Bliss and Other Stories
They were taken off to bed by the grandmother. She went first with a candle ; the stairs rang to their climbing feet. Isabel and Lottie lay in a room to themselves, Kezia curled in her grandmother's soft bed.
" Aren't there going to be any sheets, my granma ? "
" No, not to-night."
" It's tickly," said Kezia, " but it's like Indians." She dragged her grandmother down to her and kissed her under the chin. " Come to bed soon and be my Indian brave."
" What a silly you are," said the old woman, tucking her in as she loved to be tucked.
" Aren't you going to leave me a candle ? "
"No. Sh—h. Go to sleep." page 16" Well, can I have the door left open ? " She rolled herself up into a round but she did not go to sleep. From all over the house came the sound of steps. The house itself creaked and popped. Loud whispering voices came from downstairs. Once she heard Aunt Beryl's rush of high laughter, and once she heard a loud trumpeting from Burnell blowing his nose. Outside the window hundreds of black cats with yellow eyes sat in the sky watching her—but she was not frightened. Lottie was saying to Isabel: " I'm going to say my prayers in bed to-night." " No you can't, Lottie." Isabel was very firm. " God only excuses you saying your prayers in bed if you've got a temperature." So Lottie yielded :
Gentle Jesus meek anmile,
Look pon a little chile.
Pity me, simple Lizzie
Suffer me to come to thee.
And then they lay down back to back, their little behinds just touching, and fell asleep.
Standing in a pool of moonlight Beryl Fairfield undressed herself. She was tired, but she pretended to be more tired than she really was—letting her clothes fall, pushing back with a languid gesture her warm, heavy hair.
" Oh, how tired I am—very tired."
She shut her eyes a moment, but her lips smiled. Her breath rose and fell in her breast like two page 17fanning wings. The window was wide open ; it was warm, and somewhere out there in the garden a young man, dark and slender, with mocking eyes, tip-toed among the bushes, and gathered the flowers into a big bouquet, and slipped under her window and held it up to her. She saw herself bending forward. He thrust his head among the bright waxy flowers, sly and laughing. " No, no," said Beryl. She turned from the window and dropped her nightgown over her head.
" How frightfully unreasonable Stanley is sometimes," she thought, buttoning. And then, as she lay down, there came the old thought, the cruel thought—ah, if only she had money of her own.
A young man, immensely rich, has just arrived from England. He meets her quite by chance. . . . The new governor is unmarried. . . . There is a ball at Government house. . . . Who is that exquisite creature in eau de nil satin ? Beryl Fairfield. . . .
" The thing that pleases me," said Stanley, leaning against the side of the bed and giving himself a good scratch on his shoulders and back before turning in, " is that I've got the place dirt cheap, Linda. I was talking about it to little Wally Bell to-day and he said he simply could not understand why they had accepted my figure. You see land about here is bound to become more and more valuable ... in about ten years' time . . .page 18
of course we shall have to go very slow and cut down expenses as fine as possible. Not asleep— are you ? "
" No, dear, I've heard every word," said Linda.
He sprang into bed, leaned over her and blew out the candle.
" Good night, Mr. Business Man," said she, and she took hold of his head by the ears and gave him a quick kiss. Her faint far-away voice seemed to come from a deep well.
" Good night, darling." He slipped his arm under her neck and drew her to him.
" Yes, clasp me," said the faint voice from the deep well.
Pat the handy man sprawled in his little room behind the kitchen. His sponge-bag coat and trousers hung from the door-peg like a hanged man. From the edge of the blanket his twisted toes protruded, and on the floor beside him there was an empty cane bird-cage. He looked like a comic picture.
" Honk, honk," came from the servant girl. She had adenoids.
Last to go to bed was the grandmother.
" What. Not asleep yet ? "
" No, I'm waiting for you," said Kezia. The old woman sighed and lay down beside her. Kezia thrust her head under the grandmother's arm and gave a little squeak. But the old woman only page 19pressed her faintly, and sighed again, took out her teeth, and put them in a glass of water beside her on the floor.
In the garden some tiny owls, perched on the branches of a lace-bark tree, called: " More pork ; more pork." And far away in the bush there sounded a harsh rapid chatter : " Ha-ha-ha . . . Ha-ha-ha,"