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Journal of Katherine Mansfield

[An unposted letter.]

[An unposted letter.]

I keep walking and walking round this letter, treading on my toes and with my tail in the air; I don't know where to settle. There's so much to page 179 say and the day is so fine. Well, here goes, darling.

The journey to Geneva took no time. My watchet seemed to be racing the train. We arrived some time after one, and I went and sat on a green velvet chair while L.M. saw to things. I suppose we had a long wait there; it did not seem long. Ever since early morning those mountains that I remembered from last time had been there—huge, glittering, with snow like silver light on their tops. It was absolutely windless, and though the air was cold, it was cold like spring. In fact (perhaps you realise I am putting a terrific curb on myself) it was delicious. Only to breathe was enough. Then we got into an omnibus train, and it waddled slowly round the lake, stopping at every tiny station. Germans were in the carriage; in fact, I was embedded in Germans, huge ones—Vater und die Mama und Hänse. Every time we saw a lilac-bush, they all cried Schön! This was very old-world. There was also a notice in the carriage to say that the company had thoughtfully provided a cabinet. This they read aloud—first, Vater, then die Mama and then little Hänse.

We arrived at Clarens just as the station clock (which was a cuckoo clock: that seems to me awfully touching, doesn't it to you?) struck seven, and a motor-car, like a coffee-mill, flew round and round the fields to Baugy. Oh dear, you realize I'm just telling you facts. The embroidery I'll have to leave for now. The hôtel is simply admirable so far. Too clean. Spick is not the page 180 word, nor is span. Even the sprays of white lilac in my room were fresh from the laundry. I have two rooms and a huge balcony. And so many mountains that I haven't even begun to climb them yet. They are superb. The views from the windows, Betsy, over fields, little mushroom-like chalets, lake, trees, and then mountains, are overwhelming. So is the green velvet and flesh-pink satin suite in the salon, with copper jugs for ornaments and a picture on the wall called Jugendidylle. More of this later.

I am posing here as a lady with a weak heart and lungs of Spanish leather. It seems to ‘go down’ for the present. Well, I had dinner in my room: consommé, fish with cream sauce, roast turkey, new potatoes, braised laitue, and two little tiny babas smothered in cream. I had to send the turkey and trimmings away. Even then….

Saint-Galmier is superseded by Montreux,1 which the label says is saturated with carbonic acid gas. But my physiology book said this was deadly poison and we only breathed it out—never unless we were desperate, took it in. However, according to Doctors Ritter, Spingel, and Knechtli, it's marvellous for gravel and makes the water sparkil like champagne. These are the Minor Mysteries….

June 8. For the first time since the war I talked German to a German. “Wollen Sie fragen ob page 181 man warten kann?” And so on. It was simply extraordinary. Why?

July. Montana. One thing I am determined upon. And that is to leave no sign. There was a time—it is not so long ago—when I should have written all that has happened since I left France. But now I deliberately choose to tell no living soul. I keep silence as Mother kept silence. And though there are moments when the old habit ‘tempts’ me and I may even get so far as to write a page, they are only moments, and each day they are easier to conquer.

Chalet des Sapins, Montana. Just as now I say scarcely a word about my treacherous heart. If it's going to stop, it is going to stop, and there's an end of it. But I have been in this little house for nearly two days now, and it has not once quietened down. What dread to live in! But what's the use of saying aught? No, my soul, be quiet….

July 10. And now, just as I felt a little better and less worried about my head and my heart, the gland has become inflamed and all the surrounding tissue, too. It looks as though an abscess were forming. So here is another scare. And with it, I've one of my queer attacks when I feel nauseated all the time and can't bear light or noise or heat or cold. Shall I get through this, too? It is not easy still to find the courage to cope with these onslaughts….

page 182

July 13. Went to the Palace, and had the gland punctured. It is very unlikely that they will save the skin. I am sure, from the feeling, that they won't, and that this affair is only beginning. I shall be back at the Palace before the week is out. In the meantime I am exhausted and can't write a stroke.

Well, I must confess I have had an idle day. God knows why. All was to be written, but I just didn't write it. I thought I could, but I felt tired after tea and rested instead. Is it good or bad in me to behave so? I have a sense of guilt, but at the same time I know that to rest is the very best thing I can do. And for some reason there is a kind of booming in my head—which is horrid. But marks of earthly degradation still pursue me. I am not crystal clear. Above all else I do still lack application. It's not right. There is so much to do, and I do so little. Life would be almost perfect here if only when I was pretending to work I always was working. But that is surely not too hard. Look at the stories that wait and wait just at the threshold. Why don't I let them in? And their place would be taken by others who are lurking beyond just out there—waiting for the chance.

Next Day. Yet take this morning, for instance. I don't want to write anything. It's grey; it's heavy and dull. And short stories seem unreal and not worth doing. I don't want to write; I want to live. What does she mean by that? It's not easy to say. But there you are!

page 183

Queer, this habit of mine of being garrulous. And I don't mean that any eye but mine should read this. This is—really private. And I must say—nothing affords me the same relief. What happens as a rule is, if I go on long enough, I break through. Yes, it's rather like tossing very large flat stones into the stream. The question is, though, how long this will prove efficacious. Up till now, I own, it never has failed me….

One's sense of the importance of small events is very juste here. They are not important at all….!? Strange! I suddenly found myself outside the library in Wœrishofen: spring—lilac—rain—books in black bindings.

And yet I love this quiet clouded day. A bell sounds from afar; the birds sing one after another as if they called across the tree-tops. I love this settled stillness, and this feeling that, at any moment, down may come the rain. Where the sky is not grey, it is silvery white, streaked with little clouds. The only disagreeable feature of the day is the flies. They are really maddening, and there is nothing really to be done for them: I feel that about hardly anything.

1 Saint-Galmier and Montreux are both mineral waters.