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The Letters of Katherine Mansfield: Volume I

March 1918 —

page 157
March 1918

To Lady Ottoline Morrell

I have taken this tiny piece of paper in the slender hope that I may still be able to hide behind it and try (ah! try) to explain my inexplicable silence without falling into too dread a panick at sight of your stern looks of anger and dismay….

Would to God I were not this fickle, faithless, intolerable, devilishly uncomfortable creature whom you must, a thousand times, have whistled down the wind!

But Lady! Pity her—Alas—poor soul! Katherine is curst!

All goes well. She makes merry. She delights in sweet talk and laughter. She runs in the field with her darling companions filling their wicker arks and hers with a thousand pretties. She hugs the ‘black but beautiful’ fire with her dearest and is not last in gossip of those who are not there. And then, quite suddenly, without a wingshadow of warning, without even the little moment in which to tie up the door knocker with a white kid glove or a chaste crape bow, she is shut up in her dark house, and the blinds are pulled down and even the postman who hangs upon the door bell might hang there like fruit, my soul, till the door rot—she could not answer him.

The real, tragic part of the affair is that what happens to her while she is so wickedly out yet dreadfully in she cannot tell or explain. And though her enemies may see her at those times dressed in a little snake weskit and supping off toads' livers with fiends wild and slee, she dares sometimes to dream that her friends (can she hope for friends—accursed one?) will perhaps be kinder, and even beckon her to her stool by the chimney corner—and even hand her the custard cup of Hot Purl or Dogs Nose that was her share aforetime—

A curse on my pen! It twing-twangs away but my heart is heavy. Why aren't I true as steel—firm as rock? I am—I am—but in my way, Ottoline—in my way. And yes I agree. It is no end of a rum way—

page 158

I wish you were here. Dark England is so far and this room smells spicy and sweet from the carnations—pink and red and wonderful yellow. The hyacinths, in a big jar are put on the window sill for the night for my little maid says they give you not only sore throats but dreams as well! It is very quiet. I can just hear the sea breathe—a fine warm night after a hot day.

Spring, this year, is so beautiful, that watching it unfold one is filled with a sort of anguish. Why—O Lord, why? I have spent days just walking about or sitting on a stone in the sun and listening to the bees in the almond trees and the wild pear bushes and coming home in the evening with rosemary on my fingers and wild thyme on my toes—tired out with the loveliness of the world.

It has made the War so awfully real, and not only the war—Ah, Ottoline—it has made me realise so deeply and finally the corruption of the world. I have such a horror of the present day men and women that I mean never to go among them again. They are thieves, spies, janglours all—and the only possible life is remote—remote—with books—with all the poets and a large garden full of flowers and fruits—And a cow (kept for butter only!).

What have you been reading lately? Shelley? Have you read The Question lately?

I dreamed that as I wandered by the way
Bare winter suddenly was changed to spring.

Oh, do read it—this moment—it's so marvellous—

Why aren't I talking to you instead of writing. I shall come back to dark England soon. It's a trouble you know to have two Souths of France, as I have. But a sweet trouble—and I'd not be without it.

No, there's nobody to talk to. I have written a great deal. I think the Woolves must have eaten The Aloe root and branch or made jam of it. 1

1 The Aloe was the name of the original version of Prelude.