The Garden Party and Other Stories
Why does one feel so different at night? Why is it so exciting to be awake when everybody else is asleep? Late—it is very late! And yet every moment you feel more and more wakeful, as though you were slowly, almost with every breath, waking up into a new, wonderful, far more thrilling and exciting world than the daylight one. And what is this queer sensation that you’re a conspirator? Lightly, stealthily you move about your room. You take something off the dressing-table and put it down again without a sound. And everything, even the bed-post, knows you, responds, shares your secret...
You’re not very fond of your room by day. You never think about it. You’re in and out, the door opens and slams, the cupboard creaks. You sit down on the side of your bed, change your shoes and dash out again. A dive down to the glass, two pins in your hair, powder your nose and off again. But now—it’s suddenly dear to you. It’s a darling little funny room. It’s yours. Oh, what a joy it is to own things! Mine—my own!
“My very own for ever?”
“Yes.” Their lips met.
No, of course, that had nothing to do with it. That was all nonsense and rubbish. But, in spite of herself, Beryl saw so plainly two page 62 people standing in the middle of her room. Her arms were round his neck; he held her. And now he whispered, “My beauty, my little beauty!” She jumped off her bed, ran over to the window and kneeled on the window-seat, with her elbows on the sill. But the beautiful night, the garden, every bush, every leaf, even the white palings, even the stars, were conspirators too. So bright was the moon that the flowers were bright as by day; the shadow of the nasturtiums, exquisite lily-like leaves and wide-open flowers, lay across the silvery veranda. The manuka-tree, bent by the southerly winds, was like a bird on one leg stretching out a wing.
But when Beryl looked at the bush, it seemed to her the bush was sad.
“We are dumb trees, reaching up in the night, imploring we know not what,” said the sorrowful bush.
It is true when you are by yourself and you think about life, it is always sad. All that excitement and so on has a way of suddenly leaving you, and it’s as though, in the silence, somebody called your name, and you heard your name for the first time. “Beryl!”
“Yes, I’m here. I’m Beryl. Who wants me?”
“Let me come.”
It is lonely living by oneself. Of course, page 63 there are relations, friends, heaps of them; but that’s not what she means. She wants some one who will find the Beryl they none of them know, who will expect her to be that Beryl always. She wants a lover.
“Take me away from all these other people, my love. Let us go far away. Let us live our life, all new, all ours, from the very beginning. Let us make our fire. Let us sit down to eat together. Let us have long talks at night.”
And the thought was almost, “Save me, my love. Save me!”
...“Oh, go on! Don’t be a prude, my dear. You enjoy yourself while you’re young. That’s my advice.” And a high rush of silly laughter joined Mrs. Harry Kember’s loud, indifferent neigh.
You see, it’s so frightfully difficult when you’ve nobody. You’re so at the mercy of things. You can’t just be rude. And you’ve always this horror of seeming inexperienced and stuffy like the other ninnies at the Bay. And—and it’s fascinating to know you’ve power over people. Yes, that is fascinating...
Oh why, oh why doesn’t “he” come soon?
If I go on living here, thought Beryl, anything may happen to me.
“But how do you know he is coming at all?” mocked a small voice within her.
But Beryl dismissed it. She couldn’t be page 64 left. Other people, perhaps, but not she. It wasn’t possible to think that Beryl Fairfield never married, that lovely fascinating girl.
“Do you remember Beryl Fairfield?”
“Remember her! As if I could forget her! It was one summer at the Bay that I saw her. She was standing on the beach in a blue”—no, pink— “muslin frock, holding on a big cream”—no, black—“straw hat. But it’s years ago now.”
“She’s as lovely as ever, more so if anything.”
Beryl smiled, bit her lip, and gazed over the garden. As she gazed, she saw somebody, a man, leave the road, step along the paddock beside their palings as if he was coming straight towards her. Her heart beat. Who was it? Who could it be? It couldn’t be a burglar, certainly not a burglar, for he was smoking and he strolled lightly. Beryl’s heart leapt; it seemed to turn right over, and then to stop. She recognized him.
“Good evening, Miss Beryl,” said the voice softly.
“Won’t you come for a little walk?” it drawled.
Come for a walk—at that time of night! “I couldn’t. Everybody’s in bed. Everybody’s asleep.”page 65
“Oh,” said the voice lightly, and a whiff of sweet smoke reached her. “What does everybody matter? Do come! It’s such a fine night. There’s not a soul about.”
Beryl shook her head. But already something stirred in her, something reared its head.
The voice said, “Frightened?” It mocked, “Poor little girl!”
“Not in the least,” said she. As she spoke that weak thing within her seemed to uncoil, to grow suddenly tremendously strong; she longed to go!
And just as if this was quite understood by the other, the voice said, gently and softly, but finally, “Come along!”
Beryl stepped over her low window, crossed the veranda, ran down the grass to the gate. He was there before her.
“That’s right,” breathed the voice, and it teased, “You’re not frightened, are you? You’re not frightened?”
She was; now she was here she was terrified, and it seemed to her everything was different. The moonlight stared and glittered; the shadows were like bars of iron. Her hand was taken.
“Not in the least,” she said lightly. “Why should I be?”
Her hand was pulled gently, tugged. She held back.page 66
“No, I’m not coming any farther,” said Beryl.
“Oh, rot!” Harry Kember didn’t believe her. “Come along! We’ll just go as far as that fuchsia bush. Come along!”
The fuchsia bush was tall. It fell over the fence in a shower. There was a little pit of darkness beneath.
“No, really, I don’t want to,” said Beryl.
For a moment Harry Kember didn’t answer. Then he came close to her, turned to her, smiled and said quickly, “Don’t be silly! Don’t be silly!”
His smile was something she’d never seen before. Was he drunk? That bright, blind, terrifying smile froze her with horror. What was she doing? How had she got here? the stern garden asked her as the gate pushed open, and quick as a cat Harry Kember came through and snatched her to him.
“Cold little devil! Cold little devil!” said the hateful voice.
But Beryl was strong. She slipped, ducked, wrenched free.
“You are vile, vile,” said she.
“Then why in God’s name did you come?” stammered Harry Kember.
Nobody answered him.page 67
A cloud, small, serene, floated across the moon. In that moment of darkness the sea sounded deep, troubled. Then the cloud sailed away, and the sound of the sea was a vague murmur, as though it waked out of a dark dream. All was still.