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The Doves' Nest and Other Stories


It is evening. Supper is over. We have left the small, cold dining-room, we have come back to the sitting-room where there is a fire. All is as usual. I am sitting at my writing table which is placed across a corner so that I am behind it, as it were, and facing the room. The lamp with the green shade is alight; I have before me two large books of reference, both open, a pile of papers ... All the paraphernalia, in fact, of an extremely occupied man. My wife, with her little boy on her lap, is in a low chair before the fire. She is about to put him to bed before she clears away the dishes and piles them up in the kitchen for the servant girl to-morrow morning. But the warmth, the quiet, and the sleepy baby, have made her dreamy. One of his red woollen boots is off, one is on. She sits, bent forward, clasping the little bare foot, staring into the glow, and as the fire quickens, falls, flares again, her shadow—an immense Mother and Child— is here and gone again upon the wall . . .

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Outside it is raining. I like to think of that cold drenched window behind the blind, and beyond, the dark bushes in the garden, their broad leaves bright with rain, and beyond the fence, the gleaming road with the two hoarse little gutters singing against each other, and the wavering reflections of the lamps, like fishes' tails. While I am here, I am there, lifting my face to the dim sky, and it seems to me it must be raining all over the world—that the whole earth is drenched, is sounding with a soft quick patter or hard steady drumming, or gurgling and something that is like sobbing and laughing mingled together, and that light playful splashing that is of water falling into still lakes and flowing rivers. And all at one and the same moment I am arriving in a strange city, slipping under the hood of the cab while the driver whips the cover off the breathing horse, running from shelter to shelter, dodging someone, swerving by someone else. I am conscious of tall houses, their doors and shutters sealed against the night, of dripping balconies and sodden flower-pots. I am brushing through deserted gardens and falling into moist smelling summer-houses (you know how soft and almost crumbling the wood of a summer-house is in the rain), I am standing on the dark quayside, giving my ticket into the wet red hand of the old sailor in an oilskin. How strong the sea smells ! How loudly the tied-up boats knock page 63 against one another ! I am crossing the wet stackyard, hooded in an old sack, carrying a lantern, while the house-dog, like a soaking doormat, springs, shakes himself over me. And now I am walking along a deserted road—it is impossible to miss the puddles, and the trees are stirring—stirring.

But one could go on with such a catalogue for ever—on and on—until one lifted the single arum lily leaf and discovered the tiny snails clinging, until one counted . . . and what then ? Aren't those just the signs, the traces of my feeling ? The bright green streaks made by someone who walks over the dewy grass ? Not the feeling itself. And as I think that, a mournful glorious voice begins to sing in my bosom. Yes, perhaps that is nearer what I mean. What a voice ! What power ! What velvety softness! Marvellous!

Suddenly my wife turns round quickly. She knows—how long has she known ?—that I am not ' working.' It is strange that with her full, open gaze, she should smile so timidly— and that she should say in such a hesitating voice, " What are you thinking ? "

I smile and draw two fingers across my forehead in the way I have. " Nothing," I answer softly.

At that she stirs, and still trying not to make it sound important, she says, " Oh, but you must have been thinking of something ! "

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Then I really meet her gaze, meet it fully, and I fancy her face quivers. Will she never grow accustomed to these simple—one might say—everyday little lies ? Will she never learn not to expose herself—or to build up defences ? " Truly, I was thinking of nothing." There ! I seem to see it dart at her. She urns away, pulls the other red sock off the baby, sits him up, and begins to unbutton him behind. I wonder if that little soft rolling bundle sees anything, feels anything ? Now she turns him over on her knee, and in this light, his soft arms and legs waving, he is extraordinarily like a young crab. A queer thing is I can't connect him with my wife and myself ; I've never accepted him as ours. Each time when I come into the hall and see the perambulator, I catch myself thinking: " H'm, someone has brought a baby! " Or, when his crying wakes me at night, I feel inclined to blame my wife for having brought the baby in from outside. The truth is, that though one might suspect her of strong maternal feelings, my wife doesn't seem to me the type of woman who bears children in her own body. There's an immense difference ! Where is that ... animal ease and playfulness, that quick kissing and cuddling one has been taught to expect of young mothers ? She hasn't a sign of it. I believe that when she ties its bonnet she feels like an aunt and not a mother. But of course page 65 I may be wrong; she may be passionately devoted ... I don't think so. At any rate, isn't it a trifle indecent to feel like this about one's own wife ? Indecent or not, one has these feelings. And one other thing. How can I reasonably expect my wife, a brokenhearted, woman, to spend her time tossing the baby ? But that is beside the mark. She never even began to toss when her heart was whole.

And now she has carried the baby to bed. I hear her soft, deliberate steps moving between the dining-room and the kitchen, there and back again, to the tune of the clattering dishes. And now all is quiet. What is happening now ? Oh, I know just as surely as if I'd gone to see— she is standing in the middle of the kitchen facing the rainy window. Her head is bent, with one finger she is tracing something— nothing—on the table. It is cold in the kitchen ; the gas jumps; the tap drips; it's a forlorn picture. And nobody is going to come behind her, to take her in his arms, to kiss her soft hair, to lead her to the fire and to rub her hands warm again. Nobody is going to call her or to wonder what she is doing out there. And she knows it. And yet, being a woman, deep down, deep down, she really does expect the miracle to happen ; she really could embrace that dark, dark deceit, rather than live —like this.