Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Aloe

Three — The Day After

page break

The Day After

page break page break

The Day After

On His way home from the office Stanley Burnell stopped the buggy at the ‘Bodega', got out and bought a large bottle of oysters. At the Chinaman's shop next door he bought a pineapple in the pink of condition, and noticing a basket of fresh black cherries he told John to put him up a pound of those as well. The oysters and pineapple he stowed away in the box under the front seat—but the cherries he kept in his hand.

page 76

Pat, the handy man, leapt off the box and tucked him up again in a brown rug.

'Lift yer feet, Mr. Burnell, while I give her a fold under,’ said he.

'Right, right—first rate!’ said Stanley—'you can make straight for home now.'

'I believe this man is a first rate chap,’ thought he, as Pat gave the grey mare a touch and the buggy sprang forward. He liked the look of him sitting up there in his neat dark brown coat and brown bowler. He liked his eyes. There was nothing servile about him—and if there was one thing he hated more than another in a servant it was servility—and he looked as though he were pleased with his job, happy and contented.

The grey mare went very well. Burnell was impatient to be home. Ah, it was splendid to live in the country—to get right out of this hole of a town once the office was closed, and this long drive in the fresh warm air, knowing all the time that his own home was at the other end with its garden and paddocks, its three tip-top cows and enough fowls and ducks to keep them in eggs and poultry, was splendid, too.

As they left the town finally and bowled away up the quiet road his heart beat hard for joy. He page 77 rooted in the bag and began to eat the cherries, three or four at a time, chucking the stones over the side of the buggy. They were delicious, so plump and cold, without a spot or a bruise on them.

Look at these two now—black one side and white the other—perfect—a perfect little pair of Siamese twins—and he stuck them in his buttonhole. By Jove, he wouldn't mind giving that chap up there a handful—but no, better not! Better wait until he had been with him a bit longer.

He began to plan what he would do with his Saturday afternoons and Sundays. He wouldn't go to the Club for lunch on Saturday. No, cut away from the office as soon as possible and get them to give him a couple of slices of cold meat and half a lettuce when he got home. And then he'd get a few chaps out from town to play tennis in the afternoons. Not too many—three at most. Beryl was a good player too. He stretched out his right arm and slowly bent it, feeling the muscles. A bath, a good rub down, a cigar on the verandah after dinner.

On Sunday morning they would go to Church—children and all—which reminded him that he must hire a pew, in the sun if possible—and well forward so as to be out of the draught from the page 78 door. In fancy he heard himself intoning, extremely well:

'When-Thou-didst-overcome the sharpness of death Thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to All Believers,’ and he saw the neat brass edged card on the corner of the pew—'Mr. Stanley Burnell and Family.'

The rest of the day he'd loaf about with Linda. Now she was on his arm; they were walking about the garden together and he was explaining to her at length what he intended doing at the office the week following. He heard her saying: ‘My dear, I think that is most wise.’ Talking things out with Linda was a wonderful help, even though they were apt to drift away from the point …

Hang it all! They weren't getting along very fast. Pat had put the brake on again. ‘He's a bit too ready with that brake! Ugh! What a brute of a thing it is—I can feel it in the pit of my stomach.'

A sort of panic overtook Burnell whenever he approached near home. Before he was well inside the gate he would shout to anyone in sight—'Is everything all right?’ And then he did not believe it was until he heard Linda cry, ‘Hullo, you old boy!’ That was the worst of living in the country. It took page 79 the deuce of a long time to get back. But now they weren't far off. They were on top of the last hill—it was a gentle slope all the way now and not more than half a mile.

Pat kept up a constant trailing of the whip across the mare's back and he coaxed her—'Goop now, Goop now!'

It wanted a few moments to sunset—everything stood motionless, bathed in bright metallic light, and from the paddocks on either side there streamed the warm milky smell of ripe hay. The iron gates were open. They dashed through and up the drive and round the island, stopping at the exact middle of the verandah.

'Did she satisfy yer, sir?’ said Pat, getting off the box and grinning at his master.

'Very well indeed, Pat,’ said Stanley.

Linda came out of the glass door—out of the shadowy hall—her voice rang in the quiet. ‘Hullo, you're home again.'

At the sound of it his happiness beat up so hard and strong that he could hardly stop himself dashing up the steps and catching her in his arms.

'Yes, home again. Is everything all right?'

'Perfect,’ said she.

page 80

Pat began to lead the mare round to the side gate that gave on to the courtyard. ‘Here, half a moment,’ said Burnell. ‘Hand me those two parcels, will you?’ And he said to Linda, ‘I've brought you back a bottle of oysters and a pineapple,’ as though he had brought her back all the harvest of the earth.

They went into the hall; Linda carried the oysters under one arm and the pineapple under the other. Burnell shut the glass door, threw his hat on the hall stand, and put his arms round her, straining her to him, kissing the top of her head, her ears, her lips, her eyes.

'Oh dear! Oh! dear,’ she said. ‘Wait a minute, let me put down these silly things,’ and she put down the bottle of oysters and the pineapple on a little carved chair.

'What have you got in your buttonhole—cherries?’ and she took them out and hung them over his ear.

'No, don't do that, darling. They're for you.'

So she took them off his ear and ran them through her brooch pin. ‘You don't mind if I don't eat them now. Do you? They'll spoil my appetite for dinner. Come and see your children. They're having tea.'

page 81

The lamp was lighted on the nursery table: Mrs. Fairfield was cutting and spreading bread and butter and the three little girls sat up to table, wearing large bibs embroidered with their names. They wiped their mouths as their Father came in, ready to be kissed. There was jam on the table too, a plate of home-made knobbly buns and cocoa steaming in a Dewar's Whisky advertisement jug—a big toby jug, half brown, half cream, with the picture of a man on it smoking a long clay pipe. The windows were wide open. There was a jar of wild flowers on the mantelpiece and the lamp made a big soft bubble of light on the ceiling.

'You seem pretty snug, Mother,’ said Burnell, looking round and blinking at the light and smiling at the little girls. They sat, Isabel and Lottie on either side of the table, Kezia at the bottom. The place at the top was empty. ‘That's where my boy ought to sit,’ thought Stanley. He tightened his arm round Linda's shoulder. By God! he was a perfect fool to feel as happy as this—

'We are, Stanley. We are very snug,’ said Mrs. Fairfield, cutting Kezia's bread and jam into fingers.

'Like it better than town, eh, children?’ said Burnell.

page 82

'Oh yes, Daddy,’ said the three little girls, and Isabel added as an afterthought, ‘Thank you very much indeed, Father dear.'

'Come upstairs and have a wash,’ said Linda. ‘I'll bring your slippers.'

But the stairs were too narrow for them to go up arm in arm. It was quite dark in their room. He heard her ring tapping the marble as she felt along the mantelpiece for matches.

'I've got some, darling. I'll light the candles. ‘But, instead, he came up behind her and caught her, put his arms round her and pressed her head into his shoulder.

'I'm so confoundedly happy,’ he said.

'Are you?’ She turned and put her two hands flat on his breast and looked up at him.

'I don't know what's come over me,’ he protested.

It was quite dark outside now and heavy dew was falling. When she shut the window the dew wet her finger tips. Far away a dog barked.

'I believe there's going to be a moon,’ said she. At the words, and with the wet cold dew touching her lips and cheeks, she felt as though the moon had risen—that she was being bathed in cold light—she page 83 shivered, she came away from the window and sat down on the box ottoman beside Stanley.

In the dining-room, by the flickering glow of a wood fire, Beryl sat on a hassock playing the guitar. She had bathed and changed all her clothes. Now she wore a white muslin dress with big black spots on it and in her hair she had pinned a black rose:

Nature has gone to her rest, love,
See, we are all alone;
Give me your hand to press, love,
Lightly within my own.

She played and sang half to herself, for she was watching herself playing and singing. She saw the firelight on her shoes and skirt, on the ruddy belly of the guitar, on her white fingers.

'If I were outside the window and looked in and saw myself, I really would be rather struck,’ she thought. Still more softly she played the accompaniment, not singing—'The first time I ever saw you, little girl—you had no idea that you weren't alone! You were sitting with your little feet up on a hassock playing the guitar—I can never forget …’ and she flung back her head at the imaginary speaker and began to sing again:

Even the moon is aweary—

page 84

But there came a loud knock at the door. The servant girl popped in her flushed face—

'If you please, Miss, kin I come and lay the dinner?'

'Certainly, Alice,’ said Beryl, in a voice of ice. She put the guitar in a corner. Alice lunged in with a heavy black iron tray.

'Well, I ‘ave had a job with that oving,’ said she. ‘I can't get nothing to brown.'

'Really,’ said Beryl.

But no—she could not bear that fool of a girl. She went into the dark drawing-room and began walking up and down. She was restless, restless, restless. There was a mirror over the mantelpiece; she leaned her arms along and looked at her pale shadow in it. ‘I look as though I have been drowned,’ said she.