Bliss and Other Stories
" My darling Nan,
Don't think me a piggy wig because I haven't written before. I haven't had a moment, page 64dear, and even now I feel so exhausted that I can hardly hold a pen.
Well, the dreadful deed is done. We have actually left the giddy whirl of town, and I can't see how we shall ever go back again, for my brother-in-law has bought this house ' lock, stock and barrel,' to use his own words.
In a way, of course, it is an awful relief, for he has been threatening to take a place in the country ever since I've lived with them—and I must say the house and garden are awfully nice—a million times better than that awful cubby-hole in town.
But buried, my dear. Buried isn't the word.
We have got neighbours, but they are only farmers—big louts of boys who seem to be milking all day, and two dreadful females with rabbit teeth who brought us some scones when we were moving and said they would be pleased to help. But my sister who lives a mile away doesn't know a soul here, so I am sure we never shall. It's pretty certain nobody will ever come out from town to see us, because though there is a bus it's an awful old rattling thing with black leather sides that any decent person would rather die than ride in for six miles.
Such is life. It's a sad ending for poor little B. I'll get to be a most awful frump in a year or two and come and see you in a mackintosh and a sailor hat tied on with a white china silk motor veil. So pretty.page 65
Stanley says that now we are settled—for after the most awful week of my life we really are settled —he is going to bring out a couple of men from the club on Saturday afternoons for tennis. In fact, two are promised as a great treat to-day. But, my dear, if you could see Stanley's men from the club . . . rather fattish, the type who look frightfully indecent without waistcoats—always with toes that turn in rather—so conspicuous when you are walking about a court in white shoes. And they are pulling up their trousers every minute—don't you know—and whacking at imaginary things with their rackets.
I used to play with them at the club last summer, and I am sure you will know the type when I tell you that after I'd been there about three times they all called me Miss Beryl. It's a weary world. Of course mother simply loves the place, but then I suppose when I am mother's age I shall be content to sit in the sun and shell peas into a basin. But I'm not—not—not.
What Linda thinks about the whole affair, per usual, I haven't the slightest idea. Mysterious as ever. . . .
My dear, you know that white satin dress of mine. I have taken the sleeves out entirely, put bands of black velvet across the shoulders and two big red poppies off my dear sister's chapeau. It is a great success, though when I shall wear it I do not know."page 66
Beryl sat writing this letter at a little table in her room. In a way, of course, it was all perfectly true, but in another way it was all the greatest rubbish and she didn't believe a word of it. No, that wasn't true. She felt all those things, but she didn't really feel them like that.
It was her other self who had written that letter. It not only bored, it rather disgusted her real self.
" Flippant and silly," said her real self. Yet she knew that she'd send it and she'd always write that kind of twaddle to Nan Pym. In fact, it was a very mild example of the kind of letter she generally wrote.
Beryl leaned her elbows on the table and read it through again. The voice of the letter seemed to come up to her from the page. It was faint already, like a voice heard over the telephone, high, gushing, with something bitter in the sound. Oh, she detested it to-day.
" You've always got so much animation," said Nan Pym. " That's why men are so keen on you." And she had added, rather mournfully, for men were not at all keen on Nan, who was a solid kind of girl, with fat hips and a high colour—" I can't understand how you can keep it up. But it is your nature, I suppose."
What rot. What nonsense. It wasn't her nature at all. Good heavens, if she had ever been her real self with Nan Pym, Nannie would have jumped out of the window with surprise. . . . My dear, you page 67know that white satin of mine. . . . Beryl slammed the letter-case to.
She jumped up and half unconsciously, half consciously she drifted over to the looking-glass.
There stood a slim girl in white—a white serge skirt, a white silk blouse, and a leather belt drawn in very tightly at her tiny waist.
Her face was heart-shaped, wide at the brows and with a pointed chin—but not too pointed. Her eyes, her eyes were perhaps her best feature ; they were such a strange uncommon colour—greeny blue with little gold points in them.
She had fine black eyebrows and long lashes—so long, that when they lay on her cheeks you positively caught the light in them, someone or other had told her.
Her mouth was rather large. Too large ? No, not really. Her underlip protruded a little ; she had a way of sucking it in that somebody else had told her was awfully fascinating.
Her nose was her least satisfactory feature. Not that it was really ugly. But it was not half as fine as Linda's. Linda really had a perfect little nose. Hers spread rather—not badly. And in all probability she exaggerated the spreadiness of it just because it was her nose, and she was so awfully critical of herself. She pinched it with a thumb and first finger and made a little face. . . .
Lovely, lovely hair. And such a mass of it. It had the colour of fresh fallen leaves, brown and red page 68with a glint of yellow. When she did it in a long plait she felt it on her backbone like a long snake. She loved to feel the weight of it dragging her head back, and she loved to feel it loose, covering her bare arms. " Yes, my dear, there is no doubt about it, you really are a lovely little thing."
At the words her bosom lifted ; she took a long breath of delight, half closing her eyes.
But even as she looked the smile faded from her lips and eyes. Oh God, there she was, back again, playing the same old game. False—false as ever. False as when she'd written to Nan Pym. False even when she was alone with herself, now.
What had that creature in the glass to do with her, and why was she staring ? She dropped down to one side of her bed and buried her face in her arms.
" Oh," she cried, " I am so miserable—so frightfully miserable. I know that Pm silly and spiteful and vain ; Pm always acting a part. Pm never my real self for a moment." And plainly, plainly, she saw her false self running up and down the stairs, laughing a special trilling laugh if they had visitors, standing under the lamp if a man came to dinner, so that he should see the light on her hair, pouting and pretending to be a little girl when she was asked to play the guitar. Why ? She even kept it up for Stanley's benefit. Only last night when he was reading the paper her false self had stood beside him and leaned against his shoulder on pur- page 69pose. Hadn't she put her hand over his, pointing out something so that he should see how white her hand was beside his brown one.
How despicable ! Despicable ! Her heart was cold with rage. " It's marvellous how you keep it up," said she to the false self. But then it was only because she was so miserable—so miserable. If she had been happy and leading her own life, her false life would cease to be. She saw the real Beryl—a shadow ... a shadow. Faint and unsubstantial she shone. What was there of her except the radiance ? And for what tiny moments she was really she. Beryl could almost remember every one of them. At those times she had felt: " Life is rich and mysterious and good, and I am rich and mysterious and good, too." Shall I ever be that Beryl for ever ? Shall I ? How can I ? And was there ever a time when I did not have a false self ? . . . But just as she had got that far she heard the sound of little steps running along the passage; the door handle rattled. Kezia came in.
" Aunt Beryl, mother says will you please come down ? Father is home with a man and lunch is ready."
Botheration ! How she had crumpled her skirt, kneeling in that idiotic way.
" Very well, Kezia." She went over to the dressing table and powdered her nose.
Kezia crossed too, and unscrewed a little pot of page 70cream and sniffed it. Under her arm she carried a very dirty calico cat.
When Aunt Beryl ran out of the room she sat the cat up on the dressing table and stuck the top of the cream jar over its ear.
" Now look at yourself," said she sternly.
The calico cat was so overcome by the sight that it toppled over backwards and bumped and bumped on to the floor. And the top of the cream jar flew through the air and rolled like a penny in a round on the linoleum—and did not break.
But for Kezia it had broken the moment it flew through the air, and she picked it up, hot all over, and put it back on the dressing table.
Then she tip-toed away, far too quickly and airily. . . .