those with a horrified but curious eye. I went out to St. Denis by tram and roamed all over the Abbey by myself.

There was hardly a hole or corner of Paris that I did not know extremely well. My life was cut off from that of the other girls, from the young women and young men who lived in what was still termed the Latin Quarter. It was my extreme poverty that accounted for this. Moreover, I think I preferred it that way; I was learning more of what I liked than I should have done if I had been receiving the orthodox artistic education. At the same time I felt that, in a way, I was wasting my life.

My actual drawing was not progressing; how could it?

I wrote to my mother explaining the situation, also the agony it was to be in a boarding-house where I was constantly owing money, and I begged her to send me what the boarding-house was costing, and allow me to try and manage on it on my own. I believed that by moving into a room or studio with another girl I might squeeze out enough money for lessons.

The boarding-house was a dreary place; I remember little about it, except that one went up a great number of stairs and that it was warmed by stoves that were much too hot in winter, and that the food was extremely scanty. I was hungrier then than I had ever been, though I ought to have been inured to this privation. I think the air was very sharp, and I was walking about a good deal. The scrappy food at the boarding-house and the lack of pence to buy any supplement were a real torment.

Nor dare I accept even the poor hospitality of the other students, for I had no means of returning it.

I was thus, as it were, driven back to my writing. I had received an immense stimulus by reading several French classics, also Russian books in French translations. These I found in the small library at the boarding-house. Occasionally, when I could get a franc, I used to buy a book from the book-sellers on the quays.

How was it that Paris was so enchanting to me, being there as I was under such adverse conditions? I knew nobody, I had no companions, and yet I was never lonely. The days seemed full of rich and varied experiences. I thought that a lifetime would not be long enough to put them all down on paper, for they all formed themselves into stories.

I particularly liked the evenings and the walk along the river, to feel the breeze on my face, and to look up at the clear sky against which the buildings would be sternly outlined.

Once or twice a kind acquaintance persuaded me to join some of their parties, to share adventures that were supposed to be extremely exciting, to visit cafes and cabarets that only opened at midnight and were supposed to be haunted by doubtful characters, to have a look round the fish-market, or take a turn with the rag-pickers in the dawn. I never repeated these experiments; to me they were merely wearisome.

I liked grandeur, refinement, elegance—I could only find these things in meditating on the past.

The coarse, vital life of the slums was interesting, too; I recognised it as good material for a writer. At the same time I had no wish to mix in it. I wanted to be merely a spectator.

I began now to hear of amorous experiences. The other girls in the boarding-house were often laughing over flirtations, or cavaliers, or male friends. Some of them were in love and talked about this a good deal.

I turned the matter over in my mind. It still seemed very remote from me. I think I had been disgusted by the fluent talk of love, marriage, divorce that had gone on round me ever since I could remember. The subject was, in a way, worn out before it ever had any personal significance for me. I could not understand why men and women could not be happy more easily, why there must be all this trouble. I thought it would occupy far too much of life to indulge in a series of these affairs.

I admitted that it would have been miraculously beautiful to love and be loved, but I did not think such an experience was for me. I recognised that all the other girls were prettier, better dressed, more lively than myself. They had not, too, this urgency for earning their living that I had. They had not this definite goal in view.

I envied them in a kind of remote way, but the matter did not greatly agitate me. I had been warned by my mother that I had not a spark of attraction—I suppose all her male friends had told her so—and I had also been warned that men did not like "clever women" nor tall women, nor those who were always "covering themselves with dust," as she put it, poring over old books.

"You're not the marrying sort," I was assured. "You will probably marry an old professor when you're about forty."

I kept my own thoughts on this subject to myself; when I was younger I did not think about it at all. I had always wanted children from the moment that I had started playing with dolls, and I used to consider how I might get these from some orphanage or even have some of those I used to see playing about the streets. I would take a large house in the country when I could earn enough money and live there with them.

But now I understood how society was run, I certainly wanted a husband and children. I wanted financial security and someone to look after me, and the comfort of a home. I wanted all these things passionately; there was no question that they were the most desirable in the world and that no pleasure or ecstasy could possibly be greater than that of being loved by and loving some splendid creature.

But I did not see many of these about me. If I occasionally glimpsed a desirable man he was always someone else's property or took no notice of me. I was unable to flirt, I had no small change of coquetry or badinage, I was too serious, too preoccupied; besides, my ideals and standards were very high. It certainly cost me a pang to hear the other girls talking lightly of their love affairs, but I soon put them out of my mind. I might almost as well have hoped to be Queen of England as to hope to achieve the kind of lover of whom I dreamt.

The other girls' talk and even their behaviour outraged my secret ideals, too. I was rather wearied with sex, and I certainly was wearied of the pursuing female. I resolved that I would rather go without even the dearest things in life than chase after them. I had heard too much about tricks and traps for men, how men might be used to borrow money from, and exploited for benefits and pleasures.

I did not even want to find a rich husband, even supposing such an extraordinary achievement had been possible. I thought that there would be something degrading in marrying a man for what he could give you. It was all very fantastically fine-drawn and "highfalutin."

I had the fortitude to put it all out of my head. No exciting adventures of any kind befell me. The other girls used to come home and talk of men who had followed them in the streets and dashing Frenchmen who had pressed their attentions on them. But I went all over Paris, late at night and early in the morning, through strange neighbourhoods and queer places, and never received anything but civility and respect. I was very glad of this. I certainly should not have known how to deal with some of the encounters the other girls seemed to carry off so gaily. And I never saw anyone with whom I should have been glad to strike up even a friendship. I was morbidly shy, timid, and introspective and far preferred the shadowy heroes of my own creation to anyone whom I saw.

At last the happy thing happened. My mother allowed me to leave the boarding-house and share a little flat with a friend, a dear, lovely and kind person with whom I was extremely happy. But my poverty kept me apart; she probably guessed my condition but was kind enough never to mention it, and I tried hard to meet my share of the expenses of the flat, though it meant that I had nothing for myself and had always to go out and walk about the streets to disguise the fact that I was not buying food.

Poverty such as mine is a complete bar to almost everything, including friendship. There only remains yourself and what you can get out of yourself—your own intelligence and imagination.

I obtained a good deal of this kind of knowledge, education without words, during those days in Paris. I saw how other people lived, little tragedies and comedies were enacted under my eyes. I walked through fairs without a halfpenny to spend, I wandered through vast cemeteries looking for the graves of famous people, dead long before I was born, with as much emotion as if they had been my own kin. I visited deserted palaces—Versailles even—and noted all their details with inexpressible pleasure. The park of St. Cloud, the site of the palace, had a peculiar fascination; I would have gone there more often but the fare, either by tram or boat, was difficult to secure. I used sometimes, when things were at their very worst, have moments of strong exaltation. I felt sure that there were wonders in store for me; there seemed some abstract splendour and happiness in the very air of which I was part. I planned out all manner of work for the future and spent many days in the Palace of the Luxembourg. I mapped out a book on the paintings by Rubens, representing the life of Henry IV. I thought that I could combine an account of these with the information in Sully's Memoirs. I happen to remember that scheme, but there were many others.

I wanted to write a book on French paintings and on the sculptures of the Renaissance. But there was no one with whom to talk over these things, no one to look at my piles of shabby notes and manuscripts.

I finished the book that I had begun in the Dorsetshire cottage and sent it back to my mother. I had allowed one of the girls in the boarding-house to read a portion of it, but she was not enthusiastic and I had little hope myself that it was of any use.

At last my mother called me home; she could not afford even the few pounds that it cost to keep me in Paris any more. I suppose I had been there, altogether, something under a year; I do not remember exactly. Measured by experience, the time seemed of enormous length.

My mother had returned to the flat off Russell Square that, I believe, had been sublet while we were in the St. John's Wood place.

After the freedom I had enjoyed in Paris, London seemed rather confined and drab. But, most of all, I was overwhelmed by our own miseries. It is not easy, however well you are able to bear your misfortunes, to live with other people who are desperately wretched, and there was no doubt that my mother was extremely unhappy.

My sister, too, was obviously discontented. How could she be otherwise? She had a dreary kind of life; she had not my consolation, she did not believe in work. She was also extremely pretty, at this time quite entrancingly so, and it seemed that her looks and her graces, her wit and charm were going to be wasted.

Nana, too, was becoming soured; she disliked the housework that she did so badly, and it seemed as if the years were going by and the promised glories were never going to materialise.

I do not know what money my mother was earning at this time, but it was certainly badly spent. The housekeeping was sloppy and extravagant, there were always whisky and soda and cigarettes for the actors and actresses who dropped in with their hard-luck tales, but there was often not enough food.

I obtained a little more research work at the British Museum still at the same old low rates of pay. I could not see how I could capitalise my large store of knowledge. I showed my mother my essays and notes, very often illustrated by my own sketches, but she declared these were "hopeless." She had, however, sent the manuscript that I had posted from Paris—I remembered the struggle to raise the money for the stamps—to an agent with whom she was acquainted, but who had never been able to do anything for her.

His report was not promising; the story was unlikely. It was founded on an episode I had read in Sismondi's History, a beautiful book with a smooth, shiny calf cover, with green ties and a tooled back that I had found in one of the public libraries. There were not many sympathetic people in my story, and it had not a happy ending. Worst of all, it was not the kind of thing, as my mother pointed out, that a girl was expected to write.

This was a new obstacle. I suppose I had hardly realised until then that I was a girl; I had certainly scarcely realised what a bar my sex would be, though I had noticed with furtive dismay that there were not many women's names in the list of great painters. With authors I thought that it might be different. But my mother said "No," if I were to write as a girl and hope to get anything published—and that in itself was an extravagant dream—I must write a pleasant tale, something simple for girls of my own age, even for children.

Few or none of the tales I had in my head were pleasant—magnanimous, heroic, lofty, but not pleasant, often full of dark and sinister shades. I wrote not only to express my own ideas, and to exercise the technique I was trying to acquire, but to escape from the world in which I lived. And I found that, by writing of dark and gloomy subjects, I, in a way, rid my mind of them.

Still, the book went round and round the publishers, and when eleven—I believe that was the number—had refused it, my mother told me to stop scribbling and to think of some other way of earning a living.

About this time she suddenly took me to see my father. I had almost forgotten his existence, though I knew, of course, that he was there in the background, a dismal figure of failure and frustration.

My mother took me to Hyde Park Corner and there we met him. I should scarcely have known him. I was very shy and awkward. We went out by bus and tram into the country—to Uxbridge, I think it was—and there we had some tea outside an inn, in a garden where the hens were scratching in the dust.

I was sent apart while he and my mother talked together. She seemed violently distressed and angry, not only with him but with me.

As we were leaving the inn we saw a coster's cart outside full of bunches of white pinks. My father wanted to buy some for me, but my mother said "No," it was extravagant. And I, ashamed, hastily refused the gift.

He gave me some old coins strung together on a bracelet and looked at me critically. He said it was a pity I had not the fine Grecian nose for which his family was celebrated. He approved the way in which my ears grew, and told me to hold myself upright. I noticed a cast in his eye that I could not remember before. He was still a fine-looking man with reddish-brown hair and red moustache, but I no longer liked him.

We walked slowly back to the tram and I wished that I was back in Paris away from it all, even from my mother, whom I believed I had loved.

The deep dread of their tragedy hung upon me, not only depressing, but in a way tarnishing me.

We took a tram back; I can remember the shiny seats of perforated cane and the litter of old tickets on the dirty floor, my father sitting one side and my mother the other, and the sense I had of their frustration and a kind of guilt that seemed to lie on me for being the issue of such a marriage.

When we left the tram my father told me to be "a good girl," and kissed me.

I went away with my mother, who was in a grim temper and would not speak to me.

I never saw my father again.

I thought a good deal of those bunches of white pinks; they were ragged, and the green cup was split so that the petals fell out in a fringe. Why did one remember such trifles?

Life seemed now at a standstill. It was pretty clear to me that my mother would never achieve the success for which she had striven so long, and the tragedy of this bit into my soul. I was so helpless, not all my industry and labour and toil could possibly give her success. What was wrong? I did not know. I was convinced that she was a genius.

She blamed everything and everybody, for she was naturally becoming embittered, more, I think, by the loss of her youth than by anything else. She had been so seductive, so charming, and was so still though she was no longer a young woman. She had probably valued her youth more than anything else.

I felt old myself. I had passed my sixteenth birthday and seemed to have long since ceased to be a child.

Then came news that a publisher was interested enough in my book to want to see me. Sickened with morbid timidity I went to the office. I remember going up a flight of shining stairs into a room where a young man sat at a desk. I was desperately frightened, but he was kind and reassuring. He said that the book showed promise, but the title was wrong and the ending wrong. Would I try again? He would always be interested.

This seemed flat news to take home to my mother, but I did not care as long as I escaped from the office. It was then, and always in a measure has been, agony to me to talk of my work. It was altogether too private and intimate a matter, and to hear it discussed filled me with humiliation and shame. I wanted the book withdrawn and destroyed; it was quite certain there was no success to be had this way, and that my mother's warnings were justified.

The typed copy was getting tattered, too, and who was going to waste more precious shillings on having it retyped?

The agent, however, decided to try again. I gathered up enough courage to go and see him and ask him if he could get me more research work at the British Museum. It seemed the only thing I was fitted for.

I should have liked to be a children's nurse, but my mother assured me that I had not the qualifications or references, and that no one would employ me. If I could have gathered together the necessary money I would have been trained for this work.

The agent regarded me curiously, I thought, and asked me a good many questions. At the end of the interview he said that he thought he had placed the book and that there would not be any need for me to go any more to the Museum. This seemed quite incredible, but it proved to be true.

A firm of publishers were willing to risk issuing the book. Of course there would be no money for me, and of course I must not expect any measure of success. The usual dispiriting talk was poured over me by everyone I met, including my mother. It was a wonderful thing to have a book published, especially at my age—not yet seventeen—but at the same time that I should receive any measure of success was unthinkable.

Neither the agent nor publishers thought very much of the book, but it did show just that sparkle of "promise." Perhaps I could write another one on different lines.

I would rather, then, that the book had not been published. I loathed hearing it discussed; from being my own property it had become an article of merchandise.

I had to go and see the publishers; I thought they stared at me with distrust and disillusionment. I do not know what I could have looked like, but surely there could be nothing very reassuring in a gaunt, shabby, tongue-tied girl who sat there feeling that it was an indefensible thing to have written the wretched book at all.

I was asked again and again: "You are sure it is your own work? Where did you get the idea? Did your mother help you?"

I could give those assurances. The thing, such as it was, was my own work. I had written and rewritten it many times, I had taken a good deal of pains with it. That was all I knew.

A friend of my mother's, an editor on one of the large London papers, came to see us one evening and I do not know why or how, but suggested that we should all go to Paris. He either lent my mother the money or gave her some work; anyhow, there was a certain amount available and we were all going to France.

I felt it rather a desecration. I did not want to go to the place that I had learned to know so well by myself, with my mother, my sister, and Nana. I knew that it would, indeed, be another London.

And so it proved.

We went in the height of the summer; it was enervatingly hot. My mother, with her usual ill-luck, had chosen a small apartment under the roof.

This visit to Paris, that was to have been the cause of so much pleasure and excitement, was badly managed, and proved a failure. My mother, worried and exhausted, had not been abroad since her early girlhood, and all the conditions were novel to her. I do not know what she had expected to find, but she was deeply disillusioned and disappointed.

The city was empty, hot and arid, and I was soon accused of having deluded them by my tales of its enchantment. I refused then, as I had refused before and have refused since, to be vicariously disillusioned, but it is difficult, when one's enthusiasms are not only not shared but despised, not to feel depressed and not to wonder whether one is something of a fool. I was always learning the lesson to keep my opinions and, in particular, my sense of delight and enjoyment to myself.

My mother and sister wanted social life, wanted, indeed, what most people desire—company, admiration, personal success. It was not that I did not want these things also and valued them very highly at that, but I was resigned to doing without them, at least for the present, and I could find a deep satisfaction in substitutes. They could not. They did not trouble even to visit the galleries, the museums, the nooks and corners of Paris that to me were of such poignant interest.

There was a convent opposite our apartment and the constant ringing of the bells disturbed our rest; we were right under the roof and the rooms were too hot. This, indeed, did seem a different Paris from the one I had known when I was by myself.

Nana, I think, enjoyed the visit. She always had a lively curiosity in the doings of other people and she soon became on good terms with the shopkeepers, although she could not even speak a word of their language. I found her, oddly enough, a more intelligent companion in my walks than either my mother or my sister. She really seemed pleased and interested to see the places of which I had so often told her.

It now became clear to me that things were getting not only bad but impossible. I saw that I must, by hook or by crook, break up the circle that seemed to confine us, find some means of earning a small living, and get away—if such a thing could be compassed—from what I termed "home."

It was, then, the tail-end of Victorian tradition, and an almost unheard-of thing for as young a girl as I was to live by herself, and I did not see how I should be enabled to escape from a kind of moral traditional tutelage, even if I were able to become financially independent.

This problem was occupying me deeply when my mother received a letter from a friend saying that my book had been published and was successful. We were on top of a bus, I remember, when she opened the letter that she had put in her pocket when it had been handed her by the concierge. She seemed very excited, almost disturbed by the contents. A success! Was it possible? I thought the friend must be flattering, remembering how little faith anyone had had in me and how difficult it had been to find a publisher, and how, at last, it had only been accepted, as it were, on sufferance.

My mother showed me the letter, that contained quotations from some of the reviews. I felt odd, a little light-headed, as we returned home. Other letters soon followed; friends and acquaintances seemed quite excited.

By some combination of circumstances, a one-in-a-million chance, the book was a success.

We returned to London almost immediately to the drab and dingy little flat off Russell Square. I did not know then, and do not know now, why the book had been noticed. It was an artless performance, and no one knew that better than myself. It had been written with sincerity and a certain amount of enthusiasm and care, and I was very young—these seemed the only points in its favour. But, somehow or other, this tale had attracted attention, perhaps because there was a dearth of any other books at that time. One cause that helped was that some bookshop—I forget which—had taken the book, with one or two others, to sell at a reduced price. The publishers objected, and there was a certain stir that was taken up in the papers.

I suppose, too, it was then something of a novelty for a young girl to have written a book. It has happened so often since that it could no longer excite the slightest interest. But then, it was considered odd, amusing, and surprising.

The publishers came round to see me—a short man and a tall man, I remember—crowded into the shabby little room, and, looking at me with a kind of apprehension: "Had they been defrauded? Was I really only seventeen?" They said, nervously, that I looked more. No doubt I did. I was tall, serious and had put up my hair. I was also morbidly shy and awkward.

This success was not in the least what I had planned or even hoped for. I was not sure that I even liked it. Strangers came searching into my most private feelings. Why had I written the thing? What for? Where had I got the stuff? There were Press men and photographers; shoals of acquaintances whom I had almost forgotten wrote or called.

I was photographed for the first time since I had been posed as a naked child of two years on a bearskin rug, holding a stuffed kitten, with a palm in the background. This time I had a length of chiffon round my head, some roses pinned to it, and was looking upward. Nothing could have been more unlike me, either physically or mentally. But the thing passed and went into the papers.

And the book was selling, and many curious questions were raised. Had I really written it myself? My mother was a writer? I must have many friends who must be able to help me. The historical background of the book was wildly inaccurate and did not even pretend to have any verisimilitude. It was a kind of fantasia on history, but those who knew nothing whatever about The period thought that this book showed a wonderful knowledge and an accurate scholarship. I got credit for a good deal that I had not done, and for many gifts which I did not possess. The Italian atmosphere was supposed to be marvellous; it was really a little colouring got up from guide-books and pictures, and any one could have done it.

In all these ways I was lucky. But I did not enjoy myself. The thing seemed not only unreal but unpleasant.

I should have liked to have written, too, under my own name. For fear that this should have been confused with that of my own mother, it had been changed by my publisher and agent into that of a great-grandfather. This pleased my mother's family pride; it really had nothing to do with me, and the first name chosen was, from the first, odious to me. It was a kind of apology for my own name, that was supposed to be stiff and awkward. So this use of two names unfamiliar and even slightly distasteful to me helped to divorce me from my own work.

Worse was to come, however, than the early embarrassments of shyness and confusion. I began to be warned by all who had any connection with the book—beginning with the agent and publishers—that I must not "lose my head." This, to me, was a deep humiliation, for I had never been in the least danger of doing so. I knew too well the exact value both of the book and the success.

I was warned, very kindly, that I must never expect to have such a success repeated. It might quite likely be that I could never write anything else that would sell. The book was just a schoolgirl's dream that I had had the power to put into words, and quite probably the talent would peter out. I remember the very words in which I was solemnly assured: "Don't run away with this little bit of success. You'll only lose it all." And I heard the expression "flash in the pan" pretty frequently.

Not only were all these well-meant rebukes and warnings unnecessary but they did not impress me. I knew perfectly well that as long as I lived I could go on writing stories as good as, and I hoped to Heaven, far better, in time, than that I had already produced. I knew my own energy, vigour, and to a certain extent my gifts, small and limited though they might be. I had already given up my first hopes of achieving real distinction, and possibly greatness, in one of the arts. But I knew my little gifts to be genuine. I was a born story-teller, I had an inexhaustible fund of invention, a fluent and easy style, a certain gift for colour and drama, and such a passionate interest in certain periods of history that I was bound, in reproducing them, to give them a certain life.

I had no one to whom I could confide my feelings at this period, and I had to keep them to myself. I was convinced, first that everyone was wrong in thinking so well of the book, and secondly that they were wrong in believing that I could never write another.

I was doubtful whether I should give up the painting for this success. I wondered if I might continue studying in Paris or London. There were many doubts and questions, and our small household was much upset. Finally, there was the financial question. Nothing, of course, seeing that the book was a complete beginner, had been paid to the author on account, and at first it seemed that I was not to earn anything at all on it. The exact terms on which it had been sold, the agreement in which these were set forth, I know nothing about. My mother had arranged the matter on my behalf as I was a minor.

But there did come an extraordinary day when I went to the agent's office and he offered me a cheque for sixty pounds. He said that it was only fair that I should begin to reap some of the fruits of my success and that the publishers, though by no means bound by our agreement, had most generously offered me this on account of what the book was earning.

I was almost stunned even by the thought of so much money, and while the kindly man was speaking, a thousand fantastic designs of what could be bought with sixty pounds were going round and round through my head, a little checked by a certain vagueness as to how I could turn the piece of pink paper he had handed me into actual money.

I retained my presence of mind, however, sufficiently to realise that another and larger firm of publishers was making an offer for my future work. It would not be fair, as of course I readily understood, to give it to them, though they offered better terms than the people who had already risked their capital in producing my first venture. I was to give two more books at least to these people, afterwards "we might see." So this, as it seemed to me, very splendid offer, was turned down and I made a fresh contract—the old one being torn up—for the successful book and its two successors.

This, to me, was extremely important, exciting and delightful. It seemed to stamp me as a professional writer. I might hope, despite all warnings and dismal forebodings, to earn my living in a way that I very much liked—by writing tales and novels.

There were, however, some provisions that made me uneasy. The books should be all like the first one; people would be disappointed if I made a change. I was being, though I scarcely knew it at the time, commercialised, inevitably of course.

I went out into the Strand, having settled that my mother should sign these agreements in my name, and with the cheque in my hand. Of course there was no question, after one's first dizzy visions had faded, that it was to be handed over to her. It seemed clear enough then, and was clearer still as time passed, that I should be able to command a decent income; indeed, for me an extremely large income; and for a girl of my age at that time a quite amazing income.

I thought then, in my very youthful folly, that this might be the end of bad times. I imagined that we could leave the squalid London flat and rooms and go perhaps to the country. I think I had, perhaps half-unconsciously, memories of the stories my mother had told me of her childhood. I imagined the pony-trap, the clean, neat country house, perhaps a bulldog, birds in a cage, and cats. I saw Nana in a black silk dress and white muslin apron presiding at a spotless tea-table. I saw my mother, at peace at last, leading the kind of life that she had always lamented having lost.

These dreams were dissipated almost as soon as they were formed. It did not take me long to realise that my mother did not wish to leave London, that whatever her feelings had been twenty years before, she had by then become completely used to her Bohemian kind of life.

Nor did my sister wish to continue the training she had begun at the art school. She, too, wanted complete freedom and to use her gifts for a commercial success as I had done. Why should she go on learning? Could not her drawings obtain the applause that my books attained? All this seemed quite reasonable, I had nothing to oppose to it.

Nana, too, would always remain as she was—slovenly, slack, with a sly, malicious tongue, untrained in everything save the shifts of poverty and the intrigues of cheap lodging-houses and tenth-rate flats.

The money I earned was banked in my mother's name. She used it to move into a larger flat only a few hundred yards away, and, to my thinking, very little better than that where we had been so cramped and miserable. It was, however, much more expensive, and we lived more or less lavishly.

My income, however splendid it might be compared to our former poverty, was not enough for four people. My mother ceased the cheap hack-work she had been doing, as I earnestly desired her to do, and there was nothing coming in beyond my earnings.


I found myself then harnessed to a career of hard work, and I had to earn all I possibly could, to chase every odd five-pound note in order to keep up with expenses. I loathed the thought of debts and tried to pay cash for everything, but as I had no control over the money, that was impossible. By the end of the first year we were behind with everything, and no one was happy.

We were not used to spending money and my mother had no idea of the value of anything. There seemed to be no definite extravagance, but somehow my earnings were frittered away. There were loans to be repaid, too, large and small. Old acquaintances, "good sorts and good companions," had to be helped, sometimes with quite considerable sums. The sister, so brilliant, admired, and charming, had to have the lessons that were her right—dancing, singing, riding, music. Nana, at last, after all her years of sacrifice, had to receive a weekly salary.

I was industrious and conscientious, but I felt almost overwhelmed by the responsibility that was suddenly mine. This was not in the least what I had ever wanted. Success, such as it was, had a bitter flavour. It was to have worse than that: it was to prove itself valueless.

It was not long before the emotional situation became impossible. It was not I, the raw girl writing on the sly, who ought to have success but my mother, who had been working patiently for years.

She now had the galling experience of having to stand aside and be congratulated by foolish tactless people on her "clever daughter."

It was tragic, the way the success so long fought for, starved for, and dreamed about, had come at last—and to the wrong person.

I felt abject, yet I could not retire from writing because we needed the money. I had to go on writing for our bare existence.

I kept out of every kind of literary circle as much as possible, not only because I was quite unfitted to hold my own there—I could neither flatter nor be flattered—but because of my mother. The bitter irony of it cut too deeply. She could not, would not go with me, and I had not the courage to go alone. I was really as isolated as I had been before, as desolate and as forlorn.

I liked the work; as long as it was under my own hand I could at least persuade myself it was a thing of art. When it passed out of my possession, it became an article of commerce and I had lost all interest in it.

I always, however, wrote with care and enthusiasm. Once I had realised, and with considerable anguish and humiliation, that I should never be a considerable writer, I was glad that I could always be a conscientious one.

For this reason I liked historical work. It never could be as slap-dash and careless as light, modern stuff. A good deal of effort, research and painstaking, and a severe self-discipline were necessary for the writing of these books in which history was to be transformed into fiction and men and women of the past given some kind of life. The harder the work involved in the preparation of a book the better I liked it. I seemed to be giving something solid in return for the money I earned; too much money for what I gave, I always privately thought. And at least there was a certain dignity about this kind of fiction that there would not have been about ephemeral love or adventure stories of the life about me.

I did not, indeed, desire to depict the life about me, it was too stale and wearisome. I tried to escape from it as best I could.

The emotional atmosphere in which hysteria was always round the corner had not changed. I was forced to bear the company of people for whom I felt affection, even love, but who were frustrated, disappointed, doomed to failure.

"Doom" was the word, it hung over us like a curse. All our human relationships were wrong. We were estranged from our relatives; our friends were mostly unfortunate people who could not forbear envying me what seemed my undeserved good luck; our acquaintances were a nondescript crowd of no interest to me. Every chance I had of getting out of this I had to refuse for fear of provoking distress, envy and jealousy. I was told again and again that nothing I could do or say, no money I could give, no gift I could make could possibly level up my grotesque success. I always had to remember that I was the "lucky one," while they still rested under the shadow of severe, ill-deserved misfortune.

Anticipation is always better than achievement; in my case this was doubly true. It had been better to half-starve and to think with exultation of the days to come when I should achieve t something than to have success in my hand and to know it was only the cause of deeper unhappiness.

For I believed that, even with this good income, we were more unhappy than we had been before. I tried to behave as though the income was entirely my mother's; she had the handling of it, and such sums as I took came from her. But the essential falsity of it could not be disguised.

I was so different in temperament from the others, too. My mother, I think, began to dislike me; her obsession for my sister became more and more marked. I was cut off, as it were, from their confidences, from their common condolences and sympathy. I should, if I had had a gleam of common sense or one good adviser, have gone away and tried to build up a life for myself. But I was too young, too raw, too timid and too terrified of my mother, for her violent gusts of passion had increased in frequency, and I was panic-stricken by the spectacle of her despair that I could in no way ameliorate.

My childhood was now long past me, and, it seemed, my youth, too, and I began to realise that I had been all my life extremely tired. Despite the impetuous energy of my mind and spirit, fatigue was over my body like a cloak, though I remained healthy.

I found the work hard and all-absorbing. If every possible penny-piece was to be earned it meant no relaxation. My tales required a good deal of study, and there were constant short stories and newspaper articles to be written, all with their own special technique.

This left very little time for other interests. I found that I had to give up painting almost entirely, also a great many of my own particular pleasures in the way of reading, music, and the little by-paths that constituted my diversions, like fine sewing and elaborate embroidery. I was self-taught in these and not particularly skilful, but such aptitude as I had gave me great delight to exercise.

All this, however, had to go, together with smaller and equally charming activities.

Though I was weary of the company of women, and was in so much an admirer of the interests and large designs of men, I spoke a woman's language, and was happy in and absorbed by the many littlenesses that make up a woman's life. But I had no opportunity to enjoy these. The house was not mine, I had nothing to do with any part of it beyond providing the means that ran it. It would not have been tolerated, it would have been unkind even to attempt to interfere with my mother's casual and inexperienced direction of Nana's haphazard and reckless housekeeping.

I did not like the way we lived, the way the money was spent, the lavish, scrambling, indiscriminate entertainments. But it was hopeless to try to interfere. I was as much under maternal domination as if I had been in the Victorian parsonage in which my mother had been reared.

I did not even care for her noisy friends, her haphazard acquaintances, and kept out of the way while they were about. This happened, I thought, too often. We were crowded out by "good fellows" and "good companions" who contributed nothing except a transient gaiety. Besides, I had so little time.

I made some effort at individuality by papering my own room with brown wrapping paper and hanging prints and watercolours I had painted myself against this somewhat sombre background.. And there I sat and wrote, not so happy as I had been before this unexpected success came my way.

Soon after my first book was published, my father died. I opened the door of the flat one evening to a policeman who gave me the news. My father had been found dead in the street, with our address in his pocket. The policeman gave me a silver watch and a penknife. He said that my mother would have to attend the inquest. I had to break the news to her. She took it with a very fury of despair. This, it seemed, was the one great passion of her life.

Nana brewed tea with sly triumph; she had always loathed him. I thought of things to be done, a funeral, a grave, a tomb. I had at least the money now to pay for these. I made the acquaintance of my uncles over this, in an endeavour to spare my mother; when she heard of this she accused me of "betrayal" and "black ingratitude." She was half out of her mind with grief, but the injustice of her charge curdled my love for her. I liked my uncles; they had for long been looking after my father and doing all that was possible for him.

My mother never recovered from this shock; her behaviour became wild, unbalanced. I was half stifled by all this tragedy. I wanted to get away and find my own life. And why the tempest of these agonies should have fallen on me I could not understand. I felt outraged by what I considered the unmerited suffering thrust on me, as I had felt outraged when, as a child, medicine had been thrust down my throat. I used to be laid on my back while my mother held my feet and Nana, pinching my nose with one hand, dropped the stuff down with the other. I always vomited it up afterwards. I could not so easily cast off this spiritual and mental suffering.

I made one attempt at freedom. I returned to Paris, to a modest but comfortable boarding-house and began again to explore that city, which to me was so full of secret and rapturous delights.

I made some pleasant acquaintances, and found I could write there easily. I planned out various schemes of work, something that would get right away from the lines with which I was already associated. I felt well and vigorous in this kind of hermitage; I was developing myself more or less on my own lines, and it was delightful to be away from the tutelage of the two women who had dominated me all my life.

But it could not last. My mother came to see me, ill, fretful, exhausted. How could we afford to run two establishments? What was the sense of my staying there? What good was I doing? It was not fair, I had no right to break away. And so on through all the sad changes of possessiveness, frustration and disappointment.

I felt her tragedy so keenly that there was nothing to do but to return. I tried to give her some pleasure by enabling her to go to Biarritz with some friends, but she returned disappointed and gloomy. Nothing could possibly make up to her for the lack of her personal success. The whole thing was wrong and it was beyond me to put it right. After all, I had inherited a tragic muddle and who was I, in my inexperience and with limited capabilities, to untie so many knots?

We went to Rome for the winter, for I was then making quite a deal of money in America. I went ahead with some friends and chose a flat; though expensive, it seemed to me delightful. But when the family followed they were not pleased.

The glories of a Roman winter, even with a fair amount of money to spend, could not gloss over their discontent nor heal their rancour. We brought with us our dissensions, our disputes, our differences. It was merely a change of background.

It was, to me, however, also a rich and delightful experience. I came to know Rome as well as I knew London and Paris, and added considerably to my store of knowledge that I cannot call useful but was so often so much comfort to me when I had nothing else I could fall back on.

I was not in the least disillusioned by Rome or what I then saw of Italy. When I could detach myself from the family troubles I was happy. But these culminated in emotional scene after scene, in nervous strain, in nervous breakdowns until we left in a very storm of hysteria.

That I kept myself apart from these passions was supposed to argue coldness, hardness, arrogance, but not only could I steel myself to a certain fortitude from my early youth, I simply could not afford these emotional indulgences. I had to work and therefore to keep my health, and my spirits, to a certain extent. I also had in some way to look after the money; there was no one else to do it, and our affairs were always tangled, since we lived wildly beyond our means.

Yet there were times when, for all my, no doubt, unpleasant self-control, I could have cried until I melted my soul away. How wonderful it would have seemed, even a few years before, if one could have looked ahead to a winter in Rome, with money to spend, and pleasant friends and acquaintances. And here it was happening, a fairy-tale come true, and was worth nothing at all.

I did not meet the people whom I might have met in Rome, nor go to the places where I might have gone because I thought it would have been intolerable for me to put myself forward and make any distinction between myself and others. At the same time I did not like the acquaintances they made, the easy but useless adventurers. And there were one or two nasty episodes and semi-scandalous scrapes, due to lack of knowledge of the country and headlong snatching at any emotional adventure that presented itself.

An experience that was hardly marred by any of these traits came when my sister and I went to the Netherlands.

I had never been to this country before, though I had written about it. Here again was no disillusionment. It was an experience so entrancing that I cannot endure to write about it. The country has always been, by I know not what link of affinity, high in my esteem and admiration. Everything about the Netherlands was congenial to me; it was as if I were going home when I visited the Lowlands. It would be impossible to put into words the effect which the country, the people, the architecture, the scenery, even the atmosphere, the wide horizon, the piled clouds, the clarity, had upon me. This was one of the most enjoyable visits of my life, but it was touched with a tragic poignancy, too. It was as if I were groping to find something or somebody and knew not what or whom. Here seemed the place, but here was not the person. I could have believed, then, in reincarnation or in ancestor memory. It seemed impossible that I was there for the first time.

Translated into words this seems futile and pathetic, but I felt some hallucination of the spirit that wrought upon me as a smack of miracle. I was translated into the past from the present, a past that did indeed exist for me.

Everything I discovered about this country pleased me the more, yet I was glad I did not stay, for the spell might have vanished. I hoped some day to express in some way what I felt for these people and their country and their history, but I knew that it was hopeless to attempt ever to put on paper the feelings that had been roused in me by what I had read and what I had seen of the Netherlands. It was all inexplicable.

This was the last of our larger adventures. The money question was almost as acute as it had been in the old days.

We moved from the cramped flat that I did not like at all to an upper flat near St. John's Wood, that I found extremely gloomy and depressing. But my sister had chosen it and my mother liked it. The rooms were large, and in their way imposing; there was a kind of drawing-room, a good dining-room at the back. Upstairs, the bedrooms were the largest and most commodious we had had. The ground floor was occupied by a bank. This was empty after business hours. The basement was ours and served as kitchen, store-room, and servants' sleeping quarters. This gave on to a garden that was not our province, but we had it to look out on from all the back windows.

That garden had odious reminiscences for me. It reminded me of the other garden at Hampstead, and that again at Maida Vale where the Airedale dog had been buried. It was an ugly strip of soot-bitten green with poplar trees at the end and backed by drab houses. It would, in itself, have prevented me from taking the house.

There we were, and there we stayed for the last years of that part of my life. Existence there was untidy, humdrum, and unsatisfactory; there was no design or shape about it. The atmosphere was one of constant nervous hysterical storms and tension. Our income was not only insufficient for the manner in which we were living, but it was most uncertain. It depended entirely upon my health and strength and my capability to provide a marketable commodity. Since I could use no influence, had no social graces or status, since I knew no one to help me in any kind of way, the stuff had to go on its own merits, and sometimes it was touch-and-go whether it succeeded or not.

My business interests were well looked after by agents, but nothing else to do with me was managed at all. I realised this but did not see what I could do to alter it. I lacked courage, moral and physical, for the decisive moves that might have saved us all, and I was depressed, almost deadened, by the constant efforts and the constant failures of these people with whom I was in daily contact.

I had my good moments, however, when I was quite alone or lost in the streets among the hurrying crowds.

I had discarded most of my childish terrors; sometimes I got a hideous stab of alarm as if at the presence of some supernatural foe, but this was not often. Sometimes my dreams were emphatic. I slept heavily, and was seldom without some vision at this time. Visions they seemed to be, for they were not to be translated into words.

I could trace the origins of some of them. There was the blue sea, such as I had seen for the first time at Clacton; there were the low-lying water-meadows with the willows where I had been with my father outside Canterbury; there were glimpses of growing flowers such as I had plucked outside Maidstone. And there were broken fragments like a shattered design of some of the churches and cottages that I could remember from those earliest days of all; the church at Maidstone that had tattered banners inside and was so close to the river; and those cottages on the road that ran to Canterbury and had fields full of buttercups behind them, and gardens in which grew sunflowers.

These dreams were usually accompanied by the ecstatic sense of union with some person or some thing that rendered the rapture perfect. But this other was always featureless and shapeless.

I had by now thought, brooded, pondered and read a good deal about love, but only in the most romantic and unreal fashion. Of the so-called "facts" or "mysteries" of life my mother had told me nothing, nor had I come across any explanation of them in my reading. Such knowledge was not readily imparted in those days, and I had not the courage or initiative to seek after it. I was, indeed, afraid of it, and preferred my dreams.

As I was always in love with some person or some thing, either a dead hero or an abstraction or an idea, I did not miss so much the fact that I was never in love with a real person nor anybody with me.

My mother had told me, in kindly warning, that I was not a "man's woman." I had been told again and again—and my experience proved it true—that men did not like clever women, or tall women, or grave, shy women. I was prepared to believe this. I had not seen any man who seemed to me eminently desirable; such as came to the house did not come for me, nor would I have competed for them. And yet I saw, casually, a number of men to me attractive and pleasant whom on further acquaintance I might have liked well enough. But chance never brought them in my direction, and my ideals were very high—in reaction against the free-and-easy life I had seen around me.

I wanted to be pursued, not to be the pursuer; I still revolted against the easy doctrines that men were to be exploited; either their influence or their pockets or their company accepted in exchange for what one could give in the way of charming company.

My mother believed in this exchange of benefits between the sexes. The woman was to be gay, coquettish, delightful, what you will, and the man, in return, was to help her, in her work, in her business—if she had any—in her social life and in whatever she might demand from him.

I did not like this. I did not want ever, in any human relationship, to use any kind of chicanery or intrigue. All my business, such as it was, was thrashed out coldly in the drab atmosphere of an office with men to whom I was merely a business proposition, and I liked it that way. Nor could I see that my mother's expansive emotionalism had helped her, either as a writer or as a woman. She roused admiration, affection certainly, and she obtained a great deal of generous help and useful friendship. But she also roused jealousies and animosities, spite and antagonism. She was forced to fight and intrigue to hold her own with other women who were playing the same game as she was herself. And at the end of it was desolation, heart-break and a kind of drab despair.

I began to feel old and was settling down to be an "old maid." All my passionate desire for children, a husband, a settled home, fixed security, some ease and gaiety, was insufficient to overcome my pride, my diffidence, my morbid timidity and shyness. I could not lash myself to going out to search for a husband, or to make myself agreeable to any man who pleased me. I admitted that I was, as my mother so often told me, where matrimonial chances were concerned, a failure.

Though I never had been definitely attracted to any particular one of the foreigners I had met, I preferred them to the Englishmen I knew; these seemed overworked, dull, heavy, or else haughtily shy, terrified to be civil, awkward and stupid. The condescension of some of the younger ones was really intolerable. I did not envy my sister any one of her numerous cavaliers; they seemed to me literally not worth the trouble they gave her. Better retire into one's self and feed on dreams and admit frankly that the best in life was not for me. That that was the best in life, I had no doubt whatever. I knew that to be beautiful, to be desired, to be happily married, to be financially secure and the mother of children was a woman's highest objective. Nothing could possibly compare with that; I was under no illusions there. But my life was obviously set on other lines and I was not discontented or fretful.

At times a great melancholy would creep over me. I disliked the suburb where we lived so much, it was reminiscent of the dreadful Hampstead that must have been a figment of my mind—no doubt it was not a real place at all but a creation of my earliest childhood. I could not endure the autumn, when the acrid leaves of the plane trees rustled along the pavements and the thick fogs set in, and a trickling rain fell. The house offered no consolation; it was draughty and not really well-lit or comfortable. The money went on showy, useless things, and we had little real ease of living.

This stagnant kind of life went on for a year or so. Then it curdled into a definite horror.

My sister had a room at the top of the house; it had been prettily papered, I remember, with bunches of mauve flowers and twisted ribbons, and the furnishings were to match. She used a small, empty room beside it for her painting, and in the larger room on the front of the house Nana slept.

We kept a man-of-all-work, Palmer, who had once been a sailor, a man of about forty years of age, neat, spruce, and smart, who slept downstairs in the basement that opened on to the garden. He had had yellow fever. His character was good and, so far as I know, he was honest and reliable. He and Nana contrived all the housekeeping and work between them.

One particularly dreary winter, when affairs seemed more than ever drab, hopeless and awry, for everyone save myself, in our small establishment, my sister began the scare that the house was haunted, and she could no longer sleep in her upstairs room.

Her tale was instantly corroborated by Nana, who slept next door. Their long, confused, and highly dramatic recital can be reduced to this:

There were footsteps on the stairs at night, there were knockings on the door, there were sounds of someone pacing to and fro, and groans in the little, empty painting-room.

Though I had never liked the house—it seemed to me dull and sinister—I had never heard anything of this kind. Nor, for a long while, did my mother.

My sister, however, refused to sleep upstairs. She moved on to the next floor and took the dressing-room next to my mother's room, so that we were, all three of us, together, I having the back room that looked on to the garden. Nana, then, remained upstairs on the empty haunted floor. I knew her to be ignorant, though shrewd in her own worldly way, untruthful, a great lover of sensation, and a constant—according to her own accounts—seer of ghosts. Therefore her tales of what she had nightly to endure on that lonely upper floor did not impress me. But I was surprised to see my sister so deeply affected.

Palmer became involved. I suppose that Nana had told her experiences to him, and he soon had plenty of his own. According to him, his basement was overrun by supernatural creatures; I never had been down there myself, not liking the look of the steep, dark stairs. Part of the basement was cemented in because it was the bank strong-room, and certainly the room that Palmer occupied must have been dreary enough. It had a window with iron bars that looked out on to the wretched strip of sooty garden, and these bars, according to him, were often rattled and shaken at night, and the window that covered them was often latched and unlatched automatically.

We were soon in the thick of all the usual psychic phenomena. Taps were turned on, lights switched on and off, and when we were downstairs we could hear the sound of heavy objects being dragged about overhead. The noise of footsteps on the stairs increased, and again and again Palmer would run up from his basement premises with a scared look and some snatched-up weapon such as a rolling-pin in his hand, declaring there was someone in the house.

I stood out against the atmosphere for a long time. I thought that it was the nervous state of my sister, fostered by Nana, that had produced it. Possibly she was what they termed "mediumistic." I can offer no explanation; Palmer may have been acting out of deliberate roguery or love of sensation, but not a day passed without two or three mysterious occurrences being related. All the windows would be shut, and then, on someone's going out into the front, they would be found open—and that kind of thing.

My mother, for quite a while, refused to believe in any of these stories, though they interested her. I had never known her before to succumb to anything of the kind. She was strong-minded; it was her heart, not her head, that was so dangerously unbalanced. Intelligent and well-educated and experienced, she refused for long to credit any of these vulgar tales.

Then she, too, began to see and hear ghostly things. Standing once in her room with the door half-open she saw a wheel of light whirl down the stairs. She, too, heard the scufflings, the moanings, the sound of something being dragged down the stairs, and soon we were talking of nothing else but the ghostly happenings in this house.

My mother went so far as to call on the manager of the bank and try to find out from him something of the house's previous history. The bank had bought it before we took it on lease, or else it was a foreclosed mortgage—I do not know. They had no information to give us, and naturally we did not dare to spread the tale that the place was haunted.

Nana made enquiries, not too discreet, I doubt, at the surrounding shops, and nothing more could be heard. It was an ordinary, rather large, converted late-Victorian "villa" residence.

It is strange now to me, looking back, how I could have continued to live in such an atmosphere. I suppose I really did not believe in any of it, and that these terrors were not so bad as those intimate horrors I had endured in my early childhood. It was admitted by all, besides, that my room was safe; it was the three top rooms and the basement that were supposed to be so infested. I burnt a night-light and did often feel ugly qualms at night, but I was always physically tired, my mind full of my work and material worries as to ways and means.

One awkward consequence of these hauntings was that my sister could not work in the upstairs room, but had to take a studio outside at very considerable added expense. Her work was brilliant, very intermittent, and, so far, of no commercial value. Her interests were mainly in training for the stage and dancing.

So we who seemed to have done so many ridiculous things were in the absurd position of having this large, half-empty house and hiring rooms outside because it could only be partly lived in.

After this had been going on for some time, Palmer gave notice, declaring that his nerves were in tatters. I do not know to this day whether he had not really started the whole thing. He may have been suffering from hallucinations, diseased or unstable in mind, but with his departure the hauntings did not cease. I think Nana saw to that; she had the greatest possible relish in dwelling on each ghastly incident.

But the curious part was that my mother, hitherto so coolheaded in such matters, not only listened to her but corroborated all she said. I did not see or hear anything that could not be explained naturally.

It was impossible to discover when someone rushed in and said that she had turned the light off and found it on when she reentered the room—whether this was true. It was also impossible to follow up all the turned-on taps, the self-opening doors and windows. I certainly heard noises overheard when rooms were supposed to be empty, but it would have been quite possible for Nana, for instance, to have slipped up and down stairs and made the noises if she had so wished.

Things became so bad that we tried to sublet the house, but this proved impossible, and Nana was able to report with relish that many prospective tenants had got no further than the hall, declaring that there was something wrong with the place and that the atmosphere was peopled with ghosts.

I had never liked the house, and quite agreed that it was sinister and gloomy, but I believe that all this so-called haunting was produced by those who lived in it. They, out of their frustration and unhappiness, were giving forth evil phantasms and sinister hallucinations.

Nana, too, was a queer creature. I never knew the truth of her previous history, and by this time she was a sick woman, suffering from goitre, abnormally stout and possessed of a diseased appetite that was only appeased by large bowls of potatoes soaked in vinegar, large pots of jam devoured at a sitting, and packets of chocolates and broken biscuits that she always carried about in her apron pocket. There was something about her, her personality and her appearance, that was inhuman, bloodless, and detached from life. I think that in the proper time and place she would have made an out-and-out witch.

Whatever the truth of the supposed haunting of the house was, it made a bad background to one's already troubled yet dull life, and it further increased my melancholy, my sense of frustration and futility.

I think I was naturally gay and cheerful; I should have liked to laugh a good deal. I enjoyed fooling and was something of a clown myself. But here in this atmosphere of doom, tragedy and evil hauntings, it was hard to keep up one's spirits. And, indeed, any attempt to do so was resented. There was always the cry ready: "It's all very well for you, my dear girl, you've been successful."

Such was I, and such was my background when my youth was, as I take it, definitely over. I had had little worldly experience, I was entirely self-educated and had accumulated with eager impetuosity stacks of knowledge that were of no use to me at all in my social intercourse with others, and only could be turned to account as a general lumber room into which I could withdraw myself in moments of depression.

I had not found that learned, cultured society with whom I could discuss art and letters and philosophic abstractions. Everyone whom I met were still, as they had been in the old days, absorbed in what seemed to me petty trivialities and futilities. I seemed to have no common ground with anyone whom I met because I was in myself composed of so many contradictions. I was a girl and earning a good income; I was a girl and I liked serious things; I was a woman and in the place of a man as breadwinner; I had intellectual aspirations and a longing to sit at the feet of the learned and the wise, and I met only the foolish, the over-sexed, the ignorant.

My ideals were impractically lofty; dangerous, in fact, what Stendhal called "Spanish chivalry." I wanted everything to be on a lofty plane. I took the phrase noblesse oblige literally; I thought that if one were in any way superior to anyone with whom one came in contact—even in matters of self-control, powers of work or concentration—that obliged one to be generous, magnanimous. One must always be giving and never taking, one must stand aside, one must take the lowest place, and so on.

I had tried to form my character on certain lines, tried to imitate the people about whom I had read and whom I most admired. This had been a very deliberate attempt and how far it had been successful I cannot tell, as I do not know in the least what sort of person I was. Those standards and those ideals I certainly had, and it was certainly my highest ambition to live up to them.

I did not think that any of the virtues preached were difficult to achieve. It was easy to be kind and courteous, even if one received only a small measure of kindness and courtesy in exchange. It was easy to give way, to put other people's feelings and wishes before one's own. There was a gleam of pleasure in doing that; a very little appreciation would be sufficient reward.

It was easy, again, to work hard and to do one's best, to be industrious and to concentrate on the work in hand, to undertake a great deal, be punctual, to understand the other person's point of view. It was easy to forbear talking scandal, not difficult, indeed, to avoid listening to it, for at least one could always forget what one had been told. It was not difficult to be self-sufficient and independent, and envy and jealousy did not trouble me, because I would rather be myself than almost anyone whom I met. But when I had followed the preachers so far there still remained a lot to be done.

Moral courage was lacking; an intense and cowardly desire to be liked, to please, a desperate fear of being disliked or slighted, made me too complacent and easy. It was impossible to deny even an unreasonable or unlucky request. I bowed before every storm of nerves and temper; I was moved not only by violence but by tears, by people being abject and pitiful.

The main problem seemed to be not how to master my own faults and weaknesses, not how to arrange some kind of successful life for myself, but how to deal with the faults and weaknesses of others that impinged upon my existence.

I could only fulfil my obligations to my loyalties by continual giving of material benefits and this was obviously not enough. No, it was almost an insult. "You like doing your duty" became a sneer. But it was impossible, very often, to give more than duty, since affection and love had long since turned to a kind of gnawing pity.

Can there be love without respect? I did not dare to answer that question.

When I say that I could have achieved by myself a successful life, I do not mean a happy one. I had long since ceased to expect anything like happiness. I do not see how even a moderate measure of happiness can be possible for one individual when there is so much suffering in the world. We must, all of us, have so much of the Christ as that in us. There must be moments when we are actually one with those who suffer so atrociously, when the thought of the miserable child, the hunted hare, the butcher's shop, some murder, massacre, or bitter wrong will flash upon the mind and destroy the fabric of all personal enjoyment and content.

But I thought that if I could have got free from the entanglements of others I could have led the kind of life that seemed to me the only one worth while—a life of service and work and a certain domestic serenity. I believed that I could run an orderly household and make those in it comfortable and satisfied. I believed that I could have spread a certain gaiety and composure about me. I thought that I might have made little children happy, at least while they were very young, before they had realised what the world really was.

And I believed that if I were not tormented by the tragedies of others I could have withdrawn myself into dreams for at least long stretches, perhaps listening to music or reading a book or sitting in picture galleries, where I could have been swept away temporarily from all that was hideous, gloomy and frightening in the world.

But this was not to be. I was hopelessly involved with others and their miseries wore me down.

I was far too much absorbed in this little world of my own; as to what was going on about me, I knew nothing. I think I hardly read a newspaper. Apart from one or two well-known people in the literary world I had met no person of importance, I had been to no social functions save a few formal affairs where I had hardly spoken to a soul.

I had none of the usual amusements and diversions of my age. The one or two calls and dances I went to I did not like, although I was passionately fond of dancing and enjoyed the dancing classes. There was an air of disillusionment about balls. I saw that to enjoy this sort of thing one needed to be beautiful, beautifully dressed, admired, and even loved—and I was none of these.

I met one or two men who liked me, were interested in me, and would, I think, have pursued the acquaintance, but I drew back at once. An almost physical repugnance shut me off from them the moment I saw their attention directed towards me.

There were moments when I thought of dedicating myself to a religious life; to have the care of children in a convent or an orphanage seemed to me not only a noble but a delightful way of spending one's life. But I had my responsibilities and was forced to continue to earn all the money I possibly could.

Such was I, as far as I know, and such were my surroundings, as far as I can remember them, when I met the man whom I was to marry.


Margaret Campbell thus ended her account of her childhood and youth.

She had at least resisted all attempts to make it amusing or melodramatic or to use any of her professional tricks to that end. There were no literary or fictional embellishments in this account, which was the truth, as it seemed to her as she reviewed those days in retrospect.

Many of the places of which she wrote had been for years in her mind. She could, when she went about London, find them now—the house where she had been obliged to leave the wooden horse behind for the landlady's child, another house that had a bust in front of it and gold letters on the railings. There they were still, derelict and forlorn, in drab by-streets as if left behind, the piteous wreckage of another age.

And another age it did seem to be, that youth and childhood of hers when she looked back on it, labelled now Victorian or Edwardian, but to her just her childhood and early youth. It seemed to her more remote, more dead than the times, places and people of whom she wrote and read, who had existed and perished hundreds of years ago. That gas-light world with the pools of shadow at night, the poor general shops that smelt of the tar on the sticks of the bundles of wood, shops that had tubs of treacle in the corner, and men with white aprons and ginger moustaches serving sweets and sugar in horns of blue paper. That world where the hansom cabs rattled and jingled by at night, casting beautiful lights on the ceiling of an upper room.

That world where the theatres were all decorated in gilt with gaily printed drop curtains and fine draperies of festooned crimson gallooned with gold, where anyone connected with the theatre got passes to the stalls.

Margaret was not often able to muster up a sufficiently decent appearance to go to the stalls, even on a matinee. But the passes to the pit were so many tickets to paradise. She had seen in that way most plays of Shakespeare and many flaming and exciting melodramas. All this was gone with the world of brass bands and Jack-in-the-Green and Maid Marian's performing in desolate London squares, the world of the barrel-organ and the monkey; yes, and of housemaids, white-clad and formidable in those grand streets where one only ventured timidly. Are not the servants of the rich and great always so much more impressive than the rich and great themselves?

The world of those pink papers with their dreadful wood-cuts, the world where people talked about the murders in dark corners at night.

This is over, but never by her forgotten. It is ever present in her mind, that period when she lived in the haunted house near the cricket grounds at Lord's. She had faint memories of the Boer War and the funeral of Queen Victoria, the postponed Coronation of King Edward VII, and how she saw from the bleak corner public-house in the Edgware-road the funeral of that monarch. The ceremony did not greatly impress her. Her mood was dull, her family troubles gnawed and fretted, if they did not overwhelm her. Those with whom she stood had been too long, all of them, in the uncomfortable position on the hard seats outside the public-house to find much pleasure in the spectacle. And at the moment when the strains of the funeral march were first heard, a woman handing a tray out of a window loaded with cups and pots upset it down the seats and over the spectators.

This disaster, that roused laughter in some and shocked irritation in others, detracted from the pomp of the royal funeral and Margaret remembered it when she had forgotten everything else.

Margaret, though she had been successful in her way, and openly envied by many whom she met, felt now frustrated and useless. The capacity for enjoying life and many potentialities for work and play did not seem as if they would ever reach fruition.

She had, at the age of three-and-twenty years, although she was earning a good livelihood by work she liked, a sense of withering.

Her mother decided that she could no longer endure the terrors of the haunted house. These seemed to increase daily and had become a matter for discussion among all her friends. Some of these, elderly retired actresses who lived near by, corroborated the worst horrors of the unhappy apartment. They declared that in passing they had seen the windows opened by invisible hands, lights appear in the upper rooms when everyone was known to be out, and that groans and screams could be heard in the basement.

Margaret was immune from these dreadful experiences, but it was horrible to live in the same house with those who suffered from them. It seemed at times as if the brains of the unhappy people exposed to these terrors would give way. Only Nana preserved a grim relish as the count of disquieting experiences rose.

On the advice of a friend slightly more sober-minded than some of the others, it was decided to call in the help of the Society for Psychical Research.

Margaret was herself at this time affected. Once when she was left alone in the house and twilight was falling, her mind full of other things, and opened the door of the drawing-room and looked down the first flight of stairs in the dismal half-light, she thought she saw a gigantic figure, hooded and cloaked, with very square shoulders, passing into the little room on the stairs that had been turned into a bathroom. This gave her no thrill at the time, but when she had left the house and went to the corner to catch the bus, she realised with a stab of terror that the figure had not been that of Nana, who wore that kind of close-caps like hoods and square jackets (almost cloak-shaped) but was of a supernatural height.

This experience was dismissed, however, as an hallucination. She did not tell it to anyone and contrived to put it into the background of her mind.

But one night, not very long afterwards, she woke, and, looking round her room illuminated by the night-light she always burned, was oppressed by a feeling of unreality. This was probably due to some physical ailment. It might have been a touch of fever or delirium, though she was usually free from these. At least she had this sensation and remembered it afterwards.

There seemed an oppression of something intensely evil, an abstraction and yet something in concrete form. As she lay quite still she saw in the air two objects rather like a pestle and mortar or a bulbous-shaped medicine glass, something with a black body and a long neck, lying in a bowl. They were of a blue colour and seemed to be of thickened glass.

The objects conveyed nothing whatever to the mind of Margaret. She lay in that curious state common to nightmares, not able to rouse herself or to go to sleep, transfixed and entranced. The objects in the air before her (she knew they were not real) disappeared. At the same time she was aware that a small brown animal rather the shape of a turnspit, but with cropped ears, was standing on its hind legs with its front paws on her pillow, looking at her. Even as she stared at it, it disappeared.

These phantoms were quite different from dreams or visions, the objects—while they lasted—appeared solid.

Margaret shook off the ugly, incomprehensible impression they had left, for they had no meaning for her whatsoever, not being connected with anything she knew or had thought of, and she did not relate them to anyone. But she began to be terrified that she too might see and hear all the things the other members of the household saw and heard.

These remained, however, her sole experiences of hallucinations while in the haunted house.

Her mother decided that it had become unendurable. They asked the landlord to release them from their tenancy. This, naturally, was refused; they had still another three years to run. A sublet being impossible and money, as usual, limited, it was decided to go away to Cornwall, where a small cottage was offered on advantageous terms. Some friends of theirs whom they had known in days of struggle if not poverty had, after many years, won a complicated law-suit and were now installed in some modest pomp in an old Cornish house.

The prospects sounded pleasant. There would be the agreeable friends, who placed their house and grounds at the service of Margaret and her sister, there would be release from the haunted house and that London that had begun to be so stale and threadbare. Margaret's writing—that, of course, could never cease—could be done in the country as well as in the town. She had no whims or caprices about her work; a table, a bottle of ink and a pad of foolscap were sufficient. She could work with noise and interruptions going on about her. In this, as in many other things, she was well trained.

It was arranged that an expert of the Society for Psychical Research should stay in the haunted house while the family were away.

There was a good deal of interest and excitement over all this business, and Margaret was thinking about it a great deal more than she cared to admit, when she went with her sister to a small party given in a house in Bloomsbury. She could not remember, even a few years afterwards, the name of the woman who gave it, nor how it was she came to be there. She could only recall an impression of one or two people in conventional fancy dress, streamers on the walls and strings of coloured lights.

But she did notice there a young man who attracted her attention because he bore a remarkable likeness to some engraving she had in her room.

This represented a personage who had always commanded her fanatic admiration, an admiration that she knew amounted to an obsession, therefore she spoke of it to no one. But it had been a very strong influence on her life.

For this reason she was attracted to the young man, though not in any way moved or fascinated by him. She observed him closely during the evening and she thought that he had much in his appearance that marked him out very favourably, not only from his companions that evening but from anyone whom she had met before. She was used to foreigners, having closely observed many in Paris, Rome, and the Netherlands, and this stranger had all the grace, elegance, and vivacity that seemed to her the most desirable qualities in foreigners.

How this casual acquaintance was pursued, Margaret could never remember, but before they left for Cornwall the young man, a Sicilian who had been several years in London, had come frequently to the house. She thought him extremely good-looking in the dark, lean and aquiline style that she most admired; he had many graces and charms.

He told her something of his history and she liked his background and the efforts he had made to achieve both adventure and independence. Most of all she was pleased and even fascinated by the freshness of his approach to her. He knew nothing about her, neither what her profession was, nor her circumstances, nor did he seem to care.

He asked her to go to a concert with him; all that she could recall of that afterwards was that a waltz called "Frau Lune" had been played. It was rather a poor kind of concert given at the Scala Theatre. She said that she admired the tune; that seemed odd to her afterwards, in the days when she could never endure to hear it without the most violent distaste amounting to nausea. He bought her a copy and sent it.

His great attraction for her lay in that he was so strange, so different from anyone she had met before. Her mother and sister did not like him in the least, though at first they had appeared pleased by his gaiety, elegance and flattering manners.

She was now warned that he might be a rogue and an adventurer, that the tales about himself, his ancient family, his father's estates might be so many lies. Margaret's instincts told her they were true. She refused to be browbeaten from the acquaintanceship.

It was not an acquaintanceship for long. They went out once more.

It was to a midnight Mass at St. Bartholomew's Church. Margaret always could remember that very well, though she had soon forgotten the theatre and the party.

It was a depressing ceremony; the enormous pillars made pools of shadows, the service was tedious and droning, and yet impressive, too. Groups of beggars and wretched people who did not usually enter a church for the whole of the year, were sitting about half-asleep. Margaret remembered the splendid midnight Mass in Paris when there had been singers from the Opera and a whole orchestra of splendid instruments.

They came back in a cab, and looking from the window Margaret was further depressed by those drab streets that either sent her into a melancholy or filled her with a strange excitement. Her young companion, however, was gay. He spoke English fluently, though with a marked and not unattractive accent. He had only a small position with an engineering firm, but he was confident of the future, full of hopes, plans and schemes. He had various talents and abilities, his mind seemed to Margaret something like her own, lofty, austere, full of noble ambitions. He spoke nothing petty or mean and his high spirits were delightful.

When the cab drew up at the door of the haunted house and he opened the folding flap to let her out, he stooped and kissed her and asked her if she would marry him. Margaret had never been kissed before by any save her relatives, not kissed, that is, since she had been taken up as an awkward child and placed on the knee of one of her mother's visitors and given a salute smelling of whisky and tobacco.

She entered the house without replying, and went at once to the window. Everyone was in bed. She could see him standing below, looking up at the house. Then he got into the cab and it went off, jingling and rattling down the wide, silent street.

For some inexplicable reason she felt herself pledged to that stranger. She was not in love with him and knew it, but at least she felt no such repulsion towards him as she had felt towards any other man who had shown the least interest in her. There was much about him that she liked, in particular that he was indifferent. His background seemed entrancing; she had read much of the gorgeous island from which he came. His people were there, a father, a sister, and brothers. He was returning soon.

She went upstairs, forgetful of the ghosts, and lighting her night-light looked at the print on the wall. She had been familiar with that face since her early childhood, and the likeness between the dead and the living man was extraordinary. Had the costume been altered it might have been the same man. This, of course, was fanciful and whimsical, and she tried to bring the thing down, if not to common sense, at least to some reason. But neither reason nor common sense would enter into it. She knew that it was all crazy, slightly lunatic. She knew nothing of him nor he of her; their acquaintance had been of the shortest. Everyone whom she knew would disapprove, and violently.

She looked out into the garden, remembering afterwards all these details when she had forgotten so many other important things. It was the end of the year; she tried to find something mystical in that. The light from her window fell in a drab fashion on the garden that was like a well beneath with the high walls, and on the sooty stems of the poplar trees.

Could it be done? Could she escape with this stranger, to Italy again? Could she fulfil her duty and responsibility to those dear to her and escape herself? She was three-and-twenty and surely had some right to her independence and self-expression.

She did not sleep that night, and in the morning there was a letter from him, and flowers. If these had not come, her cold fit, for it was on her, might have endured. There was the Cornish visit, the haunted house and her work to fill her mind, and the whole thing was lunatic, no doubt of it.

He asked her to see him that afternoon, and she kept the appointment.

What could she remember of that, only that the hat she wore had an upright green cockade of split ostrich feathers, and that they sat in a shop in Regent Street and ate walnut cakes with icing.

He was very serious, almost tragic. She listened to him as if he had been someone talking on the stage and she was a spectator among the audience as he told her of his hopes and plans and his feelings for her.

He had little or nothing to offer and she liked that. It fitted in with her ideals of marrying grandly for any reason except that of material self-interest. He told her that soon he would be going to Italy on his firm's business and staying there some months, perhaps years. Living was cheap in Italy, could she come too?

In the gallery above them the orchestra was playing the "Merry Widow." Margaret had never liked that over-popular waltz. She was inclined to be disillusioned, to draw back, to think with terror of her family's reaction to her possible marriage. But she did still feel in some indefinable way pledged, and she was alarmed and yet fascinated to see his intense feeling, to observe his almost uncontrollable disappointment when he saw her hesitate. She believed he was, as the saying went, in love with her. She did not know what that meant yet, but this surely was what people meant when they said so carelessly and indifferently: "Oh, he's in love," or "They're in love."

Before they had parted she had given him her promise. She took promises very seriously, and as she went home to the haunted house there was not the least doubt in her mind that this was the man whom, for good or ill, she would marry.

She told her mother before they left for Cornwall, and there were all the lamentations and scenes she had expected. Useless to say that the marriage would not mean any difference in her contributions to the family coffers, useless to explain her belief in the young man's good faith. The marriage was, no doubt, from a worldly point of view, a poor one. Margaret might, as everyone would say, have done better.

Besides, she had not, as her mother pointed out, the one excuse that would have been valid—she was not in love. She felt herself that there was something almost disgraceful about that, but she believed that all the loyalty, good will and enthusiasm she would bring to her manner of life would make up for that defect. The young man himself had declared that it did not affect him in the least. If she would marry him at any time or on any terms it would be sufficient, and he promised all the virtues, patience, self-abnegation, hard work, and an endless devotion.

He endeavoured to placate Margaret's mother and sister.

Margaret had at this time some few good friends, and a number of pleasant acquaintances, but she was never really intimate with anyone; there was so much she could not speak of, always kept in reserve. And though sometimes it happened that other people talked of their joys and troubles to her, she could not bring herself to a confession to anyone either of what disturbed her or what delighted her. These people were pleasant, friendly and sympathetic towards her engagement. They thought it, perhaps, romantic.

And the young man, with his elegances and graces, brought his own welcome with him when she took him—which was not often—about with her.

The visit to Cornwall was postponed, for one reason and another, until the early spring. Margaret went there then with the three women who were nearest to her in the world, and the stranger who was to be her husband, as she supposed then, was left behind in London and after a while went to Milan.

He wrote and telegraphed almost daily, to the great annoyance of her family. And Margaret, cut off from him in this new solitude, considered seriously the question of this marriage. She had been to Cornwall before in the old days, on a long visit made painful and tedious by the bite of poverty and by continual quarrels with the friends who were also living in this little colony of raffish and unsuccessful artists and painters in the small Cornish fishing village.

Everything was different now, and the few who remained of the old set were very much on their dignity. For the lord and the lady of the manor were old friends and all were basking in their kindly patronage. Margaret had never cared for these people very much; they were stiff, pompous, and in some way embarrassing, yet she knew that their intentions had always been sincerely kind.

And kind they were now in their lavish, if rather overwhelming hospitality. But, as so often happened to Margaret, the beauty of Cornwall made no appeal to her. She never could tell what it was in the atmosphere of scenery that pleased or displeased, but there was nothing for her here, though she could admire in a detached fashion the grandeur of the coast-line and vivid glories of colouring.

Nana's housekeeping in the small, furnished cottage was a disorganised scramble, and Margaret had to write on a broken table propped up in a corner of the common living-room. She was out of place in this kind of country life that had every pretension to respectability. She had none of the proper poise.

The vicar and his wife and the vicarage she found alarming almost to agony. The church services on Sunday were not only dull but hideously depressing, the building was never dissociated from a charnel-house; and though she had outgrown her fear of death she did not like passing through the graves above which were stones with so many forgotten names.

Life, however, though stagnant and cramped, was tolerable until it was overcast by a violent and humiliating quarrel arising from trifles. This involved Margaret's mother and sister, and she was forced to champion them, knowing herself that they were wrong.

The whole affair was petty, and a little common sense and good nature could have averted it. But there it was; and it brought with it an alienation from a good many old acquaintances and friends, people who had been kind and sympathetic in the old hard days and who were willing to be the same now. But now, it seemed as if everywhere they went there were to be quarrels of these sickening dimensions.

Margaret long remembered that walk over the cliffs with her mother "to face," as it was termed, the poor woman who had given such offence by her strictures on what was unreasonable and disagreeable behaviour.

When they reached the house, a pleasant Cornish mansion situated near the cliffs, they found the "enemy" making wreaths to adorn the church for the Easter festival.

The quarrel broke out at once; Margaret had to stand against the wall of the small shed and listen and now and then feebly, and with a queasy stomach, support her mother, while with quick fingers the other angry woman wove early lilies and daffodils into a background of moss and wind-flowers.

Well, there was the end of that. A number of good friends had been lost and a pleasant episode was over.

It would have been dignified to return to town at once or at least to have left the neighbourhood, but lack of funds prevented this move, and the four strangely assorted women remained in the little village, isolated, cutting and being cut by all their former acquaintances.

This incident finally decided Margaret to get married. She wanted something to happen, events to move; she wanted to be married and have her own house and family life, she wanted even to have her own pots and pans, and to be able to go into her own kitchen and scrub them. She wanted to have an end to these dramatic quarrels, she wanted to put into practice her own ideas that one could live peacefully and pleasantly with one's neighbours. She had never had a quarrel on her own account; no doubt many people disliked her and she had disliked some, but a mutual avoidance of each other had prevented trouble. In her own personal concerns she had always found everyone considerate, kind, and helpful. She had, indeed, no grievance against anyone and she was not fitted to engage in these continual emotional battles that left behind such a wreckage of tempers, spirits, even of health and looks. Life seemed far too short for such terrific engagements with other human beings over matters that were, after all, so petty.

It might seem fantastic, she knew, for her to leave England, where she had been successful, to marry a stranger, and live on his small income in some Tuscan village where she knew nobody and where she would be herself a nonentity. But the prospect appeared not only tolerable but entrancing.

She did not know what more she could do with her work. The theatre attracted her intensely, but there she had resolved not to compete with her mother. Until her mother achieved a successful play Margaret could not write one. She was in honour bound to leave that field alone, her success with the novels was already sufficiently outrageous.

There were other activities into which she might have entered with zest, but there again she was prevented because she could not compete with her sister. She would have liked to make experiments with writing, not steadily keeping to the style in which she had made her first success. But there again she realised that she was a commercial proposition and she must do as those who had invested their money in her directed.

Therefore there seemed no good reason why she should not leave England and try somewhere else another life.

She always refused to be vicariously disillusioned, and she did not regret any of her eager and laborious self-education, though now, looking back at it—it was only a few years away—it seemed absurd and rather pitiful. It was obvious that no one wanted her store of miscellaneous, perhaps ill-assorted learning—"dictionary knowledge," as she had heard it contemptuously called. She had to keep it well in the background and usually in company pretend ignorance of the subject discussed lest she should seem pedantic and priggish.

Naturally, her knowledge of and interest in these things were of great pleasure to herself, but they also were a burden. She had not been trained to the kind of society in which it seemed she would have to move if she remained in England, she had none of the required accomplishments; she was no good at any kind of games or sport or light conversation or flirtation. She found that people were not, as she so foolishly imagined, eager to enter into zestful discussions of abstractions or art questions, keen to exchange views on poetry and paintings, willing to explore, with her, museums and galleries and libraries.

She felt rather like the fisherman who, after having been out all night during the storm and privation, returns triumphantly in the dawn with a large catch to find that it has no salable value and must be left to rot on the shore or thrown back into the sea.

So, for all these reasons, Margaret resolved, come what might, to marry, forget her immature enthusiasms, her juvenile ambitions, and begin life very humbly again in a new country.

With the return to London the question of the haunted house arose once more. Experts had passed the night there and their report made strange reading. They declared that the upper rooms and the stairs were notably haunted and that the whole house was infected by insanity.

Madmen had been at one time housed there, and two of them had killed an attendant. There had been a long struggle down the stairs, ending with a murder in the hall. This fitted in almost too plausibly with all the phenomena witnessed. Margaret did not see the report.

Enquiries in the neighbourhood at last brought some result, and it was found that the house had been a private lunatic asylum, and that some unchronicled tragedy had taken place there; the doctor who kept it had then hurriedly moved; the house had stood empty for a while and then been taken over by the bank.

How, after this grim corroboration of their worst fears, could the four women continue to live in this dreadful house? It seemed indeed impossible, since they now knew the truth about these disturbances that almost nightly agitated them.

But a move still seemed impossible and Margaret, curiously enough, was not greatly troubled by the haunted house. She seemed to live apart from it, not exactly incredulous of these horrors but in some way shielded from them. Her own affairs were sufficient to occupy her entire attention.

Her engagement became a matter of acute dissension. She put off her marriage in the weak and foolish hope that her mother might be brought round to regard it more favourably. This only resulted in a more strained nervous tension that became so acute that she could not have the man she had promised to marry as a guest in the house that she was running with her own money.

As her code prevented her from going to the rooms where he lived in Gower Street, they met uncomfortably and awkwardly in parks and picture galleries and restaurants, and sometimes for days together they did not see one another. Sometimes for weeks he would be abroad, but they kept up a constant correspondence and a high-minded kind of fidelity.

They had exchanged confidences and found something similar in their histories. He had a chance of obtaining a permanent position with his firm abroad in the province of Lucca; this would mean that he would be earning sufficient money for the two of them to live in Italy. Margaret thought that she would add a small portion of her earnings to this and that they would do very well.

The prospect of this escape seemed too good to be true, and for a long while it proved so.

Margaret's mother wished to go to America to try her fortunes there, and this enterprise had to be financed and meant the delay of another winter. It ended, too, in the usual failure, and the unfortunate woman—so brilliant, so charming, so gifted—returned once more to England, thwarted in her hopes of some measure of success with her work.

This spread yet a deeper gloom over the little household.

The next thing was a visit to Italy, since Margaret's mother yearned to return to Rome and in particular to one acquaintance there with whom she had always kept up a correspondence. And Margaret thought that it was unbearable that she should be cheated of this passionate yearning, as it seemed to be. It was one of Margaret's most painful weaknesses that she had always this desire to give people what they wanted. She seemed never to be able to fulfil this desire adequately. She was foolish enough to think that by giving the distressed and the unhappy what they said they yearned for she could satisfy them.

The money was found and she took her mother to Rome in the heat of the summer. They lodged in a convent outside the walls. The visit was painful, humiliating, and almost disastrous. Margaret had to return with a sick woman on her hands.

Then there was another interlude at the haunted house, and another visit to America.

Margaret's mother knew by then that she was resolved on the marriage, and she said that she was going to America because she could not endure to witness it. Margaret knew, even then, that from her point of view she was justified in her objections. It brought nothing to the family, and it took away to a distance the breadwinner.

Yet Margaret had always been conscientious and it had never occurred to her to shirk duty. And the other women knew that they could rely on her, as long as she earned money, to send it to them.

By this time Margaret was often weary of her engagement herself. Not being in love, there was no warm enthusiasm to tide her over this tedious time of waiting. Sometimes she thought of the approaching marriage almost with repulsion, sometimes she looked at the young man as if he were indeed a stranger, as if she could never endure to see him again. There were moments when she would have broken it off, when she asked him if he too were not weary of waiting and would not go and try his fortunes elsewhere. But he always reproached her so passionately and threatened such desperate courses if she forsook him that she had to withdraw her timid attempts to be free of her promise.

She tried to fix her mind firmly on the advantages to be gained from this marriage, not only for herself but for others. She realised then, particularly when she was alone, that her passionate interest in figments of the imagination, her power of absorption in the past, and in the creation of art, led to a disintegration of personality—sometimes painful and sometimes dangerous. To cultivate these powers would be, she thought, to lead to self-destruction, not in violence or despair, but merely because the spirit would disdainfully tear up the body like an old rag and cast it down.

Margaret could not argue that this would not have much mattered. It was reasonable to suppose that insane people did not suffer as profoundly as those afraid of becoming insane, and to be dead would relieve one of the fear of dying. Yet she had a plain material duty to perform, and there was another side of her very capable of enjoying life. It was this side that clamoured for small activities and the ordinary stays and props of home and family.

Everything in that dismal haunted house was hers in so far as it was paid for with her money, but she took nothing with her but a few books that she packed herself in cases bought from the grocer. These were sent to be stored.

She put her clothes into a small trunk and went one morning in November to a registry office, her sister reluctant and sullen, with her. Even this moment had to be turned into a gloomy drama by the peculiar family temperament. The young Italian, still in so many respects a stranger, brought with him a fellow-countryman. And so they were married.

They went afterwards, alone, for the two witnesses refused to accompany them, to a small restaurant near Victoria Station. It was a foggy day, and by the time they had reached the little house they had hired in a small town outside London, mist was dense about them.

Margaret felt emotionally stunned. She could not believe that she had really at last found the courage to take this decisive step, that she had actually cut away from the old life, the old dominion, and that she was now a married woman, independent as she had never been independent before.

The furnished house they had taken with two servants attached was pleasant. Margaret was a very inexperienced housekeeper; she was timid, awkward, and made blunders. Her husband was away all day, and for a while everything was so strange, different, that she was struck into a kind of idleness, she could neither write nor do anything else. She had several moments of terror, the old gods veiled their faces, and the old visions seemed withdrawn for ever.

She had no faults to find with her husband; no particular love or affection for him was aroused in her. She admired him in many ways, she felt sorry for him, and his behaviour to her was always generous.

They continued to build their castles in the air: what they would do when they had a little money saved, the house they would take and furnish in Italy. Children they never mentioned, though they were always in her mind and, she believed, in his too. They would visit his people in Sicily, who would be delighted to see this alien daughter-in-law. He spoke of his chances of promotion, the good position he might get in a few years' time, the investments he might make. She hardly believed in any of these things, but it was pleasant to discuss them.

Margaret lived much alone in this country place that was so near where she had always lived yet was so completely strange. She took long walks and tried to realise who and what she was, for she felt her always faint individuality blurred.

On a few occasions friends from town came to visit her. Once her sister came, tearful, reproachful, and resentful, a foretaste of what would happen when the mother returned from America frustrated and disappointed again.

Margaret longed to be able to go to Italy, but her husband had to wait for his firm's instructions. There were moments when it seemed that he would not be sent at all. She had sufficient money for him to have left the job and for them to have gone at any moment. But that was not the scheme. She must try and forget her own means that had a dedicated use; she must live entirely on his earnings. He, the least mercenary of men, was quite willing to agree to this. He never even asked about her money or business affairs, and that she found one of his most endearing traits.

Before this winter was over he had one or two attacks of illness. He had always had a slight cough that was supposed to be brought about by the damp English winters, so different from the climate to which he was used, and Margaret was astonished how seriously ill he seemed at the slightest cold, rising temperature, touches of delirium. She had never seen anything like it before; her family was healthy enough, only afflicted by headaches, neuralgia, and queasy sicknesses.

None of the neighbours called on Margaret, except one old lady who seemed of a certain importance. And she came in state to enquire candidly if Margaret was properly married. "One could not be," as she said, "too careful with foreigners."

Margaret did not know if the old lady would consider a registry office ceremony a "proper" marriage. She glossed over the difficulty.

After a little while she began to write, and at first it seemed very strange to be at work again.

Then there were troubles with servants; one had a hysterical affliction, resulting in dumbness, and the mother of the other came up and demanded more money for her daughter. Margaret was quite incapable of dealing with these difficulties, though she put up some sort of show in meeting these awkward problems.

As usual with her, only the small, unimportant things stand out in her memory. They stayed in this hired house until June, and Margaret could recall for long afterwards walking across a field of clover, thimble-shaped, dark-red, also returning home one evening in the dusk when a large white owl swooped down out of the sky.

Her husband gave her a Pekinese dog; she had always wanted one as a pet, but it died almost immediately afterwards. They then bought a small French bulldog, the most charming of companions. At last the young man was given his appointment in the new office the firm was opening abroad; they were building a railway in the Carrara district of Lucca, where, at last, Margaret thought, a new life might begin.

There followed some bitter meetings with the mother and sister; even Nana was cold and reproachful. Margaret was made to feel that she had done a terrible, an awful, almost a disgraceful thing. But she did not repent it; she had not expected a great deal from her marriage.

But something she had hoped for, and in this hope she had not been disappointed. At last they were ready to set out for Italy with their modest baggage and the French bulldog.

Their first home was in a watering-place, Lucca Reggio, in Lucca, about two hours' train journey from Florence. It was a pleasant house, one of the best in the place, that was then only partly developed and had but one good-sized hotel. This house was in a small street that ran from the sea-front to a belt of pinewood that stretched at the foot of a range of mountains. It was a white house with a tall door, and at the back there was a little railed yard with a few flower-beds in which grew lettuces and pansies.

This difference in background entirely altered everything for Margaret, far more than the actual fact of her marriage had done. She seemed to become at once a different creature. Perhaps then only did she realise how she had been depressed by the ugliness in which she had so often been forced to live, the dinginess of London streets, the gloom of that haunted house in St. John's Wood, even the place where she had spent the first months of her married life, with washy water-colours on the walls, fading chintz and ugly ornaments she dare not handle for fear of breakage.

Here there was nothing offensive; the walls were whitewashed, the furniture of the plainest, the floors of tiles. The flowers in early summer were sumptuous; baskets of tuberoses, mimosa, violets and cyclamen could be had for a few halfpence.

The young Italian who was her husband changed also. He became more self-assured, confident; he lost the attacks of cold and fever. His devotion to her increased, and she was so grateful for all he had done for her that she was able to return his affection sincerely. She even fell a little in love, not exactly with the man but with all that he had brought into her life.

Most important of all, they hired a servant—Elisa—from a village close to the marble works. Ugly, robust, with a nimble wit and a sharp tongue, this woman was a perpetual delight to Margaret. Never had she seen anyone work like that; the creature rose at dawn and toiled till midnight, and was prepared to live literally on the scraps left on the plate. Her wage was a few francs a month; this was increased to what, to her, was a princely sum—a glass of wine and a plate of fresh food every day made her Margaret's not only devoted but passionate slave. The two women whose stories had been so different became firm friends, yet always mistress and maid. A complete and wholly undeserved respect and admiration for her mistress animated Elisa.

As her husband was away all day at the office, Margaret was much alone with this woman and with her sister, whose name was also Margaret, and who sometimes came in to help.

The pattern of life was delightful. There was the sun, the sea, the mountains, the pinewoods, but most of all there was the feeling that she was at last a separate individuality; she was mistress of her own home and she could do all kinds of things that she had always longed to do but had never been able to achieve. She could plant flowers in the little strip of garden at the back, she could go into the kitchen and learn about pots and pans, about scouring and washing and cooking—all in the Italian style, no doubt, but she liked it none the less for that.

She enjoyed, too, buying things from the hawkers, with their little stalls and carts, who came by every morning and who were so good-looking and so pleasant. She had a working knowledge of Italian, and she soon learned to speak it with fair fluency though no doubt extremely incorrectly.

This woman became quite gay, she felt ten years younger than she had been in London, she laughed and talked a good deal. And the bulldog entered with relish into this life; a little sulphur in his diet preserved him from the effects of the heat, and he and Elisa and Margaret would take long walks in the pineta in the evening, always keeping him on the lead for fear of the man with the lasso who caught dogs, even the muzzled ones, during the hot weather.

There were the most delicious small gaieties, too, cafes where music was played, and where one could sit for hours over a glass of iced drink, a small theatre where opera was often given, and where Margaret could hear at last all those faded masterpieces that she only knew from garbled excerpts on barrel-organs.

Her bedroom looked over the street and had a balcony and she could sit there when the sun was not on it, and, looking down to the right, gaze on the sea; and looking up to the left see the pinewoods and the mountains beyond.

The neighbours were all extremely kindly, they would nod and smile when they saw her sitting there sewing, or knitting, or crocheting. She had a pot of basil around which she tied a red ribbon, and against the plain whitewashed walls of the room she was able to arrange little still-life scenes with fruit and pottery, flowers and shells.

No one knew anything about her, but that contributed to her happiness. She was not to them that strange, rather resented creature—a woman writer; she was not a girl who had made a chance undeserved success with an artless book, who had struggled through so many shifts, miseries and humiliations. She was merely the young English wife of a young Italian employed at the new works of the firm that was building the railway from the marble quarries down to the harbour.

Everyone seemed to wish her well; there were no quarrels, and the atmosphere had a cheerfulness that she had never experienced before. Indeed, it was so peaceful and serene that it was almost as if a continuous thunderstorm had suddenly ceased. She was stunned by the quiet and the good humour.

Her appearance changed, too. She had always been passionately fond of clothes, spent far too much money on them, but it had been difficult to get the right things in London, for everything at that period was rather heavy and tasteless, badly cut and over-ornamented. And Margaret had dressed about ten years older than her years, with her hair piled on top and hats loaded with feathers and flowers, collars kept up with whalebone and long skirts that trailed on the ground. Not only were fashions slowly changing for the better but in Italy such things were not worn. Margaret was able to buy yards of plain stuff and with Elisa's help make them into simple gowns. She let her hair down into her neck; it was pretty hair, golden brown, and so long that she could sit on it. The naturally graceful lines of her figure were no longer obscured, she walked and ran more swiftly.

The dog was a great pleasure; she had never had a pet before.

Her husband took her out into the surrounding country; she had never seen anything like it before, it seemed a different Italy from that she had glimpsed when in Rome. The beauty of the Tuscan countryside was bewildering, it dazzled the senses as if one had stepped through the pages of a fairy-tale and found oneself in an enchanted land.

They looked at various small villas, little houses with grounds and farms attached, and planned the day when they would take one of them.

To Margaret it did seem really too good to be true; she could not believe that she would ever be established in one of those delicious homes with her children about her, her husband coming and going on his work, she with her own interests looking after the place.

She learned to sew and mend quite competently; she had the food that she liked. No meat, which she had always loathed, ever came into the house; the hedgerow salads, the little black olives, the dark bread and the abundant fruit were constant delights. It was charming to make a picture of one's meal—a thick yellow plate with a bunch of russet-coloured grapes on it, a long crusty loaf, a book in a vellum cover, a rough silver spoon: all these things arranged against the background of a whitewashed wall gave an added zest to appetite.

Margaret kept hens and pigeons like everyone else, only, most dreadfully, the others were being kept for food. But Margaret's were never to be eaten; it was delightful to look at them and think of that. She bought the pigeons that were carted round alive for food, nursed them back to some sort of health and strength and then let them free. They soared away far over the pine trees into the distant landscape. Those were good moments, but unfortunately she could not buy all the pigeons, rabbits and hens, and there were ugly moments that gave her acute torment when she saw the doomed things going to their fate.

That was her sole horror, the knowledge of the cruelty going on in the world. It amounted to a disease; sometimes she would wake up in the night and have to walk up and down the room to quiet herself when the remembrance of some horror she had seen or heard of would crowd into her mind.

She remembered pleasant things, too. The old life became glossed over. Charming episodes she could recall tenderly came often into her mind—a glimpse of her lovely sister, her body like silver, her ash-blonde hair falling over her white shoulders standing in a bathing tent on the Welsh coast where they had once gone for a holiday; her mother beneath the mulberry tree, so charming and brilliant, with her admirers about her. And further back, Nana sitting in the firelight with a book of fairy tales in her hand.

All these overtones and undertones of the past that had been so bitter and poignant here became softened, sometimes glorious.

Even that hideous and what had seemed insoluble problem of the money worked out fairly well at first. It cost them so little to live in Italy that she put aside her own earnings to send home. She was scrupulously careful with the money and found that, even living well and having some over for the luxury of giving away, she could keep almost within her husband's modest salary.

As far as she could see into the future, life would always be like this. She would continue to live in Italy, they would take a small house there, he would get some sort of position and she would write her books. For years and years this life seemed to stretch ahead and she found no fault with the prospect.

There were moments of acute and even terrible melancholy when she was quite alone, walking along under the pine trees or on the sea-front. The evenings were sometimes very cool with a curious stabbing coldness quite different from anything she had known, and the tideless Mediterranean sea could be dark and threatening.

The cloudless summer changed suddenly into the brilliant autumn and all the chestnut trees on the hills turned bronze, yellow and gold.

This melancholy took the form of an appalling loneliness as if she stood at the edge of an abyss, in solitary desolation. She was shaken then with feelings that she could have explained to no one; the skies seemed too immense, the ocean too wide, the shiver of the wind in the tops of the pine trees was awful.

She would hurry home to Elisa and help to prepare the supper or listen to the lively gossip of that faithful servant.

They moved to a splendid villa, belonging to an Englishman. As it was still the winter, they obtained it very cheaply. This stood outside another small town, Porto del Marno, further along the seaboard; it was very lonely, there were not all the gay and sparkling interests of the former neighbourhood. No one passed by the house, that was situated in a small lane, on the other side of which was a farm.

Still, Margaret was very far from discontented, although she was there so very much alone. And in the winter it was real loneliness; one could walk for miles both along the seafront and along the pine woods without meeting a soul. It was difficult, too, to warm the house, which was really a summer residence.

Still, there was Elisa and Elisa's family, who were nearer now and used to come over. A delightful old man and woman, her parents, would come and sip a cup of coffee and drink Margaret's health after thanking her with the greatest gratitude that was not, however, in the least abject, for her kindness to their daughter.

The steward of the farm opposite—that was very well run—had four beautiful children, too, and these used to come and play about the lanes so that Margaret could see them from her window.

She also had pigeons of the most superb purple, green and blue flushing on to white. Two of them nested in the covered balcony of her room. She had her books with her, and there was a certain number in the house. It was still a great regret to her that she could not furnish a home of her own, but this seemed at the moment impossible. She had to do what she could by rearranging the belongings of other people.

She read and painted and wrote, and thought a good deal on matters of religion and philosophy.

Her husband's toys were motor-cycles and cars that cost a good deal of money and gave but little satisfaction. Yet they did make occasional journeys over the Italian countryside possible. In particular there was the often-repeated excursion to Pisa. The road went for miles through wooded estates belonging to an Austrian archduke, where there were supposed to be wild boars.

Margaret sometimes went to Lucca. It was curious to go to these places, not as a tourist but, as it were, a native. She saw everything from the inside. She learnt much; knowledge came to her without words. The sudden sight of buildings, streets, and people, pictures and statues, in the combination of all these, she made and kept new, strange, grotesque or hauntingly beautiful pictures.

While she was living here she decided to return to London, for she could not put off a visit home much longer. She left her husband behind, but when she reached London she felt very homesick, not only for Italy but for him. They had grown quite close together, and he did not seem to be in the least disillusioned with her. He was as fond of her as he had ever been, and could not endure to leave her long in London but soon followed, thus upsetting all the plans. Her mother was disgusted to see him. Everything went wrong.

Margaret had found the three women with whom she had lived so long exactly the same as when she had left them. They were in a furnished flat where the housekeeping was harum-scarum; there were emotional troubles, scenes and disturbances as before; there was the same set of impecunious, boasting friends. Only the whole thing was a little further downhill.

Margaret was sad and sickened, but she could do nothing. She was out of touch with them, too, and they did not seem very pleased to see her, their own grievances were overwhelming them.

She turned with thankfulness and gratitude to her husband, but the agitation he had undergone during her absence, the hasty journey to London, the cold climate had upset him and he had a serious attack of illness in the apartment they had taken.

For the first time since she had been married to him they went to a doctor. He assured Margaret that the illness was nothing, but that her husband had better remain in a mild climate lest he contracted chronic bronchitis.

They returned to Italy, stopping at Parma on the way, and she had another glimpse of another Italian town, another set of impressions and memories.

That summer her husband took her to Sicily to see his people. She looked forward to this with the greatest pleasure and excitement. She had corresponded with the father and the sister in affectionate terms, and the Sicily of which she had read in romantic novels seemed to her a land of enchantment.

They set off with high hopes, at least on her part, and he was delighted to be going home again after so many years, and with a certain measure of success and an English wife.

There was a short stay in Rome, and it was indeed another Rome from that of years before.

Then came the long journey to Naples. It was the wrong time of year for an Englishwoman to be travelling so far south, and by the time Naples was reached, Margaret was exhausted and sick.

Sicily proved a bitter disillusion. She hated the island at first sight of it, the monstrous vegetation, the smell of gas and sulphur, the searing heat, the blinding, choking dust and the sheer filth and loathsome decay of the ancient cities filled her not only with disgust but with a kind of terror. She wanted to escape, to hurry back at once to the Tuscany she knew and loved so well. But the visit had to be put through, although by the time Margaret reached their destination she was really ill with a kind of dysentery. The food made her violently sick; even the water, that was a grey colour—from crushed almonds, she was told—was nauseous. The mosquitoes were like an Egyptian plague, and everywhere was dirt.

To see his country gave Margaret a fresh idea of her husband. How strange that he had thought that the kind of woman she was would have been happy in this place. He reverted, however, very much to type in his native land. He became one of those rather abhorrent strangers with whom she was surrounded. She saw everything through a miasma of sickness and loathed it all; even the goats, fond as she was of animals, seemed ugly and hostile.

There were other moments when she would be alone in her room with little or nothing on, and she would be conscious of her own body as so much frail flesh over such small bones and she would wonder with a sense of a loss of identity, "Who am I? And what am I doing here?" It seemed then that she was just a wisp of humanity that might any moment be thrust out into the immense night and lost in the star glitter above the seas.

These sensations of intense loneliness and blank loss of individuality were partly due to the fact that she and her husband were strangers in so much. Up at the office and with his fellow-countrymen he had his own life. He seemed, as far as she could see, efficient and popular. He did not tell her much about his work; and she did not, after all, see very much of him. He came home late and he left early. Sometimes he would go to Milan or Turin for weeks together, leaving her alone. She knew that his mind and his ambitions were, after all, very different from hers. A great part of herself was entirely kept from him, although she believed that he was open and candid enough with her. But with much of what he revealed of himself she had no sympathy, yet there was nothing about him that she actively disliked.

The pleasure his good looks gave her, the fascination of his manners and graces had, however, worn off. She often heard other people admiring him; then she would look at him hard and intensely, trying to recapture that first impression and to persuade herself that she found him as attractive as she once had done.

He became absorbed in motor-cars and motor-cycles, then a great rarity in Italy, and very often would go off with another man on some machine that gave endless trouble, but seemed to possess also an endless fascination.

His two worst faults were crude and obvious. He was jealous, and he was violent-tempered. The first hardly mattered, for Margaret led the life of a cloistered nun, but his fits of violence were as disconcerting as they were incomprehensible. They were, however, never directed towards her and always profusely apologised for afterwards, a plea for forgiveness being accompanied by some gift, so that it was impossible not to overlook them.

They became, however, embarrassing, and as they increased in frequency, Margaret thought them over with some bewilderment. The other Italians whom she saw about her did not seem to be afflicted with these outbursts of unreasonable and fiery fury. They, too, seemed as surprised as she was at these outbursts, and she often caught them shrugging and looking one at another in a meaning way when these furies seized him. It was obvious that this was not a national characteristic, since the Tuscans, at least, seemed unused to it.

After one of these attacks, Elisa would always retire and weep wildly and piteously. For Elisa's sake more than her own, Margaret was disturbed and sometimes angry too. Was she never to find a placid companion? Was everything to be ruined because of someone's vile temper?

And here again, as in the old days, the disturbances were all over trifles—the wrong dish for supper, an importunate beggar, whom a halfpenny would have quieted, at the door, a poor quality of wine or oil, a noise in the street. One particular cause of exasperation was an old flower-woman who used to call once a week with flowers. Margaret found her visits a delight; she used to be invited into the kitchen, given a glass of wine, and then she would start to talk. She had a store of most amusing stories, told in the racy Tuscan dialect. She only charged a few pence for her flowers, that were mostly of varieties Margaret had not seen before. She used to like to sketch them and it gave her great pleasure to arrange them against the whitewashed wall.

But her husband, for some reason, took an intense dislike to the old woman and forbade her the house. At this act of tyranny, as she considered it, Margaret ventured upon her first defiance. She allowed the old woman to come, with Elisa's contrivance. It was a feminine intrigue, three women against a man. Margaret had only very small sums of money at her disposal, what her husband gave her every week for the housekeeping and that she had to account for, but she managed to squeeze out the few pence for the old woman.

Once, however, he returned unexpectedly and found her there, and there was a distressing and humiliating scene. Next week, however, the old creature, though she had been turned so rudely away, returned and gave herself the reason for the ill odour in which she was held.

She was, it seemed, employed to take notes between women and their admirers and she strung off a whole list of what she called "wealthy and beautiful ladies in silken gowns" who gave her little notes for their lovers. Margaret thought this sounded like a fairy-tale. If it were true, it was merely silly to suppose that she was employing the old woman for any such purpose. No one was in love with her; she had hardly spoken to a man of her own class since she had been married.

But her husband took the matter seriously, and this little incident showed her the difference in their temperaments and outlook.

One Christmas they went to Florence and stayed in a hotel that overlooked the Arno.

Nothing was wrong, Margaret was happy. The only pang was seeing the gifts for children in the shops; she had begun to feel uneasy that she had not had any children. She knew nothing about this side of life, she pondered and worried over it a good deal. There was no one out there of whom she could ask anything, no books she could read. She could, for a long while together, put the matter out of her head and assure herself that children would appear in good time.

Margaret felt very grateful for her happiness; grateful to her husband, to Elisa, to "punch", the French bulldog, to whatever Fate it was that had arranged this turn in her life.

She heard frequently from home and she was satisfied that her departure had made no real difference but only removed a discordant personality. Financially, those she had left behind did not suffer.

Margaret thought of these things when she was ill in Sicily.

Had she been able to preserve her health she certainly would not have seen the island over which she had thought so often with such warm imagination through such a miasma of loathing. As it was, her spirits seemed sick as well as her body, and she felt she had never seen a place she had hated more, not even the drabbest portions of her native country, for there, at least, there was always some comfort.

Here there was none, nor could she make herself understood; everyone spoke what seemed to her a barbarous patois and her fairly fluent Italian, acquired in Tuscany, was of little use.

But her husband's people she liked; in particular with her father-in-law and her sister-in-law she felt an affinity and almost at once an affection that she had not felt towards her husband himself, at least not for a long while.

The old man had much grace and dignity. He was a distinguished Greek scholar, kind and courteous and of a noble bearing. And the sister was delicate as a gazelle, with enormous eyes, masses of blue-black hair, a fine shape and fairy-like hands that were incapable of any other work but white embroidery. She had been married and had left her husband. There was a tragedy behind that that was not to be mentioned, but a vendetta of some kind had resulted from it that kept her brothers always in a state of nervous agitation.

There had been gamblers in the family, two of a notably reckless type, and Margaret was taken to the centre of the island, to the orange and lemon groves that had once belonged to the family but now had been lost through these two rogues.

Some considerable estates remained; the family was old, very old, and had produced several men of distinction. There was a monument to one in a church set high on a sulphurous rock; there was a priest who was a cousin; there was an estate outside a town that was older than Rome, and was called Monte Calvario because of the three crucifixes on top of it.

The whole thing—landscape, people, every detail of daily life—was odd and bizarre, but something was wrong here. She disliked even the blue-black lava rocks that paved the streets, even the Indian fig or prickly pear that grasped these rocks with fleshy hands and on its plate-like leaves produced hard fruit, so protected by deadly thorns that it had to be plucked by means of a tin cup at the end of a stick.

Her husband's relatives were sympathetic but not surprised at her illness. People were so often ill in Sicily in the summer, infection must have been rife. Fish and meat putrefied in the shops under one's eyes or in the carts that waited outside the Customs Office at the gates of the town. Of drainage there seemed to be none, the sanitary arrangements were, as the guide-books say, "of the most primitive description." Water was almost unobtainable, and all the food was dry and highly flavoured.

Margaret lived on crumbs of bread and fruit for a while, but the grapes seemed different from those in Tuscany; they were allowed to trail on the ground instead of being arranged in pergola fashion, and became overripe on one side and hard on the other. Lovely as they were to look at, being amber and rose-coloured in cymbal shape, being overripe they acted like poison when tainted by decay.

The heat, too, was such as Margaret had never dreamed possible. She lay all day on her travelling rug on the bed in the hotel, half conscious, watching the slats of sunshine fall through the Venetian blind and listening to the incredible tangle of noises that never seemed to cease outside—drivers of hired carriages lashed their long whips on the blue stones, the rattle of trams going to and fro that seemed to have every metal part loose and clanging, shouts of the raucous southern voices.

Women were not allowed in the streets, except rarely and under suitable escort, so this was a male symphony of horrible stridency.

The female voices were no better; when one or two women gathered in the corridor of the hotel it was like a concert of parrots.

The whole island was aggressively male; all the women, their persons, their fortunes, their capacity to work, were at the service of the men, with the result that the women were mostly peevish and illiterate and the men mostly arrogant and overbearing.

It was not a pleasant atmosphere for an Englishwoman. Margaret would not believe she would have enjoyed it, even if she had been well. She was eager to get back to Tuscany, longing for the company of Elisa and even the old flower-woman; she felt she could not possibly, on any terms, have lived in Sicily. She did not like the old houses, decayed palaces most of them, with enormous windows and shining stone floors, and everywhere the plague of mosquitoes.

Not liking the smells in her hotel rooms, she asked once for a tin of disinfectant, and when she had made herself understood she was told, with an air of triumph, that there was some in the place; it had been put by since the last typhus epidemic.

Added to other discomforts the atmosphere was full of gas from Etna, that often, for weeks together, was not to be seen for banks of cloud. There were also continual rumbles of earthquakes and sometimes, when one put one's finger along the window-sill, it came away covered with ashes.

The rich and fantastic vegetation that made the island so famous, the fertile vineyards, then withered, and the whole island was burnt up in August. The rivers were also dried up, and when Margaret travelled in the uncomfortable trains she could see the goats standing in the tiny trickle of water on the wet stones that were left in the centre of the river-bed. The distant barren hills shimmered in the heat, as did the sea; there were no horizons visible, only the glittering air that was like flames seen by daylight.

Margaret would not have believed that it would be possible to feel so alien anywhere as she felt in Sicily. She was glad that her husband should see his people again. As she was not capable of accompanying him, he went about with them himself. She was not sorry to be spared those family gatherings of utter strangers to which she was supposed to belong.

Often her sister-in-law came and sat with her, a gentle, inoffensive creature given to tears, but amiable and lovable. And the old man would come, too, when she could drag herself out of bed to the dreary hotel sitting-room. He seemed anxious about her and his son, who had changed much, he said, since he had left home about ten years ago. He explained to her about the family property, what was left of the fortune, their troubles and difficulties. She could hardly understand, but she liked the old man and left him with regret.

She would have liked to have seen a doctor, an English doctor, but dare not suggest it, nor did she know if there were one available. And when she became very ill, her relatives suggested a visit to the chemist. This seemed to her extraordinarily abhorrent and she always refused vehemently. She had had a glimpse of the chemist's shop and of the men inside it.

Somehow she managed to travel from Catania to Palermo.

This was obviously a splendid town, even to her disenchanted eyes. How, in another mood and other circumstances, she would have rejoiced to have investigated its baroque delights! But even had she been well this would have been impossible. Her husband was not interested in the wonders of a city of his native island, and it was impossible for a woman to go about alone.

As it was, Margaret's glimpse of Palermo as she went from the station to the hotel was a nightmarish phantasmagoria. She saw white goats looking down from the balcony, convolvulus as large as clown's hats trailing round porches, half-Oriental churches in a long narrow street in which the men, possessed of brutal good looks, elbowed their way up and down, with their hats pulled over one eye and wearing the shiny patent shoes. The shop windows were full of quince sweetmeats cut into curious shapes—hearts, Madonnas and stars. At the bars young men lounged before the violent-coloured bottles and lolled at the small iron tables outside on the narrow pavement.

Margaret recovered a little in this city and took one or two excursions. None of them, for some reason she could never explain, did she enjoy. She saw the old Bourbon villa that should have satisfied all her longing for the strange, the exotic and the richly hued. The yellow rocks, the purple sea, the toylike palace and the Chinese chapel, even the gardens with the cypresses and the ilex, were like so many painted backcloths to her. She was inexpressibly lonely.

The hotel at Palermo was fairly well run. The rooms were too large and there was too much marble. But trying to eat some of the food provided, Margaret fell ill again, this time seriously. Someone must have been alarmed, for a bottle of medicine was given to her. A doctor had ordered her to take it, she was told; she was lying in bed, half-conscious, when the small bottle full of brown liquid was put into her hand. "Take it in water or on a lump of sugar," her husband told her, and left her.

There was a procession going past, she could hear the music, and she longed to get out of bed and see it herself. And in an effort to stay the nausea that laid her low, she poured the entire contents of the bottle into a glass of water and drank it.

Had she but known it, the end of all her troubles had been put into her hand. She did not recover till long afterwards. She saw groups of people gathered about her, but all blurred and wavering.

When she recovered some kind of half-consciousness she gathered from the chatter going on around her that the stuff they had given her had been laudanum, and she had taken an enormous overdose.

She felt so ill, even when they had dragged her back to life, that she wished they had let her die, and now there was no help for it—she must return to Italy if she were to recover.

They travelled by sea from Palermo to Naples, and the first sea breeze revived Margaret. With inexpressible pleasure she lay in her bunk and watched the sea through the porthole. With every hour she became better and was almost recovered when she went on deck and saw Naples coming into view.

The town was magnificent from the bay; she was prepared to acknowledge its claims to extreme beauty with enthusiasm. On a closer view it proved little better than Sicily—base, dry, noisy, verminous, full of stenches and chattering people.

She was glad to leave the famous city, while acknowledging it was worth all the praises ever bestowed on it, and it was with great joy that she returned to Tuscany and the little furnished house that was all she had of home.

Her deepest pleasure was in seeing Elisa again, and the two dogs—the French bulldog and a small mongrel she had adopted, saving it from destruction at the hands of the dog-catcher.

She felt so pleased to be in Tuscany again that she made a secret vow never to go further south than Rome. Something about that far country, to her, was deadly, haunted and repulsive.

Elisa's people welcomed her back by coming over from their village in their Sunday clothes and carrying a bouquet of late flowers, white, with her initials worked cunningly in red ones in the middle. She entertained them to coffee in the kitchen and they made a little speech. Seldom had she been happier.

This was but a transient content, the future looked more and more doubtful. When was she going to have a home of her own? More important still, when was she going to have children? Her husband's female relatives had asked about that; there was no subject of which she could have been more ignorant, and it fretted and depressed her. She could hardly endure to look at the children playing about the roads and lanes; there was no one whom she could consult, no one of whom she could ask advice. It was a matter on which she had never spoken to her mother.

She became introspective and brooding despite all her efforts to keep up high spirits. She was weary, too, of living in furnished houses; she never had yet had the pleasure of buying anything to make a home for herself.

Her husband, too, was depressed, and had his moments of melancholy, and of illness. His cough seemed to have fastened on him more tenaciously, and he had, too, frequent attacks of fever. More doctors were consulted without result; they only could advise obvious remedies of rest, quiet, and avoidance of chills. They said it was a touch of bronchitis and that he was in a nervous condition.

One of Margaret's beautiful pigeons, rainbow-coloured and white, that nested in the balcony outside her room, dropped dead while flying across the courtyard and the mate, in spite of all other efforts to provide it with company, pined to death.

While they had been in Sicily the villa had been let to wealthy Russians, for they could not possibly have afforded to pay the rent asked for the summer months, when the little seaside place was quite fashionable. In the winter it was completely deserted, and it was not with much equanimity that Margaret looked forward to another winter there, often alone, with no company but Elisa, and to the prospect of those interminable walks through the pine-woods and by the sea.

Starved of books and materials for work, music, theatres and all the city sidelights, life seemed to have become static, almost stagnant.

Letters from home held no good news, no unexpected or brilliant fortune had come to those whom she had left behind. Her mother wrote in embittered and complaining strain. Her fate was indeed a hard one, and it was no wonder that it was breaking her, always frustration and disappointment.

Margaret felt frustrated and disappointed too. In what high hopes and eager zest she had begun this new life, seeing a home, children, a husband successful in a modest way, everything beginning fresh in a strange land. But now it was all petering out, running away like a handful of sand through the fingers.

The house was taken for another winter and half-way through that season a severe blow fell on their humble fortunes. The little railway was finished, and the office in charge of the engineer that was to look after it was complete, and there was no place in it for Margaret's husband. Whether he had been self-deceived or whether he had deceived her, or whether he had been lulled by false promises—well, it mattered little. What they had been counting on—a settled position, settled salary, the opportunity to take a permanent home—all had gone.

The disappointment and the humiliation, for everyone in the neighbourhood had expected him to remain permanently attached to the little railway, made him ill. Margaret had a sick man on her hands. Well she knew these signs of disappointment and frustration, well she knew how impossible it was to console those who were empty-handed, without work, responsibility, their definite place in the world.

All the dreams had now, it seemed, disappeared. They would have to live, for ever, she was sure, on her money. She could not see what possible work he could obtain, though she tried to console him with talk of taking a farm and running it. Could they not possibly do that? Romance soon gave way to reality there. It was difficult to buy land in Tuscany without considerable capital. It was still more difficult to make a profit out of it without considerable knowledge. They were both of them not only strangers but alien there-he as much as she.

Her income continued to be good, but would not stretch to cover too many needs. There had been, on the prospect of a new and permanent position, some extravagance in buying a motorcar and motor-cycle, but their household could hardly have been more modest, yet it would have to be reduced if Margaret was to continue to send the bulk of her earnings home.

There was a miserable period of uncertainty, of tedious discussion and speculation. Margaret's second effort had definitely failed.

As she had found it was not possible for her to use her gifts and talents to the full, that all her eager preparations to enter some learned society where people were absorbed in art and lofty abstractions—as this had proved a disappointment when she found that none of these accomplishments or ideals were needed, so now she found that her keenness to build up a home, to merge herself into the position of wife and mother, to try and forget she was a woman earning money and to live quietly on her husband's small salary, so this had proved a failure too.

She was back at the point where all the money there was was what she earned, otherwise there was not a halfpenny. She knew, too, by exceedingly bitter experience, that this money could not possibly bring them happiness. It was all crooked, ill-balanced.

She felt sure that her husband was beginning to dislike her, as her mother had begun to dislike her. It would be wrong, a grievance, if she were to be the breadwinner. Useless to hand her earnings over to him and try to forget whose they were. The affront could not be glossed over.

As they wished to leave the scene of their disappointment and humiliation, and as Margaret could not endure to return to London confessing failure, taking up the old, weary, tedious life where she had left off, they decided to go to Florence in the spring, for they wished to live as cheaply as possible. They took the upper part of a house in a large villa farm on the heights by Santa Margherita, perhaps two miles outside the city.

This house stood in considerable grounds that ran up and down a slope that was richly planted with all manner of fruit trees and vegetables. The house itself was a quadrangle, one side of which faced a large terrace on which was an enormous lime tree. Along the stone coping of the terrace were tubs planted with lemon and orange bushes, and below the terrace the ground sloped, covered with peach trees, cherry trees, and mulberries, towards a small valley. From this on the other side the ground rose abruptly to rolling heights covered with olives and vineyards grown terrace-fashion, and at the top of these heights was a magnificent group of cypress trees that shadowed a small church and graveyard.

Margaret had the four rooms on the first floor that overlooked this terrace. That at the corner had two windows: leaning out of the side window of this room one could see into a luminous distance as far as Vallombrosa.

The family occupied the ground floor and the other three sides of the quadrangle, one of which contained a considerable sized chapel.

In the centre of this courtyard were gardenias and camellias growing in clumps, with lumps of cork laid along the soil. Nothing at first glance could seem more romantic and beautiful than this, but Margaret never really liked it, partly, perhaps, because her circumstances were not happy.

The place itself had many drawbacks. The rooms inside were dark and most uncomfortable, the furniture stiff and worn, the bed of an intolerable hardness and the mattress seemed stuffed with balls of paper. It was, too, infected by mosquitoes. The room at the angle was fitted up as a kitchen and got all the sun and there was no possible way of making provision for keeping food.

Elisa, who had accompanied them from Tuscany, had a small room next this kitchen. These two rooms looked down to the bottom of a slope where the peasants, who worked the estate on the almost feudal system prevalent in Tuscany, lived.

Their huts were kept in a state of abject wretchedness, and the peasants' miserable poverty was a constant distress and reproach. They received no payments but these huts and a share of the products in return for their labours. The system seemed to be a bad one, at least as it worked out here. The crushing penury of these wretched people and the arrogance of those who lived in the big house, a father and daughter, were in painful contrast.

There was much bitter counting of every cherry or pear, of every artichoke or olive, much acrimonious disputing as to the various quantities of oil and wine obtained. All the water had to be fetched up from the bottom of the slope to the house, and it was not pleasant to see the women, gaunt and thin, bowed under the laden pails. Margaret tried to economise as best she could to avoid asking for more.

The heat was intense, and so was the loneliness. No one seemed to come near the place. The master spent his days down in Florence, where he did his bargaining. The products left the farm early in the morning and rattled down by Michael Angelo's fortifications to the market-place in low, rude, tumbrel-like carts.

The only person left in the house was the daughter, a young, pretty, but rapidly-ageing and sour woman whose great joy seemed to be her stock of linen. In the long blazing afternoons she would bring out her piles of sheets and pillow-cases tied up with pink and blue ribbon and rearrange and re-tie them on the wall coping beneath the great lime trees.

Once Margaret went down to visit her. The ground-floor room had iron bars and was incredibly dark and stuffy, and across the perfect view of Vallombrosa was, stuck full in the window, a vase that contained dusty, pink paper roses.

Margaret's own rooms were her despair. Where she had lived hitherto she had always been able to contrive something with the whitewashed walls and the pleasant Italian pottery, but here the walls were a sickly green colour and peeled in parts; there were prints of Garibaldi, King Vittorio Emmanuele stuck round with which nothing could be done; there was no place to stand them if one took them from the walls, and Margaret was given to understand that great offence would be caused if she removed them.

Shopping was a difficulty. Not a leaf of salad or a single fruit could be bought from the farm, the produce of which had been dealt with in large quantities, and Elisa had to walk a long way before she could obtain her red handkerchief full of sufficient food for the day. Milk and meat it was impossible to keep; the one was soured, the other tainted before it reached the house.

Margaret, on an uncomfortable chair at an uncomfortable table, very much exhausted from the heat, had to write in the small bedroom with the dark-green walls that she did not like. She tried not to think too much about her present situation or about the future. The whole summer seemed doomed, haunted. There was a great deal of sickness in the neighbouring villages, and the bells in the little church across the valley were continually tolling, and often there would be funeral processions by torchlight, the flames flickering in and out the tall cypress trees.

Her husband was exceedingly nervous and violent-tempered. When the bell tolled he used to go into the courtyard and try and get away from the sound, and when there was a funeral taking place across the valley he would sit at the cracked piano and bang out a waltz to distract himself.

He had always been so gay and so self-assured that she wondered at this change in him. His health was now better, now worse, and he went to doctors in Florence. Whatever they told him, he never gave her a satisfactory report. His cough was continuous, in her ears day and night, fretting him to the bone.

Could nothing be done? She began to think of a return to England. Somehow they must get away from this kind of life. He was doing nothing; Florence was empty in the summer, but he had acquaintances there and would go down and spend hours tinkering with a motor-cycle or discussing some hopeless financial project with stray acquaintances.

Often, too, they went for long journeys by motor-cycle, Margaret in the side-car. Some of these she liked, she saw places that were pleasant or strange. Twice she had bad accidents, once being thrown out of the side-car and knocked unconscious for several hours. For weeks afterwards she could not raise her right arm, but she had no pain and it was not necessary to go to a doctor. Twice she had been very near death—once through the overdose of laudanum and once through this accident. It was strange, then, for her to think how once she had feared death and lain awake in the night as a child, drawing the sheets up over her face while she sweated in terror at the thought of coffins, funerals and churchyards.

But now death had twice, unexpectedly, almost come upon her and she had not been afraid at all. Indeed, she was so weary, filled with so many premonitions of the future, that she wished for it, not from any motive of sensational or melodramatic despair, but merely because she was tired and knew now that she had been tired for a good many years, and she would like to have rested.

Once when she sat at the window overlooking the valley and the church bells were tolling she began to cry. She had not cried for how long she could not remember, but she cried then long and passionately, for no reason at all that she could think of. Her husband was alarmed and tried in vain to console her, but nothing could stay her tears until she was completely exhausted. It may have been weakness due to the great heat and the sleepless nights, for the bed was so uncomfortable and the room so hot, the mosquitoes so insistent, that she was existing almost without sleep.

A few days later she was down in Florence with her husband—they used to go down on the motor-cycle, as it was a long walk even to where the trams stopped. The heat was intolerable. It was an intensely hot summer even for Florence, and the city was empty, many of the shops closed, and only a few beggars hanging about and a few officials who had to remain there, and who could not be seen except at midday in the cafés. The rest of the time they worked behind sun-blinds in the houses on which the heat danced in a golden dazzle.

Margaret never could recall much of that momentous day, save hearing some talk in the cafés between the men who were eating their macaroni there, rumours of this and that, for she knew nothing whatever of what was going on in the world. Her own small existence in its own small surroundings had been all she had known for some years now. She never saw a newspaper.

But now her husband said to her: "We'd better see what it is all about." And she felt a tremor as if some great evil were approaching.

They went to the office of a large newspaper; there was a small crowd gathered round the window; on this was pasted a little typewritten notice. England had declared war on Germany.

They went back to their rooms in the farm to think over what this would mean to them; they discussed what they should do.

Margaret believed that at last she was going to have a child. She was not sure of this and dare not speak to anyone and that it should come at such a moment as this held her stunned with bewilderment and terror.

They decided that they would return to England; there was a little money in the bank, enough for that, for a cheque had come in only a few days before. But when they went down to Florence the next day they saw how foolish their plans had been. All the travel agencies were besieged, no trains were running further than Bordeaux. There were no boats either. There was a ship leaving Genoa that could take a few passengers at some sum like fifty pounds a head, and these places were already taken.

They visited such acquaintances as they had in Florence, and the British Consul. Nobody had any patience with them. Did they not realise what had happened? It was war! No one knew which way Italy would go, for she was bound by an alliance to Austria. Margaret realised for the first time that she was an Italian subject, she had lost her British nationality. It was, then, quite hopeless for her to think of returning to England.

The banks stopped payment almost at once. By going every day you could obtain a few liras for your daily expenses, no more. It might be that you would never see your capital again.

What was to be done? How to live? How to obtain any kind of work?

The first sacrifice was Elisa. She protested that she would stay without money, and Margaret knew that this offer was sincere. But there was the question of feeding her, and the responsibility. There was talk of food rationing and in her own village Elisa would get her share. She would be safer there, too, among her own people and relatives than stranded in Florence, which was, to her, like a foreign country. So, with much distress on the part of Margaret and agony on the part of Elisa, they parted.

This left Margaret with the entire work of the uncomfortable rooms.

It was difficult to buy food on the few liras allowed, certainly impossible to buy anything else. All prices went up.

The rent of the rooms had been paid until the end of September. After that—the future was chaos.

It was impossible to obtain news. The Italian papers, when they could be secured, gave wild and contradictory accounts of foreign affairs and were mostly occupied by internal politics.

There were riots in Florence, people marching about with the red flag, troops of carabinieri galloping by with an air of purposeless fury.

Margaret wrote home desperately to her people, to her business connections, but she was warned that her letters, if they ever reached their destinations, would be weeks on the way.

The epidemic of infectious fever in this suburb of Florence increased. Two of the children died in the hovels where the peasants who worked the farm lived. The bells seemed never to cease tolling in the little church opposite. The sense of inaction, of being doomed and trapped, was intolerable. If only she could do something!

She began to be more and more certain that she was going to have a child.

The people who kept the farm had always been reserved, though friendly, but a man and his wife who used to visit them were pleasant, cheerful people and they were kind enough to enquire what was going to happen to the Englishwoman so strangely stranded in Florence. They were themselves going to Milan, where the man had some kind of a business, and they offered a little house in Florence for next to no rent or no rent at all, and the woman said she would come and stay there as often as she could.

Margaret was for eagerly accepting this hospitality; it was the first kindness of this sort that she had received. The woman was so charming and so amiable, and seemed really so sorry—not that there was any reason why anyone should pity Margaret when there was such misery abroad. But she was very grateful in her loneliness and isolation.

Her husband, however, refused the offer. He said that they must go to Sicily, to his people.

No prospect could have been more revolting to Margaret. The father and sister had written insisting that they should return to what, after all, was the son's home. It seemed the natural thing for Margaret to do, as she could not get to England. She knew that kindness and friendliness were awaiting her there and it was her own fault that the prospect seemed so detestable.

So Margaret, with millions of other helpless and inoffensive creatures, was thrown like a leaf before the wind, knowing little of what was going on in the world about her and nothing of what was before her. She hoped—but she knew it to be a vain and desperate hope—that Sicily might present itself under a more pleasant and friendly aspect this time. And she was relieved to escape the great heat.

By the time they had packed their few possessions and travelled south, it was October and the air, though always, to Margaret's nostrils at least, sulphurous and gassy, was not tainted by that brassy, metallic odour that she remembered from the previous summer.

Her husband's people were most kind. She was a stranger to them as they were to her, but all they had to offer they offered, and she found herself lodged in the floor of what had been a palace in the market-square of the very old city, the city older than Rome, where her husband's people lived.

There were not so many of these left, and they were mostly elderly. The property and the land were passing from the hands of that family to those of another into which one of the uncles had married.

She pleaded that she might have some place of her own and not be forced to accept the hospitality of one of her relatives. It would be, she knew, impossible for her to fit in any way into the pattern of their lives.

These households were, from an Englishwoman's point of view, extremely inefficiently run. The mistress was always accompanied by a large number of servants, peasant-women, who seemed completely untrained. They moved in a troop from one room to another, all herding together.

The mistresses were mostly illiterate, they could not read or write, although their families were old and their pretensions high. And many of the menfolk were extremely cultured and well educated. It was simply not worth while for the elder women to trouble about these accomplishments, though some of the younger ones were fairly well educated.

They never went abroad save on Sunday to the Mass, when they wore black shawls or mantillas. They managed to make their housework last almost the entire day; they were always unpunctual with meals, and always complaining in monotones about the difficulty of this and that domestic arrangement. And with some reason, too. Nothing could have been more awkward or uncomfortable than these grandiose and pretentious houses with their fine Spanish balconies and minarets made of coloured stone.

Every drop of water had to be fetched up from a spring at the foot of the rock on which the town stood and it was sold in the streets for a halfpenny a small vaseful. Sometimes when the men and mules were in an ill mood they would not go down and fetch the water, and there would be none for a couple of days or so. There had been a scheme for bringing new water into the town from Biblical times.

Shops there were none, though a few stalls for the sale of vegetables and fruit were open now and then. People kept their own poultry, mostly in a filthy condition, in the cellars underneath the houses.

A troop of goats with a great ringing of bells wandered through the streets every morning. The animals were taken to the doors of the houses and there milked. Everyone had some kind of property outside the town, and from this would come great pomegranates, Indian figs and quinces. The flour was of that intolerable kind called polenta supplied by maize. This was ground in people's own kitchens, mixed into a paste and baked. Baking day was only about once a month and the bread, for two or three days after the baking, was just eatable; afterwards it became completely hard. It was kept in large linen bags hung on a hook in the kitchen.

The cooking was done over flat charcoal fires in braziers, the charcoal was made largely of charred nut-shells. Some kind of composition coal made out of coal-dust mixed with earth was also in use. This was put into old petrol cans in which holes had been punched, like a watchman's fire.

For the most part the huge houses, many of them Spanish palaces, once the residences of wealthy nobles, were very cold, and the Sicilian winter proved bitter. A wind with an edge like a knife blew down from Etna, and to step into the streets was to have one's teeth chattering. The houses, all shaken out of plumb-line by the constant earthquake tremors, were full of draughts. There was not a door or window in the place that fitted, and if a pane of glass became broken it was a long time before anyone could be found to replace it.

What the men did all day Margaret could never understand.

When the women had somehow muddled through their housework they would sit about drinking coffee, tiny glasses of native cognac, the younger ones perhaps playing the guitar or telling fortunes from a pack of cards. They gossiped continually and spitefully, as people turned in on themselves are bound to do. The smallest, most trivial happening of their daily life was discussed with avidity and passing from mouth to mouth became something of importance.

There seemed to be, though Margaret never penetrated below the surface, a great number of family feuds, jealousies and tragedies.

These poor women, none of whom had ever left their native town, were really profoundly bored. Some of them seemed to be almost dying of lassitude, yet they had, especially the older ones-the mothers—a powerful influence over the men, who affected so to despise them and kept them shut away not only from public life but almost from the light of day, for the houses were shuttered and curtained so that they could not possibly be overlooked.

To these women maternity was a mere commonplace. The birth of children, the death of children, happened every day in the hateful island. Infant life was cheap.

Margaret soon sensed their attitude. Pride and reserve made her feign to know as much as they did about the matter. She concealed her stupid ignorance and tried to be not only brave but gay. She had to remind herself continually of the war in Europe, of which only the faintest echoes were heard here, in the fears and lamentations of the people not knowing what fate would overtake them. Only a few signs of the war were to be seen in the increasing pinching poverty both of country and townsfolk who depended on various trades now hard hit. There were fears for the next lemon and orange market because it would not be possible to obtain the wood from Austria to make boxes, and many of the people earned their living by putting ornamental designs in mother-of-pearl into musical instruments manufactured in Germany.

Margaret knew, however, that these distresses were but trifling compared to what people must be enduring in Europe. She was shut off from all news; relatives and friends in England sent her papers, but only now and then did one of these come through. Letters, too, were scarce; she heard from home perhaps two or three times during her stay in Sicily.

She found it difficult to be unselfish enough to rejoice in the fact that she was in comparative safety and comparative comfort, for everything about her was hateful. Nor could she really appreciate the kindness of the people who surrounded her, so alien did she feel from all and so incapable were they of understanding her, of sensing her reserve, her fastidiousness, her passionate homesickness, not for any particular country but for another set of conditions.

Her sister-in-law was sickly and her father-in-law distressed by family embroilments, but she liked these two people and drew quite close to them. Only they lived some distance off and she did not see them very often. The old man, particularly, seemed to understand her; she would often see him looking at her with the deepest tenderness and kindness. But he seemed helpless before the onslaught of the womenfolk whose business this approaching maternity was.

The discomfort of the apartment seemed to Margaret appalling, almost overwhelming. She could not obtain any assistance beyond that of a rough and, as it seemed to her, half-witted peasant-girl, who did not seem to know what the word cleanliness meant. Margaret often laughed out loud in the midst of her miseries at the romantic accounts by popular novelists of life in Sicily, and of the keen, zestful devotion of the peasants. She supposed that she had been unlucky.

The enormous sitting-room, almost as big as a ball-room, was paved with marble and lit by three tall windows that opened on to a balcony. There were no curtains to these, and, worse still, they became so dirty and, there being no one prepared to clean them, Margaret attempted it herself, standing on a chair when the dusk fell.

Cooking had to be done in another marble-paved room on a brazier, or a petrol-can filled with composite coal. And there was very little to cook. An attic in which the coal, dried fish, and various other household oddments were kept held the stone jars that served for every kind of sanitation. There was no sink, and all the cooking refuse had to be carried up and left in the attic until someone was disposed to take it away.

Margaret was thankful that it was winter-time and the fear of infection less alarming. Never in her most melancholy and pessimistic moments had she imagined that she would have to bear a child and bring it up in such a place as this.

Still, there it was, and her fate might have been worse. She was spurred on by a desire to put on a good front before the foreign women, who regarded her with an apathetic curiosity and who did not, she thought, like her very much.

She seemed, in this atmosphere, to have lost touch with her husband, who seemed absorbed with his own people and their troubles and grievances. She gathered that family disputes were going on, but she so well knew the futility of these from her own experience that she did not interfere, and remained aloof.

There seemed to be one or two pretty scoundrels in the family who had made the common fortunes fly. But all this, as far as she could understand it, seemed trivial and empty to Margaret.

Although women were not supposed to go out, even with an escort, save to Mass, and no women wearing a hat had ever been seen in the town, Margaret did contrive to go out—sometimes with her father-in-law, sometimes with her husband—with a black shawl over her head and walk round the ramparts of the town and look over the incredibly bleak and desolate country that rolled towards Etna and down into the plains where the goatherds lived, even in the summer when the malaria was endemic.

She tried to catch some romantic mood of the place, but it was all so antipathetic to her that not only could she get nothing from it but there was something about the atmosphere that stunned her own thoughts and fancies. She tried in vain to think of the things that had always brought her consolation, and in particular the two countries—France and the Netherlands-in which she had always taken such delight and into whose history, scenery, people and art she had probed so deeply. She could remember the facts, but they brought her no consolation.

She tried to think of books, pictures, of delightful experiences, but they all remained dead in the memory, no longer living flowers but dried skeletons of stems and leaves pressed between the pages of a book.

Grand thoughts were all very well, memories of old ideals and keen resolutions did help, but the discomfort, the cold, the dirt, constant warfare with these enemies sapped Margaret's strength and lowered her spirits.

She came to the pass where she would have been thankful for a word or two, not merely with an English person but even with an Italian. A Tuscan would have seemed like an old friend. She did not, and it seemed never could, understand these Sicilians, at once violently barbaric and superciliously refined, passing from gloom to fury, living disdainfully among such appalling disorder and seeming to enjoy, in a sullen fashion, that utter idleness which, to Margaret, was not only abhorrent but a kind of damnation.

All her activities were checked, however. She with difficulty found the time and the paper with which to write, for the women were always about her, gazing at her with languid eyes, asking casual questions. They had not been able, any of them, to understand that she wrote and earned money thereby. This was quite outside their comprehension; they believed that her husband must have made the money on which they were living and there was some jealousy in the family about it. Why was it that they did not share more generously in the large fortune he seemed to have made in England?

Margaret wrote blindly, too; she did not know if her manuscripts reached London, but she had to make an attempt. And she knew that before long they would be needing more money, and this would be their only way of obtaining it. There were those at home on her mind, too.

For years, ever since she was a small girl playing with a rare and precious rag doll, she had wanted to make children's clothes, and since she had been married she had planned lavish outfits for any possible child. She had been too shy to prepare these before and helpless at getting the materials in a strange country.

Now, by an irony that made her laugh, though bitterly, the moment had arrived when this task was permissible, but it was delegated to others. Without a word to her the sister-in-law and the aunts procured yards and yards of fine linen which they hemmed and sewed and embroidered. It lay in piles about the floor; this seemed their one art. Regardless of meal-times or the disorder about them, they plied their delicate needles on the embroidered hems.

Margaret understood it was the outfit for her child. She begged that she might be allowed to help them, but all agreed that she did not know the customs or the way to make the swaddling bands.

Swaddling bands they were, and Margaret now learned that it was the custom in this part of Sicily to wrap babies up like mummies for the first six months of their lives. When she protested, it was pointed out-with some justice—that there were a great many tall, fine and healthy people in the island, therefore it could not be as unhygienic as she, in her English arrogance, had supposed.

She had to give in, though with a definite pang about the making of the clothes, but she resolved not to give in about the swaddling when the moment came.

There were interesting things to be seen from the balcony that overlooked the square, but Margaret would rather not have seen them. They were all touched, for her, by the fantasy of nightmare.

There was a feast-day when an enormous chariot loaded with statues, choir-boys, wreaths, draperies and flags was carried on poles by about a hundred sweating men followed by hysterical crowds and heaved with enormous difficulty up the steps into the church.

There was another feast-day when a statue from that church and one from another were brought and made to kiss in the centre of the market-place amidst frenzied shouts of "Christ greets his Mother." Margaret remembered the card with the picture of God and Christ on it that had been put into her prayer-book in the Carmelite church. Was this the same God?

On another occasion the Holy Sacrament was carried across the square to some dying person. It was a pouring wet day with bitter winds lashing the water against the panes of Margaret's window, but everyone who chanced to be in the square went on their knees and as Margaret was standing by the window, her aunt-in-law, who was by her, told her to do the same lest anyone should glance up and see her.

The priest was dirty and ragged, there was a rent in the lace gown, and the boy who was holding the umbrella over his head looked stupid.

Once there was a festive affair, when cheapjacks set up their stalls and men from Malta, who seemed despised by Sicilians—Margaret did not know why—wandered about trying to sell various objects. Strange and magnificent-looking peasants came up from the Pianura. They looked like stage pirates, with red handkerchiefs round their heads, enormous gold ear-rings, clean-shaven faces with small side-whiskers, and huge frocked coats heavy with braid, dark green and dark blue, that had been in their families for generations.

There were constant fights in the square, between the inhabitants-most of whom seemed to be utterly lawless—and officialdom, represented by the carabinieri. The officer in charge of these carabinieri was a Neapolitan, a race that seemed to be particularly detested by the Sicilians, though to a foreigner the differences between them were difficult to discern.

Once Margaret saw a comic episode in which a Sicilian jeered at a carabiniere because of his uniform, bidding him take it off and fight it out man to man. This the Neapolitan did, tearing off hat, coat and even the stripes from his trousers. Then, in his shirt and torn trousers, he and the man whom he was trying to arrest fought it out in the midst of an enormous crowd.

The people were forbidden by law to carry knives, but found many devices to do so, hiding them in their shoes or stockings. Once there was a murder, the clatter of hoofs on the cobbles at night told of the carabinieri galloping across the square in pursuit of the murderer.

The weather was bitterly cold. Never in England had Margaret experienced such venomous winds as those which swept down from Etna. Who had deceived her with stories of soft Sicilian winters? It was only tolerable in the great marble-flagged salon when one crouched directly over the pan of charcoal.

There was no privacy. Her husband's relatives came in and out of the apartment as they wished, and often stood there in groups gossiping together and ignoring her.

They lamentably lacked cheerfulness and when Margaret laughed at the sheer grotesqueness of it all they thought her a little mad.

They were generous in their fashion and constantly brought presents, cake made of lees of wine, Marsala, like syrup so thick that a spoon would almost stand upright in it, and the quince marmalade that Margaret remembered seeing in the shops of Palermo, and quinces themselves from the estate; these were cooked in the charcoal brazier and invariably turned out to be rotten inside. Agriculture, like everything else in the island, was neglected, and it was difficult to find sound fruit.

Margaret's great consolation at this time was the French bulldog, Punch, that she had brought with her from Italy. The most docile and amiable of animals, he fitted into this strange life with the greatest courtesy, quite happy as long as he could be with his mistress and living on such scraps of meat and bread soaked in goat's milk as could be procured for him.

Such was Margaret's condition when her first child was born. Of the future she dared not think; it was as if a blank wall was in front of her and only receded a few inches day by day.

Her early upbringing, her knowledge of privation, helped her at this juncture. Had she been delicately bred or pampered in her youth, she surely must have died. She had so early in her life learned to control her disgust and her fastidiousness, her inward shudders and horrors, that she was able to put this through with some show of courage and even cheerfulness.

But both left her at the moment itself. This was an experience of which she could never speak or write. It haunted her for years afterwards, coming in and out of her dreams with terrifying frequency. She had in everything to submit to the customs of her husband's people. The womenfolk closed round her; her suggestion that she should have a doctor was regarded as almost immoral and she was delivered over to a wise woman who had every appearance of being a witch and whose knowledge of superstitions, of incantations, of good and bad omens was only equalled by her complete ignorance of medicine and hygiene.

One of her most cherished theories was that if a woman touched her face during childbirth the baby would be born marked on the cheek and brow where the mother's fingers had pressed her own features. When Margaret showed a tendency to do this she was strapped by her feet to the bottom of the bed and by her hands to the top of the bed, which gave to the whole proceeding, to her imagination at least, the likeness of the torture chamber.

And such it was indeed to her; the whole thing unreal in its terror. The only thing that gave her some fortitude was the necessity of keeping up the credit of her nation before the Sicilian women who stood by the bed chattering and gossiping.

The child was a girl. When, swaddled in the white bandages she had seen these foreign women sew, it was placed in her arms, the greatest ambition and hope of Tier life were fulfilled. But she cared nothing for it. The child was like a doll and she was so weak and humiliated that she only wanted to die.

This desire was nearly fulfilled, for she was left entirely alone and must have become delirious. She thought she was walking in a kind of tawny light through wastes of high water carrying the baby, when suddenly there was a blaze of white light and something icy-cold struck her face.

This brought her to her senses and she found that she was on the balcony holding the child and staring down into the empty market-square. The moonlight was powerful, it looked artificial like the limelight on the stage-it was the cold wind and this bright light that had brought her to herself.

She crept back to bed, but the visions did not leave her. One in particular haunted her; it was as powerful as the one she had had in the haunted house at St. John's Wood when she had seen the medicine bottle hovering in the air. This time it was a head, partially decayed, of a youngish man with flowing hair, that floated in a dark sea; whenever she shut her eyes this came before her vision.

She supposed afterwards that she had been very ill. She used to see the sister sitting before the bed and crying, and the father's anxious face, and her husband on his knees, crying too. But it was all so unreal and nothing seemed to matter.

She recovered and tried to take up her housekeeping in the chilly apartments and to look after the baby as well. She had no perambulator or cot for it, though a basket had been lent her, with the stern reminder that it was the custom to strap babies to boards and cushions and that cots were not required.

This she had fought against, and was supported, strangely enough, by her husband, for he seemed in everything to have reverted to his native ideas. She had won that battle. The baby was not swaddled; but it had, however, to be wrapped in the chilly linen, for she had nothing else. She had not the pleasure of making it a single cap.

She did not know how to look after it properly, but her ignorance was not a great drawback, for there was no means of doing anything according to the English fashion. She nursed the child herself and tried to recapture some of those dreams of almost frenzied delight with which she had looked forward to children, a family, a nursery, a home.

This was, indeed, a caricature of what she had imagined.

It was a lovely child, but Margaret was too weak and dispirited to feel all the pride and pleasure she ought to have felt. She was with the baby night and day, there seemed no one who could relieve her with it, for she would not trust it to her sister-in-law, much less to the servants. She knew that all these well-meaning women were completely incompetent and, in her sense of the word, not clean.

Margaret had now one definite desire. She summoned up all her inner reserves and energy and fortitude to achieve it. She must take her child back to England.

Her husband was willing enough to go. He seemed to have wearied of his own people, and he used every effort to discover some means for the three of them to return to England.

For a long while this was not possible; the only offer was that of passages on some ships that went from a Sicilian port to the Manchester Canal. This was cheap but would be uncomfortable and there was the risk, Margaret was warned, of submarines, and it was one she could not take for the sake of the child, though for herself she would have taken it gladly just to be rid of the island.

They left the little hill-town finally and went to Catania. Margaret's business friends in London had sent her quite a sum of money—about eighty pounds. She resolved to spend this—every halfpenny, if need be—in getting back to England, not only for her child's sake but because she saw that it would be almost impossible for her to earn her living in war-time and at such a distance from London.

The hotel in which she lived in Catania was bitterly uncomfortable. Her husband was out all day, either with his friends or trying to find some means to get home, and Margaret sat alone with the baby in the rooms that seemed as deep as wells, listening to the chattering and the quarrelling of the people in the hotel, watching the sordid street scenes from the dirty window.

Her idleness was now complete; she had no means of doing anything; there was not so much as a paper or pamphlet to read. She might have occupied herself in the baby's service, but had no materials or appliances for this. All she had for a cradle were two pillows arranged on her bed and she dare not leave the child for a second for fear she fell off.

Her one pleasure was that, with all these disadvantages, the baby thrived. She began to anticipate with the keenest joy the day when she should take her to England. Surely then at last she could, on at least some modest scale, achieve a home and a nursery. And having nothing else to do she would sit by the hour planning out the child's future, how she would watch it growing up and make it a happier woman than she had been, save her from some of the troubles that had come her way.

There was a severe scare of an earthquake. People talked about the one years ago at Messina, and there was a panic in the streets, while in the church that Margaret could see from her hotel window, the sacrament was exposed day and night in the porch. The sky turned a dun colour and seemed to hang low over the city. There were constant rumblings and the ledges of the windows were covered with a thick ash. Everyone seemed to reconcile themselves at once to the most terrible death. Margaret wondered how people could be found to live in such an island, cursed with a constant dread of such calamity. It was easy to understand that anyone would panic in such a hideous darkness, in which there was only sufficient lurid glow to see the terror on the faces of the shrieking, fleeing people.

One day the alarm became so acute that everyone fled from the hotel. Margaret could not go because of the child; she had now grown so heavy and Margaret was still so feeble that she could not carry her more than a few yards. She thought that if the worst came to the worst she would put her under the bed and curl herself around her with the cushions. She had heard of children being saved that way.

And as she sat there in that solitary gloom, quite alone, she wondered, with a good deal of irony, if she were destined ever to return to England. She thought perhaps she had always loathed Sicily because it was meant to be the scene of her early grave.

The earthquake and its terror passed, however, and at last, when the baby was about three months old, they were able to set out for England. That journey was a continuous torment.

Margaret had to carry her baby herself all the way, look after her entirely; she was never for as much as half an hour either out of her arms or away from her side. Everyone was preoccupied, excited, a little alarmed, many people were frenzied or hysterical. Who cared for one woman and one baby when the world was at war?

Margaret was fully aware of her own insignificance; she should not have been travelling. Such accommodation as could be got in trains and hotels was bad and extremely expensive.

They reached Rome after five days' tedious travelling in slow trains that were constantly being run on to sidings. At Rome they stayed at a fairly good hotel that Margaret remembered from the old days, and there she felt like an outcast. War or no war, the Hebe was brightly lit and well run and there were well-appointed men in uniforms and women in evening dress.

The people seemed not only to be enduring but enjoying the war. There was music and laughter, and Margaret, in her bedraggled clothes and the baby in her arms, felt like a camp follower. The women looked at her with a curiosity that seemed hostile and she agreed in her heart that they were right; she had no business to be there.

She could not face the public rooms, but in her bedroom she had some luxuries—a little warm water and a cake of soap procured from the chambermaid, who helped her bath the baby and said how charming she was with her large black eyes and little close curls. Margaret felt the world give a jerk and begin to move on again. Here, at least, was civilisation. In these surroundings one could face anything.

The bed was clean and comfortable, the baby slept soundly in a cot brought by the chambermaid. Margaret felt life running into her body and soul again; she began to be touched by the old dreams, dared to indulge old hopes. The warmth, comfort and cleanliness raised all her native optimism.

She promised the baby that they should have a home yet. Why should not their lives, after all, turn out well? The war might end; for all she knew, she might again be able to earn a good living. Her husband might recover; no wonder that, agitated, harassed as he was, he was often ill.

He might find work and they might build up a home as she had always imagined—a kind of Christmas-card, fairy-tale home, with father, mother, children and a nursery, people coming home in the evening and sitting round the fire, and the children's bedtime, and going upstairs to them to say good night. And all the other enchanting littlenesses that women most prize.

After this short respite the journey was continued. Margaret had hoped for comfort, if not luxury, when travelling across France, for at great expense they had engaged sleeping compartments. Trouble, however, met them there; the attendant did not wish to allow the baby into the wagon-lit. "People have paid to sleep," he said, "and the child is sure to cry all night." Margaret had also paid to sleep and perhaps was as much in need of this as others who were so ready to complain.

She said she would sit up all night and nurse the child and see that it did not cry. She kept her word, but it was a strange experience crouching on the edge of the berth, rocking the baby in her arms, knowing that the noise and the close atmosphere were bad for her, longing so desperately to get her some peace and quiet. As the child did not cry, Margaret feared it was drugged by the stale atmosphere.

People walked up and down the corridor until quite late, smoking and talking loudly. All this was permitted, but a baby must not be heard crying.

Margaret was without her dog; she had had to leave the beloved Punch behind in the little Sicilian town, but she was not altogether unhappy about that because a neighbour had taken a great fancy to him and she had given him up several weeks before she had left Sicily so that he could become used to the new home. And her last vision of him was a pleasant one—he had been trotting behind his new master. His life was not likely to be a long one, he was not a young dog and the summer would probably be too much for him. But she had done what she could; she had written out the prescription the Florentine chemist had given her for the spinach and drops of arsenic in the hot weather, and the young man who had taken him seemed friendly and kind.

She thought of the little dog now as she sat up in the French railway train, and it added another pang to her sense of forlornness that the charming animal would never be part of the new home she still hoped to make.

The journey was long and broken, the train was constantly put on a siding as troop trains passed. Margaret began to see the war at closer quarters. A nun with a box on which was a green cross came into the train collecting money for the wounded; men in uniform were in large numbers at every station they passed through. It was well for Margaret that Italy had "joined" Great Britain, otherwise her home-coming would have been indeed impossible.

She had been foolish enough to write to her mother about her return, with the result that, greatly to her discomfiture, old Nana was sent to Paris to meet her. Every effort had been made to have the poor woman escorted by someone who chanced to be going on business to France, and there she was in the French hotel, frightened, pasty-faced, tight-lipped and incapable, not of the least use to Margaret, who loathed, too, the idea of passing again under her thraldom.

Nana's first remark, too, on seeing the baby laid on Margaret's bed was one of brutal unkindness—"She is not nearly as large or as pretty as your sister was at her age." Poor Nana was reverting to her own baby, her cherished nursery, but, harsh and self-conscious, she refused to help. "My ways are old-fashioned. I've forgotten what to do about a baby."

So she stood there, awkward and grim, while Margaret washed the child and prepared it for bed. This was the last touch of nightmare, to see Nana again on her trail, that ominous and grim figure who, though pleasant and cosy at times, was really associated with all the worst misfortunes of her childhood.

It was dismal in Paris. Dark blue blinds were drawn over the hotel windows, the sound of the enemy's guns was incessant, nearly all the shops were closed.

With Nana, scared, hostile, yet still full of curiosity, to look after as well as the baby, Margaret at last arrived in England on a cold February day in the year 1915.

Her mother and sister were in the same block of flats where she had seen them last, but they had moved down to one in the basement. There was no accommodation for her husband, who had to take a room outside, but she was fitted into the sitting-room; her baby could have a bed on chairs.

Her mother and sister were the same; nothing seemed to have altered in their emotional, highly-strung, and disordered lives. No good fortune had come their way; the years were passing and with them much that they had liked and desired. They were caught up in the war fever, and full of a passionate fury against the enemy that Margaret, who had lived so long among foreigners, found it impossible to understand.

They had also decided her affairs for her in her absence. Nana was to remain with her and look after the child. This was not a solely disinterested offer; the three women had been shut up together too long and Nana had outgrown her usefulness. Margaret did not want her as a nurse, but at the moment it seemed hopeless to resist. Later on she would have to go, but at present she was somebody to stay with the child when the mother might have a little rest or do some work. And Margaret knew that, up to a certain point, old Nana was reliable; but only to a certain point; she had to be carefully watched.

The journey back to England had taken nearly all Margaret's money, but she still had a few pounds left and she went out almost the first day she was home and bought a perambulator.

The uncomfortable arrangements at the flat could not endure for long, and through friends Margaret hired a furnished cottage belonging to an artist in a Kentish village near where some of her father's relatives lived.

This was a delightful interlude, although it was still, as it must be, a time of anxiety and privation. But here there was peace, and there was kindness, here was sympathy and commiseration. The little cottage had a fairy-tale air, an old servant was in charge of it, the rooms were pretty.

Thrust into this quiet decent atmosphere, Nana showed of her best, though her gluttony in time of war was always besetting and tiresome. She could not help eating any food there might be about the place.

The baby had her cradle and perambulator and Margaret was able to scrape together enough money to buy a few pieces of stuff to make some clothes. She was almost happy, though it seemed wrong to feel even slightly happy when there was so much misery and suffering abroad. One could hear the guns in Flanders almost all day long.

Still she could not help that satisfaction in her own fortunes. Her publishers had generously agreed to continue publishing some of her books and pay her, not what she had been earning before but sufficient for her to live on herself and to help others.

Her great anxiety was her husband's health. He seemed, and had seemed for some time, a stranger to her. She did not think she could ever regard him even with the degree of feeling she had once felt towards him since she had seen him with his own people against his own background. But his touching love for and passionate devotion to the little girl were a strong claim on her own tenderest affection. They had that great bond in common, that and their eager intention to build up some kind of a home and family.

The long-drawn-out winter suited him ill, his cough returned with great violence, there were more visits to more doctors, more medicines and more advice. They looked for a house that they might furnish, very modestly and quietly, in the country until the war was over.

Margaret knew that her husband's plan to do poultry and fruit-farming was not very hopeful, but at least it seemed it would not prove very costly, or so she thought, and would keep him occupied. They found at last, through the kindness of friends, a large modernised farm-house standing on a ridge of cliffs looking down to the marsh where once the sea had beaten on the coast.

The question of furniture arose. Margaret had no money with which to buy this, but she could pay the arrears of rent due on that which her mother had stored when she had left the haunted house in St. John's Wood. Here was another of those ironic touches that gave Margaret a hearty laugh at herself. When she had left that house she had hoped never to see it or anything in it again. But here was the old stuff, badly packed, dirty, stained and broken, dragged down by road from London and delivered to her to make a home. Some of it had to be burnt in a bonfire in the orchard, the residue was patched up and cleaned.

The farm-house was at length sufficiently furnished. Some few things had been bought; there was a nursery and a bathroom—the place might pass for a home.

But Margaret, with what she felt to be an unforgivable perversity, did not like it. It was so lonely, there was a quarter of a mile's walk across the fields from the high road before it could be reached. It was so windy; it faced straight out to sea across the marshland, and the wind never ceased beating upon it. It seemed gloomy and haunted, too. There was an underground passage that was supposed to have been used by smugglers but now was blocked up, and enormous bricked cellars. The rooms were dark and at this time of the year sunless.

There was a fine garden, but it required a great deal of work. There was an orchard near by and farm buildings that were worked by a farmer living over the hill.

There were good friends in the neighbourhood who did what they could. But Margaret had no means of getting about, and as she was nursing the baby could not be away from the home very long. So she was much confined to the house.

The season was wet and windy, a long winter, a delayed spring. Lack of means nagged again, too; there was so much that one could have done with a few pounds, but the few pounds were not available. Poultry and the means of keeping them had to be bought out of their small resources.

There were other people to be considered, too; it was a life full of privation. There was Nana, with her large appetite and extravagant ways, to keep, and as she was lazy and inefficient and the house was large a girl had to be hired from the village to help in the work. But Nana was soon at her old tricks again and made mischief both with her and anyone who came to the house, with her sharp malicious tongue and her gross habit of gossiping.

It was all, however, luxury compared with Sicily, and Margaret felt that she was unreasonable to feel that dull ache of loneliness and apprehension.

But it was all too much like the old days. She was caught up in the emotions, the distresses, the troubles of others, overwhelmed by the hysteria produced by frustration and disappointment. She was no longer free even with her own miseries.

Nana wrote to her mother all that went on in the establishment; it was like having a spy at her side. Her mother stayed and tried to supervise everything, with the result that her husband took a passionate dislike to all her family and longed to have Nana turned away and a new nurse engaged. Margaret's hands were tied by the money problem. Everyone was absorbed by the war; calamitous, tedious, it hung like a cloud over every thought, every activity. She tried to concentrate on her baby; she tried to think of her, and her only, amid all this anarchy of private and public distress and horror.

One of Margaret's perplexities on that bleak and lovely farm above the Kentish marshes was a large Airedale that her husband had bought to guard the poultry. The dog could not often be unchained because of the warnings given by the sheep farmers whose flocks, then mainly ewes and lambs, were spread all over the marsh-fields. This meant that the noble animal was always tugging and howling at a short chain. Margaret tried to take him out for exercise herself, but he was so powerful that he nearly pulled her over. She had almost her first quarrel over a personal matter with her husband about the treatment of this dog.

The unfortunate man was, in truth, at this time absorbed in the poultry farm that, though it might have seemed absurd to an outsider, represented to him his sole hope of independence. He had worked out on paper that after a certain year the enterprise should yield a handsome profit, and he devoted all his energies to attaining this end.

Ill as he was (the windy situation and the cold spring affected him severely) he would get up with the dawn to make a hot mash for the fowls. Margaret knew that he was pursuing a chimera, but she had neither the heart nor the courage to disillusion him. The little venture had already run away with much of the money they could have had for other things, but she did not consider this lost or even ill-spent as long as it provided him with something of an occupation and some measure of content.

In May of that year, most horrible to Margaret and to so many others, it was still cold; the blossoms of the orchard next to the richly appointed but neglected garden looked like snow across the pallid sky. The sound of the guns from across the Channel was incessant; Margaret put her ear to the ground, it seemed to her as if the whole earth were trembling and shuddering.

Rules were very strict for keeping the blue blinds down in the farm, whose windows looked straight across the soaked flats to the sea. Zeppelins passed overhead on their way to raid London; at night, sitting in the darkened rooms, you could hear the noise of their engines.

That month the baby fell ill. Margaret had looked after her so carefully, hardly letting her out of her sight, nursing her and tending her herself, and she was such a fine healthy child that it was as amazing as it was terrifying that she should fall ill.

The harassed, overworked doctor who during the war had taken two or three practices besides his own, and who with difficulty could fit in a visit to this out-of-the-way place, had no answer to this terrible puzzle. It must be no ordinary childish ailment.

Margaret felt her world darkening down around her, the pallid spring skies seemed to be lowered like the lid of a coffin. She would have kept her agony to herself, but Nana, losing her head, betrayed her and brought down to the desolate household the mother and sister, who turned the thing into emotional melodrama, a mere background for their own agitation. Margaret had to endure that.

She found the whole place and everyone about her taking on a sinister aspect. There was a monstrous horror about the drop-cloth for this tragedy: the farm, the orchard, the garden where the wind-beaten roses were coming out; the tethered Airedale, with his whining and straining at the chain; her husband, with his terror-stricken face turned that ghastly ashen colour peculiar to many sallow people; Nana helpless and in a panic; the round-faced country girl standing in the doorway and obstinately waiting until she was told what sweet they should have. Margaret said "Raspberry and jam pudding," knowing that that hideous triviality would always stay in her mind.

After three days the baby died. It was Margaret's uncle who stood beside her through this; it was into his arms she turned when the worst moment came. He had been the brilliant, handsome young man whom she had remembered from her Hampstead days. He was her father's brother and she thought him very much like her father. He stood very close to her now and had done what no one else had been able to do, and seemed to her one personality with that of the other tall man who had carried her on his shoulder by the river that ran through Maidstone or in the water-meadows under the willows outside Canterbury.

She had thought that she had understood what grief and suffering could mean, but knew now how foolish she had been. Never had she imagined such pain, humiliation and frustration. There was no consolation to be found anywhere, none. The blow was sudden, unexpected and overwhelming. The child for whom she had waited so long and whom she had brought with such difficulty to this haven, in whom all her hopes had centred, died of meningitis. Even her uncle and the doctor did not know the cause of this.

Margaret's friends and neighbours were kind. They were sympathetic, too, but she knew that none of them understood the depths of her wound, that was almost mortal.

The child was five months old and there was death all over the world, grief and mourning even in this little village. Her loss seemed small compared to that of many others, but to her it was monstrous. She could not believe that this thing could have happened.

She found that she had to try to steady herself even to get through the days, as one does when in intense physical pain, counting objects or repeating a patter of words in the mind, telling oneself a tale or drawing a design in the air. She would stare down at the marsh that the water had divided into white lines like a map and see men wheeling the dead lambs home in wheelbarrows; it was a wet, dismal season, and the lambs died in large numbers. The ewes were given another one, to console them in their bereavement. Margaret was not so fortunate, her arms were empty.

She never would have believed it would have hurt so much to dispose of the clothes, the cradle, the toys; some to a children's hospital, some to be burnt in the windswept garden. Someone put a bough of the pallid apple blossom on the dead baby; Margaret saw an ant crawling over the tiny hand that had fallen from one of the coverlets. She noted that a tiny scratch on the baby's brow was scarified over. Had the child lived it would have healed. She had that word in her mind-"healed."

The baby was buried in the most expensive frock, a white silk smock, that Margaret had ever been able to buy for her, and they buried with her a small ivory ball that she liked to play with.

From the day she died until several days after the funeral a pigeon that seemed exhausted and refused food sat on the sill of what had been her nursery; the wind and rain were incessant.

At last Margaret was relieved of her mother and sister, who had not really cared at all for her loss. They had always rather resented the child, which certainly had come at an inopportune moment, and Margaret had had no right to have it, from their point of view. They could not forbear reminding her of the folly of her marriage and the craziness of her dreams of domesticity. This was all over now and they had been justified in their warning.

They went at last, and with them, Nana, poor incapable creature, curiously sullen and vindictive at a crisis. Margaret was left alone with her husband in a house that seemed so intolerably empty.

The perambulator that had been bought with such joy went to a villager's wife, and in a week there was none of the baby's belongings left in the house.

Margaret was upheld by one thing only-her husband's grief. As her own distress seemed fantastic, she knew, to her friends and acquaintances, so his overthrow—that of a man at the loss of a very young baby—no doubt appeared absurd and was largely put down to his wretched health. But Margaret knew that his woe was deep and awful. What had kept them together but their common love for the child and their hopes for the future?

Now he wanted to spend every penny they possessed and could raise on putting up a stained-glass window to her in the little church outside which she had been buried. He was with difficulty restrained from this extravagant act.

There seemed nothing they could do, nowhere they could turn. The Airedale and the poultry were sold. The sick man had no longer the heart or the strength or the energy for that enterprise.

Together they went to look at the grave; Margaret noted how feebly he walked, leaning on his stick. The heap of clay with the dying Crown Imperial lying across it was monstrous; Margaret's old horror of death and funerals returned. She was smitten, sick. She could not sleep often and she was glad of that, for when she did sleep the waking was desolate.

Warned that her husband's health was considerably shaken, she took him to Torquay, where it was hoped the air might be milder. They stayed in a hotel there, always together, cut off by Margaret knew not what gulf from anyone else whom they met. They seemed to have no part or parcel in the life going on around them, they had no connection with the war that absorbed everyone. He was actually, and she technically, a foreigner; people rather wondered about them. Margaret felt again, as she had felt so often in her life before, an alien, almost an outcast, a pariah. She seemed to have no right to her own use.

They decided that they should not return to the lonely farm in Kent. She thought that she would offer it to some refugees or some person distressed by the war. But tedious negotiations to this end led to nothing; it seemed that no one really wanted the house. To sublet it was impossible. They had it on a three years' lease. Still, narrow as their means were, they could not return to live there. The landlord compounded with them for two more years' rent; they had been in it six months. This loss had to be faced.

Margaret looked round and earned all the money she could. She wrote some articles and was fortunate enough to get some short stories accepted. How she was able to turn out this work she never knew; it must have been purely mechanical, for her mind and soul were trapped, suffering.

None of her old consolations had stood this test, neither books nor music nor pictures nor the magnanimous, austere heroes she had once worshipped.

They thought they might take a house in Devonshire and they looked at several. One seemed in every way suitable, modest, in a charming situation, cheap, but Margaret learned that the late owner had been taken away to a lunatic asylum, and she could not take it after that. The house where the baby had died had been inhabited before by a man who had been for years insane and who had remained shut up in the room she had used as her bedroom. She seemed haunted by ill omens.

Another house at which they looked and which seemed from the front favourable, gave at the back on to a graveyard.

But they found one at last, a commonplace but cheerful modern suburban "villa residence," as it was termed, in one of the outlying parts of Torquay, and they returned to Kent to dispose of the furniture and to hand the house over.

When Margaret arrived at the farm she found it very much altered. The unattended grass and flowers had grown breast-high, the side wall that had been covered merely by some small green leaves was a mass of loose-petalled gloire de Dijon roses. Nothing could have been more hideous. With intense revulsion Margaret noted the hard blue stars of the borage flowers amid the flowering grasses.

The room that had been the nursery had to be visited again; there was the mark on the wall where the cradle had stood, and as Margaret stared into the empty room it was re-furnished again as she had arranged it three months ago.

While they were there on the short visit there was an air raid on London, and one day Nana walked in, with a letter from Margaret's mother. She and the sister had moved to the country; London was intolerable with these constant raids; there was nowhere for Nana to go and she had been sent back again to the farm.

Margaret could not afford to pay her a wage and she told her to go. But the poor creature had nowhere else to go and it was impossible to turn her away. Though Margaret did not really ever wish to see her again she was forced to offer her a home. This was a cause of dissension with her husband, who had taken a passionate dislike to the three women who were most intimately concerned with Margaret. Nor could she help sharing his views. It was better to keep away from these people whom they could not help; a common exasperation leading to quarrels and bitterness was the only result of their meeting. Though they did not like Margaret or anything she did, it seemed they could not leave her alone and they must always try, somehow, to make use of her.

And so Nana had been sent back and stood there grim and helpless with that horrible pathos of something disagreeable and whom she disliked about her.

She had to go with them to Torquay, despite the husband's protests. Margaret cared very little about anything. People soon ceased to talk to her about the baby; it seemed to be a thing that was supposed to be soon forgotten. There were trite phrases uttered like "Time heals," but Margaret knew they were not true. This was to remain the deepest grief of her life and time could never heal it. Many, many years later she would wake in the night, stifled with terror, saying to herself, "The baby's ill! The baby's dead!" The ironic side of it, the blind chance of the thing, amazed her. She who had wanted this so much, who had waited for it so long, she who was prepared to devote her life to it and be content with nothing else-and it had been taken away.

It had been told her when she was young that when she endured a great grief she would feel the need of a God, of confessing her sins, and going into church and praying. This was not true. Her faith remained the same, she was not afflicted by a sense of sin, nor did she have then a wish to confess either to man or God. What sin and what confession? Her sense of God in everything, of an incomprehensible beauty, of a wide mystery surrounding her, remained the same.

Nor did she become embittered and soured. She had the common sense to see that if she had missed the best of things they were still there, that if what she had longed for was not for her it was for others. She gathered together her pride and her dignity, the pride that refused to let her be a burden to anyone in any sense, the dignity that would not let her neglect appearances or be overcome in public.

The commonplace little house in Torquay, cheaply furnished, with a garden the size of a chess-board, was cheerful. On the rise of the hill behind it was a large garden with an ilex tree in it. And there was a convent near with an infant school, and Margaret derived her first consolation, she knew not why, in seeing the nuns going to and fro with the children.

A passing, sad peace stole over Margaret's spirits here. She was quite stripped of everything except a few clothes and a few pieces of furniture that she had stored in a friend's barn in Kent. But these were for her mother. She possessed, stored in Florence, a few cases of books, but nothing else. The home so long dreamt over and planned had been a mirage indeed.

But there was no time for brooding over this and she had to conceal her inner heart-break because of the baby, for two events moved her life forward. She learned, after she had been in Torquay a short time, that she was to have another child, and she learned also that her husband was seriously ill.

He had been to many doctors and here was a doctor who, at last, told her the truth. An acute problem was then presented to Margaret. Her husband had an attack of desperate nostalgia. He wanted, above all things, to return to Sicily to his own people, and this seemed to her perfectly reasonable. She had always had the stupid weakness of wanting to gratify people in all they longed for, a weakness that led her into many disasters.

Now she had good cause for what might have been a folly. The doctor agreed that if her husband returned to his native air he might become well, a strong man again, whereas if he remained in the English climate, even in Torquay, he had not six months to live.

What was to be done? Where was the money and energy to be found to send this sick man to Sicily in war-time? Could he travel alone? If not, who was to go with him? Margaret could scarcely leave before the baby was born. There was no friend or acquaintance available, and they could not afford to pay a nurse, even supposing one had been obtainable. Nurses were extremely difficult to get in war-time.

Still, Margaret had always tried to put through what she felt was her duty and she contrived to get the money and to arrange the journey. Her husband was to travel by slow stages to Sicily and to stay with his people until his health was mended. Then he was to join her and the second child in England.

When this project was at first suggested it seemed impossible, and Margaret experienced the first satisfaction she had felt since the baby's death when she went up to London with him at last and helped him pack for the journey.

The prospect of seeing his country and his people again had brought at least a transient improvement in his health. He looked almost a well man and supervised with the first interest he had shown since the tragedy the packing of his large wardrobe. He had always been fond of clothes, and she had seen that lately, at least, this taste had been gratified.

On a fine day in October he sailed for France. Travelling conditions were better then than they had been when they came from Italy and the journey, though expensive, seemed unlikely to prove too tedious or uncomfortable.

The parting was a wrench, but Margaret felt that indescribable satisfaction obtained from doing what one feels one ought to have done. She had gratified the dearest wish of one who was ill, depressed, and unfortunate. She had obeyed a doctor's instructions.

It was with a sense of peace that she went back to the little house in Torquay. Nana, at her worst in a crisis, was at her best in moments like these when things went smoothly, and she and Margaret, for the next few months, played a game of make-believe—conscious on Margaret's part but probably unconscious on that of her strange attendant.

There was nothing that Margaret could do, and there was no call on her activity or her strength save to earn as much money as she could by writing. She had to wait until the child was born. When she could forget the other—and that was not often, although she tried to hypnotise herself into oblivion—she was happy. She was well in her body and it was easy to pretend she was secure, at peace, that she had a proper home, that the little house was really hers, and that her husband was well, too, and would be coming back soon, that Nana was a dear old family nurse, everything was cosy as it was in one's dreams.

She made baby clothes, bought penny and twopenny magazines that were full of articles about babies and children.

The town was dark at night and empty and gloomy in the daytime. It was a severe winter for so far south and there were dismal episodes when the hospital ship was sunk by submarines and the bodies of survivors were brought ashore. For twenty-four hours the "Last Post" could be heard repeatedly as one after another was buried.

There was, as always, very little money, and there were disturbing visits from her mother and sister, whose own troubles were thickening about them. But Margaret could, in a way, detach herself from all this and achieve some harmony and some rhythm outside herself. In the sky at night and the curiously remote melancholy of the moon, in the ilex tree that kept the leaves on all the winter, in the convent where you could peep over the wall and see the children going into the classroom or the chapel, and the nuns who smiled now when they met Margaret out for her daily walk, there was peace.

Her husband wrote, often and affectionately. He was happy with his sister and was improving in his health; everything was, after all, going to be successful. He had half a hundred schemes for a career, for money, for their future. Margaret did not fail to write back in the same cheerful tone of make-believe.

That was a strange Christmas; everything in the deserted seaside town seemed hushed as if at the intake of a breath. Margaret did not buy papers and knew little about the war. There was nothing she could do to help save send newspapers and letters and packages to soldiers, tie up parcels, and such trivial labours. And even those, she suspected, were not needed. There were so many women willing to undertake them. She and her likings and small gifts and talents were so unimportant. Nobody wanted them or was interested in them.

It seemed to her that in the long tedium of war all that she liked had withered. No one cared any longer about art or beauty or richness of living or wit or gaiety.

The propaganda against the enemy, though no doubt necessary to keep up the spirit of the people, was ugly and offensive. Palpable lies were in circulation and there was much hysteria, particularly among the women. People spoke furiously in accents of hatred, yet it must have been so obvious to anyone with common sense that this was but one side of the story. To hear some people talk it was as if a battalion of angels were fighting a legion of devils. If one dared to dissent from this violent view one was looked upon as unpatriotic, a traitress to the men fighting in Belgium.

Margaret objected to this unbalanced talk, amounting sometimes to claptrap. These people who were so glib in their denunciation of the enemy, in their avid repeating of all possible scandals and slanders against an entire nation, seemed to her to have missed the real tragedy of the war, the horrible effect it was having on ideals and morals, the sordidness it was introducing into daily life.

So, as she could be of no help, and the people to whom she spoke only disturbed and agitated her by their attitude, Margaret kept very much to herself.

In January her second child was born—a boy.

Childbirth has been much sentimentalised and romanticised; it is easy "to write it up," to over-write it, but Margaret did not find that it altered her ideas, her outlook, her sensitiveness or her emotions. All that suffered was her body. It was almost amusing to feel oneself so deplorably weak, yet one's spirit inside as strong as ever, as if a bright flame were burning in a broken lamp.

It was now impossible that she could ever be, even in a measure, happy. She had long ceased to hope for it, but now that she had a child again she thought that she might have had some degree of content and useful activity in bringing it up. Here to her hand was an entrancing occupation. The boy was healthy and lively. After the shock she had undergone not many months before, she could never feel secure about him, but at least in this backwater she could devote all her energy, every minute of her time, to his welfare.

The war, that now seemed endless and as if it had gone on for a hundred years, must surely end soon, and then she would be able to earn more money and to give the boy and her husband everything they ought to have.

For a month after the child's birth she lived quietly in the contemplation of the plan.

Then came a letter from her husband that made her ill, unable to nurse the child.

The news it contained was unexpected, and seemed likely, she thought, to be disastrous. Her husband informed her, suddenly, that he had come to a disagreement with his people, not one of whom was prepared to put up with an invalid in their establishments. He had fallen foul, too, of Sicilian doctors, who were, he was sure, not treating his case rightly. In brief, he had left Sicily and come to Tuscany, to Porto del Marno, where they had lived before on the seaboard in the front of the Apuane Mountains. As he had found it impossible to stay in a hotel owing to the state of his health, he had taken a furnished house. Margaret was to bring the child out to him immediately.

She could read between the lines that, far from recovering, he was more desperately ill than when he had left England. She knew what the place was like where he had established himself, she realised what it would be in war-time. She would not be able to obtain help or service or the care of a doctor. She had been a fool to allow him to go, but then she was so often a fool. She thought that she had been pleasing him, helping him towards recovery. She had been much impressed by what the doctor had said—"a chance of life."

She gave this news to the English doctor now, and he had no advice to give her, except that it would be impossible to take the child if she valued his life.

She wrote to her husband, suggesting that he should return to England, where he could have proper care and where she could look after him. And he wrote back a letter touched by panic, from which she gathered, although he did not say so, that he was already too ill to travel so far, that he was quite forsaken and alone, with only the assistance in the large house he had taken of an odd-job man who used to work in the office where he had once himself been employed. He appealed to Margaret to come out to him and said, "Don't forsake me."

It was obviously impossible for her to do so, no one could have been deaf to such an appeal. Now that his own people would have none of him, there was no one in the world besides herself to whom he could turn. He was her husband, he was the only man who had been in any sense of the word her lover, he was the father of her two children-they had this much in common. Though in almost everything else he was a stranger and an alien to her, she felt the obligation of a complete loyalty towards him.

Her resolution was soon taken and her plans soon made. She had an Italian passport, and it would not be difficult for her to return to Italy. The boy could be left with Nana in lodgings in Torquay. She found these with two comfortable, elderly women, staid, respectable people. Nana was by no means reliable, but she had a certain honesty with babies, a certain understanding of them too, in an old-fashioned way, and Margaret got the hospital nurse who had attended her during her confinement to give an eye to Nana and the child. Her mother and sister, who were not interested in children, she did not trouble with the matter. Besides, they were in London absorbed with their own affairs.

Her hope then, though she hardly dare indulge it, was to go out to Tuscany and bring her husband back to England. It might be that he had not committed himself deeply about the furnished house he had spoken of, they might be able to sublet it or get out of the agreement. Well she knew how desolate that seaboard would be now. To stay out there cut away not only from the child but from all her friends and acquaintances, interests and country, seemed impossible.

She was told roundly she was a fool to go on this desperate journey. The baby was only six weeks old, and she was not "strong." The winter weather was severe, snowstorms and frost were continuous. She was badly equipped both in clothes, appointments and money; the future was most uncertain. To leave Nana and the baby in Torquay, even in a modest way, would be a considerable strain on her earnings. She should leave her husband to pay the consequences of his own folly.

She could not see it like that. It seemed to her there was just the one thing to do and that was to go out to him.

Her mother became angry with her, and told her she had always made a fetish of her duty and that probably now she expected to be applauded for her virtue.

Such a misunderstanding seemed to Margaret very strange. She had never had a sense of being virtuous any more than she had had a sense of sin, and it was odd that people could not understand how impossible it is to abandon the forlorn and the unhappy.

It seemed grotesque that she was to lose her second child in this fashion, that she was to miss even a few months of his infancy, that he was to be deprived of her incessant care, that she was twice to be cheated of her rights as a mother—the first time by death, the second time by absence.

But so it was.

Then when it came to the actual parting, putting the child into Nana's arms at the railway station and getting into the train, it seemed to her she could not do it. It was like a physical struggle to remain in the train. When she was in London she had to fight with herself not to go back.

But she won, bought her ticket, and embarked on a snowy day in February. She was wearing a thick, rather ugly black cloth coat, a violet skirt and a violet hat to match, she had a woollen scarf and woollen gloves, thick boots and woollen stockings. The outfit was hideous but it was fairly warm, and what use to her now was her delight in decoration, splendid garments, in all that was graceful and elegant?

In one valise small enough to carry herself, she had almost everything she possessed in the world. She had taken with her two books—Phantastes by George Macdonald, and a copy of Julius Caesar. It was difficult to get books just then, and these she had found of a peculiarly soothing quality. There was also some French money, a wad of Italian money, and some small change of English money, and this represented almost her entire fortune.

The crossing was hideous. Two ships left the English coast together, one of them—the consort to that in which Margaret was—was torpedoed. If it had been hers she could scarcely, for her own sake, have cared much. She felt so weak and ill, and indifferent to anything that might happen since the parting from her baby.

There was only one other woman travelling and she was a noisy foolish creature who was trying to get to the South of France for the sake of her health, so she said. There was a man who had a cage of canaries and kept standing it on the table, and as the ship lurched the cage would be thrown off and the birds flutter about. Everyone was depressed and agitated.

No food was to be got and a gale was blowing. It was bitterly cold and the ship was much delayed. When they reached Le Havre they were all sent up on deck. It was snowing hard and they had to stand there in the dark; they were not allowed to return to their cabins. There was some trouble over the passport, the temporary shelter that had been arranged for the officials was either not ready or was out of order, Margaret never knew. But they stood for about two hours in the snow, Margaret's feet were frost-bitten, and they did not recover for years.

When at last they filed one by one in front of the French officials they were further delayed. Some people were suspect, and Margaret was questioned closely. A journey to a sick husband in Italy seemed evidently an unlikely tale. Finally, however, half-extinct with exhaustion, they climbed up into the French train.

Margaret had had no food since she left England, so she took the advice of the only other woman travelling, who had attached herself to her, that they should go at once into the restaurant car and try to obtain supper. But first they took their places by putting their valises and coats into two corner seats—the train had not a corridor. The guard said it would stop after about an hour at a station where they could get out, go along the platform and return to their seats.

The train was overheated, there were a great number of soldiers in French uniform in the restaurant car; they looked anxious and the atmosphere was one of gloom. Margaret could hardly hear the chatter of the other woman, who seemed in a constant state of nervous panic.

The train at length drew up at the wayside station and everyone got out of the restaurant car to return to their places. The snow was ankle-deep and a few English soldiers were standing about on sentry duty. The place was and the glass windows of the carriages frosted over.

As Margaret and the other woman ran up and down the platform trying to find their places, the train moved out and left them stranded. Fortunately, indeed, Margaret had with her her handbag that contained her money and her passport; the other woman was not so well off; she had left everything save a few francs in a little purse in the carriage.

An English soldier showed them the tiny café attached to the station and there, on showing that they possessed the money to pay for it, they were accommodated with a room in which were two beds. It was icy-cold, and even keeping their clothes on and dragging such blankets as were provided over them, they could not sleep for lack of warmth.

Margaret's companion kept lamenting that she was sure she was going to catch creeping paralysis, adding: "I wonder what you'll get?"

Soldiers came and went all night long in the room underneath. They seemed to be talking in an earnest fashion.

In the morning the two Englishwomen had a cup of coffee and waited on the platform for the train to Paris to come in. It was a slow omnibus train and took all day to reach the capital.

Margaret was numbed by fatigue; there was no feeling in her feet at all, so she scarcely suffered. When she reached Paris she found, to her surprise, all her belongings carefully stacked in the lost property office.

She had planned to spend the night in Paris, but had lost time through the slow train and had at once to go to the Gare de Lyon to catch the train for Turin, where her husband was supposed to meet her. She had to sit up all night in a carriage crowded with people, an extra passenger squeezed in on either side; these were Italians, talkative and lively, all men save one girl, who was heavily painted; it was a curious sight in the morning to see the caked paint and flaked powder on her plain face. She kept up, however, a kind of defiant coquetry that was very successful, for one of the men paid a good deal of attention to her, and when everyone went into the restaurant car, paid for her luncheon.

Idly Margaret noted these things; they were not in the least important, but she could not keep off her habit of perpetual observation. Many curious questions were asked her, she seemed to be suspect—a sick husband! She thought she saw glances of incredulity. Was it possible they thought she was a spy? No doubt she looked odd enough and dowdy enough to be anything.

It had never seemed possible to put a term to discomfort. The journey seemed endless in its ridiculous fatigue, in its grotesque tedium.

When at length the train reached Turin, Margaret leaned out of the window and saw her husband on the platform; she recognised the overcoat he wore-of brown check-at once. He was leaning on a stick; he had changed considerably since she had seen him last, and she knew at once that there would be no question of bringing him back to England. She was looking at a dying man.


She alighted from the train stiff and numb, and one of the Italians put her valise down beside her. Her husband greeted her grimly; he was not very glad to see her, it was the child he had wanted. Margaret heard one of the Italians say: "It was certainly true about the sick husband."

They walked together down the length of the platform; the station was clean and tidy, the day was bright and cold.

Whether her husband's picture had become blurred in her memory or he had changed greatly, she could not remember that he walked so slowly, that he always leant on a stick, his shoulders so bowed, his face so fallen.

A more depressing disappointment than his appearance was his lack of pleasure in seeing her. It seemed as if the effort she had made to get there, that had appeared tremendous in England, was a little thing after all, and her sharp separation from the baby, her fatigues, and her financial anxiety had all gone for nothing. Everything was flat.

They went together to the hotel where he stayed near the station. It was a tall, imposing building. They had to pass through the restaurant that was packed with soldiers, smoking and drinking; the large umbrella-stand near the door was full of swords. There were women there, too, who looked plump and cheerful. The atmosphere had not that air of dark apprehension that Margaret had left behind in England. These people did not seem to care greatly about the war; it had not affected the self-confident air of the men in their clear-coloured uniforms, their freshly-flushed faces, bright eyes and their glossy hair.

Margaret caught glimpses of herself in the large mirrors as she walked with her husband to the stairs. She wished that she had some bravery in which to front her misfortune; her dowdiness oppressed her miserably. How much easier it would have been if one had a well-cut coat, a graceful feather in one's hat and exquisitely fitting shoes.

They were stared at, the sick man and his foreign and odd-looking attendant, with a rather heartless curiosity. Margaret was reminded of her short stay in the Roman hotel on her way from Sicily with the baby, reminded, too, that she did not seem to fit into the pattern of life anywhere.

When they reached the bedroom her husband had taken for them he collapsed. She hardly had the courage to put to him the project she had brought with her, that he should give up his intention of staying in Florence and return with her to England. How suggest so long a voyage to one in such a state? Besides, he was committed. He had taken the house in Tuscany for a year. Not that that would have really mattered; Margaret would have found some way to pay off and satisfy the landlord as she had paid off and satisfied so many other people during the crazy movements of the last few years.

The poor and the unfortunate pay double for everything, and out of Margaret's meagre and hard-earned means a great deal had been wasted, in moving here, in travelling at extravagant rates in war-time, in leaving things behind. All this squandered money, if hoarded and spent properly, would have ensured them a decent, fairly comfortable home and allowed them a margin with which to help others.

But she was helpless; she saw the pressure of her destiny. She was always being driven to find some sum, large to her, to pay for some folly or extravagance. Now there was this house on her hands, and she stood in dismay at the window looking down on the handsome town in which the lights were beginning to show while her husband, in broken tones, upbraided her for coming out alone. He had been living for the child; he had thought of nothing but the child; she had promised to bring out the child, and now she had cheated him.

Margaret was silent. Through long experience of this kind of thing she had learned to stand silent while people were scolding or raving at or quarrelling with her. She seemed to detach her thoughts and send them far away, so that she would sometimes come back with a start to realise that some unhappy person was still expressing a futile passion.

She saw that it would be impossible to try to explain to him why she had not brought the child; even if her strength had been equal to the task it would have been to risk the boy's life many times over. She took some comfort in thinking of him safe in Torquay with Nana's at least rough-and-ready care, with a warm and comfortable house and plenty of food and a trained nurse in the background and an English doctor round the corner.

Her husband had arranged to move on at once and she saw that they must do so. The room was smelling strongly of disinfectant spread about in saucers on the floor, the waiters had given them hostile looks as they passed through the restaurant, and now there was a suggestion sent up from the manager that they should have their meals in their own room: "the gentleman's cough disturbed the other diners." Margaret could understand, and the knowledge was poignant, why he had left Sicily, why he had left the Tuscan hotel—nobody wanted this sick man and the disease they feared might be infectious. She and he would be pariahs, it would be difficult for them even to get service.

Though she tried to keep a cheerful countenance, her dismay deepened when he told her of the size and pretensions of the place he had taken. She could not quite understand the workings of his mind that had led him to return to that particular spot on the Tuscan seaboard, for it was the scene of his failure and humiliation. It was strange that he should care to go and live near the marble works where he was not employed any longer. But she refused to speculate on why he had taken the place, as taken it he had, and as he described it Margaret could see it quite well, for she remembered those houses on the sands, mostly built by German princes and nobles for a short stay in the summer and shut up for the rest of the year.

This villa that her husband had taken and that was named rather absurdly "Villa Elsa" had been built by the Crown Prince of a large German state. He, in common with other Germans and Austrians who had owned property in Tuscany, had left Italy at the beginning of the war and their property was either confiscated by the Italian Government or transferred to the names of Italian friends who were looking after it for them and who endeavoured to send the money to them through Switzerland or some other neutral country.

Margaret's husband had taken this villa for eighty pounds a year, about as much as it would have been worth had it been possible to rent this place in normal times for a month in the summer. This year it was very doubtful if there would be a season, and in any case the price was sufficient to cover any loss if the sick man-and Margaret could see they had thought it very doubtful-should still be there in the summer.

As Margaret remembered it, nothing could have been more inconvenient than this place in which to live during the winter, and with a sick man on her hands. She tried to argue the point with him, and to suggest that they should make an effort to return to England, where he might be "properly treated" in a nursing home. But as this suggestion had at least the flavour of condescension she knew that it would be inacceptable, for she knew that he was wrapped up in his own distresses, obsessed by his own destiny. He refused to believe that he was seriously ill, he declared that a winter in Italy would set him right, and that it was Margaret's bare duty to remain with him.

She agreed with that point of view, but there was a divided duty—she had the child to think of. It would have been easy for her to persuade herself that it was her first duty to return to him, for she did not believe that old Nana was thoroughly competent and she knew that her mother and sister had no interest in him whatsoever, for they were entirely absorbed in their own affairs. But she was forced to admit, when she brought her reason and not her emotion to bear on the situation, that her main duty was to the sick, obviously dying man. The child did not need her at all in a spiritual or emotional fashion; he was unaware of her existence, and would be quite happy with old Nana; whereas this unhappy human being, although he had greeted her so coldly, obviously clung to her; she was his link with normality, with life, with everything he had ever cared about. It might seem quite crazy to attempt to go and nurse him in the lonely villa he had taken, for she could not disguise from herself that he would most probably die there. It was obvious that there was but little, if any, hope of his recovery. And how long would he linger and how would she deal with the final stages of his illness, unassisted and unadvised? She did not know, but there seemed nothing else to do.

On the day after she had arrived in Turin they took the train to Tuscany. Spring was late in Italy, or seemed so to Margaret. Her short glance at Turin had shown her baskets of flowers standing against the piers of the arcaded streets, but as they went further south there seemed little of the joyousness and fragrance of spring as she had remembered it in Italy. The winds were cold and blue skies looked like ice. She recalled the bleak, harsh weather between the sea and the mountains in Lucca that she had found uncomfortable and difficult to cope with even when she had a fair amount of comfort and money and human companionship.

During the journey her husband's spirits revived, he seemed for a brief while almost recovered. They had a small bottle of red wine for their luncheon and sandwiches that had been made up in the hotel in Turin. There was an extraordinary flash of gaiety between them. Margaret could almost persuade herself that they were setting out on some happy journey, and it was all going to have a felicitous ending.

When they reached their destination—the cab with the lean horse wearing the long pheasant's feather on its forehead bringing them to the large iron outer gates of the villa—she found, however, that her gloomy expectations were fully justified.

The villa was one of the largest that stood facing the sea. A belt of pine at the back that bordered the high road served as the villa garden. These gardens were divided one from the other by a low wall and a large iron gate known as the cancello. Walking through these pine trees along a narrow sandy path thick with the needles you came to the villa house.

This particular one, the Villa Elsa, was a large square building in the Italian style, with an open terrace at each side. In front was a narrow garden with a hedge of evergreen that opened directly on to the sand and a stone wall. At the side was a strip of pine land with a notice on one of the trees to say it was to be let as a building lot.

On the other side was a small one-storeyed house, or casetta, among more pine trees.

Margaret's husband told her with complete unconcern that not one of the other villas was inhabited. They were always empty in the winter, and now, because of the war, might be empty in the summer. Trams ran from about half a mile away to the larger seaside town, Lucca Reggio, but this was also completely shut up owing to the weather and the war. About two miles farther on was the piazza of Porto del Marno, around which were flat pink houses. Here, too, were the nearest people, the chemist, the inn, a few shops that might occasionally be opened. Here was the only market and the peasants came down from the mountains once a week to sell their products.

Margaret could remember the place and all its disadvantages quite well, and as she entered the house she thought with panic that what she had undertaken to do would really be impossible.

As she entered the villa from the back she found herself in the kitchen, of usual Italian type, furnished with an oven and a small well-fire to be replenished by charcoal or brick-dust coal. Passing through this she found herself in the hall; to the left were three rooms, two good-sized bedrooms and a room that was supposed to serve as a dining-room and looked direct on to the sea. From the hall rose abruptly two flights of steep stone stairs. To the right was a large apartment, large enough for a ballroom, that ran the whole depth of the house and opened by a door at the back on to the pine garden and by a window on the front looked on to the sea. The roof of this room served as one of the terraces.

Upstairs there was, over the dining-room, a fair-sized bedroom with a window looking over the sea, a door to the left opening on to the other terrace and two doors at the end, one giving on to the landing on the stairs and the other into a small bedroom. Beyond this was another small room or closet that looked out at the back on to the pine trees, and across the landing a door that opened on to the terrace over the ballroom.

The house was thus well designed for a pleasant summer residence during the intense heat, where between the pine trees and the sea a pleasant coolness might be assured. It was not, however, well equipped even for the brief summer stay for which it was intended. Stone stairs and stone or tiled floors, without rugs, that every room possessed would, no doubt, be agreeable in the heat but not agreeable, in either heat or cold, was the stiff, uncomfortable, old-fashioned, and sombre furniture.

The large room, or ballroom as Margaret thought of it, had harsh, grim-looking, Empire-style couches covered in red plush with stiff, red plush bolsters at the end, exactly like the model seen in David's picture of "Madame Récamier." There were some tables of the same style, black, with lions' masks in gold.

The dining-room had a few stiff-backed chairs, an enormous copper samovar, a table and a small sideboard. There were no books, nor pictures, nor cushions, nor curtains. Probably everything of value and use had been taken away in the early days of the war either by the owner or his steward. This personage was a sinister-looking Italian by the name of Armado. He was nearly blind and suffered from locomotor ataxia; he could not go in the direction he wished and had always to have somebody with him to turn him, right or left, backwards or forwards, as the case might be.

He was waiting to receive Margaret and her husband; he had been paid the first instalment of the rent, but was hardly civil. He must have been extremely curious to know who these two queer foreigners were; he was certainly suspicious about "the signore's" cough, but his bad sight had prevented him from seeing how ill his tenant was, and he had, strangely enough, accepted the invalid's assurances, given in complete good faith, that his illness was neither lasting nor dangerous.

There was another man to welcome them to the Villa Elsa: Umberto, the odd-job man from the office, looking seedy and shifty, hanging round to see what advantage he might rake out of this strange turn of fortune. Margaret welcomed him because he lived in the same village with Elisa and she had a hope that, through him, she might gain that faithful woman again. If she could, surely half her troubles would be over.

Lavishly fee'd, Umberto promised to undertake this mission, and Margaret faced her new life.

She found, under circumstances that seemed to her at first of appalling difficulty and desolation, a certain resource and consolation in those qualities that so far had not seemed to stand her in much stead, and that had even been a cause of vexation and exasperation in other people, notably in her mother and sister. Now the method, order, concentration and perseverance that she had taught herself—she did not quite know why—came in useful. The self-control she had always matured helped, too, and the hard life she had lived made her personal privation quite an indifferent matter.

Her husband was installed in the large bedroom; he "fancied" this and it was, perhaps, the pleasantest place in the house. All the rooms on the ground floor had iron bars at the windows, which added to their gloom. This bedroom was, however, an extremely difficult apartment to keep warm, with three doors and one window, none of them well-fitting and all draughty, a floor of stone and no vestige of rug or carpet to be found. There were also those two flights of stone stairs separating it from the kitchen, the only place where any water could be heated, any washing done, or any cooking undertaken.

In the corner of the room, however, was a large stove that would burn wood or briquettes of coal-dust if these could be bought. The bed was comfortable, and there was the solid furniture—a chest of drawers, a large wardrobe, a side-table and two chairs.

Margaret wondered whose taste had chosen everything for a summer residence in such a heavy and solid style. Even with the sunlight over them they could never have looked elegant and cheerful.

The little adjoining room with the connecting door she took for her own. There was nothing in it but the bed, a chair, and a small bureau. This, however, was far better than having ugly or incongruous objects about, and the cell-like aspect of the place did not displease Margaret. It seemed fitted for the task she had in hand, but she would have liked a little warmth and a rug and some kind of curtains at the window, for the grey light from the sea and sky was both glaring and depressing. There was, however, no means of shading any of these windows, from which the curtains or blinds must have been stripped when the owner left the villa.

Complaints to Armado about the deficiencies of the house for which so good a rent had been paid brought no result. With the war on, what could one expect? There were no materials to be bought in the place, there was no one to do any work. The men were all away at the war, the women were working in the fields, everything was shut up, closed, non-existent; one lived as best one could.

It was difficult to get wood, difficult to get wine and oil, extremely difficult to get food. Charcoal was expensive, paraffin for the lamps could probably hardly be procured at all. The house was wired for electric light, but the plant was out of use.

The weather continued harsh and bleak, there was a shrill wind from the mountains. This part of Tuscany was famous for its winds, they would often sweep for weeks together along the coast and through the pine trees, the only vegetation which could resist these savage blasts. The snow lay thick on the crests of the Apuane, and the stone floors and the curtainless windows, the sea damp and the draughts that penetrated at every crevice made the house dismal and comfortless.

The loneliness was intense. For miles along the coast no one was living. The villas had nearly all been owned by Germans and so were not only empty but neglected, half-stripped of their furniture, and shut up with an air of tragic desertion.

It was the same the other side of the road. There were smaller houses there and they too were empty, save a few about a mile and a half farther along towards the centre of the town.

The war had brought the work at the marble quarries almost to an end, and almost everyone employed in that once lucrative business was gone away; the offices and works were carrying on with a skeleton staff.

Margaret might walk through the pine wood, or pineta, or along the smooth sands of the foreshore for miles without meeting anyone save one or two ragged fisherfolk searching the fringes of the tideless ocean for flotsam or jetsam, or, when the day was calm, going out in a boat and casting their nets, to which at intervals were tied bunches of green attached to corks to mark the places where they had been cast.

Margaret had some luck, however. Umberto returned from the village with Elisa; she was grateful to enter Margaret's service again under these conditions. No doubt those at her own home were not much better. She was prepared to endure any hardship, to undertake any work, however arduous, serve without wages and with a minimum of food, but one thing she was not prepared to do, and that was to enter her master's room. Elisa, like all the other Italians, had a strange fear of infection. Margaret's husband might have been affected by the plague, for the terror his plight inspired. Margaret was very glad, however, to engage Elisa as a servant; she would herself look after the sick man and perform any service he might require, while Elisa would undertake the rest of the work.

This she did cheerfully and well, but the odds were against her. The supply of kitchen utensils, of pots and pans, was small, the brooms and mops were old, the water was limited; they were informed that in the summer the well often dried up altogether. Still, Elisa knew her way about, and every morning she set off on the two-mile walk to the village with her large red handkerchief and returned with her trophies, sometimes a small piece of third-quality meat, goat-flesh; sometimes a couple of eggs, sometimes a few cabbages or roots. Milk and butter it was impossible to secure, eggs could only be got rarely and with difficulty. The only thing abundant and cheap was wine. Sometimes, when the fishers had been lucky, there was a little fish to be bought. When the long tram-ride and the walk to the tram terminus could be undertaken, some better provisions could be purchased in Lucca Reggio; delicacies such as macaroni, dried lentils, rice and dried fish were still on sale there.

In that town, too, the chemist's was better equipped, and a pleasanter place. Everything the invalid required, together with soap and disinfectant, could be bought there, though at a high price. The local chemist's at Porto del Marno was a disagreeable place to visit; it seemed to be a sort of club and was always full of loungers who stared at Margaret in an aggressive fashion when she went in there to purchase what she had to have for her husband.

The purchase of these medicines and remedies was the greatest strain on her resources. The prices were extremely high and also fluctuating. What she gave a shilling for one day, she might have to give two shillings for the next.

She tried sending in to Florence to the shop she remembered there for slightly better food for her husband, and for the first part of her stay received a small weekly supply of fine pasta, honey, jam and biscuits. This, however, was never enough to last the sick man out the week, and she was much put to it to find the food that he was able to eat, for his appetite, though good, was capricious, and he was perpetually calling out for something dainty and appetising.

Margaret and Elisa lived on cabbage fried in strips of fat bacon, or boiled when they could not get that fat, bread made with maize and very heavy and indigestible, soup of the coarse local macaroni, and sometimes cuttings of meat and a few dried fruits such as figs, raisins and tomatoes.

Margaret dared not drink the wine, though it was cheap and plentiful enough, and there was always a quantity in the house for her husband and Umberto on his frequent visits. She had never drunk anything as a young woman, because she was afraid of what the consequences might be, having heard so much of the evils of drunkenness. She had even made a half-vow to herself never to touch alcohol, but when she had gone to Italy for the first time she had taken a little of the red wine that went so pleasantly with the Italian cooking. Now, however, she renewed her vow; she could not tell how her self-control and her health might last if she attempted to blur her sharp consciousness of her circumstances and her duties by wine.

Her husband drank too much, but it was very easy to see that he needed this stimulant. There was a special kind of wine from the Isle of Elba called "Pheasant's Eye," of which he was peculiarly fond, and he drank this in large quantities. There was also a native brandy and a French brandy (English brandy was not to be bought) which he used to take in a coffee-cup at odd intervals during the day. Margaret was glad that he should have this palliative to his suffering, but the after-effects were terrible. He became feverish, delirious and often raving.

Margaret found that he was in the charge of a Dr. Lorenzo in Lucca Reggio, but this man found it impossible to come out to a patient who was so far away, who was a stranger in the neighbourhood and whose case was hopeless. Margaret knew, indeed, that no doctor could do much; she was not even sure that a doctor could do anything, but she knew that her husband greatly desired one. It worried him extremely that he had no proper medical attention, and once she went in to Lucca Reggio herself and entreated that the man should come out, at least once, to see her husband.

Dr. Lorenzo came, wasting about two hours on the tram journey, as he complained and went upstairs into her husband's bedroom. He stood inside the door, holding a scented handkerchief to his nostrils. He was an elegant, bearded man with kind eyes, but he did not seem to like the case at all. He never went further than the threshold of the chamber, and when he came down told Margaret immediately that there was nothing to be done and that she had better look out for herself, for, undernourished as she was, she would be likely to catch the infection too.

With that he departed, and Margaret never saw him again.

She wrote to him for his account, and many weeks after, when he did not reply, she put a small sum of paper money into an envelope and sent it to him.

There was no local doctor. The nearest was a man called Dr. Marco, who came from Elisa's village, and though Elisa and Umberto both spoke of this physician with contempt, Margaret was forced to send for him, since there was no other.

He arrived in the twilight one evening driving a smart little gig with jingling bells. He was a stout, red-faced, black-haired man, with a bewildered manner, a peasant who had been half-trained by the scraped-up earnings of his parents. He was quite at a loss with this kind of thing and scribbled down a list of more medicines and took his departure, leaving the poor invalid dissatisfied and disappointed.

Margaret was at the end of her resources in this direction. It was clear that in her situation and while the war endured she could not hope to get adequate attention for her husband. She did not dare to suggest to him that they should make another effort to return to England, where he could have every care and comfort, for now it was obvious that he would not be able to travel even as far as Florence.

Once or twice he went with Margaret to Lucca Reggio, and when they went in the tram everybody moved away to the farther end. When they walked along the streets there was a large space around them, and when they sat down at a café table everybody else moved away.

Margaret was always terrified lest her husband should observe this, but he never noticed it. He had the egoism of the man who is absorbed in his own illness. He would not admit that he was seriously afflicted; he was sure that he was going to recover, and recover soon, yet he thought of nothing else but himself and his sickness.

Margaret felt strangely cut off from normal life. It seemed to her, after a few weeks of this existence, as if she would never laugh, move quickly, talk to other people or do anything ordinary again. Accommodating her step to his she walked so slowly that the blood seemed to congeal, in these cold days, in her veins. Her frost-bitten feet hurt.

Soon even these trips to Lucca Reggio came to an end and he was confined to the house. It seemed as if the spring would never come; day and night there were the winds and worse than the winds was the continual roar of the sea. Margaret never believed that she would come to hate the beat of the waves, but it was the one thing that unsettled her nerves. There were bad moments when she felt that if the pound of the sea did not stop she could not go on.

Her duties became, as time went on, more and more arduous. Her husband had a large bell that he kept by the table and he was supposed to ring this whenever he wanted anything. He became tyrannical, however, and used to ring it whenever he was alone just to bring her into his presence. She could appreciate his feelings, his dreadful loneliness, his subconscious sense of what was going to happen to him.

He had no resources, spiritual or intellectual, and now he was stricken he was like a bright, swift, intelligent animal, maimed and bewildered at its own helplessness. The English doctor in Torquay had told her that he must never learn of his danger, but be buoyed up by hope to the very end, else his sufferings would be terrible, and he would perhaps find them unendurable and commit some act of tragic violence.

Margaret had discovered that he had procured two revolvers in Sicily, one a large Belgian make of silver and mother-of-pearl, the other a small, neater weapon. These he kept under his pillow and did not allow them out of his possession day or night. He had also, as Umberto furtively and fearfully informed Margaret, ammunition hidden somewhere. Always shallow and disloyal, Umberto had told everyone whom he met of the revolvers, with the result that such few people as might have come to the house—the fisherfolk and one or two peasant women—were frightened to do so.

Margaret tried to reason with her husband into giving up these useless weapons, but without result. He seemed to fear some attack and sometimes stood at the window looking out at the sea for hours together nursing the revolvers and talking to himself.

It was one consolation to Margaret that he, at least, was well equipped with clothes. He had taken almost all he possessed with him when he went to Sicily and brought everything with him to Tuscany. So his room was somewhat incongruously furnished with a quantity of English clothes, toilet necessaries and some handsome articles that had been bought in the good days of the past. He had his toilet-set, his writing-case, his portfolios, his dressing-gown and his slippers, while chance had landed Margaret with nothing but the old black coat that served her for all occasions day and night, and little more than the others she had worn when she had left England.

This difference in their equipment and the impossibility of the Latin peasants understanding an Englishwoman gave rise to fantastic stories that Umberto brought to Elisa and Elisa brought to Margaret. They were hardly worth listening to, scarcely worth repeating, save that they show the kind of fantasy that played about her distorted life.

It was believed by the peasants and even such people of the better class as still lived in this forsaken spot, that her husband was a wealthy young man, that she was not his wife but some strange mistress whom he had picked up and that she was staying with him and nursing him through his illness in the hopes of inheriting his large fortune after his death, and that her presence in the villa was the reason why none of his relations came to see him.

Such was the local interpretation of this strange couple and their peculiar isolation.

Elisa was most indignant and wept tears of rage over this slander. She took every opportunity of informing everyone whom she met that her lady was a genuine English signora and that if she were doing anything peculiar it was because it was a way they had in England. She could not say anything about the money, because she did not know. Margaret had never told anyone that every penny that was spent had to be earned by her first.

She had had to move her writing-table up into her husband's room and put it by the end of the bed, and there she did her work and had her meals. But it soon became apparent, as he grew more and more feeble and was confined for longer and longer periods to his bedchamber, that he could not endure her out of his sight. She would hardly get to the bottom of the stairs before the bell would ring and she would have to turn and go up again.

Life fell once more into a kind of rhythm or pattern. She soon knew her resources, her duties and her own strength. What at first seemed impossible now seemed as if it could be done.

There were reassuring letters from Nana, and one now and then from the nurse who had promised to look over at intervals. Nana was in clover, she had her warm room, the landlady and her daughter to gossip with, a bottle of whisky every week, her pocket money, for Margaret found herself able to send, every three months, a sufficient sum to keep that little establishment going comfortably.

She was, however, entirely missing the baby. It seemed that by the time she returned he would be a baby no longer, and of course he would not know her and he would turn from her to Nana. She had put into her baggage a manual on baby care that she knew almost by heart; she was quite well equipped to bring up babies, for she had read with a passionate eagerness everything that was new and up to date on the subject. Now she would not be able to put it into practice, but must spend her time on this sad and futile labour.

Futile it seemed, indeed, to be, for it was clear that her husband must die, and die painfully, and she could do little to alleviate his woe. She had never been trained to sickness, she had only seen death once before when her first child had died. Now, unaided save by ignorance and fear, she would have to do all that was to be done.

It became more and more impossible to think of forsaking him, yet she could not see how she could help him. His agonies were beyond her treatment, his despair beyond her encouragement; she could only stand by. But there were intervals when she did seem to bring some comfort to him, and though he never spoke a word of thanks or gratitude and seemed to take all she did for granted, she supposed that in his heart he must be glad to have her there. She was doing for him what no one else would do, what his sister, father and relations had shrunk from doing, for her duties had turned into those of a day and night nurse. As it was impossible to go to bed, she put on the black coat and sat up in the chair or lay on her bed, dozing, until the bell rang. She would go into the room and see him sitting up in bed in a half-delirium or tossing in a heavy sweat.

Since no other light was to be found she burnt oil in a glass with a tiny wick in it in his chamber, and by this light she would do what she could to assist him to endure his torment. She who had been so morbidly fastidious undertook tasks the mere recital of which but a short while before would have filled her with unspeakable disgust. But they had to be faced, hour by hour, day by day. Elisa would do nothing in the sick-room; she would draw the water from the well, and put pails of it outside the door with the disinfectant in it ready for Margaret to plunge the shirts in that she took, dripping with sweat, from the sick man.

Before the fevers started he would be shivering with cold, and then nothing could console him but that she should lie down beside him and clasp him in her arms. She did this without disgust or reluctance; indeed, it gave her a sort of relief, for it seemed to comfort him as nothing else would. And it comforted her, too, for she thought: "If I had loved him as he thinks I love him, I could not do any more."

The nights were the worst. Usually in the morning he would sleep and then she would be able to do her duties, tidy up the rest of the house with Elisa's help, put the sick-room straight, wash the floor over, replenish the stove if she could get the wood or the coal-bricks to fill it. This stove was a great comfort; one could see the pan of water simmering on the top, put a few bay leaves in it to make a pleasant odour.

She learnt all the processes of a deadly disease, the relapses, the recoveries, the sinkings, the risings, the agonies, the hopes; she learnt what it was to stand by and see a man who had been gay and handsome and full of strength and passion die inch by inch, fighting inch by inch, for his constitution was naturally strong, and he struggled hard for his life.

Sometimes he had his moments of despair when he would take her hand and tell her: "Pray that I may die! Pray that I may die!" But mostly, except when he was suffering extremely, his mood was optimistic, and he was always planning for the future. Surely when the summer came, when there was a little heat he would recover and then they would go back to England, or they would have the baby out there and they could start life again; somehow, somewhere, fortune would be theirs.

Margaret humoured him in everything, even telling him that she would have the child out when the fine weather came. Plainly he could not face his doom, plainly he could not listen to either reason, moralising or any spiritual consolation.

By some good luck coffee was cheap. Margaret did not know how she could have kept going without the strong black coffee which killed all desire for sleep, although she was so tired that sometimes she seemed as if she were walking in a trance and her body were no longer existent.

The stairs were the worst, she used to count them; always up and down for every drop of water, all the cooking, all the service. They were hard to the feet, ugly to look at. The house, though built for a prince, was ugly too. It seemed to be always full of a grey light and that pounding beat of the sea. The bars of the windows in the lower rooms were unpleasant, too, and when her husband would come down and lie on the couch in front of the tall window in the dining-room and go to sleep he looked to her like a man dying in prison.

If she could have had a little music, if she could have had a library of books, or a fire, or a warm bath, she would have been able to bear it, she thought, so much more easily.

She had her moods of exaltation, almost of rapture, when she was no one's wife, no one's mother, no one's nurse, and something within her would seem to fly wide and rejoice.

The two books she had brought with her were of the greatest comfort. She read Phantastes from end to end and she knew it by heart. She wished she had brought Alice in Wonderland or a fairy-tale, one of those books that had pleased her so in ugly moments before.

Julius Caesar was her great help, too. Sometimes, when she thought her husband was going to die in one of his paroxysms and she had seen him through and, after all, he had not died, she would go into her own room and read over to herself two or three pages from Julius Caesar. The noble words, the disdain of destiny expressed by these lofty characters, sobered and steadied her. Above all, she must not let her husband see that she was depressed and downcast; she had to maintain in front of him a certain cheerfulness.

She had her work to do also, for on that depended all the money for him, for herself, for the baby. When she wrote at the table at the end of his bed she had only to lift her eyes to see his thin form only just breaking the outline of the coverlet, his haggard face on the pillows. And she was often interrupted in her writing to go to him when he was sick, to get his medicines, his food or his wine. He ate far too much, that was obvious. His appetite was ravenous, and when he had satisfied it he would vomit. This made so much work. She tried to regulate that, but he overbore her; she tried to stop the wine too, it was clear that this increased his suffering. But here he made some strange alliance with Elisa. It was odd that though Elisa refused to go further than the threshold of his room, she seemed to regard him with a passionate devotion. To her he seemed to be the centre of the universe, and no service seemed too great to be undertaken for his sake. Once or twice when she had come to the door he had complained to her that his wine had been stopped and she had surreptitiously brought bottles up and placed them on the threshold.

Margaret could not compete against this alliance; it was worked with Umberto. He came and went frequently, eating food they could ill spare and taking tips from their cherished hoard of money. But it was hopeless to combat him, for he was not afraid of the illness and would go up and sit in the invalid's room, retailing to him all the gossip of the place and bringing him the wine and cognac in his pocket.

To please her husband, Margaret had given him all the money, and he used to keep it in a box on the table by his side. She wished she had not made this concession, though it seemed to gratify him, because it was awkward to get enough to run the house. She had to go and ask him for every note and had to account for it when it was spent. Sometimes she laughed at herself; she must have been a poor fool to have got herself into this situation. She knew what her friends and relations at home would say: that she had been wilful and obstinate and done a crazy thing. Well, if she had, she was paying for it. But even now she could not see if the same situation arose again how she could behave differently.

She had her diversions. There was an old woman with a donkey and a vegetable cart who used to come, sometimes as often as twice a week. She never offered anything but a few wilted greens or roots, but she was always cheerful, with the sparkling eyes of a true witch, and her coat, that had once been dark blue, was bleached a lovely soft plum-and-pink colour by the weather. She would ring the bell of the great outer gate and Margaret would escape down the sandy walk between the pine trees and seem like a normal human being, like herself again as she chattered to the old woman and stroked the donkey, for whom sometimes she was able to save a lump of sugar, for now and then they had this luxury.

Nor was Margaret so beaten down that she could not appreciate the beauty about her—the dark, blue-black pines against the sky, either a chill blue or covered with loose-flying grey clouds, the perpetually tossing grey seas with white foam, the sand that had a hard crust of salt on the top and was a sparkling colour like old, well-polished silver, the curious luminous lighting, the short twilight when the sky was like a white fire shining behind coloured alabaster, the exaltation there was in the whip of the chill wind against the cheeks. And in the feel of it lifting the hair from her head as she stepped out on the terrace when in a moment her locks and her garments were blown about her and she could feel the pure cold biting on to her tired body, right through, it seemed, to her heart.

If she could have had some occupation things would have been better, but there was not so much as plain sewing to be got, not so much as a newspaper. She only heard of the progress of the war from rumours, tales that Umberto brought, and the wild stories of the old fishermen who would sometimes come to the door with their coarse fish to sell.

She had a good deal of time to practise resignation and to reflect on what a poor business she had made of her attempts to fuse dreams with realities. It is an attempt that we all make, but few could have been so unsuccessful as Margaret had been. Not without irony did she reflect on what her hopes and her endeavours had been not so very long ago. The woman of thirty years could look back with detached compassion at the ardours of the girl of fifteen.

But what had she really wanted to be? She had always been so divided in her desires. She felt it had been in her to be a melancholy romantic, zestfully touching life at all points like Chateaubriand. Then she had thrilled to the men of action and the intellectual giants and wished that she might have been, since her sex prevented her from being one of them, a wife, a slave, a servant attached to a genius, Newton's secretary, or the wife of a great man like Catherine Blake. "How gladly I would have accepted her life of service, her complete abnegation with her pauper's grave at the end of it all." She would have liked to have been a George Sand, beautiful and bold, intelligent and passionate, with many splendid lovers. She would have liked also to have been a good cook-general or a prize nurse in a pleasant, cosy household where her efforts were acknowledged with praise.

She would have liked to have lived the life of one of her grandmothers, secure in a large household with a family of ten or fifteen children, always one at her side and another at her knee.

She felt that she could have been successful as a nun, not belonging to a closed order but one who went among the poor doing service, teaching children.

She would like to have been attached, not to a lost cause but to a cause-and she knew of many—that was excellent but neglected, supported only by the valiant few.

How high my ambitions had been! How, since I could remember anything, I had longed to be something, to do something of note—to paint, to be a sculptor, to write plays, design stage decorations, direct pageants. Then forced to cultivate my gift of story-telling, since it was the only technique I could master, trying to pour into that medium all that I saw and felt and dreamed.

And now, both in work and life, I had done nothing worth remembering. I was in nothing satisfied, in every direction frustrated. Even this young man whom I was looking after was not important; I had only known him for a few years. He had done nothing and would be regretted by no one, unless it was his old father, who would soon also be dead.

But I was having to give all I possessed of health and strength and energy, perhaps my life itself, to make it easier for him to die.

Perhaps I had been foolish to admit the obligation that had forced me to join him, perhaps the real duty lay with the child. In almost every letter she wrote, my mother urged me to return, saying that I was doing a foolish, a quixotic thing. She had been warned by her friends and relatives that it was not likely that my health would endure the strain of what I was attempting to do.

Margaret was not much impressed by these warnings; she had a conviction that she could carry through what she had undertaken. There was no particular courage in what she was doing, and never for an instant was she afraid of catching the disease from which her husband was suffering. There was, perhaps, even a selfishness in her action, for she knew quite well that she was happier when she was doing what she was than she would have been if she had remained in England and known that he was out there alone, feeling betrayed, abandoned, and trapped. It is always so much easier to take suffering on one's own shoulders than see it on those of another, and she was better fitted to endure than he was.

They had to be very careful with the light, having only a small allowance of oil for the lamps, and as one could not, must not sleep when the darkness fell, there were many hours of sitting, watching and waiting, listening to the sea in the midst of a multitude of grey-and-black shadows on the stone floor, the plaster walls, cast by the tiny wick in the glass of oil and water.

Margaret thought with a deep regret of the books in Florence, only two hours' rail journey away but impossible for her to secure. She did not wish to spend the money on the journey, and it was extremely difficult to have work of this kind done while everyone was absorbed in the war. She could have read by holding the book close to the flame of the night-light, but there were no books save for Julius Caesar and the Phantastes. So she had to think or else abandon herself to that reverie which always ended, with her, in a kaleidoscope of pictures going round and round like the flags on a praying-wheel, inside her head.

Thinking usually meant a pitiless self-analysis.

Margaret tried to understand herself. Was she weak or strong, at least in a few things? Was she wholly ignoble or had she some merit? She could not find much good in herself when reviewing her own character and actions. She had always been too timid, too overwhelmed by the opinion of others, by the force of tradition, by others' catch-words in which she did not really believe. She had always been too anxious for kindness and affection. Her passionate grief and sorrow for all who were sad or helpless, for unhappy children and tortured animals, could hardly be called a virtue or even a generous emotion, for she identified herself with the pitiful and the doomed. It was for her own peace and comfort as much as for theirs that she did what she could towards their rescue and salvation.

But some things Margaret had done. She had obeyed, perhaps with a foolish enthusiasm, the rules that had been given to her by those whom she took to be wise, great and good. She had tried to follow the precepts laid down by her austere, magnanimous heroes; she had worked hard, she had never been very extravagant or luxurious, she had concentrated on her toil, she had preserved her enthusiasm, she had always tried to put her principles before her interests, her honour before her self-indulgence; she had not put herself forward, had tried not to take anything until others had had their share.

And this was the conclusion—something was wrong with the advice or with herself.

Margaret had, however, some satisfaction that she had never been a burden to anyone; nobody had ever spent a halfpenny on her. She had never felt malicious towards anybody or desirous of doing anyone an injury or of being revenged. When she thought that anyone did not like her she kept out of their way and so avoided even unconscious offence.

On her own account, Margaret had never quarrelled. She had tried in her conduct not to compromise her ideals, but in her art she had compromised. For the sake of the money so badly needed by others as well as herself she had followed the opinions of those whose interest in her was purely commercial. Margaret had not yet done some of the work she would have liked to do, she was too afraid of offending those through whom her living came.

Sometimes she tried to turn to those other worlds in which she had taken such delight, in particular the France of the eighteenth century and the Netherlands of the seventeenth century. She drove her mind backwards until she was surrounded by rich shadows. Margaret's affinity with those people and these countries was always, to her, extraordinary and gave her the most acute delight. She had a fair knowledge of both periods down to the minutest detail, of both countries in every shade of their history and their art. Sometimes she could make the illusion so powerful that she felt she was walking through the streets of Paris in mid-eighteenth century, or a hundred years earlier in those of The Hague.

But of what use to Margaret was all this knowledge, out of the way, unscholarly, useful only to feed dreams? Much of what she had acquired with such eager zest she was beginning to forget. She had been an expert on many subjects, and now, through lack of study, they were becoming blurred in her mind. She could no longer recall what she had once known about engravings, French furniture, Spanish baroque, Italian poets; all the dates and particulars that she had once so keenly learned were becoming faint in her mind.

Margaret had, indeed, encumbered herself with a good deal of useless stuff; even what she knew of the domestic arts was of little use now, because she lacked almost all materials.

She kept going, however, though with so little spiritual or mental stimulant, as anyone can keep going when they have a fixed goal in view. It was her duty—unfeeling though the word may be there was no other to use here—to look after her husband as long as he needed her, and to make his last months, weeks, days as easy as possible. And then to return to England and look after the boy.

Margaret dared to think about him, to make plans for him. Her husband was insured, and there would be a few hundred pounds on his death. Even if she died before she could get back to England, Margaret was sure that her relatives and friends would look after the boy. But she did not think that she would die; she thought that she would return, that she would see the boy had some of the things that she had missed—a sound education, a sense of security in his youth, opportunities, an ordered life, people he loved, the work he liked.

But there were bad moments when all thoughts and all consolations failed.

The continued cold and the noise of the sea were the worst miseries, those and the sense of the war going on just beyond the horizon.

They had little news. Occasionally there were riots, crowds of people with red flags or national flags marching down the high road, singing socialistic or patriotic songs. And once the furniture was taken out of a German-owned villa near by and burned. There were tales brought by Umberto, of fishermen being arrested because they had gone out to sea with supplies to the little Austrian submarines, and there was constant fear, like a miasma in the air, of a bombardment from the sea or an air raid. How far either of these was possible Margaret did not know. They were situated in an enormous bay between two ports, Spezia and Livorno. Sometimes she could see the Italian battleships going to and fro on the horizon.

It seemed a century since that day in Florence when she had seen the little notice stuck up in the window of the newspaper office. Now and then wounded men were sent home because they were incapable of further service. Some of them were suffering from what we termed shell-shock but what the peasants called, directly, fear. Unhealed either in mind or body they were returned to their miserable peasant homes and could be seen sitting by the roadside or hobbling along on sticks, with shaking heads, rolling eyes and slavering lips.

All these peasants had a curious detestation of the war, and would have done anything to avoid it. Marguerita, Elisa's sister, was engaged to a man whom she brought triumphantly to see Margaret one day. He had already been disfigured by smallpox, and made himself more hideous by putting pepper in his eyes in order to avoid conscription. This ruse not having succeeded, he had poured boiling water over his feet. Terrible object as he looked, he and Marguerita regarded each other with deep affection and were delighted at having outwitted the Government and obtained his discharge.

The woman worked in the fields for a few pence a day, and the soldiers' pay was hardly sufficient for them to buy stamps to send a letter home. Those who did return on rare leave had horrible tales to tell of their privations, the poor rations, the hard conditions, and, above all, their bewilderment as to what the war was about and why they were involved in it.

All this misery, lying like a gulf of open Hell between her and her country and her child and her friends and her own interests, afflicted Margaret with a sense of almost unendurable exile. There were times when she wished she could have been treated as they treated stray dogs, given some warmth, food, and quietly exterminated.

She wrote every week to her husband's people, and they made constant suggestions that they should come and see her. She was willing enough and even indulged the idea that there would be some company and help in this direction, but her common sense told her that nothing was to be expected from these Sicilians, transported, while the weather was still harsh, to this bleak seaboard.

In particular, she would have liked to have seen her father-in-law, for whom she had felt a sudden and deep fondness. The old man wrote anxious and tender letters full of concern for her health.

Finally, the elder brother and the sister arrived, and it fell out as Margaret had foreseen. Her husband did not give his relatives much of a welcome. He was absorbed in his own illness and seemed to resent their presence. The sister would not go into the room for fear of the infection; the elder brother, a melancholy man weighed down by Margaret knew not what secret woe, would venture in, but always sucking sugar soaked in brandy, which he seemed to consider some kind of an antidote. This habit annoyed the sick man extremely. They quarrelled after a day or so and the elder brother went upstairs no longer, but sat downstairs over whatever fire could be secured, with a large grey shawl round his shoulders fastened by a safety-pin on his breast and a scarf over his head.

The house was cold and the weather grim, and the two Sicilians wilted like hot-house flowers suddenly put out in the frost. It had seemed to Margaret cold enough in Sicily and she thought that the Tuscan winds were no worse than those that blew from Etna, but evidently there was some different quality in the cold, for these two unfortunate people were obviously chilled to the bone and to the soul.

She had hoped that the girl, who was so affectionate, willing, and gentle, might at least have been some help in the domestic work, but she proved herself quite incapable and sat huddled in corners, sighing at intervals, drinking small cups of black coffee in which were a few drops of native cognac, and working with blue fingers at strips of white embroidery that made one cold to look at.

After a week or so the experiment was acknowledged a failure, and the two returned to Sicily. Margaret was sorry that they had undertaken so long and so tedious a journey for so little purpose. She knew that they had seen their brother for the last time, but they seemed to refuse to take a serious view of the case and parted coldly, with a certain dislike on each side.

The brother suggested that Margaret should get a nurse to help her. But she had already tried, although she knew she would be scarcely able to pay one should she succeed in finding someone. But all available nurses were in the hospitals filled with the wounded. There were nuns to be obtained in Florence, but they were very expensive and would only go into Roman Catholic households. Margaret could no longer pretend to belong to the Roman Church, since her husband had entered the Church of England before they married, in a vain attempt to please her mother, who had raised this fantastic objection to the match.

In the early spring the little English church was opened in the neighbouring large town and the clergyman and his sister, hearing of Margaret and her case from some Englishwoman whom she knew there, came over to see her.

They were scarcely welcome. The man was old, dull, grey-bearded; the woman was grim, efficient and had been a hospital matron. They did their duty by Margaret—the clergyman left pamphlets, thoughts and prayers for the sick and dying. He suggested interviewing the sick man and preparing him for his end; but this could not be allowed, lest the invalid's vestige of hope that made his last months tolerable should be destroyed.

The lady had her own duties and could not help in the nursing, but she generously assured Margaret that when her husband was dead she would come over and prepare him for the grave.

They were anxious, too, to know about the burial. Could it be in the small portion of ground in the local cemetery allotted to strangers? They were anxious not to omit their duty and to see that the burial service of the Church of England was read over the body of Margaret's husband.

They came twice only. They were disappointed, perhaps a little offended that Margaret would not allow them to go upstairs to see the dying man, but she did not trust them. They had too many dismal tracts with them and they would make no promises not to mention what they called "spiritual matters." In other words, it was more than likely that they would tell him outright that they knew he had only a few months to live.

Nor could Margaret possibly find time off to go the long journey to the English church on Sunday morning, so there was a certain coldness, and the acquaintance drifted into nothingness. But Margaret remembered them; she might, on occasion, be glad even of this assistance, given with such coldness and such lack of understanding.

"What a privilege you must feel it to be able to do what you are doing," said the lady, and Margaret wondered at the word "privilege" and turned it over in her mind.

She had to protect her husband from other menaces besides that of the anxious clergyman and his sister. Her husband's class was called up and the local carabinieri called with his papers. Why had he not presented himself at the recruiting office? She replied that he was sick, and they would not take her word for it. They had been so often put off with strange excuses, and they insisted on visiting the sick man himself.

Two carabinieri, in full uniform, with plumes and cloaks, rattling swords, a doctor, also in uniform-Margaret had offered her own doctor's certificate, but that had been refused-came into the sick-room and examined him, measured his chest, took down details of his condition. Downstairs they gave Margaret the paper that exempted him from duty: in the space left for "Reason" they had put "Dying."

Her husband wanted to see these papers and Margaret was very hard put to it. Here she found the rascally Umberto useful; he had been hanging round while the carabinieri were there, and she asked him how he could help her. Could he get the paper changed? He believed that for a few lire he could. He had acquaintances among the carabinieri; everyone was hard up and there was a good deal of bribery and corruption about, at least in a small way.

She gave him the money and put off her husband's importunities until the evening, pretending that the paper had not yet been delivered.

Umberto dutifully brought it back, filled in with "Reasons: Rheumatism in the stomach."

Margaret took this up to her husband, who was so delighted that his very health seemed to improve. This cost Margaret a good deal of money—at least, in comparison to her resources—but it had been worth it. But an even worse loss was the food Elisa supplied to Umberto, the bottle of wine that he drank before he could be induced to leave.

Dr. Marco was becoming a very considerable problem. He was very seldom available and the most desperate messages hardly sufficed to bring him.

Margaret could understand this: the man was overworked, and it was hardly reasonable to expect him to come so far away for a hopeless case. Nor did he seem to know any way of lessening his patient's suffering. Margaret, in her ignorance, thought there was something that he could have done, but he never had anything to suggest but to scribble down the name of some patent medicine, usually French, which meant another visit to the odious chemist's shop, and more expenditure on a bottle of stuff that the patient refused to do more than sample. The kitchen was becoming cluttered with hardly sampled bottles of medicines, plasters, lotions and douches. They smelt so unpleasant and looked so ugly that Margaret would have liked to have thrown them away, but Elisa protected them passionately and intended, on the first chance, to take them home and try them on her relatives. She declared that they were good, expensive medicines, and probably were cure-alls.

Yet, despite all these disappointments, the invalid was incessantly demanding a doctor and it was one of Margaret's worst distresses that she was not able to gratify him. Nor was it any good telling him that Dr. Marco was obviously uninterested and useless. The lack of medical aid seemed to trouble him greatly, to make him feel abandoned and neglected. He asked Margaret if she could not possibly get a specialist from Florence. To do this was quite beyond her power; she did not even know the name of any such person and it was obvious that no physician of any note or standing would come out to such a case at such a time, either from Florence or anywhere else.

At length, what poor trust Margaret might have had in Dr. Marco was extinguished by a visit he paid late one night, arousing her and Elisa by clanging the big iron bell at the cancello. He had come in his gig from the hospital on the hills where he was helping look after "the wounded." He was in his shabby uniform with his cloak and sword, unshaven, his hands stained with blood, probably from an operation, and he was drunk.

Margaret, who had been sitting up with her husband and dozing in a chair, was wearing an old, drab, camel-hair dressing-gown that she had brought with her from England, and Elisa was in a petticoat and shawl. Nothing could have been more plain and sombre than their appearances, but the drunken doctor greeted them as if they had been seductive beauties, declaring that "this was the time to call at houses when one saw the women in their night-gowns."

Margaret did not wish to let him go up to her husband's room and was trying to get rid of him, but the sick man had heard his voice below and rang his bell furiously. So the doctor had to be allowed to climb up the stone steps, stumbling and clanging his sword. Margaret was afraid that he would blurt out the truth to her husband, so she had to go, too, and stand in the room during the interview, during which the doctor took no notice whatever of the patient's eager recapitulation of his complaint and symptoms but leaning on the bed-rail kept leering and winking, first at Elisa and then at Margaret.

They got rid of him at last by promising him a glass of wine if he went downstairs, and finally he was induced to leave the house. The bolts were dropped behind him and he was heard stumbling and singing as he returned between the pine trees to his waiting gig.

This episode made Margaret's position even more difficult. Where could she turn in an emergency with a medical man of this character? She knew of none other. It was impossible to feel any towards the poor wretch or to resent his conduct. He was obviously overworked and underpaid, and half-crazed at the sights he had been forced to see during his service at the front in a field hospital.

Margaret had always thought that she was very democratic and entirely free from class-feeling, but now she realised the difference between a medical man, who was a gentleman, and one who was a peasant.

She was forced to appeal to Umberto, her only link with the outer world, and he, too, was at his wit's end. She knew that he would willingly have procured another doctor for her if he could, because he also earned money that way himself. It would be giving him an excuse to come to the house, and the doctor would probably pay him a percentage on the bill. But even this fellow, with all his resources and connections, could do nothing. No doctor of any sort or kind was to be procured.

There was also another trouble. Armado, the steward, although blind himself, had been told by others of the condition of his tenant, and feared that he would die in the villa and thus ruin it for future tenants. He was a sinister, ugly-looking man, and, conducted by a small boy who was necessary to him as a guide, would hang about the pineta and near the green hedge that separated the villa gardens from the sea, trying to overhear and to get the boy to spy for him. He had, undoubtedly, been deceived, though in all good faith, both by Margaret's husband and by Umberto when he had been told that the illness was slight and would soon be cured by the sea air.

Now he was waiting for a chance to turn them out before the end came. Margaret had to have the rent ready on the morning of the quarter-day, when he was always on the step waiting for it. Glad as he was to grasp the note, he always went away muttering and mumbling under his breath.

Margaret knew that the rules against infectious disease were very severe, and that she would be liable to a good many penalties if her husband did die in this house. She might even be charged for the disinfection of the villa from top to bottom and the replacing of all the furniture. For all that, there was nothing she could do but stay. It was impossible to move her husband, and where should she take him? She knew that if they were turned out here it would be the hospital for him and a hotel, if she could find one, for herself. Therefore she had to play a disagreeable game of deceit, pretending to Armado that her husband was better, that he had been out in the garden, that he had taken a walk only the other day, and so on.

She often thought of the English doctor who had so casually sent her husband out to Italy to recover his health without any knowledge of, or at least any thought of the consequences of sending a sick man to a country in time of war where there was every privation and a horror of illness.

Spring came, late for Italy, but sudden, and many of the worst discomforts were eased. The stone floors and the curtainless windows were not now so objectionable. The sea was sometimes still, so that the sound of it was hardly noticeable. The tamarisks and evergreens along the seashore put out fresh leaves, there was a gracious warmth in the air in which one could gratefully stretch chilled limbs. The old vegetable woman with the donkey-cart brought down a few of the early flowers from the mountains for Margaret—cyclamen and violets. How precious! how loved!

The invalid could leave his bed, where he had been huddled during the bleak winter, and sit at the open window in the warmth of the sun. This meant another privilege for Margaret, for now that he could sit at the window he was willing to allow her to go and walk up and down the sands for a quarter of an hour, at least, every day. But he always had his bell in his hand and his watch at his side, and he would ring when the quarter of an hour was up and she would have to return.

It was very agreeable, however, to be able to do this, for she had been confined to the house for weeks save for infrequent intervals when he had been asleep and she had been able to slip out to the pine-woods and walk about for a few minutes. He seemed to have an instinct as to when she was out of the house, and she had to keep near so that she could hear the bell.

During these walks she noticed a board stuck on a pole on a piece of waste ground to the left of the villa. On it was the address of a certain "professor" in Florence. Idly she asked Elisa if she knew anything of this man. The word professor meant to Margaret someone grave, serious, learned, scholarly, and she wondered why he had this plot of land to sell or let.

Elisa knew all about the man in question. She said that he was a doctor, that he came every summer to this place—a little house the other side of the Villa Elsa belonged to him. He knew everybody and usually came with troops of friends. He had been particularly intimate with the Germans, and collected some of the rents of the villas on their behalf. The plot of land probably belonged to some German. Elisa described this physician as great, celebrated, rich, but quite mad. With loud bursts of laughter she said that one of his cures was to strip people naked, cover them with oil and put them in a tent under the fiercest rays of the sun where, she added, hilariously, "they fry like fish." She called the man "the professor," which was to Margaret a strange title for a medical man. Elisa seemed never to have seen him, though he was so well known in the neighbourhood, and Margaret imagined him as old, grey-bearded and austere.

She learned that he was popular in the neighbourhood because he was good to the poor and treated the peasants and their children for nothing. At the same time he was vaguely feared and even disliked now because he was associated with the Germans and Austrians, whom the Tuscans had been taught to consider as their enemies. Elisa thought that it was not likely he would come to the sea this year, as she had heard that he was at the front doing hospital work. He lived in Florence at the address given on the "To Let" board and, according to Elisa, was much run after by rich and fashionable people.

This information was only of interest to Margaret because the man was a physician. When she had first heard of him and that he came to the place in the summer, a hope had touched her that he might be induced to visit her husband. She knew that he could do no good, he could probably not even offer any remedies, but she was aware that if a doctor were in attendance on him her husband would be relieved and consoled to a remarkable degree.

But the hope was extinguished almost as soon as formed. How dare she approach a person of this eminence? How could she pay his fees, even supposing he would consent to come? How could she possibly explain her situation, grotesque as it was, to this foreigner and stranger? He would probably be like the other Italian doctors-stare at her blankly, even suspiciously, scribble something on a piece of paper, and go away again.

In May, a few people, despite the war, came to the sea and some of the villas were opened. An Englishman and his wife appeared at the villa the other side of the road; they had a staff of servants and appeared to have plenty of money. What were they doing there? Margaret never knew.

She felt excited at first when Elisa told her this, wondering if here were help and comfort. Surely they would hear about her and understand, as the foreigners could not understand, her position? Not that she could really expect anything from these people, nearly all of whom were likely to be foreigners, all of whom were certain to be strangers, but it diverted her mind from her own peculiar situation to observe that others were, despite the war, leading normal lives.

There were servants, there were cars, there was evidence of not only ease but luxury as one after another of the summer pleasure houses opened their shutters and their doors.

At first there were only a few being made ready for the summer, but conspicuous were the two English people across the road who excited Margaret's interest from the first. She even was bold enough to suppose that they might hear of her, and become at least amiable acquaintances. She became excited at the thought of meeting another Englishwoman, talking with her a little and hearing news of England.

She did know an Englishwoman, an amiable, charming creature whose husband's work kept him in this part of Italy and had done so for many years. But this lady resided several miles away and was often absent, and Margaret had very few opportunities of seeing her. So it was that she looked forward, with what under other circumstances might have seemed an absurd excitement, to the company of this fellow-countrywoman.

Her first meeting with this couple, however, destroyed all such agreeable expectancies. They were fairly young and fairly good-looking. Their demeanour was formal, and after furtive glances of curiosity they passed Margaret with an embarrassed air. As they were the only English people within many miles and if they must, she thought, have heard of her nationality, this seemed strange. It was almost grotesque, too, to pass without a word on the lonely road or the even lonelier shore.

She wondered who they could be, living idly and in luxury during the war. It was obvious they belonged to that class from which Margaret did not often expect much in the way of sympathy and kindness. But some kindness she was, however, to receive.

Elisa, greatly excited and concerned by the arrival of these strangers in what had seemed the desolation of the abandoned villas, observed the new establishment with quick curiosity and soon got into conversation with the cook. These people had brought their servants with them and Elisa, in amazement, recited their splendours. They had, even, milk and butter; there were, it seemed, cows not far away, though Margaret had not heard of them before. And soon came a splendid offer; if Elisa liked, she might go to the kitchen door in the evening and if any of the skim were left over after mashing the potatoes, Margaret might have it, as the lady had heard her husband was sick.

Skim milk was, to Margaret, what champagne might have been in England in peace-time. She could not afford the luxury of a refusal, and Elisa went over every evening with a jug and the pint or so of thin milk she brought back was gratefully used by Margaret for making dishes, mostly onion soup, for her husband.

But after a while this bounty ceased. The cook informed Elisa that there was no more milk. Margaret did not know if this were the truth or an intentional slight; it seemed to be the latter, for when she next met these people while she was taking her brief walk along the sands their demeanour was even colder than before. The man looked stupidly embarrassed and the woman's face had the expression that only a well-bred Englishwoman can wear when she is ignoring someone whom she despises.

The incident was extremely trivial, and it only dwelt in Margaret's memory because of her isolation at the time and because of the hopes she had entertained of the company of this countrywoman. She had thought that they might have common friends in England and she might at least, through them, find herself in touch with her own acquaintances in London.

What could they have heard of her to induce them to behave like that? Speculation was amusing, but stung also. She had ignored the ridiculous tales Umberto brought home as long as they only affected the Italian, but that English people should think that because she was doing an odd thing she was in some way not fit to speak to, had its own peculiar sting.

It was not only small episodes like this that stood out clearly against the monotonous waste of Margaret's lonely days, but she found in the austere gloom of the house the smallest trifle had a peculiar and vivid effect. The few early flowers that the donkey-woman brought with her winter-bitten greens, when placed in a cup or glass against the bare, whitewashed walls, were exceedingly lovely. So, too, were the first strong robust weeds that pushed up round the well. Carefully plucked and placed in a cup they made a beautiful object in the dismal rooms, especially at night, when their shadows were cast behind them by the flame from the night-light.

But the ground round the house was mostly barren because of the pine trees. There was one small apple tree, but it bore no fruit, for there was a frost that year, extremely late for Italy, making the peasants cry out that there was a curse on the land, and the few pearl-hued blossoms on this tree—so rare for Italy—were destroyed.

Margaret heard that the little green flowerlets of the vine were withered and that year there would be little wine.

The approach of the spring brought, after all, little solace to her husband. He had so longed for the sunshine, but whatever delight he might have found in this was counter-balanced by the torment given him from the heat. When the weather seemed to Margaret only—and at last-pleasantly warm, he could scarcely breathe and his fever increased.

The details of that illness, the intricacies of that last long martyrdom, are not to be described. They were such as to reduce Margaret to a state of desperation. She began to lose the nerve that up to then she had with some success preserved. The thought that this man must die and she must see him die became with her an obsession. She could hardly steady herself on some occasions; she had a panic desire for flight.

After several useless attempts to obtain the services of the doctor or at least a visit from him, she went into the neighbouring town to see the clergyman and his wife. But they were away, having, gone up to the hills.

The little corrugated-iron church looked dismal; it was curious to think that to some people it might seem the shrine of thanksgiving in joy and a refuge in time of trouble.

But there was one charming and delightful trait about the dull and invalidish clergyman. He had been several years in this charge and every time that he went to England he returned with plants and trees and, despite the sneers and warnings of the Italians that such exotics would not grow in this sandy soil, he had by tender care and exquisite skill contrived to make the garden of the vicarage and the church like an English meadow. There was grass and clover and may trees, fresh, pale and delicate, amid the sudden swift growth and colour of the Italian spring.

Finding no help there beyond what could be got from looking at the clover and the close buttons of the may, Margaret returned to her husband, who was in a fret at her long absence. It was a great while since she had been from home for longer than a quarter of an hour's walk on the sands or the road.

His illness seemed to her to be approaching a crisis; she feared his sudden and terrible death. Elisa was becoming frightened, too, alarmed at the thought of the two revolvers the sick man kept under his pillow and that he so frequently threatened to use, alarmed at the paroxysms of delirium. Her loyalty was not broken, but she was beginning to feel the effects, coarse-grained and stolid as she was, of this unnatural life that had endured too long.

Margaret asked Umberto, who continued his visits—though at long intervals—to the Villa Elsa, if he could find another woman in the village. He made one or two attempts, but he assured her that it was hopeless. Poor as the people were, there was no one willing to volunteer to nurse the sick man.

One day that was particularly fair and not too hot, the invalid rallied strangely and wished to leave the house. He wished even to take the tram to the first stage where a small stream ran down from the mountains to the sea. After infinite care and time, he and Margaret achieved his toilet.

She assisted him down the stairs, to the amazement, almost the horror, of Elisa, who had not seen him out of bed for weeks, and somehow with slow, patient steps they reached the tram halt.

The sick man seemed pleased at seeing the world about him once again, and Margaret's spirits rose at the sight of his flash of confidence.

There was no one in the tram save a few peasant women, one of whom was carrying a dead chicken.

At the first halt they got out. Their plan was to wait at the small café that stood there until the other tram returned. But they had so sooner alighted and the tram had not yet departed than there was a terrific sound that for a second stunned not only the sense of hearing but all other senses as well; Margaret had never experienced anything like it. At the same time the ground seemed to shake and all the bottles and glasses on the shelves of the café fell down and lay in a heap of brilliant-coloured splinters and flowing liquid, the syrup and wine mingled on the floor.

This sound was followed by another similar and yet another. The man and boy in the café, and the peasants who had come for the tram, began to run and scream. It was the Austrians at last bombarding the coast, not a doubt of it. A man came rushing across a near-by field, Margaret noted how he crawled through two lines of barbed wire. He was a stout, red-faced man and it was curious to see him struggling between the lines of barbed wire, tearing his coat from one projection after another as he screamed: "To the sea! To the sea!"

Margaret had heard before that the thing to do if the coast were bombarded was to run down to the water's edge, and there lie flat.

Everyone now followed this good advice and rushed down the banks of silver sand towards the sea, except for the conductor, who, paralysed by sheer fear, was running round and round in circles in front of the tram.

It was impossible for Margaret to follow the others, as she had the sick man leaning on her and he could not hasten his steps. Besides, she did not think it was a bombardment, for looking out to sea she could observe nothing on the smooth stretch of hardly-ruffled azure.

But was it an air-raid? Were bombs being dropped somewhere? She had never experienced this and did not know what to expect.

The sound was repeated seven or eight times, then ceased. And Margaret, chancing to look up, saw an extraordinary formation like a cloud rising behind the pines. It was hard-looking, as if cut out of stone, and pure white on the curly crest and dun-colour at the bottom. As she was the only one who had thought of an air-raid, she was the only one to see this, and it was easy for her to guess what had happened, for she knew there was a large powder-magazine about two miles distant.

"The powder magazine!" she shouted out to the flying figures, and they all rushed, it seemed with a new terror and screaming at the top of their voices: "The powder magazine! The powder magazine!"

There was hardly any family in the district who had not some member employed at this powder magazine, that had been before the war a firework factory. There was also there a garrison with at least fifty men.

A number of people had now run out on the white and dusty road and these all began to hurry, weeping and lamenting, towards the scene of the unexpected and incredible disaster.

Margaret had to go too, very slowly, helping the sick man as best she could, for the trams were no longer running, and they proceeded, resting every few yards.

The enormous clouds from the explosion increased until they had entirely spread over the blue sky, and by the time they at length reached the Villa Elsa the sunlight was eclipsed by the dun fumes from the explosion.

Margaret expected to find all her windows broken, but they had only been burst open and some of the crockery had been shaken from the shelves and smashed. Ugly, greasy smuts and soot were drifting over the house.

By now the whole province had been aroused; Green Cross ambulances, nurses, doctors, voluntary helpers, soldiers and crowds of peasants related to those working in the powder-factory choked the high road. They poured along without ceasing to waste their energies in lamentation and tears. Some of the women were carrying children, most of them had children stumbling at their side. They were coated with dust, and many of them were bare-foot and ragged.

There was nothing that Margaret could do, save get pails of water that Elisa replenished from the well, place them at the outer gate and stand there with a mug and hand the water to those who passed. Most of them drank gratefully, but none would stop. They tossed the water down and hurried on, only to be met by cordons of soldiers, so that their frantic desire to search the ruins for the remains of their beloved ones was frustrated.

There was little law and order or system to allay the confusion. As the news and the details of the catastrophe trickled through, she learnt that nearly a thousand people had been employed in the powder magazine, many of them women, and that they and the garrison had completely disappeared.

What had happened? No one was ever to know.

But the story went that a new kind of gun had been tested not far away, and the detonation had caused seven small powder magazines to explode one after another.

The dun pall that hung over sea and land lasted for twenty-four hours before a breeze rose and blew it away in dun-coloured shreds.

The agony of the bereaved peasants did not last much longer than the smoke from the explosion. In a few days women, children and old men were about the roads in ragged black clothes, begging because they had been bereaved by the explosion and quite gay and cheerful.

Such charred remains as could be found by the soldiery were laid out in the local morgue for identification.

Elisa begged a day off to go to this grisly exhibition with her sister. It seemed to give her a good deal of satisfaction, and she returned with the statement that the sight had been unpleasant, but not sufficiently so as to put her off her food.

This disaster upset such organisation as the neighbourhood possessed, and it became still more difficult to obtain food, hopeless to think of obtaining the services of a doctor, and the chemist ran out of even the commonest medicines.

Margaret's own private tragedy was, therefore, increased by this vast public tragedy, and her husband's temper, already frenzied by his sufferings, became further exaggerated by the hopelessness of obtaining any attention while the magnitude of this accident absorbed everyone.

It was at this agonising juncture of her affairs that Elisa told Margaret that the professor, as she termed him, was, after all, coming to the sea that year. For a brief time, only perhaps a few weeks, the casetta next door would be open. He would perhaps bring patients with him, and Elisa suggested that he might be asked to come in and see "the padrone," as she always termed him.

Margaret dismissed the idea at once. She had entertained it before, but briefly, but now she knew she had not the courage to approach this man and tell him her rather foolish and dismal tale.

But Elisa insisted that the professor, although undoubtedly eccentric and probably mad, was kind-hearted, and had been known to visit people for "nothing." Margaret was not in a position to accept anything for nothing, nor was she a peasant to whom charity could be offered.

She watched, however, with some curiosity, the casetta next door. It had white walls and a tiled roof, and there were masses of oleander in the garden, the beautiful blooms with their pale pearl-like tints and their grey leaves were coming to full blossom, and Margaret, when she was out on the terrace, looked down at the one-storeyed building through the flowers and the leaves.

She saw an old woman coming and going there, making the place habitable again, she supposed, and she noticed that in the little garden there was a great deal of clover, ordinary English clover such as she had seen growing round the English church. And she wondered why it should be there and nowhere else.

By June the place was fairly full. The silver beach and the blue sea shimmered, as if there were gold dust in the air; it was no longer possible to discern the horizon, sea and sky merged into one golden dazzle. The heat became excessive.

It was strange to look from the house, when all was so obscured and keyed to the expectancy of death, on to that bright, busy world; to see the brown bodies of the men and women in their brilliant bathing costumes and gaily-striped wraps moving to and fro across the dazzling sands. They would come out of the water wet and by the time they had reached the row of wooden bathing huts their bodies would be dry and gleaming.

There were many beautiful creatures among them. They used to run races and hold sports on the sands, throwing the discus and quoits. Sometimes they would put out in delicate pleasure boats that they must have brought from secret places, for Margaret had never seen them before, when the sea had been grey and the skies gloomy. In these boats they would float at ease, many with parasols of vermilion or green or azure; and the boats would not seem more solid than the water, as if suspended in pure unsubstantial light.

The flowers were now in abundance. Though none grew here save the oleanders in the professor's garden, the women could be seen carrying baskets of them-tuberoses, mimosa, and roses of all kinds, crimson, yellow and white.

Margaret felt as much divorced from this world as if she looked down on it from the moon. She had for so long and, as it were, so gradually been withdrawn from normal existence that she did not even feel any envy of these people, who were young and fair and, as it seemed, at least for a while, happy. To be any of these things or to possess any of these things seemed so utterly beyond her reach and out of her sphere that they did not even arouse in her any yearning or longing.

She looked at them curiously, and even a little coldly. What did they matter to her? She remained shut up with her obsession, with her knowledge that she must help someone to die who did not wish to die, who would scarcely be able to endure the knowledge that he was to die.

Elisa knew nothing of these people's servants, even. She, too, was apart. She went to and fro with her red kerchief early in the morning and bought what she could in the market place. Times were, as she remarked, even more difficult than before. First the disaster of the powder magazine, now the influx of visitors had caused prices to rise.

There were some delicacies and luxuries on the market, now, but quite beyond Margaret's means.

She heard music again in the evenings. She could not remember when last she had heard any melody or any song. When in the early days of her marriage she had lived in this part of Italy it had been gay and lively, with guitar and mandolin and little folk tunes. But all the winter it had been silent and before that, during the English winter, she had heard no music either. Now the merry-makers had their gay songs, and when Margaret would go out on the terraces—she only liked to do this in the very early morning or after dark, for she felt so conspicuous because the tops of the pine leaves were scarcely tall enough to hide her figure—she could hear snatches of luscious songs in the full amorous voices of the men. And now and then the strains of violin or flute from the neighbouring villas were heard, coming through the flat, dark plumes of the pines that divided her from her neighbours. And at once her mood was lifted.

Margaret had always been extremely susceptible to music, although she had only heard it intermittently and casually: in her childhood on the barrel-organ or the German bands, some of those old Teutonic drinking songs and scraps of Italian operas that she was to remember with nostalgia all her life. Then there had been her mother's playing, on a chance-found piano, some waltz or song learnt during her own girlhood in Germany; and again, the music-hall tunes and sentimental ditties whistled in the streets of London to the rhythm of hansom-cabs and the horse-buses. The concerts of the Paris and the Rome days, the thin, brittle, intensely exciting melodies of Italy—all these had power in their different ways to move her.

And she was profoundly moved now by the music that came to her in snatches, from the sand burnt to a thin crust of glittering silver, from the boats with the scarlet and cerulean parasols, from the wooden huts, some of which floated little Italian flags, from the grandiose villa residences with their green shutters closed against the heat.

Some part of Margaret, that was no one's wife, or mother, or nurse, that was, it seemed to her, sexless and unchangeable, rose to the level of the harmonious scenes about her—the violins, the brown bodies of the bathers, the sun and the oleanders in the professor's garden.

Elisa talked of this personage so much that he became quite real to Margaret, though she always found it grotesque to hear a physician spoken of in this grave style as "the professor," the title of a famous novel, and with other oblique and dignified associations.

Elisa pointed him out to Margaret, who was duly impressed. He was a tall personage with an iron-grey beard, correctly dressed in the white twill coat and trousers that most of the elder men wore, and with a large straw hat. She noticed him passing in and out of the garden of the casetta next door.

He seemed to her austere and formidable, and she shrank from the idea of appealing to him for help, though her obvious duty to her husband seemed to show her that she should not let any kind of pride or difference stand in the way of obtaining aid for him. It was, besides, unnatural and scandalous that a man so ill should be in the midst of so much gaiety and pleasure-making without any assistance beyond what his wife and servant could give him.

One day, with that sense of sickness that comes of forcing pride, almost self-respect to be silent, Margaret wrote a note as formal as her knowledge of Italian could make it. But how could she address a celebrated physician on holiday when she was asking him to attend a patient in whom he could have no possible interest? Margaret felt as if she were asking for charity and braced herself for a rebuke.

She knew that her position in this pretentious villa of princely origin was false; that they were there at all was the result of a sick man's sudden impulse, desperate and capricious. Their precarious situation, their poverty, accorded grotesquely with the munificence of their surroundings. Even the paper on which Margaret sent her note was the cheapest possible, and the ink was largely vinegar.

Elisa, whose loyalty gave her such a high opinion of her mistress and did not see anything grotesque in the request to the famous professor, went with the note.

Margaret watched her on her errand through the slats of the green sun-blind. There had been a struggle with Armado to induce him to provide these, but the villa had really been intolerable without them, and finally the disagreeable man had produced them from some storehouse and reluctantly fixed them up.

Margaret saw Elisa, her smooth black hair that she never washed and seldom combed, glossy as that of a Japanese woman in the brilliant gold of the festival air, as she turned out of the little strip of the Villa Elsa's garden on to the sands and so disappeared behind the oleanders of the professor's garden.

Margaret did not see how her request could be regarded as otherwise than an impertinence. And she was ashamed at her deep-seated timidity that made her, when so much was at stake, fret at the social error she had been forced to commit.

Her husband, who had heard who their neighbour was and who pressed her to call him in, was waiting, with anxiety equal to her own but based on very different causes, for Elisa's return.

So certain was Margaret of a disappointment that she had tried to disguise her venture from the sick man. But Elisa, in her zeal, had put her head round the door and told him of her errand.

"He will not come," thought Margaret, "but I shall at least have tried everything."

She resolved that she would, somehow, go up the mountain to the small hospital where Dr. Marco was in charge, and by some means persuade him to renew his visits to the Villa Elsa.

But Elisa returned with an air of quiet triumph-the professor had read the note and would "come round at once."

Margaret's husband was more delighted than she had seen him since she joined him in Turin. The mere sound of the famous name seemed to promise a cure.

But Margaret's embarrassment merely took another and selfish turn. She thought: "He's eccentric, he is a philanthropist, or he thinks we have a great deal of money and are important people."

But the thing had to be seen through.

Margaret went round the room to be sure that everything was in order. She had always a strong sense of obedience, and since she knew some of the rules that doctors expected kept in their patients' rooms, she had always contrived to observe them. She was single-handed, and there was much against her, but she had kept the apartment at least clean and fairly pleasant.

In summer this room, with the plain white walls, the tiled floor, the window looking on the sea and the window looking on the terrace with their deep blinds, was not unpleasant. The trained, quick eye of the celebrated physician no doubt would see that much was lacking, but Margaret was secretly proud of her hygienic measures and precautions.

Even in the shuttered house the heat was intense, but when Margaret went down the stone stairs that she had so often counted mechanically, into the wide hall, she was disgusted with herself to find that she felt sick at the effort of meeting this stranger. However, she knew the rules—no heroics, no sentimentality, everything must be kept as dry and formal as possible. She must give a bare history of the case, she must convey to this new physician that she knew it was hopeless, that it was merely a question of helping her husband to die with the least possible pain and fear.

Such was her intention and such was her mood when she saw a man totally unknown to her coming up the narrow sandy path between the pine trees, the tamarisks and the evergreens. Elisa, with the usual over-self-confidence of the curious and the gossiping, had made a mistake. The man with the grey beard, the white linen coat and the straw hat was not the professor.

This stranger was in everything different. He was a man of heroic physique; he wore a suit and shirt of pale tussore silk that seemed, like the sands, bleached by the heat. His personality amazed and bewildered Margaret. Meeting, under these circumstances, someone so different from the person whom she had braced herself to meet, gave her a physical shock like plunging suddenly into cold water or coming out of the dark into the sunlight.

With difficulty she got out her rehearsed speech, but it was both confused and mechanical.

He answered in a few easy words, and she noted that his accent was not Florentine but Venetian.

In silence she led him up the stairs into her husband's room, presented him to the patient, and at once went out on to the terrace across the landing that looked on to the oleanders and the casetta.

She supposed that she had read or heard of such an experience as was now hers, but she had scarcely believed in it. What had happened was that the focus of her existence had altered; she had been absorbed, to the point of obsession, with her husband, with his illness, with his approaching death. For months she had thought of nothing else, save intermittently of the child in England. Only a few stray unbidden dreams and visions had interrupted the intense concentration on this one subject.

Now, in one moment of time, the moment in which she had met this stranger on the threshold of her alien home, everything had altered. It was no longer her husband who was her chief concern, but the man who was now shut up with him, the man who had been so incongruously and absurdly termed "the Professor."

Common sense asserted itself, and Margaret argued that she was becoming light-headed from the unnatural enclosed life she was leading, and that there must be some self-deception or delusion about her feelings for this stranger that were entirely different from anything she had ever felt before, save for her long-since dead heroes of "antique virtue."

But what had happened to her was not to be argued away. She had the impression of a spiritual contact as definitely as she had ever had the impression of a physical contact. The thing was as real as a burn on the flesh. Therefore her embarrassment, her fears and dreads, her timidities and agonies were forgotten in amazement.

She heard him come out of her husband's room and close the door, and she crossed the landing, and followed him down the stairs into the hall, waiting, like an automaton, to take his directions, while she looked at him, still amazed.

He asked her if she knew that her husband was dying. She replied, "Yes."

The fact had already lost some of its terrible importance to her. She felt as if she were talking of some other woman's duty and burden.

He made no comment on that, but said, quietly:

"You can't go on as you are. It is impossible, and you will die, too."

Then he took her hand, kissed her forehead and said: "I will return this evening," and was gone.

Margaret had no more believed that such an incident was possible than she had believed that the stars might fall down out of the sky and become entangled in the sombre boughs of the pines. She had long since ceased even to dream of such rapturous encounters; for a great while she had been resigned to the loss of all that was best in life. She had considered herself plain, no longer young, and quite set aside from anything that might, by any twist or turn, be put under the words "passion" or "romance."

Again common sense spoke, but feebly. He was half-crazy or insolent. But even while these poor excuses formed themselves she put them aside. He had been in the house twenty times, she had seen him perhaps for two or three minutes, but she knew the truth there was between them.

Her husband's bedside bell rang and she went up to him. He looked different to her now from what he had ever looked before; even her pity became remote and impersonal. She hardly heard what he said, though yesterday she would have been so pleased in his pleasure at so famous a doctor undertaking the case, at the encouraging words that had been said, and the breath of life and hope this stranger had brought into the sick-room. Now all was remote and distant to Margaret, like a scene observed through the wrong end of a telescope. Even Elisa looked small and far away as she bustled about the house, encouraged and elated, too, by the visit of so celebrated a personage.

Margaret thought only of one thing—he had promised to come again that evening.

But blended with this was another thought. She considered her appearance for the first time since she had come to the Villa Elsa. There was only one mirror in the house, and that was of antique glass and hung in the large ballroom that Margaret hardly ever used. Since she had constantly to be in attendance upstairs, both this great salon and the smaller dining-room had been shut up. There had been one or two other mirrors in the bedrooms, but they had all been taken away, lest the invalid should see himself and be alarmed. He had, in the early days of their residence there, expressed great rage and despair at seeing his own reflection in the mirror, but Margaret had removed them and he had made no comment on the fact. There was an inset looking-glass in the large wardrobe in his room and she had contrived once, when he was sleeping, to place brown paper over that, that blended very well with the woodwork.

As a result of these precautions, she had no idea of the certain change in her own face. She knew that she must be haggard, thin, ravaged by fatigue and want of sleep. She had always been thin, and was now almost reduced to fundamental bone; her hands were ruined by constant immersion in water and disinfectant, of which only the coarser kinds were obtainable; all the attention her hair ever got was a wash with yellow soap, and she had not seen face powder since she had left England. Elisa had mended, pressed, and washed clothes that Margaret brought from England and kept them in tolerable condition, but it had been impossible to wear them when the days became hot, and the two women between them had contrived two frocks from yards of cheap cotton bought from the little shop that had opened when the season commenced. These, of miserable quality and poor designs, were a penance to Margaret, who had always thought that beautiful clothes would make anything easier, take the edge off any distress. Ugliness affected her like a pain.

But she had become used to these unhappy garments, to her cotton stockings and canvas shoes: until this moment. Now, to her amazement at what had happened was added the reflection that she must look like a scarecrow, and when her husband slept at last in the afternoon, she went downstairs to the great ballroom and looked at herself in the old mirror. It was hand-made glass, and the surface was uneven and gave it a faint ripple, and when you looked in your face had a greenish tinge as if you gazed into water.

Margaret scarcely knew the countenance that looked out at her there. She had never liked her own face; it did not, she thought, express what she really was at all. And when she did think of her appearance, which was not often, she always played with the idea that if she could have the clothes and the ornaments she wanted, she could make herself look more like the real Margaret who was hidden somewhere behind those pale features and that thin body.

The moments alone in the great ballroom were memorable. It was like going into another house, she had been in this chamber so seldom and it had been shut up so long.

Everything in it was strange and alien-the stiff, black furniture with the red rep covers, the large empty, dark bookcase with the golden lions' heads, the tessellated floor, the door at one end shuttered against the sea and the door at the other shuttered against the pines, the sun falling through the slats on the black-and-white marble.

All this, that had been so dreary and abominable, had now become enchanted. The room hardly visited by Margaret was now a chamber in a magic castle. And Margaret did not use this expression in any sentimental sense. All her life she had always felt that enchantment was round the corner, and it had not been anything childish or foolish but something strong and beautiful.

It was on her now and on the room. So rapt was her mood that she felt that she scarcely cared whether the professor returned or not. They had met and spoken and he had kissed her—and it seemed sufficient. All her poignant distresses and gnawing worries almost vanished. She was ashamed of her former cowardice; she knew now that she could do whatever was asked of her. She felt a strength that was exultant, that would carry the unfortunate man upstairs through what he must endure, and enable her to see what she had to see.

She made no speculations, she was not afflicted by wonder about the stranger as to what his life had been, what his entanglements or commitments were, or what his future plans, what hopes there might be of seeing him again or often, what he intended to do with regard to herself and her husband, now his patient.

Why she was not disturbed by her husband's problem she did not know, but an unexpected and remarkable serenity had fallen upon her. She kissed her own reflection in the dim, greenish mirror and walked up and down the black-and-white marble floor with a light swinging step that was almost a dance.

Soon, when her husband's bell rang, she had to return to her duties. Still regarding him from what seemed to her an infinite distance, she listened to his talk of his new doctor, his confidence and his pleasure in the fresh course of treatment, his hopes for a complete cure.

He actually thought that life was beginning for them both again, that he would recover and that they would go away somewhere, a united couple with the years before them.

As the sudden purple dusk fell Margaret escaped for a moment on to the terrace that was the roof of the ballroom.

She saw him in his garden with the large company; she could glimpse them through the oleanders that in the darkness were like pearls on shadowed water. He was moving about, laughing and talking with his friends, many of them were women wearing fine floating summer gowns. Beautiful women such as Margaret saw every day with their brown bodies and glossy locks walking on the dry white sands or floating in a little boat that seemed suspended in the liquid gold of air and sea.

Margaret hoped that he would not come again; the adventure was so utterly fantastic, so completely beautiful. She believed that it could not continue, that there was nothing to be made of it. It must remain unique, unexplained. If he had acted from a mere whim or caprice, or even because of some bet based on some ridiculous tale he had heard of her, Margaret did not care. It was quite enough for her that the thing had happened and she was sure that it would last her for the rest of her life.

When she returned to her husband and took up her usual place by his bedside, she found him quite confident that the celebrated physician would return. He believed that the professor had taken a great interest in his case and he expected, as a matter of course, that at least while he remained in the bungalow he would be in constant attendance on him. With the piteous egoism of the sick he thought such consideration merely his due.

Margaret listened to him with a compassion that was now no longer touched by dread and horror. She was right in her instinct that she had passed into enchantment, that nothing ever could be for her in the future as it had been in the past, but that the rest of life for her must be edged with light.

He came again late that evening, serene and courteous and went upstairs with only a formal word to her, and again was shut in with his patient.

Margaret sat downstairs in the dark ballroom—there was only a small light in the hall, they had to be so careful with the oil. All these economies that had seemed so irritating now seemed to Margaret not only a matter of indifference but even exciting. The cotton dress she wore seemed suitable and acceptable, she was no longer aware of ugliness. The white canvas shoes, that she detested more than any of the other cheap things she was forced to wear, even they seemed no longer so hideous as she looked down on her feet while waiting.

She could picture so well the scene upstairs. The invalid was eagerly talking of himself, of his symptoms, of his privations and his long misery and martyrdom, the errors and mistakes and bad behaviour of the various doctors, perhaps even talking of her and her errors and mistakes, for he had not given her a word of praise and thanks since she had come out to him. He had always against her the deep grievance that she had not brought the child. And, as sick people, even the intelligent and sensitive, will, he had accepted all her service as a matter of course, taking her for granted, feeling and showing no gratitude for what was, after all, but her plain duty.

Margaret was no longer thinking of him. She was thinking of the other man sitting there by the bed. Her amazement at what had happened had passed; after all, it was not surprising. She had been in love all her life, and with something intangible, that took now this form, now that—it seemed to be in music, and in certain pictures and in certain books, and in the broken, superimposed visions of dreams that arose from these like perfume from flowers or from the earth. Nearly always, save in her worst, darkest moments, she had been in love with something and hardly known what, though now and then she had been able to give it some transient vacant name.

But here it all was, in the person of the man sitting upstairs who was a stranger to her, of whose life and actions, of whose past she knew nothing. Nor had she ever had a premonition of what he would be like; he was utterly different from anyone whom she had ever seen before, as different from the Tuscans as she herself was different from the Anglo-Saxons-a northern Italian, chestnut-blond, with the features and stature of a drawing of a god by Michael Angelo.

How courteously, with what compassion and sympathy, she knew he would be listening to the tedious, piteous puerilities of the man who had so short a while to live.

He came downstairs at last, and she went into the hall with its faint light from the flickering flame of the small lamp. He asked her to go to the gate with him, and they went into the garden together; she had never noticed before how gorgeously the starlight lay, and had lain for many nights now, on the pines, brushing them with a bluish bloom. The sea, the air, the star-glow were all one, and she was part of this beauty.

She felt the breeze, so grateful after the parched heat of the day, pass under her thin cotton dress and cool her body already chilled from waiting in the ballroom with the stone floor.

He did not speak until they came to the gate that opened on the sands. Margaret could see that there were a number of people about, walking in that dim yet rich light—little parties by the edges of the tideless waves or standing by the gates of the villas. Never since she had been there had she been out so late before.

He told her that, for her health's sake and if she hoped to survive, she must not lead so unnatural a life, she must take more exercise. He said that she had been doing far more than was necessary; it was grotesque, her task had become an obsession with her and the patient would be better without so much toilsome service. Many of the tasks she undertook could be eliminated.

Her husband's suffering could be eased, too. The wine must be stopped, and the gross food that Elisa smuggled up; as a physician he would be able to give him relief, too, to ease his dying. It would not be long now—a few weeks perhaps.

Margaret winced at that with something of a return of her old terror. But he asked her—for he seemed to sense what she was feeling without speaking—why she should feel distressed or dread something natural. It would mean the end of the pain and ignominy of the body, and he asked her if she did not feel about her in the night air, in the pine boughs, in the starlight, some immortal essence to which this sick man, when his torment had ended, would return?

Margaret had known from the moment she first saw him that he would talk like this, but that he did so gave her an inexpressible ecstasy. She had never thought to hear her own secret raptures and hopes expressed on the lips of another. There was nothing eccentric or sentimental or foolish in the way he spoke; he was grave and quiet.

She was so moved that she found it difficult to speak, but she found the courage to ask him how long he was staying?

He said, as long as he could. "He will need me for another three or possibly four weeks." He assured her that all his skill was at the service of the sick man—"Not for his sake, for I have had many patients, many more in need than he is, but for yours."

She asked him if he had seen her, perhaps on the terrace or when she took her fifteen minutes' walk before he had come that day to the Villa Elsa?

He said, No, he had never seen her before; they had first met in the hall. But he knew the Villa Elsa well, he had been there often as the guest of its former princely owner, and he was a friend of the steward who had been in charge there, too, before the war came. The house that had been one of doom and terror to her was full of pleasant, even joyous memories to him. That gave their relationship yet another strangeness.

He asked nothing about her, neither her position nor her means, nor why her relatives did not come to her. No single question.

They stood at the gate no more than five minutes. Before he left her he said he would come again in the morning early. Then he added, in a voice that was suddenly changed by emotion, that he loved her and would do so for the rest of his life, but that his passionate regret was that he was not a younger man, for he was very many years older than Margaret.

The woman went back to the house completely uplifted. She felt like someone who has been promised many things many times yet never given any until, in one moment, everything ever longed, hoped or wished for is offered freely.

She found her husband happy, too; Elisa was soothed and excited. It seemed as if a blessing had fallen over the house. Death must come, but it would come with a minimum of pain, distress and humiliation.

Margaret's emotions, roused as they had never been before, were dominated by an overwhelming gratitude. Her husband at last slept, and she could escape into the room next his. She was brought to her knees and her face buried in the pillow, where she had so often rested her head, rigid with sleepless terror, by pure gratitude. And as she knelt there she marked in her mind and in her spirit every incident of that day that she might never forget or confuse anything that had occurred.

Why do I now put on paper these vivid and poignant memories for the incurious, the indifferent eye? Why do I reveal what part of me says never should be revealed but should remain ever mine only? Why, after being silent for so many years, do I relate at last what perhaps to so many people may seem trivial, or absurd, or unimportant?

Out of what is still an overwhelming gratitude that some record may be made of what to me was good and noble and beautiful exceedingly. Out of gratitude because this happened to me, because I was allowed this grand and lovely experience that put me for ever, even to the end of my days, in harmony with the world, that fused all my hopes and longings, all my enthusiasms.

Maybe this will scarcely be read, it may be it will scarcely be remembered, but I shall have put it on record before I myself am dead. I shall have written down these memories that they shall not utterly die with me but be recorded in language however feeble, in words however inadequate. I do not understand the why and the wherefore, the purpose or the reason, but I know that it happened and whatever it may have seemed then to others or might seem to them now, I know what it was to me, and something of that tremendous delight I feel impelled to record even as I also feel the attempt is a profanity.

Not only was Margaret completely changed, but her outward life took on another pattern.

The celebrated doctor visited his new patient twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, closeted alone with him for a long while as he soothed him, amused him, listened to his eager complaints and explanations.

For Margaret he had always a few words, when he went up and when he went through the hall or at the garden gate, never more than perhaps four minutes or so, half of them occupied by telling her what she must do to ease the patient's distresses.

He did not kiss her again or even take her hand, but he assumed that they loved one another, and she saw, to her amazement, that, experienced, wise and strong as he was, he was as moved and shaken by their encounter as she was.

Often during the day, when she was on the terrace, she saw him through the window, moving about with his friends and acquaintances, often with the other man with the iron-grey beard for whom she had mistaken him, frequently with women, charming, young, delightful, gaily-dressed women.

She did not feel in the least envious or jealous. Indeed, she no longer wondered at his preference for herself; it seemed like something that had been ordained long before either of them was born. And she was not becoming hysterical, nor was she sick, nor was she developing crazy fantasies-she had too many practical things to occupy her. All the burden of the nursing was still upon her, there was hard work to be performed, she had to keep her head during paroxysms and crises of the illness. But she had a good deal of time in which to sit alone and think over what had happened to her; she was not bemused or benighted.

She did not know if he was married or bound to some other woman. She asked Elisa, but Elisa did not know either. It did not seem to matter; they would part quite soon and her memories were inviolate.

She noted, with the tenderest admiration and pride, for already he seemed to belong entirely to her, his dealings with the patient. She had always been keenly interested in medicine and hygiene, and she could see his skill, his knowledge, his profound passion—he was truly a great physician.

He had asked her about the treatment prescribed by Dr. Marco, of whom he spoke with indulgence. The poor fellow was ignorant, half-trained, overworked. The professor smiled when he saw the array of almost untouched medicine bottles, and ordered them all to be thrown away. Elisa dug a pit in the fine silver sand under the pine trees and buried them all.

The enforced change in the diet and habits of the patient brought him some relief. But nothing could really alleviate his pain, death alone was to be wished for.

How could such a situation, for any of them, continue? It seemed to Margaret impossible that she should be ever left alone again to face what she had to face, yet how could he possibly remain? She had not the slightest claim on him; although he had come to mean everything both in reality and in the dream to her, still he was not her guardian angel, and she had enough common sense left to laugh at her own presumption.

He showed himself exceedingly solicitous of her health. She explained to him that she could not take much exercise or leave the sick-room often because of the agitation it caused her husband. Since he would not want anything of her again after a few weeks' time, she must now give him all she had.

So she kept up the same life, enclosed in the sick-room save for those brief walks on the seashore.

When her husband could get out of bed he would sit at the window holding his bell in one hand and a watch in the other and ring the bell when the quarter of an hour was passed. Margaret was so used by now to the duration of time of fifteen minutes that she could turn in almost to the tick without warning.

Sometimes in the afternoon he slept, and then she would go into the pine-woods that were at the side of the house, close to the board where she had first seen the professor's name on the square of wood. There it still hung, weather-beaten, almost washed out by the salt winds. She would lie underneath it in her cotton gown, letting the sun soak in through the threads on to her skin, letting her hair down to her waist, feeling the pine needles press through the thin stuff, grasping in her hands the strong tufts of fragrant rosemary—alone, silent in the golden blue of the long afternoons, now beginning to have the tawny, ruddy hues of approaching autumn.

So Margaret would lie, looking up at the terrace and the window that opened on to it, where her husband lay dying, thinking of the rapture that was life.

Sometimes she wondered, but almost lazily, without speculation or apprehension, if the man whom she loved had any plans for her? He had spoken once of finding a nurse, he said that he could get one from a Florentine hospital, but her husband had shown a curious distaste and despair at this suggestion. He wanted his wife and no one else to look after him, and the subject could not be raised again.

Had this stranger, whom she loved and who said he loved her, any design for her welfare? Even when he had to go away and leave her alone, would he in some way provide for her consolation and comfort? She could not ask him, she did not know, she did not greatly care.

The merry-makers disappeared, one by one the villas were closed. These people had duties or pleasures elsewhere.

The heat was still intense, but not so intolerable. Some of the people were going up to the hills or to medical baths; the wooden bathing huts were shut up, there were fewer boats on the brilliant waves. The little wooden shops were closed too.

The weather was superb, the sunshine seemed thick like run honey. The sea, that had been so pure and azure, began to have undertones of violet and green.

Umberto came down from his hill village on an unexpected visit-Margaret had almost forgotten his existence. Her husband greeted him coldly. She had never liked the man, a sly, greedy, if plausible rascal and one who, she suspected, had started crazy gossip. He seemed likely to give unexpected trouble now. Dr. Marco had been of his finding, and Umberto objected to his man's losing the case. He had never supposed that Margaret would find another physician.

The fellow was disagreeable, almost insolent. He had certainly offered some services that had been useful enough, but he had been well paid. Margaret saw him go without regret. She had always felt affronted by his easy assumption of familiarity.

The limit of the professor's leave seemed to have been reached, and there was no change in the illness of Margaret's husband.

For the first time she began to think of the future. Hitherto it had been to her merely a long dim vista of herself and the child. Now she saw it as a renewal of hope for herself personally. Every instinct and wish she had ever cherished revived in her. She wanted to throw herself with enthusiasm into different kinds of work, everything from painting pictures and writing books to embroidery. She wanted to have a garden and plant it, a house and furnish it. She wanted more children, a family of them, and to bring them up, free, handsome, bold and noble. Every ambition that had been dead revived. The coming of this stranger into her life was like putting a lamp in a dark place and revealing brilliant pictures on the walls.

The life that had shrunk to a sick man's chamber expanded again to limitless opportunity. The war that had been a hideous menace over the whole of the background of Margaret's life seemed no longer to matter. The spot that had seemed so forlorn and forbidding was suddenly beautiful and friendly. Italy, even in the early days of her marriage, had never looked like this before. She understood now why people had fallen in love with the country.

Some toads came out of hiding and sat by the well where the stones were damp, and when Margaret went with Elisa to help draw the water, she used to sprinkle them to see their parched skins turn fresh and glistening. Margaret had always liked toads, their shape, their colour, and to feel them cold in her hands. They were never associated, for her, with dreadful images. The sight of them, huddled against the damp stones of the well, gave her pleasure.

Then she used to go out in the early morning, soon after the dawn, and the dry sandy hummocks outside her evergreen hedge would be covered with delicate and ghostlike toadstools of the faintest mauve colour, on very long stems. When the sun rose through the lilac mists, the toadstools would fade away and not even a trace of moisture on the sand be left.

Strong bushes of rosemary blossomed also in the square of sand that was called the garden. Margaret could pick sprigs of these and standing them in a jar or cup have an object of austere beauty to look at in her whitewashed room.

The oleanders in the professor's garden faded, as did the cascades of roses and the beds of lilies in the gardens of the other villas. The arid Italian August burnt up everything that had been green, and the chestnut trees that covered the slopes of the distant mountains turned a pure red-gold, so that when the sun shone directly on them they seemed like a mosaic of precious metal against the purple of the sky.

Like the figures in a marionette show to Margaret, the holiday-makers still came and went, brightly-coloured, indolent, laughing, with their mandolins and their songs, their disks and their brilliant balls of emerald and green colour, on the sand with the hard silver crust, on the waves with their edging of sparse white foam and their faint ripples edged with golden sequins. But every day there were fewer of them.

The doctor came out of that world of which he was part, and the people to whom he belonged into her world twice a day, punctually and without fail.

As he had asked for no explanation she gave none; he did not seem to think that their relationship constituted a problem. But often it flashed into her mind that at any moment the sick man might die and she would be free. What, then, would the magnificent stranger suggest?

Almost everything separated them. It would be, in any case, good-bye. She knew that he had to return to the field hospital, and she had her child in England. The death of her husband could not bring them nearer together; indeed, it would remove the bond that now held them. They were united in that common service.

Margaret was now justified in those early dreams and high hopes that she had long ago put aside as impracticable. She shared now those noble and rapturous experiences of which she had read only before, and which she had for years now doubted. If there were anything in the word eternity, their love was eternal; if there were any truth in the phrase predestined affection, then it applied to them. There was no fleck or flaw in the rapture with which they regarded each other.

Margaret was lifted to a serenity that nothing could trouble. The pains of every day, her toils, fatigues, apprehensions, the recurrent dread with which she looked ahead to her husband's death, inevitable and daily coming nearer, seemed superficial compared to her inner delight at having found what she had believed she never could find, realising after a long resignation that she had not been wrong in those early and golden expectancies that had seemed too high-placed ever to be reached.

Though the emotion itself was flawless, Margaret soon began to realise that it was ringed about with trouble and even hostility. She had lived so long enclosed in the small world of the Villa Elsa that it was hard for her to realise what these incredible and incomprehensible people in the larger world outside were doing or saying. Still harder to care what they did or said.

But that world was her lover's world, and those people were his friends. She saw him perturbed, moved, even sometimes shaken. She was surprised because he was doing nothing, in her opinion, that should cause any comment. What could be more decorous and orthodox than two visits a day to a patient who was so dangerously ill?

But it was evident to her that he had to face more gossip than she could understand, that he felt profoundly the emotional strain of their extraordinary position.

He tried to insist that she should leave what he called her prison oftener, he repeated that her behaviour was grotesque, fantastic. He spoke to the husband and obtained leave for her to go for a walk, half an hour or so, in the evening and to bathe in the still, golden sea of late August. He tried to supervise what she ate, and the duties she did; to make everything easier for her.

And his solicitude must have been noticed, for Margaret observed that Elisa became sullen and jealous. She who at first had been so proud and delighted that the professor's services had been obtained, now resented them and suggested that Dr. Marco should be fetched again.

Umberto, when he came again to the house and found another influence still there, was also resentful. Margaret had no patience with him, she knew that he was a shallow rascal who felt himself cheated of pickings, but she was sorry that Elisa, whose affection and devotion she valued, should be hurt and malicious.

There were other enemies, too. The old woman, Sybilla, who kept the casetta for the professor, was a disagreeable, moody creature though an excellent cook and servant. She was well known in the neighbourhood for her spiteful tongue, and her master, good-humoured as he was, would have got rid of her, save that she had been with his mother and nursed her in her last illness.

When Margaret went abroad she did not much enjoy the new-found liberty. It was very strange to be able to walk rapidly and not accommodate one's steps to the slow crawl of a sick man; it was strange to feel the great space and the sky around one.

A fine feeling, indeed, this freedom, but marred by the quizzical and hostile glances of the few holiday-makers left, by the looks (that seemed to Margaret of hate) that Sybilla, leaning on the fence of the casetta garden, would direct towards the oleanders.

Why this woman disliked her so she never was to know; not that it greatly troubled her, but she feared that it added to her lover's troubles.

The English people who had offered her supplies of the skim milk stayed late into the season, and their curiosity getting the better of their social sense, asked Margaret to tea at their villa. This invitation, on the professor's earnest exhortation, she declined; it was easy for her to do so under the excuse that she was always in attendance on her husband. Nor, indeed, would he willingly have allowed her to be absent for the entire afternoon.

There was another invitation that the professor wished her to accept. It came from a lady who lived in one of the near-by villas, and it was to an afternoon concert. Margaret would much rather not have gone; she had nothing to wear but her cotton frock and felt shy and awkward and somehow, she did not quite know why, in an utterly false position as if she had been guilty of doing wrong. Whom and what it was she had wronged she did not know.

But the doctor persuaded her, for some reason she did not know, to go to this party and brought her a fine white military cloak with two silver lions forming the clasp. As it was worth nothing, he said, she could accept it. He also had a pair of sandals made for her by the village cobbler, designing them himself and coming with the man to fit them.

Margaret was admired as she had never been before; she was told she walked like an empress and had beautiful feet. She had always liked them herself, it had given her pleasure on many occasions to look at them; they had not been ruined like her hands by the work she had to do.

The sandals, the cotton dress, the cloak and a sixpenny hat of greenish straw with yellow ribbons were not inappropriate for the concert on the sands, where many of the people were in bathing dress.

Margaret was presented to a number of titled ladies, sallow-faced, black-haired, elegant Italians, who were civil but not in the least friendly. She hardly enjoyed the concert, that consisted almost entirely of music by Covelli, thin and fanciful, which did not seem suited either to the scene or Margaret's mood.

The professor, too, felt that the occasion had proved a failure, and as he walked back with Margaret to the Villa Elsa he told her bluntly that this state of affairs could not go on. He was making himself conspicuous by remaining so long at Porto del Marno, he had obligations that he could hardly avoid meeting much longer. They had their enemies. In brief, it came to the familiar English phrase, "people were beginning to talk."

Margaret had believed that petty gossip was peculiar to English villages, but it seemed that this different society in this different part of the world was also given to malice and uncharitableness. She suggested at once and without hesitation that he should leave her. Now she had his instructions and knew that he was there, she could manage very well and perhaps, when the climax came, he might, if in Florence, return. It was, after all, only two or three hours' journey.

Then, as they hastened along the sands, silver, salt-caked, hurrying for fear the sick man would notice her long absence-he had given leave for an hour and she had been away for nearly two—her companion suggested to her that she should end this grotesque situation. He said that even now, in time of war, he could obtain adequate attention for the dying man; he could go into a nursing home in Florence and have a day and night nurse. Everything could be arranged, he would lack nothing, he would have, indeed, much that it was impossible to give him here. Soon the place would be empty again and all the villas would be shut, the storms of autumn and the bitter discomforts of winter would begin. He had, under this skilful treatment, recovered a certain amount of strength and might live until the spring. Nor was it possible that he would be nursed in such a place. Let Margaret be reasonable and sensible for once in her life and not try to do the high-flown heroical, absurd thing. While her husband was being thus properly looked after she could go away. Her friend had a villa on the borders of Lake Como, and she could stay there indefinitely, unobserved, not subjected to gossip or malice or ridiculous misunderstanding.

There she could at last look after herself, become well and strong again, do her painting and needlework—she had not admitted to him that she wrote books.

He could find her servants; he disliked Elisa, who was, he said, a vulgar Tuscan peasant, and to see her with Margaret was like seeing an ape attending a swan.

This proposal was not even a temptation to Margaret, it was impossible. She rejoiced, however, that he had made it. She listened to every word he said with the most intense pleasure; it would be something to think about for the rest of her life. For ever in her dreams she could vicariously enjoy that escape to the banks of Lake Como. But if she went in reality she would not enjoy it. It would only be a torment full of regret. Nothing could induce her to forsake her husband or even Elisa—they were all three together until the end of that adventure. It might be that he would be more comfortable in a nursing home, but she knew that what he had left of life was by her and through her. She was, and always would be, his last hope, his last link with the world that he was so loth to relinquish.

By the time they reached the gate by the evergreens and the tamarisks she had refused, and he, though with anger, accepted her refusal. She had a duty to him, too; she asked him not to stay there for her sake, causing wonder and scandal, avoiding his own obligations. She did not know what these were, he had told her so little of himself and when she had tried to ask he had always said he could get another to take his place. Now, however, he seemed profoundly troubled and she thought there was something he was concealing from her stupidity.

What this was she soon knew; Elisa and Umberto both told her flatly; the doctor was now giving his patient morphia. This practice had been begun by Dr. Marco, but intermittently and carelessly, so that it increased more than alleviated suffering. Skilfully controlled, injections greatly eased the sick man's pain and brought him long hours of desperately-needed unconsciousness.

This had somehow got about. Margaret did not want to suspect Elisa of spying, but in some way everything that went on in the Villa Elsa seemed to be known over the entire country and Dr. Marco, who had neglected the case, was, it seemed, jealous that it had been given into the hands of another man. And between them all they were spreading the tale that the sick man was being given morphia in order that his wife and the doctor might enjoy long interviews in the villa and long walks in the countryside.

So had Margaret's snatched fifteen minutes and half-hours been exaggerated.

This talk did not affect her much; it seemed to her merely silly, the usual tattle of the idle and ignorant.

She was more concerned with a sudden visit from the Anglican parson and his sister. They were going away for the winter and they would come as soon as the sick man was dead, and the Protestant burial service should duly be read over his body. The little clergyman was very anxious to do his duty.

There was a piece of ground, a kind of potter's field, for the strangers and the outcasts, attached to the official cemetery, and there Margaret's husband might be buried with Protestant rites.

Margaret thanked them for their good offices, but did not intend to recall them for this dismal technicality from wherever it was they were going. And again she had a struggle to prevent these earnest people from forcing their way into the sick-room with pamphlets and prayers for the dying.

This difficulty disposed of, there came another.

A priest called. He had taken it for granted that the dying man was a Roman Catholic, and wished to offer the last rites of that Church without which no one could be buried in consecrated ground. He was meek, charming and amiable, and much more understanding and tactful than the Anglican clergyman. He put his case modestly.

When Margaret explained to him that she could not allow him to visit her husband because it would terrify him to think that his illness was so serious, the priest realised the position at once and courteously accepted it. Margaret repaid his confidence by not informing him that her husband was technically a Protestant, and by promising that he should be sent for before the breath was out of her husband's body.

She did not intend, however, to introduce the priest into the sick-room while the invalid was still conscious. And on telling the professor of this resolve, she found that he agreed, as he did with everything she thought. He told her that he had witnessed the most horrible scenes when sick people were faced with the viaticum by the priest, and the knowledge of what that meant.

So it was agreed between them that the little priest should be sent for when the sick man was no longer conscious of what was happening.

For he, now, was raised up with a revived hope. The treatment had eased his pain and improved his spirits. He rose and walked about his room and even on to the terrace in the thick autumn sunshine. Every possible trouble was made and device undertaken for his comfort.

It was a point of honour between them that this should be done. Margaret exacted this service and it was given gladly. Her husband must gain, they agreed, not suffer from their rapturous affection.

When the professor left, as he had to now and again for two or three days' visit to Florence, he instructed her what to do in his absence, and she learned to give the morphia and injections of camphor.

Margaret took a pride in thus administering to the comforts of the sick man's body and soul; it seemed to her a form of creative art.

She had pondered whether it was not wrong to deceive him, that he should, perhaps, have been informed that he had so short a while to live. But she knew, as the English doctors had told her, that his was not the temperament to endure such news; he would probably do something desperate or violent, make scenes that would be unendurable. Better to let him die with uncomprehending courage.

He wanted new winter clothes, and she wrote to Milan for patterns. He wanted to improve his French, and she wrote to Florence for French books for him to read. The professor supplied him with books and newspapers, too. Never had he been so well looked after.

Sometimes he seemed to have flashes of intuition, for he would say, unexpectedly: "I know for whom this is being done. For you, not for me." Then he would take her hand and ask Margaret eagerly: "You wouldn't stay? You wouldn't do this if you didn't love me, would you?" And she would lie and say: "No, I wouldn't do it if I didn't love you."

It was not for Margaret to argue with him the overtones and undertones of human relationship, all the subtleties of her own feelings. Let him call what she was doing for him love, and die happy in that thought.

One after one the great villas shut up again, one after one the smaller houses were closed, too, and soon there was no one left but the few fisher-folk, the stewards who were looking after the villas and one or two late holiday-makers.

Margaret continued the even routine of her life; her attendance on the sick man was only broken by those few walks, sometimes one or two a week, never more than a quarter of an hour's duration—through the pine-wood at the back, along the sands in the front, always openly and in daylight, with the doctor when he was there, alone when he was in Florence. She did not doubt that they were closely observed, even spied on. If other people chose to find ugliness in what, to her, was wholly beautiful and what she knew to be wholly harmless it did not concern her at all.

She was used to holding herself aloof and to a lack of charity and understanding in others. No one had helped her by as much as a word until this man had come along; she was under no obligation to anyone for money, kindness or advice. What she had done she had done of her own free will, according to her own judgment and paid for it with the money she earned.

And to this extent she felt herself free, to disregard whatever scandal might be whispered or even shouted, to take freely love that was so freely offered.

She found it indeed irresistible, she could not have paltered with it or denied it or in any way deceived him as to her feelings. Here was an emotion neither to be controlled nor refused.

One day he brought over Dr. Marco to see the patient with the intention of silencing the ugly stories the foolish man was spreading. Uneasy and nervous in the presence of one so much his superior, Dr. Marco came into the sick-room, looking, as Margaret observed, about him with quick curiosity.

He made an embarrassed examination of the patient, admitted that he was much improved, and went away with something that sounded like clumsily muttered apologies.

The professor had obtained the two revolvers that had given Margaret and Elisa so much anxiety, and these were lying on a table in the dining-room and Dr. Marco, as he passed, cast on them a look of greedy and childlike admiration that Margaret found touching. Margaret hated the sight of them and the associations they brought up, and it was a curious and rather gratifying twist of thought to see that to another person they were objects of envy.

One day Margaret always remembered. It was the first of September, a date fixed for ever in her mind.

The patient slept in the early afternoon and they walked along the sands to the little stream that ran down from the mountains where the café stood and the trams stopped. This was where she had heard the explosion of the powder factory. They turned up here and walked inland along a lane until they came to a small bridge; on the other side of this were some cypress trees and a little farm, the golden heads of the Indian maize were lying outside in the sunshine. Everything was not golden, but yellow, like honey, the blue was veiled with yellow. There was a white goat browsing; the country people were beginning to gather in the grapes.

There was a small press attached to the farm, and the women were coming in with the baskets of dusky grapes on their heads. On the stone wall outside the farm were pigeons, vivid white and metallic blue and green like those that used to fly in and out of Margaret's room when she first came to Italy. There were flowers, too, and their brightness seemed to burn as if the air were a golden veil and they were blazing the fabric into flame—scabias and geraniums, scarlet and orange.

They stood on the bridge for quite a while and watched two frogs in the shallow stream below.

By now, each knew everything of the other, yet neither had told many details of their lives. Margaret, indeed, had little to tell and he had too much. How could he ever relate to her his rich experiences? There was nothing he had not done—a great athlete, famous mountaineer, celebrated sportsman, a physician of genius, he had touched life at every point. How poor and thin were Margaret's experiences beside his!

She hardly spoke of them, he knew them without her relating. He told her that what was wrong with her life was that she had not met him before, and what was wrong now with both their lives was that he was too old for her. He spoke often and with passionate regret of this defect in their love, that he was so much older than she was.

For herself she never noticed it—twenty or twenty-five years older than she was, he might be—but he seemed to be a man in the very pink and prime of manhood, a pattern of virile strength and beauty.

But to him it was a sharp regret that ran through all the joy of their having met. He was too old, it was too late, everything was against them. Yet only in a worldly sense; in a spiritual sense everything was for them. They were perfect companions.

It was not strange that she had not met a man like him before, but it was strange, as it was wonderful, to hear him say that he had never met a woman like her before. With his many love affairs—and he had loved often and different kinds of women—never had he met anyone like Margaret. With her, he said, his life stopped. Everything in her that seemed to have alienated, displeased or vexed other people pleased him. She felt all her convictions, her intuitions, her opinions confirmed and underlined by him.

They were alike in everything; never did they have a diverse thought or taste, their reaction to everything that happened was the same-Nature and animals and other human beings, their standards of right and wrong, their dislike of formal Christianity, their pantheistic beliefs, their pagan tastes: all were the same.

He, in everything, was infinitely Margaret's superior: in intelligence, strength of character, nobility, in learning, wisdom and experience. She would have been happy to be his servant for the rest of her days.

On this first of September as they stood on the bridge in that golden haze he asked her to remember the day and the date. They planned their marriage, whatever people said; her relations, his friends, those who knew them, there should be no obstacle, once her husband was dead, to their marriage.

Was it indecent and indecorous that this should be planned while she was yet a wife? It did not seem so to Margaret. In any case, it had a fairy-tale quality that made it something that could never happen, at least not on this planet. There was so much in the way. According to the Italian law, he informed her, and of which she did not know before, they could not be married until a year had elapsed after her husband's death.

A year! and Europe was at war. She would have to return to England and fetch the child. Then she might go in peace and without regret to that villa on Lake Como, and later he might join her when he was free of his own duties and obligations.

For the first time in Margaret's life the question of money did not enter into her calculations. He had enough, but he was not a rich man, having been always too generous and prodigal. But he had enough, for her and for the boy, too, and for himself until the end of his days. He would retire and they would live quietly with the child.

Margaret had for long been doubtful of the possibility of happiness for herself. Not only had it for long seemed to her that she would never get it, but that she had no right to expect it, and now she was casting over in her mind what might happen to prevent this incredible good fortune. Was there not some duty to be performed, some obstacle in the way, some tie or claim? But even her anxious mind could think of none. Her own earnings would go to her own people, the boy would be brought up in Italy under noble guidance, with a splendid example.

Yet as they left the bridge and turned back to the Villa Elsa she still felt doubtful. Such a joyful prospect could not be for her. Before they parted they wrote their initials on the brittle crust of the sand:


At the end of that memorable September there was no one left in the place save Margaret, her husband and Elisa, the professor and his housekeeper and the permanent inhabitants-the fisherfolk and the stewards of the villas.

The professor had refused to listen to her protestations that she did not wish to accept his self-sacrifice. Somehow he had managed his affairs; friends came and went in the casetta, he did not tell Margaret who they were, but by their aid, doubtless, he was able to depute his duties, stay with her, and give the best of his skill to this stranger who was only important to him because he was Margaret's husband.

News of the war came intermittently, the conflict seemed as remote as if it had been in another planet. Remote, too, seemed that English seaside town where the child was being taken care of by old Nana. Margaret sent the money for his keep regularly, and regularly received the letters giving the account of his health. She thought of him often and with a desperate tenderness, but she knew that now he was only a figment of her imagination. She had left him when he was six weeks old; he must have changed and be a different creature by now. The sense of the war and the great distance between them put him, too, into another planet.

Margaret had other diversions now besides her daily walk. Not only had she materials for the painting that the professor had sent for from Florence, but she had contrived to have her books taken out of storage and sent to the Villa Elsa. Margaret unpacked them and arranged them in the great ballroom. There were no bookcases, and she had to stack them against the wall.

They had curious and poignant memories for her when she opened them again. She could remember when she had bought them or when they had been given to her, and all their various associations, different phases of her life, all the hope and enthusiasm with which she had read them, trying to educate herself, to learn about lovely and noble things, and curious and difficult things while her feet were set in trivial places and she was spent by petty cares.

Apart from them she kept the copy of Julius Caesar and George Macdonald's Phantastes that had been such good friends to her when there was nothing else.

By the end of October her husband seemed to have improved in health; she had a vivid illusion that he was, after all, going to recover, though she knew that this was, humanly speaking, impossible. But it seemed as if her devotion and the professor's skill had re-created this man and that they had called him back from the verge of the grave. He became like the man he had been in the past, full of hopes and plans for the future. It was strange for Margaret to sit by his bed where he was propped up on his pillows, and listen to him talking of the days to come when they would return to England, his schemes and plans for the boy—he was never without the boy's photograph under his pillow-and the other children they would have, and the family they would bring up: all delusions, and sad to hear while the sea outside, stormy again, roared incessantly and the great grey clouds came up over the Mediterranean, heavy and menacing, while the shrill winds blew along the open seaboard, rattling the very doors and windows of the Villa Elsa.

Margaret sat, resigned, patient, with her own heart and soul far away, encouraging the dying man in the day-dreams that were keeping him happy.

He would often have his book of tailor's patterns out, turning them over on the coverlet, selecting overcoats and suits, though the wardrobe was full with many unworn clothes.

Sometimes, when they were both there, the dying man, propped up by a support they had made him and the doctor at the bedside talking to him, Margaret seated by the window would have a feeling of enchantment.

For so intense was her feeling for the doctor that his patient, nominally her husband, seemed to her the stranger and the alien, someone whom they had taken in out of pity and charity and were looking after as a duty. He to whom she had been married for nearly four years, and the father of her two children, although she had known him for nearly seven years, seemed to her utterly a stranger, while the man whom she had only known for four months was actually—and always would be—half of her life, her thoughts, her soul, her heart.

The little priest came and went, courteous, smiling, gratefully accepting a small glass of red wine, timidly asking after the health of the patient, tactfully acquiescing in the situation.

Winter darkened down early with storms and desperate stories of the war on the Italian front coming from the returned peasants and the women who brought their children to the professor's casetta to be treated.

Margaret began to lose her common sense and her judgment. It seemed to her that she had been a hundred years at the Villa Elsa and would stay there another hundred years, that this pattern of life would never be altered, she must always be in that sick-room, mechanically performing hard, distasteful, painful, and even revolting duties.

Her husband was kept easy in his mind because of those two visits a day. She even expressed to the professor her fantastic doubt—was it possible that their charge was really going to die? Would an end ever come to this abominable illness?

The physician assured her that, whatever appearances might be, the end would not be long now. He told her, too, what he had long known. The sanitary authorities would insist, as soon as her husband was dead, on taking possession of the Villa Elsa, on fumigating it, on destroying all the bedding and a great deal of furniture. This would have to be at her expense and might amount to a considerable sum. She must not concern herself about that, as he could see to everything for her; death should bring her release.

He had arranged, too, for her comfort, a small house along the coast that belonged to a German friend of his and was then in his charge. There she and Elisa could move as soon as the end came, and from there all her affairs could be settled, quietly and decorously.

Margaret's gratitude was beyond her power to express when she considered how, before this friend came into her life, she had dreaded the actual moment of her husband's death and all the responsibilities and difficulties it would bring. How could she possibly have contrived alone, even with the clumsy devotion of Elisa and the hired help of Umberto?

It was a day of pale sunshine in early November, and the storms had ceased, when her husband suddenly said that he wished to get up. He wanted very much to pay a visit to the professor's casetta. Margaret had never even entered the garden of the little house. The doctor said that he was not to be thwarted in this desire, whim though it might be, and between them they dressed him in the suit that he particularly liked and helped him down the stone stairs that Margaret had counted so often in her journeys between the sick chamber and the kitchen.

She had now more strongly than ever her feeling of being in attendance on a resurrected man, on a ghost. He looked incredibly ghastly in his jaunty clothes. He was smiling and seemed happy; beneath the havoc of the illness his youth was apparent. He was thirty-three years of age and of a splendid constitution. He was, the doctor said, like a piece of fine steel eaten away by rust. His ruined magnificence in the pallid sunshine, as, leaning on a stick, he passed out of the garden of the Villa Elsa the first time for months, impressed Margaret with a sense of horror not to be easily overcome.

She left him at the garden of the casetta and went up to the terrace and looked down at him. She saw him sitting there with the professor in that lemon-coloured sunshine. He was talking in an animated style, smoking a cigarette and drinking a little glass of liqueur. She knew that not many doctors would have allowed him this diversion; she knew the tenderness and understanding that had permitted it. The sick man was happy, as if he saw life opening before him again with an almost endless vista.

The clouds scudded quick and low across the sea, obscuring the sun, that disappeared to be seen no more that day.

The invalid began to cough and shiver; the doctor rose, and Margaret saw them passing behind the boughs of the bare oleanders and tamarisks, past the gloomy green-and-yellow leaves of the evergreen hedge back to the Villa Elsa, where the bed had been made smoothly, the stove replenished, and the jar of water and bay leaves placed on top.

They got him to bed again before he collapsed; he was quite happy and asked continually for some persimmons that he had fancied and that had been difficult to procure. He had seen some in the doctor's house and that kind friend had promised to send them over.

Margaret went out with the professor on to the landing and when they reached the hall where he had first met her, he told her that he did not think her husband could live for more than a few hours. He said there was nothing he could do for the moment, but that he would return soon.

Shortly afterwards he sent a boy with a large basket of persimmons; they had smooth, glossy, orange surfaces and crowns of dark curling leaves. Margaret took them upstairs and put them by her husband's bed. At the news she had just heard her old panic, that she had thought allayed for ever, returned. She did not know how she could endure to see this man die. She had only seen death once before and she could not tell how she could find the courage to watch it now, to remain cheerful and brave to the last, so that he might not be frightened.

It was a stormy night and she had to keep the doors and windows shut; the wind rattled at the loose-fitting casements.

That he was changing for the worse was obvious to her. He kept falling asleep and waking drowsily, demanding what time it was. When it became one o'clock, and two o'clock and three o'clock in the morning she altered the watch, for he wanted to know what she was doing by his bed, still dressed. So she put the hands back to nine o'clock, pretending that it was still early and any minute she was going to bed.

The professor came and went during the night; he did not speak to Margaret. Elisa, who had never ventured into the sick-room before, now came up and stood at the door. Umberto and the priest were waiting in the kitchen. There were no errands or odd jobs for Umberto and Margaret would have liked to send him away, but the professor had told her that she would be doing a foolish thing to show any hostility towards this malicious underling. So she allowed it when he suggested that he should come up to the room. Clasping his tweed cap on his breast, half-frightened, half-curious, Umberto was brought into the sick man's room and watched him breathing heavily, unconsciously, on the pillows.

Might the priest be allowed up now? The doctor didn't know, there was always a chance the dying man might revive. He must not be frightened.

The morning broke wet. The priest went away under a green umbrella. Margaret, going to a back window, watched him pass under the pine trees towards the cancello. He would return in an hour or so.

Elisa, who now could not be kept away for fear she might miss the climax of the drama, came to fetch Margaret from the window; she was reverently astonished and delighted.

The padrone, she whispered, was asking for his fare across the river Styx. Margaret took the money, a five-lire piece, that he passed at once into the pocket of his sleeping suit. "My fare," he said distinctly.

He then asked Margaret for a clean handkerchief; she opened the drawer and, hardly knowing what she was doing, snatched one from a pile.

The dying man saw her; even now his eyes, always remarkably sharp, observed that she had taken one of his best handkerchiefs, and he whispered that she was not to disarrange the pile but to bring him one of the coarser ones.

She did so.

These were his last words and his last actions. He slid down on the pillows and fell almost immediately into the long heavy sleep that often precedes death.

Margaret did not leave him; she mastered the cowardly panic fear that made her want to run away, and remained by the bed half the day as she had been seated all the night watching him.

The doctor and Elisa came and went and Umberto crept up again, his dirty hat clasped to his breast, and stared at the great bed on which the clean sheet and white coverlet had been drawn so smoothly.

Margaret's husband was not to disturb her again.

Early in the afternoon the doctor said the priest might be fetched, but that he was to wait downstairs while there was the least chance of the sick man recovering consciousness. That was the bond between Margaret and the man she loved—that they should, between them, make this death as easy and as happy as it is possible to make death. And they had succeeded; through all her miseries she had that triumphant feeling. He had not suffered, he had smiled and been cheerful with the last words that he had spoken. When he had asked for the coin and the handkerchief he had been serene.

Now he was past all fears and all cares.

"But you must not go away," the doctor said, "he might recover, if only for a second, and he might miss you and there might not be long enough time in which to fetch you."

So she stayed.

And suddenly she saw him move convulsively, like a marionette whose strings have been violently pulled, jerk his head in an unnatural posture to one side, and lie still.

The doctor made the signal to Elisa and the priest came upstairs.

Margaret had had her arms about the dying man. She ran into the next room and washed her hands and the front of her cotton dress, using too much disinfectant. When she returned the priest was there and his boy attendant, and the room was suddenly full of strangers. The people must have been waiting outside for this moment. There were two fishermen, always barefooted and always nude to the waist, whose feet were like brown horn and whose bodies were like brown marble giving out a perfume like seaweed. There were some peasant women whose husbands were at the front, and others whose husbands were dead, with wisps of black shawl around their hair and carrying babies. And all these people were kneeling round the bed, filling the room that Margaret had kept like a fort against everyone for so long a time.

Someone put a cushion for her and she knelt in the doorway. There was an air of friendliness, perhaps affection. They smiled at Margaret encouragingly.

In a few seconds the medicine bottles were cleared from the table, and the little boy opened a box and took out oil and wool and some utensils. It was all strange to Margaret, she hardly knew what she saw or heard what the priest said, or knew the meaning of what the people were muttering as they twisted their beads over their workworn fingers.

Then it was over, and she found herself going down the stone stairs with all these strangers, who were chattering cheerfully, some of them patting her hand, telling her to be brave and consoled, for another soul had gone to Paradise.

Even Elisa, who had never been in a church in her life and was usually blasphemous and most irreverent towards the priesthood, was now in a religious mood and was weeping and sighing about God and the Virgin Mary.

Margaret thanked the priest as he thanked her. He asked her, with courtesy and reserve, about the funeral service. They had no organist, but there was a man from the little church up the hill who would be glad to come. It was a long time since he had had a fee, he only charged a few lire. The church had new draperies, too, to set over the porch and the exterior of the windows. Would it be possible that she would use these?—he mentioned the price. There were faithful women, the bigotti, too, who would come at a penny a head and pray for the soul of the dead.

Margaret said she would have "everything." It was pleasant to see the little priest's face glow with gratification. It would be a splendid funeral service.

Then he was gone, and the troop of peasants with him.

Who had let them in? How was it they had dared to come up? Margaret never cared even to ask. It was all part of the grotesque pattern that formed her life at that moment.

Now there were other things to be done, and one of them the most terrible of all, at least to Margaret, for she had brooded on this moment too long and it had assumed in her mind grotesque proportions of horror. Even the doctor at the moment seemed to her a remote, almost an alien figure. He came into the house, for the first time smoking a pipe. He had a bunch of golden charms, including a large snake ring hanging on his watch-chain, and he put into her hands two little boxes of olive-wood lined with tortoiseshell full of rose-leaves that Margaret was not able to take easily. He had the air of a master.

Elisa was already looking out her husband's best clothes. The corpse was to be arrayed in starched shirt, white tie, black suit and patent shoes and thus to receive visits from all who cared to come in. This Margaret could not allow, the custom was, to her, too ugly.

The professor supported her in this and Elisa sullenly agreed to cut up some of the best sheets and shroud the dead man neatly according to the doctor's instructions.

Margaret helped, because she did not wish to shirk anything. There was the coffin to be ordered and the grave to be purchased. Several people came to the house offering, for various fees, places in their family vaults. Margaret wanted a separate grave in the open air and a slab of pure native marble.

By the evening everything was ready and Margaret prepared the chamber and made it fragrant with sprigs of bay and rosemary.

But this was not the end; peace was not yet.

Elisa and Umberto, of whom she could by no means be rid, informed her of their intention-and surely she could have no objection-to hold a wake that evening in the dead man's room. They were sure this was the only way to keep the evil spirits away and to allow the dead man's soul a chance to escape untrammelled to Heaven.

Margaret refused at once and put this burden, as she had put all others, on to the doctor, who frequently visited the house. But he this time supported Elisa and Umberto. He said that it was a cheerful custom and the only festival these people had had, because of the war, for many a long day. It would give them great pleasure and do harm to none. Besides, he added, it would make Margaret popular in the place, and serve to dispel some of the ugly stories going round.

What these were Margaret did not trouble to inquire. For all she knew they were saying she had poisoned her husband. But the doctor, as always, seemed much concerned with this gossip, and, always obedient to his judgment, she gave in, only stipulating that she should not share in the wake herself.

This rather put the guests out, for it was part of the custom that the widow should sit by the bedside. Margaret's nerves, however, were not equal to this, and finally they gave in, on condition that she should sit in the room underneath for the whole of that night and visit them at intervals.

Half the village came to the Villa Elsa, as soon as it was dark, it seemed to Margaret. They crowded into the two rooms—the chamber where the dead man lay and that next it, where she used to sleep herself.

She had to provide them with wine, but there was not a great difficulty about this, for there was a great number of bottles left over from those bought for her husband's use.

The mourners themselves brought cakes and dried fruits and candles, for which she paid. From somewhere came four large candles that were placed at the four corners of the bed, but the appearance of the dead man was not only a disappointment but a shock to these people. The white-shrouded figure filled them with horror; he should have been in his best clothes and seated upright to greet them. They murmured their fears and their objections.

To quiet them, the doctor brought from his casetta a large scarf of Italian silk in various bright colours that he spread over the bed and the man who lay there.

What were these people going to do all night?

Drink and tell one another stories, fairy-tales, legends, and fragments of local gossip.

Margaret kept her vigil in the room underneath. As all the candles were upstairs she had only a floating wick with a little oil on the top of a glass of water, a sight with which she was familiar from so many vigils.

This was the second night that she had been utterly without sleep, without even taking her clothes off. For many, many nights she had only snatched sleep sitting up in chairs, keeping herself awake with strong coffee.

She felt weak and dazed and could not realise what had happened. Her vigil had at least come to an end; she was, in one sense of the word, free. But this seemed to mean nothing.

She heard the people upstairs occasionally singing, stamping on the floor and the whole position seemed to her intolerable. The room in which she waited had not been occupied during her tenancy, and was very dreary. The ceiling was too high, the windows barred. There was a plain iron bed in one corner and a chair with a rush bottom-the place seemed like a gaol.

She kept her promise and went up about two o'clock in the morning to the wake. Everybody was sitting about quite reverently; although they must have drunk a good deal of wine they were not noisy or hilarious. One woman was telling a story with a good deal of drama.

All of them cried out, when Margaret appeared in the doorway, that they had seen the soul of the dead man in the form of a large cockroach fly out of the window and he certainly was by now at peace in Paradise. It was not the time of year for cockroaches!

The two women with shawls over their heads, who seemed to be professional weepers, were kneeling by the bed, rocking to and fro lamenting. The ceremony was being used for other dead. Those who could not afford even candles.

The local carpenter, who was also the undertaker, was there and wanted to know details about the coffin.

Margaret went downstairs to her room again. She felt that her suffering had reached a point when it could be no longer endured. She went to the deserted dining-room and took a bottle of brandy out of the cupboard, filled a large tumbler and drank it off. She could not remember when she had ever tasted spirit and during this last stay in Italy she had not even taken the light red wine that she had had when she was there before.

The brandy had the effect she had hoped. It made everything remote and dim and tolerable. She was not sick or giddy as she had feared she would be, but really helped, for all her senses were blunted.

She went up again soon after dawn, and the watchers were then becoming tired and yawning, and all the wine bottles were empty. They went away blessing her and asking eagerly when the funeral was to be, the funeral service with the organ and the new hangings.

Margaret and Elisa then cleared up the room once more, made everything fair and decent, and put the bay and the tamarisk and rosemary in place.

When the doctor came again he was angry with her for the first and last time. She was killing herself, he said, with her obstinate folly. There was no need for her to stay in the house, and even if it did cause a scandal she had her health to think of and she should have removed to the little villa he had prepared for her.

Margaret told him about the brandy and he was more vexed still. But she was glad he knew about it. Certainly it helped.

Margaret could not leave the house while her husband was unburied. She remained seated in the room under the death-chamber, more controlled now and able to sleep a little. But she woke up often with a start, thinking that she heard the bell ringing, that bell that her husband had always kept within reach of his hand by the bedside table. She knew well enough that she might expect to hear this bell ringing in her head for many months, perhaps many years to come; it had such a loud and incessant clang and had always meant the end of her brief liberty.

She did not go to the funeral, which was celebrated with all the ceremony of which the little church was capable, to the great gratification of the priest and the organist. Her health was a good excuse; also she had no mourning and would not have worn it if she had been able to procure any.

There was an ugly, sordid episode with Umberto, whom Margaret had trusted to purchase the grave and the stone. She knew that he overcharged grossly, but she would sooner have paid this than have any dispute over the matter. But the doctor asked her to show him the account. He spoke to the man sharply, giving him a third of what he had demanded, declaring that, even so, he had made a large profit himself.

Margaret would have passed all this, and the doctor told her yet again that she had laid herself open to be robbed and was surrounded by rascals.

The funeral was over; there was nothing more that Margaret could do for her husband.

The sanitary authorities were clamouring to get into the house. Margaret and the doctor between them sorted out the dead man's possessions. Everything of value—his dressing-case, toilet articles, personal possessions—was packed up and sent to his family in Sicily. His clothes ("the wardrobe of a lunatic or a millionaire," said the doctor, who possessed hardly any clothes at all) were packed into three or four large trunks and given to Elisa to dispose of as she would. His underlinen and everything that had been used for the illness was burnt.

There remained the bell. Margaret could not look at it with equanimity, but the doctor knew how to dispose of it. He took her out with him in a boat. It was a long while since she had been on the water; it was strange to look at the Villa Elsa from the sea and again at the square window of the room where her husband had died, blank now for the first time since she had known it. Always when she had gone out in the evening she had turned and seen the night-light or the lamp with the red shade shining out into the dark. Now it was dark.

They rowed out in the twilight, Margaret wearing the white cloak the doctor had given her. When they were some way from the shore he dropped the bell over the side of the boat and told her she was to forget it, for she could not ever possibly hear it ring again.

There were the revolvers, too, and he knew what to do with them. They took the tram together to the little village where Dr. Marco lived, called on him, and presented him with the two weapons. His vulgar but kindly face shone with gratitude, and his dirty, podgy fingers closed greedily over the Belgian weapon with its showy plates of mother-of-pearl.

Now there was nothing more to do. The doctor had seen to the removal of Margaret's books and she had nothing else, save a few clothes that would go into one small valise.

She left the Villa Elsa for ever and went a few yards down the coast to a small casetta of one storey that he had prepared for her. Never in her life had she seen, nor was she ever to see again, anything so delightful.

There was one small whitewashed room, with a large fireplace that went across the entire corner to the right of the door as you entered. There were some Greek bas-reliefs on the wall, and a large white jar full of dark green foliage, two low chairs with cushions, and a table. A little kitchen and a servants' room were at the back, and upstairs one bedroom with painted furniture and a bed with a blue coverlet.

The position was almost the same as the Villa Elsa. The back looked out on to the pines and the windows in front on to the sea. Yet it was as different to Margaret as if she had stepped into another world.

When she first entered this room the open hearth was piled with burning logs on which some spices had been sprinkled; there was an aromatic odour in the air.

The Villa Elsa was given over to the zeal of the sanitary authorities. All the bedding was burnt, the sulphur candles used were so powerful that they took the varnish off the furniture, but as there had been very little in the Villa the damage was not much. There were no curtains or carpets to destroy, but the bill that Margaret had to pay was sufficiently high. She had been fortunate in having some money come in from England just then which, like a gift from Heaven, had met all the expense of the funeral and the disinfecting of the Villa Elsa.

But there was little left when she had seen Umberto and everyone else who had helped her and given Elisa a handsome present, six months' wages, quite a munificent sum for a Tuscan peasant.

She had a few personal possessions in her one valise, including a package of letters from her husband that she had brought with her from England, having nowhere to leave them, some photographs of him and herself. The doctor said she should not keep them.

There was a small stone altar in the garden of the little casetta where she now lived, and in the evening they took these things out and burnt them there, sprinkling them first with wine, oil, and salt. The ashes rose slowly into the air in a snake-like line, and where they fell on to the sand there was a figure of a woman draped in black on her knees. She was some peasant out searching for flotsam and jetsam along the line of weeds and sticks the tideless Mediterranean had cast up. But the effect in the half-light was curious, as if the ashes had slowly formed this dark human figure.

It was not nearly Christmas and there was nothing to detain Margaret in Italy. As soon as she could obtain her passport and the French and English visas she might return to her own country.

Seated by the beautiful candlelight in front of the wide fire in the casetta they discussed their plans.

She would go to England, settle her affairs with her own people; she would bring the boy back no later than May. They always said that it was not to be later than May. Then she would go and stay in the Villa on Lake Como and as soon as might be, in the following November, they would be married.

They were now free to see as much of each other as they wished. Yet even she—and she was much less sensitive than he was—was conscious of the hostility about them. Elisa seemed to have turned from a devoted slave into a shrewd spy.

When they went for a walk together they were stared at. For the most part Margaret preferred to keep to the shore or the pine-woods behind the villas.

But once she went up with him for a long expedition into the mountains, where they were gone all day, taking their meals in the small inns in the mountain villages. There were still a number of yellow leaves on the chestnut trees and the bursting fruit lay thick upon the ground, though brown and withered.

Looking down on the vast bay, the horns of which were formed by Spezia and Leghorn, Margaret felt dizzy with the sense of freedom. She could hardly believe that down there, somewhere, in that beautiful strip of land, was her husband's grave, that the bell, which he used to ring to summon her to his side, was beneath the waters of the sea flowing wide and calm before her.

They talked of many things. She had a fine judgment, he told her with delight; she was so quick, she never failed to catch his meaning or to follow his thoughts. Margaret had never hoped to be praised like this, to be understood or loved like this.

Everything that had been difficult to her he made easy, everything that had been obscure and tangled he made clear and straight.

She found no fault in him—none—nor ever could she afterwards when she considered him. But she was not infatuate or blinded, her reason as well as her heart commended him. He was in everything splendid. She could see what other people might term his faults, his bravura, his extravagance, his bold flying in the face of opinion or convention, his scorn of pettiness and stupidity. He had been a pioneer in many things, notably in medicine, and had aroused hostility and hatred in small, mean minds.

Many people, she knew, would consider him extravagant or eccentric, just as many people would have disliked or disapproved of her. But they suited one another to perfection; it did not seem that there was between them any possible cause of quarrel.

It was his deep and constant regret that he was so much older than she was, and that they must wait so long—a whole year—before they could be together.

The thought of their parting seemed to her indeed intolerable. She did begin to consider that it would be possible to have the child sent out to her in North Italy, but she knew that she could not, that she had no one whom she could trust for the duty.

For no other reason would she have returned to England, not to see her mother and sister again, for she knew they had no need of her, not to settle her business affairs, for that could be done through the post. And it was not now so imperative that she should make so much money or write so many books. But to fetch the boy—there was a duty that could not be ignored. She felt it was a trust, too, left her by the dead man. And there was her own aching longing for the child, though she knew well enough that he would probably turn from her as a stranger.

No arguing or debating of the point could alter this. She must return soon to England, wait there till the weather was better and then, say, in May-yes, it was always May-bring the boy back by easy stages to Northern Italy.

They spent Christmas Day together. The doctor had staying with him in his casetta for a few days a young officer on leave from the front, who was by inclination and almost by birth an Austrian. Like the doctor himself, he had been born in the Dolomites, only a few yards inside the Italian frontier. He was a robust, simple young man whose obvious devotion to the professor endeared him to Margaret.

It was a fine winter with snow on the mountains and clear sunshine, not grey and stormy like the last winter when Margaret had first come to the Villa Elsa, and the three of them took walks over the countryside together. They shared a Christmas dinner in a little wooden café still open at Lucca Reggio, situate at the end of the tram journey.

The young officer talked of his experiences at the front and his dread at returning there, of all the stupid horror and futility of the war.

They walked back along the darkening road, the pines one side, the sea the other. The winter sea was calm and the ripples left little impressions like those of laurel leaves on the always-damp, silver-crusted sands.

The day after Christmas Margaret wrote, at the doctor's dictation, a letter to the Prefect of Lucca, putting her case before him and asking permission to leave the country and return to England to fetch her child.

She also wrote a long letter to her father- and sister-in-law, telling them of her husband's last hours. She had already given them this news by telegram and received an affectionate reply. They seemed glad, too, to get the dressing-case and the other remembrances of the dead man. She was pleased that they should have these; she liked the old man and would have wished to have seen him again. But now she seemed very far away from Sicily and all those people.

There was some trouble about permission being granted her to leave the country. She had to go and see several local officials, to show papers, to sign papers. This delay prolonged her stay by the sea and also her happiness. But they came at last to an end.

A fair train service was running now; it would take her about a week to reach home.

Margaret had accepted her good fortune without counting the cost. She had, indeed, always accepted life without counting the cost, but that did not mean the cost was not there. She now had to pay for this joyful experience. While she had felt herself before more lucky than any woman could expect to be, she now felt that no woman should be asked to endure what she would have to endure.

One thing she promised herself before she returned to England. Her means were, as always, very straitened, but she had been fortunate enough to earn sufficient to fulfil all her obligations, even while nursing her husband.

During the night watches and when he slept, seated at the end of his bed or with the paper on her knees in the chair in her own little room, she had been able to do her work, and despite the war she had been generously paid for it.

But not only was there Dr. Marco to pay, but the disinfecting of the Villa Elsa cost a good deal. There were, besides, the funeral expenses and some debts that her husband left behind in England that she had not known of until recently. She was not obliged to pay these, but preferred to do so.

With the money in hand she had to pay for her journey back to England, and there was, all this time, the child and Nana to keep in Torquay. Still, from the packet of money that was now hers and which she had no longer to account for to anyone—and that in itself was a strange feeling—she took some to spend upon herself.

She felt guilty that it was so large an amount, nearly three pounds. Going out alone for the first time since her husband's death she went to Lucca Reggio, taking the tram through the clear winter day. She had little hope of any luck in her search, for the houses and shops were mostly shut for the winter. But she knew of one that sold fine embroidery and was open all the year round, she thought. In the summer it sold dresses, too, and there might be one or two left. She had seen them, sometimes, in the window, or hanging at the back of the shop, put by for another season in their tissue-paper.

The girls working at embroidery that was to be sold during the next summer were surprised and pleased that the Englishwoman wanted a silk dress. They had one, and brought it out for her to see. It was a pale yellow taffeta shot with pink, cut very low, and with double frills at the bottom-a gown for a summer evening, nothing could have been more unsuitable or extravagant in view of Margaret's circumstances.

She bought it, and it took nearly all the money she had in her purse.

When she got back to the casetta she tried it on immediately. There was no long glass, but she found that it did not fit ill. Anyhow, it was not the fit of the thing that she was thinking of; she had a desire that he should see her for once in silk, in a fine luxurious dress. For she was wearing again, since the weather had become colder, the drab, sensible, ugly things that she had brought with her from London.

There was nothing to be done with her hair; it was long, fine, and very straight, and she had to turn it up with a few coarse pins that Elisa used to buy in the market-place; she was always losing them.

She had no fine shoes, either; she wore the sandals that he had had made for her by the village shoemaker. Her underclothes were coarse and thickened by continual washing. Still, she was wearing a silk gown.

She came down the stairs when she knew he would be waiting by the bright fire and the candlelight. He looked up and saw her—his expression was always so joyous when she came into his presence that she could not tell if he felt any special pleasure to-night. He did not appear to notice the silk dress, and when they were sitting by the fire she pointed it out to him, and the pink flush on the yellow as the silk rippled in the flame-light.

No, he had not noticed it. He told her that, to him, she was always dressed in silk.

The little casetta was shut up and became like the Villa Elsa—dark and silent. Her books she had to leave behind, she was not allowed to take more than one valise out of Italy.

Elisa was dismissed, with presents and more money, crying in violent distress because she could not go with her lady to England. Margaret had been tempted to commit the folly of taking her, but she knew that the woman would be an alien, hopeless and lost in London, and all she could do was to promise her that when she returned to Italy Elisa should return to her service.

So that was over.

And they took the train to Pisa.

Margaret was standing in the corridor during the journey when the door suddenly flew open and she saw the rails spinning in front of her. People in the carriage sprang up to snatch her back; she had been in no danger of losing her balance, but it had been but a step between her and sudden death. Such a thing had never happened to her before or since, and she wondered if it were meant that she should throw herself under the wheels of the next oncoming train and so end her life while it was at its best, for everything after this would be anti-climax.

Margaret knew Pisa fairly well, but it looked different now from what it had ever looked before. The sky was very clear and cold.

They went to a small hotel where the rooms were painted with rural scenes, wreaths of flowers, all dull colours and peeling paint.

They could not eat any supper; the hotel was empty, the shadow of the war seemed over the ancient city, there were few people about. The waiters looked at them with sympathy, it was agreeable to be away from people who knew their story, who spied on, perhaps gossiped about them. They were quite alone now, strangers among strangers.

In the painted bedroom they sat up all night with candles burning not to lose one moment of the last time together. He wished their approaching marriage to be notified in the London papers, seemed to catch at this straw to give solidity to their relationship. He had suggested that they be married by a priest, but this was an expedient they both rejected as beneath them.

He seemed to have little hope that they would ever see one another again, and for Margaret also that day was in some other century. They talked, as poor mortals will who are cheated on this earth, of some other planet, some star where they might meet again and be together always.

The obstacles against them seemed to her more or less intangible. He was melancholy because of the difference in their age. He pointed out to her a quiver, a perpetual shaking in his left arm. He feared that he was threatened by paralysis and commanded her that if he were to sicken with this disease or any other she was not to come near him.

She had had enough of illness, he said, for the rest of her life; she must never look upon it again. She must always remember him as strong and helping her, not as an invalid and one who required her assistance. He seemed to have little faith in his own health. He who had been so magnificent, and who had never known a day's sickness in his life, who had endured perils, mortification, privations of all kinds, was now, he thought, smitten with a mortal disease. He told her that it had been the shock of meeting her, it had been a spiritual impact that he had been unable to endure. It was, he said, as if one carelessly walking along had stopped and picked up a star and was first blinded and then shrivelled.

She could not believe this; he seemed to her perfection in his superb virility. But he was a physician, perhaps he knew.

It did not seem to her to matter very much once they had met, and he agreed with that, too. He said he would send for her if his health permitted. If not, he would retire to the casetta on the shores of the Mediterranean, and there wait for death, thinking of her always.

The night passed while they talked and promised and the dawn came and lay in grey streaks through the green shutters, on the floor with the rag rug above the marble.

He gave her his mother's wedding-ring. He had lived with his mother until her death, and on her death-bed she had given him this ring, thanking him for forty years of happiness. He put it now on Margaret's finger and told her that whether they were to meet again or not it was to be hers—always.

Her train for France left early in the morning, and they had to go downstairs and try to eat some breakfast. But they could not even drink coffee.

Margaret's one valise was not much trouble. In it she had the two orange-wood boxes, the silver lion, cash, the white cloak, some sprigs of bay and rosemary.

The morning was bleak and wretched, the town faded and cold, a chilly sky, no beauty anywhere to comfort Margaret, save the thin wedding-ring on her finger with the thin gold signet he had placed above it. That only gleamed.

When they were on the platform and the train was there before them, neither of them could speak save with difficulty the one word "May." She tried to say that next May she would return, but it was no use, and it was needless in this public place to assure one another of their complete fidelity.

She looked out of the window as the train began to move out of the station and saw him standing on the platform, hands thrust in the pockets of his light grey overcoat, staring in front of him. She seemed to know, though there was no good reason for this knowledge, that she would never see him again. She was still so exalted by the joy of her love that she was scarcely overborne, even by this parting.

The journey was long, tedious and lonely. When Margaret reached England she found that there were laws now against aliens and she was travelling with an Italian passport. It was subjected to a sharp scrutiny and everywhere she stopped she had to report herself to the police station.

England, everywhere reminding her of the old, drab eventless life, seemed intolerable. Her love was unchanged, unshaken, but it remained enclosed in her heart and was folded over by the pettiness of the commonplace.

Her mother and sister were the same. They, too, were unchanged. They had had no luck, no good fortune; they disapproved of all that Margaret did or was.

She told them very little about herself, and went to Torquay to see the boy. As she had expected, he turned from her in terror and clung to Nana's neck in dismay at the intrusion of this stranger.

Nana had done her duty, but in a clumsy way. She was in debt, the room was untidy, the boy had few clothes and had been overfed. Still, he was alive and was reasonably healthy, and Margaret had much to be thankful for.

She stayed for a while in Torquay, straightening up the affairs that poor Nana had got so entangled, with her laziness and self-indulgence.

By every post he wrote to her and sent telegrams as well. His letters were all that she had ever hoped or expected a love-letter might be; to her so beautiful he wrote these, and so poignant, that she scarcely missed his actual presence.

But he had grave news, he said, of his health. He had had to resign his appointment, give up his work, retire to the casetta. He hoped treatment might improve his condition. But she read between the lines his fear that he was a doomed man.

Nothing of importance in England happened to Margaret, beyond receiving his letters. The war was in the air like a foul miasma, there were air raids day and night. Margaret and Nana and the child moved about here and there to be away from them.

She took a house on Hampstead Heath and there was a bad air raid there one night. The child sat up in bed and pointed to the moon, while Margaret heard the bombs dropping near Chalk Farm.

On another occasion she took him in his perambulator and ran him through the streets to the police station, hoping he would get some protection in the cells, for she had no basement.

It all seemed futile and absurd. Her mind and thought and heart were all elsewhere. She moved like an automaton through these days.

By May she was ready to go out to Italy again. She had easily made the child strong and healthy, taught him good habits and some affection for her. There would be no difficulty, on her part, in winding up her affairs in England and going to that villa on Lake Como.

But the professor (she thought of him under that absurd name) wrote to her that it was now impossible.

He had had the verdict on his health from his colleagues, the most distinguished physicians in Italy. He was afflicted with paralysis, there was no hope of his recovery. He might live several years, but only as the ruin of the man he had once been. And he commanded her, by whatever affection and love she bore for him, that she was not to come out to him or see him as he then was.

He told her, too, that she should marry again and have children; marry someone to whom she would tell her story and who would sympathise with it. These children were to be, spiritually at least, his, so she would bring them up according to his ideas. She must accept life, go on; live to remember him.

It was her duty to do this, to go on and take up her life, not to mope or shut herself away. He laid it on her as a charge. He ordered her to look after herself for his sake, make herself lovely and fair. He told her that even in her old age she would be beautiful.

She who never had been beautiful, even in her extreme youth, was exalted by this lover's flattery. For him, at least, she would always be as fine as she could. For him she would tend the hands and feet that he would never see again, for him she would brush and comb the fine hair he had always admired.

She wrote to him constantly, sometimes fumbling to express her thoughts in the foreign language—it was curious to think that he did not know one word of English, and all their story had been played out in a language of which she always had an imperfect knowledge.

He wrote to her that he would never leave the casetta, his life would end there, where, he told her, it had begun when he first saw her, when he had come into the Villa Elsa. And when he died he would be laid next her husband in the cemetery behind the town. That was his wish, and she was ready to obey him in everything.

He had one photograph of her only, old and faded, but she sent him no others. Sometimes she thought of that afternoon when they had burnt her husband's letters and small personal possessions. Their own story seemed to have ended like that—in a trail of ashes and a kneeling, mourning female figure.

Margaret married again, as he had bidden her, and one to whom her story and her feelings had been fully explained. From this last partner she had much she could not repay. And he gave her more than she deserved. This was a "singular and pleasing union, to end only with their deaths."

Margaret now found herself dedicated to long years of service in bringing up her children. She did not achieve that home which had been her dream since she was a child. She was content to believe that it could only have been a dream and that no such domestic felicity as she had once imagined existed on this earth.

Separated from the one whom she would always love, the unique companion whose fire and power and charm had warmed and glorified her life for ever, her existence was outwardly drab, overlaid with the commonplace of dull everyday experiences. She was harassed by financial instability, the uneasiness of uncertain circumstances, the anxiety of that difficult task that human beings are imperfectly equipped to undertake, the education of the next generation of children.

Margaret could have made things more comfortable for herself by accepting the easy way of surrendering some of her ideals, but it was only by these that she lived at all. If she could not have spiritual adventure she might as well become a mere drudge.

She had pledged herself several times over to do what she could for her children with the best that was in her—mind and body.

The toil was incessant, the labour seemed without reward. She did what she could herself, trusting no one with any detail, from clothing and dieting to the stimulating of the mind and the awakening of the spirit.

She was inadequate, she knew, but she also knew that what she tried to do there was no one else even to attempt.

Her mother died, a bitter death that was the direct outcome of her frustrated, unfortunate life. Her sister went away and they saw no more of each other.

Margaret was stripped, save for the children and those letters from Italy. And the children she must teach to go away from her so that they were quite free from any influence of hers, at liberty to seek their own lives in diverse directions. The letters from Italy would cease. She had to face that.

It was not long before he was unable to write them in his own hand. The letters were dictated to a faithful friend who came to visit him in the casetta by the Mediterranean.

And then even these ceased, and there was the last one unfinished—and relating to his death, in an added paragraph, were enclosed the leaves of the white roses that had been laid on his coffin.

Margaret went on her way, doing what she felt she ought to do, what he would have liked her to do. She was gay and exalted at times when she thought of him, but at other times sunk in a profound melancholy, but never a melancholy as profound and hopeless as she had known in her youth.

She cultivated her mind as far as her powers enabled her and took refuge in what she could achieve of intellectual courage, the serenity of philosophy. Rationalism attracted and convinced her mind, but the heart has reasons that the mind knows not of, and she delighted in the mystics, and even at times could believe herself one with the harmony that runs through everything.

She had the weakness, or the faith—whichever it might be—to dream, too, of that other planet that he had spoken of even in his last letters where they might some day be united.

It was not difficult for her to persuade herself that he was always with her. When she was alone in her room she could fancy easily enough that the next time the door opened he would enter, and when she sat at a concert of music and there chanced to be an empty seat by her she could imagine easily enough that he had gone out for a short time and would return, when the music began again, to occupy the place beside her. When she paused, in a gallery, before a picture she knew he would have liked, or in a street observing some incident that she knew would have interested him, it was not difficult to suppose that he had only been lost for a moment in the crowd and would soon return and stand beside her.

And when she was quite alone in her room, in the dark, or twilight, or at night, it was easy to imagine that the shadows hid him, and that he was standing there but a few yards away.

She found great relief of spirit and an acute pleasure in writing her stories, which were now illuminated by all she had learnt from him and in which she expressed all her love of the splendid, the brave, the heroic and the magnificent. The austere heroes of her childhood, with the generous eyes and the ironic lips smiled on her again, blended with the look and character of the man she loved.

The years went forward like a team of horses ploughing a furrow, first one and then another, up and down; the work was almost but never quite too difficult, demanding a nerve and courage that went beyond what she possessed.

There were the little things, the pots and pans, the small domestic contrivances and there were the large things-divided loyalties, the difficulty of holding her opinions that she knew to be right against conflicting opinions that she knew to be wrong, supporting the moods and the melancholies of growing children, trying to see they had all she had missed herself. Failing here, often.

So Margaret passed through middle age and began to grow old. She would not care to use the word self-sacrifice in connection with what she did for her children, but it was a life of self-abnegation. At times she almost forgot what she really liked herself, the kind of existence she would have preferred if she had been free to choose. She was most fortunate in her husband, whose loyalty was proof against any trial.

And what am I now, twenty years after it happened when I put this record on paper?

I am almost free of all my obligations, no one will look to me for anything much longer. I have done what I could with limited strength and abilities, to follow my ideals; the measure of my success I do not know. I have not, to my knowledge, wronged anybody or made any enemies. Neither have I been of much service in the world nor helped anyone very much. I have lived too withdrawn in the dreams of what was so briefly mine, too wrapped in spiritual communication as I delude myself, and as with one who is dead and at the same time too occupied with hard, small daily duties to be of much use in the world.

My life has been narrow, too, and my experience limited, fastidiousness has become a weakness, I cannot tolerate what my taste has rejected. The fear of being vicariously disillusioned that touched me even as a child has become almost an obsession. For that reason I have shut out from my experience much that perhaps should have been admitted. Anything that is gross, or obscene or vile I cannot endure to contemplate. This must be a form of moral cowardice.

It is not likely that I shall alter now. The squalid, the cruel, and the gross must always remain shut away from me. I am irked by this moral cowardice that enervates my whole character.

I dislike knowing that people die for ideals that I cherish, for I know that I have not the courage to die for them myself.

At present I have a good excuse for standing aside. There is still work that I must do, there are still people who need me. But even when that excuse no longer holds good, I doubt if I can emulate the courage of those others who ended all their own discontents and uneasiness by sacrificing their lives for their beliefs.

Tormented by the thought of the anguish and cruelty in the world, I cannot investigate them for the sake of exposing them. Blindly I must give my few shillings and my few words and turn my face away. I dread to face the details of the horrors that take place everywhere, every day; I might lose my reason.

In some other small things I am more satisfied with myself. I have few possessions and they are all comely, some beautiful, and all valueless, so there is no gnawing feeling that I should sell them and give what they are worth to those who need the money more than I do. I am able to support myself without asking any favours from anyone, and I hope that I may die before I lose the power to do so.

I have little service and that is well paid. I gratify myself by being able to do all I need for my own simple wants. Yet I know that I have too much—I like a comfortable bed, a warm room, a warm bath, and though I have almost conquered my desire for extravagant clothes, I still have a childish longing for luxuries I can never have.

I have arranged my rooms as it pleases me, with few objects about, and those carefully chosen and comely. I know that I do not deserve even this ease and comfort; I should sacrifice these things and live in a humbler style. But at present I have not the courage to do this. It may be, that when I no longer have any obligations to anyone, if I have any health and strength left and a few years to come before old age afflicts me, I shall be able to strip myself of everything and spend my last years in the service of children or the old or the sick.

There is no summing up to this story and no moral. It seems to me that it would have been simple for me to make a harmony of my own life, but it has always been cut across by the discords of other people's lives. I think I should have known how to live simply, pleasantly, and gaily myself, but no life can be entirely self-contained and my designs have been overborne by those of other people.

I might have been very happy to be alive, but I looked around me and saw others who could not by any possibility find the world beautiful and splendid, and to whom life must be an almost intolerable misery. How, then, can I enjoy the benefits given me? On every side sorrow, suffering, failure—and I am powerless to help, save in so little that it can hardly count.

Even if I have my philosophy, sometimes even gaiety of heart and my deep anchorage in dreams and unfathomable hope—how can I be content with these, knowing that there are others barren of the least expectation of joy?

When my strong children were born I was proud of them. I hoped that they might have lives full of rich experiences, and the happiness that comes from the work we like and the company of those we love. I was never optimistic, having read too much of history, but I did not think the world would become what it is now—wars and persecutions and horrors unmentionable getting between every honest man and his sleep.

Now and then I have a yearning to return to my childhood, and yet a dread, too, of those long-past days. I live now not very far from the shabby road where I left behind the little wooden horse, as a forced gift to the landlady's child, and I sometimes have an almost irresistible desire to turn down through the wet, sordid lamplit street, to find that dismal room, to fetch the long-since forfeited toy.

I find in all philosophy, in all arts, in all music, pictures, poetry, one inexpressible truth that is also an inexpressible consolation.

I have a few dear and lovely friends and a number of pleasant, kind acquaintances. I am able, often, to enjoy the luxury of being alone, to lose my identity in some boundless antique world.

I do not think I have changed much since the time of my own early memories. Life has not taught me much or changed or moulded me. I still have the same likings, the same admirations, the same ideals, the same tastes.

If I understand little or nothing of myself or those about me or the world in which I live, I do not any longer fret at my ignorance. All, save my love, my children, and my work, has been like an unsubstantial play of shadows, like the wheels of light and shade from passing hansom cabs I used to see when I lay on my small, uncomfortable bed in the top room in King William Street and watched them pass across the ceiling.

Sophie Arnold at her death said she "regretted herself," but there is nothing about myself I should regret, only my dreams and a few of my memories. I am sorry to think that they will die with me and vanish into the everlasting cold.

This is an account of my life as I can remember it. I have set down what seemed to me important, lovely and significant. The essential of my being seems like a vapour or handful of water, eager to escape into oblivion. I still seek for the heroic, in myself, in others—unconsciously often, but steadily I seek it. Sometimes it seems that life is no more than a search for compensation for loss, remedy for pain, oblivion for memory, a nostalgia for what I have never known. But there must be some positive good, and I have experienced it. First, love, then work, my own work with hands and head, then the work of others, their art, their achievements. These things have kept me from an overwhelming melancholy.

This rambling book is too long, but I have kept to essentials. I could write another as long on what I know and what I have thought of art and life. But I do not think that either my knowledge or my opinions are worth displaying. There is too much said and written about abstractions.

As for art, there is no end to that subject. I learn that no one can read now a novel in the epistolary style, but I know that in two hundred years' time "the stream of consciousness" method will be just as boring and I continue to enjoy Samuel Richardson while admiring Proust. My pleasure in the Waste Lands has not lessened my delight in The Witch of Atlas, and I cannot see why I should not admire both Alfred Tennyson and James Joyce, and even if the morality of one is out of date and that of the other soon will be. I do not find a lifelong delight in François Boucher's canvases interferes with my zestful appreciation of Pablo Picasso. Why should one artist be preferred to the other because he was born later in the world's history? As well give Monday a higher value than Tuesday. I could pen words endlessly on these subjects.

I believe that the noblest emotion is a sense of harmony—of union—with what is not only higher than oneself, but the highest conceivable and I do not think it matters if we term this God, or Truth, or Beauty, or find it in the substance of another human being.

To accept life fully seems to me the hallmark of the fine spirit. I think that it is possible for the individual to contribute to the common good by his own work, sacrifice and ideals, even though the horror and misery of the world appear overwhelming. It is possible to combine a wider toleration with a particular enthusiasm. It is possible to find the faith that will plant a seed that may not flower until our grandchildren are dead.

Much progress has been made. I know that much of my suffering was due to the ignorance of those who had charge of me when I was a child and that fewer suffer now from that cause. I rejoice in the spread of knowledge, in the end of dark hideous superstitions. I am thankful that the sensitive human spirit is no longer terrified by a sense of integral guilt or by the fear of Hell.

It gives me no pain to relinquish the hope of a personal immortality, for I am not fond of my own individuality, and I feel that the best in me is already one with the best in the universe.

In those thinkers, artists, poets and craftsmen from whom I drew, as a child, my earliest comfort, I still find a boundless delight-Marcus Aurelius, Montaigne, Vauvenargues, Matthew Arnold—I like to write their names. But a catalogue of names means nothing. I have failed in much but I have known ecstasy and stood by death. I have been one of those happy ones who once, at least, kissed their chimera on the lips. I have been lucky in seeing some longed-for earthly scenes. I have stood by the Vyverburg and gazed down the valley of the Boyne. I have seen Maximilian's tomb at Innsbruck and Goujon's statue of Diane de Poitiers. From the memories of these break starry showers of brilliant fancies and gorgeous dreams.

I know that I have been a fool often enough, maybe worse, but I have faced the consequences of my own errors and stupidities and feel no regrets.

I know that much of what I have written about myself is contradictory, inconsistent, very far below the standards I set myself and unworthy of the beliefs expressed above. I know, also, that sometimes I lose all these hopes and comforts and am overwhelmed by a blank melancholy. But even then I know that I have held them, even then I can remember that where I have failed, thousands have succeeded, that what has escaped me, thousands have found.

I can still hear, in Herbert's lovely phrase, "music at midnight," that I interpret as the courage to find beauty in dark places. That courage and that vision of beauty are my own. It may be that I shall one day have little else save these things and the memory of love.

This is what life has meant to one woman. The end may yet be many years away. The debate continues...


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