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The Doves' Nest and Other Stories



But what has all this to do with my married happiness ? How can all this affect my wife and me ? Why—to tell what happened last autumn—do I run all this way back into the page 78 Past ? The Past—what is the Past ? I might say the star-shaped flake of soot on a leaf of the poor-looking plant, and the bird lying on the quilted lining of my cap, and my father's pestle and my mother's cushion belong to it. But that is not to say they are any less mine than they were when I looked upon them with my very eyes, and touched them with these fingers. No, they are more ; they are a living part of me. Who am I, in fact, as I sit here at this table, but my own past ? If I deny that, I am nothing. And if I were to try to divide my life into childhood, youth, early manhood and so on, it would be a kind of affectation ; I should know I was doing it just because of the pleasantly important sensation it gives one to rule lines, and to use green ink for childhood, red for the next stage, and purple for the period of adolescence. For, one thing I have learnt, one thing I do believe is, Nothing Happens Suddenly. Yes, that is my religion, I suppose.

My mother's death, for instance. Is it more distant from me to-day than it was then ? It is just as close, as strange, as puzzling, and in spite of all the countless times I have recalled the circumstances, I know no more now than I did then, whether I dreamed them, or whether they really occurred. It happened when I was thirteen and I slept in a little strip of a room on what was called the half-landing. One night page 79 I woke up with a start to see my mother, in her night-gown, without even the hated flannel dressing-gown, sitting on my bed. But the strange thing which frightened me was, she wasn't looking at me. Her head was bent; the short, thin tail of hair lay between her shoulders; her hands were pressed between her knees, and my bed shook ; she was shivering. It was the first time I had ever seen her out of her own room. I said, or I think I said, " Is that you, Mother ? " And as she turned round, I saw in the moonlight how queer she looked. Her face looked small—quite different. She looked like one of the boys at the school baths, who sits on a step, shivering just like that, and wants to go in and yet is frightened.

" Are you awake ? " she said. Her eyes opened ; I think she smiled. She leaned towards me. " I've been poisoned," she whispered. " Your father's poisoned me." And she nodded. Then, before I could say a word, she was gone ; I thought I heard the door shut. I sat quite still, I couldn't move, I think I expected something else to happen. For a long time I listened for something; there wasn't a sound. The candle was by my bed, but I was too frightened to stretch out my hand for the matches. But even while I wondered what I ought to do, even while my heart thumped— everything became confused. I lay down and pulled the blankets round me. I fell asleep, page 80 and the next morning my mother was found dead of failure of the heart.

Did that visit happen ? Was it a dream ? Why did she come to tell me ? Or why, if she came, did she go away so quickly ? And her expression—so joyous under the frightened look—was that real ? I believed it fully the afternoon of the funeral, when I saw my father dressed up for his part, hat and all. That tall hat so gleaming black and round was like a cork covered with black sealing-wax, and the rest of my father was awfully like a bottle, with his face for the label—Deadly Poison. It flashed into my mind as I stood opposite him in the hall. And Deadly Poison, or old D. P., was my private name for him from that day.