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Journal of Katherine Mansfield

Roosters and Hens

Roosters and Hens.

By night and at early morning I love to listen to my darling roosters crowing to one another from lonely yards. Each one has a different note: I have never heard two roosters crow alike. But the hens who seem from their cackle to be laying page 151 eggs all day long sound as like one another as … as … In fact there's no possible distinguishing between them. L.M. says they are not all laying eggs. Some of them are frightened, surprised, excited, or just—playful. But this seems to me to make the affair even more … humiliating.

April 4. Easter eggs in the folded napkins. A Happy Easter. We drink to absent friends, but carelessly, not knowing whether to bow or no.

April 9. Cold and windy. Out of the window the writhing palms—the dust—the woman with a black veil. I feel I must live alone, alone, alone —with artists only to touch the door. Every artist cuts off his ear and nails it on the outside of the door for the others to shout into.

April II. I never can remember what happens. It is so without outline. “Yesterday” falls into the general shade. But all the time one looks back and there are wonders. There is always Miss H. stretching out her hands to the great defiant mosquito—crying with a kind of groan—“Oh, the darlings!” That remains for ever. And then one must never forget the dog which gets all the love of children. “Going nice ta-tas, my ducksie pet!”

April 12. Went to the fish museum at Monaco. Must remember the bubbles as the man plunged the rod into the tanks. The young girl. How naice! Young girls make me feel forty. Well, page 152 one certainly doesn't want to look 21. The woman with her three little children at Monte….

[At the end of April K.M. returned to England, to her house in Hampstead.]

August 9. “And if a man will consider life in its whole circuit, and see how superabundantly it is furnished with what is extra-ordinary and beautiful and great, he shall soon know for what we were born.”

August 9. I should like to have a secret code to put on record what I feel to-day. If I forget it, may my right hand forget its cunning … the lifted curtain … the hand at the fire with the ring and stretched fingers … no, it's snowing … the telegram to say he's not … just the words arrive 8.31. But if I say more I'll give myself away.

[Later.] I wrote this because there is a real danger of forgetting that kind of intensity, and it won't do.

December 8, 1920. No, there is no danger of forgetting.

August 12. More beautiful by far than a morning in spring or summer. The mist—the trees standing in it—not a leaf moves—not a breath stirs. There is a faint smell of burning. The sun comes slowly—slowly the room grows lighter. Suddenly, on the carpet, there is a square of pale, red light. The bird in the garden goes ‘snip—snip—snip’—a little wheezy, like the sound of page 153 a knife-grinder. The nasturtiums blaze in the garden: their leaves are pale. On the lawn, his paws tucked under him, sits the black and white cat….

August. I cough and cough, and at each breath a dragging, boiling, bubbling sound is heard. I feel that my whole chest is boiling. I sip water, spit, sip, spit. I feel I must break my heart. And I can't expand my chest; it's as though the chest had collapsed…. Life is—getting a new breath. Nothing else counts.

“Can't you help me? Can't you?” But even while she asked him she smiled as if it didn't matter so much whether he could or couldn't.

My nature … my nerves … the question is whether I shall change or not. Per-sonally…. You see him? And he has a friend, a confidant, an old schoolfellow, small, shabby, with a wooden leg, whom he has re-discovered. He's married. The friend enters the new ménage. Little by little he gets to know the wife. No tragedy. He feels like a one-legged sparrow. Talking together in the house before she comes in. “Is that you, Beaty? Can we have some tea?”

Let the sparrow—let the sparrow—suffer the sparrow to….

Charades. Roger of course commits suicide, cuts his throat with a paper knife and gurgles his life away.

page 154

[The following notes evidently refer to the first conception of the unfinished story called Weak Heart, which is included in “The Doves' Nest” (see page 183). The date shows that K.M. had cherished the idea of the story a long while.]

September. The daughter of the watch-smith. Her piano-playing. Her weak heart, queer face, queer voice, awful clothes. The violets in their garden. Her little mother and father. The scene at the Baths: the coldness, the blueness of the children, her size in the red twill bathing-dress, trimmed with white braid. The steps down to the water—the rope across.

Edie has a brother Siegfried. 17. You never know whether he has begun to shave or not. He and Edie walk in arm in arm…. Her Sunday hat is trimmed beyond words.

Oh, that tree at the corner of May Street! I forgot it until this moment. It was dark and hung over the street like a great shadow. The father was fair and youthful to look at. He was a clockmaker.

[The following entries belong to September 1920, and were made on the journey to the Villa Isola Bella at Mentone, where K.M. spent the winter of that year.]