Alvina wept when the Natchas had gone. She loved them so much, she wanted t_e with them. Even Ciccio she regarded as only one of the Natchas. She looke_orward to his coming as to a visit from the troupe.
How dull the theatre was without them! She was tired of the Endeavour. Sh_ished it did not exist. The rehearsal on the Monday morning bored he_erribly. Her father was nervous and irritable. The previous week had trie_im sorely. He had worked himself into a state of nervous apprehension such a_othing would have justified, unless perhaps, if the wooden walls of th_ndeavour had burnt to the ground, with James inside victimized like anothe_amson. He had developed a nervous horror of all artistes. He did not fee_afe for one single moment whilst he depended on a single one of them.
"We shall have to convert into all pictures," he said in a nervous fever t_r. May. "Don't make any more engagements after the end of next month."
"Really!" said Mr. May. "Really! Have you quite decided?"
"Yes quite! Yes quite!" James fluttered. "I have written about a new machine, and the supply of films from Chanticlers."
"Really!" said Mr. May. "Oh well then, in that case—" But he was filled wit_ismay and chagrin.
"Of cauce," he said later to Alvina, "I can't _possibly_ stop on if we ar_othing but a picture show!" And he arched his blanched and dismal eyelid_ith ghastly finality.
"Why?" cried Alvina.
"Oh—why!" He was rather ironic. "Well, it's not my line at _all_. I'm not _film-operator_!" And he put his head on one side with a grimace of contemp_nd superiority.
"But you are, as well," said Alvina.
"Yes, _as well_. But not _only!_ You _may_ wash the dishes in th_cullery. But you're not only the _char_ , are you?"
"But is it the same?" cried Alvina.
"Of cauce!" cried Mr. May. "Of _cauce_ it's the same."
Alvina laughed, a little heartlessly, into his pallid, stricken eyes. "Bu_hat will you do?" she asked.
"I shall have to look for something else," said the injured but dauntles_ittle man. "There's nothing _else_ , is there?"
"Wouldn't you stay on?" she asked.
"I wouldn't think of it. I wouldn't think of it." He turtled like an injure_igeon.
"Well," she said, looking laconically into his face: "It's between you an_ather—"
"Of _cauce!_ " he said. "Naturally! Where else—!" But his tone was a littl_piteful, as if he had rested his last hopes on Alvina.
Alvina went away. She mentioned the coming change to Miss Pinnegar.
"Well," said Miss Pinnegar, judicious but aloof, "it's a move in the righ_irection. But I doubt if it'll do any good."
"Do you?" said Alvina. "Why?"
"I don't believe in the place, and I never did," declared Miss Pinnegar. "_on't believe any good will come of it."
"But why?" persisted Alvina. "What makes you feel so sure about it?"
"I don't know. But that's how I feel. And I have from the first. It was wron_rom the first. It was wrong to begin it."
"But why?" insisted Alvina, laughing.
"Your father had no business to be led into it. He'd no business to touch thi_how business. It isn't like him. It doesn't belong to him. He's gone agains_is own nature and his own life."
"Oh but," said Alvina, "father was a showman even in the shop. He always was.
Mother said he was like a showman in a booth."
Miss Pinnegar was taken aback.
"Well!" she said sharply. "If _that's_ what you've seen in him!"—there was _ause. "And in that case," she continued tartly, "I think some of the showma_as come out in his daughter! or show-woman!—which doesn't improve it, to m_dea."
"Why is it any worse?" said Alvina. "I enjoy it—and so does father."
"No," cried Miss Pinnegar. "There you're wrong! There you make a mistake. It'_ll against his better nature."
"Really!" said Alvina, in surprise. "What a new idea! But which is father'_etter nature?"
"You may not know it," said Miss Pinnegar coldly, "and if so, I can never tel_ou. But that doesn't alter it." She lapsed into dead silence for a moment.
Then suddenly she broke out, vicious and cold: "He'll go on till he's kille_imself, and _then_ he'll know."
The little adverb _then_ came whistling across the space like a bullet. I_ade Alvina pause. Was her father going to die? She reflected. Well, all me_ust die.
She forgot the question in others that occupied her. First, could she bear it, when the Endeavour was turned into another cheap and nasty film-shop? Th_trange figures of the artistes passing under her observation had reall_ntertained her, week by week. Some weeks they had bored her, some weeks sh_ad detested them, but there was always a chance in the coming week. Think o_he Natcha-Kee-Tawaras!
She thought too much of the Natcha-Kee-Tawaras. She knew it. And she tried t_orce her mind to the contemplation of the new state of things, when sh_anged at the piano to a set of dithering and boring pictures. There would b_er father, herself, and Mr. May—or a new operator, a new manager. The ne_anager!—she thought of him for a moment—and thought of the mechanica_actory-faced persons who _managed_ Wright's and the Woodhouse Empire.
But her mind fell away from this barren study. She was obsessed by the Natcha- Kee-Tawaras. They seemed to have fascinated her. Which of them it was, or wha_t was that had cast the spell over her, she did not know. But she was as i_ypnotized. She longed to be with them. Her soul gravitated towards them al_he time.
Monday passed, and Ciccio did not come: Tuesday passed: and Wednesday. In he_oul she was sceptical of their keeping their promise—either Madame or Ciccio.
Why should they keep their promise? She knew what these nomadic artistes were.
And her soul was stubborn within her.
On Wednesday night there was another sensation at the Endeavour. Mr. May foun_ames Houghton fainting in the box-office after the performance had begun.
What to do? He could not interrupt Alvina, nor the performance. He sent th_hocolate-and-orange boy across to the Pear Tree for brandy.
James revived. "I'm all right," he said, in a brittle fashion. "I'm all right.
Don't bother." So he sat with his head on his hand in the box-office, and Mr.
May had to leave him to operate the film.
When the interval arrived, Mr. May hurried to the box-office, a narrow hol_hat James could just sit in, and there he found the invalid in the sam_osture, semi-conscious. He gave him more brandy.
"I'm all right, I tell you," said James, his eyes flaring. "Leave me alone."
But he looked anything but all right.
Mr. May hurried for Alvina. When the daughter entered the ticket place, he_ather was again in a state of torpor.
"Father," she said, shaking his shoulder gently. "What's the matter." H_urmured something, but was incoherent. She looked at his face. It was gre_nd blank.
"We shall have to get him home," she said. "We shall have to get a cab."
"Give him a little brandy," said Mr. May.
The boy was sent for the cab, James swallowed a spoonful of brandy. He came t_imself irritably.
"What? What," he said. "I won't have all this fuss. Go on with th_erformance, there's no need to bother about me." His eye was wild. "You mus_o home, father," said Alvina.
"Leave me alone! Will you leave me alone! Hectored by women all m_ife—hectored by women—first one, then another. I won't stand it—I won't stan_t—" He looked at Alvina with a look of frenzy as he lapsed again, fell wit_is head on his hands on his ticket-board. Alvina looked at Mr. May.
"We must get him home," she said. She covered him up with a coat, and sat b_im. The performance went on without music. At last the cab came. James, unconscious, was driven up to Woodhouse. He had to be carried indoors. Alvin_urried ahead to make a light in the dark passage.
"Father's ill!" she announced to Miss Pinnegar.
"Didn't I say so!" said Miss Pinnegar, starting from her chair.
The two women went out to meet the cab-man, who had James in his arms.
"Can you manage?" cried Alvina, showing a light.
"He doesn't weigh much," said the man.
"Tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-to-tu!" went Miss Pinnegar's tongue, in a rapid tut-tut o_istress. "What have I said, now," she exclaimed. "What have I said al_long?"
James was laid on the sofa. His eyes were half-shut. They made him drin_randy, the boy was sent for the doctor, Alvina's bed was warmed. The sick ma_as got to bed. And then started another vigil. Alvina sat up in the sic_oom. James started and muttered, but did not regain consciousness. Dawn came, and he was the same. Pneumonia and pleurisy and a touch of meningitis. Alvin_rank her tea, took a little breakfast, and went to bed at about nine o'cloc_n the morning, leaving James in charge of Miss Pinnegar. Time was al_eranged.
Miss Pinnegar was a nervous nurse. She sat in horror and apprehension, he_yebrows raised, starting and looking at James in terror whenever he made _oise. She hurried to him and did what she could. But one would have said sh_as repulsed, she found her task unconsciously repugnant.
During the course of the morning Mrs. Rollings came up and said that th_talian from last week had come, and could he speak to Miss Houghton.
"Tell him she's resting, and Mr. Houghton is seriously ill," said Mis_innegar sharply.
When Alvina came downstairs at about four in the afternoon she found _ackage: a comb of carved bone, and a message from Madame: "To Miss Houghton, with kindest greetings and most sincere thanks from Kishwégin."
The comb with its carved, beast-faced serpent was her portion. Alvina asked i_here had been any other message. None.
Mr. May came in, and stayed for a dismal half-hour. Then Alvina went back t_er nursing. The patient was no better, still unconscious. Miss Pinnegar com_own, red eyed and sullen looking. The condition of James gave little room fo_ope.
In the early morning he died. Alvina called Mrs. Rollings, and they compose_he body. It was still only five o'clock, and not light. Alvina went to li_own in her father's little, rather chilly chamber at the end of the corridor.
She tried to sleep, but could not. At half-past seven she arose, and starte_he business of the new day. The doctor came—she went to the registrar—and s_n.
Mr. May came. It was decided to keep open the theatre. He would find some on_lse for the piano, some one else to issue the tickets.
In the afternoon arrived Frederick Houghton, James's cousin and neares_elative. He was a middle-aged, blond, florid, church-going draper fro_narborough, well-to-do and very _bourgeois_. He tried to talk to Alvina in _atherly fashion, or a friendly, or a helpful fashion. But Alvina could no_isten to him. He got on her nerves.
Hearing the gate bang, she rose and hurried to the window. She was in th_rawing-room with her cousin, to give the interview its proper air o_olemnity. She saw Ciccio rearing his yellow bicycle against the wall, an_oing with his head forward along the narrow, dark way of the back yard, t_he scullery door.
"Excuse me a minute," she said to her cousin, who looked up irritably as sh_eft the room.
She was just in time to open the door as Ciccio tapped. She stood on th_oorstep above him. He looked up, with a faint smile, from under his blac_ashes.
"How nice of you to come," she said. But her face was blanched and tired, without expression. Only her large eyes looked blue in their tiredness, as sh_lanced down at Ciccio. He seemed to her far away.
"Madame asks how is Mr. Houghton," he said.
"Father! He died this morning," she said quietly.
"He died!" exclaimed the Italian, a flash of fear and dismay going over hi_ace.
"Yes—this morning." She had neither tears nor emotion, but just looked down o_im abstractedly, from her height on the kitchen step. He dropped his eyes an_ooked at his feet. Then he lifted his eyes again, and looked at her. Sh_ooked back at him, as from across a distance. So they watched each other, a_trangers across a wide, abstract distance.
He turned and looked down the dark yard, towards the gate where he could jus_ee the pale grey tire of his bicycle, and the yellow mudguard. He seemed t_e reflecting. If he went now, he went for ever. Involuntarily he turned an_ifted his face again towards Alvina, as if studying her curiously. Sh_emained there on the door-step, neutral, blanched, with wide, still, neutra_yes. She did not seem to see him. He studied her with alert, yellow-dusky, inscrutable eyes, until she met his look. And then he gave the faintes_esture with his head, as of summons towards him. Her soul started, and die_n her. And again he gave the slight, almost imperceptible jerk of the head, backwards and sideways, as if summoning her towards him. His face too wa_losed and expressionless. But in his eyes, which kept hers, there was a dar_licker of ascendancy. He was going to triumph over her. She knew it. And he_oul sank as if it sank out of her body. It sank away out of her body, lef_er there powerless, soulless.
And yet as he turned, with his head stretched forward, to move away: as h_lanced slightly over his shoulder: she stepped down from the step, down t_is level, to follow him. He went ducking along the dark yard, nearly to th_ate. Near the gate, near his bicycle, was a corner made by a shed. Here h_urned, lingeringly, to her, and she lingered in front of him.
Her eyes were wide and neutral and submissive, with a new, awful submission a_f she had lost her soul. So she looked up at him, like a victim. There was _aint smile in his eyes. He stretched forward over her.
"You love me? Yes?—Yes?" he said, in a voice that seemed like a palpabl_ontact on her.
"Yes," she whispered involuntarily, soulless, like a victim. He put his ar_ound her, subtly, and lifted her.
"Yes," he re-echoed, almost mocking in his triumph. "Yes. Yes!" And smiling, he kissed her, delicately, with a certain finesse of knowledge. She moaned i_pirit, in his arms, felt herself dead, dead. And he kissed her with _inesse, a passionate finesse which seemed like coals of fire on her head.
They heard footsteps. Miss Pinnegar was coming to look for her. Ciccio set he_own, looked long into her eyes, inscrutably, smiling, and said:
"I come tomorrow."
With which he ducked and ran out of the yard, picking up his bicycle like _eather, and, taking no notice of Miss Pinnegar, letting the yard-door bang t_ehind him.
"Alvina!" said Miss Pinnegar.
But Alvina did not answer. She turned, slipped past, ran indoors and upstair_o the little bare bedroom she had made her own. She locked the door an_neeled down on the floor, bowing down her head to her knees in a paroxysm o_he floor. In a paroxysm—because she loved him. She doubled herself up in _aroxysm on her knees on the floor—because she loved him. It was far more lik_ain, like agony, than like joy. She swayed herself to and fro in a paroxys_f unbearable sensation, because she loved him.
Miss Pinnegar came and knocked at the door.
"Alvina! Alvina! Oh, you are there! Whatever are you doing? Aren't you comin_own to speak to your cousin?"
"Soon," said Alvina.
And taking a pillow from the bed, she crushed it against herself and swaye_erself unconsciously, in her orgasm of unbearable feeling. Right in he_owels she felt it—the terrible, unbearable feeling. How could she bear it.
She crouched over until she became still. A moment of stillness seemed t_over her like sleep: an eternity of sleep in that one second. Then she rouse_nd got up. She went to the mirror, still, evanescent, and tidied her hair, smoothed her face. She was so still, so remote, she felt that nothing, nothin_ould ever touch her.
And so she went downstairs, to that horrible cousin of her father's. Sh_eemed so intangible, remote and virginal, that her cousin and Miss Pinnega_oth failed to make anything of her. She answered their questions simply, bu_id not talk. They talked to each other. And at last the cousin went away, with a profound dislike of Miss Alvina.
She did not notice. She was only glad he was gone. And she went about for th_est of the day elusive and vague. She slept deeply that night, withou_reams.
The next day was Saturday. It came with a great storm of wind and rain an_ail: a fury. Alvina looked out in dismay. She knew Ciccio would not be abl_o come—he could not cycle, and it was impossible to get by train and retur_he same day. She was almost relieved. She was relieved by the intermission o_ate, she was thankful for the day of neutrality.
In the early afternoon came a telegram: Coming both tomorrow morning deepes_ympathy Madame. Tomorrow was Sunday: and the funeral was in the afternoon.
Alvina felt a burning inside her, thinking of Ciccio. She winced—and yet sh_anted him to come. Terribly she wanted him to come.
She showed the telegram to Miss Pinnegar.
"Good gracious!" said the weary Miss Pinnegar. "Fancy those people. And _arrant they'll want to be at the funeral. As if he was anything to _them_ —"
"I think it's very nice of her," said Alvina.
"Oh well," said Miss Pinnegar. "If you think so. I don't fancy he would hav_anted such people following, myself. And what does she mean by _both_. Who'_he other?" Miss Pinnegar looked sharply at Alvina.
"Ciccio," said Alvina.
"The Italian! Why goodness me! What's _he_ coming for? I can't make you out, Alvina. Is that his name, Chicho? I never heard such a name. Doesn't soun_ike a name at all to me. There won't be room for them in the cabs."
"We'll order another."
"More expense. I never knew such impertinent people—"
But Alvina did not hear her. On the next morning she dressed herself carefull_n her new dress. It was black voile. Carefully she did her hair. Ciccio an_adame were coming. The thought of Ciccio made her shudder. She hung about, waiting. Luckily none of the funeral guests would arrive till after on_'clock. Alvina sat listless, musing, by the fire in the drawing-room. Sh_eft everything now to Miss Pinnegar and Mrs. Rollings. Miss Pinnegar, red- eyed and yellow-skinned, was irritable beyond words.
It was nearly mid-day when Alvina heard the gate. She hurried to open th_ront door. Madame was in her little black hat and her black spotted veil, Ciccio in a black overcoat was closing the yard door behind her.
"Oh, my dear girl!" Madame cried, trotting forward with outstretched black-ki_ands, one of which held an umbrella: "I am so shocked—I am so shocked to hea_f your poor father. Am I to believe it?—am I really? No, I can't."
She lifted her veil, kissed Alvina, and dabbed her eyes. Ciccio came up th_teps. He took off his hat to Alvina, smiled slightly as he passed her. H_ooked rather pale, constrained. She closed the door and ushered them into th_rawing-room.
Madame looked round like a bird, examining the room and the furniture. She wa_vidently a little impressed. But all the time she was uttering he_ondolences.
"Tell me, poor girl, how it happened?"
"There isn't much to tell," said Alvina, and she gave the brief account o_ames's illness and death.
"Worn out! Worn out!" Madame said, nodding slowly up and down. Her black veil, pushed up, sagged over her brows like a mourning band. "You cannot afford t_aste the stamina. And will you keep on the theatre—with Mr. May—?"
Ciccio was sitting looking towards the fire. His presence made Alvina tremble.
She noticed how the fine black hair of his head showed no parting at all—i_ust grew like a close cap, and was pushed aside at the forehead. Sometimes h_ooked at her, as Madame talked, and again looked at her, and looked away.
At last Madame came to a halt. There was a long pause. "You will stay to th_uneral?" said Alvina.
"Oh my dear, we shall be too much—"
"No," said Alvina. "I have arranged for you—"
"There! You think of everything. But I will come, not Ciccio. He will no_rouble you."
Ciccio looked up at Alvina.
"I should like him to come," said Alvina simply. But a deep flush began t_ount her face. She did not know where it came from, she felt so cold. And sh_anted to cry.
Madame watched her closely.
"Siamo di accordo," came the voice of Ciccio.
Alvina and Madame both looked at him. He sat constrained, with his fac_verted, his eyes dropped, but smiling.
Madame looked closely at Alvina.
"Is it true what he says?" she asked.
"I don't understand him," said Alvina. "I don't understand what he said."
"That you have agreed with him—"
Madame and Ciccio both watched Alvina as she sat in her new black dress. He_yes involuntarily turned to his.
"I don't know," she said vaguely. "Have I—?" and she looked at him. Madam_ept silence for some moments. Then she said gravely: "Well!—yes!—well!" Sh_ooked from one to another. "Well, there is a lot to consider. But if you hav_ecided—"
Neither of them answered. Madame suddenly rose and went to Alvina. She kisse_er on either cheek.
"I shall protect you," she said.
Then she returned to her seat.
"What have you said to Miss Houghton?" she said suddenly to Ciccio, tacklin_im direct, and speaking coldly.
He looked at Madame with a faint derisive smile. Then he turned to Alvina. Sh_ent her head and blushed.
"Speak then," said Madame, "you have a reason." She seemed mistrustful of him.
But he turned aside his face, and refused to speak, sitting as if he wer_naware of Madame's presence.
"Oh well," said Madame. "I shall be there, Signorino."
She spoke with a half-playful threat. Ciccio curled his lip. "You do not kno_im yet," she said, turning to Alvina.
"I know that," said Alvina, offended. Then she added: "Wouldn't you like t_ake off your hat?"
"If you truly wish me to stay," said Madame.
"Yes, please do. And will you hang your coat in the hall?" she said to Ciccio.
"Oh!" said Madame roughly. "He will not stay to eat. He will go out t_omewhere."
Alvina looked at him.
"Would you rather?" she said.
He looked at her with sardonic yellow eyes.
"If you want," he said, the awkward, derisive smile curling his lips an_howing his teeth.
She had a moment of sheer panic. Was he just stupid and bestial? The though_ent clean through her. His yellow eyes watched her sardonically. It was th_lean modelling of his dark, other-world face that decided her—for it sent th_eep spasm across her.
"I'd like you to stay," she said.
A smile of triumph went over his face. Madame watched him stonily as she stoo_eside her chair, one hand lightly balanced on her hip. Alvina was reminded o_ishwégin. But even in Madame's stony mistrust there was an element o_ttraction towards him. He had taken his cigarette case from his pocket.
"On ne fume pas dans le salon," said Madame brutally.
"Will you put your coat in the passage?—and do smoke if you wish," sai_lvina.
He rose to his feet and took off his overcoat. His face was obstinate an_ocking. He was rather floridly dressed, though in black, and wore boots o_lack patent leather with tan uppers. Handsome he was—but undeniably in ba_aste. The silver ring was still on his finger—and his close, fine, unparte_air went badly with smart English clothes. He looked common—Alvina confesse_t. And her heart sank. But what was she to do? He evidently was not happy.
Obstinacy made him stick out the situation.
Alvina and Madame went upstairs. Madame wanted to see the dead James. Sh_ooked at his frail, handsome, ethereal face, and crossed herself as she wept.
"Un bel homme, cependant," she whispered. "Mort en un jour. C'est trop fort, voyez!" And she sniggered with fear and sobs.
They went down to Alvina's bare room. Madame glanced round, as she did i_very room she entered.
"This was father's bedroom," said Alvina. "The other was mine. He wouldn'_ave it anything but like this—bare."
"Nature of a monk, a hermit," whispered Madame. "Who would have thought it!
Ah, the men, the men!"
And she unpinned her hat and patted her hair before the small mirror, int_hich she had to peep to see herself. Alvina stood waiting.
"And now—" whispered Madame, suddenly turning: "What about this Ciccio, hein?"
It was ridiculous that she would not raise her voice above a whisper, upstair_here. But so it was.
She scrutinized Alvina with her eyes of bright black glass. Alvina looked bac_t her, but did not know what to say.
"What about him, hein? Will you marry him? Why will you?"
"I suppose because I like him," said Alvina, flushing.
Madame made a little grimace.
"Oh yes!" she whispered, with a contemptuous mouth. "Oh yes!—because you lik_im! But you know nothing _of_ him—nothing. How can you like him, no_nowing him? He may be a real bad character. How would you like him then?"
"He isn't, is he?" said Alvina.
"I don't know. I don't know. He may be. Even I, I don't know him—no, though h_as been with me for three years. What is he? He is a man of the people, _oatman, a labourer, an artist's model. He sticks to nothing—"
"How old is he?" asked Alvina.
"He is twenty-five—a boy only. And you? You are older."
"Thirty," confessed Alvina.
"Thirty! Well now—so much difference! How can you trust him? How can you? Wh_oes he want to marry you—why?"
"I don't know—" said Alvina.
"No, and I don't know. But I know something of these Italian men, who ar_abourers in every country, just labourers and under-men always, always down, down, down—" And Madame pressed her spread palms downwards. "And so—when the_ave a chance to come up—" she raised her hand with a spring—"they are ver_onceited, and they take their chance. He will want to rise, by you, and yo_ill go down, with him. That is how it is. I have seen it before—yes—more tha_ne time—"
"But," said Alvina, laughing ruefully. "He can't rise much because of me, ca_e?"
"How not? How not? In the first place, you are English, and he thinks to ris_y that. Then you are not of the lower class, you are of the higher class, th_lass of the masters, such as employ Ciccio and men like him. How will he no_ise in the world by you? Yes, he will rise very much. Or he will draw yo_own, down—Yes, one or another. And then he thinks that now you have money—no_our father is dead—" here Madame glanced apprehensively at the close_oor—"and they all like money, yes, very much, all Italians—"
"Do they?" said Alvina, scared. "I'm sure there won't _be_ any money. I'_ure father is in debt."
"What? You think? Do you? Really? Oh poor Miss Houghton! Well—and will yo_ell Ciccio that? Eh? Hein?"
"Yes—certainly—if it matters," said poor Alvina.
"Of course it matters. Of course it matters very much. It matters to him.
Because he will not have much. He saves, saves, saves, as they all do, to g_ack to Italy and buy a piece of land. And if he has you, it will cost hi_uch more, he cannot continue with Natcha-Kee-Tawara. All will be much mor_ifficult—"
"Oh, I will tell him in time," said Alvina, pale at the lips.
"You will tell him! Yes. That is better. And then you will see. But he i_bstinate—as a mule. And if he will still have you, then you must think. Ca_ou live in England as the wife of a labouring man, a dirty Eyetalian, as the_ll say? It is serious. It is not pleasant for you, who have not known it. _lso have not known it. But I have seen—" Alvina watched with wide, trouble_yes, while Madame darted looks, as from bright, deep black glass.
"Yes," said Alvina. "I should hate being a labourer's wife in a nasty littl_ouse in a street—"
"In a house?" cried Madame. "It would not be in a house. They live man_ogether in one house. It would be two rooms, or even one room, in anothe_ouse with many people not quite clean, you see—"
Alvina shook her head.
"I couldn't stand that," she said finally.
"No!" Madame nodded approval. "No! you could not. They live in a bad way, th_talians. They do not know the English home—never. They don't like it. Nor d_hey know the Swiss clean and proper house. No. They don't understand. The_un into their holes to sleep or to shelter, and that is all."
"The same in Italy?" said Alvina.
"Even more—because there it is sunny very often—"
"And you don't need a house," said Alvina. "I should like that."
"Yes, it is nice—but you don't know the life. And you would be alone wit_eople like animals. And if you go to Italy he will beat you—he will bea_ou—"
"If I let him," said Alvina.
"But you can't help it, away there from everybody. Nobody will help you. I_ou are a wife in Italy, nobody will help you. You are his property, when yo_arry by Italian law. It is not like England. There is no divorce in Italy.
And if he beats you, you are helpless—"
"But why should he beat me?" said Alvina. "Why should he want to?"
"They do. They are so jealous. And then they go into their ungovernabl_empers, horrible tempers—"
"Only when they are provoked," said Alvina, thinking of Max. "Yes, but yo_ill not know what provokes him. Who can say when he will be provoked? An_hen he beats you—"
There seemed to be a gathering triumph in Madame's bright black eyes. Alvin_ooked at her, and turned to the door.
"At any rate I know now," she said, in rather a flat voice.
"And it is _true_. It is all of it true," whispered Madame vindictively.
Alvina wanted to run from her.
"I _must_ go to the kitchen," she said. "Shall we go down?"
Alvina did not go into the drawing-room with Madame. She was too much upset, and she had almost a horror of seeing Ciccio at that moment.
Miss Pinnegar, her face stained carmine by the fire, was helping Mrs. Rolling_ith the dinner.
"Are they both staying, or only one?" she said tartly.
"Both," said Alvina, busying herself with the gravy, to hide her distress an_onfusion.
"The man as well," said Miss Pinnegar. "What does the woman want to brin_him_ for? I'm sure I don't know what your father would say a common show- fellow, _looks_ what he is—and staying to dinner."
Miss Pinnegar was thoroughly out of temper as she tried the potatoes. Alvin_et the table. Then she went to the drawing-room. "Will you come to dinner?"
she said to her two guests.
Ciccio rose, threw his cigarette into the fire, and looked round. Outside wa_ faint, watery sunshine: but at least it was out of doors. He felt himsel_mprisoned and out of his element. He had an irresistible impulse to go.
When he got into the hall he laid his hand on his hat. The stupid, constraine_mile was on his face.
"I'll go now," he said.
"We have set the table for you," said Alvina.
"Stop now, since you have stopped for so long," said Madame, darting her blac_ooks at him.
But he hurried on his coat, looking stupid. Madame lifted her eyebrow_isdainfully.
"This is polite behaviour!" she said sarcastically.
Alvina stood at a loss.
"You return to the funeral?" said Madame coldly.
He shook his head.
"When you are ready to go," he said.
"At four o'clock," said Madame, "when the funeral has come home. Then we shal_e in time for the train."
He nodded, smiled stupidly, opened the door, and went.
"This is just like him, to be so—so—" Madame could not express herself as sh_alked down to the kitchen.
"Miss Pinnegar, this is Madame," said Alvina.
"How do you do?" said Miss Pinnegar, a little distant and condescending.
Madame eyed her keenly.
"Where is the man? I don't know his name," said Miss Pinnegar. "He wouldn'_tay," said Alvina. "What _is_ his name, Madame?"
"Marasca—Francesco. Francesco Marasca—Neapolitan."
"Marasca!" echoed Alvina.
"It has a bad sound—a sound of a bad augury, bad sign," said Madame. "Ma-rà- sca!" She shook her head at the taste of the syllables.
"Why do you think so?" said Alvina. "Do you think there is a meaning i_ounds? goodness and badness?"
"Yes," said Madame. "Certainly. Some sounds are good, they are for life, fo_reating, and some sounds are bad, they are for destroying. Ma-rà-sca!—that i_ad, like swearing."
"But what sort of badness? What does it do?" said Alvina.
"What does it do? It sends life down—down—instead of lifting it up."
"Why should things always go up? Why should life always go up?" said Alvina.
"I don't know," said Madame, cutting her meat quickly. There was a pause.
"And what about other names," interrupted Miss Pinnegar, a little lofty. "Wha_bout Houghton, for example?"
Madame put down her fork, but kept her knife in her hand. She looked acros_he room, not at Miss Pinnegar.
"Houghton—! Huff-ton!" she said. "When it is said, it has a sound _against:_hat is, against the neighbour, against humanity. But when it is writte_Hough-ton_! then it is different, it is _for_."
"It is always pronounced _Huff-ton_ ," said Miss Pinnegar.
"By us," said Alvina.
"We ought to know," said Miss Pinnegar.
Madame turned to look at the unhappy, elderly woman. "You are a relative o_he family?" she said.
"No, not a relative. But I've been here many years," said Miss Pinnegar.
"Oh, yes!" said Madame. Miss Pinnegar was frightfully affronted. The meal, with the three women at table, passed painfully.
Miss Pinnegar rose to go upstairs and weep. She felt very forlorn. Alvina ros_o wipe the dishes, hastily, because the funeral guests would all be coming.
Madame went into the drawing-room to smoke her sly cigarette.
Mr. May was the first to turn up for the lugubrious affair: very tight an_ailored, but a little extinguished, all in black. He never wore black, an_as very unhappy in it, being almost morbidly sensitive to the impression th_olour made on him. He was set to entertain Madame.
She did not pretend distress, but sat black-eyed and watchful, very much he_usiness self.
"What about the theatre?—will it go on?" she asked.
"Well I don't know. I don't know Miss Houghton's intentions," said Mr. May. H_as a little stilted today.
"It's hers?" said Madame.
"Why, as far as I understand—"
"And if she wants to sell out—?"
Mr. May spread his hands, and looked dismal, but distant. "You should form _ompany, and carry on—" said Madame.
Mr. May looked even more distant, drawing himself up in an odd fashion, s_hat he looked as if he were trussed. But Madame's shrewd black eyes and bus_ind did not let him off.
"Buy Miss Houghton out—" said Madame shrewdly.
"Of cauce," said Mr. May. "Miss Houghton herself must decide."
"Oh sure—! You—are you married?"
"Your wife here?"
"My wife is in London."
Madame slowly nodded her head up and down, as if she put thousands of two-and- two's together.
"You think there will be much to come to Miss Houghton?" she said. "Do yo_ean property? I really can't say. I haven't enquired."
"No, but you have a good idea, eh?"
"I'm afraid I haven't."
"No! Well! It won't be much, then?"
"Really, I don't know. I should say, not a _large_ fortune—!"
"No—eh?" Madame kept him fixed with her black eyes. "Do you think the othe_ne will get anything?"
"The _other one_ —?" queried Mr. May, with an uprising cadence. Madame nodde_lightly towards the kitchen.
"The old one—the Miss—Miss Pin—Pinny—what you call her."
"Miss Pinnegar! The manageress of the work-girls? Really, I don't know a_ll—" Mr. May was most freezing.
"Ha—ha! Ha—ha!" mused Madame quietly. Then she asked: "Which work-girls do yo_ay?"
And she listened astutely to Mr. May's forced account of the workroo_pstairs, extorting all the details she desired to gather. Then there was _ause. Madame glanced round the room.
"Nice house!" she said. "Is it their own?"
"So I _believe_ —"
Again Madame nodded sagely. "Debts perhaps—eh? Mortgage—" and she looked slyl_ardonic.
"Really!" said Mr. May, bouncing to his feet. "Do you mind if I go to speak t_rs. Rollings—"
"Oh no—go along," said Madame, and Mr. May skipped out in a temper.
Madame was left alone in her comfortable chair, studying details of the roo_nd making accounts in her own mind, until the actual funeral guests began t_rrive. And then she had the satisfaction of sizing them up. Several arrive_ith wreaths. The coffin had been carried down and laid in the small sitting- room—Mrs. Houghton's sitting-room. It was covered with white wreaths an_treamers of purple ribbon. There was a crush and a confusion.
And then at last the hearse and the cabs had arrived—the coffin was carrie_ut—Alvina followed, on the arm of her father's cousin, whom she disliked.
Miss Pinnegar marshalled the other mourners. It was a wretched business.
But it was a great funeral. There were nine cabs, besides the hearse—Woodhous_ad revived its ancient respect for the house of Houghton. A posse of mino_radesmen followed the cabs—all in black and with black gloves. The riche_radesmen sat in the cabs.
Poor Alvina, this was the only day in all her life when she was the centre o_ublic attention. For once, every eye was upon her, every mind was thinkin_bout her. Poor Alvina! said every member of the Woodhouse "middle class": Poor Alvina Houghton, said every collier's wife. Poor thing, left alone—an_ardly a penny to bless herself with. Lucky if she's not left with a pile o_ebts. James Houghton ran through some money in his day. Ay, if she had he_ights she'd be a rich woman. Why, her mother brought three or four thousand_ith her. Ay, but James sank it all in Throttle-Ha'penny and Klondyke and th_ndeavour. Well, he was his own worst enemy. He paid his way. I'm not so sur_bout that. Look how he served his wife, and now Alvina. I'm not so sure h_as his own worst enemy. He was bad enough enemy to his own flesh and blood.
Ah well, he'll spend no more money, anyhow. No, he went sudden, didn't he? Bu_e was getting very frail, if you noticed. Oh yes, why he fair seemed t_otter down to Lumley. Do you reckon as that place pays its way? What, th_ndeavour?—they say it does. They say it makes a nice bit. Well, it's mostl_retty full. Ay, it is. Perhaps it won't be now Mr. Houghton's gone. Perhap_ot. I wonder if he _will_ leave much. I'm sure he won't. Everything he'_ot's mortgaged up to the hilt. He'll leave debts, you see if he doesn't. Wha_s she going to do then? She'll have to go out of Manchester House—her an_iss Pinnegar. Wonder what she'll do. Perhaps she'll take up that nursing. Sh_ever made much of that, did she—and spent a sight of money on her training, they say. She's a bit like her father in the business line—all flukes. Pit_ome nice young man doesn't turn up and marry her. I don't know, she doesn'_eem to hook on, does she? Why she's never had a proper boy. They make out sh_as engaged once. Ay, but nobody ever saw him, and it was off as soon as i_as on. Can you remember she went with Albert Witham for a bit. Did she? No, _ever knew. When was that? Why, when he was at Oxford, you know, learning fo_is head master's place. Why didn't she marry him then? Perhaps he never aske_er. Ay, there's that to it. She'd have looked down her nose at him, time_one by. Ay, but that's all over, my boy. She'd snap at anybody now. Look ho_he carries on with that manager. Why, _that's_ something awful. Haven't yo_ver watched her in the Cinema? She never lets him alone. And it's anybod_like. Oh, she doesn't respect herself. I don't consider. No girl wh_espected herself would go on as she does, throwing herself at every feller'_ead. Does she, though? Ay, any performer or anybody. She's a tidy age, though. She's not much chance of getting off. How old do you reckon she is?
Must be well over thirty. You never say. Well, she _looks_ it. She doe_eguy—a dragged old maid. Oh but she sprightles up a bit sometimes. Ay, whe_he thinks she's hooked on to somebody. I wonder why she never did take? It'_unny. Oh, she was too high and mighty before, and now it's too late. Nobod_ants her. And she's got no relations to go to either, has she? No, that's he_ather's cousin who she's walking with. Look, they're coming. He's a fine- looking man, isn't he? You'd have thought they'd have buried Miss Frost besid_rs. Houghton. You would, wouldn't you? I should think Alvina will lie by Mis_rost. They say the grave was made for both of them. Ay, she was a lot more o_ mother to her than her own mother. She _was_ good to them, Miss Frost was.
Alvina thought the world of her. That's her stone—look, down there. Not a ver_rand one, considering. No, it isn't. Look, there's room for Alvina's nam_nderneath. Sh!—
Alvina had sat back in the cab and watched from her obscurity the many face_n the street: so familiar, so familiar, familiar as her own face. And now sh_eemed to see them from a great distance, out of her darkness. Her big cousi_at opposite her—how she disliked his presence.
In chapel she cried, thinking of her mother, and Miss Frost, and her father.
She felt so desolate—it all seemed so empty. Bitterly she cried, when she ben_own during the prayer. And her crying started Miss Pinnegar, who cried almos_s bitterly. It was all rather horrible. The afterwards—the horribl_fterwards.
There was the slow progress to the cemetery. It was a dull, cold day. Alvin_hivered as she stood on the bleak hillside, by the open grave. Her coat di_ot seem warm enough, her old black seal-skin furs were not much protection.
The minister stood on the plank by the grave, and she stood near, watching th_hite flowers blowing in the cold wind. She had watched them for he_other—and for Miss Frost. She felt a sudden clinging to Miss Pinnegar. Ye_hey would have to part. Miss Pinnegar had been so fond of her father, in _uaint, reserved way. Poor Miss Pinnegar, that was all life had offered her.
Well, after all, it had been a home and a home life. To which home and hom_ife Alvina now clung with a desperate yearning, knowing inevitably she wa_oing to lose it, now her father was gone. Strange, that he was gone. But h_as weary, worn very thin and weary. He had lived his day. How different i_ll was, now, at his death, from the time when Alvina knew him as a littl_hild and thought him such a fine gentleman. You live and learn and lose.
For one moment she looked at Madame, who was shuddering with cold, her fac_idden behind her black spotted veil. But Madame seemed immensely remote: s_nreal. And Ciccio—what was his name? She could not think of it. What was it?
She tried to think of Madame's slow enunciation. Marasca—maraschino. Marasca!
Maraschino! What was maraschino? Where had she heard it. Cudgelling he_rains, she remembered the doctors, and the suppers after the theatre. An_araschino—why, that was the favourite white liqueur of the innocent Dr.
Young. She could remember even now the way he seemed to smack his lips, sayin_he word _maraschino_. Yet she didn't think much of it. Hot, bitteris_tuff—nothing: not like green Chartreuse, which Dr. James gave her.
Maraschino! Yes, that was it. Made from cherries. Well, Ciccio's name wa_early the same. Ridiculous! But she supposed Italian words were a good dea_like.
Ciccio, the marasca, the bitter cherry, was standing on the edge of the crowd, looking on. He had no connection whatever with the proceedings—stood outside, self-conscious, uncomfortable, bitten by the wind, and hating the people wh_tared at him. He saw the trim, plump figure of Madame, like some trim plum_artridge among a flock of barn-yard fowls. And he depended on her presence.
Without her, he would have felt too horribly uncomfortable on that ra_illside. She and he were in some way allied. But these others, how alien an_ncouth he felt them. Impressed by their fine clothes, the English working- classes were none the less barbarians to him, uncivilized: just as he was t_hem an uncivilized animal. Uncouth, they seemed to him, all raw angles an_arshness, like their own weather. Not that he thought about them. But he fel_t in his flesh, the harshness and discomfort of them. And Alvina was one o_hem. As she stood there by the grave, pale and pinched and reserved looking, she was of a piece with the hideous cold grey discomfort of the whole scene.
Never had anything been more uncongenial to him. He was dying to get away—t_lear out. That was all he wanted. Only some southern obstinacy made hi_atch, from the duskiness of his face, the pale, reserved girl at the grave.
Perhaps he even disliked her, at that time. But he watched in his dislike.
When the ceremony was over, and the mourners turned away to go back to th_abs, Madame pressed forward to Alvina.
"I shall say good-bye now, Miss Houghton. We must go to the station for th_rain. And thank you, thank you. Good-bye."
"But—" Alvina looked round.
"Ciccio is there. I see him. We must catch the train."
"Oh but—won't you drive? Won't you ask Ciccio to drive with you in the cab?
Where is he?"
Madame pointed him out as he hung back among the graves, his black hat cocke_ little on one side. He was watching. Alvina broke away from her cousin, an_ent to him.
"Madame is going to drive to the station," she said. "She wants you to get i_ith her."
He looked round at the cabs.
"All right," he said, and he picked his way across the graves to Madame, following Alvina.
"So, we go together in the cab," said Madame to him. Then: "Goodbye, my dea_iss Houghton. Perhaps we shall meet once more. Who knows? My heart is wit_ou, my dear." She put her arms round Alvina and kissed her, a littl_heatrically. The cousin looked on, very much aloof. Ciccio stood by.
"Come then, Ciccio," said Madame.
"Good-bye," said Alvina to him. "You'll come again, won't you?" She looked a_im from her strained, pale face.
"All right," he said, shaking her hand loosely. It sounded hopelessl_ndefinite.
"You will come, won't you?" she repeated, staring at him with strained, unseeing blue eyes.
"All right," he said, ducking and turning away.
She stood quite still for a moment, quite lost. Then she went on with he_ousin to her cab, home to the funeral tea.
"Good-bye!" Madame fluttered a black-edged handkerchief. But Ciccio, mos_ncomfortable in his four-wheeler, kept hidden.
The funeral tea, with its baked meats and sweets, was a terrible affair. Bu_t came to an end, as everything comes to an end, and Miss Pinnegar and Alvin_ere left alone in the emptiness of Manchester House.
"If you weren't here, Miss Pinnegar, I should be quite by myself," sai_lvina, blanched and strained.
"Yes. And so should I without you," said Miss Pinnegar doggedly. They looke_t each other. And that night both slept in Miss Pinnegar's bed, out of shee_error of the empty house.
During the days following the funeral, no one could have been more tiresom_han Alvina. James had left everything to his daughter, excepting some right_n the work-shop, which were Miss Pinnegar's. But the question was, how muc_id "everything" amount to? There was something less than a hundred pounds i_he bank. There was a mortgage on Manchester House. There were substantia_ills owing on account of the Endeavour. Alvina had about a hundred pound_eft from the insurance money, when all funeral expenses were paid. Of tha_he was sure, and of nothing else.
For the rest, she was almost driven mad by people coming to talk to her. Th_awyer came, the clergyman came, her cousin came, the old, stout, prosperou_radesmen of Woodhouse came, Mr. May came, Miss Pinnegar came. And they al_ad schemes, and they all had advice. The chief plan was that the theatr_hould be sold up: and that Manchester House should be sold, reserving a leas_n the top floor, where Miss Pinnegar's work-rooms were: that Miss Pinnega_nd Alvina should move into a small house, Miss Pinnegar keeping the workroom, Alvina giving music-lessons: that the two women should be partners in th_ork-shop.
There were other plans, of course. There was a faction against the chape_action, which favoured the plan sketched out above. The theatre faction, including Mr. May and some of the more florid tradesmen, favoured the riskin_f everything in the Endeavour. Alvina was to be the proprietress of th_ndeavour, she was to run it on some sort of successful lines, and abandon al_ther enterprise. Minor plans included the election of Alvina to the post o_arish nurse, at six pounds a month: a small private school; a smal_aberdashery shop; and a position in the office of her cousin's Knarboroug_usiness. To one and all Alvina answered with a tantalizing: "I don't kno_hat I'm going to do. I don't know. I can't say yet. I shall see. I shal_ee." Till one and all became angry with her. They were all so benevolent, an_ll so sure that they were proposing the very best thing she could do. An_hey were all nettled, even indignant that she did not jump at thei_roposals. She listened to them all. She even invited their advice.
Continually she said: "Well, what do _you_ think of it?" And she repeate_he chapel plan to the theatre group, the theatre plan to the chapel party, the nursing to the pianoforte proposers, the haberdashery shop to the privat_chool advocates. "Tell me what _you_ think," she said repeatedly. And the_ll told her they thought _their_ plan was best. And bit by bit she tol_very advocate the proposal of every other advocate. "Well, Lawyer Beeb_hinks—" and "Well now, Mr. Clay, the minister, advises—" and so on and so on, till it was all buzzing through thirty benevolent and officious heads. An_hirty benevolently-officious wills were striving to plant each one its ow_articular scheme of benevolence. And Alvina, naive and pathetic, egged the_ll on in their strife, without even knowing what she was doing. One thin_nly was certain. Some obstinate will in her own self absolutely refused t_ave her mind made up. She would _not_ have her mind made up for her, an_he would not make it up for herself. And so everybody began to say "I'_etting tired of her. You talk to her, and you get no forrarder. She slips of_o something else. I'm not going to bother with her any more." In truth, Woodhouse was in a fever, for three weeks or more, arranging Alvina'_narrangeable future for her. Offers of charity were innumerable—for thre_eeks.
Meanwhile, the lawyer went on with the proving of the will and the drawing u_f a final account of James's property; Mr. May went on with the Endeavour, though Alvina did not go down to play; Miss Pinnegar went on with the work- girls: and Alvina went on unmaking her mind.
Ciccio did not come during the first week. Alvina had a post-card from Madame, from Cheshire: rather far off. But such was the buzz and excitement over he_aterial future, such a fever was worked up round about her that Alvina, th_etty-propertied heroine of the moment, was quite carried away in a storm o_chemes and benevolent suggestions. She answered Madame's post-card, but di_ot give much thought to the Natcha-Kee-Tawaras. As a matter of fact, she wa_njoying a real moment of importance, there at the centre of Wood-house'_ather domineering benevolence: a benevolence which she unconsciously, bu_ystematically frustrated. All this scheming for selling out and makin_eservations and hanging on and fixing prices and getting private bids fo_anchester House and for the Endeavour, the excitement of forming a Limite_ompany to run the Endeavour, of seeing a lawyer about the sale of Mancheste_ouse and the auctioneer about the sale of the furniture, of receiving men wh_anted to pick up the machines upstairs cheap, and of keeping everythin_angling, deciding nothing, putting everything off till she had seen somebod_lse, this for the moment fascinated her, went to her head. It was not unti_he second week had passed that her excitement began to merge into irritation, and not until the third week had gone by that she began to feel hersel_ntangled in an asphyxiating web of indecision, and her heart began to sin_ecause Ciccio had never turned up. Now she would have given anything to se_he Natcha-Kee-Tawaras again. But she did not know where they were. Now sh_egan to loathe the excitement of her property: doubtfully hers, every stic_f it. Now she would give anything to get away from Woodhouse, from th_orrible buzz and entanglement of her sordid affairs. Now again her wil_ecklessness came over her.
She suddenly said she was going away somewhere: she would not say where. Sh_ashed all the money she could: a hundred-and-twenty-five pounds. She took th_rain to Cheshire, to the last address of the Natcha-Kee-Tawaras: she followe_hem to Stockport: and back to Chinley: and there she was stuck for the night.
Next day she dashed back almost to Woodhouse, and swerved round to Sheffield.
There, in that black town, thank heaven, she saw their announcement on th_all. She took a taxi to their theatre, and then on to their lodgings. Th_irst thing she saw was Louis, in his shirt sleeves, on the landing above.
She laughed with excitement and pleasure. She seemed another woman. Madam_ooked up, almost annoyed, when she entered.
"I couldn't keep away from you, Madame," she cried.
"Evidently," said Madame.
Madame was darning socks for the young men. She was a wonderful mother fo_hem, sewed for them, cooked for them, looked after them most carefully. No_any minutes was Madame idle.
"Do you mind?" said Alvina.
Madame darned for some moments without answering. "And how is everything a_oodhouse?" she asked.
"I couldn't bear it any longer. I couldn't bear it. So I collected all th_oney I could, and ran away. Nobody knows where I am."
Madame looked up with bright, black, censorious eyes, at the flushed gir_pposite. Alvina had a certain strangeness and brightness, which Madame di_ot know, and a frankness which the Frenchwoman mistrusted, but foun_isarming.
"And all the business, the will and all?" said Madame.
"They're still fussing about it."
"And there is some money?"
"I have got a hundred pounds here," laughed Alvina. "What there will be whe_verything is settled, I don't know. But not very much, I'm sure of that."
"How much do you think? A thousand pounds?"
"Oh, it's just possible, you know. But it's just as likely there won't b_nother penny—"
Madame nodded slowly, as always when she did her calculations. "And if ther_s nothing, what do you intend?" said Madame. "I don't know," said Alvin_rightly.
"And if there is something?"
"I don't know either. But I thought, if you would let me play for you, I coul_eep myself for some time with my own money. You said perhaps I might be wit_he Natcha-Kee-Tawaras. I wish you would let me."
Madame bent her head so that nothing showed but the bright black folds of he_air. Then she looked up, with a slow, subtle, rather jeering smile.
"Ciccio didn't come to see you, hein?"
"No," said Alvina. "Yet he promised."
Again Madame smiled sardonically.
"Do you call it a promise?" she said. "You are easy to be satisfied with _ord. A hundred pounds? No more?"
"A hundred and twenty—"
"Where is it?"
"In my bag at the station—in notes. And I've got a little here—" Alvina opene_er purse, and took out some little gold and silver.
"At the station!" exclaimed Madame, smiling grimly: "Then perhaps you hav_othing."
"Oh, I think it's quite safe, don't you—?"
"Yes—maybe—since it is England. And you think a hundred and twenty pounds i_nough?"
"To satisfy Ciccio."
"I wasn't thinking of him," cried Alvina.
"No?" said Madame ironically. "I can propose it to him. Wait one moment." Sh_ent to the door and called Ciccio.
He entered, looking not very good-tempered.
"Be so good, my dear," said Madame to him, "to go to the station and fetc_iss Houghton's little bag. You have got the ticket, have you?" Alvina hande_he luggage ticket to Madame. "Midland Railway," said Madame. "And, Ciccio, you are listening—? Mind! There is a hundred and twenty pounds of Mis_oughton's money in the bag. You hear? Mind it is not lost."
"It's all I have," said Alvina.
"For the time, for the time—till the will is proved, it is all the cash sh_as. So mind doubly. You hear?"
"All right," said Ciccio.
"Tell him what sort of a bag, Miss Houghton," said Madame. Alvina told him. H_ucked and went. Madame listened for his final departure. Then she nodde_agely at Alvina.
"Take off your hat and coat, my dear. Soon we will have tea—when Cic' returns.
Let him think, let him think what he likes. So much money is certain, perhap_here will be more. Let him think. It will make all the difference that ther_s so much cash—yes, so much—"
"But would it _really_ make a difference to him?" cried Alvina.
"Oh my dear!" exclaimed Madame. "Why should it not? We are on earth, where w_ust eat. We are not in Paradise. If it were a thousand pounds, then he woul_ant very badly to marry you. But a hundred and twenty is better than a blo_o the eye, eh? Why sure!"
"It's dreadful, though—!" said Alvina.
"Oh la-la! Dreadful! If it was Max, who is sentimental, then no, the money i_othing. But all the others—why, you see, they are men, and they know whic_ide to butter their bread. Men are like cats, my dear, they don't like thei_read without butter. Why should they? Nor do I, nor do I."
"Can I help with the darning?" said Alvina.
"Hein? I shall give you Ciccio's socks, yes? He pushes holes in the toes—yo_ee?" Madame poked two fingers through the hole in the toe of a red-and-blac_ock, and smiled a little maliciously at Alvina.
"I don't mind which sock I darn," she said.
"No? You don't? Well then, I give you another. But if you like I will speak t_im—"
"What to say?" asked Alvina.
"To say that you have so much money, and hope to have more. And that you lik_im—Yes? Am I right? You like him very much?—hein? Is it so?"
"And then what?" said Alvina.
"That he should tell me if he should like to marry you also—quite simply.
"No," said Alvina. "Don't say anything—not yet."
"Hé? Not yet? Not yet. All right, not yet then. You will see—"
Alvina sat darning the sock and smiling at her own shamelessness. The poin_hat amused her most of all was the fact that she was not by any means sur_he wanted to marry him. There was Madame spinning her web like a plum_rolific black spider. There was Ciccio, the unrestful fly. And there wa_erself, who didn't know in the least what she was doing. There sat two o_hem, Madame and herself, darning socks in a stuffy little bedroom with a ga_ire, as if they had been born to it. And after all, Woodhouse wasn't fift_iles away.
Madame went downstairs to get tea ready. Wherever she was, she superintende_he cooking and the preparation of meals for her young men, scrupulous an_uick. She called Alvina downstairs. Ciccio came in with the bag.
"See, my dear, that your money is safe," said Madame.
Alvina unfastened her bag and counted the crisp white notes.
"And now," said Madame, "I shall lock it in my little bank, yes, where it wil_e safe. And I shall give you a receipt, which the young men will witness."
The party sat down to tea, in the stuffy sitting-room.
"Now, boys," said Madame, "what do you say? Shall Miss Houghton join th_atcha-Kee-Tawaras? Shall she be our pianist?"
The eyes of the four young men rested on Alvina. Max, as being the responsibl_arty, looked business-like. Louis was tender, Geoffrey round-eyed an_nquisitive, Ciccio furtive.
"With great pleasure," said Max. "But can the Natcha-Kee-Tawaras afford to pa_ pianist for themselves?"
"No," said Madame. "No. I think not. Miss Houghton will come for one month, t_rove, and in that time she shall pay for herself. Yes? So she fancies it."
"Can we pay her expenses?" said Max.
"No," said Alvina. "Let me pay everything for myself, for a month. I shoul_ike to be with you, awfully—"
She looked across with a look half mischievous, half beseeching at the erec_ax. He bowed as he sat at table.
"I think we shall all be honoured," he said.
"Certainly," said Louis, bowing also over his tea-cup.
Geoffrey inclined his head, and Ciccio lowered his eyelashes in indication o_greement.
"Now then," said Madame briskly, "we are all agreed. Tonight we will have _ottle of wine on it. Yes, gentlemen? What d'you say? Chianti—hein?"
They all bowed above the table.
"And Miss Houghton shall have her professional name, eh? Because we cannot sa_iss Houghton—what?"
"Do call me Alvina," said Alvina.
"Alvina—Al-vy-na! No, excuse me, my dear, I don't like it. I don't like this
'vy' sound. Tonight we shall find a name."
After tea they inquired for a room for Alvina. There was none in the house.
But two doors away was another decent lodging-house, where a bedroom on th_op floor was found for her.
"I think you are very well here," said Madame.
"Quite nice," said Alvina, looking round the hideous little room, an_emembering her other term of probation, as a maternity nurse.
She dressed as attractively as possible, in her new dress of black voile, an_mitating Madame, she put four jewelled rings on her fingers. As a rule sh_nly wore the mourning-rite of black enamel and diamond, which had been alway_n Miss Frost's finger. Now she left off this, and took four diamond rings, and one good sapphire. She looked at herself in her mirror as she had neve_one before, really interested in the effect she made. And in her dress sh_inned a valuable old ruby brooch.
Then she went down to Madame's house. Madame eyed her shrewdly, with just _ouch of jealousy: the eternal jealousy that must exist between the plump, pale partridge of a Frenchwoman, whose black hair is so glossy and tidy, whos_lack eyes are so acute, whose black dress is so neat and _chic_ , and th_ather thin Englishwoman in soft voile, with soft, rather loose brown hair an_emure, blue-grey eyes.
"Oh—a difference—what a difference! When you have a little more flesh—then—"
Madame made a slight click with her tongue. "What a good brooch, eh?" Madam_ingered the brooch. "Old paste—old paste—antique—"
"No," said Alvina. "They are real rubies. It was my great-grandmother's."
"Do you mean it? Real? Are you sure—"
"I think I'm quite sure."
Madame scrutinized the jewels with a fine eye.
"Hm!" she said. And Alvina did not know whether she was sceptical, or jealous, or admiring, or really impressed.
"And the diamonds are real?" said Madame, making Alvina hold up her hands.
"I've always understood so," said Alvina.
Madame scrutinized, and slowly nodded her head. Then she looked into Alvina'_yes, really a little jealous.
"Another four thousand francs there," she said, nodding sagely. "Really!" sai_lvina.
"For sure. It's enough—it's enough—"
And there was a silence between the two women.
The young men had been out shopping for the supper. Louis, who knew where t_ind French and German stuff, came in with bundles, Ciccio returned with _ouple of flasks, Geoffrey with sundry moist papers of edibles. Alvina helpe_adame to put the anchovies and sardines and tunny and ham and salami o_arious plates, she broke off a bit of fern from one of the flower-pots, t_tick in the pork-pie, she set the table with its ugly knives and forks an_lasses. All the time her rings sparkled, her red brooch sent out beams, sh_aughed and was gay, she was quick, and she flattered Madame by being ver_eferential to her. Whether she was herself or not, in the hideous, common, stuffy sitting-room of the lodging-house she did not know or care. But sh_elt excited and gay. She knew the young men were watching her. Max gave hi_ssistance wherever possible. Geoffrey watched her rings, half spell-bound.
But Alvina was concerned only to flatter the plump, white, soft vanity o_adame. She carefully chose for Madame the finest plate, the clearest glass, the whitest-hafted knife, the most delicate fork. All of which Madame saw, with acute eyes.
At the theatre the same: Alvina played for Kishwégin, only for Kishwégin. An_adame had the time of her life.
"You know, my dear," she said afterward to Alvina, "I understand sympathy i_usic. Music goes straight to the heart." And she kissed Alvina on bot_heeks, throwing her arms round her neck dramatically.
"I'm _so_ glad," said the wily Alvina.
And the young men stirred uneasily, and smiled furtively.
They hurried home to the famous supper. Madame sat at one end of the table, Alvina at the other. Madame had Max and Louis by her side, Alvina had Cicci_nd Geoffrey. Ciccio was on Alvina's right hand: a delicate hint.
They began with hors d'oeuvres and tumblers three parts full of Chianti.
Alvina wanted to water her wine, but was not allowed to insult the sacre_iquid. There was a spirit of great liveliness and conviviality. Madame becam_aler, her eyes blacker, with the wine she drank, her voice became a littl_aucous.
"Tonight," she said, "the Natcha-Kee-Tawaras make their feast of affiliation.
The white daughter has entered the tribe of the Hirondelles, swallows tha_ass from land to land, and build their nests between roof and wall. A ne_wallow, a new Huron from the tents of the pale-face, from the lodges of th_orth, from the tribe of the Yenghees." Madame's black eyes glared with a kin_f wild triumph down the table at Alvina. "Nameless, without having a name, comes the maiden with the red jewels, dark-hearted, with the red beams. Win_rom the pale-face shadows, drunken wine for Kishwégin, strange wine for th_raves in their nostrils, Vaali, _à vous_."
Madame lifted her glass.
"Vaali, drink to her—Boire à elle—" She thrust her glass forwards in the air.
The young men thrust their glasses up towards Alvina, in a cluster. She coul_ee their mouths all smiling, their teeth white as they cried in thei_hroats: "Vaali! Vaali! Boire à vous."
Ciccio was near to her. Under the table he laid his hand on her knee. Quickl_he put forward her hand to protect herself. He took her hand, and looked a_er along the glass as he drank. She saw his throat move as the wine went dow_t. He put down his glass, still watching her.
"Vaali!" he said, in his throat. Then across the table "Hé, Gigi-Viale! L_etit Chemin! Comment? Me prends-tu? L'allée—"
There came a great burst of laughter from Louis.
"It is good, it is good!" he cried. "Oh Madame! Viale, it is Italian for th_ittle way, the alley. That is too rich."
Max went off into a high and ribald laugh.
"L'allée italienne!" he said, and shouted with laughter.
"Alley or avenue, what does it matter," cried Madame in French, "so long as i_s a good journey."
Here Geoffrey at last saw the joke. With a strange determined flourish h_illed his glass, cocking up his elbow.
"A toi, Cic'—et bon voyage!" he said, and then he tilted up his chin an_wallowed in great throatfuls.
"Certainly! Certainly!" cried Madame. "To thy good journey, my Ciccio, fo_hou art not a great traveller—"
"Na, pour ça, y'a plus d'une voie," said Geoffrey.
During this passage in French Alvina sat with very bright eyes looking fro_ne to another, and not understanding. But she knew it was something improper, on her account. Her eyes had a bright, slightly-bewildered look as she turne_rom one face to another. Ciccio had let go her hand, and was wiping his lip_ith his fingers. He too was a little self-conscious.
"Assez de cette éternelle voix italienne," said Madame. "Courage, courage a_hemin d'Angleterre."
"Assez de cette éternelle voix rauque," said Ciccio, looking round. Madam_uddenly pulled herself together.
"They will not have my name. They will call you Allay!" she said to Alvina.
"Is it good? Will it do?"
"Quite," said Alvina.
And she could not understand why Gigi, and then the others after him, went of_nto a shout of laughter. She kept looking round with bright, puzzled eyes.
Her face was slightly flushed and tender looking, she looked naïve, young.
"Then you will become one of the tribe of Natcha-Kee-Tawara, of the nam_llaye? Yes?"
"Yes," said Alvina.
"And obey the strict rules of the tribe. Do you agree?"
"Then listen." Madame primmed and preened herself like a black pigeon, an_arted glances out of her black eyes.
"We are one tribe, one nation—say it."
"We are one tribe, one nation," repeated Alvina.
"Say all," cried Madame.
"We are one tribe, one nation—" they shouted, with varying accent. "Good!"
said Madame. "And no-nation do we know but the nation of the Hirondelles—"
"No nation do we know but the nation of the Hirondelles," came the ragge_hant of strong male voices, resonant and gay with mockery.
"Hurons—Hirondelles, means _swallows_ ," said Madame.
"Yes, I know," said Alvina.
"So! you know! Well, then! We know no nation but the Hirondelles."
"WE HAVE NO LAW BUT HURON LAW!"
"We have no law but Huron law!" sang the response, in a deep, sardonic chant.
"WE HAVE NO LAWGIVER EXCEPT KISHWÉGIN."
"We have no lawgiver except Kishwégin," they sang sonorous.
"WE HAVE NO HOME BUT THE TENT OF KISHWÉGIN."
"We have no home but the tent of Kishwégin."
"THERE IS NO GOOD BUT THE GOOD OF NATCHA-KEE-TAWARA."
"There is no good but the good of Natcha-Kee-Tawara."
"WE ARE THE HIRONDELLES."
"We are the Hirondelles."
"WE ARE KISHWÉGIN."
"We are Kishwégin."
"WE ARE MONDAGUA."
"We are Mondagua—"
"WE ARE ATONQUOIS—"
"We are Atonquois—"
"WE ARE PACOHUILA—"
"We are Pacohuila—"
"WE ARE WALGATCHKA—"
"We are Walgatchka—"
"WE ARE ALLAYE—"
"We are Allaye—"
"La musica! Pacohuila, la musica!" cried Madame, starting to her feet an_ounding frenzied.
Ciccio got up quickly and took his mandoline from its case.
"A—A—Ai—Aii—eee—ya—" began Madame, with a long, faint wail. And on the wailin_andoline the music started. She began to dance a slight but intense dance.
Then she waved for a partner, and set up a tarantella wail. Louis threw of_is coat and sprang to tarantella attention, Ciccio rang out the peculia_arantella, and Madame and Louis danced in the tight space.
"Brava—Brava!" cried the others, when Madame sank into her place. And the_rowded forward to kiss her hand. One after the other, they kissed he_ingers, whilst she laid her left hand languidly on the head of one man afte_nother, as she sat slightly panting. Ciccio however did not come up, but sa_aintly twanging the mandoline. Nor did Alvina leave her place.
"Pacohuila!" cried Madame, with an imperious gesture. "Allaye! Come—"
Ciccio laid down his mandoline and went to kiss the fingers of Kishwégin.
Alvina also went forward. Madame held out her hand. Alvina kissed it. Madam_aid her hand on the head of Alvina.
"This is the squaw Allaye, this is the daughter of Kishwégin," she said, i_er Tawara manner.
"And where is the _brave_ of Allaye, where is the arm that upholds th_aughter of Kishwégin, which of the Swallows spreads his wings over the gentl_ead of the new one!"
"Pacohuila!" said Louis.
"Pacohuila! Pacohuila! Pacohuila!" said the others.
"Spread soft wings, spread dark-roofed wings, Pacohuila," said Kishwégin, an_iccio, in his shirt-sleeves solemnly spread his arms.
"Stoop, stoop, Allaye, beneath the wings of Pacohuila," said Kishwégin, faintly pressing Alvina on the shoulder.
Alvina stooped and crouched under the right arm of Pacohuila. "Has the bir_lown home?" chanted Kishwégin, to one of the strains of their music.
"The bird is home—" chanted the men.
"Is the nest warm?" chanted Kishwégin.
"The nest is warm."
"Does the he-bird stoop—?"
"Who takes Allaye?"
Ciccio gently stooped and raised Alvina to her feet.
"C'est ça!" said Madame, kissing her. "And now, children, unless the Sheffiel_oliceman will knock at our door, we must retire to our wigwams all—"
Ciccio was watching Alvina. Madame made him a secret, imperative gesture tha_e should accompany the young woman.
"You have your key, Allaye?" she said.
"Did I have a key?" said Alvina.
Madame smiled subtly as she produced a latch-key.
"Kishwégin must open your doors for you all," she said. Then, with a sligh_lourish, she presented the key to Ciccio. "I give it to him? Yes?" she added, with her subtle, malicious smile.
Ciccio, smiling slightly, and keeping his head ducked, took the key. Alvin_ooked brightly, as if bewildered, from one to another.
"Also the light!" said Madame, producing a pocket flashlight, which sh_riumphantly handed to Ciccio. Alvina watched him. She noticed how he droppe_is head forward from his straight, strong shoulders, how beautiful that was, the strong, forward-inclining nape and back of the head. It produced a kind o_azed submission in her, the drugged sense of unknown beauty.
"And so good-night, Allaye—bonne nuit, fille des Tawara." Madame kissed her, and darted black, unaccountable looks at her.
Each _brave_ also kissed her hand, with a profound salute. Then the me_hook hands warmly with Ciccio, murmuring to him.
He did not put on his hat nor his coat, but ran round as he was to th_eighbouring house with her, and opened the door. She entered, and h_ollowed, flashing on the light. So she climbed weakly up the dusty, dra_tairs, he following. When she came to her door, she turned and looked at him.
His face was scarcely visible, it seemed, and yet so strange and beautiful. I_as the unknown beauty which almost killed her.
"You aren't coming?" she quavered.
He gave an odd, half-gay, half-mocking twitch of his thick dark brows, an_egan to laugh silently. Then he nodded again, laughing at her boldly, carelessly, triumphantly, like the dark Southerner he was. Her instinct was t_efend herself. When suddenly she found herself in the dark.
She gasped. And as she gasped, he quite gently put her inside her room, an_losed the door, keeping one arm round her all the time. She felt his heav_uscular predominance. So he took her in both arms, powerful, mysterious, horrible in the pitch dark. Yet the sense of the unknown beauty of him weighe_er down like some force. If for one moment she would have escaped from tha_lack spell of his beauty, she would have been free. But she could not. He wa_wful to her, shameless so that she died under his shamelessness, his smiling, progressive shamelessness. Yet she could not see him ugly. If only she could, for one second, have seen him ugly, he would not have killed her and made he_is slave as he did. But the spell was on her, of his darkness and unfathome_andsomeness. And he killed her. He simply took her and assassinated her. Ho_he suffered no one can tell. Yet all the time, his lustrous dark beauty, unbearable.
When later she pressed her face on his chest and cried, he held her gently a_f she was a child, but took no notice, and she felt in the darkness that h_miled. It was utterly dark, and she knew he smiled, and she began to ge_ysterical. But he only kissed her, his smiling deepening to a heavy laughter, silent and invisible, but sensible, as he carried her away once more. H_ntended her to be his slave, she knew. And he seemed to throw her down an_uffocate her like a wave. And she could have fought, if only the sense of hi_ark, rich handsomeness had not numbed her like a venom. So she washe_uffocated in his passion.
In the morning when it was light he turned and looked at her from under hi_ong black lashes, a long, steady, cruel, faintly-smiling look from his tawn_yes, searching her as if to see whether she were still alive. And she looke_ack at him, heavy-eyed and half subjected. He smiled slightly at her, rose, and left her. And she turned her face to the wall, feeling beaten. Yet no_uite beaten to death. Save for the fatal numbness of her love for him, sh_ould still have escaped him. But she lay inert, as if envenomed. He wanted t_ake her his slave.
When she went down to the Natcha-Kee-Tawaras for breakfast she found the_aiting for her. She was rather frail and tender-looking, with wondering eye_hat showed she had been crying.
"Come, daughter of the Tawaras," said Madame brightly to her. "We have bee_aiting for you. Good-morning, and all happiness, eh? Look, it is a gift-da_or you—"
Madame smilingly led Alvina to her place. Beside her plate was a bunch o_iolets, a bunch of carnations, a pair of exquisite bead moccasins, and a pai_f fine doeskin gloves delicately decorated with feather-work on the cuffs.
The slippers were from Kishwégin, the gloves from Mondagua, the carnation_rom Atonquois, the violets from Walgatchka—all _To the Daughter of th_awaras, Allaye_ , as it said on the little cards.
"The gift of Pacohuila you know," said Madame, smiling. "The brothers o_acohuila are your brothers."
One by one they went to her and each one laid the back of her fingers agains_is forehead, saying in turn:
"I am your brother Mondagua, Allaye!"
"I am your brother Atonquois, Allaye!"
"I am your brother Walgatchka, Allaye, best brother, you know—" So spok_eoffrey, looking at her with large, almost solemn eyes of affection. Alvin_miled a little wanly, wondering where she was. It was all so solemn. Was i_ll mockery, play-acting? She felt bitterly inclined to cry.
Meanwhile Madame came in with the coffee, which she always made herself, an_he party sat down to breakfast. Ciccio sat on Alvina's right, but he seeme_o avoid looking at her or speaking to her. All the time he looked across th_able, with the half-asserted, knowing look in his eyes, at Gigi: and all th_ime he addressed himself to Gigi, with the throaty, rich, plangent quality i_is voice, that Alvina could not bear, it seemed terrible to her: and he spok_n French: and the two men seemed to be exchanging unspeakable communications.
So that Alvina, for all her wistfulness and subjectedness, was at las_eriously offended. She rose as soon as possible from table. In her own hear_he wanted attention and public recognition from Ciccio—none of which she got.
She returned to her own house, to her own room, anxious to tidy everything, not wishing to have her landlady in the room. And she half expected Ciccio t_ome to speak to her.
As she was busy washing a garment in the bowl, her landlady knocked an_ntered. She was a rough and rather beery-looking Yorkshire woman, no_ttractive.
"Oh, yo'n made yer bed then, han' yer!"
"Yes," said Alvina. "I've done everything."
"I see yer han. Yo'n bin sharp."
Alvina did not answer.
"Seems yer doin' yersen a bit o' weshin'."
Still Alvina didn't answer.
"Yo' can 'ing it i' th' back yard."
"I think it'll dry here," said Alvina.
"Isna much dryin' up here. Send us howd when 't's ready. Yo'll 'appen b_antin' it. I can dry it off for yer t' kitchen. You don't take a drop o'
nothink, do yer?"
"No," said Alvina. "I don't like it."
"Summat a bit stronger 'n 't bottle, my sakes alive! Well, yo mun ha'e ye_ling, like t' rest. But coom na, which on 'em is it? I catched sight on 'i_oin' out, but I didna ma'e out then which on 'em it wor. He—eh, it's a pit_ou don't take a drop of nothink, it's a world's pity. Is it the fairest on
'em, the tallest."
"No," said Alvina. "The darkest one."
"Oh ay! Well, 's a strappin' anuff feller, for them as goes that road. _hought Madame was partikler. I s'll charge yer a bit more, yer know. I s'll
'ave to make a bit out of it. I'm partikler as a rule. I don't like 'em comin'
in an' goin' out, you know. Things get said. You look so quiet, you do. Com_ow, it's worth a hextra quart to me, else I shan't have it, I shan't. Yo_an't make as free as all that with the house, you know, be it what it may—"
She stood red-faced and dour in the doorway. Alvina quietly gave he_alf-a-sovereign.
"Nay, lass," said the woman, "if you share niver a drop o' th' lashins, yo_un split it. Five shillin's is oceans, ma wench. I'm not down on you—not me.
On'y we've got to keep up appearances a bit, you know. Dash my rags, it's _aution!"
"I haven't got five shillings—" said Alvina.
"Yer've not? All right, gi'e 's ha 'efcrown today, an' t'other termorrer.
It'll keep, it'll keep. God bless you for a good wench. A' open 'eart 's wort_ll your bum-righteousness. It is for me. An' a sight more. You're all right, ma wench, you're all right—"
And the rather bleary woman went nodding away.
Alvina ought to have minded. But she didn't. She even laughed into he_icketty mirror. At the back of her thoughts, all she minded was that Cicci_id not pay her some attention. She really expected him now to come to spea_o her. If she could have imagined how far he was from any such intention.
So she loitered unwillingly at her window high over the grey, hard, cobble_treet, and saw her landlady hastening along the black asphalt pavement, he_irty apron thrown discreetly over what was most obviously a quart jug. Sh_ollowed the squat, intent figure with her eye, to the public-house at th_orner. And then she saw Ciccio humped over his yellow bicycle, going for _teep and perilous ride with Gigi.
Still she lingered in her sordid room. She could feel Madame was expectin_er. But she felt inert, weak, incommunicative. Only a real fear of offendin_adame drove her down at last.
Max opened the door to let her in.
"Ah!" he said. "You've come. We were wondering about you."
"Thank you," she said, as she passed into the dirty hall where still tw_icycles stood.
"Madame is in the kitchen," he said.
Alvina found Madame trussed in a large white apron, busy rubbing a yellow- fleshed hen with lemon, previous to boiling.
"Ah!" said Madame. "So there you are! I have been out and done my shopping, and already begun to prepare the dinner. Yes, you may help me. Can you was_eeks? Yes? Every grain of sand? Shall I trust you then—?"
Madame usually had a kitchen to herself, in the morning. She either ousted he_andlady, or used her as second cook. For Madame was a gourmet, if no_ourmand. If she inclined towards self-indulgence in any direction, it was i_he direction of food. She _loved_ a good table. And hence the Tawaras save_ess money than they might. She was an exacting, tormenting, bullying cook.
Alvina, who knew well enough how to prepare a simple dinner, was offended b_adame's exactions. Madame turning back the green leaves of a leek, an_unting a speck of earth down into the white, like a flea in a bed, was to_uch for Alvina.
"I'm afraid I shall never be particular enough," she said. "Can't I d_nything else for you?"
"For me? I need nothing to be done for me. But for the young men—yes, I wil_how you in one minute—"
And she took Alvina upstairs to her room, and gave her a pair of the thi_eather trousers fringed with hair, belonging to one of the braves. A seam ha_ipped. Madame gave Alvina a fine awl and some waxed thread.
"The leather is not good in these things of Gigi's," she said. "It is badl_repared. See, like this." And she showed Alvina another place where th_arment was repaired. "Keep on your apron. At the weekend you must fetch mor_lothes, not spoil this beautiful gown of voile. Where have you left you_iamonds? What? In your room? Are they locked? Oh my dear—!" Madame turne_ale and darted looks of fire at Alvina. "If they are stolen—!" she cried.
"Oh! I have become quite weak, hearing you!" She panted and shook her head.
"If they are not stolen, you have the Holy Saints alone to be thankful fo_eeping them. But run, run!"
And Madame really stamped her foot.
"Bring me everything you've got—every _thing_ that is valuable. I shall loc_t up. How _can_ you—"
Alvina was hustled off to her lodging. Fortunately nothing was gone. Sh_rought all to Madame, and Madame fingered the treasures lovingly.
"Now what you want you must ask me for," she said.
With what close curiosity Madame examined the ruby brooch. "You can have tha_f you like, Madame," said Alvina.
"I will give you that brooch if you like to take it—"
"Give me this—!" cried Madame, and a flash went over her face. Then sh_hanged into a sort of wheedling. "No—no. I shan't take it! I shan't take it.
You don't want to give away such a thing."
"I don't mind," said Alvina. "Do take it if you like it."
"Oh no! Oh no! I can't take it. A beautiful thing it is, really. It would b_orth over a thousand francs, because I believe it is quite genuine."
"I'm sure it's genuine," said Alvina. "Do have it since you like it."
"Oh, I can't! I can't!—"
"The beautiful red stones!—antique gems, antique gems—! And do you really giv_t to me?"
"Yes, I should like to."
"You are a girl with a noble heart—" Madame threw her arms round Alvina'_eck, and kissed her. Alvina felt very cool about it. Madame locked up th_ewels quickly, after one last look.
"My fowl," she said, "which must not boil too fast."
At length Alvina was called down to dinner. The young men were at table, talking as young men do, not very interestingly. After the meal, Ciccio sa_nd twanged his mandoline, making its crying noise vibrate through the house.
"I shall go and look at the town," said Alvina.
"And who shall go with you?" asked Madame.
"I will go alone," said Alvina, "unless you will come, Madame."
"Alas no, I can't. I can't come. Will you really go alone?"
"Yes, I want to go to the women's shops," said Alvina.
"You want to! All right then! And you will come home at tea-time, yes?"
As soon as Alvina had gone out Ciccio put away his mandoline and lit _igarette. Then after a while he hailed Geoffrey, and the two young me_allied forth. Alvina, emerging from a draper's shop in Rotherhampto_roadway, found them loitering on the pavement outside. And they strolle_long with her. So she went into a shop that sold ladies' underwear, leavin_hem on the pavement. She stayed as long as she could. But there they wer_hen she came out. They had endless lounging patience.
"I thought you would be gone on," she said.
"No hurry," said Ciccio, and he took away her parcels from her, as if he had _ight. She wished he wouldn't tilt the flap of his black hat over one eye, an_he wished there wasn't quite so much waist-line in the cut of his coat, an_hat he didn't smoke cigarettes against the end of his nose in the street. Bu_ishing wouldn't alter him. He strayed alongside as if he half belonged, an_alf didn't—most irritating.
She wasted as much time as possible in the shops, then they took the tram hom_gain. Ciccio paid the three fares, laying his hand restrainingly on Gigi'_and, when Gigi's hand sought pence in his trouser pocket, and throwing hi_rm over his friend's shoulder, in affectionate but vulgar triumph, when th_ares were paid. Alvina was on her high horse.
They tried to talk to her, they tried to ingratiate themselves—but she wasn'_aving any. She talked with icy pleasantness. And so the teatime passed, an_he time after tea. The performance went rather mechanically, at the theatre, and the supper at home, with bottled beer and boiled ham, was a conventionall_heerful affair. Even Madame was a little afraid of Alvina this evening.
"I am tired, I shall go early to my room," said Alvina.
"Yes, I think we are all tired," said Madame.
"Why is it?" said Max metaphysically—"why is it that two merry evenings neve_ollow one behind the other."
"Max, beer makes thee a _farceur_ of a fine quality," said Madame. Alvin_ose.
"Please don't get up," she said to the others. "I have my key and can se_uite well," she said. "Good-night all."
They rose and bowed their good-nights. But Ciccio, with an obstinate and ugl_ittle smile on his face, followed her.
"Please don't come," she said, turning at the street door. But obstinately h_ounged into the street with her. He followed her to her door.
"Did you bring the flash-light?" she said. "The stair is so dark."
He looked at her, and turned as if to get the light. Quickly she opened th_ouse-door and slipped inside, shutting it sharply in his face. He stood fo_ome moments looking at the door, and an ugly little look mounted his straigh_ose. He too turned indoors.
Alvina hurried to bed and slept well. And the next day the same, she was al_cy pleasantness. The Natcha-Kee-Tawaras were a little bit put out by her. Sh_as a spoke in their wheel, a scotch to their facility. She made the_rritable. And that evening—it was Friday—Ciccio did not rise to accompany he_o her house. And she knew they were relieved that she had gone.
That did not please her. The next day, which was Saturday, the last an_reatest day of the week, she found herself again somewhat of an outsider i_he troupe. The tribe had assembled in its old unison. She was the intruder, the interloper. And Ciccio never looked at her, only showed her the half- averted side of his cheek, on which was a slightly jeering, ugly look.
"Will you go to Woodhouse tomorrow?" Madame asked her, rather coolly. The_one of them called her Allaye any more.
"I'd better fetch some things, hadn't I?" said Alvina.
"Certainly, if you think you will stay with us."
This was a nasty slap in the face for her. But:
"I want to," she said.
"Yes! Then you will go to Woodhouse tomorrow, and come to Mansfield on Monda_orning? Like that shall it be? You will stay one night at Woodhouse?"
Through Alvina's mind flitted the rapid thought—"They want an evening withou_e." Her pride mounted obstinately. She very nearly said—"I may stay i_oodhouse altogether." But she held her tongue.
After all, they were very common people. They ought to be glad to have her.
Look how Madame snapped up that brooch! And look what an uncouth lout Cicci_as! After all, she was demeaning herself shamefully staying with them i_ommon, sordid lodgings. After all, she had been bred up differently fro_hat. They had horribly low standards—such low standards—not only of morality, but of life altogether. Really, she had come down in the world, conforming t_uch standards of life. She evoked the images of her mother and Miss Frost: ladies, and noble women both. Whatever could she be thinking of herself!
However, there was time for her to retrace her steps. She had not give_erself away. Except to Ciccio. And her heart burned when she thought of him, partly with anger and mortification, partly, alas, with undeniable an_nsatisfied love. Let her bridle as she might, her heart burned, and sh_anted to look at him, she wanted him to notice her. And instinct told he_hat he might ignore her for ever. She went to her room an unhappy woman, an_ept and fretted till morning, chafing between humiliation and yearning.