Mary Postgate




(1915)

Of Miss Mary Postgate, Lady McCausland wrote that she was 'thoroughly
conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike. I am very sorry to
part with her, and shall always be interested in her welfare.'

Miss Fowler engaged her on this recommendation, and to her surprise, for
she had had experience of companions, found that it was true. Miss
Fowler was nearer sixty than fifty at the time, but though she needed
care she did not exhaust her attendant's vitality. On the contrary, she
gave out, stimulatingly and with reminiscences. Her father had been a
minor Court official in the days when the Great Exhibition of 1851 had
just set its seal on Civilisation made perfect. Some of Miss Fowler's
tales, none the less, were not always for the young. Mary was not young,
and though her speech was as colourless as her eyes or her hair, she was
never shocked. She listened unflinchingly to every one; said at the end,
'How interesting!' or 'How shocking!' as the case might be, and never
again referred to it, for she prided herself on a trained mind, which
'did not dwell on these things.' She was, too, a treasure at domestic
accounts, for which the village tradesmen, with their weekly books,
loved her not. Otherwise she had no enemies; provoked no jealousy even
among the plainest; neither gossip nor slander had ever been traced to
her; she supplied the odd place at the Rector's or the Doctor's table at
half an hour's notice; she was a sort of public aunt to very many small
children of the village street, whose parents, while accepting
everything, would have been swift to resent what they called
'patronage'; she served on the Village Nursing Committee as Miss
Fowler's nominee when Miss Fowler was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis,
and came out of six months' fortnightly meetings equally respected by
all the cliques.

And when Fate threw Miss Fowler's nephew, an unlovely orphan of eleven,
on Miss Fowler's hands, Mary Postgate stood to her share of the business
of education as practised in private and public schools. She checked
printed clothes-lists, and unitemised bills of extras; wrote to Head and
House masters, matrons, nurses and doctors, and grieved or rejoiced over
half-term reports. Young Wyndham Fowler repaid her in his holidays by
calling her 'Gatepost,' 'Postey,' or 'Packthread,' by thumping her
between her narrow shoulders, or by chasing her bleating, round the
garden, her large mouth open, her large nose high in air, at a
stiff-necked shamble very like a camel's. Later on he filled the house
with clamour, argument, and harangues as to his personal needs, likes
and dislikes, and the limitations of 'you women,' reducing Mary to tears
of physical fatigue, or, when he chose to be humorous, of helpless
laughter. At crises, which multiplied as he grew older, she was his
ambassadress and his interpretress to Miss Fowler, who had no large
sympathy with the young; a vote in his interest at the councils on his
future; his sewing-woman, strictly accountable for mislaid boots and
garments; always his butt and his slave.

And when he decided to become a solicitor, and had entered an office in
London; when his greeting had changed from 'Hullo, Postey, you old
beast,' to Mornin', Packthread,' there came a war which, unlike all wars
that Mary could remember, did not stay decently outside England and in
the newspapers, but intruded on the lives of people whom she knew. As
she said to Miss Fowler, it was 'most vexatious.' It took the Rector's
son who was going into business with his elder brother; it took the
Colonel's nephew on the eve of fruit-farming in Canada; it took Mrs.
Grant's son who, his mother said, was devoted to the ministry; and, very
early indeed, it took Wynn Fowler, who announced on a postcard that he
had joined the Flying Corps and wanted a cardigan waistcoat.

'He must go, and he must have the waistcoat,' said Miss Fowler. So Mary
got the proper-sized needles and wool, while Miss Fowler told the men of
her establishment--two gardeners and an odd man, aged sixty--that those
who could join the Army had better do so. The gardeners left. Cheape,
the odd man, stayed on, and was promoted to the gardener's cottage. The
cook, scorning to be limited in luxuries, also left, after a spirited
scene with Miss Fowler, and took the housemaid with her. Miss Fowler
gazetted Nellie, Cheape's seventeen-year-old daughter, to the vacant
post; Mrs. Cheape to the rank of cook, with occasional cleaning bouts;
and the reduced establishment moved forward smoothly.

Wynn demanded an increase in his allowance. Miss Fowler, who always
looked facts in the face, said, 'He must have it. The chances are he
won't live long to draw it, and if three hundred makes him happy--'

Wynn was grateful, and came over, in his tight-buttoned uniform, to say
so. His training centre was not thirty miles away, and his talk was so
technical that it had to be explained by charts of the various types of
machines. He gave Mary such a chart.

'And you'd better study it, Postey,' he said. 'You'll be seeing a lot of
'em soon.' So Mary studied the chart, but when Wynn next arrived to
swell and exalt himself before his womenfolk, she failed badly in
cross-examination, and he rated her as in the old days.

'You _look_ more or less like a human being,' he said in his new Service
voice. 'You _must_ have had a brain at some time in your past. What have
you done with it? Where d'you keep it? A sheep would know more than you
do, Postey. You're lamentable. You are less use than an empty tin can,
you dowey old cassowary.'

'I suppose that's how your superior officer talks to _you_?' said Miss
Fowler from her chair.

'But Postey doesn't mind,' Wynn replied. 'Do you, Packthread?'

'Why? Was Wynn saying anything? I shall get this right next time you
come,' she muttered, and knitted her pale brows again over the diagrams
of Taubes, Farmans, and Zeppelins.

In a few weeks the mere land and sea battles which she read to Miss
Fowler after breakfast passed her like idle breath. Her heart and her
interest were high in the air with Wynn, who had finished 'rolling'
(whatever that might be) and had gone on from a 'taxi' to a machine more
or less his own. One morning it circled over their very chimneys,
alighted on Vegg's Heath, almost outside the garden gate, and Wynn came
in, blue with cold, shouting for food. He and she drew Miss Fowler's
bath-chair, as they had often done, along the Heath foot-path to look at
the bi-plane. Mary observed that 'it smelt very badly.'

'Postey, I believe you think with your nose,' said Wynn. 'I know you
don't with your mind. Now, what type's that?'

'I'll go and get the chart,' said Mary.

'You're hopeless! You haven't the mental capacity of a white mouse,' he
cried, and explained the dials and the sockets for bomb-dropping till it
was time to mount and ride the wet clouds once more.

'Ah!' said Mary, as the stinking thing flared upward. 'Wait till our
Flying Corps gets to work! Wynn says it's much safer than in the
trenches.'

'I wonder,' said Miss Fowler. 'Tell Cheape to come and tow me home
again.'

'It's all downhill. I can do it,' said Mary, 'if you put the brake on.'
She laid her lean self against the pushing-bar and home they trundled.

'Now, be careful you aren't heated and catch a chill,' said overdressed
Miss Fowler.

'Nothing makes me perspire,' said Mary. As she bumped the chair under
the porch she straightened her long back. The exertion had given her a
colour, and the wind had loosened a wisp of hair across her forehead.
Miss Fowler glanced at her.

'What do you ever think of, Mary?' she demanded suddenly.

'Oh, Wynn says he wants another three pairs of stockings--as thick as we
can make them.'

'Yes. But I mean the things that women think about. Here you are, more
than forty--'

'Forty-four,' said truthful Mary.

'Well?'

'Well?' Mary offered Miss Fowler her shoulder as usual.

'And you've been with me ten years now.'

'Let's see,' said Mary. 'Wynn was eleven when he came. He's twenty now,
and I came two years before that. It must be eleven.'

'Eleven! And you've never told me anything that matters in all that
while. Looking back, it seems to me that _I_'ve done all the talking.'

'I'm afraid I'm not much of a conversationalist. As Wynn says, I haven't
the mind. Let me take your hat.'

Miss Fowler, moving stiffly from the hip, stamped her rubber-tipped
stick on the tiled hall floor. 'Mary, aren't you _anything_ except a
companion? Would you _ever_ have been anything except a companion?'

Mary hung up the garden hat on its proper peg. 'No,' she said after
consideration. 'I don't imagine I ever should. But I've no imagination,
I'm afraid.'

She fetched Miss Fowler her eleven-o'clock glass of Contrexéville.

That was the wet December when it rained six inches to the month, and
the women went abroad as little as might be. Wynn's flying chariot
visited them several times, and for two mornings (he had warned her by
postcard) Mary heard the thresh of his propellers at dawn. The second
time she ran to the window, and stared at the whitening sky. A little
blur passed overhead. She lifted her lean arms towards it.

That evening at six o'clock there came an announcement in an official
envelope that Second Lieutenant W. Fowler had been killed during a trial
flight. Death was instantaneous. She read it and carried it to
Miss Fowler.

'I never expected anything else,' said Miss Fowler; 'but I'm sorry it
happened before he had done anything.'

The room was whirling round Mary Postgate, but she found herself quite
steady in the midst of it.

'Yes,' she said. 'It's a great pity he didn't die in action after he had
killed somebody.'

'He was killed instantly. That's one comfort,' Miss Fowler went on.

'But Wynn says the shock of a fall kills a man at once--whatever happens
to the tanks,' quoted Mary.

The room was coming to rest now. She heard Miss Fowler say impatiently,
'But why can't we cry, Mary?' and herself replying, 'There's nothing to
cry for. He has done his duty as much as Mrs. Grant's son did.'

'And when he died, _she_ came and cried all the morning,' said Miss
Fowler. 'This only makes me feel tired--terribly tired. Will you help me
to bed, please, Mary?--And I think I'd like the hot-water bottle.'

So Mary helped her and sat beside, talking of Wynn in his riotous youth.

'I believe,' said Miss Fowler suddenly, 'that old people and young
people slip from under a stroke like this. The middle-aged feel
it most.'

'I expect that's true,' said Mary, rising. 'I'm going to put away the
things in his room now. Shall we wear mourning?'

'Certainly not,' said Miss Fowler. 'Except, of course, at the funeral. I
can't go. You will. I want you to arrange about his being buried here.
What a blessing it didn't happen at Salisbury!'

Every one, from the Authorities of the Flying Corps to the Rector, was
most kind and sympathetic. Mary found herself for the moment in a world
where bodies were in the habit of being despatched by all sorts of
conveyances to all sorts of places. And at the funeral two young men in
buttoned-up uniforms stood beside the grave and spoke to her afterwards.

'You're Miss Postgate, aren't you?' said one. 'Fowler told me about you.
He was a good chap--a first-class fellow--a great loss.'

'Great loss!' growled his companion. 'We're all awfully sorry.'

'How high did he fall from?' Mary whispered.

'Pretty nearly four thousand feet, I should think, didn't he? You were
up that day, Monkey?'

'All of that,' the other child replied. 'My bar made three thousand, and
I wasn't as high as him by a lot.'

'Then _that's_ all right,' said Mary. 'Thank you very much.'

They moved away as Mrs. Grant flung herself weeping on Mary's flat
chest, under the lych-gate, and cried, '_I_ know how it feels! _I_ know
how it feels!'

'But both his parents are dead,' Mary returned, as she fended her off.
'Perhaps they've all met by now,' she added vaguely as she escaped
towards the coach.

'I've thought of that too,' wailed Mrs. Grant; 'but then he'll be
practically a stranger to them. Quite embarrassing!'

Mary faithfully reported every detail of the ceremony to Miss Fowler,
who, when she described Mrs. Grant's outburst, laughed aloud.

'Oh, how Wynn would have enjoyed it! He was always utterly unreliable at
funerals. D'you remember--' And they talked of him again, each piecing
out the other's gaps. 'And now,' said Miss Fowler, 'we'll pull up the
blinds and we'll have a general tidy. That always does us good. Have you
seen to Wynn's things?'

'Everything--since he first came,' said Mary. 'He was never
destructive--even with his toys.'

They faced that neat room.

'It can't be natural not to cry,' Mary said at last. 'I'm _so_ afraid
you'll have a reaction.'

'As I told you, we old people slip from under the stroke. It's you I'm
afraid for. Have you cried yet?'

'I can't. It only makes me angry with the Germans.'

'That's sheer waste of vitality,' said Miss Fowler. 'We must live till
the war's finished.' She opened a full wardrobe. 'Now, I've been
thinking things over. This is my plan. All his civilian clothes can be
given away--Belgian refugees, and so on.'

Mary nodded. 'Boots, collars, and gloves?'

'Yes. We don't need to keep anything except his cap and belt.'

'They came back yesterday with his Flying Corps clothes'--Mary pointed
to a roll on the little iron bed.

'Ah, but keep his Service things. Some one may be glad of them later. Do
you remember his sizes?'

'Five feet eight and a half; thirty-six inches round the chest. But he
told me he's just put on an inch and a half. I'll mark it on a label and
tie it on his sleeping-bag.'

'So that disposes of _that_,' said Miss Fowler, tapping the palm of one
hand with the ringed third finger of the other. 'What waste it all is!
We'll get his old school trunk to-morrow and pack his civilian clothes.'

'And the rest?' said Mary. 'His books and pictures and the games and the
toys--and--and the rest?'

'My plan is to burn every single thing,' said Miss Fowler. 'Then we
shall know where they are and no one can handle them afterwards. What do
you think?'

'I think that would be much the best,' said Mary. 'But there's such a
lot of them.'

'We'll burn them in the destructor,' said Miss Fowler.

This was an open-air furnace for the consumption of refuse; a little
circular four-foot tower of pierced brick over an iron grating. Miss
Fowler had noticed the design in a gardening journal years ago, and had
had it built at the bottom of the garden. It suited her tidy soul, for
it saved unsightly rubbish-heaps, and the ashes lightened the stiff
clay soil.

Mary considered for a moment, saw her way clear, and nodded again. They
spent the evening putting away well-remembered civilian suits,
underclothes that Mary had marked, and the regiments of very gaudy socks
and ties. A second trunk was needed, and, after that, a little
packing-case, and it was late next day when Cheape and the local carrier
lifted them to the cart. The Rector luckily knew of a friend's son,
about five feet eight and a half inches high, to whom a complete Flying
Corps outfit would be most acceptable, and sent his gardener's son down
with a barrow to take delivery of it. The cap was hung up in Miss
Fowler's bedroom, the belt in Miss Postgate's; for, as Miss Fowler said,
they had no desire to make tea-party talk of them.

'That disposes of _that_,' said Miss Fowler. 'I'll leave the rest to
you, Mary. I can't run up and down the garden. You'd better take the big
clothes-basket and get Nellie to help you.'

'I shall take the wheel-barrow and do it myself,' said Mary, and for
once in her life closed her mouth.

Miss Fowler, in moments of irritation, had called Mary deadly
methodical. She put on her oldest waterproof and gardening-hat and her
ever-slipping goloshes, for the weather was on the edge of more rain.
She gathered fire-lighters from the kitchen, a half-scuttle of coals,
and a faggot of brushwood. These she wheeled in the barrow down the
mossed paths to the dank little laurel shrubbery where the destructor
stood under the drip of three oaks. She climbed the wire fence into the
Rector's glebe just behind, and from his tenant's rick pulled two large
armfuls of good hay, which she spread neatly on the fire-bars. Next,
journey by journey, passing Miss Fowler's white face at the morning-room
window each time, she brought down in the towel-covered clothes-basket,
on the wheel-barrow, thumbed and used Hentys, Marryats, Levers,
Stevensons, Baroness Orczys, Garvices, schoolbooks, and atlases,
unrelated piles of the _Motor Cyclist_, the _Light Car_, and catalogues
of Olympia Exhibitions; the remnants of a fleet of sailing-ships from
ninepenny cutters to a three-guinea yacht; a prep.-school dressing-gown;
bats from three-and-sixpence to twenty-four shillings; cricket and
tennis balls; disintegrated steam and clockwork locomotives with their
twisted rails; a grey and red tin model of a submarine; a dumb
gramophone and cracked records; golf-clubs that had to be broken across
the knee, like his walking-sticks, and an assegai; photographs of
private and public school cricket and football elevens, and his O.T.C.
on the line of march; kodaks, and film-rolls; some pewters, and one real
silver cup, for boxing competitions and Junior Hurdles; sheaves of
school photographs; Miss Fowler's photograph; her own which he had borne
off in fun and (good care she took not to ask!) had never returned; a
playbox with a secret drawer; a load of flannels, belts, and jerseys,
and a pair of spiked shoes unearthed in the attic; a packet of all the
letters that Miss Fowler and she had ever written to him, kept for some
absurd reason through all these years; a five-day attempt at a diary;
framed pictures of racing motors in full Brooklands career, and load
upon load of undistinguishable wreckage of tool-boxes, rabbit-hutches,
electric batteries, tin soldiers, fret-saw outfits, and jig-saw puzzles.

Miss Fowler at the window watched her come and go, and said to herself,
'Mary's an old woman. I never realised it before.'

After lunch she recommended her to rest.

'I'm not in the least tired,' said Mary. 'I've got it all arranged. I'm
going to the village at two o'clock for some paraffin. Nellie hasn't
enough, and the walk will do me good.'

She made one last quest round the house before she started, and found
that she had overlooked nothing. It began to mist as soon as she had
skirted Vegg's Heath, where Wynn used to descend--it seemed to her that
she could almost hear the beat of his propellers overhead, but there was
nothing to see. She hoisted her umbrella and lunged into the blind wet
till she had reached the shelter of the empty village. As she came out
of Mr. Kidd's shop with a bottle full of paraffin in her string
shopping-bag, she met Nurse Eden, the village nurse, and fell into talk
with her, as usual, about the village children. They were just parting
opposite the 'Royal Oak,' when a gun, they fancied, was fired
immediately behind the house. It was followed by a child's shriek dying
into a wail.

'Accident!' said Nurse Eden promptly, and dashed through the empty bar,
followed by Mary. They found Mrs. Gerritt, the publican's wife, who
could only gasp and point to the yard, where a little cart-lodge was
sliding sideways amid a clatter of tiles. Nurse Eden snatched up a sheet
drying before the fire, ran out, lifted something from the ground, and
flung the sheet round it. The sheet turned scarlet and half her uniform
too, as she bore the load into the kitchen. It was little Edna Gerritt,
aged nine, whom Mary had known since her perambulator days.

'Am I hurted bad?' Edna asked, and died between Nurse Eden's dripping
hands. The sheet fell aside and for an instant, before she could shut
her eyes, Mary saw the ripped and shredded body.

'It's a wonder she spoke at all,' said Nurse Eden. 'What in God's name
was it?'

'A bomb,' said Mary.

'One o' the Zeppelins?'

'No. An aeroplane. I thought I heard it on the Heath, but I fancied it
was one of ours. It must have shut off its engines as it came down.
That's why we didn't notice it.'

'The filthy pigs!' said Nurse Eden, all white and shaken. 'See the
pickle I'm in! Go and tell Dr. Hennis, Miss Postgate.' Nurse looked at
the mother, who had dropped face down on the floor. 'She's only in a
fit. Turn her over.'

Mary heaved Mrs. Gerritt right side up, and hurried off for the doctor.
When she told her tale, he asked her to sit down in the surgery till he
got her something.

'But I don't need it, I assure you,' said she. 'I don't think it would
be wise to tell Miss Fowler about it, do you? Her heart is so irritable
in this weather.'

Dr. Hennis looked at her admiringly as he packed up his bag.

'No. Don't tell anybody till we're sure,' he said, and hastened to the
'Royal Oak,' while Mary went on with the paraffin. The village behind
her was as quiet as usual, for the news had not yet spread. She frowned
a little to herself, her large nostrils expanded uglily, and from time
to time she muttered a phrase which Wynn, who never restrained himself
before his womenfolk, had applied to the enemy. 'Bloody pagans! They
_are_ bloody pagans. But,' she continued, falling back on the teaching
that had made her what she was, 'one mustn't let one's mind dwell on
these things.'

Before she reached the house Dr. Hennis, who was also a special
constable, overtook her in his car.

'Oh, Miss Postgate,' he said, 'I wanted to tell you that that accident
at the "Royal Oak" was due to Gerritt's stable tumbling down. It's been
dangerous for a long time. It ought to have been condemned.'

'I thought I heard an explosion too,' said Mary.

'You might have been misled by the beams snapping. I've been looking at
'em. They were dry-rotted through and through. Of course, as they broke,
they would make a noise just like a gun.'

'Yes?' said Mary politely.

'Poor little Edna was playing underneath it,' he went on, still holding
her with his eyes, 'and that and the tiles cut her to pieces, you see?'

'I saw it,' said Mary, shaking her head. 'I heard it too.'

'Well, we cannot be sure.' Dr. Hennis changed his tone completely. 'I
know both you and Nurse Eden (I've been speaking to her) are perfectly
trustworthy, and I can rely on you not to say anything--yet at least. It
is no good to stir up people unless--'

'Oh, I never do--anyhow,' said Mary, and Dr. Hennis went on to the
county town.

After all, she told herself, it might, just possibly, have been the
collapse of the old stable that had done all those things to poor little
Edna. She was sorry she had even hinted at other things, but Nurse Eden
was discretion itself. By the time she reached home the affair seemed
increasingly remote by its very monstrosity. As she came in, Miss Fowler
told her that a couple of aeroplanes had passed half an hour ago.

'I thought I heard them,' she replied, 'I'm going down to the garden
now. I've got the paraffin.'

'Yes, but--what _have_ you got on your boots? They're soaking wet.
Change them at once.'

Not only did Mary obey but she wrapped the boots in a newspaper, and
put them into the string bag with the bottle. So, armed with the longest
kitchen poker, she left.

'It's raining again,' was Miss Fowler's last word, 'but--I know you
won't be happy till that's disposed of.'

'It won't take long. I've got everything down there, and I've put the
lid on the destructor to keep the wet out.'

The shrubbery was filling with twilight by the time she had completed
her arrangements and sprinkled the sacrificial oil. As she lit the match
that would burn her heart to ashes, she heard a groan or a grunt behind
the dense Portugal laurels.

'Cheape?' she called impatiently, but Cheape, with his ancient lumbago,
in his comfortable cottage would be the last man to profane the
sanctuary. 'Sheep,' she concluded, and threw in the fusee. The pyre went
up in a roar, and the immediate flame hastened night around her.

'How Wynn would have loved this!' she thought, stepping back from the
blaze.

By its light she saw, half hidden behind a laurel not five paces away, a
bareheaded man sitting very stiffly at the foot of one of the oaks. A
broken branch lay across his lap--one booted leg protruding from beneath
it. His head moved ceaselessly from side to side, but his body was as
still as the tree's trunk. He was dressed--she moved sideways to look
more closely--in a uniform something like Wynn's, with a flap buttoned
across the chest. For an instant, she had some idea that it might be
one of the young flying men she had met at the funeral. But their heads
were dark and glossy. This man's was as pale as a baby's, and so closely
cropped that she could see the disgusting pinky skin beneath. His
lips moved.

'What do you say?' Mary moved towards him and stooped.

'Laty! Laty! Laty!' he muttered, while his hands picked at the dead wet
leaves. There was no doubt as to his nationality. It made her so angry
that she strode back to the destructor, though it was still too hot to
use the poker there. Wynn's books seemed to be catching well. She looked
up at the oak behind the man; several of the light upper and two or
three rotten lower branches had broken and scattered their rubbish on
the shrubbery path. On the lowest fork a helmet with dependent strings,
showed like a bird's-nest in the light of a long-tongued flame.
Evidently this person had fallen through the tree. Wynn had told her
that it was quite possible for people to fall out of aeroplanes. Wynn
told her too, that trees were useful things to break an aviator's fall,
but in this case the aviator must have been broken or he would have
moved from his queer position. He seemed helpless except for his
horrible rolling head. On the other hand, she could see a pistol case at
his belt--and Mary loathed pistols. Months ago, after reading certain
Belgian reports together, she and Miss Fowler had had dealings with
one--a huge revolver with flat-nosed bullets, which latter, Wynn said,
were forbidden by the rules of war to be used against civilised
enemies. 'They're good enough for us,' Miss Fowler had replied. 'Show
Mary how it works.' And Wynn, laughing at the mere possibility of any
such need, had led the craven winking Mary into the Rector's disused
quarry, and had shown her how to fire the terrible machine. It lay now
in the top-left-hand drawer of her toilet-table--a memento not included
in the burning. Wynn would be pleased to see how she was not afraid.

She slipped up to the house to get it. When she came through the rain,
the eyes in the head were alive with expectation. The mouth even tried
to smile. But at sight of the revolver its corners went down just like
Edna Gerritt's. A tear trickled from one eye, and the head rolled from
shoulder to shoulder as though trying to point out something.

'Cassée. Tout cassée,' it whimpered.

'What do you say?' said Mary disgustedly, keeping well to one side,
though only the head moved.

'Cassée,' it repeated. 'Che me rends. Le médicin! Toctor!'

'Nein!' said she, bringing all her small German to bear with the big
pistol. 'Ich haben der todt Kinder gesehn.'

The head was still. Mary's hand dropped. She had been careful to keep
her finger off the trigger for fear of accidents. After a few moments'
waiting, she returned to the destructor, where the flames were falling,
and churned up Wynn's charring books with the poker. Again the head
groaned for the doctor.

'Stop that!' said Mary, and stamped her foot. 'Stop that, you bloody
pagan!'

The words came quite smoothly and naturally. They were Wynn's own words,
and Wynn was a gentleman who for no consideration on earth would have
torn little Edna into those vividly coloured strips and strings. But
this thing hunched under the oak-tree had done that thing. It was no
question of reading horrors out of newspapers to Miss Fowler. Mary had
seen it with her own eyes on the 'Royal Oak' kitchen table. She must not
allow her mind to dwell upon it. Now Wynn was dead, and everything
connected with him was lumping and rustling and tinkling under her busy
poker into red black dust and grey leaves of ash. The thing beneath the
oak would die too. Mary had seen death more than once. She came of a
family that had a knack of dying under, as she told Miss Fowler, 'most
distressing circumstances.' She would stay where she was till she was
entirely satisfied that It was dead--dead as dear papa in the late
'eighties; aunt Mary in eighty-nine; mamma in 'ninety-one; cousin Dick
in ninety-five; Lady McCausland's housemaid in 'ninety-nine; Lady
McCausland's sister in nineteen hundred and one; Wynn buried five days
ago; and Edna Gerritt still waiting for decent earth to hide her. As she
thought--her underlip caught up by one faded canine, brows knit and
nostrils wide--she wielded the poker with lunges that jarred the grating
at the bottom, and careful scrapes round the brick-work above. She
looked at her wrist-watch. It was getting on to half-past four, and the
rain was coming down in earnest. Tea would be at five. If It did not die
before that time, she would be soaked and would have to change.
Meantime, and this occupied her, Wynn's things were burning well in
spite of the hissing wet, though now and again a book-back with a quite
distinguishable title would be heaved up out of the mass. The exercise
of stoking had given her a glow which seemed to reach to the marrow of
her bones. She hummed--Mary never had a voice--to herself. She had never
believed in all those advanced views--though Miss Fowler herself leaned
a little that way--of woman's work in the world; but now she saw there
was much to be said for them. This, for instance, was _her_ work--work
which no man, least of all Dr. Hennis, would ever have done. A man, at
such a crisis, would be what Wynn called a 'sportsman'; would leave
everything to fetch help, and would certainly bring It into the house.
Now a woman's business was to make a happy home for--for a husband and
children. Failing these--it was not a thing one should allow one's mind
to dwell upon--but--

'Stop it!' Mary cried once more across the shadows. 'Nein, I tell you!
Ich haben der todt Kinder gesehn.'

_But_ it was a fact. A woman who had missed these things could still be
useful--more useful than a man in certain respects. She thumped like a
pavior through the settling ashes at the secret thrill of it. The rain
was damping the fire, but she could feel--it was too dark to see--that
her work was done. There was a dull red glow at the bottom of the
destructor, not enough to char the wooden lid if she slipped it half
over against the driving wet. This arranged, she leaned on the poker and
waited, while an increasing rapture laid hold on her. She ceased to
think. She gave herself up to feel. Her long pleasure was broken by a
sound that she had waited for in agony several times in her life. She
leaned forward and listened, smiling. There could be no mistake. She
closed her eyes and drank it in. Once it ceased abruptly.

'Go on,' she murmured, half aloud. 'That isn't the end.'

Then the end came very distinctly in a lull between two rain-gusts. Mary
Postgate drew her breath short between her teeth and shivered from head
to foot. '_That's_ all right,' said she contentedly, and went up to the
house, where she scandalised the whole routine by taking a luxurious hot
bath before tea, and came down looking, as Miss Fowler said when she saw
her lying all relaxed on the other sofa, 'quite handsome!'


THE BEGINNINGS

It was not part of their blood,
It came to them very late
With long arrears to make good,
When the English began to hate.

They were not easily moved,
They were icy willing to wait
Till every count should be proved,
Ere the English began to hate.

Their voices were even and low,
Their eyes were level and straight.
There was neither sign nor show,
When the English began to hate.

It was not preached to the crowd,
It was not taught by the State.
No man spoke it aloud,
When the English began to hate.

It was not suddenly bred,
It will not swiftly abate,
Through the chill years ahead,
When Time shall count from the date
That the English began to hate.



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