"Whatever comes to Miss Cowley from without, whether through
the eye or the ear, whether in nature or art, is reflected in her writings
with a halo of beauty thrown about it by her own fancy; and thus presented,
it appeals to our sympathies and awakens an interest which carves it upon the
memory in letters of gold. But she has yet loftier claims to respect than a
poetical nature. She is a philosopher, and better still, a religious
philosopher—she has a pure, warm, loving heart..."
— Extract from the review published in the November issue of "La Belle Assemblée" of the novel "The Fate of Adelaide," by Miss Angelica Cowley.
"It is with much pleasure that we make the following
announcement to our fair readers of 'La Belle Assemblée':—Arrangements
have been made with Miss Angelica Cowley, the famous authoress of 'The Fate
of Adelaide,' to allow us to publish as a serial a novel she is now engaged
upon entitled 'The Golden Violet.' The first instalment of this remarkable
story of romance and beauty will commence very shortly."
—Extract from an announcement made in a later number of "La Belle Assemblée."
"It is with much pleasure that we have to announce the marriage of Miss Angelica Cowley, the famous authoress who has delighted our fair readers with so many delectable romances, to Thomas Thicknesse Esquire of Thicknesse Manor, Norfolk, and of Jamaica.
"In making the above known to our subscribers, it is with
much regret that we must couple it with the great disappointment of having to
postpone the first instalment of the forthcoming romance 'The Golden Violet,'
which we were to have published in a future issue. Angelica Cowley, now Mrs.
Thomas Thicknesse, is proceeding to Jamaica immediately with her husband, and
is arranging to dispatch to us as soon as possible the finished romance. We
wish Mrs. Thicknesse all possible joy in her newly married life."
—A further announcement made in a later issue of "La Belle Assemblée."
THE dog that howled at midnight—the debonair Chief Inspector—the thing that crept about the woodshed behind a lonely Connecticut farmhouse—the tough private detective smashing into a stale hotel room—the whimsical criminological vicar in Devonshire—these charming incitements to fear have replaced the lissome young lady and the stalwart lover for popular fictional enjoyment, and the crime—mystery—detective school of fiction has become so portentous an escape from reality that some day, a hundred years hence, even the college professors and the critics will begin to notice it. A bishop or a burlesque queen who does not have a crime story on the bedside table is suspect and perhaps ruined.
The quantity of dreary trash in this school is not surprising. What is surprising is the quantity of authentic literature, shrewd and competent writing with that power of suggesting more than is said, of awakening the emotions and the imagination, that is the sign of literature. We should rejoice that not all inspired authors dwell on the vigorously placid backwoods or the psychological problems of the communistic Modern Woman. Like Dickens and Dostoievsky, a few are also willing to enliven us with the delightful shocks of murder, cruelty to children, and the long hatred between man and woman.
Among the writers who have been willing to devote great talent to the crime story are the wondrous Dorothy Sayers, who wrote The Nine Tailors and Strong Poison, that English journalist A. B. Cox who, under the more shiny names of "Francis Iles" and "Anthony Berkeley," is the enduring author of tales like Malice Aforethought, which in literary geography is a bright island of Corfu.
But neither is more effective than a lady who is not content with being in private life plentitudinously named Mrs. Gabrielle Margaret Vere Campbell Long. She is also in alter ego "Marjorie Bowen" and "George Preedy" and "John Winch" and "Robert Paye" and "Margaret Campbell" and, what is important for us now, that enchanting brewer of dread, "Joseph Shearing."
"Mr. Shearing" had gained a rare adoring school of admirers even before it was revealed that he—she—oh, damn that pronoun —that she was Mrs. Long. With such books as Blanche Fury, The Spider in the Cup, The Angel of the Assassination, Moss Rose, and The Crime of Laura Sarelle, she has given us a new quality of exquisite shivering, of sophisticated naïveté, of dried rose—leaves soaked with blood, of a distinction which can entrance the scholar as well as the roughneck seeking to forget the state of his neck and his ill fortunes.
She loves, particularly, the spectacle of a Victorian lady, frigid and delicately erect, who moves across polished floors and picks up, not the prayer book, the gift of the squire's lady, but a paper knife with which she demurely hastens to do one of the bloodiest, reekingest murders on record.
In The Golden Violet Shearing sets a particularly fragile and priggish specimen of such womanhood, a lady author of verses for Keepsake Albums, against the fire and slaughter of a rebellion of slaves in tropic Jamaica, with a coarsely whiskered husband and a convincing romantic lover for private domestic drama, and a very fine high murder promised toward the end. It is what a high—school girl would call "a grand story." But, as for Max Beerbohm or Arthur Machen—if either of them has read it, I suspect that he has said, with awe and rapture, "It's a grand story!"
Underneath the grand story, underneath the creepiness of a tropic dusk, Mrs. Shearing—Long has a theme which, when you catch it, makes you stir with interested anxiety.
"You were wondering, were you not, what women can do to revenge themselves on men?" says the mulatto slave girl to Angelica; and that very white and conventional and British lady agrees, "Yes, I was thinking that."
Through all the turbulence of the story is this turbulent suggestion of the War Between the Sexes.
"MR. THICKNESSE is coming at four o'clock, Angelica—he'll want his answer, you know."
"Indeed, I haven't given it a thought. I have my work to do."
"But you'll come down and see him?"
"Yes—if I am delayed, pray entertain him for me."
Angelica Cowley smiled as she hesitated on the threshold of the tall, dark room; it was a sunny August day and the sun-blinds were down. Mrs. Dinnies, who was seated curved over a worktable, from which she was taking up white china beads, which were piled on the polished wood surface, sighed and grimaced.
"You ought to make up your mind. It is very important—if you refuse him." The old lady stabbed with her long needle at a straying bead. "I don't see," she added defiantly, "where you are going to get another chance."
Angelica smiled viciously; dislike of her aunt gave her an inward quiver, as if her soul had been scratched.
"Chance of what?" she asked softly. "Of refusing Thomas Thicknesse? How little you understand, dear aunt."
She noted the old eyes peering over the spectacles, the old hand holding the bell-pull half embroidered with hard, white arum lilies, and closed the door on the retort the old lips were forming.
Mrs. Dinnies, of course, would have said: "No chance of refusing anyone else," and then, if Angelica had lingered in the hope of thrusting in a bitter reply, the old woman would have added in her thin, silly cackle: "You're twenty-seven. I don't know what you're thinking of, all this nonsense with books and poems—now, when I was a girl—"
Angelica reached her own rooms; she had two on the first landing of the small, neat house; that at the back, which looked on to the walled garden with the plane trees, was her bed-chamber, that which looked on to the sedate street with the pillared gateway that led into Regent's Park was her study and library.
She entered this room and seated herself before her desk, which was piled with books, papers and magazines, numbers of Keepsakes, Books of Beauty and La Belle Assemblée, with here and there a fashion plate tucked under the sheets of manuscript. The drawn-down sun-blinds filtered the' strong light and so filled the room with ochre-coloured shadow; the young woman set her lips firmly, picked up a quill with a curled feather and wrote:
"In person she was exceedingly beautiful. Her forehead was high, open and fair as infancy; her eyes large, dark and of that soft beaming expression which shows the soul in the glance; her features were fine and symmetrical, and her complexion brilliant, especially when the least excitement moved her feelings. But the prevailing expression of her face was melancholy. Her beauty, as well as her mental endowments, made her the object of much regard; but she shrunk from observation—any particular attention seemed to give her pain; so exquisite was her modesty.
"In truth, her soul was too delicate for this 'cold world of storms and clouds.' Her imagination never revelled in 'the garishness of joy'—a pensive, meditative mood was the natural tone of her mind."
Angelica paused, and, raising her head, sought, by a sidelong glance, the mirror hanging beneath the engraved portrait of John Milton; how often, when describing an imaginary heroine, had she thus, half-unconsciously, gazed at the reflection of her own features.
She took a passionate, exhaustive interest in herself; the warmest compliment ever given her by a stranger had been—"not ill-looking for a blue-stocking," but her own eager scrutiny of her charms always found much to praise.
She was tall and well-made, and she was satisfied that she had taught herself a floating or gliding fashion of walking that was infinitely graceful; her hands and arms were pretty, she was sure, and she had observed the most delicious contours of her neck, shoulders and bust; she was, like all her own heroines, extremely fair, she had a quantity of light brown hair, grey eyes, a clear, pale complexion.
Why then, with all these advantages, was she so far from being beautiful, that even she herself always turned away from her looking-glass with disappointment?
Her features were insignificant, her eyes small, her lashes light, and though her teeth were good, they caught slightly on her lower lip; she was well enough, like a hundred thousand other young Englishwomen, but only great wealth or noble birth could have gained her the title of a beauty. Angelica Cowley wished, above everything, for beauty; she would have given her talents, her fame, the money she earned (dear as these were to her) to have resembled one of those lovely creatures whom she delighted to create on paper, and she would have given everything she possessed to be the heroine of a romantic love story such as she could write, so easily, with such zest.
She glanced at her desk again. Thomas Thicknesse had asked her to marry him; not even to herself would she admit that this was the first reasonable proposal of marriage that she had ever had; two mean nobodies had courted her, one too obviously eager for her money, the other too obviously inspired by vanity and the desire to shine in the little galaxy where she was a modest star.
Angelica had rejected these wretched suitors with loathing; they had seemed to caricature her secret aspirations.
Mr. Thicknesse was different from these poor pretenders; he was a fine man, a well-placed man, a person of figure and consequence, but he was middle-aged, a widower, and Angelica was not much attracted by him; if she had had a wide choice of lovers, Thomas Thicknesse would not have been favoured. But as there was no choice—
She picked up one of the magazines and read over the review of her last novel, The Fate of Adelaide; it always soothed her to read the smoothly flowing lines of praise with which her work was invariably greeted by the ladies' journals.
"Whatever comes to Miss Cowley from without, whether through the eye or the ear, whether in nature or art, is reflected in her writings with a halo of beauty thrown about it by her own fancy; and thus presented, it appeals to our sympathies and awakens an interest which carves it upon the memory in letters of gold. But she has yet loftier claims to respect than a poetical nature. She is a philosopher, and better still, a religious philosopher—she has a pure, warm, loving heart—"
Angelica glanced up at the shelf above the desk where stood copies of her successful novels, which were so popular in the circulating libraries. The Rebels, or Revenge; Clara Martin, or The Erring Daughter; The Massacre of Palermo—an historical romance; Guido, or The Blind Boy; The Chieftain's Daughter; The Troubadours; The Crown of Virtue; Ruth, or Love's Progress; The Banker's Wife, or Court and City; The Maid of Provence, or The Olden Time.
She looked at them affectionately—one a year for the ten years since she had begun to write; there were, besides, volumes of verse, and piles of annuals, to which she had contributed sketches, tales, moralisings, lyrics and acrostics.
Success and money were represented by those well-fed-looking volumes with the gilt lettering; but something was amiss with her literary career, just as something was amiss with her own young, pleasant face.
If she was not a beauty, neither was she a genius; she earned easily a thousand pounds a year, and she received a fair amount of praise and flattery, but to the learned, the witty, the gifted, she was known only as an amusing instance of the lamentable taste of the subscribers to circulating libraries; she never faced this opinion, of which she was vaguely aware; she had always lived serenely in her own snug little world, but she could not avoid the occasional cold breeze of dissatisfaction passing over her, nor could she altogether evade the realities that sometimes darted like forked lightning on a summer day into the false, rosy clouds in which she dwelt.
"It is all make-believe, nothing has ever happened to me—if I don't take care nothing ever will." She folded her hands over the manuscript of The Golden Violet and her thoughts made her face harden.
She had had a poor little life; the daughter of a country parson, she had known rustic poverty until at seventeen years of age she had successfully copied the romances which the elder girls had smuggled into the school for the Daughters of Gentlemen where she had learned her pretty accomplishments; she had sent her effort to a publisher and found her profession. A country parsonage, a country school, the excitement of earning what had seemed large sums of money, local fame, then the tedious illness of the stern, unloved father, which had taken all her earnings, all her time, all her attention. Four years of that, then a timid adventuring into London with her mother and her widowed aunt, vexatiously without means of resources, then the long drag of the fading of the jealous, peevish Mrs. Cowley, who found this new life strange and distasteful, but who would not let go of her reluctant daughter until Death unclasped her clinging fingers.
When Mrs. Cowley died Angelica was twenty-five years of age and established in a modest little circle of friends, composed of neighbours, kindly and slightly curious, who had called on her, a few fellow-writers, a journalist or two, the editors of magazines, a number of clergymen and of social workers. Everything that Miss Cowley wrote was of "unexceptionable tone," as one of her publishers boasted, and inculcated lessons of the purest piety and the loftiest virtue, so that, naturally, she attracted to the neat house in Griston Street exactly the same kind of person as had filled her father's church and her mother's parlour.
She had been too timid to break away from any of the restrictions and conventions that surrounded her; she knew herself less even than she knew her acquaintances; confused by the falsity of the stories that she wrote continually, and that were crude day-dreams thrust into the rigid formula of the moment, she was baffled and confused into an attitude of unwilling, unacknowledged resignation.
Under all her affectations her essential humanity wondered and rebelled and then drugged itself with fiction. How dull it had been, how dull! The only person with whom she was intimate she disliked cordially. How detestable was this relative who had been thrust on her by custom, this little woman who lectured and pried, scolded and advised, who was always there reminding her of what she would be when she was old. The two women had developed a fine technique of torment, which it gave them a certain pleasure to exercise; Mrs. Dinnies knew that she was indispensable to her niece, dear Angel could not live alone; if she was to retain her reputation and her public, her respectability must be unblemished; the robust young woman was caught in the mesh of her own success; at twenty-seven years of age she was forced to keep the schoolgirl standards she had so successfully proclaimed ten years before.
She sighed, leaving her desk, her unfinished novel, and wandered to the window; under the sun-blind a strip of hot pavement was visible; the stones were glaring, dusty, a scrap of dirty paper fluttered past; she had lived in this house six years.
How exciting, how delicious it had seemed to be able to earn money!
But for a long while she had been forced to spend her income on other people, who accepted her bounty jealously, grudgingly, and when she was free she had found that she had been trained so narrowly, had lived so primly, that money was not of much use to her, save as the means of obtaining the dull comforts of everyday.
She bought clothes as lavishly as fear of her aunt's sarcasm permitted, and through this obtained her principal pleasure.
Yet even the joy of self-adornment soon palled, and timidity and hesitation marred this delight; she was no more sure of her taste than of her looks or of her talents, and she knew that the clothes she really liked she did not venture to buy.
But if she were a married woman, she would have more liberty, she would be free from Mrs. Dinnies, she could, surely, have everything more as she liked it—but a doubt arose, she really knew nothing of Thomas Thicknesse beyond what his company manners told her poor observation. To marry was to accept a master, and what manner of master would this heavy, middle-aged man be?
Miss Cowley sighed; how often, with what zestful facility had she described her ideal hero!
A dark, slender creature, all afire with ardour and poetry, brilliant, tender, gracious, passionately, yet respectfully in love with the heroine, who was fair, delicate and lovely, who was always a version of herself.
It would be difficult to resign this delicious day-dream, but one could not wait for ever, and she doubted if such cavaliers as she could imagine so readily existed. It seemed to her hard on women that their fancies of masculine merit should be so lively and reality so poor.
She knew, from the letters she received from fascinated readers of her romances, that she was not alone in a vain search for a man worthy of a woman's devotion, and that the masculine charms that she had created were such as many females would relish could such male paragons be found.
Perhaps in Spain or Italy? But Angel Cowley was too timid to travel, and Mrs. Dinnies, with a hateful understanding, was always warning her against adventurers.
The scrap of soiled paper fluttered to and fro on the hot pavement, the breeze was not strong enough to move it; Miss Cowley turned away and looked round her familiar room.
It did not satisfy her; the heavy mahogany and red rep furniture, the Gothic brackets holding busts of poets, the fretwork shelves containing sets of classical authors, the vases of dried grass, the crossed fans made of palm-leaves painted with Eastern scenes, the prints of Milton, Shakespeare and Spenser, the mezzotints of Biblical scenes, her parents' funeral cards framed in black, the curtains of white lace and blue silk tied with tasselled fringe—surely nothing could be in better taste, and yet Angel Cowley felt that this was, somehow, not order, beauty or seemliness, that it all slightly irritated instead of soothing her vaguely expectant mind.
She went into her bedroom; she had often described it in her novels as "the spotless chamber" of Rosaline, Matilda, Maud or Bertha; all the drapery was white book muslin over pink satin; a Gothic prie-Dieu held her father's Geneva Bible, and she had not been able to refrain from tying a rosary and a crucifix with an azure ribbon above the bed, which she mechanically thought of as "a virgin couch."
Papistry and idolatry, Mrs. Dinnies had sneered, but Angel with a warm smile had declared that the Romish tokens were antique relics and necessary to her art.
On a heavy table by the muslin-covered bed was The Death of Abel, by Klopstock; Hervey's Meditations Among the Tombs; The Terrors of Hell displayed for the Instruction of Infancy, by the Rev. Arthur Cowley, and a favourite Keepsake with the love poems tenderly annotated by Angel herself.
Romantic and pious sketches covered the walls and human vanity was represented by a large wardrobe, a toilet table and several mirrors. Across one of the chairs was a sarcenet dress, flounce on flounce of fine white material with green velvet edgings, a purple silk bodice and a plaid sash. Miss Cowley sighed in simple pleasure and began to unhook her pale blue gown.
A tap on the door, and her aunt's thin voice:
"Angel! Angel! Mr. Thicknesse is here."
SHE FACED HIM in the overcrowded drawing-room, her slippered feet close together, her tea-cup in her hand, her features composed to an expression of abashed modesty, odd thoughts struggling in her mind. She durst not look at him; he was a weighty, important man and he had asked her to marry him; first, very formally on paper, now, by word of mouth; this was a more alarming, exciting and interesting experience than she had thought it would be.
She began, unconsciously, to idealise, to dramatise the man who had paid her this great compliment. He had a pleasant, deep voice, a firm profile, hair and whiskers of an agreeable shade of reddish brown, a tall, heavy figure, his clothes were good, in quiet taste, he had easy, well-bred manners.
Angel Cowley rapidly made the most of these good points and began to ignore others that at first had repelled her—a complexion too florid, eyes too small, a sudden, rather brutal laugh, and certain chance remarks that seemed to indicate a deplorably material outlook.
She was half-piqued, half-flattered by his tone of mastery; he seemed to take it for granted that she would accept him; he emphasized the point that she was free, no one had a right to influence her choice—if he was agreeable to her—why, all was said.
"There's Aunt Dinnies," parried Angel, fearful of seeming too easy, not knowing how to behave.
"Well, she doesn't count, I take it. She's got money of her own, hasn't she?"
"Only a hundred pounds a year."
"Is it?" Miss Cowley spoke at random, quite agitated and somehow oddly pleased.
"Yes. She won't live with us, you know."
"Oh! But I never—"
Mr. Thicknesse cut through the protest.
"You must let me handle your affairs. I expect you've been too kind. Charming women always are, of course. Now, I don't suppose that you know anything about business, do you?"
"Oh, I—well—oh, indeed, I've always been—" Angel recalled her reviews, "occupied in the—contemplation of the sublime and the beautiful—you know my novels?"
"Well—my character is there." She laughed self-consciously. "I've never written about—business." She affected to shudder; she opened her eyes wide. "I've always looked upward."
"I know. Where have you invested your money?"
"Really—I don't think you have a right—"
He was instantly beside her on the prim settee; he took her cup of cold tea from her and grasped her hands, bringing his large, smoothly-shaven face that smelt faintly of orange-flower water and white soap, close to her cheek. "My dear girl. I love you, don't I? And you're going to marry me, aren't you? So I've got the right, haven't I?"
Angel Cowley had never known such a touch, such a tone before; everything became blurred to her; she stammered, colouring hotly; she blushed too easily.
"It's in the funds—and the Bank. I don't care about money."
"Of course not! That's why I've got to take care of you. I'm a wealthy man, and whatever you have will be just for your own pocket-money."
He kept her hands and smoothed them in his own. Angel shuddered and kept her glance averted from this masterful creature.
"I don't suppose you will want to give up your work," he smiled, lowering his voice to a deep note.
"Oh no—it is expected of me, and I love it. I can help people so. They write and tell me—"
"Yes, I have heard as much. Dear child! Your beautiful books are quite enough anxiety for you—I will take all the worry of it all—"
"Will you?" Angel spoke incoherently, only conscious of the fact that his hands—warm, firm, large—were fondling hers. "Well, I've had an offer for those American 25-cent editions, and, oh, Mr. Tarleton thinks I should publish more verse—it pays quite well—and The Golden Violet is half-completed. It is all a bother, isn't it?"
"How much do you earn a year—with all this—literature?"
"About a thousand pounds," giggled Angel, losing her head. "And I don't spend half—I suppose I've ten thousand in the funds—my stockbroker is Mr. Heron, he is so clever with my savings—and then I've got some charming jewellery and all this nice furniture, and a carriage and some lovely clothes—now, that's not so bad for a poor little country mouse, is it?"
She hardly knew what she said, but she was aware of the peculiarly brilliant quality of his smile as he at last released her moist hands, drew out his handkerchief and pressed it to his lips. She laughed to cover her embarrassment, there was something so vivid in his look that she felt desperately uneasy, yet delighted.
"You're a brave, clever little girl," said Mr. Thicknesse. "And now you're
going to let me take care of you."
WHEN HE HAD LEFT the house she realised that she had told him all her affairs and promised to marry him in a month's time; she felt upset, and when Mrs. Dinnies came creeping into the room, Angel was crying into a handkerchief that she herself had embroidered with forget-me-nots and moss-roses in natural colours.
"He didn't want you, after all?" asked the old woman eagerly. "You made it up about the letter?"
Angel looked up over the damp cambric; her eyes were bright with malice.
"We're going to be married. He loves me very, very much. We'll find you a dear little cottage. I'm to have all my money for myself."
Mrs. Dinnies seated herself by her work-table; with shivering hands she scattered the white china beads among the spools of silk. "A pity he's got ginger whiskers."
"How can you! They're dark chestnut. And didn't you advise me to marry him?"
"I said he was your last chance. It was very unselfish of me. But I never thought that my sister's only child would turn me out of my home in my old age—"
"He won't allow you to live with us, aunt, darling. I can't help it! He's going to sell this place, he doesn't like it, and neither," added Angel defiantly, "do I!"
"I see." Mrs. Dinnies nodded her head. "So that is it, is it? He's got you under his thumb already. And what, after all, do you know about him?"
"Don't be absurd, aunt, dear! You know quite well all about Mr. Thicknesse. It was you that pointed him out at Lydia Toulmin's party—he comes of an old Norfolk family and has a lovely place outside Norwich. He told me all about himself—he is a wealthy man—"
"But I suppose he wants you to go on writing?" sneered Mrs. Dinnies.
"Of course. He said that he first came to love me through reading my romances—he couldn't endure me to stop."
"And what about your money in the funds?"
"Don't be so coarse, aunt. I wish you wouldn't talk of it—you might say something sweet and agreeable—for once—when I'm so happy!"
"How was I to know that you liked the man? You seemed to despise him."
Angel Cowley reddened awkwardly.
"I didn't know my own heart."
"What, after all the love scenes you've written!"
"This is different."
"I suppose so." Mrs. Dinnies folded and unfolded the bell-pull embroidered with the arum lilies. Her voice was weary; she had enjoyed her tyrannical life on Angel's money, and Thomas Thicknesse seemed to her not only an interloper, but a thief; hatred shrivelled her old heart. Old and small she looked as she bent over her clumsy, garish work, her hair so thin, her neck so scraggy, her eyes so dim behind the spectacles.
"Oh, aunt!" sobbed Angel, beginning to cry again, "I'll buy you a very
MISS COWLEY had no near relatives to be concerned in her proposed marriage, and her friends were all duly sympathetic and kind; only Lydia Toulmin and Martin Heron expressed any doubts or warnings; Mrs. Toulmin, who made a cosy living by writing manuals for the young, reminded Angel that, though Mr. Thicknesse had been her guest, she knew nothing about him but what was general knowledge.
"He was introduced to me, Angel, darling, by a mere acquaintance—his first wife died only a year ago—I hope he is worthy of you."
Angel hoped so too; but she resented any imputation that Thomas Thicknesse was inspired by any feelings save those of romantic love; her smile stiffened as she listened to Lydia Toulmin, trying to do her duty.
"You see, you are so alone, Angel, you have no guardian. Mr. Thicknesse has been abroad a great deal."
"I know. He has estates in Jamaica. He gets a fine income from them."
Mrs. Toulmin sighed; a husband who resided permanently in Rome had given her cynical views on marriage.
"I cannot discover anyone who knows Mr. Thicknesse really well, Angel. And you are so precious to us all!"
Mr. Heron was more downright; he had handled a silly woman's business affairs efficiently and honestly for years and disliked resigning them to a stranger; his blunt comments merely provoked Miss Cowley to order him to do exactly as her future husband directed.
"I don't want to hear any more of business as long as I live! Mr. Thicknesse will do everything for me."
Her faith in her suitor appeared justified; the busybodies whispered that she was luckier than she deserved to be; a woman who feels she is likely to be left on the shelf is apt to be impulsive and reckless, and Angel Cowley seemed to have snatched rather too eagerly at what was surely her first offer of marriage.
Then, why should a man like Thomas Thicknesse want to marry her, if not for her worldly goods? She was really so ordinary.
Still, it had to be admitted that her suitor came out well from the furtive scrutiny that Angel's more meddlesome acquaintances directed towards him and his affairs.
He was indubitably Thomas Thicknesse, Esquire, of Thicknesse Manor, Norfolk, with estates in Jamaica, which he frequently visited; a new florid tomb in a dingy parish church attested to the virtues of Camilla Thicknesse and to the grief of her desolate husband; the childless woman had left behind nothing but silence; she had been a Welch heiress married twenty years before; it was all quite inoffensive and no one was much concerned in Angel Cowley's fortunes, so she went her way and had her will without much opposition. The lawyer who had managed the late Mr. Cowley's humble affairs met Mr. Thicknesse's man of business, and handsome settlements were made upon the future wife; even Mrs. Dinnies could find no fault, though she detested the cottage at Twickenham that Mr. Thicknesse had found for her so promptly, and passionately ill-wished her niece.
When Angel was alone she felt frightened and depressed, and the image of Thomas Thicknesse appeared before her fancy in sombre and even repulsive colours, while thoughts of her future marriage and her married life seemed alarming and unpleasant.
Often she would weep nervously out of home-sickness for the peaceful days
now nearly over; she would embrace Mrs. Dinnies affectionately and swear that
they should not part. But when she was with the smiling, heavy man, she was
all excitement, obedience and a half-shy pleasure. What most fascinated her
was the fact that this strong masculine creature seemed real to her in a way
that nothing else ever had seemed real, as if he were a proper denizen of the
earth, heir to all the earth might offer, and she, and all that had ever
happened to her, were but so many wisps of artificial moonshine.
A WEEK BEFORE their wedding he asked her if she would care to go to Jamaica as soon as they were married; her facile fancy played with the project, which seemed fantastic and beautiful.
"Oh, the spice islands! And have you any slaves? Poor things! I might write about one of them—a captive King!"
"I have about three hundred slaves, and they are well treated and quite happy."
"Then what a number of servants I shall have! Do they wear liveries, and shall I ride in a palanquin?"
"You shall do as you please. It is a lovely island and there is plenty of good society—a poetess would be a great success there."
"I should like to go. Yet it is a long way." She was delighted, yet nervous.
"You could return whenever you wanted to—there is always Thicknesse and the town house—that is let now, as I told you, but it will be mine again in a year's time."
Angel Cowley knew nothing about Jamaica save that rum and sugar came from that island, which was extremely hot and inhabited by black slaves and a few white planters.
"Could I write there?" she asked doubtfully, half tempted by, half frightened of, this proffered novelty.
"Of course. I have a large house, I could build you another if you wish.
The climate is like Paradise—and there is a mail-packet to England
every month. Why," added Mr. Thicknesse, with one of his sudden, coarse
laughs, "you ought, under the conditions out there, to be able to write two
or three romances a year. A great deal of time is wasted in this stupid
LYDIA TOULMIN advised her not to go to the West Indies among all those poor heathen, but Angel had been told by Mr. Thicknesse that the Church of England had been established by law in Jamaica for years and that the Island lacked nothing save gifted, pure women like herself.
The idea had taken her fancy, she saw herself as a ministering angel among grateful savages, as a fair white Queen among bowing slaves; both prospects were romantic—how stupid her past seemed in contrast with this brilliant future!
Meanwhile she bought clothes; this was her main interest; when she was with the dressmaker, the milliner, the shoemaker, in the linendraper's or the haberdasher's, she forgot everything, even Jamaica, even Thomas Thicknesse.
But in the quiet of the night she would wake up suddenly and think of him, cowering in the pillows, wondering in the dark.
How odd it was that when she was with him he seemed to fascinate her completely, to lift her up off the ground, as it were, and carry her along in the air—whirl her off her feet—yes, that was what she meant.
And yet, when she was away from him—alone, not distracted by people or clothes, she felt alarmed, even slightly sick at the thought of him, and even in a state of panic at the contemplation of marriage with him—or with any man.
Was it possible, she asked herself, huddling in her bed, that there was something in the romantic conventions that she had so glibly and so thoughtlessly described? That to marry without love was not only wrong, but terrible?
How often had she dwelt on the anguish of a harassed maiden forced into some "unblessed nuptials" from which she had been rescued only at the last moment.
Angel had never paused to ask herself if she believed or did not believe in these sensations on which she had dwelt with such satisfaction to her readers and such profit to herself.
Now her curiosity, her fear, asked questions that her immaturity could not answer.
Sometimes, even during the day, she would feel through her own chatter a cold doubt which would be pointed by a look or a laugh from Mrs. Dinnies, a sigh from Lydia Toulmin, or by the absence of Martin Heron from her parties.
She could not, amid all these distractions, finish her novel, The Golden Violet; her publishers were disappointed, but she promised the final instalment of her romance before Christmas, and meanwhile she wrote verses for the annuals, scribbling them quickly on the top of a bonnet-box, on her bedside table, or on her knee in the carriage when she drove to the mantua-maker's.
Her future husband escorted her and Mrs. Dinnies on a visit to Thicknesse; it was a tedious journey, disliked bitterly by the old woman, and Angel's impression of the Manor House was such as to confirm her decision to go to Jamaica.
It was, she thought, a dull, prim-looking mansion, and the cousins in residence gave but a formal welcome; Angel had seen too much of rusticity when she was a child to feel any desire to live in the country; she preferred to live in town and to sigh after rural delights.
Two days before the wedding Mrs. Dinnies made a final attempt to dissuade Angel from marrying Mr. Thicknesse.
"Break it off now and give him a lesson. He's the most selfish, disagreeable man I've ever met."
"You know that it is no good talking to me like that—with everything packed up, too."
"That's it, your mind is always running on trifles."
"As if it were a trifle—leaving home!"
"So it was home, was it?" sneered Mrs. Dinnies.
The two women sat in a dismantled room; many of the larger pieces of furniture had been sold, some others had been stored, a few articles had gone to the Twickenham cottage; Angel's books, pictures, clothes and ornaments were in great sea-chests; the lease of the house was for sale; it seemed to Angel really a shocking thing that her orderly life, to which she had become so perfectly accustomed, should be broken up like this—however was it that she had consented to such an upset? Surely not for the same petty reason as made her throw away an old comfortable slipper because a new, pinching one looked smart and elegant!
But underneath all her trepidation and dismay was a grim resolve to see this odd, fascinating, exciting adventure through. She looked at Mrs. Dinnies and giggled.
"You're a fool," said the old woman miserably. "And to think that you can earn all that money. Remember that you have promised to give me some before you go. Fifty pounds, at least it is all that I shall ever get from you."
"Oh yes, I have told Mr. Thicknesse about it."
"Why need you tell him? Have you given him all your money even before you're married?"
"He is looking after my affairs," said Angel. "It is agreeable to have a gentleman to do everything for me."
She hurried upstairs, practising a light, tripping movement that fluttered her long, fringed scarf. Her apartments looked desolate without their furnishings; nostalgia and excitement pinched her heart. She was baffled by the perversity of her own thoughts; she wanted her life to change, but not like this; she wanted to be married, but not to this man; she wanted indeed to be a different creature from what she was, with a different destiny altogether from what she had...
Lonely and apprehensive she began to cry, sitting on the edge of her bed; she was only consoled when she glanced up and saw her reflection in the one remaining mirror; her dress of green and yellow striped muslin with the short puce-coloured jacket was really very handsome and became her very well; she tossed out her foot coquettishly and admired her neat ankle so prettily bound by the straps of her doeskin sandal.
They were married in Trinity Church, Marylebone; Mr. Thicknesse had two impressive-looking men as his witnesses, and Angel Cowley had a large number of friends to support her; she was dressed in white sarcenet with a number of jingling little ornaments, many of them the gifts of unknown admirers. Her easily stimulated imagination threw a romantic haze over the scene; the dreary interior of the trim church was turned by her fancy into a scene of Gothic splendour; how often had her pen glided over descriptions of brides being "led to the altar." She contrived to ignore the elderly and unknown relative—a distant cousin and provincial schoolmaster—who gave her away, she contrived not to look at the bridegroom, nor at any of her friends and acquaintances; all was fused, for her, in one emotional blur.
The wedding breakfast was at an hotel, where Mr. Thicknesse seemed well
known and where he was certainly well served; everything was done very
handsomely, and Angel drank sherry and port and laughed and cried and had no
regrets at all.
IN THIS MANNER and under these circumstances was Angelica Cowley, the popular lady novelist, married to Thomas Thicknesse, of Thicknesse Manor, Norfolk, and Venables Penn, Jamaica.
ANGEL looked into her purse of lilac knitted silk; there were a few gold pieces and some silver; she felt giddy, a little sick and ready to cry.
"I shall have to ask him for money," she said to herself feebly; all her usual resources were cut off, she had only her husband on whom to rely; amid the laughing, admiring crowd that had pressed round her carriage at the churchyard gate had been the anxious, reproachful face of Lettice Dinnies; the memory of this filled Angel with a sour remorse; not only her aunt, but her unloved parents seemed to reproach her for a rebellious folly.
These three people, one living, two dead, seemed to drag at her, to impede her liberty; she had been generous to all of them, but she had never given them affection, and that seemed to hurt now, while the long sustained hatred that she had had for Mrs. Dinnies stung horribly in the recollection; what a dismal reflection it was that she had never loved anyone—and why did it come to her now?
She had been married a few hours and she was in a smart, up-to-date hotel at Blackfriars; there were two days to wait before the Canterbury Fair left the Thames for Kingston; this interval of time yawned before Angel like a gulf fixed between the old life and the new. The place was comfortable, but not at all to her taste; everything was drab and quiet-toned, of a greenish hue, as if one day the nearby river had overflowed into the room and stained everything the colour of dirty, stagnant water. Angel was oppressed by the dark prints of the battles of Waterloo and Trafalgar that hung in her private parlour and by the holland blinds adjusted so straight over the long narrow windows.
She was agitated also because the clever maid whom she had engaged to travel with her had not arrived and because only a few of her cases were in the hall; the wagonette with her principal pieces of luggage was such a long time on the road!
Her husband, too, was unaccountably absent; he had left her, he said, to go and arrange everything for her comfort on board the Canterbury Fair, but surely this was an odd time to choose—"just when I feel so lonely and wretched," sighed Angel, "just when we have got married!" But when he entered that odious, trim parlour, Angel shrank together and wished for her interrupted solitude.
The sun never entered this northward room, and now, in the late afternoon, it was full of dull shadow, through which the thick-set figure of Thomas Thicknesse seemed to Angel to loom with a formidable density of outline.
She tried to be coquettish, to imitate one of her own heroines in gracious condescension towards the favoured male.
"Oh, you gave me a fright, leaving me so long alone! I didn't know what to do or think! And that woman—the maid—has never come, I told her five o'clock, and only one or two pieces of luggage have arrived."
Mr. Thicknesse closed the door and crossed over to his wife; for so heavy a man he walked lightly and softly. He took the stiff chair opposite the settee, where she spread her parti-coloured silks, put a shapely hand on each plump knee and spoke deliberately: "My dear girl, what possible need was there for you to feel any anxiety or agitation? Everything you could want was to your hand. And you desired me to leave you alone—you wished, you said, to recover your spirits."
"Oh, I don't know what I said, I'm sure!" Angel was piqued at her husband's cool tone; flushed and hurt, she dabbed her eyes and added, "The maid—and the luggage—"
"I prevented the maid from coming, and it was not possible to take all those cases."
Angel stared; an uncomfortable and unbecoming colour rose in her face.
Mr. Thicknesse smiled.
"You will soon become used to someone's managing your affairs."
"But I want a maid!"
"Have you always had one?"
"No—but at home Dorothy always helped me—"
"It would be absurd for you to take a servant to Jamaica. I have told you how many slaves I have—"
"But on the voyage—-"
"You will have nothing to do but look after yourself."
"And my luggage—"
"I have left behind, in storage, most of the ornaments, books and pictures—they would have been absurd in Jamaica."
"Absurd! You keeping saying absurd!" cried Angel, angered out of her fear and embarrassment.
"I've only said it twice," replied Mr. Thicknesse coolly, "but it does express exactly what I mean—about some other things too."
"Oh, what am I to hear now! And on our wedding day!"
"It is only fair, my dear, to tell what I want—from the first."
Angel set her teeth in her handkerchief and stared, so surprised that her expression was that of a spoilt child, who suddenly finds herself scolded.
Mr. Thicknesse, neither moving his position, nor taking his glance from his wife, continued:
"Your name—you must change that, you know. People would laugh were I to call you Angel—or even Angelica. You have a second name—I saw it on the register when yon signed. Mary, is it not?"
"Yes, because of my godmother," Angel found herself answering mechanically.
"Very well. We will have that, if you please, Mary Thicknesse. You can still have the other name on your books, there it is quite right. Then—your clothes."
"My clothes!" Angel caught at her flounces.
"Yes. Forgive me. I don't like them. Ladies in the West Indies don't dress so. You must not have all those colours, ornaments and trimmings."
"I must not!"
"Indeed, you must not. You have had no one to tell you what you should do, and you have been spending money very foolishly, I fear. What else could have been expected? You were from the country and poor Mrs. Dinnies was no guide."
Mr. Thicknesse smiled, not quite pleasantly, and Angel drew away slightly against the hard mahogany back of the stiff settee. "It was my own money," she said foolishly.
Mr. Thicknesse rose with the air of a man who brings a business interview to an end.
"But now, my dear, your money, like yourself, belongs to me, and it will be my duty to see that it is wisely spent."
She studied him as he stood there, with an eager keenness, as if she had never seen him before; this was the first time that she had been deeply interested in anyone save herself. He seemed an utter stranger, this heavy man in the bottle-green coat with the well-goffered shirt frills and high black stock, with the flat comely face with broad features and thick hair brushed up on the top of his head—the neatly-trimmed whiskers and full chin; he seemed quite different from the man who had wooed her with such casual masterfulness, whose every word and glance had held such an air of tenderness and regard.
"My name, my clothes, my money," she said on a great sigh.
"My dear girl, there is no need to be upset—you've got, naturally enough, too many romantic notions in your head. You must learn to separate your books—and the stuff you put into them, from real life."
"Perhaps you don't like my books either?"
For the first time, since he had entered the room, Mr. Thicknesse appeared to hesitate.
"I don't suppose you wrote them for me—I should say they suit their market very well. They're successful, at least."
Angel answered harshly.
"You said that you first cared for me—through my books—"
"Did I? Well, so I did. Some one pointed you out to me at Lydia Toulmin's and said you earned over a thousand a year by writing for the circulating libraries."
"What do you mean by that?"
Mr. Thicknesse smiled.
"Why, my dear child. I was so impressed that I got hold of a copy of—one of them—and I may say I was most surprised—most gratified."
"You're making fun of me," Angel began to cry in bitter vexation; her husband was unperturbed.
"You must not—must not, Mary, be foolish. I meant what I said. Now, think a moment, why should I laugh at you? I should be very glad if I could earn a thousand pounds a year."
He seated himself beside her and took the limp hand that lay on the lap of her green silk dress.
"You're a clever little woman and you'll be a pretty little woman too, when you have the right clothes on."
She sobbed, her head averted from him.
"I like my clothes."
"You'll soon learn differently." He loosened her hand and pinched up a fold of her skirt. "Look what an ugly green this is. And yellow flowers on it, then a blue bodice and an orange shawl—and there are too many ribbons and flowers on your hat and far too many trinkets about your person."
"What should I wear?" asked Angel, interested in spite of herself.
"For the voyage, the quietest things you have—if you have none—those I have ordered for you, which you will find in your bedroom. When we arrive at Kingston, you can have everything new and suitable."
Angel was slightly appeased, but still uneasy.
"I want some money, please."
"Why? I shall pay for everything."
"I want to send fifty guineas to my aunt."
"Indeed, my dear, your aunt is well provided for. She had bled you long enough."
"I want some money for myself."
"Impossible." Mr. Thicknesse rose. "You are becoming over excited. I suppose it has been an exhausting day for you." He smiled in a kindly fashion. "I shall ask them to send you a little dinner on a tray to your room—I shall take mine here."
As Angel remained on the settee, staring, with her handkerchief half-way to her face, completely at a loss, Mr. Thicknesse took her hand, escorted her to the door, opened it, and bowed her out.
"Your room is up that little flight of stairs—I am sure, my love,
that you will find everything very comfortable."
IT WAS A HANDSOME BEDROOM, with a large toilet closet attached; the starched white dimity of the furnishings had a cold look that was dreary even on this close summer day. And the window, curtained in dark blue, gave on to a courtyard, so that there was very little light.
Angel looked at herself anxiously in the round mirror above the table with the basin and ewer in white earthenware. Never had she thought herself so plain. Excitement, too much wine and tears had flushed her face in unbecoming patches, her hair had fallen in thick locks across her forehead and the bright colours, the green, blue, yellow and orange, that she had chosen with such pleasure did seem to set off very ill the tints of her complexion; how was it that she had never noticed this before?
She had already lost confidence in herself; her vague unformed mind hesitated between rebellion and submission.
There were boxes on the floor, of that familiar striped cardboard used by her own mantua-makers; under the string of one of them was tucked a note. From Mrs. Dinnies:
My darling Angel,
Your future husband asked me to order these for you to wear on the voyage. He asked me and Mrs. Minton not to say anything about it. Everything is to your size, but I dare say you won't like them. Your affectionate aunt,
"The sly old beast!" cried Angel. "I'm glad I didn't get the money for her!"
She tore open the packets, clothes in grey, white and black. "I shall look like a widow—I wish I were one."
She kicked the offending garments all over the floor; what right had he, what right? Was she never to be her own mistress? Was there always to be someone, not only to dictate to her, but to take her money?
Her money! The words brought her up sharply in the midst of her fretful outburst; she suddenly saw her situation with horrid clarity.
Of course, her husband had all her money, the ten or eleven thousand
pounds she had had in the funds, all her savings, which good, careful Mr.
Heron had been looking after for her—all the money from the sale of the
lease of her house, her furniture, her ornaments—everything! The small
amount in her purse represented her sole independent fortune.
WHEN THE CANDLES had been brought in and a well-cooked supper served on the papier-mâché table, painted with a view of the Scottish highlands, Angel began to take a more cheerful view of her future.
She had tried on the robes and gowns of her husband's choosing, and found them becoming; she wore one now, grey, with a silver stripe, and she had brushed out her pale tresses, until they were like a length of satin, then looped them up with coral pins.
Her features, bathed and dusted with rice powder, did not look so ill; she had enjoyed her supper, having eaten, she realised, nothing all day, and her mood became peaceful, even tender.
What did the money matter? All married women were dependent on their husbands—besides, she would see, in the future, that all the bills for her work were paid directly to her—he had said that she should have that for herself—her own earnings. He was a wealthy man.
She began to be impatient for his return, for she had almost persuaded herself that she had fallen in love with his masterful ways. "A pretty little woman," he had said, and the words hung in her mind as the most delicious compliment she had ever received. As she sat, with her elbows on the lacquered table after the tray had been removed, dreaming and drowsy, she forgot the vexatious trivialities of the day and her mind became absorbed in visions of romantic love.
How often had she written of brides and marriages, of "coy maidens" being led to "nuptial bowers," of ardent lovers clasping their "reluctant fair ones" and how little she knew about it.
Her virgin pen had written for readers presumably also virgin and her romances had always ended on the threshold of the bridal chamber, before the long threatened but implacable chastity of the heroine had been sacrificed on the altar of Hymen.
But Angel had had her secret speculations as to the mysteries of love; although she was shut out from the confidences of matrons, her position as a novelist had given her certain privileges beyond those usually accorded to spinsters, and both Mrs. Dinnies and Lydia Toulmin had given her hints that the idealistic passions she described so movingly in her lovely books were very different from the emotions that really brought together and sundered mere men and women.
Now she was about to discover for herself if it was hateful or delightful to be a married woman. She walked up and down the room and wished that there was a long mirror that she might see herself full length; her metal stays which gave her such a small waist and so neat a figure irked her flesh, and her stiff petticoats, her grey dress plastered with braidings, flouncings, and padded cords was heavy and uncomfortable; her head ached from the large clumsy pins in her hair; her person, like the room, was hidden by drapery, by ornaments, until its original shape and meaning were forgotten.
She went to the window and tugged aside the heavy curtains; the candlelight shone and scattered on the brick wall opposite with an air of dreariness; Angel felt as if she were in prison; she continued to stare stupidly at that enclosing wall, and to dwell childishly and with unbelief on things that she had written about so fluently and that she did not understand.
With a pang of self-pity she recalled a little round tree of red hawthorn, like a bouquet of flowers, cut and trimmed. It had grown in the meadows outside her father's parsonage, and once, when it had been in bloom, she had lingered there to pull herself a posy of the tiny blossoms.
It had been a perfect little moment; as she had tucked the flowers into the bosom of her frock of Indian cotton, she had felt an inner assurance of future happiness that was like an ecstasy.
She had looked over the sunny grasses as if she had expected to see them divided by an approaching lover; the meadows had been empty, but her delight had remained unblemished.
That promise had never been fulfilled; after years of waiting there was only—Thomas Thicknesse.
Angel dropped the curtains; the cool night air had set the candles guttering, between the long, straight draperies the bed was a depth of shade; she opened one of her valises and took out the thin sheets of paper on which she was writing her story, The Golden Violet; she was so used to taking refuge in the unreality she herself had created out of her confused and ill-fed fancy.
While she was on her knees with the empty case before her, there was a careful tap on the door. Angel was too agitated to speak, the door opened and her husband entered; he looked at her quizzically.
"Have you everything that you want?" he asked, in a pleasant, detached manner.
A wave of incoherent emotion swept over Angel; it seemed to her that nothing he could have said could be as odious as these few silly words; she half rose and committed the first violent action of her life; with a clumsy movement she threw at him the neat packet tied with buttercup-coloured ribbons: it fell short in the centre of the smooth wide bed that divided them and Angel began to weep noisily.
"Good night," said Mr. Thicknesse, still smiling, and left her, closing the door discreetly.
When he returned from the cock fight at "The Rotunda" she was asleep, lying fully dressed in the grey gown of his careful choice, across the prim hotel coverlets, the dim night lamp burning behind a screen on the hearth.
Mr. Thicknesse looked at his bride; his expression was impassive; he was, in his modest way, a philosopher and a man who was used to concealing his feelings; he tiptoed into the toilet closet where there was a camp-bed and cautiously closed the door between Angel and himself.
WHEN she was installed in her handsome cabin on the Canterbury Fair, and free from even a distant sight of the English coast, Angel's spirits rose. Mr. Thicknesse at least was a kind protector, if not an ardent lover, a pleasant if not a romantic companion, and Angel found life on board the ship new and agreeable. Everything was very well done. The fine weather, the cheerful company, her own exciting circumstances gave an air of smoothness and prosperity to the voyage.
For the first time in her life the young woman forgot her own narrow circumstances and her own small personality. These were washed out of her mind by the sight of the dark blue rollers which surrounded the ship. At first she had been a little squeamish, terrified of possible disaster and death, but she soon became accustomed both to the motion of the ship and to the strange details of this new life. There were some amusing people among the voyagers and Angel found herself receiving all those little compliments which are usually considered the due of a pretty young woman and a bride.
Her cabin was well-furnished and a maid who was in the employ of the ship kept her possessions so trim that she was never able to regret the smart attendant whom her husband had refused to allow her to bring.
Mr. Thicknesse did not intrude upon her privacy; he had his own cabin, and, it seemed, his own occupations, and she saw very little of him. But she did not allow this to depress her mounting spirits. His reserve seemed, indeed, but an indication of a suspended romance. He had hinted once or twice, in his deep, mellow voice, of the domestic felicities in store for them when they were in their own house in Jamaica, and Angel was quite content with his pressing of her hand and a kiss on her cheek or temples he gave her whenever he escorted her to her cabin at night.
There were gay and agreeable women among the company, and it pleased Angel to play quadrilles with them in the evening and to join them in their light chatter about their husbands. She liked being a married woman, and she enjoyed the respect and consideration that Mr. Thicknesse seemed to inspire among his fellow travellers. Her gift of quick, if shallow, observation, which had stood her in such good stead as a novelist, was also gratified by the brilliant play of the light and shade on the canvas of the trim ship as she steered her course through the light breezes over the deeply-cut blue waves and their coronals of foam. Angel liked to see the sharp shape of sails and rigging against the empty blue sky, to watch the long wake of foam behind the ship, to observe the self-absorbed sailors at their work, and to hear their clipped and incomprehensible words.
After they had been a week at sea, she got out her notebook and began to scribble verses with her usual ease. There were a good many rhymes for "sea" if there were none for "ocean"—save for some very prosaic and clumsy words—"commotion" and "promotion," for instance.
Angel was getting on very well in versifying "farewell" to absent friends and descriptions of mariners on the billows when her husband, with a businesslike air, entered her cabin. He asked her, with his usual solicitude, if she felt quite well—and Angel was delighted to tell him that she was in the best of health. He regarded with the same pride as if it had been his own personal achievement the fact that she had escaped the seasickness that so troubled many of the other passengers. Not only frail females, like herself, but stalwart men, for hours together, whenever the wind rose and the sea became rough, were confined retching and groaning in their cabins.
"Very well, then, my dear," said Mr. Thicknesse seating himself beneath the port-holes that showed such an enchanting circle of blue. "I should like to say a few words to you, or do I interrupt your writing?"
Angel shook her head and folded her hands over her papers, glancing down at her wide, gleaming wedding-ring.
Mr. Thicknesse smiled; he also was a good sailor. This sea voyage had not disturbed his pleasant equanimity, given a wrinkle to his trim clothes or caused him to have a hair awry.
Angel greatly admired this neatness on his part, especially as he travelled without a manservant, for the same reason that he had deprived her of a maid—there were so many slaves waiting in Jamaica.
"I have not wanted to upset you," he said. "I thought everything was seeming strange and rather vexatious to you. I thought perhaps you would rather be left entirely to yourself—"
He paused for her assurances, which were readily given. She was quite at ease in her new situation.
"Well, then, my dear child, I think I should tell you something of what is before you, for you must be quite ignorant of the kind of life you will have to lead."
"I am sure it will be charming," said Angel, pleased and a little flustered at this masculine condescension, which took into account with so much concern her weaker feelings.
Mr. Thicknesse replied in a tone that was rather cold, as well as firm.
"We must not talk now as if we were in a London drawing-room, my dear. I don't know whether you quite understand my position."
He went on quickly, as if fearful of her interrupting with some futile remark:
"My father was an extremely wealthy man. He had eight hundred slaves and several farms or penns, as we call them; he was a person of great consequence in the Island—Lord Chief Justice at one time, he had for years a seat in the House of Assembly. The Norfolk estate came to us through a cousin, and when he inherited them he scarcely troubled to come home, he was so well established in Jamaica. In those days everything was extremely prosperous in the Island. It was easy to make a great deal of money, a large fortune, and at the same time to lead a most luxurious kind of life."
"And isn't it now?" asked Angel, raising her brows.
"Not to the same extent. The rum and sugar trades have been almost ruined lately, but that doesn't concern you. You wouldn't understand it. The Government, of course, and their high taxation and their letting in of the foreigner! But never mind that, since it became forbidden to import slaves from Africa it has been—difficult."
Angel tried to feel her way a little carefully, a little dubiously, through this conversation.
"But you're a wealthy man, aren't you?"
"Not in the sense that my father was. He left me a good deal of money, but—well, I got tired of the Island, I came home, I thought I'd establish myself in England. My first wife didn't care about the West Indies. That's an old story and not for you, my dear, anyhow. The fact is, I lost a good deal in speculation. I put too much into Thicknesse. It's mortgaged, you know," he ended abruptly.
"Oh," said Angel, interested in the man, but not in much of what he said.
"Yes, we shan't be able to live there for a long time. I thought I'd better prepare you. I intend to spend, well, some years in Jamaica. I've got a good steward at Venables, but I ought to look to it myself. Besides, I want to build up my position again in the Island. I think I have a better chance there than I have at home. Do you understand any of this?" he asked, with one of his sudden, brutal laughs.
Angel did not commit herself. She studied the man who sat heavy and formidable before her; his bright, brushed-up chestnut hair, flat, florid face, firm features, and small, half-closed eyes were outlined in the bright circle of dipping blue revealed by the port-hole. She tried to read his expression, and found this, as always, difficult; but she flattered herself that he was trying to win her consideration and regard, and she was quite willing to be friendly. She had always before her an ideal of feminine gentleness, obedience and softness, which had been inculcated in her by her mother (who had none of these amiable traits), and fostered by the constant delineation of these characteristics in her own melting heroines.
"Of course," Mr. Thicknesse said with an odd air of slyness, "I shall be glad to do as you please."
"I don't see why I shouldn't like living in Jamaica. It is a charming climate, as you said, and I dare say I can write very well out there."
She was gratified to think that he seemed slightly relieved.
"You'll like it, I'm sure. There won't be much company if you get out on the penn. You've got your books and your sketching, haven't you? And there are few neighbours. You can have a curricle too, and get into Kingston or Spanish Town whenever you like."
Something in these words gave Angel a sudden pang of homesickness; it was as if she were suddenly aware of the rocking motion of the ship, of the dipping line of the horizon behind her husband's bright head.
"Yes, yes," she murmured, rather faintly, "I suppose it will be a little strange at first."
"I don't know how it will seem to you. I'm used to the Island. You see, I was born and brought up there."
"Oh, I didn't mean that," smiled Angel flatly.
"Yes. But my life doesn't matter, it was ordinary enough."
He rose and patted her on the shoulder.
"Get on with your verse-making. You must have something to send home by
the first mail-packet, mustn't you?" He hesitated a second, then added:
"There's a good little woman, you'll be all right," and was gone with those
quiet, deft movements that he maintained even on board the ship.
ANGEL'S QUALMS of home-sickness increased. Her native common sense, that a hundred affectations and an artificial life had never entirely destroyed, disturbed her. What had the man really told her? That he was not as wealthy as he had pretended to be; that he was encumbered, perhaps, by debts and liabilities; that he was going to Jamaica because he could no longer afford to live in England; that she was to be exiled there, perhaps for years; that the trade from which he made his money was almost ruined.
Was that what he meant? she asked herself aloud, frowning whilst she stabbed with her silver pencil at the paper on which were her forgotten verses.
She rose and walked up and down the cabin.
How small it was when one tried to stretch one's limbs! She felt as if her soul as well as her body were confined. She wondered, with an increasing sense of nausea, if he had wanted her money to support his falling fortunes? She had so little idea of the value of money, so little idea, of course, of the value of anything. What would ten thousand pounds mean to a man like Thomas Thicknesse? Perhaps it was more than ten thousand pounds by now. She had quarrelled with Mr. Heron, who could have told her everything—she had asked him to put all her affairs in her husband's hands.
Angel went where Mr. Thicknesse had sat, and knelt on the flat red cushion and gazed out of the port-hole at the brilliancy of the sea.
"As long as he's kind," she thought to herself, "as long as he's kind."
She thought of Mrs. Dinnies in the Twickenham cottage, she thought of the deserted house in Griston Street, of her London ways and days, of her success with her work, of her modest circle of admiring friends, of the readers who used to send her their fulsome, friendly, encouraging letters. She was not sure, however, that she regretted any of these things—it was difficult to work up any sentimental feeling, for instance, for her aunt, and it was delicious to feel that she was her own mistress. Her flicker of doubt, nay, of more than doubt, of sharp alarm, died away. The man had not proved a tyrant yet. She smiled to herself coquettishly; she told herself that he was most deeply in love with her and, more than that, treating her with the most chivalrous respect. What a tribute also he paid to her intellect by endeavouring to make her a partner in his affairs!
She was, in the long years ahead of them, to be more to him than his
mistress or his housekeeper—she was to be his true helpmate. Their
union would be spiritual as well as sensual. As her home-sickness passed she
turned to her seat at the table and placidly continued her verse-making. At
the back of her mind floated phrases that the critics of the ladies'
magazines had written of her work. Had they not spoken of her "lofty ideals,
her tender philosophy, her pious teaching, her pure religious bent?" An
expression of blank sweetness passed over her ordinary features. Her
personality, disintegrated for a moment by the interview with her husband,
settled again to its self-centred
THE PASSENGERS WERE ALL on the deck of the Canterbury Fair in order to catch the first glimpse of land, which had just been sighted by the sailor with the spy-glass in the crow's-nest. A brilliant mist, like a veil composed of myriads of tiny silver stars, was over the ocean, obscuring the horizon. The sea and sky were one brightness.
Angel, in a white cashmere shawl leaning on her husband's arm, sighed with pleasure. The ship moved slowly, the sails changing and straining to catch the sluggish breeze.
"Oh, I shall like this very much!"
Mr. Thicknesse smiled, not reminding her that she had seen nothing as yet. He had already acquired the habit of making no replies to her foolish comments.
Through the silver spangle appeared the little Island of Desirada.
"It looks like another world," cried Angel childishly. "How far away London seems! I can't believe I ever lived near Regent's Park."
Those standing near her on the holystoned deck glanced at her idly with that touch of compassion in their looks which ingenuous pleasure never fails to provoke in the experienced. Angel Thicknesse was, in that moment, happy. Her husband lent her a spy-glass, and after a while she was able to make out the coast-line of Antigua and Gaudeloupe, then presently Montserrat, and then, through the haze of heat, a mass of barren rock, which Mr. Thicknesse told her was Radonda.
The breeze increased with the passing of the day and the Canterbury Fair passed round Cape Tiburon, the west point of Haiti. The silver-spangled mist disappeared before the clear sweep of the wind and towering blue mountains filled the horizon; one of these rose to an immense height.
"Jamaica," said Mr. Thicknesse, with one of his sudden laughs.
Angel lowered her spy-glass, for she found it awkward to use and she could now see very well without it.
"Those are the Blue Mountains," added her husband. "And that yellow spot which has just gone up is the lighthouse on Point Morant."
"It doesn't look the sort of place where you would live, only like a kind of background. I saw something like it at Drury Lane once."
Angel's voice sounded, even in her own ears, rather shrill, as she glanced up apprehensively at her husband's passive profile; she felt that she had said a foolish thing, which he resented. A good-natured man standing beside her created a diversion by tearing a leaf out of his notebook and crumpling it up in his hand.
"You know the story," he smiled. "This is how Columbus described Jamaica when they asked him in Spain what it was like. You see, as the paper slightly expands again, you have the shape of the Island, the mountains and the valleys—the centre is full of limestone basins—like the crumpled sheet. There are some delicious springs in the mountain, too—and it is quite cool there."
"Thank you," said Angel quickly, "it is very interesting. I am sure I shall like the country."
"You're going to live there?" asked the stranger courteously.
"Oh, yes, for some time."
Almost at random and with the air of one who grasps a defensive weapon, she added:
"But not always. Of course, my home is really in England." She remembered that the last time Mr. Thicknesse had spoken of England he had used the word "home."
Angel had been for some hours on deck and was tired, but she would not go below because she knew they were packing all the furnishings of her cabin, and that her baggage was being brought up on the deck. She did not (foolish as she was, she reminded herself) want to leave the Canterbury Fair.
She began to chatter to the stranger; she remarked that her husband had told her of the delicious climate of the Island; how it differed very little all the year round; how the evenings were so cool, and the days so warm; and it was never quite dark, was it?
"Hardly darker than it is now, though the day goes so suddenly, as you see," replied the other. "We have always this mountain breeze in the evenings."
"It is sinking now," said Angel, looking up at the sagging canvas against the purple air.
"Yes, often it does not last very long."
The Canterbury Fair had turned into the fairway at the mouth of the land-locked harbour of Kingston.
"It is like a picture in a book," said Angel leaning over the rail.
The Canterbury Fair sailed slowly past the long spit of sand which protects Kingston harbour from the Caribbean Sea.
"We call those palisades," said the stranger, who seemed amused at the young Englishwoman's curiosity.
"What are the names of those strange plants that grow on them?" asked Angel.
"Coco-palms, acacia, cactus and prickly pear."
The stranger smiled, as if pleased at giving the information. Mr. Thicknesse took Angel's arm and led her away along the crowded deck.
"We shall be becalmed. I don't think the pilot will reach us to-night. We shall have to sleep on board again. And, my dear child, don't keep asking questions of everyone. You will see a good many strange things, and if you enquire about them all, why, it will sound like one of those manuals for the instruction of the young."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Thicknesse, but it's all odd to me."
She smiled, anxious to please him, to take his reproof in good part; but
she was angry too, without knowing why.
IT WAS HATEFUL to see the cabin dismantled; nothing of her
own there any
longer! She put out the lantern that she might not see the desolation. In the
excitement of watching those strange islands loom out of the sea, she had not
eaten any dinner; as she sat on the edge of her berth, munching biscuits and
chocolate, the tears came into her eyes in a gush of vain self-pity. She
resented everything, even the soft, strong light of the beautiful star glow
which filled the tropic night and flooded through the port-hole. With a
petulant gesture she drew the little curtain across the circle of luminous
ANGEL WAS EARLY on deck, restless and impatient. With pleasant efficiency Mr. Thicknesse had seen to all practical affairs. While she slept the ship had manoeuvred further along the harbour and was now becalmed in sight of the glaring white houses and elegant steeples of Kingston. The sunshine was hard, steady and intensely hot. Angel's clothes, though the lightest she had, were suddenly a weight upon her. She moved uneasily, taking off her shawl.
The trees on the palisades which had roused her curiosity last night looked stranger still in the daylight. Odd, fern-like palms and strange-shaped dark-green cacti with cups and prickles, and in between the delicate foliage of the acacia, frail enough to sway in the slightest breeze.
Staring over the edge of the ship she saw a boat below with three negroes in it. They wore yellow cotton shirts and cotton trousers striped pink and white like sugar-candy. One had a sky-blue sash. They seemed confident, grinning and familiar, and Angel was disgusted to see the sailors letting down a rope ladder in order that these creatures might scramble on board.
"Ugly wretches!" she exclaimed with genuine revulsion.
Her husband, as usual, was close beside her. It was astonishing how he managed to see to all business and yet seldom leave Angel out of his sight.
"It is the pilot and two of his assistants. Why 'ugly wretches,' Mary? Surely you have seen negroes before?"
"Oh, yes, but only as a kind of curiosity, and these seem very familiar I don't like them."
She turned away, home-sick and desolate again.
"This is very tedious. When shall we land?"
"I don't know. The wind has failed altogether, but you may, if you please,
go ashore in a boat—that is, if you do not object to black
ANGEL LANDED on Kingston quay through the service of the negroes whom she so disliked. While they had rowed her along the side of the palisades she had kept her eyes averted from their cheerful, hideous faces. Their appearance really offended her. She thought them like beasts or devils. She also disliked their soft, drawling voices, their quick, incomprehensible language, which her husband seemed to understand very well.
She felt a little light-headed as she stepped ashore. It was very still and very hot, and she connected the tranquillity and the heat. It seemed to her as if this white blaze were a spell which enforced silence, that the whole place lay under an evil enchantment. Everything was unfamiliar to Angel. The only object she could see that was not strange was the Union flag displayed by a black and white battleship in the harbour. A man with a yellow face and a broad straw hat, wearing white kerseymeres, greeted them rather awkwardly.
Mr. Thicknesse seemed relieved to see him. Angel, standing sad and helpless, understood from a hurried introduction that this was Mr. Morrison, her husband's steward. There was a curricle and pair waiting; it had a striped hood and a white-clothed negro on the box-seat. Angel took her place in it; her husband was soon beside her, Mr. Morrison beside the driver, and they drove through the streets of Kingston behind the neat, smart greys.
Everything she saw made her feel more desperately lonely and home-sick. The town was full of life, but all of it was unfamiliar. The white houses gave back the sunlight in a horrid glare, the shops were open stores with unglazed windows and the goods laid out on tables under awnings. The tradespeople were in white cotton clothes with stripes of clear red or sky-blue on their trousers. These men were all shades, it seemed to Angel, from shrivelled yellow to deep black, and all hateful. In the gardens of the houses grew odd trees and flowers. On the stalls were piled fantastic fruits and foods.
"You don't like it?" asked Mr. Thicknesse negligently. "We shan't be here long. This is the new town, you know, built when Port Royal was ruined by the earthquake. My father had a house at Spanish Town, but that is shut up now. I dare say you can contrive there. We shall only be in Kingston for a few days."
Angel did not answer; facile as she was with words, she could find none to express her present state of emotion, which was amazed, wondering, fearful. Her husband took no notice of her mood.
"How the place is growing," he remarked, looking about him complacently. "It has changed greatly in the last twenty-five years or so."
"Does the Governor live here?" asked Angel resentfully. "I don't like it. No, I don't like it at all."
Mr. Thicknesse ignored the last of her remarks.
"The Governor's residence is at Spanish Town. I've a house there, as I told you. It's rather old-fashioned. We shall be there in a couple of days."
"I don't see a church!" exclaimed Angel miserably. "These people are savages and heathens, after all."
Mr. Thicknesse answered negligently, with the air of one who is speaking to a foolish child.
"Why, you will find as many churches and parsons as you
wish—Catholic, Wesleyan, Moravian, Church of England." He then
suggested, with no change of tone, that while she was in Kingston she had
better buy herself a dress suitable to the climate. "The rains will begin
soon," he informed her, "but it will not be cold. To you it will seem like a
THEY WERE STAYING with the Morrisons, who had a house just outside the town. Mrs. Morrison was anxious, lean and uninteresting; Angel disliked her because she was plain and efficient; the two women stared at each other at a loss; they had nothing in common.
The hostess tried to be hospitable; she fussed over Angel's comfort and suggested a visit to Admiral Benbow's tomb, then, more happily, the purchase of clothes suitable to the climate.
The acquiring of this new wardrobe saved Angel from a collapse brought on by home-sickness. The Morrisons were kind, the tradespeople deferential; but Angel liked none of them. Only the purchase of yards and yards of fine light material, the visit to the dressmaker, the choosing of patterns and the fittings saw her through the long, monotonous, hot days while her husband lingered in Kingston.
He had, he said, his various businesses to attend to, and she accepted this manner of excuse for his long absences with a meekness that was largely disinterest.
From Mrs. Morrison Angel learned something of her future home and the affairs of her husband, which confirmed what her husband had given her himself on board the Canterbury Fair.
Venables Penn, named after one of the first men to colonise Jamaica for Britain, had been once among the richest properties in the Island.
Mrs. Morrison spoke with longing regret of the great days thirty and forty years ago, when Jamaica had been the richest British colony, accountable for one third of the imports of the home country in coffee and sugar.
The Scotswoman came of a family that had long been settled in Jamaica, and
she told Angel how, in her father's time, the merchant ships went home every
three months under convoy of a man-of-war; they had carried, besides the
coffee and sugar, rum, cotton, logwood, and other timber. Then there had been
three hundred thousand slaves living on the Island, and everyone had been
extremely rich—by everyone Mrs. Morrison meant the planters. During the
last few years things had changed considerably—so many people had gone
home with or without fortunes, so many estates had been allowed to fall into
neglect. She added frankly that the Thicknesse farm needed a good deal of
money spent on it, and that she was glad that the master had returned himself
to take charge. She added, with some bitterness, that her husband had had a
good deal of trouble with the slaves, who were lazy and impudent; there had
been much sickness among them. Everything was different since the restriction
on the slave trade. Mrs. Morrison could remember when the ships from Africa
used to put into Port Royal every few months and the planters used to ride
into the slave market. Now one had to be content with the negroes in the
Island, and they were discontented because of the foolish talk of the
clergymen—who preached that the blacks were the equals of the
MR. THICKNESSE and his wife drove along the fine road to Sant' Iago de la Vega, named by the English, Spanish Town, which had been built by the Dons more than a hundred years before Penn and Venables had taken the Island for Britain.
The rainy season had begun; the air was blue and warm, and on every hand Angel saw the green of luscious vegetation; she was excited and interested and began to ask a multitude of petty questions. She did not, to begin with, understand in the least what part of the globe this was; she supposed from the name that Jamaica was close to India.
"Why, my dear girl, did you not look at a map before you left London?" asked Mr. Thicknesse. Then, in a not unkindly tone: "You are a great goose, are you not? But Columbus made the same mistake before you. That is why these islands are called the West Indies. Here, take this and see for yourself."
He gave her a traveller's pocket-map, as he might have given a child a toy or a bag of sweets, and at once became absorbed in his own thoughts or else wrapped himself in a complete indifference—Angel could not tell which, so impassive and unchangeable were his features.
He spread out the map for her on her knees. She could not resist a feeling of happiness, though she thought she had very little to make her content. She was so far from home, her affairs were so uncertain, she really knew so little about the man by her side, who was now her lord and master. On the other hand, there was this charming novelty of the scene, and she had liked her own appearance in the plain white muslin with the blue sash and the wide-brimmed straw hat that she had bought in Kingston.
She was protected from the silvery rain, so light that it seemed to be suspended in the air, by the striped canvas hood of the curricle, and the moist fragrant warmth was delicious. She seemed to expand in it; it made her, for no reason at all, feel free and joyous. She looked at the creased map on her knees. After all, it told her very little. There was the great island of Cuba, belonging to the Spanish Empire, and there St. Dominique, belonging to the French, then Porto Rico, and a whole scatter of little islands like the beads of a broken necklace dividing the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean.
"Jamaica looks very small and very far away from everywhere," remarked Angel. Then, her curiosity stirred by her husband's serene indifference, she ventured on a more personal remark: "Do you really like the life here? Would you stay here from choice?"
"What makes you think," asked Mr. Thicknesse, smiling, "that I don't stay here from choice?"
She was confused by this direct question and by his steady and sidelong glance.
"Oh, I don't know, but I thought you spoke of difficulties—said that you had lost a lot of money."
"Indeed," interrupted her husband coolly, "I have been, as I told you, unfortunate in speculations, but there is no reason why I should not live in England if I wished to do so."
A touch of obstinacy crept into Angel's stupid air.
"Supposing I didn't like the life here?" she challenged.
"Well, my love, as you will have to live where I do, I suppose you will have to make the best of it."
Angel smiled vaguely; the strange, lovely scene gave her a sense of her
own confused stupidity.
SPANISH TOWN depressed Angel Thicknesse; it was not as lively as Kingston and did not seem to fit so well into the atmosphere of the Island; it was a little staid and neglected; the original Spanish buildings had been replaced by structures of the type with which Angel was too familiar. It was all heavy and dreary, out of key with the climate—like Paddington or Bloomsbury placed in the tropics; she was gratified to discover that her husband had a mansion in the principal square of this town, but it was a sombre house, and a faint shudder of disgust pricked her skin as she entered its heavy porticoes.
The rain had ceased and the sun was strong again over the dusty square and the railed garden with the statue and cupola in the centre. Mr. Morrison had preceded his employer to Spanish Town and had put some order in the house; Angel observed that several black men and women were still helping him to arrange the heavy, gloomy rooms. She sat down by one of the windows helpless and quickly overcast.
Her husband told her that they were to dine with the Governor that night, and left her to her own resources.
Mr. Morrison was more obliging, but he seemed a foreigner to the forlorn Englishwoman; he said his wife would arrive in an hour or so and "soon have everything comfortable." He joined Angel at the great window and pointed out to her the King's House where the Governor lived, a high building which formed one side of the square. It was built in an inappropriate quasi-classic style with a heavy portico of four pillars. Next to the Thicknesse mansion was the guard-house; another public building opposite was the House of Assembly.
"You won't live here, you know," said Mr. Morrison. "You will hardly be here at all. The Governor isn't often in Spanish Town now—he lives on Government Penn, right out in the country. He lost his wife a year ago, and I think it has disheartened him a good deal. There used to be a gay life here, but it's quiet now—too quiet, some people think."
"Oh, it's a horrible climate, isn't it?" said Angel, shivering in self-pity. "I seem to have heard that. People don't live here very long, do they?"
Mr. Morrison reassured her easily, patting her shoulder with paternal solicitude.
Jamaica possessed, he declared, the most delicious climate in the world—so hot in the day, but such refreshing, cool breezes in the evening and night.
"About ten o'clock the sea breeze rises, while at sunset you can always count on a land wind from the mountain-tops. It blows due east and west. There is really no winter, you know, Mrs. Thicknesse. The heat seldom varies more than about ten degrees, and, if you do find it exhausting, it is always quite cool in the mountains—and there your husband has a charming little villa. You'll enjoy, too, the nights, which are nearly as light as day. The atmosphere is very rarified, as I dare say you've noticed. It is excellent for those with chest complaints."
"My chest is quite sound," said Angel dismally, "but I suppose I might catch a fever."
"You mustn't think about it, Mrs. Thicknesse, indeed you mustn't. Why, I and my wife have been here all our lives and brought our children up, and we've never had a bad illness. Besides," he added, as if he felt it his duty to comfort this pale woman so suddenly drooping and dismal, "there is a hospital on your husband's estate, and a doctor who knows a good deal about medicine."
Angel gave a feeble smile and continued to stare at the statue of Lord Rodney in Roman costume under a cupola that occupied the centre of the square.
"I don't like all these blacks about, Mr. Morrison, I really don't. I am sure I can't see how I'm going to run a house with them—I'm not very clever at housekeeping, anyhow. You know, my aunt, Mrs. Dinnies, used to do all that for me. I write books," she added self-consciously.
Mr. Morrison did not know what to reply to this—the writing of romances was entirely outside his province. He muttered some awkward compliment—he believed the ladies in Spanish Town read a number of novels—while Angel, eager to talk of something that was familiar to her in order to stay her sudden home-sickness, told him of The Golden Violet.
"The tale of the Troubadours in old Provence—Toulouse, you know. Doesn't it seem odd to think of Toulouse when one is here? And I wonder why it is odd. Oh, I do hope your wife won't be long away. And where has Mr. Thicknesse gone?"
"I don't know, ma'am. He has his friends and occupations. He is very well known in the Island. He asked me to look after you, Mrs. Thicknesse. Is there anything I can do?"
His compassion for the woman began to be mingled with a slight impatience at her helplessness. She sat there in her white gown, blue sash, with her wide hat falling from her fingers, with her fair hair falling on her shoulders exactly like a large wax doll, he thought.
There was a great deal of good advice which he could have given her, but
he was not minded to do so. Better, perhaps, for her to find out everything
for herself; besides, he was not continuing in the employ of Mr. Thicknesse.
That gentleman had declared that he would, for motives of economy, now manage
his estate himself, and Mr. Morrison, an honest, efficient man, an expert in
the cultivation of the sugar-cane and the cotton plant, had found a position
on an estate at Montego Bay on the other side of the Island. Therefore Mrs.
Thicknesse was not likely to be for much longer any concern of his—he
did his duty by her civilly and kindly, but did not go beyond formality.
MR. MORRISON presented to Angel an old negress of the name of Flora, who had come up from Venables Penn to attend her new mistress; she was assisted by two young negresses named Polly and Rosa. All wore striped cotton, were clean and cheerful, and seemed to have no other feelings than a respectful anxiety to please, but Angel disliked them, shuddered away from them and went upstairs alone to her room, which she speedily discovered was badly arranged and had not been inhabited for some time. Only the huge bed under the great mosquito-nets had been recently cleaned and piled with pillows and fresh sheets.
She peered out of the window and saw some black men in odd candy-pink and white striped trousers with blue sashes running to and fro with baskets of bright fruits and vegetables on their heads and others with her valises and baggage.
She supposed, her husband's slaves, and therefore her slaves...she was afraid of them, and did not want to come into contact with them at all. She remembered bitterly the white woman whom her husband had refused to allow her to bring—she regretted even old Mrs. Dinnies.
Were there no other Englishwomen in the Island besides Mrs. Morrison, who was, she now understood, soon to leave her? The Governor's lady was dead—Angel thought of that with horror; the white women came out to the Island and died.
Well, there was nothing to be done in the grim house. She did not want the
meal they offered her; she did not like to sit about in this desolation and
confusion; she could not even prepare her clothes for the dinner to be given
at Government House that evening, since the trunk containing her finery had
not yet been brought up to her room. So she put on her hat, tied it under her
chin, and watching her opportunity slipped unobserved out of the heavy
ANGEL FELT HAPPIER when she had escaped from the ugly- looking square, and she had a sense of being free as she tripped along the street, her white gown flowing from her waist, walking easily in her fine slippers, but she soon, with her inexperience and timidity, began to fear that she might be lost in this odd distasteful town.
The few passers-by seemed to stare at her curiously; she supposed most of these were Europeans, though their faces were so yellow and their clothes so singular that they did not seem to her in the least like the Englishmen with whom she was so familiar.
Turning a corner by a tall building, she came upon a church which was like those she had known in London—Gothic, brick, with towers and tall windows. She had no pleasant associations with churches; her childhood had been darkened by the Sundays when she had been forced to sit in her formal pew and listen to her father in black and Geneva bands thundering about sin, death and damnation.
Yet she passed into this church with a sense of relief, as if it presented an escape from unreality, from odd, perplexing fantasies into what was solid and commonplace. The interior in no way differed from those with which she was so familiar. The pews and pulpit were of heavy mahogany; there were green baize hassocks; the walls were lined with alabaster and disfigured by clumsy mural tablets without taste; the skulls, cross-bones, vases, urns, weeping angels and pious texts, which had always given Angel such a melancholy shudder, were here grimly visible in the pale, hard light which fell through the high windows glazed with thick greenish glass. Heavy, cold monuments cumbered the aisles.
Angel Thicknesse had never tried to reconcile her simple piety with the impression of dismal horror she received from churches. She believed herself to be sincerely religious, as did the readers of her highly moral books, and she had never, all her life, failed strictly to observe church services. Yet she had never entered a building dedicated to God without a sensation of gloom, nor left it without one of relief.
She stood timidly, irresolute in the pale crossed light, caught up into custom and tradition, which had so strong a hold on her that she would have turned her back on an unknown paradise for the sake of some approved and familiar dullness.
"I ought to pray," she said to herself. Her untaught, facile nature touched to a sentimental piety and self-pity. "I ought to pray to God to keep me good and guard me in this strange place."
She was about to sink to her knees in one of the dark pews when her attention was diverted by her discovery of the fact that she was not alone.
A young man had come round the ornate pulpit and stood with an air much like her own, half-hesitant and half-expectant, underneath one of the tall windows—he was thus full in the colourless light, and his background was an alabaster hour-glass, above which grinned a winged death's-head. The ugliness of this design, with its dismal association, the hard whiteness of the alabaster, cast into rich relief the warm colouring of the stranger.
Angel, who had so frequently to draw on her imagination for her description of masculine beauty, had never seen so comely a young man, save perhaps on those uncommon occasions when she had visited the theatre or the opera and beheld some actor or singer in romantic circumstances and under the becoming glow of the stage lamps.
She was deeply interested and forgot herself in her keen scrutiny of this stranger who had so suddenly appeared. He resembled, she assured herself with much excitement, what she had intended the hero of The Golden Violet to be—the Troubadour who had loved a high-born lady and followed her from place to place till he had won the golden violet at the floral games and been able to present her with an offering worthy of her beauty. So eagerly was Angel studying the elegant grace of the stranger that a few seconds passed before she realised that he was regarding her with an interest equal to her own.
She then became at once self-conscious, remembered her flowing muslin, her becoming hat, her loose, fair hair. Surely now, in this attire, in this place, she looked pleasing if not lovely and beautiful. She breathed deeply and even trembled a little in her intense desire to be admired by this young man, and then, abashed and discouraged, sank on her knees and took her face in her hands, as if she were praying.
She heard his steps approaching; they paused beside her; she looked up and he was standing close to the end of the pew with a pleasant, friendly smile on his finely-shaped mouth, and in his dark eyes, which Angel found so amazingly attractive, an expression of curiosity and, surely, of admiration.
She rose to her feet, pulling her handkerchief out of her reticule. She laughed softly but did not speak, and the young man said:
"I have never seen you in Spanish Town before. Are you the wife of Thomas Thicknesse?"
His voice was so agreeable that Angel thought nothing he could possibly have said could have offended her, and his abrupt question was softened by a most courteous manner.
"Yes," she replied, speaking loud in her excitement, forgetting that she was in a church, that there was a bleak shadowed altar behind her and vaults beneath her feet. "Yes, I am Angel Thicknesse. I have just arrived here."
"It seems strange to you?" he asked; he carried a trail of maidenhair fern and a spray of bright scarlet pods with black seeds.
"Oh, very strange, but then, I've seen nothing yet." She spoke incoherently, as was her habit when surprised or moved. "We're dining with the Governor to-night. Perhaps you will be there. I'm staying at my husband's house in Government Square, but I don't like it. I can't get used to the slaves, the blacks, you know. We came by the old coast road from Kingston. I saw the sugar-canes—so bright, like ribbons. But the negroes!"
"I suppose not. It must be strange at first."
"Didn't you find it strange at first?"
"No, I was born here. I've never been to Europe. My name is Gordon, John Seba Gordon. My estate is not far from your husband's—perhaps we shall often meet."
His air of smiling candour and agreeable good nature, his keen desire to be friendly, the tone of almost caressing admiration he threw into his looks and words enchanted Angel even more than his handsome person. She knew, though she had never confessed as much to herself, that she had been reaching out for this meeting, longing for this moment all her life. How dry, how cold, how hateful were the people among whom she had moved in Devonshire and London compared to such a personality as this!
Her sincere response to his kindness made her behave naturally. She had forgotten all her affectations as she held out her pretty hand to him and said:
"Thank you for your friendliness. It is like a welcome."
He clasped her fingers lightly but warmly.
"You haven't had a welcome yet, perhaps?"
"Oh yes," said Angel, "everyone has been very kind, but you see—" She stumbled into silence.
"I know," said Mr. Gordon, "I've often wondered about you. We've heard, for some while now, that Mr. Thicknesse was bringing home an English wife."
"Why should you wonder? Aren't there many white women here?"
"Not so many."
Angel withdrew her hand, which had quivered amid the ferns he held.
"No, I keep a bachelor's establishment. But I hope, Mrs. Thicknesse, to persuade you that it is a well-run one. When you are tired of your husband's place, which of course is much larger than mine, I hope you will allow me to show you my little property."
Never had Angel experienced such deep pleasure as this invitation gave her. The whole of life seemed to be altered; her existence was like a closely packed bud, colourless and repressed, which suddenly, under the sun, opens wide and reveals itself as full of colour, sweetness and scent.
"You must not forget to ask me," she said, her lips trembling. "I know nothing, nobody here, I shall be very lonely. I don't suppose I shall understand how to manage—with these slaves and everything so different. If you would help me—"
She was not subtle enough to notice that he did not ask her why her husband should not help her. He continued to smile and to assure her with unabated friendliness that he was entirely at her service.
"Will you be at the Government House dinner to-night?"
"No," he replied, and added: "Why were you here, in the church?"
"I don't know—because it seemed familiar, I suppose. And you?"
"My father has a memorial here. Whenever I visit Spanish Town I like to go and stand a little before his name. I bring flowers, the place is so dull—but these looked too gay. I like to come here."
"To say a prayer?"
The young man's answer was surprising:
"I don't know. Prayers are—difficult."
They left the church together by common consent; the harsh light no longer seemed painful to Angel nor the storm-clouds piled in the upper air formidable.
"The Island is beautiful," said Mr. Gordon earnestly. "How grand are those peaks of basalt and porphyry rising so majestically! I wish I could show you the richness of the oleander and African rose! The bowers of the scarlet cordiam, of grenadilla and jessamine—the blue-pink lilac with the silver leaf! Pardon my enthusiasm, Mrs. Thicknesse, I am an amateur botanist—I am writing on the flora of Jamaica and drawing the plates myself."
His speech was formal, stiff, different from the easy modish talk to which she was used; but his smile was brilliant and engaging and turned the bookish flavour of his words into a charm.
"At night you may hear the concert given by the hummingbirds and enjoy the perfume of the orange-blossom, the coffee flower, the double tuberose—it is like music—really, it is enchanting."
"Do you play?"
"Oh yes. I am so much alone. I must do everything. I have a good pianoforte. But it is not always easy to get new music here. Ah, it begins to rain again—you must hasten home, Mrs. Thicknesse, it is dangerous for strangers to become chilled."
He escorted her to the door of her husband's gloomy, heavy mansion, and there left her with a gay little salutation of a raised beaver.
The rain was falling again, heavier now, so that Angel felt it through her thin muslin sleeves. She stood, unheeding the quick drops, at the top of the stone steps and watched John Gordon pass round the railing in the middle of the square, in front of the portico of King's House, and then down a side street by the Court Buildings.
He turned twice to look at her and raise his hat; he smiled and she caught the whiteness of his teeth in his freshly-coloured face.
There was no affectation or sentimentality in her admiration of him. He was the most beautiful human being she had ever seen, and her vague, crude, misdirected search for beauty, which had been for so long fed by shams, was satisfied at last; she went slowly upstairs, counting up his qualities, his graces.
His figure was accurately proportioned, built for both strength and grace: there was something in his carriage, in his movements, that she had never noticed before and could not now define—some quality compounded of ease and dignity, and an air of authority lightly held. His name had told her plainly enough his nationality. She turned up, in the romantic rag-bag of her mind, all the scraps of Scotch ballads, stories and novels that she could remember. This handsome young man, so exactly like the hero of a hundred novels written by feminine pens, must surely be a descendant of some Highland chieftain. Seba, he had said, was one of his names—Scotch, surely.
Angel re-entered her bedroom a changed woman. She was aware herself at once of this difference; it was as if her character, which had been disintegrated into a tangled vagueness, had suddenly found a focus and was shifted into a definite pattern. She was roused for the first time in her shiftless life into a strong and unselfish emotion; she began consciously to understand herself, to review her circumstances, and her situation as she had never reviewed them before.
"It seems as if I had been asleep," she said, half-aloud. She was like some drowsy general who, through negligence, has allowed his army to decay, then, suddenly roused at the sight of a rich convoy across the plain, marshals all his forces and equips them for a capture.
She had always taken the easy way. It had not been difficult to write those novels which had brought in such a handsome income—it had not been difficult, though it had been dull and tedious, to look after sick parents and a peevish aunt, it had not been difficult to slip into that pious, dull, literary London circle of writers of annuals and Keepsakes, the editors of ladies' magazines and publishers of ladies' novels. It had been a slipshod kind of life, sitting down in the neat house which another woman ran and turning out the facile sentimentalities which filled the shelves of the circulating libraries; she had always liked her work and the praise it brought and the money and the little set of friends; she had really never troubled to examine her own inner discontent, to consider what she might have made of both her person and her career.
As she had drifted from the Devonshire parsonage to London, so she had drifted from London to Jamaica as the wife of Thomas Thicknesse; her sense of humour, long dormant in her nature, awoke; she was able to laugh at her own predicament.
"If I had not come to Spanish Town I should never have met him. Why can't women have a little more freedom? I had to marry to get here, didn't I?"
The figure of her husband crossed her thoughts, darkening everything. She
considered him and his actions sharply, no longer with that lazy good nature
with which hitherto she had judged him. She was ready now to think of him
harshly and to believe that he had misled and cheated her—that he had
married her perhaps for her money; a few hours ago she would have shrugged
her shoulders and let the situation develop as it would; now she began to
consider a possibly definite line of conduct; she could not, of course, meet
her husband on his own ground—what woman could ever pit herself against
a man, what wife could be a match for a husband? But she had her native
feminine duplicity, her heritage of hundreds of years of suppression; she had
something of the instinct of those slaves whom she found so alarming and
detestable; she might gain her ends by subtleness and intrigue; she turned
over in her limited armoury all the weapons of the weak.
ANGEL WAS OVER-AWED by King's House, ill at ease and embarrassed in the imposing chambers. She had all the respect for aristocracy of the Englishwoman whose own family had never been more than on the borders of gentility. Her mother's people had been little better than yeoman farmers; her father had been accepted as a gentleman only because he was a clergyman of the Church of England, and no one with whom Angel had mingled in London had had any pretensions to high birth; she could recall, with a good deal of unpleasant awe, an invitation to the great House when the Squire's lady had been graciously pleased to notice that the vicar's daughter had written a novel. Her first impressions of the Governor of Jamaica, Sir William Hayes, and his establishment, reminded her of that coldly disagreeable occasion.
King's House, with a stubborn disregard for a tropic climate, had been built on the lines of an English mansion; the walls were lined with some of the handsomest wood, mahogany and cedar, that the Island afforded, and the rooms were furnished on the model of a gentleman's residence in Grosvenor Square or Piccadilly. Every Governor had left his official portrait behind; these gloomy fantasies, out of which looked staring faces from under towering wigs, fitted with monotonous exactitude into the spaces between the handsome, silver sconces. There was a painted ceiling which represented some classical personages who seemed incredibly dead and remote, there was a sideboard or buffet so large and cumbersome that it gave an air of weight to the whole room, and this was rendered still more formidable by the clumsy pieces of silver with which it was piled. The coat-of-arms of the present Governor was ostentatiously displayed over the mantelpiece, which was composed of the same kind of marble as Angel had that day observed in the church.
She looked at this with pleasure, for she was able to visualise quickly again the handsome, brilliant face of John Gordon outlined against the hard whiteness.
The long table was covered with finely starched damask, which had a white and metallic gleam in the candlelight; in the centre an enormous salver stood piled with pineapples and fruits quite unfamiliar to Angel; there was an ostentatious display of Waterford glass, cut so as to cast back all the lights of the rainbow, silver and ivory cutlery, heavy enough to make the hand ache, and hand-painted porcelain.
To this magnificent scene, which made Angel feel uncomfortably humble, the servants added a touch of grotesqueness. These, although correctly dressed in livery and wearing powdered wigs, were negroes. Formal as the establishment might be, however, there was no pomp about Sir William Hayes.
He welcomed Angel pleasantly and seated her, as the newcomer, on his right hand; the personality of the Governor soon changed Angel's awe into repulsion; Sir William was a wreck of a man, with features yellow and sagging, with eyes injected with blood, with unkempt hair and whiskers and dirty fingernails, who sweated so profusely that he was forced to pull out his handkerchief (not clean, Angel noted) and wipe his wrinkled forehead and sagging cheeks.
He confided to Angel, leaning across the arm of his great carved chair, that he did not care either for Spanish Town or the official residence, but spent most of his time at Government Penn. He was forced, however, he sighed, to be in residence from October to Christmas when the Assembly was sitting. He ate a good deal of the rich, heavily spiced food that Angel could hardly touch, and drank continuously, but with little zest. Every wine known to Angel was on the table, and there were large quantities of rum which the men stirred with long sticks of sugar. They wore European clothes, nankeen and cashmere and kerseymeres, scarcely lighter than those used in England, and everyone was extremely hot, exhausted, and shaking a little as if with a continuous fever. Sir William seemed nervous about illness; he spoke of it to Angel more than once, rousing her ready alarm. Perceiving this he laughed uneasily:
"You mustn't worry. You'll be all right when you get out in the country. But look out, pray, Mrs. Thicknesse, for a touch of prickly heat and take it in time. If you feel the fever I recommend Glauber salts. You should take that continuously," he added earnestly. "Also cream of tartar and Peruvian bark."
"I'm very strong," smiled Angel politely, trying to reassure herself as well as to make conversation. "I've never had any illnesses, you know."
Sir William glanced at her with a flash of interest, and, she thought, compassion.
"You're blooming, indeed, ma'am," he mumbled gallantly.
His dull eyes turned to where her correct, cool husband sat.
"I hope you'll be happy," he added. "Venables used to be one of the finest estates in the Island." He instantly slurred from his serious tone to that of dreary banter which he had used before and tried to amuse his companion with silly small talk.
Angel listened to him keenly; with her newly acquired alertness she noted all he said. She had no particular reason for collecting information about the Island, yet she felt impelled to do so; her attitude was that of a mariner who has been enchanted at the wheel of his ship and then awakes suddenly and must take his bearings and look out for land.
Sir William Hayes's conversation did not long remain cheerful. He returned constantly to the fact that the Island was not what it had been—so many planters and settlers had left it, taxes were high, nothing paid as it had paid, Spanish Town was becoming with every year more dull and neglected. Nothing was what it had been—not even the races. Then, the question of the abolition of slavery was making everyone uneasy; of course, it was unthinkable that any Bill freeing the negroes in the West Indies should ever be passed at Westminster, but the very thought of it destroyed the planters' confidence; if the slaves were free their fortunes would be gone, like this—and Sir William snapped his greasy fingers.
"But they ought to be free, don't you think?" said Angel, flushing at her own boldness. "It doesn't seem right to buy and sell human beings."
"Is that what you ladies are saying at home?" asked Sir William.
Angel's courage faltered before his smile.
"Dangerous talk," continued the Governor in a more serious tone, "if they get to hear of it, you know. There's been trouble and will be more. We had a rising last year. It was soon put down, of course, but there was some mischief done first."
"A rising?" echoed Angel.
She then noticed that there was a silence in the general conversation around the table, that several people were looking at her—critically, she thought, and with a certain hostility. She blushed and fell silent.
Sir William, rousing himself with the instinct of good breeding, put the conversation on easier lines. He declared that the ladies need not feel apprehensive for the future—the Island Militia had been raised to twelve thousand men, and there were fifteen forts capable of holding garrisons from eighty to seven hundred soldiers. It was not likely that either the slaves or the Maroons would make any further attempts at disturbing the peace. Angel wondered who the Maroons were, but dare not ask. She heard little murmurs of satisfaction and approval from her fellow-guests at the Governor's declaration.
Mr. Thicknesse said briskly:
"And I hear, sir, that you have a fair number of ships on the Jamaica station?"
"Forty-five," said Sir William, "and a hospital ship at Port Royal. So you
see," he smiled kindly at Angel, who was disgusted by his broken teeth and
sagging lips, "you may consider yourself, Mrs. Thicknesse, as having come to
a well-protected country."
ANGEL SAT with the ladies in the official chamber that was so careful a copy of an English drawing-room. They were kind, but not expansive; she felt as if there were some barrier between them and her; it was mortifying to discover how local her fame was; to one or two of the women who had evinced a mild curiosity in her person, she had ventured to say:
"I am Angel Cowley, you know."
No one did know. It was evident that her books were not read in Jamaica; she considered these other women a stupid, uncultured, idle crowd; some played cards and all gossiped. They were dressed in London and Parisian fashion slightly outmoded, and few of them bore any traces of beauty; their talk was malicious and intensely local, like that of people long enclosed in themselves; Angel could not understand a quarter of what they said; they exchanged their comments and confidences over her head, unheeding her presence.
One woman, Laura Thwaites, was kind in a detached, lazy manner; there was a boredom over the whole assembly, and only the memory of John Gordon kept Angel from wanting to weep with loneliness and distaste. Laura Thwaites was the wife of one of the Governor's officers; he had a staff of eight. In a flippant, half-amused way she told Angel something of the Island, counting off her facts on her long fingers.
Jamaica was divided into three counties named Middlesex, Surrey and Cornwall, and these were subdivided into villages and parishes. The Governor, the Council and the House of Assembly governed the whole of the Island; they were elected from the parishes and from the three main towns, Kingston, Spanish Town and Port Royal. Angel learnt that her husband used to be one of the members of the House of Assembly, of which there were forty-three. She wanted to ask this lazy, intelligent woman something about Thomas Thicknesse, but pride and convention forbade her to do so.
She thought of her predecessor. Had Camilla Thicknesse, at whose tomb she had stared in the Norfolk church, ever sat thus, in this drawing-room, perhaps on this very sofa, playing quadrille or gossiping as these women played and gossiped now? To distract herself she asked about the rising that Sir William had mentioned at the dinner-table. Mrs. Thwaites was reticent on the point. She said that there had been no disturbances on her part of the Island, and that where owners treated their slaves kindly there need be no fear.
"They are really very affectionate, gentle creatures, you know. Once you have earned their loyalty they will do anything for you."
"I detest them," said Angel, with sincere disgust. "I cannot bear the look of them. I can't endure to think I have to live among them."
"You'll have to get over that, won't you?" smiled Laura Thwaites. "I suppose there'll be no white people at all on your estate once the Morrisons leave."
"I ought to have had a white servant!" exclaimed Angel.
"Very few women here do, you know. One simply has to get used to it. Besides," she added carefully, "you wouldn't know that they were all black—some of them seem to be white."
"Oh, mulattos," said Angel vaguely. "But how horrible to think—" She paused, sincerely embarrassed.
"Of these illicit unions?" finished Laura Thwaites smoothly. "You'll get used to that, too."
She glanced, amused, at Angel's flushed face.
"You'll soon begin to take it all for granted, and to be able to sort them out quite easily. A mulatto is the child of a black woman by a white man; a quadroon, the child of a mulatto woman by a white man; and a mustee, the child of a quadroon by a white father—the law considers him a white man."
"And what does the law consider the others?"
"Oh, negroes, of course."
"Why, no, not slaves—they may have been able to buy their freedom or have had it given them; but they are not eligible for public affairs, they are not allowed, you see, to vote, or to have any property exceeding two thousand pounds, or to give evidence against white people. But that is enough for now." She laughed at Angel's expression of confusion. "See, Mrs. Dixon is going to play the harp and we must listen."
"I'm afraid I don't understand any of it," said Angel. "I don't think I shall like to live on a slave plantation."
"You will, doubtless, find them very happy on your husband's estate," said Laura Thwaites dryly. "Your father-in-law, you know, was a great personage here—one of the wealthiest men in the Island and Chief Justice."
Angel said quickly, in a lowered tone, while she gazed at the pale, thin woman in the tartan scarf who was tuning her harp: "My husband's first wife—did you know her?"
"Oh yes, she was not here very often, you know. She did not like the climate. Of course, your husband has been a great deal to England."
"Do you like the climate?" whispered Angel.
"Oh, I was born here—I am what they term a white Creole." Mrs. Dixon had tuned her harp; there was a pause while a black servant came in to snuff the candles.
"How many are there of them?" whispered Angel, nodding towards him, and leaning close to her neighbour.
"What, slaves in Government House? Oh, thirty or forty, I suppose, without counting the children."
"No, I mean in the Island."
"You're afraid?" asked Laura Thwaites, moving her fan rather quickly. "You're still thinking of the rising? I assure you you need not fear. But if you want numbers, there are about two hundred thousand slaves, and, I believe, about twenty thousand free blacks and half-castes. And we, we're not forty thousand. You can understand that one has to be careful."
Mrs. Dixon began to play, a Welch piece that soon put Angel into a sentimental mood. She leaned back in her low chair in the shadow of a tall, painted screen and John Gordon wholly occupied her thoughts. Dearly as she would have liked some information about him, she knew that she would never be able to mention his name; she would have to wait patiently until someone spoke of him; surely he must be a friend of her husband's—he had said his estate was close to Venables Penn. How precious, how necessary the friendship of this stranger would be to her in that odd life to which she was condemned; she could not hope for more than a scant, barely tolerant companionship from her husband; she did not now wish for more from him, so how invaluable to her would be the company of John Gordon, intelligent, cultured, gay, with his charming air that made all the commonplaces of life interesting! Surely he liked her a little; she trembled with mingled expectancy and fear; was his charming manner, touched as it was with sweetness and tenderness, for everyone, and not for her alone? How had she looked in the pale cross light of the church in her white gown, with her shady hat and fair hair and clear complexion? Perhaps she had seemed lovely to the man used to Africans and withered Europeans. Always eager to be reassured as to her personal appearance, Angel had noticed with the keenest delight a sparkle of admiration in the tired eyes of Sir William Hayes, in the glances of some of the other gentlemen present. Might it not be possible that she, merely a pleasant-looking young woman in London, would pass for a beauty in Jamaica?
The gentlemen came into the drawing-room; more drinks were handed round, there was more music and card-playing, and light talk on the part of the women interrupted by discussions from the men as to the trade and prosperity of the Island and the forthcoming meeting of the Assembly.
It gave Angel a certain pleasure to observe that her husband held his own with these notables of the Island. She learned that he was head magistrate for his parish of Sinclair and captain in the Island Militia; she was glad that he possessed these honours, for they helped her to respect one whom she now was sure she could never love.
Sir William Hayes was seated beside her again in the drooping attitude of a dispirited, tired man; he was speaking to another gentleman again about the Maroons and the trouble with the slaves; she understood now that the Maroons were "wild negroes," as she put it to herself, who lived in the mountains and in towns of their own, and who now and then attacked the settlers and slaves, and she began to feel afraid as those terrors of her childhood revived—blacks, armed and prowling!
"I didn't know there were savages on the Island," she murmured.
Sir William caught her frightened words and quickly reassured her.
"We don't call these poor fellows 'savages,' Mrs. Thicknesse, and we have them well in hand. I've always tried to get on friendly terms with them. All that's the matter with them is that they are frightened by the treatment they received in the past. Now, I was talking to John Gordon this morning—"
To Angel the utterance of this name was as if a rocket had burst in the room, obscuring everything with coloured stars. She lost all control.
"Yes?" she said, sitting upright.
The Governor did not understand the meaning of her interruption; he thought that she was talking to Laura Thwaites, who lounged in her spangled muslin the other side of Mrs. Thicknesse. He smiled and bowed with the air of a man who excuses himself to a pretty woman whom he has not understood, and continued to his companion:
"John Gordon is right. He is one of the most intelligent men in the Island. If there were more like him we should have no trouble."
Angel saw her husband standing before her, obscuring those dazzling, fanciful stars which danced before her eyes. She rose up dutifully at his glance. It was time, he said, that they went home.
The ladies took leave of her, languidly and without interest; the men were, she was sure, kindly disposed; she thought they were a little compassionate—she hoped they admired her; how eager she was for admiration, to be reassured!
The rain was falling when they got into their curricle in front of the portico door. Mr. Thicknesse said that Angel must not put her foot to the ground, so they must drive, although they lived only the other side of the square. She wondered what he would have thought had he known of her adventure that morning.
Although it was raining it was light, and she could see everything clearly—the railings in the middle of the square, the statue of the British Admiral in the Roman dress, the porticoed fronts of the houses and Government buildings; she felt excited to a strange intensity; it was as if she believed she had discovered herself to be far more intelligent, clever and important than she had ever thought possible.
Her husband was very kind; as he leaned towards her she smelt the strong spirit and tobacco on his breath; he was self-controlled, even sedate, but she knew that he had been drinking heavily, and this made her at once alert and disgusted.
When they entered the house, which she still found so heavy and dreary, he seemed solicitous about her comfort and welfare; he asked her whether she had finished any more verses, if she had completed The Golden Violet.
She slipped off her long, white shawl and stood in her pale, blue gown in the gaunt, ugly drawing-room. A slave had at once brought up a lamp, and Angel raised it and by the light of it gazed at herself in the mirror.
"Did I look well to-night?" she asked. "Did I look pretty?"
She thought at once: "How I must have changed to be able to ask these questions."
But Mr. Thicknesse seemed to accept them as quite natural; nay, indeed, to be gratified and pleased.
"You are a pretty woman, my dear," he said. "I always told you so, didn't I? I hope you will be happy here. I dare say, in a way, it has been an odd kind of marriage—"
He broke off, and Angel, still holding the lamp and looking at her reflection which wavered like a pale flower against the black depth of the mirror, asked: "Was it? I know so little, you see. I really don't feel as if I'd ever lived before. Yes, I suppose you are right, it was an odd kind of marriage."
"But we can make a success of it."
He took the lamp from her and set it down.
"You mustn't judge from Kingston and Spanish Town. It'll be different out on the farm."
"I suppose so," said Angel. "Have we any near neighbours?"
"Not near neighbours, my dear. My estate goes for a good many miles. I don't know what happened to Blackwood—I believe he went home when his wife died. I suppose the place is shut up."
"When his wife died?" echoed Angel. "That's two women I've heard of since I landed—who died."
Mr. Thicknesse shrugged his heavy shoulders.
"Women die at home, don't they? The Island is healthy enough if one is careful."
"Who is the other neighbour—who lives the other side of your place?" asked Angel, moving towards the door and speaking over her shoulder.
"A Mr. Gordon, I believe, if he hasn't sold the property. When I was here before his father had it."
"Is he married?" asked Angel slyly, just for the pleasure of hearing the answer.
"No. At least, I don't think so. It wouldn't, I believe, be likely."
"Then I shall have no company at all. Think, I shall be alone among all those negroes."
"You'll have your verses and your books."
She picked up the lamp.
"I hope you'll have something for me to send home by the next packet. I promised for you, you know," smiled Mr. Thicknesse.
"Yes. Come upstairs to bed, it is getting late."
He led her up the stairs, opened her bedroom door for her, then followed her in and closed it on them.
Angel glanced at his face, went to the bed, fell on her knees and buried her face in the mosquito-net border.
She heard him laugh; no doubt he was amused at what he considered her romantic affectations, but Angel was sincere in her gesture of prayer and withdrawal; she thought to herself: "I married this man, I liked him, but now that I have seen that other, it seems like adultery to allow him to come near me."
She felt both uneasy and excited. The impressions of the evening at King's House floated before her mind in topsy-turvy pictures—the Governor, dishevelled, disheartened, a man past his work; Laura Thwaites, lazy, insolent; the chattering women; the pale creature at the harp; the casual talk of the men about trade, money and other dull business; the sombre background of the large, gloomy rooms with the portraits of dead men; and all that display of formal pomp in silver, glass, porcelain and glittering scenes. Firmly against these fragments was set the figure of John Gordon, as if he alone, in her new life, was real, as if indeed, her meeting with this young man was the only important thing that had ever happened to her. "How odd," she thought, "how odd."
She had thought that marriage would be such an astonishing, such a vital experience, and now it seemed of no importance compared to her chance meeting with a stranger.
If that could have happened before! If she had been free when she had raised her eyes to see John Gordon standing beside her in the old church. Her mind touched for an instant on prospects of almost intolerable felicity, and glanced off, to dwell, not on what might have been, but on what might be. Beneath all her deeply rooted hypocrisy was not only a natural duplicity, but a natural cynicism; she had both the craft and the resignation of her sex. She was ready to believe that a woman could not expect much real happiness, that to gain even a little joy and pleasure, she had to pretend, and scheme, and be very secret.
She looked up from her hot, moist hands and saw her husband unwinding his long cravat before the mirror; the candles on the toilet table cast cross lights across his firm, flat, red face and thick neck.
She felt no dislike for him, she hardly even regarded him as an obstacle to her designs. By bringing her to Jamaica, he had set the scene for her most brilliant experience, and by marrying her he had satisfied her curiosity in life, given her some status in the world beyond that of a pious spinster writing romances for schoolgirls—and provided her with who knew how many opportunities for future experience and future experiment.
She rose from her knees, and laughed with less than her usual foolishness.
Her husband looked at her good-naturedly.
"Don't be a great goose, Mary, don't be a silly goose, now."
Angel, unfastening her muslin bodice, laughed louder.
THE BRIGHT DAY was like a presence in the room as the young wife raised the vivid green jalousies and gazed out into the square where the harsh light was burning down in rays so powerful that they appeared to be solid.
A negro was passing with a basket of fruit, his white starched clothes dazzling in the sun; his face was hidden under his wide grass hat; large, majestic storm-clouds were piled up behind the flag on King's House; a little carriage that Angel had heard called a kittereen passed, then a long-tailed mule with a high demi-peak Spanish saddle; the bronze French cannon captured in the Battle of the Saints showed oddly on either side the statue in the square.
Angel glanced over her shoulder at her husband, still heavily asleep in
the bed with the even-shaped pillars, his stout body partly obscured by the
mosquito-net. She smiled ironically with the keen shrewdness of one who
measures the weakness of an unconscious opponent. Though the law gave her
into his power, she did not feel helpless or consider that they were
ill-matched in weapons.
ANGEL DROVE INLAND from the capital, along the banks of the Rio Cobre, which flowed between banks covered with thick ferns, reeds and lush seeding plants. She passed houses, sugar estates and an inn; her attention was caught by a little bridge of a single span that crossed the blue waters of the river; the long stresses of a yellow-leaved creeper spread over the grey stone, and Angel thought that it would make an excellent subject for a watercolour drawing.
Kittereens, sulkies, mules and donkeys, negroes in straw hats and turbans, continually passed along the highroad, which was shaded by the fragile foliage of bamboos and palms.
Angel, from under the striped hood of the carriage, glanced at everyone who passed—she might, she thought, chance to see John Gordon.
He was never out of her thoughts; when she observed the strange birds that fluttered on either hand, the sumptuous plants that fringed the river, she recalled the book he was writing, when she raised her eyes to the great purple hills that shut in the prospect, she recalled his phrase: "Mountains of porphyry and basalt."
They left the highroad and turned by a rocky gorge where the clear waters of the river tumbled and foamed over the boulders of broken cliffs, shadowed by the waving leaves of the coco-palm, and, beyond these, the blue-black boughs of the cedar trees, whose massive outline cut sharply into the azure air.
"I should like to make a sketch of this for my album—this and the little bridge that we passed."
"So you may. The bridge is near our village, Sinclair; it is about midway between us and Spanish Town. The other side of this gorge is a limestone pool, which you also may visit when I am free to go with you."
"May I not go abroad alone?" asked Angel.
"Not at least till you are used to the country—even then you should have one of the overseers with you. If you want to go to the village, you can drive."
"What is it—the village?"
"A hamlet, with a church and a court-house, a few militia and a parson or two. I expect to be appointed head magistrate there in the spring."
His manner was cold and formal; Angel resented his preoccupation with his own concerns, the indifference which forbade him even to ask how she liked this country, so strange to her; she felt a definite hostility towards him; she told herself she had many causes of complaint against him; the most important was her belief that he disliked her, that he did not want her, as either wife or companion, that he thought her tedious and foolish, and only endured her for his own convenience.
ANGEL had, however, an inner pleasure with which to console herself; that was the sense of the beauty that surrounded her; vivid, exotic, brilliant loveliness such as she had never been able to imagine before.
With every mile she passed, what she had known as reality was left behind; if in Kingston and Spanish Town there had been much to remind her of England and all the familiar things she had known since her infancy, here there was nothing that was not strange; and, most remarkable of all was herself, the change she felt within herself, as if new surroundings and a new emotion were moulding her into a different woman from the Angel Cowley who had scribbled novels in the neat house near Regent's Park.
She felt freer, more courageous, capable of a clearer outlook, a bolder judgment; it was as if she had discarded a hundred weaknesses, follies, affectations and falsities with her cumbrous London clothes and ornaments. She felt able to hold her own with her formidable, taciturn husband, and to satisfy to the full her eager curiosity, as she drove across the estate at which Mr. Thicknesse looked with much stern anxiety.
Venables Penn, which she had heard spoken of as a farm and meadows, seemed to her to be rather like a village. It was situated among fields, enclosed by rich forest scenery, which sloped away to the distant Blue Mountains. The slaves' huts, plastered within and without and covered with wattle, each with its little vegetable garden, formed a street which ran alongside the fields of sugar-canes; at the end were two small houses, a chapel and a hospital; at a fastidious distance from these quarters was the house, surrounded by a garden, enclosed by a light palisade; beyond this were the boiler-house, mill and sheds.
Angel considered her new dwelling with an exciting curiosity heightened by pleasure. There was something enchanting, like a fairy-tale, about this dwelling. She examined it eagerly under the good-humoured, amused guidance of Mrs. Morrison, whose husband was taking Mr. Thicknesse over the estate. She was so interested in what she saw that she forgot her aversion to the negroes, and suffered without disgust the attendance of the two black girls, Polly and Rosa, in starched cotton frocks, who followed her humbly from place to place.
Venables Penn was a large, one-storeyed house of white plaster, with
bright green shutters. The ground-floor consisted of storerooms and cellars,
and was divided by an arched passage; a flight of exterior stone steps with
iron railings, twined round with a stiff creeper with crimson fruit, led to
the dwelling-rooms above. These consisted of a hall in the form of a cross
with a window at each arm end, so that four currents of air were continually
playing through it; in each of the squares formed by the angles of the arms
was a bedroom with two outside walls, in each of which was a window; the
walls of all these rooms were of white stucco, the windows hung with cotton
draperies and mosquito-nets; the floors were a beautiful parquet made of
native woods—mahogany, greenheart, greynut and bloodnut—which
were polished to an astonishingly smooth brilliancy. The furniture was of
light native manufacture; in the hall were a few shelves with French and
English books; on a table were copies of the two newspapers published in the
Island, the Santiago Gazette and the Royal Gazette. There were
no costly articles beyond a few silver sticks for candles and some silken
rugs over the beds, but the whole had an air of elegant luxury which affected
Angel potently; she stood still in the warm air by one of the windows and
looked out on the gorgeous, unknown trees, on the opulent flowers she could
not name, enclosed with the logwood fence grown with the long-thorned leaves
of the penguin pineapple, on the azure mountains which sheltered this lovely
world, and she felt that beauty was changing her, the beauty of the Island,
the beauty of this mode of life, the beauty of the young man whom she had met
in the church in Spanish Town. She shivered with joy and expectancy, and Mrs.
Morrison closed the window, remarking that the night air was very cool and
that as there was no twilight it often took foreigners unawares.
ANGEL HAD BEEN awakened by the sound of the conch, blown to rouse the slaves to their work in the fields. The last of the sugarcanes were being planted to catch the rain, which would be soon over now—it was nearly the end of October. As soon as the sudden blue daylight came, she had been too excited to sleep and had gladly accepted her husband's offer to show her over his estate. Not only was she curious to see his property, but she was anxious—why, she hardly knew—to stand well with this man whom she had so impetuously and recklessly made her master, to overcome her fear of him, his dislike of her.
The intermittent rain had caused a silver mist to rise through the air, and Angel felt as if this warm, moist, silvery atmosphere was entering her blood, changing it, as she walked behind her husband over the amber-hued, mellow, hazel earth, a mixture of sand and clay, from which grew the sugar-canes, curling ribbons of vivid green.
The negroes, in their scanty cotton clothes and tattered grass hats, were working busily, self-absorbed, and Angel tried not to notice them.
"They will give a celebration for us, a festival," said Mr. Thicknesse, "to-night. They wished to do that to-day, but of course it was only an excuse for a holiday, and so I told them that they must welcome us when their work was done."
He glanced, she noted, with some displeasure at the scene which to her was so novel and so entrancing; he complained that the crops had been for the last few years far from satisfactory—the soil was not rich enough; canes, which might be as much as twelve feet, had not risen to more than eight or eight and a half; the slaves were lazy and he did not think that Morrison had been a good steward; much of the land had gone out of cultivation.
She followed him, dutifully agreeing with his complaints, past the sugar-mills shaded by the heavy fig tree, where she would have entered, but he had neither time nor patience to satisfy her curiosity; she went with him through fields of indigo and cotton; he showed her the arnotto shrub, the hairy pods of which were being plucked by the slaves, and then the pimento or allspice trees; the deep green leaves, shaped like those of the bay, fluttered against the pale grey trunk which was without bark; the negroes were gathering the fruits by hand and taking them away to be dried in the sun. They walked through pastures with cattle and poultry, past stables with horses and mules, and a laundry where the black girls laughed over their work.
"Can I go down to the negro quarters?"
"No, no, it is better that you should not. You must keep away from the slaves—they have their own overseers, their hospitals, doctor too, everything they require. You understand?"
"I suppose so."
Angel shuddered a little into herself between repulsion and curiosity; she wanted to ask how these horrible creatures lived, if they were really "properly" married, what happened to the children, how much they cost and where you bought and sold them; those she had passed had taken no notice of her, not by so much as raising their eyes. When she remarked on this indifference, which seemed stupidity, her husband said:
"You will see them to-night. That will be another story."
At noon the conch was blown again; the slaves left their work and returned chattering, singing and gesticulating, to their huts for the midday meal. Angel followed her husband into the house, where the green jalousies were down and the rooms in shadow.
"Does this seem exile to you?" he asked her suddenly. "Do you think you will be able to endure it?"
"Oh yes, it is a beautiful place. I think I shall be happy here."
Her words were quite sincere, and yet she knew that she deceived him. How could he possibly guess that she was thinking all the while of John Gordon? There was a certain pleasure in thus baffling a master; it was agreeable to think that she had her secret; he had told her very little of himself, she knew nothing of his past, while she, with her poor little empty life, had stood, as it were, stripped and barren before him; now she had her reserves and her mysteries, which she felt gave her a dignity that she had never possessed before.
He brought before her the slaves who ran the house. Mr. Morrison had trained them well, and she would have little trouble with domesticities. He explained that their names were according to the days of the week on which they had been born. Cubena, for instance, had been born on a Tuesday; this was the house-boy, usually called "Cupid"; a kitchen-girl who had been born on a Thursday was named Benaba; the cook, born on a Friday, was Cuffee, and the fat maid who looked after the dwelling-rooms, born on a Saturday, was named Mimba. Then there was old Flora and the two girls Polly and Rosa, who sometimes slept in the house.
"I shall never remember it all," said Angel, when they had all bowed, giggled, made their curtsies and gone. "I don't like them, you know. They don't seem to me quite human."
She wanted to say she would look after her clothes and her bedroom herself, but inborn laziness overcame her; she had a horror of anything in the nature of manual labour—better put up with the negresses than exert herself.
Mr. Thicknesse did not argue with his wife, beyond remarking: "If you have an aversion from negroes, my dear, you should not have married a Jamaica planter."
A retort rose at once to Angel's lips; she was finding it difficult to keep her resolution of being on good terms with her husband.
"But I didn't know you were a planter when I married you. That didn't come out till afterwards."
"Oh, didn't it?" he replied negligently. "Well, this place is important to me. I intend to put all your dowry into it, my dear, and see if I can make it a paying concern. Then, when we have piled up a fortune, we can go back to England and buy back Thicknesse."
"So that's your ambition," said Angel thoughtfully.
"Yes, I thought I told you so before, or that you had guessed it, anyhow. It's simple enough, isn't it?"
"Oh yes, it's quite simple."
"And you agree with it, don't you?" asked Mr. Thicknesse, but not as if anxious to have her approval. "That is what you would wish, isn't it?"
She did not much care what her husband did with her money, or what kind of
life he had planned for them both; she was indifferent to the future; she
only wanted to meet John Gordon again, to be free and alone with him in these
strange surroundings, which were rich and fantastic enough to embellish any
romance. If Thomas Thicknesse could be fierce, she could be
treacherous—her female wit against his masculine power.
THE FESTIVAL the slaves held to celebrate the return of their master seemed to Angel frightening and a little horrible. She and her husband stood on the verandah above the steps wreathed with the rich leaves of the quamoclit, and watched the fantastic procession of negroes in all manner of odd costumes—lime-green jackets, scarlet trousers, sky-blue skirts—executing steps and outlandish dances like so many Merry Andrews and making a proper din on tabors and drums—or dundoes and goombays, as Mr. Thicknesse called them—as they hopped and skipped and mouthed and grimaced in the garden enclosed by the logwood fence and the thorny leaves of the pineapple.
The climax of the spectacle was the appearance of a huge negro known as Johnny Canoe, attired in a figured cotton robe, who carried on his head a boat full of grotesque figures. This man, pausing before his master, executed many odd antics entirely incomprehensible to Angel. She noticed that her husband, standing beside her with a weary air, was bored and even exasperated by the proceedings, which were fantastic, tawdry and sad.
"Many of these fellows can remember my father—they were born during his lifetime. He used to spoil them. They don't know me very well, or, as I suppose, like me very much. All this ceremonial is really just to amuse themselves. Some, I see, have contrived to get half drunk already."
"They seem very devoted," said Angel, shrinking a little against the man beside her. "See how they roll their eyes and sing your praises. Some of them seem to want to throw themselves at your feet."
"Oh, they all have favours to ask," said Mr. Thicknesse sharply. "Half of them would say they were sick and could not work—others will desire some other kind of indulgence. I visited the hospital to-day and found it half-full of malingerers. I turned them out pretty quickly. I can't understand what Morrison was about."
"Do they have much illness?" asked his wife, staring at the twisting procession, which moved before her like a phantasmagoria. It was so hot, she felt a little giddy.
"They have what they call coco bay, a kind of leprosy, and, of course, fever. I shall have to give them money to-night, and then I expect they'll all drink too much rum and not be able to work in the morning."
"Who is that?" asked Angel, suddenly alert and leaning against the leaves on the verandah.
There was a break in the vivid, tangled procession. The negro with the canoe, the puppets, the flags, bowers of flowers, had passed, vanished into the fragrant bushes: a young woman walked by with an extraordinary grace that at once attracted Angel and afflicted her with a most painful envy.
This creature emphasized and completed the Englishwoman's impression of beauty, the beauty of the Island and the beauty of John Gordon. The woman was indeed as lovely as the scarlet fruits that trailed over the light railings on which Angel leaned; yet, had her person been described to Angel while she was in England, or had she even seen her in the London streets, she probably would have regarded her not only as a freak, but as hideous. The girl, who walked slowly past, had an ash-coloured complexion of an extraordinary smoothness and brilliancy; her features were in perfect proportion, and from her small head flowed a thick mane of black hair; she wore a dress of dead white cotton, round one shoulder and tied under the other arm with a scarf of striped brown and yellow, down her elegantly shaped arms, which were exactly the colour of the pimento tree-trunk, slipped a profusion of narrow golden bracelets; she carried with a negligent air of languor a huge red-silk umbrella with fringe all round and a high tuft of coarse green feathers on the top.
"Who is she?" asked Angel again in dismay, as if she had seen some goddess.
"She is a mulatto, a slave," replied Mr. Thicknesse impatiently. "I believe they call her Luna. She was a child when I was here before."
Unsmiling, serene, the mulatto passed on, and a group of capering negroes, in green coats twisted with wreaths of white blossom soon hid her from view; but above the shrubs, the log-wood fence, could be seen for a while the feather top of the scarlet umbrella.
"A mulatto," repeated Angel. "Does that mean she had a white father?"
"Yes," replied her husband dryly. "I shouldn't concern myself about that sort of thing if I were you, Mary. You'll have to take it all for granted here."
Unpleasant thoughts crowded into Angel's mind. She felt a sharp hostility to her husband; the licence permitted men, the rigid code demanded of women, presented themselves to her in grotesque contrast. The core of rebellion in her heart hardened.
It was suddenly dark.
Through the clear night came the exciting notes of tabor, drum and banjo;
the stars were so large they seemed within reach; Angel drew her silk shawl
close round her neck and followed her husband into the house, which had begun
to have for her the air of a prison.
SHE HAD HER ROOM to herself. Her husband slept across the passage. She remarked that he kept his door locked. Her own chamber she had made, half-unconsciously and to her own secret vexation, into a likeness of her London room; there were the same books, the same ornaments, and there was the desk piled with papers, magazines and copies of her own novels. She was glad now that her husband had refused to allow her to bring all the other London furnishings—how impossible they would have been in this house! The old life would not fit into the new; it was like trying to catch a will-o'-the-wisp and put it into a lantern to light you home. If London was a long way off, Toulouse seemed farther; the world of fantasy in which Angel had for so long wandered at ease now quite escaped her. She scribbled pages about the Troubadours and tore them up; as she became more interested in herself and her surroundings, she became less interested in those creatures of her imagination in which she had once taken so much delight. Only when she had to describe her hero did she please herself, for she gave him all the physical attributes of John Gordon and endowed him with all the qualities she believed that young man possessed.
She believed that her husband disliked her room, since he entered it very seldom, and in her heart she agreed with him. She preferred the other apartments where there was nothing to remind her of England, and she could do nothing to close the breach that widened between her master and herself.
He said to her: "You don't need those texts on the wall, or funeral cards and those books, those old-fashioned books at your bedside."
She defended herself obstinately:
"They belonged to my father, the cards were those of my parents. I promised always to keep the books by me."
He answered quietly, but she knew that he was suppressing deep irritation.
"Well, if it helps you to write. But you don't seem to be getting on very quickly with that, do you?"
"I've written some verses for the annuals."
"There's not much money in those, is there?" asked Mr. Thicknesse quietly. "I thought that once you got out here you'd be able to write two, or even three, novels a year. Several people in London told me that you wrote so easily and quickly that you ought to be able to earn fifteen hundred or two thousand a year."
"I don't want the money—it's no use to me here."
"It would be to me; I've told you what my ideas and my plans are."
"Yes, but you've had a good deal of my money, haven't you? And I'm not sure that I want to go back to England. Perhaps I like it here, I don't know."
"Your money did not go very far. I was heavily in debt."
"Oh, you never told me that before."
She looked at him with resentment. Her money, her savings, to go to pay his debts!
"It's odd being married," she remarked.
He ignored this comment with that constant self-control which with him took the place of good humour.
"You can see for yourself that the place wants money spent on it," he said. "It will be a good investment, too. It only requires a little capital. Morrison let it go to pieces."
"Why?" asked Angel sharply. "He seemed very capable. You said yourself that he was honest and efficient."
Mr. Thicknesse smiled.
"How practical you are becoming, Mary, my love. I suppose I kept him short of money; then there was the rising last year and there's been a good deal of sickness among the slaves—" He broke off abruptly, as he always did when he seemed about to give his wife his confidence.
She did not resent this, for indeed she did not wish to be bothered with his affairs. She was endeavouring with the new shrewdness that had come to her, since she had met John Gordon, to adjust her character to her circumstances. She had lost easily many hypocrisies that she had believed ingrained into her disposition; she had taken down many of the texts and china plaques that she had brought over with her and hung up in her room; she hardly ever opened her Bible, and she went to the Church in the nearby village as seldom as possible. She brooded over herself a great deal, she tried to work out a definite plan of life, she thought over the future, she condemned her own folly even in suffering those cramped days when she had the means of freedom; yes, she had had money from the moment she had written her first novel, she might have defied them all and gone to seek her own life of pleasure; she had heard of women who had done that, but she had always been afraid, afraid of God, afraid of her parents, afraid of Aunt Dinnies, afraid of what people would say.
Yes, while she had paid for other people to live as they wished, she had had to content herself with petty distractions, the buying of clothes, seats in the theatre, an odd week at Bath or Brighton. Her books had been her one refuge, and even there she had been pursued by tradition and convention; she had had to write what people expected her to write; she had had to pretend to be pious and sentimental and meek and loving; she had had to extol virtues that she had never understood, and to condemn vices of which she knew nothing. Again and again she had written of love and it had amused her to do so, but never had she been allowed to put on paper her real thoughts on this subject.
Now she was a married woman and had tied herself up with a master. By the
law of her country he owned her and all her property and everything she might
ever have in the future. She resented this, though vaguely, without
bitterness, and in a lazy fashion she watched out for some way to evade and
to thwart him.
SHE WAS OFTEN ALONE; her husband would go frequently to Kingston or Port Royal or Spanish Town to buy or sell slaves, to negotiate his merchandise, to visit his friends. Angel believed that he really was applying himself diligently to the estate, and doing this with a certain dislike of his task, using the desperate energy of a man who snatches at any expedient to stave off ruin. Even when he was with her she did not see very much of him—he was nearly always abroad in the fields supervising the overseers of the slaves, or in the boiler-house or at the mills or riding on visits to other penns or the village; he never offered to take her with him; he declared there were no white women on these other estates, and if she wished for the company of her own sex she might go into Kingston or Spanish Town.
Twice she took advantage of this offer and drove in a neat little sulky to Spanish Town, where she bought muslins and gauzes and great grass hats and strings of coloured beads, seeds made into necklaces, and called on Laura Thwaites, whose husband was a member of the Assembly, and who therefore had to live in Kingston during the winter. The word winter seemed odd to Angel, for the climate was so mild and warm, hotter than an English summer.
Mrs. Thwaites received her with a lazy curiosity. All these Englishwomen seemed to Angel to be lazy; there was really nothing for them to do; she knew that apart from her own writing there was nothing for her to do. She did not go into Spanish Town to buy finery, or to visit Laura Thwaites; she wanted to enter again the great brick church where she had met John Gordon; she received a keen pleasure from standing before the mural tablet to his father; it was strange, even to herself, the delight she took in reading the name on the stone and tracing with her finger the coat-of-arms beneath, standing where he must have often stood. She had a high hope that she might meet him there again, but on each occasion the still interior of the church was empty save for herself.
He had not kept his promise to come to see her, and she had never heard of him again; she could not bring herself to speak of him to her husband, or to her acquaintances like Laura Thwaites, and so for all the part he had in her daily life he might have been nothing but a day-dream; yet she was not greatly saddened. So strong had been the impression the young man had made on her and such joy had she received from their meeting that the glow of it illuminated the weeks for her as the sun will gild the sky long after it has set. She was sure, too, that one day she must meet him again, and she tried on the lonely hot afternoons to go abroad across her husband's estate, to find her way about what was to her a wilderness, in the hope that she might come across John Gordon's estate; her husband had forbidden her to go out alone, but when he was away she took no heed of his commands.
Her day was divided into rhythmic divisions by the blowing of the conchs which summoned the slaves to their labours, their food and their rest; even when she had wandered far to the boiler-house, hidden by the dense fig trees and the fields of waving canes and could no longer see her own home with the green shutters, verandah and sloping roof, nor the negro village, she would still hear, echoing among the strange flowers, the note of the shell. Once she visited the negroes' quarters and was filled with a quick disgust of what she saw. She detested the slaves; all her sentimental pity for them had vanished as soon as she had lived among them; she agreed with her husband that they were lazy, lying and cheating; their crude superstitions seemed to her revolting; their huts were dirty and the small pieces of land which they had to cultivate for themselves in their spare leisure were ill-kept.
Angel saw many sick children. There were always, she was told, some of them in the hospital. She would not enter the low, white lazar house for fear of the infection; the doctor, Edward Morton, an elderly, decrepit-looking man, dirty himself and reeking of alcohol and tobacco, inspired her with no confidence; she disliked, too, the slipshod but ardent young clergyman who came over from the village of Sinclair now and then to minister to the spiritual needs of the slaves. Most of these were supposed to be Christians, but Mr. Thicknesse had told Angel that many of the negroes still held to their savage rites and superstitions; she had herself seen them dancing and heard them singing, sometimes with an anguished ecstasy, sometimes with a jolly humour that did not seem to her in the least Christian, nor could she associate the orgies which the negroes held at Christmas with that festival as she had known it in England.
She soon came to adopt her husband's attitude and to regard the slaves as so many chattels; she kept herself apart from them as much as possible and refused the many attempts at friendliness and faithful devotion offered her by Flora, Polly and Rosa, who worked in the house. She told them sharply to keep out of her sight as much as possible, and she soon discovered they were like children or animals—a few rebuffs and they shrank entirely into themselves, leaving her timidly alone; yet she liked to think she was an object of admiration and curiosity; they regarded her, she was sure, with a kind of amazed respect, and she was pleased herself by the conscious contrasts of her fairness with all these sallow or brown skins.
There was only one among these base, wretched creatures in whom she took any interest—that was the young mulatto woman, Luna, who lived apart from the negro village in a but with her grandmother, an ancient negress who had the reputation, Angel soon learned, of being a witch-doctor or Obeah. Luna seemed to do very little work—she was always sauntering and idling about; playing with the gold bangles on her perfect arm, twirling a flower between her lips, leaning against the trunk of the pimento tree, which was so much the colour of her own exquisite body, or lolling under the scarlet umbrella with the great tuft of feathers and the fringe. At the Christmas festival she had taken the main part and had appeared under a palanquin like a goddess, borne by four negroes in suits the colour of acid-green apples.
"Why doesn't that girl work?" Angel asked of her husband. "It seems to me that a great many of the women don't work—that girl in particular is lazy." She added with a spice of malice. "I should like to have her in the house. She looks cleaner than some of the others."
"Leave the slaves to me, my love," he replied. "It will be useless for you to meddle. It doesn't pay to make the young women work too hard—we want them to have strong children."
Angel was profoundly shocked.
"Are they married, these people?" she stammered.
"Some of them, yes. You shouldn't concern yourself about it."
But Angel returned to her point. She did not like the girl; she thought she was idle, even insolent.
"And that old woman with whom she lives is a horrible creature. The doctor told me she is supposed to work charms and raise duppies as they call them—ghosts or spirits, I think they mean. Why don't you sell her or put her out of the place?"
"My dear girl, who'd buy that old hag? Besides, she has her uses—she keeps them quiet. It is worth while to get on the right side of her—bribe the witch woman and you can do what you like with the whole crowd." And again Mr. Thicknesse, with a good deal of firmness, advised his wife to leave the subject of the slaves alone.
"Why don't you get on with your new novel?—that Golden Violet isn't finished yet."
"I don't seem able to settle to it here. Never mind, it will soon be done. I'm writing a description of the floral games. Would you like to read it?"
Mr. Thicknesse at once excused himself. "I have not time."
"No," said Angel quickly, "no time for my work, not much time for me, either, have you?"
This was the first sign of open rebellion she had given him and she was herself surprised by it; she put her hand to her mouth as if to take back her words and the look in her husband's small, deep-set eyes frightened her.
"Have you anything more to complain of?" he asked. "First the slaves, and now my inattention. Are you bored or lonely? You may, if you wish, go and live in Spanish Town, you know. The house is always ready, it'll make no difference to me."
She did not reply and he added in a kinder tone:
"Why don't you go? There's a certain amount of society there. At least, while the Assembly sits."
As she did not answer, he added quietly: "Very well, then, stay here. I shall be absent for a few days. The head man, the one we call the Duke of Bath, will be at your service until I return. You can trust him. He was very fond of my mother and sister."
"What a stupid name to give a negro!" exclaimed Angel exasperated. "And as if I could have anything to do with these black savages."
"They're to be trusted," he replied negligently. "You are not really isolated here. In a few hours you can get a message to Spanish Town. Besides, there's Doctor Morton and that young parson Fremantle, who comes in from the village. Good-bye."
He was gone, and although she told herself she disliked him, Angel felt her loneliness increase. Her sense of desolation sharpened her resolution. After all, it was good to have a few days entirely to herself; surely she would be a very stupid woman if she could not discover where John Gordon was to be found, and his estate. She had two failures. Once, wandering till she was footsore through what was to her a jungle of strange plants, she had come, amidst the dense foliage of a mango grove, upon a mausoleum built in the classic style and showing dimly white in the darkness of the trees. The elegant metal gate had not been locked and Angel had ventured to enter; on a black ebony slab raised in the centre of the building were three coffins covered with palls which were already perishing; other coffins rested on trestles. Compelled by a disgusted curiosity Angel had lifted the silken braid and looked upon the brass plate; her husband's parents and a sister who had died at the age of eighteen—Betty Thicknesse.
Angel had left the mausoleum hurriedly, feeling outraged and offended to think that it should be there.
"I suppose he thinks that I shall lie there some day"—and the thought held for her an unutterable horror, though when she had been in England she had never concerned herself about the possible place of her burial. Taking no care as to what direction she went in, she had come upon a dark and fetid morass, broken by bushes of black withe, which were hung with festoons of purple-berried nightshade. She had missed her way in a landscape that had become suddenly fearful, and the bats were fluttering among the scarlet tassels of the Malay apple, the owls were abroad hooting in the enormous black boughs of the huge cedars before she reached home. She had also been frightened by seeing black and yellow snakes twisting out of her path, and when she had returned to the house she had felt shaken and forlorn.
Though she did not venture to let her husband know that she had been abroad alone she could not forbear telling him that she had heard of the mausoleum.
"Every large estate has such a vault," he had replied indifferently. "Why not? It is an English custom."
"I think it should be sealed up," said Angel emphatically.
"Why, my dear? We are not immortal. That reminds me, I must ask Fremantle for the keys of the vault. I left them with him."
Angel did not dare to betray herself by mentioning that the mausoleum was
unlocked; but she decided to find some occasion for attracting attention to
the carelessness of the young clergyman whom she disliked for his fanatic
sympathy with the slaves, and she thought to herself in a panic—"I
won't die here and lie among his dead in that lonely wood."
THE SPRING HAD CAST a brilliant enchantment over the Island when Angel Thicknesse found her next opportunity of searching for John Gordon's estate; she had become very idle, fitting her days into a precise pattern of monotony that was not displeasing.
Writing, sketching, sewing, day-dreaming filled her time; she hardly noticed the complete estrangement from her husband, she took no interest in his affairs; she lost the desire to go into Spanish Town or the village of Sinclair; the slaves and the few white people whom she saw were merely part of the landscape to her; the hours, drowsy as dropped blossoms, passed by with the hard sunshine, with mountain winds, with sheets of strong rain; passed by with the rising and setting of moon and stars white with heat, with the perfume of flower and leaf, with budding and blooming of the vivid flowers.
When the Duke of Bath, the old negro who was her especial guardian, was at the boiler-house and Flora had been sent for to the hospital where her daughter was dying, Angel made her second attempt to discover Gordon Penn.
Wandering at random she had come upon the deserted farm of which her husband had told her; the estate, ruined by ill-luck or ill-management, had long since been abandoned; the sugarcanes were growing wild and festooned with the scarlet and yellow blossoms of the hibiscus and the crimson of the Jamaica rose; decayed trees covered with fungus grew near the one-storeyed house, the roof of which had fallen in; the verandah and the steps were concealed behind the thick tendrils of luscious creepers such as grew over Angel's own house. About the ruined gate hung the green bells striped with purple of the calabash tree, and beyond, the blackness of the mighty cedars had risen dark and remote as clouds into the white brilliancy of the sky. Angel, with that odd feeling of expectancy always raised by a lonely house in a desolate place, had put aside the thick, clean tendrils and leaves of the creeper, mounted the stone steps grown with lichen and entered the deserted rooms; they were hung with wasp nests, which appeared to her monstrous, uncouth, and inspired her with disgust.
A few discarded articles were on the moss-grown floor, decayed, almost unrecognisable—a woman's pale scarf with a tinsel stripe, a straw hat half eaten away by insects, a baby's rattle of white coral. In the window places and in the cracks of the wall, out of the broken boards, bright, vivid and heavy-looking flowers and ferns were sprouting; the long-tongued hibiscus, the rose-lilac sorrel, black-eyed Susan, and delicate fronds of maidenhair.
Angel had left the place with a cautious step and returned home
disappointed and pensive to the familiar fields.
NOW SHE INTENDED to take a more sensible way of finding Mr. John Gordon's estate. Conquering her repulsion she sought out the old slave so oddly called the Duke of Bath; he was in the barbecue, the paved court where the pimento berries were dried, and Angel found him directing a few negroes who were repairing the banking of the beds; the warm air was full of the odours of the glossy black berries of the allspice which lingered from the last season's picking and still clung to the wooden rakes and baskets piled in the shed which was shaded by the rigid leaves of the wild grape.
Angel kept well away from the negro, whose striped cotton shirt was open on his broad, black breast, whose grey hair curled crisply under his palm-leaf hat.
With a smile intended for friendliness she asked how she could find the neighbouring farm? She could not bring herself to speak the name that had been for so long cherished in her heart.
"I don't mean the deserted one. I've been there."
The negro looked stupid, frightened, and shook his head as if he did not understand; his muttered speech was unintelligible to Angel.
"He'll repeat every word I say to his master," she thought. "I must be careful."
"Isn't there any other farm or estate anywhere near here?" Angel said aloud. "You see, I'm rather lonely, I thought there might be some white women."
The negro understood her now. There were no white ladies, he said, nearer than Spanish Town. Massa Gordon had a penn about two miles distant.
"I've never heard of him," lied Angel glibly. She fanned herself with the broad leaves of palm she carried. "Doesn't my husband, Massa Thicknesse, know him—this other penn keeper?"
The old slave, either sly or stupid, shook his head and grinned.
"Only two miles," repeated Angel. "How does one get there?"
She was thinking rapidly—"would it be indecorous for me to go, would my husband mind, what are the rules for women in this country? If I were at home I couldn't do it, but here, I'd take one of the servants if they were not all black—" It was an enchanting day. She felt both burdened and famished in spirit. She took her bold, cunning resolution:
"I want to know how to get to Mr. Gordon's house."
The slave told her, gesticulating with his strong, bent fingers.
It was simple enough; odd that she had made two mistakes. You walked through the indigo fields behind the boiler-house, past where the ginger was being planted, a few minutes through the woods and you were on the highway, and then it was straight on to the left.
"It's odd," smiled Angel, wasting on the staring negro the affectations of a London drawing-room, "that one should have so near a neighbour and never have seen him."
She returned slowly to the house, pleased and excited. Polly and Rosa were polishing the floor; they had taken oranges from the winter store, cut them in half, and rubbed them all over the parquet; they then walked up and down, polishing the wood with the juice by means of linen rags held between their toes.
"Hateful creatures," said Angel to herself, bolting her bedroom door.
She took the greatest pains with her preparations; she had all the gleaming day before her. Breakfast was over, the slaves had gone back to their work after their mess of plantains, yams and sweet potatoes.
First, she altered her room; she took down the funeral cards and remaining texts and engravings of poets and divines and laid them in the long cedar-wood box in which she kept some of her clothes. Then she removed from the table beside the muslin-curtained bed the books that her father had given her, forcing her to promise to keep them always near her. Near her, very well, but not where she could see them; they, too, went into the cedar-wood box, sermons, moral instructions, dismal diatribes on death and disaster, let them be shut away.
She always wore white now; she had had several expensive dresses made for her in Kingston and Spanish Town; it was her diversion to go from one dressmaker to another and order these costly gowns. Her husband gave her hardly any money; she only had a small purse of coins. What did she need to spend money on, he had asked. She had smiled and her fripperies had gone to his account.
She took out her last dress, unworn, almost untouched, white and flounced, flimsy and flowing; she put it on and tied a pale-blue sash round her waist; she took out her broad-leaved hat and fastened it under her chin; when she had combed out her smooth, fair hair it seemed to her that it had grown since she had been in the Island; why, it must be nearly a yard in length—she could almost sit on it; was not that twist of fair hair considered a great beauty in this Island inhabited by negroes?
Her complexion, too, was brilliantly pale, and the hat cast a becoming shade over her face; nor had she lost the graceful walk that she had acquired with so much care. She was pleased with herself as she passed down the stone steps that led from the verandah to the garden; the scarlet buds of the opulent flowers on the creeper caught at her as she passed.
In England it would have been spring; she did not know what was the name of the season here; there had been buttercups in the fields at Christmas; the heavy, lustrous and luscious fruits, the pineapples, the guavas, the dark little grapes, the cashews, plums, pears and rose apples that had seemed to overwhelm the Island as if it were a table too well spread when she had arrived, had gone. It had been an odd winter—she had seen a lunar rainbow in January, pale colours hanging in a sickle round the white moon above the dark boughs of the cedars. It was never really dark; there was no real night any more than there was any real winter; she could read or thread a needle at any time; the stars threw shadows like the moon in England; there were flowers everywhere, hard and large and brilliant flowers, all glossy and undefaced by decay or disease.
Angel twirled a little parasol of buttercup colour that she had bought in Spanish Town the day that she had last looked at the tablet to the memory of John Gordon's father. As she passed by the glossy ribbons of the sugar-canes, their rustling in the light breeze made a constant concert with the cooing of doves in the nearby arnotto trees covered with rosy blossom and the buzz of some unseen insects hidden in the ground ferns.
She went past the boiler-house where the huge, curved fig leaves screened the white wall; there were some wagons outside being loaded with puncheons of rum and hogsheads of sugar for Kingston. The negroes were working slowly, lazily, many of them had white trumpet flowers between their mauve lips or behind their ears. She passed an hibiscus tree loaded with scarlet and white blossom; tiny yellow and blue butterflies floated before her; little pale canaries the colour of lime fruit flew in and out of the hanging purple branches of the cabbage trees.
She reached the highroad, which was fenced from the plantation by logwood stakes hung with the gorgeous flower, the Pride of Barbados—the orange and scarlet bells quivered in the heat. She had now left her husband's plantation, and carefully following the Duke of Bath's directions she proceeded along the highroad, twirling her parasol on her shoulder; the way was edged with ferns, violet and white forget-me-nots and lilac sorrel. She felt discontented, greedy and alert, anxious to indulge in a strong passionate action; she thought of her husband with resentment; he had taken her money and neglected her; worst offence of all, he did not trouble to conceal the fact that she bored him.
"I don't know him. If I did know him I believe I should hate him."
It seemed to her in her present mood that it would be as good to hate as to love; she had no desire to be meek or generous or pious or forgiving, nor anything that she had been. She believed that in escaping from England she had escaped from sham.
She was brought up sharp by meeting Edward Fremantle as she turned the edge of a grove of wild tamarind; its dark, fernlike foliage was erect and brilliant in the heat.
"So far from home and alone, Mrs. Thicknesse! Shall I accompany you?"
Angel disliked the gaunt, untidy young man whose narrow fanatic piety was too much of the type which had frightened and deadened her own childhood.
"I was looking for places to sketch. There was a bridge and a gorge—my husband can never find time to take me there."
"Mr. Thicknesse is away?"
"Yes—in Kingston. He thinks I am quite safe here."
"I am sure you are, Mrs. Thicknesse. I know these people very well, better than your husband does."
"These people? The slaves?"
"Yes, I live among them. I like them." Mr. Fremantle added earnestly: "I am sorry that you come so seldom to church, Mrs. Thicknesse, and never to the village nor the hospital. You could do a great deal of good among the women and children."
"No, I couldn't, I dislike them too much." Angel was nettled at this rebuke and retaliated: "I chanced on the Thicknesse vault and found it unlocked. I think, sir, that you have the keys?"
Unperturbed the young man replied: "I shall give them to Mr. Thicknesse whenever he asks for them. You understand why, ma'am, I never come to your house? I work for the emancipation of the slaves, and only a few of the planters support me."
Angel gathered up her flowing skirts.
"I suppose so. You can't expect them to ruin themselves. But—about the mausoleum—will you lock it, please?"
"Certainly, if you wish, but it is quite safe. The negroes think it is haunted by Miss Betty's duppy."
"Miss Betty's duppy!"
"The ghost of Miss Thicknesse, who was the last person buried there. Will you walk back with me, ma'am?"
"No. I am just returning," lied Angel. "But I want to wander along by myself."
"As you please. You know you are on the edge of Venables Penn? The land belongs to a friend of mine, Mr. Gordon. Will you forgive me, I am in a hurry to reach the hospital."
"Some of the slaves ill again?"
"Yes, they are not really strong. Theirs is an unnatural life. Several of the children are dying of 'yaws' as they call it."
"I wonder you can go near them—what good can you do?"
The young man's plain face brightened.
"I bring them comfort," he said. "You have no idea—"
He passed on abruptly, as if he disdained to discuss serious, nay, sacred matters with Angel Thicknesse. She at once forgot him; a break in the groove showed her the distant mountain-side brightened by the huge showy trees bearing coronals of large leaves and gorgeous plumes of rosy-purple blossoms, and the noble shape of the coratoe or Maypole with its fleshy leaves and the vivid yellow flowers crowning the summit; beyond, the violet hills cleft by the deep purple of valleys, receded into the lilac azure of the sky.
Only one foolishness spoiled Angel's pleasure; Miss Betty's duppy! The words were ridiculous. What did the negroes mean? Did they think they had seen Elizabeth Thicknesse, in the fashion of twenty years ago, walking in the wood?
Angel's thoughts dwelt unpleasantly on the picture of the young girl dying—perhaps in the very chamber she herself now occupied—and being carried out to that lonely vault through all the bold, scented beauty of the Island.
"I suppose that he would gladly send me there," she thought. "He doesn't
like me—he has had my money and I am in the way, no doubt."
ANGEL MOVED SLOWLY, breathing deeply in the heat. The road wound over a stretch of marshy ground; on either side were the water-thrushes and the May birds; she saw again the black and yellow snakes that had frightened her before; now she knew they were harmless she looked at them curiously; they were beautiful and hateful, like the girl Luna. She thought of the mulatto with pain, envying her her beauty, her insolence, her freedom. Yes, she, the Englishwoman, envied the slave, who seemed to enjoy more liberty than she could ever hope to have. She had seen the girl dancing, and she, Angel Cowley, had never danced except in the dull classes of her boarding-school; no, illness, decorum, custom—all had prevented her from ever attending a ball. She had seen Luna carried in a palanquin, she had seen her flaunting her scarlet umbrella with the tuft of feathers; she would like to have done those things; she would like to have stood idle under the pimento trees, passing gold bracelets up and down her arm. Of course, these wishes were ridiculous; she could not expose them to the laughter of her husband by asking for a palanquin, golden bracelets—because of that she detested Luna. She did not admit to herself her envy, her jealousy—she had stopped her thoughts when they touched cruelty; she had assured herself that she did not wish the mulatto any harm; she would not like to have seen her sold or beaten.
"But I hope," thought Angel, "she will keep out of my way." She justified herself as she went on her lonely walk. "Of course, the existence of such a creature is an outrage on decency." The old phrases clung to her, though the old thoughts were fading.
An odd sight at the roadside brought her up sharp. On a tall pole was
stuck a skull, from which sprouted a long tress of rusty-looking hair. Angel
crushed her white dress about her and walked warily; it took very little to
make her afraid; she was annoyed at her own lack of courage, because it
seemed to her that if she would have any of the things she now wanted out of
life, she would need courage.
THE ROAD OF SOFT mellow earth now divided and she stood hesitant. At the parting of the way was a tall, decayed tree. Out of the boughs grew tufts of fern and orchids—everywhere orchids, to Angel such strange flowers with their open, spotted mouths, twisting tendrils, amid livid colourings. She heard the cooings of the pea-doves. She now felt a little tired and hungry; it must be near midday, she thought; she thought she could catch the echoes of the conchs blowing across the plantations.
Supposing the slave with the ridiculous name had told her wrongly, and she was not near John Gordon's estate? And if she were, what would she say to him? Her violent, lovely dreams disappeared like bubbles; she began to think foolishly; she wished she had put a rose in her hat and made her dress more festive; perhaps he had forgotten her—why, indeed, should he have remembered her?
She turned by the black, fungus-laden tree and walked on, almost nauseated by the brilliant flowers, the lustrous leaves, by all the strange-shaped plants that were, to her thinking, so large that they threw the whole landscape out of focus. The little blue and yellow butterflies were always just ahead, like foolish guides who had themselves lost their way. The adventure which had seemed so romantic and lovely now had the air of a senseless irritating caprice.
Angel stood still on the red earth, which had stained the edges of her saffron shoes; then moved on aimlessly until the road became merged in vegetation, grasses, palms, creepers—she had taken the wrong way...a huge, silvery, barren plant, leafless and fine, like a network of gigantic spiders' webs, impeded her and confused her. She was about to turn back when she saw a little negress with an Osnaburg frock skirting the edge of the tangled silver sprays.
"I've lost my way," said the Englishwoman in the toneless voice she always used to inferiors. "Do you understand me?"
The black child answered in the dialect which Angel was beginning to understand quite easily. She was on Mr. John Gordon's estate, within the vicinity of his house.
She turned away from the web-like plants and followed the girl back the way she had come to the dividing point of the road, and to the decayed tree hanging with orchids and ferns; soon the rich, red soil of the road dipped past the sugar-canes. Angel noticed all the objects with which she had become familiar on her husband's estate—there were the fields of indigo and cotton, groves of pimento and other spice trees, in the distance was the boiler-house, the mills and the roofs of the negroes' huts, and there, in the middle, surrounded by a garden full of oleanders, cannas and metallic-looking palms, was the house; one storey, with a verandah and a sloping roof, an outside stone staircase, vivid green jalousies.
Thomas Thicknesse's wife came to a pause.
"Will you tell your master that an English lady is here, who is tired and would like to rest a little while?"
The black child nodded, grinned and ran off.
Angel sighed. It was quite true that she was exhausted and she tried to stop her thoughts—she could not endure to wonder if he would be pleased to see her and to give her a welcome, to wonder if he would know her again, if he had some explanation to offer for his unfulfilled promise and neglect. She tried to distract herself by listening to that concert which had scarcely ceased since she had left her home, the cooing of the doves, the waving of the canes one against the other above the buzz of the unseen insects in the wayside flowers.
A few moments elapsed and she saw John Gordon coming towards her; she saw him hasten his steps, and she felt as she had felt when she had seen him before in the church in Spanish Town, the satisfaction and yet the pain of his comeliness.
She had indeed no fault to find with his welcome. He received her with amaze and all the chivalrous surprise, with all the tender respect that she had hoped for; he seemed amazed, overwhelmed, gratified; his manner had the same tender courtesy that she had noted with such greedy thankfulness before. Her joy made her sincere. As her hand rested in his, she said:
"You did not come to see me, so I have come to see you."
As he did not immediately answer this reproach, she added:
"Do you not know my husband?"
"I have seen him, yes, but not very often. You know that he has been away for a long while at a time from the Island?"
"But you are neighbours and the place is so lonely, and I have never heard him mention you."
"It often happens like that. I suppose Mr. Thicknesse and I have not much in common. We have met in Spanish Town. I, too, have been away from the Island."
"I thought you said that you had never been in Europe?"
"Do you remember I said that? It is kind of you. No, not in Europe, but I have been in South America and Cuba. I have been occupied with this war with the Maroons and the slave rising, and not so very much on my estate. You will find it slightly neglected."
"My husband thinks that ours is neglected, too. I don't know what they should be like. The negroes are filthy creatures, are they not?"
"You dislike them?"
"Oh, yes. Don't you?"
"You're not happy then, at Venables. But let us come in out of the sun. Will you come into my house? You see," he smiled, "I know the rules and what should be done, but I have no wife, nor mother, nor sister."
That roused her curiosity, which was always avid about this man. He had no mother—she was dead, then; but her name had not been on the stone in Spanish Town church; yet, if he had a mausoleum like that at Venables, why was his father not buried there? She suppressed the foolish questions which arose from these foolish thoughts; she had a great and almost overwhelming desire to be frank with him, to confess everything to him, all her confusions and her complexities. Now she was with him she realised how much she needed a friend, companionship, someone in whom to confide. Her need became passionate, she trembled with the desire for it, as a starving man will tremble with the desire for food or water.
She followed him slowly up the stone stairs and into the house. It was a familiar shape, a cross forming the four-armed rooms, even more plainly furnished than was her own home, with a shelf of books and a table littered with not only the local gazettes but European newspapers. She looked at the titles of these books while he set a long chair piled with light-yellow silk cushions for her; they were Spanish, English, German and Latin, books which she knew the names of, but had never ventured to read. A dozen questions concerning this man pricked her mind. Why had he been content to live in Jamaica? How had he obtained his education? He had an air of finer breeding than any man she had met. Did he sit there alone in this over-rich, tropic scenery, reading those European philosophers?
As she accepted the chair he gave her, she said:
"I must know some more about you. You can't think how you interest me."
She had seldom spoken so frankly, with such forgetfulness of self, but custom soon overwhelmed the natural woman, so that she exclaimed awkwardly:
"Oh, I don't know why I said that. How stupid of me, how rude!"
He took a stool beside her; they had an air of making polite conversation; again she noted his formal speech—still enchanting.
"Why, of course, I am pleased, gratified. I live so quietly here. There are very few strangers who come farther than Spanish Town."
"Did you know my husband's first wife?"
"Oh, yes, I used to meet her shopping in Spanish Town, in Sinclair, too. I liked her; I think you would have liked her."
"She didn't die here," said Angel, on a note of self-defence. "I have seen her tomb in England. But I dare say the climate undermined her health."
"I don't know about that," replied Mr. Gordon with amiable courtesy. "I think the climate is very fine."
"But the Governor's wife died last year, and we have a mausoleum, you know. I went in there not long ago—there is a black ebony slab in the middle, on which are three coffins, and one is of my husband's young sister. She died when she was a girl."
"That might have happened anywhere. Surely young girls die in England." Nothing seemed to perturb Mr. Gordon's smiling serenity. "But those mausoleums are gloomy places, death amid so much beauty. My father said we should all lie in the churchyard at Spanish Town."
"I didn't see your mother's name there," said Angel.
"My mother? No. She died when she was away from home."
She thought that his charming face had clouded with grief at her indiscreet question, and she said in genuine contrition:
"Oh, I am so stupid to-day, so discourteous. I hardly know what I say or do. You see, I have been shut up—why, I've hardly marked the time—for several months now at Venables, and there's no one there but the negroes—"
"Well, he is away so much. To tell the truth, we're not the best of friends. I mean, there isn't much confidence between us. He has his business and his anxieties. He is trying to make the place pay so that he can get enough money to return to England."
"And you? What about you?"
"I don't know about myself. I am wondering. It's about myself I should like to talk to you. You'll think I'm crazed, but it seems natural to me to be crazed here."
"Does it? To me, the Island is just my everyday affair."
"Oh, how astonishing! To me, it's like a dream or a fairy-tale. I can't get used to it, the climate and the flowers and the negroes and the odd, odd sort of life one leads."
"Yes," he replied, "it must be very strange to you. England would be very strange to me. Are you tired? Would you like some refreshment? There is a bedroom, never used now, where you could rest. Shall I send one of the women to you?"
She shook her head. "I'll have some water presently, but now I want to talk. I feel greedy for that, to talk, and with you."
"Do you want to talk about yourself?" he asked delicately.
"Yes, and then I want to ask you about yourself."
She took off her broad-leaved hat and put her hands to her pale, smooth hair. Her desire that she might look pleasing in his eyes was like a prayer.
"I've been a fool," she said, "I've been all to pieces. I'm a writer, you know, a lady novelist."
"Ah, you write? Then you must know a great deal about life."
"No, I don't. I know nothing at all about life."
"About dreams, then?" he said quickly.
"No, nor much about them either. I didn't even dare to dream as I wanted to. When I was a girl, very young, it seemed all right. I just put down the fancies I had in my head, and they pleased me. But afterwards I had to write what other people expected. I liked it, too. It's fun to tell a story, isn't it?" She smiled wistfully. "And I always take pains with the grammar. Now that I've got out here, it seems that I can't do it any more. I've also written some verses, but I feel that they are just trash."
"Does it matter?" asked John Gordon. His agreeable voice was very low. "It's odd to me to think of a woman doing anything except just being a woman. We've had no lady novelists or poetesses here."
"I suppose not. And nobody has heard of me. I thought perhaps I should be a social success here. I don't know, what am I saying? I've changed since I have come here, since that day in Spanish Town. Why weren't you at the Governor's dinner?" she asked sharply.
"I do not like those formal, official occasions. I had seen the Governor that morning about the Maroons. You see, Mrs. Thicknesse, I have been His Excellency's emissary to the chief of the Maroons, poor old Cuffee. I have been able to do him some service."
"I thought so, I heard him mention your name afterwards in the withdrawing-room upstairs. A stupid woman was playing the harp and I was talking to Laura Thwaites."
"Sir William is a good friend of mine."
"Yes, he said that he believed in you and that you were a fine man. He seemed to admire you."
"Shall I take your hat?" he asked. "Would you like to put your feet up? On the chair, so?"
She crossed one foot over the other on the chaise-longue, and was glad to see how small they looked in the saffron shoes which were stained with the red dust of the road.
"Where is Mr. Thicknesse now?"
"He has gone away for two or three days and left me alone with all those negro servants. Don't you think that's hateful?"
"You mustn't be afraid of them, you know. You should make friends with them. It is quite easy to get their devotion."
"Is it? I hate them anyway, don't let us talk of them. I'm never going near their village, their chapel or their hospital again. I used to feel so sorry for them, but I don't now, not even when one of them gets beaten. I think that some of my husband's overseers are harsh men, but I don't feel sorry about it."
Her head sank back into the soft, yellow cushions and she stared at the window. Across the light lattice she could see the shape of leaves, firm, hard, and as green as jade; on a table near were some of his drawings of birds, neat, careful—the nightingale, the banana quit, the joggerhead.
"I'm talking nonsense," she said with her finger to her lips. "I don't really know what I'm saying. Now, tell me something about yourself," she added. "I suppose I mustn't stay long. Tell me." She sat up pleading like a child asking for a fairy story.
"Why, there's really nothing to tell you, Mrs. Thicknesse. I was born and bred on the Island and I inherited this estate. I think I understand the slaves and the Maroons—that's an ugly English word—Cimeroons, it should be. When there was trouble I offered my services to Sir William Hayes and went up into the mountains to the Cockpits for him with some of the soldiers. That's all. There's really been nothing else in my life."
"Do you live here alone?"
"Yes, my parents are dead, and I have neither brother nor sisters."
"Nor any other relations in the whole Island? Are you a member of the Assembly? You don't go to Spanish Town or Kingston in the winter? Are you a head magistrate like my husband or in the Militia?"
"None of those," he smiled, "except the last. We all have to be, you know, between the ages of eighteen and sixty."
She was disappointed. She had hoped that he was conspicuous, and wanted him to be so, wanted him honoured and important. She was annoyed that he was inferior to her husband in social standing. She was deeply and enthusiastically in love with him, and she would have liked to put him above all other men. She began instantly plotting, as enamoured women will, how she might take him away from his present obscurity and make him shine brilliantly, how she might make him great and splendid and yet keep him entirely for herself. How odd and what supreme good luck that he had not married! She longed to ask him, "Are you interested in me? Do you think I am pretty? Did you remember me? Are you glad that I have come?" She began instead to question him about many things that she could easily have asked her husband.
"How much do the slaves cost? Where do you buy them? Who are the overseers? What are the likely profits on sugar, on rum, and on the cotton?"
Mr. Gordon laughed.
"I might buy a negro, a healthy male, for about eighty pounds. A planter is forced to keep an overseer, who is generally a white man, for the first hundred slaves, and after that another free man for every seventy. The free blacks are worse off than the slaves—they live in laziness and misery. Their poverty is extreme, as there is no work for them to do in the Island. The slaves are better off. Yet I do what I can for the emancipation of the slaves. Most of the clergymen work for that, too."
"And who are these Maroons, these desperate, wild savages against whom you distinguished yourself?" Angel wished to avoid the tedious subject of the slaves.
"They mostly live in the Johnny Crow hills, and are hunters of the wild boar," he answered, amused at her curiosity. "They have their own settlements and towns—Accompony Town, Charles Town. They speak to one another with horns, from which they obtain a great variety of notes. It is pleasing and amusing to hear them echoing through the hills when one is riding in a lonely part. There are not more than three thousand of them. Now there is nothing to be afraid of—they are poor creatures, who ask for nothing but to be allowed to live in peace. Escaped slaves and some of the free blacks join them now and then—the Coromantees and the Cottawoods. But does this mean anything to you? You are quite safe, I assure you, on Venables Penn."
"I suppose so, I never think about it. What was that skull on a stick that I passed on the way here?"
"It was that of a man who was executed for murder. It was put there as a warning. Did it frighten you?"
"Why do the slaves rise and rebel if they're well and happy?"
"Some of them are cruelly treated," replied Mr. Gordon quietly. "A bad master has power of life and death over his negroes. Although there are laws against it, it is still possible for these wretched creatures to suffer the utmost pain and misery. Besides, slavery—the fact that they can be bought and sold—" He broke off. "And why are you questioning me on these subjects? I don't believe that you really care."
"No, I don't," said Angel. "It was just something to speak to you about. But I do feel a vague curiosity, too. Yes, and a horror."
"I came back from Government Penn yesterday," said Mr. Gordon irrelevantly. "I had been to see Sir William. He thinks there is going to be some more trouble. There has been a little marauding round Moor Town and Charles Town. He wishes to introduce the Spanish chasseurs. They come over here from Cuba with their dogs and they hunt out the Maroons in the mountains and in the interior where the white people and even our negroes cannot get."
"Hunt them with dogs!" exclaimed Angel.
"Yes, they are well-trained and very fierce, and their masters are very hardy. They have exterminated the native Indians in Cuba. They live on vegetables and a little salt."
"And they go on hunting, then," said Angel.
"Yes." Mr. Gordon smiled. He rose and leaned against the window, so that the shadow of the lattice bars and of the large leaves were across his handsome face. "Each of them has three large dogs, which are always kept muzzled and roped. They have with them other little dogs, 'finders' of keen scent that smell out the tracks of the Maroons. These chasseurs are armed with a little knife—which is razor sharp—and nothing else. They are honest, hardy and desperate, most temperate men who seldom fail of their prey. They are paid," he added, looking at Angel, "two hundred dollars for a three months' hunt."
"It sounds horrible," said Angel. "I hope none of them come my way."
"You will probably see them if they are imported again into the Island. They are tall, lean men, wearing a check cotton shirt open to show a crucifix on their bare chests, with a wide pair of trousers; they have straw hats made of morass thatch. Their one diversion when they are off duty is to smoke a segar. They wear odd boots of untanned leather, 'porco zopatos'—these are the legs of newly-killed hogs, into which they thrust their feet, letting the hide dry on their own flesh. Of course," added Mr. Gordon in a toneless voice, "they are white men and Christians—and so they are well paid and respected."
"Why don't you want them brought into the Island? What had you to say to the Governor?" asked Angel, sensing his reserve, his pain; she glanced at his drawings, the sight of them filled her with profound tenderness.
"It is unnecessary and cruel to hunt these poor wretches out in that manner. They can be treated with. I was successful once. This trouble would not have occurred again if the white men had kept their word. I told all this to Sir William Hayes, and he agreed with me—but he is not all-powerful in the Island. A twice-conquered country! What do the English care about anything save money—trade!"
Angel lay still on the silk cushions; the heat was over her like a veil. She was perfectly contented in this man's company—let him talk of what he would. She clasped her hands behind her fair hair, feeling beautifully at ease.
"Is it not strange," she said, "strange indeed that you and I should meet like this. Oh, I never thought of this when I got on board the boat at Gravesend—the Canterbury Fair it was, and we had a smooth voyage."
"A lucky voyage for me," he said.
"Was it?" Angel rose to her feet. "Are you glad, then, that I came to this place?"
He did not answer, but kept his face averted from her. He was looking through the slats of the lattice into the deep green of the leaves.
"Will you come some day," he said after a second's pause, "and see my estate, and how my slaves live? There is a doctor here and a Wesleyan minister—both are white men. We do what we can. I should like you to see for yourself the result."
"I will come whenever you wish, you shall show me whatever you wish. I will go now."
Yes, she was suddenly anxious to be gone, as one with a lapful of treasures wishes to run into a quiet corner to examine them. She wanted to be away in the solitude of her own chamber, with the door locked against the slaves, that she could con over how he had looked, how he had spoken, and gloat greedily over the promise of the future.
They stood side by side in silence for a moment; she was sure that he liked her, admired her. That tender regard he turned on her could not be for every woman whom he met. Every woman!—how was it that he was not wedded or betrothed? There must be some marriageable girls in the Island—he had no air of a misanthrope or a hermit.
His appearance now, when she had come upon him unawares, was as elegant as it had been when she had met him in the church in Spanish Town. It was a delicious thought to Angel that John Gordon lived thus secluded because he was too fastidious to be pleased by anyone whom he had as yet met, and that she had at length satisfied his exquisite taste.
She picked up her hat and the buttercup-coloured parasol. He did not ask her to stay longer and they left the shadowed room, passed down the stone steps that led from the verandah into the garden, full of nodding bells and stars pendent from delicate boughs. When they reached the gate a party of negroes was going past, returning to their work; they were singing a chant with an odd kind of rhythm, which they emphasized by waving their hands up and down. Angel could catch some of the words, which seemed to her very odd.
Take him to de gully
Take him to de gully
But bringee back de frock and de board.
Oh, Massa, Massa! me no deadee yet
Take him to de gully,
Take him to de gully,
Carry him along!
"What is it they sing?" she asked.
"They call that 'The Tale of the Frock and the Board.' Don't ask what it means. It refers to some cruel deeds that were done here once."
"But I'd like to know. I must know all I possibly can. I've got to get things straight, you see."
"Will it help you to know about cruelty?" He looked at her quickly. "Well, there was an owner here who used to grudge the time and money that a sick slave cost, so when he saw that one of these poor wretches was incurable, he used to have him taken out to a gully and thrown down it to die. And the slaves who were commanded to do this were always told to bring home the frock that this man wore and the board on which he had been lying."
"That must be long ago," said Angel. "People don't do things like that now, do they?"
"I don't know. Sick slaves are a nuisance and an expense, and these people think it kinder to find means of allowing them to die."
As he opened the gate for her, she asked impulsively:
"Tell me, you must have something you hold by, living like this, and not believing, I think, in any of it. I mean, you don't like it, do you, having slaves, the way people behave in the Island? Then, those books you read—yet you've never been to Europe."
"I have had some good friends here—one was a doctor, Giles Pennyfeather, the other a Moravian minister, Herr Klaus, a German. They taught me a good deal beyond book learning. They are both dead now. Among other things they taught me—well, a few scraps of philosophy, I have selected, Mrs. Thicknesse, this. One is born into a world one did not make, that one does not like. What you want, and what life offers, do not fit together. Well, then, there is nothing for it but to try to get as little unpleasantness as possible out of a condition of things that one finds, perhaps, odious."
"Why don't you return home?" asked Angel. "I suppose there's no need for you to live here? Why don't you do what my husband's doing, save up enough money to return home?"
"This is my home," he replied, and smiled at her suddenly. "You have forgotten that. Jamaica. But," he added softly, "I like the Indian name. Xaymaca—my country."
"But it can't be. Scotland must be your home. It doesn't matter that you were born here. Don't you ever feel homesick for the North?"
"I don't know. I've felt sick in the way you mean, in the heart and soul, many times. I saw an Algerian corsair off the coast not long ago. I thought I would have given the rest of my life to have been aboard her for two years or so—and yet that's a stupid thought, they're nothing but a set of scoundrelly cutthroats. It was the illusion of liberty, the swell of the sails, the buccaneer's flag."
"It seems as if we all of us wanted to be free, we all of us were afraid."
"Will you stay a little longer?"
"No, I interrupt your work."
"I've little to do to-day. I was doing a little water-colour painting when you came—and thinking of the mountains."
"I would rather go now. I shall come again."
Her own words reminded her of the false turn she had taken. "I met a little negress in an Osnaburg frock who showed me the way, otherwise I should have been lost. I came upon a field of the strangest plants, like spiders' webs."
"Yes, we call that dodder—the tangled, leafless stems are like huge spiders' webs, are they not?"
"Yes, I found them, somehow, frightening. And Mr. Fremantle said something this morning—he said that our mausoleum was quite safe, even unlocked, because the negroes were afraid of Miss Betty's duppy—"
"Yes, it sounds shocking," he agreed gravely, "I know. These people have their fancies—'neger tricks' and 'nancy stories,' as they call them. They are afraid of the dead, of course—but why should you be," he added, suddenly turning on her his clear dark eyes, "there is nothing in the Island to hurt anyone—nothing."
She did not answer; she was impressed by the feeling that this man who seemed so gentle, even soft, was absolutely fearless, and she realised, in a baffled fashion, how rare was this quality of serene courage. She refused his escort across his estate and went slowly on her way. Through the hot air drifted the plaintive rhythm:
Take him to de gully
Take him to de gully
But bringee back de frock and de board.
Oh, Massa, Massa! me no deadee yet
Take him to de gully,
Take him to de gully,
Carry him along!
THE leaves of angel's novel fluttered around her on the polished floor. She wrote on doggedly, mechanically, while her thoughts were far away from Toulouse and the Troubadours. Things of which she could never write, things which her readers would never suspect her of knowing, occupied her mind. She knew she had changed so completely in the last few months that she marvelled that her husband did not startle when he saw her, exclaiming: "Who is this stranger?"
She tolerated Thomas Thicknesse, and was even able to simulate a kindly interest in his affairs, to listen to his complaints of the negroes, to his lamentations about the badness of trade, to his caustic comments on the administration of the Island, with a certain show of sympathy. She affected to be interested when he told her of the cases he had tried as Magistrate of the Parish, those that were to be kept till the next Assizes, and those which he had dealt with summarily himself—all this to Angel was dry, even disgusting, and she was hostile to all he had to say about the measures likely to be taken against the possible rising of the Maroons. This antagonism rose in her breast so readily because she knew that John Gordon was on the other side; where her husband was for violent measures John Gordon was for temperate methods; all this show of interest, sympathy, and kindliness on Angel's part was on the surface; underneath she was profoundly indifferent to the man, and ready, should anything provoke her, to hate him.
Whenever they spoke about money, which was not often, they quarrelled, briefly and bitterly. He often reproached her with the slow progress of her novel—would the thing never be finished?
Once he was indiscreet enough to say: "Surely it doesn't take you long to scribble off nonsense like that?"
She had then broken out passionately, accusing him of hypocrisy. Had he not, when he was wishful to marry her, praised her work? Did he not find the money useful? Thomas Thicknesse did not trouble to deny these charges. He reminded her that she would earn very little at her present rate of work. The bill for her contribution to the Christmas Annual had come in and the money had been spent. He wanted to buy new sugarcanes, he wanted to build a new boiler-house, he wished to purchase more slaves...
"You want, I suppose, to go into Spanish Town and gamble," said Angel, interrupting his emphatic speech.
By then she had learnt something of his habits and lost something of her own squeamishness. She could now speak easily of matters, which, but a year before, would have made her blush. He reminded her that he had to have his relaxations and pleasures, and that he gambled, smoked and drank less than most of the planters did when they went into the towns.
"And what are my pleasures?" said Angel slyly.
She asked this aimless question out of pure malice, for she had all the joy she wanted in her secret acquaintance with John Gordon, and in reality it suited her very well that her husband should be away so frequently; but his answer angered her, it was unexpected and she thought unjust.
"You mustn't spend so much money at the dressmaker's and the milliner's. I've had some high bills in. What do you want with all these clothes? You must cut it all down, my dear. You can't take an allowance like that unless you earn a good deal more money than you seem to be able to do at present."
"But you had all my money," she exclaimed, "all!"
"Bah!" he said impatiently, "we've talked of that before, your dowry and your expenses. It seems to me, my charming Mary, I've hampered myself with a penniless and helpless wife. After all, if you're not going to write novels, what are you going to do? This establishment is run anyhow. I don't want to make hurtful comparisons, but Camilla contrived things very differently."
"Oh, Camilla contrived, did she!" exclaimed Angel, stung to unbecoming anger.
"Yes, ma'am, that she did, and pretty well, too. And she was a sick woman. Now I can see nothing but waste and extravagance. Don't you suppose that all these black women you have in the house see your incompetence and take advantage of it?"
"I told you from the first I never could endure to mingle with slaves. You should have allowed me to have a white servant."
"I dare say," replied Mr. Thicknesse dryly, "and then there would have been two of you on my hands, to spend and to squander. Take a little heed, I pray you, Mary, for remember, though you may dislike me, if I am ruined you will be ruined too."
Angel remembered this threat as she wearily tore across the pages she had written. If she could no longer write her popular romances she would indeed be penniless. When she had known nothing of love she had been able to write endless love scenes that had completely satisfied her readers. Now that she thought of nothing but love herself in all her waking hours, and dreamed of it when she slept, she was incapable of putting a word of her experience on paper. She began to hate the poor, thin puppets whom once she had so delighted in; she was no longer interested in them or in the circulating libraries, or the publishers, or the readers, or the editors of the Keepsakes and the Annuals. She was only interested in herself and in John Gordon.
He was away with Sir William Hayes at Government Penn, and that left her days very empty. She had passed that peaceful prelude to her passion when she was satisfied with dreaming; she wanted now to see him often, to be with him, to listen to him, to walk with him, to discuss his affairs and her grievances. It was easy for her to manage this even when her husband was at home; she had so many hours to herself, and Mr. Gordon's estate was so close to Venables Penn; he had shown her a short cut past the field where the dodders grew, where there was a limestone bathing-pool filled with lily-strewn water that seemed always blue, and water-hyacinths, hung with great tresses of fern.
There was no one to observe them but the slaves, and they might be
disregarded as if they were cattle; besides, she argued, there was nothing
strange in her acquaintance with her neighbour; it was natural that she, with
nothing to do, should stroll casually through the countryside so odd to her,
natural that she should meet the nearest white man. She almost wished that
Mr. Thicknesse would discover her passionate friendship and reproach her with
it; she had all her retorts so ready, so keen-edged, waiting; she wanted to
come to issues with her husband, yet she knew that it would not be wise to do
so. With a sigh she returned to her work.
ANGEL LEFT THE HOUSE at dawn one day to see a spectacle of which John Gordon had often told her, in his stately, enthusiastic language. After early summer it would not be possible to see the flight of these purple butterflies named Urania, which could only be observed soon after sunrise and which disappeared by eight or nine in the morning. Angel wished that she could share this experience with the man whom she, as she believed, so deeply and sweetly loved. As this was not possible she contented herself with going out alone, past the cotton and sugar plantations, past the mill, under the waving boughs of the wild olive grove, out into a clearing, and waiting for those heavenly butterflies to appear; close to a stream edged with sorrel and forget-me-not, running by a cluster of rose-bushes and a grove of palms seemed to her a fitting spot in which to pause.
Soon after the notes of the shell blown to arouse the slaves quivered in the hot air, she saw these gorgeous insects, purple as a regal robe and glittering as if dusted with gold, rise from the ferny ground a few paces away and mount high into the air, which, with the sudden coming of the dawn, was stained a violet blue. John Gordon had told her when he had shown his drawings of Urania of this rare and lovely sight, and she would have admired it for his sake even if she had not found it herself so exquisite; but it did give her an odd pleasure; the flight of these little creatures that might be birds or flowers, up into the warm, coloured atmosphere, filled her with a deep and, as she thought, a pure delight. She had gradually become a votary of beauty; she pursued beauty as she once had pursued piety, decorum and respectability. In her own person she had achieved a certain beauty, in her plain muslin gown, in the pale ribbons at her waist, in the smooth brushing and braiding of her hair, the careful choice of her coloured shoes; she knew that in her simplicity grace and lack of affectation, in the proud blooming that had come through her love she was, in a sense, beautiful; not altogether unworthy of the gorgeous setting in which she found herself, not altogether inadequate to the love which she believed she had aroused in the most attractive man whom she had ever met.
When the purple butterflies had glittered away out of sight, Angel returned slowly; never, since she had come to the Island, had she been up so early as this, before even the slaves were astir; always she had indulged a natural indolence by lying long abed. She walked lazily, drowsily, longing to reach her room, to throw herself face downward on the pillows and to see again the flight of purple butterflies, to dream of her next meeting with John Gordon by the limestone pool.
She hoped that she would not meet her husband, who had been at home for several days, but who had troubled her with very little of his company. How odd it would sound to explain to Thomas Thicknesse that she had been out to see a flight of Urania butterflies! He probably would not believe her; if he did, he would tell her coarsely to her face that she was a fool.
Angel reflected that he, for all his shrewdness, was something of a fool, too, not to guess that she would not be able to endure his neglect unless she had some secret comfort.
How little the hard, practical man knew about women! How unaware he was of the enclosed world of emotion, sentiment and intrigue in which they dwelt so slyly! How little he could guess of their dependence on men, of their bitter resentment when that dependence was abused, of their instinctive hostility towards their masters, whom they feared, despised and needed. Above all, how little men understood a woman's power of violent absorption in love, and how she could mingle the desires of the flesh and the spirit in overwhelming emotion.
She had left the door of the verandah open and she came noiselessly up the stone steps, trailing her pretty hands on the glossy leaves of the creeper. No one save her husband and herself slept in the upper storey; when he was at home the negroes moved to the village. He was usually an early riser, so Angel hoped that she had the place to herself. She was surprised, therefore, to hear someone moving in the greenish shadow of the hall made by the closed jalousies, and she drew back, startled, on to the verandah; she thought that she had seen a dull white figure gliding over the polished floor and she had thought instantly of "Miss Betty's duppy."
Was this what the negroes had really seen—the wraith of the dead girl returning from the mausoleum among the trees to her old home?
A familiar tinkle changed the trend of her thoughts; she stepped again into the house and brushed against the mulatto girl who was moving slyly, with downcast eyes, through the shadows, fingering the thin circles of gold on her fine arms.
The Englishwoman moved aside to allow her to pass with the same instinct with which she would have allowed a snake to slip away had she discovered it coiled among the cushions of her bed.
Indifferent, self-contained and beautiful as a snake, the girl left the house, her hands clasping her elbows, her stiff mane of hair unruffled by the morning breeze. When she reached the garden, she walked aside from the path, and disappeared under the hard bright leaves of the oleanders.
Angel closed the door of the verandah; she had forgotten the purple butterflies, even forgotten John Gordon; she went softly to her husband's door, opened it cautiously and looked into the darkened chamber.
Thomas Thicknesse lay asleep behind the pale swathes of the mosquito-net, dragged a little awry; even in his sleep his firm features looked arrogant, obstinate and dull; on the bed-side table was a plate of half-burnt out segars and ash; the air of the room was close and tainted. Everything in the chamber was neat and commonplace; only, across the correct drabness of the male garments precisely hung and laid across a chair, was a wilting coronal of blue and lilac flowers.
Angel closed the door; her sense of disgust touched physical nausea; she had, for some time, suspected him of infidelity, though she had never expected that he would so cynically and grossly flout her in what he at least termed her home.
Even this, however, did not so profoundly affect her now as she thought of
this desecration of the beauty, grace and dignity that was Luna. She closed
herself quietly into her own room and twisted her hands together in a little
childish gesture of pain. The palace of airy illusion in which she had dwelt
for months had been destroyed; the odd loveliness of the Island, the green
drowsy pattern of her days shot with delicious dreams, the beauty of her
secret idyllic love had been all marred by this sordid discovery. How she had
admired and envied the beauty of the mulatto, and her husband had taken it
casually, brutally, almost with indifference, as he had taken her, Angel
Cowley, her money, her person, all she had and was...it was like watching a
coarse beast trampling down clean, dainty leaves in a lazy gluttony to be at
the fruit. Angel was sorry not only for herself, but for all women, and she
recalled with horror and disgust, something that she had always tried to
forget, but which now returned to her with such force that she wept with
shame and pity.
A FEW WEEKS BEFORE, a strange creature which had seemed, in the description of the negroes, like a mermaid, had been washed up on the coast. Angel had ridden down to the cove, hung with vines of the blue grape, where the poor thing lay—in shape something like a woman, still and sighing, wounded or sick, with a young one clasped to its bosom which was so like her own. It had filled her with disgust and compassion; she had resented the curiosity with which the slaves had stood round staring at the dumb distress of this outraged maternity. She had returned home and told her husband about the animal; she had wanted it to be rescued, to be fed, to be taken back to the sea, to be removed from her sight and memory. He had gone away without saying anything, and had told her afterwards that it was a manatee and he had killed it; the female beast, grotesquely like a woman, with its young held feebly to its breast, had been coldly slain by Thomas Thicknesse.
From that moment her half-indifference and dislike of her husband had been sharpened to a point of hatred, none the less because she had tried for her own convenience to subdue it. Now, as she sobbed into her trembling hands, it arose like a frenzy in her blood.
He had destroyed the manatee when she had asked for its life, he had taken
the woman she admired and envied—basely, cynically. She, too, could
hate; she, too, could be cruel.
FOR THREE DAYS Angel remained enclosed in her room, the turbaned Flora knocking respectfully on the door was repelled by a cold voice, and had reported to Mr. Thicknesse the lady's strange behaviour. He did not concern himself at the news; he was absorbed in his business affairs which did not prosper; he had that clumsy touch which is commonly termed ill-luck; he was successful in nothing; he had spent his wife's money obstinately, unwisely, disregarding good advice; the expensive Otaheite canes he had planted had failed, the purple Batavian were sickly, the new ratoons were poor, he was also impatiently tired of the Island, wishful to return to England. Angel's seclusion was to him merely a minor annoyance.
He learnt from old Flora that she refused to be waited upon by the negresses and came out herself twice a day to fetch her meals. He had much to occupy him, and though he had discovered that it was more difficult to be married to a fool than he had thought, he had ceased to take any notice of his wife's whims, as he termed them. He supposed that she had a writing fit upon her, though no doubt she termed it poetic inspiration; but that pleased him. He was in need of money, for which he had married her; the small bills received for her work from London had been disappointing.
On the third day, however, her reserved petulance began to annoy him. He had good reason for wanting to see her and a fair excuse. The mail-packet from England had just put in to Kingston, and there were a number of letters for Mrs. Thicknesse. With these in his hand, her husband rapped at her door. She came at once, almost as if she had been expecting the summons. She was neatly dressed and her manner was cool and alert; he noticed that her eyes were reddened and her lips firmly pressed.
"Here are the letters from England, Mary, my dear," he said mildly. "I have not disturbed you, as I supposed you were writing. You are not ill, I hope."
"I don't know. Maybe I have been ill. I have been writing."
He glanced over her shoulder at the desk where piles of paper were neatly tied together with different coloured ribbons.
"You'll have something to send back by this mail, then?"
"Perhaps. I don't know."
She took the letters from him, looking at him steadily the while. She was more emotionally aware of him than she had ever been.
"I've been wondering," she said, "what kind of man you are and what kind of woman I am."
"A waste of time, don't you think?" he commented, slightly irritated by this hint of the dramatic.
"I don't know. I've tried to get things straight. I think I should like to speak to you a little."
"Of course." He made a step forward as if to enter her room, but she barred the way.
"No. Out there in the hall."
She had passed him in a business-like manner and taken her seat by one of the lattice windows. It was nearly midday and intensely hot; the air was sweet and fragrant and Angel drew deep breaths from it as if it were a reviving draught.
"What do you want to say to me?" asked her husband. "Everything is going on all right, isn't it? I suppose you've got over the strangeness of the life by now?"
"Perhaps I'm just beginning to realise it."
"Don't you want to open your letters?"
She sat down and cast the letters in her lap and then looked at them with disgust. There was nothing, nobody in England who really interested her; she had scarcely troubled herself to read the complaining notes that Mrs. Dinnies sent from the cottage at Twickenham, nor the letters full of conventional chatter and gossip from women like Lydia Toulmin. The acquaintances whom she had preferred, Mr. Heron, who had served her so faithfully, for instance, did not write at all. It seemed as if they had washed their hands of her and her follies.
"If there are any business letters there, I can deal with them."
Angel tossed the letters down on to the floor.
"I'll let you know presently—I don't feel like looking at them now."
"What was it then you wished to say to me, my dear?"
"I want some money, please."
He gave the answer which she had expected.
"Money? You can have no need for money. I pay for everything."
"Or owe for it," said Angel, with a thin smile. "The last time I was in Spanish Town Mrs. Dawlish wouldn't give me any more frocks, or gowns—she said that her last accounts had not been paid."
"What is the matter with you, Mary, that you talk to me like this? You've changed, haven't you? You seem to have become very practical and bitter. Believe me, it is a very unbecoming attitude for a woman."
"And what," asked she, "is an unbecoming attitude in a man?"
"Yes, you're changed," said he, puzzled and a little interested.
He seemed to consider whether it was worth while to wonder what had so changed her, and as he paused he noted that she began to quiver suddenly with passion; tears welled up into her reddened eyes and she clenched her hands on her lap.
In ill-chosen words and rambling sentences she began to accuse him of being the cause of her unhappiness, of having deceived her and lured her out to this strange country, taken her money, left her lonely and helpless.
Mr. Thicknesse was not moved. He had heard much the same matter better expressed from his first wife. He raised his hand with an air of authority, which she instinctively obeyed.
"Have you any definite charge against me, my dear, save this of general unkindness?"
Angel thought of the mulatto girl, of the manatee, of a hundred things, and she began to laugh through her tears. She lied, however, at once and readily, for she had begun to discover that underground methods were natural to her, that she found a certain pleasure in employing duplicity.
"Ah, well," said her husband coolly, "it is then nothing but a fit of hysterics, and only what I expected and was prepared for."
What she had not expected and was not prepared for was his counter-charge, which he instantly and neatly brought; she was really astonished to hear him tell her in level tones that she had been a failure as a wife; he informed her that it had been in her power to make their marriage a happy one, that she had thrown away all chance of felicity by her moods, her coldness, her indifference to his interests and her refusal to show any enthusiasm in his affairs.
"You've lived in this place," he informed her calmly, "like a doll in a cardboard box. I've had no more from you than if you had been a picture hung on the wall."
"Except my money," said Angel harshly.
Mr. Thicknesse did not seem to be stung by this rudeness.
"Your dowry was not so magnificent, my dear, that you need be continually throwing it in my face. Besides, if you cease to supply the circulating libraries with the trash they require, you will be dependent on me for the rest of your life, which will, I suppose, make the bargain equal."
"You think I am a great fool," said Angel unsteadily; she put her fingers to her lips; she knew that in her own interests it would be better for her not to say too much.
During the two long days that she had been shut up in her room, she had thought passionately over her circumstances. The discovery of her husband's intrigue with the mulatto girl had profoundly shocked her, then half-fascinated her, then when emotion had died down almost pleased her; for not only had it given her a weapon against one whom she regarded as a tyrant, but it had in a subtle way helped to alter her values in a fashion in which she desired them altered.
Yet the whole affair was incomprehensible to her and she regarded it with horror; yes, horror was the word; she shuddered to think of it—a slave, a woman who was a negress or almost a negress! And that other aspect, beauty held cheaply by a brute.
Loathing touched the curiosity with which she looked at her husband; she wondered if she would be able to obtain a divorce if she made her case known. She knew so little of the laws of her own country; she was not even sure that she could make a scandal if she took an outraged stand and talked of what she knew. She believed, with her newly acquired shrewdness, that women like Laura Thwaites and men like Sir William Hayes would laugh at her.
Common sense told her that unless it was usual for the white men to take the licence in which her husband had indulged, the Island would not be so full of these wretched creatures of mixed race.
First sick, physically indeed so, then exhausted, then passionately angry, then passing through all these phases to one in which her own self-interest absorbed her, she had decided to say nothing to her husband of his infidelity. She had also decided to secure her independence, and for the last twelve hours that she had been shut in her room she had sat at her desk, working with that feverish energy only possible to a nervous woman, and written page after page of The Golden Violet. Her work meant money, perhaps independence and freedom—she could not afford to neglect it.
She glanced at her husband, who stood patiently waiting for her to speak. She was silent, not because she had nothing, but because she had too much, to say.
Mr. Thicknesse looked at his wife with the mingled compassion and relief with which a man regards a woman who, after a feeble outburst of rebellion, has come again to heel like a dog which feels the flick of a whip.
"Well, my dear," he said, "I suppose that's all over and we've decided, like most married couples, to make the best one of the other. Now, pray let us waste no more time in these futile discussions. I have to leave you again; I don't want to alarm you, but there certainly seems trouble brewing. At present it's confined to the windward Maroons."
Angel was too occupied with her own emotions to be frightened. The negroes had always inspired her with aversion, but never with fear.
"There's been a rising," continued Mr. Thicknesse, "up at some plantations near the Blue Mountains. They've had the Militia out. I don't think much damage has been done, but it's a bad sign. However, the ringleaders have been hanged, so perhaps the brutes will take their warning. The Governor has come up to Spanish Town; he is too much in the country."
He gave her, as if in duty bound, the details of his work both as local Justice of the Peace and Captain of the Militia. He told her what precautions had been taken for her safety; he seemed sorry to have to leave her alone, yet he had, he declared, an implicit trust in his own slaves, in the overseers and the Duke of Bath. Dr. Morton and Mr. Fremantle were at hand—"not that I like either; still, they are white men." He told her where, in his room, she could find a pistol and ammunition, in the drawer in the cabinet where he kept his segars.
"His room," thought Angel, "as if I could ever enter it again."
When he had finished speaking he peered down at her. Her face was really
quite changed; he wondered, touched through all his complacency with a little
uneasiness, if she really had something on her mind, but he dismissed the
suspicion; he had never yet taken women seriously. He left her with formal
farewells with neither a kiss nor touch of the hand; he accepted with
gratitude an estrangement that really was convenient for him.
WHEN HE HAD GONE, Angel was angry at her own forbearance; how could she have refrained from telling him how profoundly he had shocked her? She sat still with her eyes closed. She thought of John Gordon, of his brilliancy, his charm, his gaiety; she wondered if he had returned to his plantation, if there would be any hope of seeing him if she went to the limestone bathing-pool. Her novel was not finished, but she could write no more. A pleasant idea came to her, that she would take the sheets that she had scribbled during her anguished seclusion and read them to John Gordon. Perhaps he would admire them; she had written them from her heart at least and with him in her mind. She went into her bedroom and made a package of the papers, sealing them up. She slit up the letters she had received from England and threw them down half read one by one. Nothing but trivialities and nonsense. What did she care what they were doing in London, what did it matter to her that Mrs. Dinnies had been cheated by the upholsterers who had done up her cottage.
She recalled, with deep vexation, that she had allowed her husband to go without giving her the money she had asked for; how stupid she was, how careless of her own interests! She had been beguiled by emotional side-issues into forgetting that most important fact—she wanted money, not for any specific purpose, but just for the satisfaction of knowing it was there, in case of a crisis, an emergency. She was used also to having her own money; it was strange to have to ask a man for it—insulting to be ignored; she thought bitterly of her ten thousand pounds.
She bathed her face, put on her hat and went out into the lovely sunshine. She thought, without interest, of her husband's warning as to the "trouble brewing." She noticed the slaves working as usual among the canes; they seemed passive, even cheerful. She no more believed that there was danger or harm in them than there was in a crowd of frogs or toads. It was indeed quite true that she had not troubled herself about them at all, she saw as little of them as possible; when she was forced to speak to them they were civil, but their uncouth African faces looked utterly blank—brutish stupidity. She skirted the slaves' village; it was noonday, the fierce white heat played on trees like cascades of flame and the conch had just blown and the slaves were going back to their huts; dirty, ragged children were wandering in and out the little squares of gardens, mostly neglected, which were given to the negroes to cultivate for their own food. The old women and those unable to work prepared the midday meal; they squatted before the hovels stirring bowls of sweet potatoes, plantains, bananas and yam, which were stewed with scraps of salted fish and meat. Some of them were devouring unripe plantains, which they roasted and used instead of bread; the ground sparrows fluttered about picking up any dropped particles of food; there were a few yapping, fawn-coloured dogs, and the stench, infinitely disagreeable to Angel, was, she believed, that of the negroes themselves.
She moved away from the outskirts of the village and found the hospital, the rude little chapel, which a missionary had erected some years before, and which was now entirely neglected, since Mr. Thicknesse had refused Mr. Fremantle's passionate plea to have it repaired.
The dirty, slipshod doctor was coming out of the hospital as she passed it; he was chewing a segar and walked unsteadily. He fell into step beside Angel, much to her disgust; he told her that he had been up all night with a mad negress. There was only one mad-house in the Island, and that was some way off; he hoped that the woman would die before the necessity of removing her on such a frightful journey.
"Why should they go mad, these people?" asked Angel, daintily lifting her skirts from the mellow, pink earth. "They have neither souls nor minds."
She glanced contemptuously at a group who were planting the long stoles or roots of canes in the rich ground that was glossy and wet like paint.
"They're human beings," replied Dr. Morton indifferently. "They go mad and die, and love and hate, just like you and me, Mrs. Thicknesse."
"I can't believe it—they seem beasts to me."
"I suppose, ma'am, that's because you've never troubled to understand them. People of the mixed races like the mulattos and the quadroons are often extremely intelligent, brilliant, I suppose, beautiful, too, you might call them, but they never get a chance."
"No," said Angel, pinching her lips. "They are slaves, too, aren't they?"
"Yes, if they're born in slavery and their fathers don't buy their freedom. Well, I'm no moralist. I wish I could get up into the mountains where the springs are—it's hot here. So cool in the hills, by the springs and the waterfalls."
"I suppose you've had years of it here."
"Yes, and trouble too. There was some ugly business last year. There aren't enough doctors in the Island. I was overworked."
"There were many wounded, then?"
"Oh yes, and I had to attend the hangings as well, and the floggings. It wasn't altogether pleasant, you know."
"I suppose not."
Angel found she did not really care about these abstract miseries and cruelties; yet she had been profoundly moved by the slaying of the manatee. She found that the dishevelled wreck of a man walking beside her was glancing at her sideways, curiously.
"Do you find it dull or strange here, Mrs. Thicknesse?"
"Oh no," she replied, with false sweetness. "I have my work to do."
"And I suppose you've become interested in the estate by now?"
She looked at him from under her buttercup parasol, disliking the way he rolled his segar between his loose lips; she was glad that John Gordon did not smoke.
"Do you ever trouble to understand any of it? Ever been to see them make the sugar or the rum?"
Angel gave a non-committal smile.
"These canes, I suppose they all look the same to you," said the doctor, trying to distract himself from bitter and unpleasant thoughts. "But they aren't, you know. This is the Bourbon, the largest and the finest. It was brought here about twenty years ago from Martinique and Guadeloupe. They're planting them now. They'll go on now from August till October in order to catch the rains. The canes don't ripen till their second year, you know. The mill here is rather old-fashioned, it's worked by the wind or cattle—it's really cheaper and better to do it by water. Where are you going now, Mrs. Thicknesse? It's very hot to be walking abroad."
"Yes, and my parasol is too bright, it ought to be blue or green," replied Angel. "Never mind, my hat is shady. Oh, I just walk in the woods—I like to see the flowers and the birds and the insects; sketches for my album, you know."
They were passing the cotton-fields, and the doctor pointed out the beauty of the blossom, the fine yellow foliage stained with a purple spot, the black seeds among the white flocks.
"They hang like that for two months before they are picked. It's a long process and it's all done by hand. After it's put through the gin they have to get the rubbish out, then pack the cotton into bags for export. You see that over there," he said, pointing, "it's indigo. It's cut four times a year. You see, those slaves are at it now with those sickles."
"Is the estate paying?" asked Angel maliciously.
"I don't know," said the doctor as he shook his head doubtfully. "Things aren't what they were in the Island—neither the sugar nor rum fetches the same. The place has been neglected, too. Begging your pardon, ma'am, but Mr. Thicknesse has been in England a bit too much. This is the first real interest I have known him take in the place, and I've been here some years."
He added suddenly and unexpectedly: "I suppose you haven't seen the Gordon plantation? Now that's splendidly run, and do you know, I admire that man. He's one of the most humane, just and intelligent penn-keepers on the Island."
Angel felt an exquisite pleasure; she coloured like a child whose toy is suddenly praised, yet she felt alarmed too, as if her secret had been discovered, and so stood speechless staring at the cotton flowers, noting mechanically the details he had pointed out, yellow petals, a purple spot.
The doctor thrust his hands into the pockets of his kerseymeres and continued to praise the Gordon estate and the hard work the owner had put into his fields, crops, meadows and beasts.
"I believe he's in Spanish Town now, in touch with Sir William over this question of the revolt in the Cockpits. He did some good work there last year. The pity is, he's so often overruled. Almost every member of the Assembly is for having these chasseurs in from Cuba again—you know, they hunt these poor brutes down with dogs."
"You don't believe in that?"
"Why, no, by God, no! They're not really cruel or vicious, those Maroons, only frightened and harassed. Besides, think of it, ma'am, hunting human beings with savage dogs, having them pulled down and torn to pieces. Well, if you're the least squeamish, you don't like to think of it."
"Mr. Gordon is squeamish?" asked Angel dangerously.
"Yes, he's a humane man, I admire him very much."
Angel wondered why there was that touch of defiance in the doctor's voice—perhaps he knew that Mr. Thicknesse was not on very friendly terms with his neighbour. She could not endure to continue the conversation, delicious as it was to hear this young man praised; the object of her love was enhanced by hearing him spoken of thus warmly. She began to like the doctor; she wanted to do something for him in return for the pleasure he had given her; but she could not speak of John Gordon any more.
"Do you think I could help at all in the hospital? Ought I to do anything?"
He seemed surprised. "Oh, it's no place for you, not fit for you. As you perceive I do the best I can, but there's only one or two old negresses to help me. You understand, there are difficulties."
Angel stood silent for a moment. Through the warm stillness came the sound of the negroes' tabor and drum—some of them were amusing themselves with this crude music in their midday leisure.
"You've got a witch woman, haven't you, here?" asked Angel.
"Yes, there always is one, everywhere where these unfortunates gather together. Or rather it's usually a man—a woman Obeah is rare."
"Ah, yes, I passed her hovel. It's a little apart from the others, isn't it? She has a very pretty daughter, or is it granddaughter?—a mulatto girl."
The doctor's face was impassive.
"Yes, the Obeah is held in great respect by the other slaves. She's useful, too. She can be bribed to keep the others in a good mood. They really know a good many odd things, these people, but of course they're responsible for a great deal of misery and suffering also. I shouldn't go near her if I were you," he added abruptly. "She's a disgusting old creature."
"But the daughter, or is it the granddaughter?" insisted Angel. "She seemed to me beautiful."
"Do you think 'beautiful' the word?" queried the doctor uneasily. "She's odd, isn't she, with that queer colouring."
"I don't see her working much," said Angel. "She seems very idle."
Dr. Morton was not to be drawn; Angel had, however, lost much of her delicacy and squeamishness in the last few months, and she took another line to satisfy her curiosity.
"These mulattos and quadroons—I do not quite understand—now this girl, who would her father be?"
The doctor lifted his shoulders, smiling at this lady-like curiosity which he understood perfectly.
"It doesn't matter, Mrs. Thicknesse, she is a slave; I remember branding her myself."
"Yes, it doesn't hurt much, you know, they do it with a silver die, heated on a spirit lamp. She's pretty now, the Obeah's granddaughter, Luna they call her, I believe. That won't last long, they are hags by thirty, she'll have a few children and then her looks will be gone, and you'll see her working in the fields with the rest."
He raised his battered palm-leaf hat, as if he wished to put an end to the
conversation; bowing, he passed away down between the cotton-bushes, to the
small stone house where he resided in lonely discomfort among the olives and
ANGEL REACHED the limestone bathing-pool, which was deliberately, delicately scooped out of the solid rock; the water was black-purple with the shade of the cedars that grew on the crest high overhead; the cooing of doves was incessant in the air; the blue and yellow butterflies fluttered past in a continuous trail of colour; the water-lilies rocked by the sedges.
Angel watched her long pale hand moving among the flowers, unknown strange flowers to her that hung their spotted and striped bells over the water. She took off her hat, loosened her hair and lay at length in the rich shade. She had not lain there very long before she saw him coming towards her; she did not stir, held still not by trickery, but by an intensity of joy.
"How delightful! I hardly dared to hope that you would be here. I have come several times—to find myself alone."
At the sound of his voice her reserve gave way. She had hardly meant to open her heart to him; but she was too weak to resist this temptation of receiving comfort and kindness.
"Oh, I've been so unhappy. I came here on the chance of seeing you. I've been so shocked, so disgusted."
Mr. Gordon came round the pond and sat beside her. He took her hands, raised her into a sitting posture, and looked at her with the greatest anxiety.
"Oh, I suppose I really shouldn't tell you. My husband has a mistress and in my own house. I never liked him, but I did respect him a little; now it seems that he is a heartless brute without honour. Yet that's not it, I like the girl better than I like him, and it seems a shame—besides, he killed the manatee."
"I am indeed very sorry for you," said Mr. Gordon gravely and tenderly, and he did not release her hands. "But—as you do not care for the man—"
"It is the insult, the disgrace. Besides," she added, with a sudden outburst of despair, "it's horrible to think he doesn't care for me, that nobody cares for me, that I am alone here abandoned. I cannot explain the loneliness."
"But you know that I care for you, that I love you very much. Oh, Angel, you must have known that for a long time."
"Don't say that if you don't mean it—no, listen a little—I wanted you to say it since first I met you—"
"I know, I know, I too, my dearest."
"I never had a lover—and now—a man like you."
"A man like me! Why, I am nothing—I am only—"
"I don't want to hear. You don't think I am a fool, a great goose, as my husband says—weak and sentimental?"
"Why, you are a brilliant, a clever woman—I have never met anyone like you before—never—"
She sat mute among the ferns while he praised her in his soft voice that was now unsteady with emotion; she saw herself as one who loved her saw her; it was an exquisite and totally unexpected experience. Her pride and her vanity, both lately overcast, were superbly gratified; a delicious self-assurance filled her with confidence and courage.
Then a nobler emotion stirred her into joy, affection, gratitude and tenderness bound her to him; he was kissing her hands, praising her, telling her how he had always thought of her ever since they had met, her memory had been with him at his music, his painting, in his business, while he was solitary in his lonely house.
She loved him the more for every word he said, she admired him in every detail of his person, his fine, fresh linen, his dimity waistcoat flowered with red sprays, his water-silk fob with the heavy gold seal, the wide ring on his little finger—yes, with all these trifles, with every picture he evoked, his pianoforte, his books, his botany, his drawings of flowers and birds, she loved and admired him with passionate sincerity. Angel was overwhelmed by her happiness; it was as if the strong shaft of light in which she lay drew her up into heaven. She felt as if chains and shackles had been removed from her body; as if at last after many misleadings, sufferings and misfortunes, she had reached the place where, from the first, she was meant to be. She put her arms round his neck and lay on his chest with natural ease.
"Do you really love me? Do you think I am pretty?"
"Of course I love you, and of course you are beautiful."
Could ecstasy go further? This charming, this gorgeous creature, had found her beautiful, and said that he loved her. There was more in this joy than the delight of passion. He was tender, he was kind, and he seemed not only a lover, but a friend. She thought: "Something has gone wrong with my life up till now, it has all been foolish, a little crazy, wrong, stupid." She was afraid of nothing, not even of the small, vigilant eyes of her husband, not even of the beauty of the mulatto slave. She breathed deeply at feeling released from so many shams; the beauty of the Island returned, intensified, more brilliant.
"My poor darling, my charming dear, that you should have come all this way to me like this."
He put his fingers lightly through her fallen hair and regarded her fair tresses seriously.
"Do you like it? Is that why you think I am beautiful, because I am so fair and pale?"
He nodded, bent and kissed her cheek; his lips were cool and firm, she felt his hair press against her forehead, the stiff edge of his starched cravat; the young woman felt weak with pleasure.
Realities and memories of the commonplace were effaced from her thoughts; she lay against his shoulder and looked up at the perpendicular line of the limestone rock and the blue-black cedars beyond, where the doves cooed, and at the clouds beyond them mounting high into the purple upper air. Beyond the pool were strange lilies and festoons of creepers that fell from the rocks of light-coloured stone. At the edge of her white skirt lay an envelope, her story. She looked at this with pleasure, she thought: "I can earn money, enough money for us both to go away with."
Already, although the first glow of her incredible ecstasy had not faded, she was making plans—they must go away somewhere together and for ever; they must be quite free of these other people. She tried to talk to him about that, to make everything secure for the future.
"What are we going to do? What is to become of us?"
He would not listen to her anxious question; he had a charming sincerity, a gentle patience, which was like that of a child, as if nothing gross or horrible could ever disturb him; even when he asked her, "How was it that you came to marry that man?" his face was unfrowning; only gently troubled.
"I don't know," she answered truthfully. "Everything was so stupid, so vague, I wanted to get away. Never mind."
"You dislike him now? He is perhaps cruel to you."
"I don't know, what is cruelty? I hated him for killing that she-beast. He thinks I have been unkind to him. He wanted the money. I had some ten thousand pounds, you know."
"As much as that!" smiled her companion, playing with her long hair.
"Yes. I earned it myself, writing. You see, I have brought the pages which I have written lately. I have been shut up in my room for several days, and I thought I would see if I could write again. It seemed difficult since I have been in Jamaica." She broke off. "But don't let's talk of that now. I only want you to understand that if it were ever necessary for us to have money, I could earn it."
"I have a sufficiency of money," he replied smilingly. "Poverty is not my grief, not my difficulty. But you," he said, with a sudden tender anxiety, "you have come here knowing so little of the Island or of any of us. Has your husband told you nothing?"
"What should he tell me? I have learned a little about the slaves and the Government, and the trouble with those savages in the mountains, and the few white people there are, and how they trade in rum and molasses and sugar."
"Your husband then, for instance, has not told you about me?" Catching his breath lightly, John Gordon looked at her steadily. "About my family? His father knew mine."
"He never mentions you. The doctor did the other day; he spoke a great deal in your praise."
"And you have mingled with no society, you have not been to Spanish Town, or Kingston, or Port Royal, you have not met many people."
"Only a few, and we have talked only of nonsense. Why are you so concerned about me? What you told me just now makes me forget everything else. You said you loved me."
"I love you dearly, and it is because of that that I am trying to make things quite clear to you. What is your life going to be with that man who is wasting his property, who is wrongheaded, and, as I think, cruel. I've thought of it all so much. I am so often alone."
"I'll leave him. I'll get free from him somehow."
"It's not so easy. I don't know what to say, what to advise."
His handsome face was troubled, his hand dropped from her hair. She was touched by panic as if her incredible happiness was threatened. She grasped his shoulders tightly, relieved to feel the firm flesh beneath the nankeen coat.
"Don't talk like that, as if I should have to go back and leave you. No, I know I am not quite a fool. I know I can't stay with you, but something must be done."
"It shall be done, trust me."
"Tell me something of yourself," she sighed, "why you live here so solitary; everyone speaks so well of you, yet you seem to have no friends. Yet I am glad, too; it is strange that you are not married, dear, I suppose you must have loved someone before, but I don't want to think of that."
"Don't think of it. I have never loved anyone as I love you."
She looked at him, unable to speak, whilst he told her of his touching fidelity and devotion. She began to understand that he worshipped her in some world he had created and she was, even through her ecstasy, touched by shame. He knew nothing of her, nothing at all; he must have fallen in love with her because she was fair, because she looked something like her name, angelic, in her white gown with her blue sash and her broad-leaved hat; he must have fallen in love with her because he was fastidious and squeamish and there were no other white women of her grace and youth in the Island. These thoughts penetrated even her vanity; she lay against him listening to his low voice, pressed against his breast, indulging in all he meant to her—beauty and peace, health and strength, knowing that he did not love Angelica Thicknesse, whom he did not know, but some creature whom he had created out of his own delicate imagination.
She opened her eyes and looked over his shoulder at the smooth, blue space of the heavens beyond the flat, blackish-green boughs of the cedar, the slopes of the pale rock, and they sat silent, not planning, scarcely thinking. He seemed to her part of this strange and splendid landscape, cool and massive as the cedar tree, candid and clean as the water of the limestone pool below, warmly coloured and gorgeous as the sight of the tropic bells of the creeper, tender and affectionate as the coo of the doves; not one of the radiant heroes whom she had imagined in her ardent immaturity had pleased her so much as the man by her side. She began to weep for joy, but he thought that she was grieving and tried to comfort her with a passionate tenderness.
"This can't last," she said, "this is fantastic—worse than a dream."
She sat up and pulled towards her the sheets of paper on which were written her poor imaginings.
"I brought these for you to read—how foolish!"
She wanted to tear them up and fling them into the pool, but he took them from her eagerly.
"Of course I will read them—your beautiful work. I've never met a woman before who could write."
"Don't admire me too much," she said desperately, "don't make of me something that I am not."
They heard the conch blowing; a distant echo on the blue air.
"I must go back. I don't want to spoil everything by being foolish. I shall be missed."
He had risen with his quick, unusual grace, and was standing beside her; his face seemed changed in the last hour—it was grave and troubled, his dark brows were drawn together.
"I have to go into Spanish Town again. I think Sir William intends me to do something for him, I don't know. There is an emergency meeting of the Assembly, the Militia is being called up."
"My husband has gone, too. I can't be left alone, you must stay. You are the only white man near." He looked at her so sharply that she added: "Oh, I don't count the doctor, who drinks, or Mr. Fremantle, who is a fanatic."
It seemed to her as if life would end as she parted from this man.
"I really can't endure it, you've no idea of the loneliness, and all these black slaves. Why, it's even dangerous—my husband thinks so. He gave me a pistol before he left."
"You would be safe on my estate, but I don't know about your husband's. I don't know the temper of his negroes."
"Tell me something about it, don't be afraid of being disloyal. You and I at least have got to be sincere. I've been myself a hypocrite so long. What do people say of Mr. Thicknesse in Jamaica?"
"Oh, I don't know. He has no great reputation one way or another. I don't know, dearest—he's just an ordinary man, rather bad at business, and rather fond of drinking and gambling. He's been in a few difficulties, but got out of them again. He is not liked, I think." John Gordon spoke with some hesitation. "He doesn't treat his slaves well, and he is impatient to make money, ambitious to succeed, too. He wants to do it without working."
"I hate him," said Angel.
"No, don't hate him," implored John Gordon. "I don't want you to hate anybody. I am afraid of hatred."
"I told you about the young mulatto woman?"
"Oh, that!" He raised his hand and let it drop at the words, and smiled.
"Ah," sighed Angel, "perhaps you, too—"
He did not answer. She felt rebuffed, solitary, shut out.
"He will never be anything to me but an obstacle," she said. "It's all been a stupid business."
"I'll get you out of it somehow. I shall think what must be done."
Eager to guard their newly discovered secret joy, they made arrangements for future meetings; neither had a messenger who could be trusted—the pool should be their shrine, their trysting place. Mr. Gordon showed her a stone which was easily raised—under it he scraped a hollow in the mellow amber-coloured earth which crumbled and faded into the limestone rock; they would put letters there for each other, securely hidden.
"I shall come every day," said Angel.
"I, too, when I am here."
She envied him because he had work to do with which to pass the time, yet that pleased her also; she wanted him to be active and energetic, even heroic, everything that she admired in a man.
"I wish," she said irrelevantly, trembling in his embrace, "I did not have to pass that plant, the dodder, when I go home—it confuses me, it almost frightens me. I feel as if I were caught in it, as if in a gigantic spider's web, as if it were over the whole Island."
He kissed her face, her neck and her hands; she trembled to see how deeply moved he was.
"There's that dreadful skull on the pole also," she said. "I certainly don't like that. Oh, but never mind, nothing really matters now. It is almost impossible to part. You remember I told you of—Miss Betty's ghost? I feel like that—disembodied—perhaps my spirit will come to tap at your shutter."
Only the fear of some discovery which might ruin everything at length induced her to turn away, and then she must look back again and again to see him standing with that indescribable grace, his head erect, looking after her.
"I must keep my nerve," said Angel quietly to herself. "I shall have to plan. I shall have to be clever and bold, I shall have to do some things I have never done yet."
She thought of the pages of her manuscript; would they increase his
admiration of her? She wished she had not left them with him; she had to
finish The Golden Violet and send it to England as quickly as
possible—she wanted the money; surely with the money everything would
be easy. She remembered the map which had been spread on her knees when she
had ridden in the little curricle beside her husband from Kingston to Spanish
Town—those other islands, Cuba and Guadeloupe, and those like a chain
of broken beads in the Caribbean Sea—could they not find a refuge
there? She never wanted to speak to an English person again, if among
foreigners they might, unquestioned and unreproved, find a voluptuous
ANGEL COULD NOT BROOD in solitude over her delight, her thoughts were so rapid and eager; as if flicked by flames of gold she must be moving and doing something; she scribbled verses, wrote letters home, and walked up and down her room impatiently, pulling aside the lattice to see the great disk of the moon rising above the clear, clean shape of trees.
The negroes were holding a festival; she could hear the singing and the sound of the drum and tabor, the jingling of little bells; perhaps Luna, the slave girl, was walking in the midst of them with her slow insolent gait and the gold bracelets slipping about her ankles and arms, her hair wreathed with wild blossoms—a coronal like that she had left on the neat clothes of Thomas Thicknesse.
Angel put on a little coat of lime-coloured silk, left the house, went down through the trees, and made her way to the slave village; she, too, felt like holding festival. The negroes were gathered in their little gardens under the hard white moonlight, some of them striking stringed instruments, others blowing on horns, some singing in intermittent low voices. The moonlight showed the crude colours of their turbans and sashes, the whiteness of their starched cotton jackets and striped trousers. Angel moved a little away from the slave settlement; the night, although so still, was full of a kind of sighing. By the light of the moon then overhead, a group of negroes was gathered round the gaunt figure of Mr. Fremantle, who, holding a prayer-book in one hand, and beating time with the other, was leading the slaves in a melancholy hymn.
Oh, when's dat Jesus goin' carry me home?
Poor old nigger him so tired,
Poor old nigger him so sad,
Oh, Massa, take that old nigger home.
The moonlight, so white and hard, showed the black faces with open mouths and rolling eyes, their bare necks and bosoms, the strong hands swaying to and fro with the movement of the bodies.
I don't want nothing, ain't got nothing,
Only dat Jesus carry me home—
Angel turned away; she knew that her husband had forbidden the young parson to come to the estate, because he was supposed to incite the negroes to discontent; well, there he was, and he seemed peaceful enough; it was no business of hers! How easily Thomas Thicknesse, the harsh masterful man, was disobeyed and deceived; everyone on the estate, including herself, plotted against him; she hoped that the mulatto was not faithful to him; but would he care? She reflected bitterly on the ease with which men like her husband could purchase any pleasures they required.
The Obeah's but stood at the far end of the village in a little garden fenced by logwood stakes and shaded by a group of West Indian ebony trees, which burst into bloom after every warm shower; at the side was a heap of refuse where turkey-vultures thrust in their naked red heads as they searched for scraps.
As Angel hesitated, the chorus of the negro hymn swelled above the chattering of the night birds.
I ain't got nothing, don't want nothing,
Only dat Jesus carry me home!
The Englishwoman lingered by the gate of the Obeah's hut.
Her husband with that mulatto woman! How bleak and dainty her own existence had been! How suddenly disturbed! How oddly it was changed by the discovery of one man's infidelity to a formal marriage vow, and the discovery of another man's love which she had so longed for, but hardly hoped to achieve.
The night seemed perfumed with the splendour of her mood; warm, silver air pulsating with radiance hung over her like a veil; the but with plaster walls, with thatched roof, was vivid in this rich radiance; at the door was the large scarlet umbrella with the plume of green feathers and the fringe, under which she had seen Luna sauntering. Angel felt generously towards the seductive girl; she thought, too, that the slave might prove useful to her, an ally might be made of this strange creature; she stood still a moment under the ebony trees, savouring the strangeness of the scene and of her own emotions: then she crossed the small garden, pulled at the light cotton curtains that hid the opening of the hovel and entered.
An old woman rose from a corner and came forward making fantastic signs, as she gazed with bloodshot eyes that might have been unseeing at the fair Englishwoman in her white gown.
"Where is your daughter or your granddaughter, Luna, the mulatto girl?" asked Angel.
She smiled at the old negress as if she understood her trickery and despised it, and the grotesque creature grinned back good-humouredly. A dull glow illuminated the interior of the hovel. Angel saw the mulatto girl lying on a mattress of cotton waste which was covered in pale silk; she had a long fine scarf of purple silk round her shoulders; she seemed absorbed in her usual occupation of counting the thin gold bangles on her ash-coloured arm; heaps of blossoms and leaves, cunningly twisted and plaited, lay on the floor beside her, exhaling an odour of honey.
Angel crossed the floor brusquely, almost violently, and was determined to pursue this experience to its limits, perhaps to its dregs. The old woman followed impassive, nodding her huge red turban, chattering in negro dialect that Angel only half understood. The Englishwoman noted with derision some silly paraphernalia of black magic about the place, some dried skins, reptiles and toads, a wild boar-skin punctured with holes, a brazier, some packets of spices on the side-table. On the wall hung several women's European garments, with boned bodices, flounced skirts; Angel wondered whether they had belonged to the first Mrs. Thicknesse, Camilla—or to Miss Betty—whose spirit walked. The dresses were very old-fashioned.
The girl moved, stared at the visitor and did not rise. Angel felt her jealousy revive at this atmosphere of beauty and richness which the girl gave forth; she was indeed of a peculiar and mysterious loveliness, she had the abstraction of an ideal or of music.
Angel sat down on the stool in the centre of the floor, trying to remember her own fairness, her pale hair, white skin, the certain love of John Gordon. Had he not admired those qualities in her? This girl was black, a negress—see the bloodless hue of her exquisitely shaped limbs, the dense blackness of her eyes and hair...
"Why don't you do any work?" she asked sharply. "Why are you always lying about, or squatting under that ridiculous umbrella?"
The girl turned and drew herself into a sitting position. To the jealous gaze of the white woman her body was extraordinarily pliant and soft and had a gloss on the skin, such as might be seen on exquisitely polished metal or ivory.
"Please," she asked, "why do you come here and what do you want of me?"
Her accent was clear, her English good, and this fact startled Angel into accepting her, not as an animal or a freak, but as a human being; she shook herself and said: "Oh, you're a woman too, neither more nor less."
"Please," repeated Luna, unsmiling, "what do you want here?"
"Why should I want anything? I'm the mistress of this estate, am I not? I can come and go where I choose, I suppose." She turned to the old woman, who was staring at her with an exasperating indifference: "You're a witch, aren't you? Well, supposing I said I'd come to you for a charm?"
"What kind of charm?" asked the mulatto girl. "You must speak to me, if you please, for my grandmother talks very little, and I dare say you would not be able to understand what she says."
"What sort of a charm do you think I'd want?" said Angel, proud in her triumphant love. She stood up, crushing her white skirts about her. "Why, none, of course, none at all."
"You're happy, then, quite happy?" asked the mulatto.
"Of course I'm happy, you poor wretched, slavish thing."
Angel glanced down at the girl.
"Who gave you those gold bracelets? They are odd ornaments for a slave."
The girl put up her hand to her profuse hair, so that the gold circlets jingled on her arm.
"My lovers gave them to me," she said, "that is why I do not need to work, because I have so many lovers."
She rose, filling the room with a pervading perfume, distilled from fruit, flowers and spices.
"Indeed?" asked Angel. "And how many lovers have you? Poor creature," she added, eyeing the other as she stood indifferent in her native splendour. "I ought to be sorry for you. Are you a Christian?"
"Yes," said the girl indifferently. "We are both Christians."
"I don't believe it!" exclaimed Angel, angered by her quiet arrogance. "You ought not to be here, either of you."
She thought with satisfaction that both were really her property, and the wild idea came to her that possibly whilst her husband was away she could sell them both—the horrible old witch and the dainty, insolent wanton. She tried to think of John Gordon, to dispel the core of hatred growing in her heart, which could have no room for anything now but love.
"I'll go back," she said. "I don't know why, after all, I came. It was those drums and horns that disturbed me."
"An' de charm?" smiled the old woman, sucking in her thick lips. "De lady don't want dat charm?" She turned to a side-table and picked up an egg-shaped pottery vessel, spying into it eagerly. Angel noticed how her lean, polished, liver-coloured fingers seemed to become part of the bowl she held as if they were handles. The light, which fell from a small metal lamp, cast little wavering shadows on the rough plaster walls.
"A charm," sighed Angel unsteadily, "a charm for happiness, perhaps."
"You are happy," said the mulatto. "It is better for you to keep that happiness, like a flower which is unpicked, and not to seek to understand anything."
The wick of the lamp suddenly fluttered down so that the three of them were almost invisible one to the others. The bent old negress stood with her egg-shaped vessel held against the white stripes of her cotton gown; the mulatto was pensive, gazing at the wreaths about her feet. Angel noted again how thick and stiff her hair was, of a purple-black colour, standing out thickly from her head and shoulders like the proud mane of an animal. She turned and left them.
She walked on, skirting the hospital, from which came cries, moans, and ejaculations from the sick negroes. She passed the silent chapel and through the long lines of the village hovels, from which rose the deep voices of the slaves telling one another ghost stories or "nancy tales." Light blossoming flowers showered sweetness on the air, which seemed thickened as if by honey; the moon cast strong shadows from the hovels, the trees, and the wagons standing idle, with the puncheons of rum roped to their wooden sides; the voice of the young clergyman came piercingly through the palm grove, as he preached to the slaves.
How to pass through this night and all the other nights, how to live
without him, how so to control her passions that she would be able to work
and scheme and intrigue to obtain her ends! She reached the house, and
mounting the stone steps on to the verandah, she put aside with idle hands
the flowers and leaves of the creeper. She now remembered they had made no
plans; but after all, she did not know his mind; she turned back on the
threshold of the house and looked out into the many-flowered night, pierced
with the melancholy notes of the slaves' festival, the harsh enthusiasm of
the English preacher; all was a disorder of rich beauty. Angel was reluctant
to shut it all away; she envied the natural ease of the young girl, awaiting,
no doubt, a lover; she wished that she, too, could let down her hair and put
bracelets on her arms and ankles and go to him; and her heart was pinched
with desolation because of the long years that had been wasted before she met
John Seba Gordon.
SHE WAS ALONE in the house. The four windows at the four
points of the
cross made thickly intermingled lights and shadows; she could not go to bed;
she took off her clothes and walked up and down in the lightest robe that she
possessed. When through sheer fatigue she fell asleep in the long cane chair,
she muttered in her slumber of the sweet brightness of love.
SHE WENT THREE times past the skull on the pole, the field of dodder, to the limestone pool. The first time she discovered her manuscript neatly tied in a long envelope, laid under the limestone rock which they had agreed upon as a hiding-place; slipped inside the sheets of her writing was her first love letter. He wrote as she thought a man should write to a woman, that is, satisfying both those romantic ideals which she had already proclaimed in her novels and those secret hopes which she had ever kept to herself.
He wrote that her work was beautiful, he had read it with extreme pleasure; he had sat awake all the night, losing himself in her beautiful fancies; he had read, in some dry book or other, of the floral days of Toulouse and the Troubadours' competition there; she had made it all so alive, so real to him; he wished that they were there together, far away in another land, another century.
When Angel returned to the house, on going through her cedar chest she found a piece of silver brocade which she had bought once in a restless mood because it was so expensive and so useless, but she had never had an opportunity of wearing silver brocade; his letter was put into it and stitched inside her bodice. The letter also contained a farewell—he was going to Spanish Town and did not know when he would return; he implored her to have a care for her safety, and he advised her to come to the Town whenever she could. Very few of the white women were left now on the plantations, but he destroyed all the effect of his persuasion by adding that he would himself soon be back on his own estate and that, if he was not sent up into the mountains, he did not intend to remain in Spanish Town.
On the other two occasions when she went to the pool Angel found no letters. She had hardly expected them, but the walk and a faint expectancy gave her a pleasure she could not endure to miss. It had been a keen and almost impossible delight to revive the memories of their meeting there.
From her husband she did not hear at all. "I wonder," she thought, "if he writes to the mulatto girl? I suppose she can't read." She speculated on the relationship between her husband and Luna, which both repelled and fascinated her; sometimes she almost wished them happiness, as long as they would leave her alone and free to do what she would with her own life, her own love.
The air became of a stupefying heat; she tried to occupy herself by sewing, by reading, by writing, but all these efforts were intermittent and false. She went down to the boiler-house where they were making the molasses. She watched the canes being cut and bound by gangs of negroes, loaded on to mules or wagons, then taken to the mills.
Daintily lifting her white muslin dress off her saffron-coloured shoes, Angel Thicknesse inspected these mills in a hopeless attempt to distract herself. She saw the iron rollers press the canes and send them into leaden vessels, then into gutters, where they were conveyed into cauldrons in the boiling-house. She saw the sweating negroes temper the mess with Bristol white lime; then watch for the scum to rise. As soon as it did so the fires were damped down and it was allowed to cool for an hour, when the liquor was drawn off and the scum left at the bottom; the slaves carried the first to a grand copper; there were four clarifying; the sticky mess was carried from one copper to another; when the liquid sugar was finally purified it was the colour of Madeira wine; it was then spread out and allowed to grain into crystals, the molasses was drained from it in the cooling-house.
The final process was the packing into hogsheads; at the bottom of these were stems of plantains, acting as drainers. In three weeks, she was told, the muscovado or raw sugar would be ready for export, while the molasses was taken off to the still-house to be made into rum.
The slaves seemed to Angel to be working lazily and inefficiently, the overseers to be indifferent. She wondered what was going on behind their dark, flat faces, which seemed to express only a stupid, almost imbecile passivity. She thought that now and then she caught a look of cunning, almost of cruelty in the deep-set, blood-shot eyes.
She went up to the hospital to speak to the doctor, in the hope that perhaps Mr. Fremantle was there; she felt that she could not live much longer without speaking to a white person, someone who knew John Gordon.
One of the old negresses who acted as nurse told her that the doctor was himself ill in his hut and that she had to go in twice a day to take him water and doses of quinine. Angel did not offer to wait on the sick man; the thought of him and his malady filled her with loathing; she noted the smells arising from the acids of drugs, spices, and vinegars used as disinfectant that came from the white-washed walls of the hospital.
Angel put her hand to her long throat in a panic. "If I should be ill, if I should be ill now and miss everything." She caught her skirt away from a child crawling along like a beast on all fours who was covered by some disease which caused its flesh to flake and peel. She had heard tales of leprosy.
She saw the Obeah woman creeping through the hospital door, and she asked the negress who was standing before her sharply:
"What is she doing there? She does a great deal of harm. You shouldn't let her in just because the doctor's away."
The negress shook her head and said that the Obeah woman was able to cure the sick people; she could even bring the dead to life, she had done this more than once in the myal dance, when she had killed and revived a negro.
"A pity," said Angel, "she can't make herself into a more respectable-looking human being, then."
The old negress grinned, and said that if the lady really wanted to see some black magic she should come down in the evening, one night when the moon was full and the Obeah woman would show her some powerful witchcraft.
"I must make my way back," thought Angel. "I must not stay here like this. If I were to become sick now—with the doctor ill, they would put me in that mausoleum."
She went back to the house and gave her orders to Flora: she wished to be ready in the morning before sunrise; she did not wish to hear that conch again; she was to drive into Spanish Town, she intended to live there for a while; her thoughts were hard, brilliant and confused.
"I must get away from this place and from these creatures. I must see him again—when he returns, I will return. Perhaps I shall have an explanation with my husband, tell him everything—what I know of him and what he must know of me."
She sat up all that night, her window unlatticed against the moonlight, writing verses and tearing them up, writing letters to him and tearing them up. Nothing could express her feelings. She wished she knew herself better, she wished she might believe it possible that she would prove courageous and energetic in a crisis; she was sure that for the sake of John Gordon she would risk anything, anything.
With her hands clasped on her desk in front of her, the tropical moonlight
on her face, she uttered some incoherent prayers to some God in whom she did
not believe, promising all that any deity could command of a mortal, if only
she and her love might never be separated.
IN THE MORNING the curricle was ready. With the first sudden spread of life and colour in the wide white sky, with the first swaying of the bells of the creeper on the verandah in the early mountain breeze, she had her clothes packed. She had been careful in selecting them; she intended to meet him in Spanish Town.
As she was so ignorant of all housekeeping, she could not quite venture on this journey without a servant, so she took Polly and Rosa, the young negresses, giving them her commands in a sharp, distinct voice. They were to come with her and make ready the big house. The Duke of Bath, the head overseer, asked her how the estate was to be run in her absence; if she had any commands?
"Did not your master leave instructions with you? I have nothing to do with it."
She disliked the old fellow who stood there smiling in his lime-coloured coat, gazing at her with a persistent stare which she found extremely impertinent.
She kept her head, as she was glad to assure herself, and behaved in a
practical manner. She locked up all her possessions, and then the verandah,
and took the keys with her. She fetched, entering her husband's room with
disgust, the pistol he had told her of, and concealed it in the large
reticule she carried, which had been made to hold her embroidery. She had
torn up, during the tedium of that brief night, her London letters; she did
not want to see them again. But, as the curricle took the soft, yellow,
palm-fringed road towards Spanish Town, she was thinking of her work and
money, as means of escape.
THE SLAVE GIRLS in their starched gowns sat on either side of the black driver; loose, cream-coloured cashmere handkerchiefs were folded over their shoulders, neat silk scarves tied about their small round heads, from their ears dangled circlets of gold. Angel Thicknesse thought of the gold rings on the mulatto's arms; how she disliked all these people! If only they could get together enough money, they would go away from all of them. She wondered how much money she needed, what kind of life he really liked? Would it grieve him to leave Jamaica and his plantation? She longed to see him shine in London.
As the smart little vehicle hastened through her husband's estate, she caught a glimpse between the dark, flat boughs of the cedar trees, behind which the mausoleum stood. Her lively fancy pierced the white walls and saw the ebony slab within, on which lay the three coffins with the mouldering palls; she was glad, with a desperate sense of relief, that she would never lie there. No, wherever her bones might rot, it would not be in the mausoleum of Mr. Thomas Thicknesse...she would be away soon, so soon.
ANGEL found Spanish Town in a state of commotion; the streets were full of white men, some in uniform, many of them smart enough, many of them looking clumsy and ill at ease; they were all armed; many of the weapons seemed old-fashioned to her eyes; this gave her a sense of excitement, not of fear. If there was to be some upheaval in the Island it would be a chance for her to obtain her end in the confusion; she was in that mood when anything seems better than monotony.
Her husband's house in Government Square looked dreary; evidently it had not been touched since she had left it after she had first come to the Island. There was no place ready for the large curricle, no stables for the two horses, no men to look after them, so she had to send them back to Venables Penn, and remain herself with the two negresses, who seemed sullen, discontented in the shut-up house.
She hadn't got the keys; that thought had not come into her head, how she was to enter her husband's house without his knowledge and consent; but the negresses knew where to obtain them—at a tobacco merchant's nearby, and Angel Thicknesse was soon standing in her husband's dreary mansion, where the imitation European equipment and furniture showed so gloomily and incongruously.
She told the two girls to get the place into order and to procure her some
food; she saw that they were lazy and unwilling and she suspected them of
being definitely hostile. Much as she disliked dirt or disorder she had never
learnt how to deal with it herself; all she had ever been able to contribute
to comeliness of life was the care of her own clothes; to this labour she
confined herself now, setting out her garments in the chest of drawers in the
large bedroom, fixing up herself yards and yards of fine muslin to serve as
mosquito-nets, helping reluctantly one of the negresses to lay the sheets and
coverlets. She then sent them out for food; she had no money to give them,
she bade them use her husband's credit; they seemed to know more about his
affairs than she did; having thus got rid of both of them, for she would not
remain alone in the house with one, she set about thinking what her next
course of action should be.
THE MANSION, with the dark portraits, tarnished mirrors, mildewed wainscoting and heavy, tasteless furniture, was detestable. She supposed that the woman in the badly-painted picture in the dining-room, the woman with the out-of-fashion lace bonnet on, staring with hard eyes, with thin lips unsmiling, out of the shadows, was Camilla Thicknesse, and perhaps that round-faced creature, rather pretty, but who looked weak-willed and easily tempted, was her husband's sister, whose coffin lay on the black slab in the mausoleum in the woods—"Miss Betty's duppy."
What a stupid way to furnish a house in such a country as this! All the light, air and brightness shut out; and those great lowering pictures, those heavy presses and chairs and the dusty shelves with the withered leather books upon them—everything belonging to other times. The bed in which she would have to sleep was an old-fashioned four-poster with black capitals with great urn-like bases and curtains of thick and faded tapestry.
She really couldn't endure to be alone in the house, people shouldn't
build such places; she put on her bright little coat, tied her wide hat under
her chin, put her keys in her reticule, which she had disencumbered of the
pistol, and went abroad into the streets of Spanish Town, hoping that by some
miraculous chance she might meet John Gordon.
FOR AN HOUR or so she walked up and down the hot streets, prying into the stores, looking down the sideways, catching chance scraps of conversation from the knots of men who stood about—expectant, anxious and exasperated, she thought they were. She had a mind to call on the Governor; Sir William had been so kind to her; but perhaps he was not in residence in the great porticoed house, and as he had no wife she did not know if she would be infringing some etiquette by presenting herself without her husband.
When she returned to her own mansion, she found that the negresses had prepared a meal in the gaunt dining-room; a mess of vegetables and rice served on silver plates. She could hardly touch it, but drank quantities of water, and was out again.
She decided to call upon Laura Thwaites, who greeted her without surprise.
"I suppose your husband sent for you? I think it's wiser to come into the town. There's been some really unpleasant news from the centre of the Island."
"My husband didn't send for me," said Angel. "I was supposed to stay on the plantation. You have made your room very pretty—my house is so ugly and heavy."
"You never live in it, do you?" asked Mrs. Thwaites with lazy curiosity. "You keep yourself shut away on the plantation. Why do you? Most women, you know, come out to Spanish Town for at least a good part of the year."
"I like the plantation," smiled Angel Thicknesse.
"Oh," said the other woman, incredulously. "Well, I suppose it's a new thing to you. But I don't suppose you'll care for it long. Most of the ladies live here—or else we go up into the mountains where there are the springs and it's quite cool, even in the summer."
"I don't care for my husband's house," said Angel carefully. "Not this one—in Spanish Town, I mean. I would rather be on the Penn."
"Oh, it amuses you, does it?" Laura Thwaites' slightly insolent gaze dwelt keenly on her visitor. "You really are rather a strange lady, forgive me the liberty! A poetess—I suppose that explains it. Do you find material for your sonnets at Venables Penn?"
"I have been writing quite a good deal," replied Angel demurely. "I have plenty of time, you see."
"But why do you keep yourself so away from us all?" insisted Mrs. Thwaites. "There is quite a society here, you know, a round of visits and pleasures, and we all know one another. But you, ever since you came to the Island, you have been shut away down there."
"Indeed, I don't know," smiled Angel. "My husband wished it so." She added, with a concealed truth: "I have found, too, the life that I like."
"You must have a happy disposition," said Laura Thwaites, with a suspicion of a sneer.
"Is it," said Angel, probing rather clumsily into the other's reserve, "supposed to be so difficult to live on Venables Penn with Mr. Thicknesse?"
"Oh, my dear madam, you mustn't ask me that. I'm not a gossip. You say you're happy, and there's an end of it, surely."
"Tell me, since I am such a little country-mouse," smiled Angel, "about the Island. What has been happening?"
"Don't you know? Don't you even ever see one of the Gazettes?"
Angel shook her fair head. She knew that to the other woman she appeared an enigma, perhaps a fool, and this, by the light of her own secret knowledge, pleased her. How surprised, and even mortified and angry, this arrogant Laura Thwaites would be if she knew that she, Angel Thicknesse, had a romantic and passionate intrigue with the man who was surely the handsomest and most charming male in the Island!
Mrs. Thwaites sat forward, her elbows on her knees, her hands under her chin; she told the other woman, briefly, something of what was happening in Jamaica. There was widespread trouble among the free blacks, the slaves and the Maroons in the mountains; there had been some massacres, hangings and other butcheries. Sailors had been landed from the ships in Port Royal. A great deal of it, Mrs. Thwaites said, was the fault of the Governor; he was a weak man who temporised; some of the Militia, some, even of the civilian planters, had taken the law into their own hands; they had shot at sight the negroes marauding their farms; it had been a mistake to negotiate with these Maroons and to give them their own settlements and allow them to have their own towns. This was the end of it! Riots, murders—for many people, ruin.
Angel readily agreed with these sentiments, but she was, against her private judgment, influenced by her love to support the cause for which John Gordon worked; so she asked if a large body of people in the Island did not support the pacific measures of Sir William Hayes?
"Oh, the clergy do! That is where they make such a nuisance, such a danger!" Anger roused Mrs. Thwaites from her usual lethargy. "They have no interests in the Island, they have no responsibility—it is easy for them to go about preaching the abolition of slavery and all that nonsense! They ought, for their own sakes, to be careful—people's patience won't last for ever."
"Does no one support them?"
"Who should? No white people, of course—a number of mulattos and quadroons, who are of no consequence."
Angel longed to say that one wealthy planter at least was on the side of the negroes, but she was not sure enough of herself to be able to bring this name into a conversation at once trivial and bitter.
"Sir William is all to pieces," complained Mrs. Thwaites. "There has been no society here since his wife died—it is so dull now—with the Governor always away at the farm—and all the men up the hills or patrolling the country."
"Yes, yes," said Angel. "Mr. Thicknesse is in Kingston—I'm sure I don't know why—everything seems to have gone wrong."
"Venables Penn isn't very lucky, is it?" asked Mrs. Thwaites indolently, leaning back with her hands clasped behind her head. "I rather admire you for living there."
"What do you mean—not lucky?"
"Oh, just that! It had rather an odd reputation—it was too near May Hall—you've heard the tales about that?"
"I shall not tell you, then! The Kingsleys at May Hall were intermarried with your husband's people—there was trouble over the shooting of a negro. And then the murder at May Hall. I believe the place has been shut up since."
"The house with the wasps' nests," thought Angel, and was silent.
Mrs. Thwaites chattered on in light malice.
"You are rather near swamps, too, are you not? Betty Thicknesse and her mother died on the same day of fever—"
"But I shall not," said Angel rising. "I do not mean to die there or anywhere in the Island."
"Oh, I hope not! But what an odd thing to say!"
"Isn't it? But I find my situation odd."
"I wish," thought Angel as she lingered in the light, pleasant room, "I dare ask her about John Gordon—she is such a gossip and yet she never mentions a likely young bachelor of such remarkable good looks—surely she knows him."
She lingered, though she felt that Mrs. Thwaites was waiting for her to
betray herself in some way, then, depressed and disappointed, took her
WHEN ANGEL THICKNESSE returned to her own house in Government Square she was exhausted; she had covered a great deal of ground in Spanish Town, walking here and there, trying to discover in an underground way where John Gordon was. She realised that he was very unpractical; he had given her no plans for the future, nothing beyond the romantic scheme of the messages to be hidden by the limestone pool. He had not told her where he was to be found in Spanish Town, or the name of any friend, of any shop where he dealt; why, he might have given her his address; he surely had some house in the place—at least, some apartment, lodging or hotel.
She felt not only tired, but exasperated with everyone, even with her own dear love; and when she saw her husband waiting for her in the dreary dining-room, standing under the picture of his dead wife, when she thought of him and of Luna, the mulatto girl, she became so angry she could not speak. His mood did not seem to be gentle either.
"So, you came up here and without telling me? It was a good thing that I heard by chance you were here. I intended to go down to the plantation to-night. Why this sudden resolve? You were safe enough."
"I wasn't afraid," replied Angel stubbornly, tossing her head. "I'm not quite so cowardly or so helpless as you think. I detest being left with all those negroes. But it wasn't that."
"What was it, then? Do you want more money for some dresses, for some nonsense?"
"No, it wasn't that either."
"You want to catch the packet, perhaps, with some more leaves of The Golden Violet? My God, when is that book going to be finished?"
"In good time," said Angel, and added under her breath. "I'm not going to work to earn money for you."
He either did not hear or affected not to hear what she had said. He went on talking seriously, standing erect with the dim light over his stout figure and his stern, formidable face with the bright hair and whiskers which she had once tried to think were such a handsome colour.
"You'd better stay here. I will send more slaves up. I shall have to remain on the plantation, for a while at least. I may have to join the Militia marching into the mountains."
Angel instantly thought: "What a solution for all the trouble that would be; he would be sent away, miles away, on soldiers' work."
"Sit down." He placed a chair for her. "You look tired. You've been out, on foot—didn't I forbid that? What is behind this sudden visit, what interests you in Spanish Town?"
"I might ask, what interests you at Venables Penn? Perhaps there is another woman in whose fate you are concerned," she added viciously. "Perhaps now that I am secure here you will go down there to look after her."
"I don't know what you are talking about. I'd better not try to know. Please be quiet, Mary, and don't venture on affairs which don't concern you. I thought you'd like to go back to England—the boat sails in two days' time. I'm a fair man, I want to give you a chance."
"A chance of what?"
"Well, getting away from me and this life you don't like, and from anything you may have found out you don't like either. You could stay with your aunt at Twickenham, for a while at least."
"You're willing for me to leave you?"
"Yes, why not? I've told you before, you've been nothing of a housekeeper, nothing of a wife."
"And you've been disappointed about the money, too," returned Angel passionately. "I know, you thought I was going to earn a good thousand a year and you would have the spending of it."
"That's vulgar talk," said Thomas Thicknesse. "I never spoke about money and what you could earn. I disdain to live on my wife. Your dowry helped me, but not a great deal. Go back to England, then you won't be on my conscience. You can make your own living with the stuff you write."
Into her outraged mind came the remembrance of John Gordon's praise of her works.
"You don't know what you're talking about, and I am not going back to England—I'm staying here, on this Island."
"Now, in the name of Heaven, why?" he demanded. "I tell you there's going to be trouble in the place, perhaps an outbreak of civil war. They've got the Spanish chasseurs in at Port Royal to-day, there may be a few of them walking about the town. They're ugly-looking brutes with their dogs and their knives. Perhaps they'll scare you off."
"Nothing will scare me. You talk as if I were a child again, as if I were worse than a child—a wax doll, as you so kindly put it once. Yes, a wax doll in a box!"
"Well, damme, don't you think you are?"
"You'll learn someday what I am," smiled Angel, rising suddenly. "At the moment I'm here, and I mean to stay here—and I want some money. The last time I asked you, you ignored my request, and I, like a fool, forgot. Now, please, I want some money."
"Well," said he, with a faint smile, as if he partly admired and wondered at her flare of temper. "Some came by the last packet-boat from La Belle Assemblée. Yes, I've been dealing with your business, haven't I? I've been paying for everything you want. Do you think all your clothes and hats, bonnets and trumpery, are bought without money? You can have this last money, I'll have it cashed at my banker's. You'll find it here this evening." He turned as if to leave her, then stopped suddenly and asked: "What do you want this money for? I don't think I'll give it to you, after all."
"Listen," said Angel earnestly, "you just said I could go back to England. Well, give me the price of my passage. You would have had to pay it if I'd gone—give it to me, so that if I change my mind I can go."
"The packet only leaves once a month, and what's more, ma'am, I don't believe you. You don't intend to return to England. You've got some reason for wanting to stay here."
"Perhaps I have," said Angel, quietly and slowly. "Perhaps I am just lazy and stupid and can't be bothered to move, perhaps I was bored in England, and have only just discovered it. Never mind all this, give me my passage-money."
"You'll find some money this evening," he said. "I don't carry large sums about with me. I'm going down to Venables tonight."
He tried to get past her, but she detained him rather desperately. She was suddenly afraid of the dreary house, of the unknown town, of this confusion of strange people among whom she could not find her lover.
"I don't want to quarrel. Please tell me what's happening and if I've need to be afraid?"
"Not in any of the towns," he answered, with an effort to be courteous. "Neither here, nor in Port Royal, nor in Kingston, nor in any of the larger villages. Sinclair is well policed—I've seen to that, despite that damned bigot, Fremantle. Indeed, I think now all is well in hand, but one is anxious. I will not trouble you with explanations. The Governor is weak. Sir William has got into the hands of people who try to persuade him that we should use soft measures with the slaves and savages, that we should treat them as if they were white men, gentlemen. But you wouldn't understand any of it."
"I suppose not." She moved away, defeated by his masculine obstinacy, his conviction of her useless stupidity.
Her husband left her and somehow she went through the long, close afternoon, vexed by disappointment, lost and bewildered.
In the evening Mr. Thicknesse sent round his servant with the money she had asked for, a paper draft on his bank in Spanish Town, gold and silver coins, of which she did not know the exact value; a dry note which, she thought, read contemptuously, informed her that her earnings would not go as far in Jamaica as they had in England, a pound being worth little more than twelve shillings now, and he had put a neat table of values inside the packet of money; the Portugal gold pieces or half-johannes were worth two pounds, fifteen shillings; the Spanish gold coins or doubloons were worth one pound, six and eight-pence; the Spanish silver milled dollars were worth six and eightpence, and the small silver coins which he had put in for her convenience were worth about sixpence each.
Angel Thicknesse felt her cheeks hot; he was treating her as he had said,
like a fool or a doll. Well, she could endure it; she put up some money
carefully in her reticule—she did not mean to let it go out of her
sight. As far as she could count it up, it amounted to between twenty-five
and thirty pounds; it seemed to her as useful and as powerful as her pistol;
a definite weapon against destiny, or whatever name one gave the future and
SHE PASSED the night in reckless, broken dreams and longed for the fragrant tranquillity of Venables Penn. Perhaps he had already returned to his plantation and it would be better for her to go back into the country; after all, she really hated the town. She found that the blue, fresh warmth had gone from the day and the great white clouds which had risen with the dawn had now turned a sultry yellow over Government Square. A low, disagreeable, persistent wind was blowing; everyone had a stupefied look as they passed to and fro about their business across Government Square; the mules and donkeys lagged, with drooping ears. She felt herself heavy, her limbs aching and her head throbbing; the young negresses seemed to be in a state of panic and said that there was a great storm coming. Rosa declared that there would be an earthquake.
"An earthquake!" exclaimed Angel with a great horror. It seemed as if earth and heaven had been put into motion to separate her from her beloved.
As she had feared, when she had seen the diseased black child crawling outside the hospital, that illness might separate them, now she feared that they would be torn asunder by some terrific commotion of the entire globe; Polly told her that there would not be an earthquake, but a hurricane; the two black girls sat huddled in the kitchen, rolling their eyes and muttering; Angel left them.
"If only I could find him, what would that matter?" she thought. She put on a bright silk dress, never forgetful of the fact that she might meet him at any moment; she then hurried out into the darkened street; if they could but meet it would not matter—she thought on a high romantic note—if they were joined in death. There was a lingering sense of gloom in the air, something oppressive and unnatural in the atmosphere; there was no varying light and shade, but a universal drabness of apathy over everything; the streets were empty. Angel made for the one place she liked in Spanish Town—the red-brick church that had been hallowed as their first meeting ground.
She turned into it and knelt in one of the high pews in the full light from the high windows; she did not like the emblems of mortality on the walls. She remembered how Gordon's comeliness had been outlined against that hour-glass and winged skull, how, a little farther off, was his father's mural tablet.
"Perhaps one day they will engrave his name on it—no, he and I will go far away, we will forget this place and everything that belongs to it. Ah, surely we shall have a little happiness. Oh, God, only a few months—only a few weeks, a few days!"
She could hardly understand herself that passionate desire she had for escape, for the two of them to get away from everything to some incredible freedom. She prayed, in a thick, singsong fashion, out of her throat: "Oh, God, only that, oh, God, only that."
A stout young clergyman in his formal black entered the church quietly. He looked, she thought, pallid and disturbed; but then the enclosed light was strange and ugly. Seeing her there, an Englishwoman, alone and frightened, he went up to her and spoke harshly, as if he had forgotten where they were:
"You mustn't be afraid, you know. I think there's going to be a hurricane. But only, as it were, the tail-end of one. They pass through Guadeloupe and just lash us as they go. They are not as bad as they seem," he added, not waiting for her to speak; his thick fingers pressed tightly over the prayer-book he carried. She thought that he was talking to calm his own anxiety as much as her possible distress; he smiled nervously, blinking at the dun clouds beyond the windows.
"I remember, in my father's time, the guns on the forts were blown out of place, and all the houses uprooted. Since then they've altered the windows," he added with a deepening of his foolish smile. "They used to open inwards and the wind would blow them open, get into the house and lift the roof. Now, it's the other way about."
"I don't understand any of it," whispered Angel, still kneeling, resting against the dark pew. "Do you mean there's a hurricane coming?"
"Oh, yes, I suppose so, I should think so. It's a pity just now with all this trouble and so many men away from home. One does not know whom to trust or where to go."
"I suppose this is where one should be," said Angel. "In a church, is it not?"
"I don't know," answered the young clergyman uneasily, "it's a heavy stone building, it is foolish to build such places—yet I suppose God—but His ways are mysterious."
Angel's great need for her lover became overwhelming and gave her resource and courage.
"Sir," she said, rising from the pew, "my husband has gone to his plantation. There's some alarm about the slaves. He left me with a message for Mr. John Gordon and forgot to tell me where that gentleman lives."
"Is your husband a friend of Mr. John Gordon?" asked the clergyman, his glance searching her face curiously.
"Yes." She purposely concealed her name in case this stranger should know that Mr. Thomas Thicknesse would not likely be friendly with his neighbour.
"Well," said he, as if he had some doubt of her sincerity, "give me the message, ma'am, and I will take it. It would be more fitting, surely, and save your going abroad in this horrible weather."
"No," she entreated earnestly, "it is a letter. I have it at home, in my own house. I will send a servant with it if you will tell me where he, Mr. John Seba Gordon, is to be found."
"If Mr. Gordon is in town, as I suppose he is, as he has been much with the Governor, he will be staying at his father's house," replied the clergyman doubtfully, and he described how she might find the house, adding: "If I may venture to say so, it's odd of your husband to have left you behind. It is far safer in the country. Perhaps in his haste he forgot that also," and the stout, agitated young man gave a slightly malicious smile.
Angel bowed stiffly and hurried into the street. Little flecks of fire seemed to be in the dun-coloured sky and the wind was increasing in strength. The anxious voice of the young clergyman, who had followed her, was in her hearing.
"I hope the typhoon won't be strong enough to blow the ships out to sea, just when we are needing the assistance of the sailors."
Angel laughed. The remark seemed to her ridiculous. What concerned her was that he, John Gordon, lived so close to her after all; it was odd they had not met in the streets; but probably he had been much occupied...
She crossed Government Square again where the statue of Lord Rodney in his Roman costume stood up gaunt and erect under his cupola against the livid sky; she passed her own hateful mansion and saw the heavy tapestry curtains blowing out at the windows which the two negresses had left open—no doubt they were in a panic, praying to some cruel-looking image, or hiding their heads in the large flowered pillows stuffed with cotton waste. The few people she saw abroad moved hurriedly, as if intent upon some furtive, secret design; they took no notice of her; she hastened more with every step, her thin coat, her light gauze scarf blowing out behind her; her hair loosened and caught in the increasing wind; she turned down a side street she had not been in before and yet it was so close to her own house; the palms in the gardens were blown out straight, like tassels straining at the tail of a flying bird, clouds of dust, thick and steady as rising steam, filled the lower air; powerful as the wind was it did not move the upper darkness, which settled lower and lower over the town, a thick canopy eclipsing all light.
A hawker's stall had been abandoned and blown over, the scarlet, orange and green fruits rolled along the street; some negresses ran past, their candy-striped skirts, sky-blue and lime-yellow, filled out like balloons; a sulky rattled past, the hatless man driving was throwing all his weight on the reins in order to restrain the frightened horse.
Angel paused, swayed, almost defeated by the insistent wind; she clung to a wooden paling from which the last tendrils of a torn creeper were straining and stared up at the name of the street, and there was what the young clergyman had told her to look for—the Wesleyan burial-ground. Had he said that? It was, at any rate, a churchyard, the headstones shone bleak in the livid light, the graves were covered by the broken boughs and broken blooms of hibiscus, oleanders, rose and syringa.
The wind was now behind Angel; it hastened her pace, sending her dress, her scarf, her hair blowing in front of her; church bells began to ring suddenly—she thought that she heard a gun go off; she thought of the ghost of Betty Thicknesse blown along like this, lost and lonely, across the Island; her hat was torn from its strings, and tossed before her, a silly piece of straw, on the wind.
This must be the street, and the fourth house—ah, that one, with the rattling green jalousies; that, neat, handsome and well-appointed, would be his house; she put aside her hair to see him standing on the steps, looking doubtfully at the dun-coloured heavens. She ran up to him, her little bright coat, scarf and her fine pale hair flying before her. She ran as if she were indeed borne on the edges of the wind; he caught her round the waist. "It is nothing," he cried, "the storm will pass!"
"It is not that," sobbed Angel, leaning against him, "I am not thinking of the hurricane at all. I have some news!"
He drew her into the house, using force as if he fought for her with the wind, and closed the door. She saw at once that his dwelling was a fragrant and pleasant place, with light walls and painted furniture and delicate hangings. There seemed a womanish air in this delicate neatness and for a moment she was sick with jealousy.
"Is no one else here?" she whispered, holding close to him in the passage.
"Who should there be? Only the servants, and they will keep downstairs till the wind has gone."
He took her into a room on the ground floor. She looked keenly at him, fearful of some flaw or tarnish on his charm since she had seen him last—there was none. She was suddenly, sweetly tired; she could have fallen into a numb sleep for hours and hours in this still retreat, in his dear company.
"Why have you come to Spanish Town, Angel?" He gave her the name which her husband had sneered at and would not use; on his lips it was not ridiculous.
"Oh, to find you. What do you suppose? I had to find you, I couldn't stay there alone any longer, and I got some money from him, too."
She touched the reticule swinging at her waist. "You need not mind—it's my money."
"Why do you think of money so much, my darling? I have plenty, enough for both of us. There are other things we must concern ourselves with."
"Don't let us concern ourselves with anything now. Let us just be happy, to be together." She clasped her hands on her bosom in a devout personal gratitude to him for loving her, for being so kind and tender with her, for allowing her to be with him.
"Where is your husband?" he asked anxiously. "Come, I must arrange these matters for your sake."
"He is gone. He has ridden back to Venables Penn. He is afraid about the slaves. He is cruel to them, that's what it is. Besides, there's that woman there. Perhaps he's concerned for her more than he is for me."
"Perhaps, if he loves her," said Mr. Gordon gravely, sadly.
"Do you think that he, Thomas Thicknesse, could love anybody? Besides, she's a slave, a mulatto woman. As if anyone could love a creature with black blood."
"Don't you think that's possible?"
"No, no. Of course it isn't. Don't let us think of such horrors. See, there the storm is approaching—how dark the room is becoming, as if there had been big candles lit and they had suddenly been put out."
She shook her head, and her hair, which had been discreetly bound, loosened by her hurrying through the wind, fell down to her waist; John Gordon picked up these tresses and kissed them. This gave her exquisite pleasure, causing her to forget the storm, her husband and the mulatto woman, all the vexations and perplexities that harried her spirits. They sat together on a settee of glazed chintz; the slats of the jalousies rattled like castanets.
"Your husband and I crossed each other to-day in the Governor's house. I ought to tell you that. There was a meeting there of the gentlemen of the Island, most of the magistrates and members of the Assembly. The Governor asked me to be there because they know that I understand these Maroons, that I have negotiated with them before. I was defending the Treaty we made with them, you see, and your husband was the spokesman of those who disagreed."
"Yes, yes; did he quarrel with you? He is a hard, cruel man, and how I detest him! What did he say to you? Perhaps he guessed about us?"
"No, how could he? Compose yourself, my love. You can be secure here for a while. No one will think of us while there is this panic of the hurricane, and if you are found here, you can always say you took shelter during the storm."
The day darkened round them. Mr. Gordon rose, lit two smooth, large candles, which he stuck in ivory holders and placed on the sideboard.
It seemed to Angel that the whole world was in shadow, and she was in a bright star with her beloved in the darkness. They spoke together of trivial things, laughing and smiling at each other's words and looks. The wind that rushed past the heavy windows seemed, to the woman, of an extraordinary power; but he assured her that it was not of hurricane strength—no, nor would be. He knew the Island and all the weather that visited it; she was grateful to the great wind which fell between her and the world like a heavy curtain, securing her in this charming isolation with her love. She noticed that he was not wearing his Militia uniform and that he was unarmed, in contrast to almost all the men whom she had seen in Spanish Town; she thought with pride that this must be because he was loved and trusted by everyone. She had always felt that he had won an almost universal respect. "Almost," she was forced to say, for her husband surely did not like him; but that was the fault of that hard, formal, cruel man.
"Your husband is taking some of the Militia down to Venables Penn," said Mr. Gordon. "He is not sure of his own slaves. He thought you were there alone."
He fastened up the blind to stop the rattling.
Angel repeated: "It was not for my sake that he was anxious."
She began to laugh, looking at the now bare window past which the wind seemed to rush like a palpable thing; she thought that she could see the form of it as well as hear the sound of it, tearing along, veiled, dark and triumphant, whirling ghosts and mortals together across the Island.
"I went down to see the girl's grandmother. She is what they call a witch or an Obeah—they say she can raise the dead to life. Such nonsense as they talk! The girl had piles and piles of flowers on the floor. She is like a flower herself—lovely and idle."
"An Obeah, a witch woman? That is very rare," he said, turning as if startled. "They're nearly always men, these poor creatures."
"Yes, I know. This old wretch can make charms."
"You did not let her make one for you? You didn't let her give you anything, or make you anything?"
"Oh, no, of course not! As if I should have anything to do with their rubbish!"
"Well, sometimes it is dangerous. And they know some tricks too. They are quite cunning with poisons—that is one of their weapons. They are capable of taking off somebody, very cleverly and secretly, once they are aroused. And this girl, for instance, should she be jealous of you—"
"There's no need," said Angel, with a sudden frown.
"But she might be, you know, my darling, just because you are so beautiful."
She looked at him quickly, almost afraid of irony. But such a thought was absurd; he was gazing at her with a sincere and almost innocent devotion in his dark eyes; every line of his comely, sensitive face expressed a touching sincerity.
Well, why should he be so diffident? No doubt she really was beautiful, fair enough to appear beautiful in the eyes of a man who loved her, at least, thought Angel defiantly, and she spoke quickly at random.
"I went there out of curiosity because I couldn't understand it—how he could have in his room as a lover that woman with black blood! It was so gross to me, so bestial, I had to go and look at her."
"Did you? Why, if it was so horrible?"
"You think I should not have gone?" she asked desperately anxious to put herself right in his eyes. "Oh, perhaps so—I'm ashamed."
"No, don't be ashamed, my darling. Why should one be?" He added thoughtfully with a sigh: "One can keep all the commands in the Decalogue and still be mean, cruel and cowardly."
She did not understand what he meant by that or the sudden melancholy of his mood. She began, aimlessly, to chatter about the mulatto girl.
"She is the most extraordinary creature, really a wonder to me. She confessed that she had many lovers. She's got little thin gold bracelets on her arm, which really are most exquisitely made. She is the colour of the trunk of the pimento tree—that is the one which has no bark, is it not?"
"Her hair is thick, it stands out like a horse's mane—there is a purple shade in it. I have never seen anyone like her before—I suppose she is beautiful. It's odd," added Angel, "to think that she is my husband's slave."
"What is her name, this slave of your husband's?"
"They call her Luna—the moon, you know. I don't know who she is really."
For a while he did not reply, and in that unnatural light of the candles which were flickering in the wind, which had crept under the closed doors and windows, and of that outer illumination of the storm, she saw his features, firm, well-curved, warmly-coloured, harden and sadden; he looked away from her, fingering the fresh cambric stock around his thick neck.
"They have no names, these creatures, nobody knows where they come from—they are just cattle, property. They are of no more account than the worthless stones you see cast about the shore. Come, the storm is increasing a little." He turned, with his charming impetuosity, and caught her shoulder. "Come upstairs. I have an inner room where you will see nothing, hear nothing."
She clung to him, expectant, half hopeful of some disaster that would hurl them together.
"Isn't there going to be a hurricane, an earthquake, after all? I don't mind if I am with you."
"No, no," he said with a pressing eagerness, "come away, come upstairs with me."
He blew out the useless candles, leaning forward with the woman still in
his arms. Twice she saw his handsome face lit by the flames before he
extinguished them. They stood together in a dense, universal shadow; his arm
slipped from her shoulder to her waist; he opened the door and took her up
the stairs, which were in a thick twilight; they could still hear the
wind—it seemed to be tearing at the stone and brick; the house smelt
fragrant and clean; she leant towards him, completely happy; their lives
seemed to flow together in an almost unbearable harmony.
THE ROOM was so charming, with the touching memorials of home; the water-colour drawings of Scotland on the walls, the old-fashioned spinet with the name of a London maker, the furniture of a Sheraton design, the wallpaper covered with little groups of birds such as English people keep in cages, and the vases from Worcester, the figurines from Chelsea.
"This was my mother's room."
Angel looked round.
"Is her picture here?"
"No: I have not got one."
"Not a miniature—a silhouette?"
"These are her pictures, her books, her spinet?"
"Yes, everything that my father bought her—there is not very much. She did not, you see, live very long."
Angel knew from the fact that he had brought her here that he loved her indeed—knew it more certainly than she had from the words in which he had protested his passion.
She shivered with an inner shame; as she had been humbled before by the sharp realisation that she was not the woman whom he imagined her to be, so now she was ashamed that he should set her in this shrine dedicated to his young, dead mother; she pictured the blonde Scots girl, home-sick, perhaps, lonely, perhaps, seated where she was now seated on the same couch with the covering strewn with rosy shells, and she became mute and downcast. She could hear the wind beyond the shutters; it seemed to wail the words of the negro hymn—
Ain't got nothing, don't want nothing,
O Lord Jesus, carry me home!
"Why are you so sad? Shall I light some candles? A lamp?"
She liked the increasing darkness that hid them from everything—even from each other. He knelt beside her, his head on her knees, their hands clinging together; she bent forward until the ends of her hair touched their clasped fingers.
Through the obscurity she could see the gleaming lines of the little spinet, the hard, glossy shapes of the lovers under their peaceful May tree, embracing forever on the elegant mantel-shelf.
She felt tranquil, safe from all the world; she hoped that the storm would become a hurricane indeed that would sweep away all the commonplace to-morrows and leave her and her love alone in the prim, dainty little room, on the couch with the pink shells, beneath the pale, gold-framed water-colours of the Highlands of Scotland, spied on only by the mincing china lovers, and their own dim, dim reflections in the round, half-seen diminishing mirror that hung above the inlaid stand that held the dead woman's music albums.
"Don't ever leave me." The silly, commonplace words sounded lovely to Angel as he uttered them. "Always be there, loving me."
"As if I could escape you—now. I never think of anything else."
"Something will happen. Something will come between us but—in your heart, your spirit, don't ever leave me."
She stopped to kiss the thick dark hair that lay wind-blown on his
forehead: he raised his head quickly, with an ejaculation of passionate
gratitude; the woman forgot everything, even her sense of her own silly
THE HURRICANE had avoided Jamaica, which had received only the final mutterings of the fury that in Cuba had cast down buildings, flung ships from their moorings, cast down huge trees and overwhelmed villages. Above the austere outlines of the Blue Mountains, the white rigid shapes of the clouds mounted upwards; above the strewn palms, up-rooted ferns and torn creepers, fresh flowers uncurled in the brilliant heat; the clear water plunged from rock to rock in headlong cascades, above which fluttered the gaudy birds relieved of their fear.
Along the coasts the waves again broke gently in long lines of surf on the sands, where the myriads of lovely shells glistened and washed slowly into the caves, above which festooned the wind-swept garlands of wild blue grape. On pools, again still, the water-lilies opened, and the bent ferns uncurled again on the banks where the forget-me-not and the sorrel sent out fresh flowers to greet the sun which, harsh and blinding, sent a fierce glare on to the tangled riches of the Island.
The humming-birds darted in and out of the honey-filled flower bells; the
moths, reborn creatures of an hour, stained the air with their misty colour;
the fallen bunches of mistletoe and nightshade withered unseen in the
stagnant marshes beneath the scarlet blossoms of the morass bark; the heavy,
slow and fearless butterfly, the black and yellow Heliconia, moved across the
barren tangled stems of the dodder. The conch blew again over the
plantations, where the slaves returned to their labours.
ANGEL THICKNESSE lay on the old-fashioned bed in her own house; the urn-shaped pillars kept the fine white folds of the mosquito-net extended over her. She was tranquil in a remote, romantic dream, clasping her fingers in the long tresses of her fair hair, believing she was beautiful, knowing that to one, at least, she was desirable. The sad light of the gloomy room did not depress her; she dwelt in an inner radiance.
He had gone to Government House; he was going up into the hills on a heroic and difficult mission; she was sure that he would win honour and glory; he would, perhaps, save the Island; he would be the means of sparing much bloodshed, suffering and cruelty.
She rejoiced in his virtues, not for their own sake, but because they belonged to him. If, in the same fashion he had had vices, she would have excused them to herself, saying that they were brilliant, honourable and worthy. She thought of his face as it had been bent above hers in an ardour of love, the heavy locks and shadowy eyebrows, the open brow, short, beautiful nose, the finely-shaped lips, the thick, rather short neck, wide shoulders and long body. He loved her and would always love her and she would be always happy. She was pleased at the thought of her own duplicity, and the way in which she had fooled and hoodwinked, and, according to his own code, disgraced Thomas Thicknesse. It seemed to her that in some obscure way she had effaced the insult he had put on her by his intrigue with the mulatto woman; she put aside the fine folds of the mosquito-net and the russet-brown of the curtains with their faded wreaths and withered flowers, and stepped on to the floor.
The tall window looked upon a wall; by peering at the side she could catch a glimpse of the sky; it was silver-blue and augured well for the future.
She looked at herself in the mirror where so many dead women had peered, anxiously, lazily; she whispered to herself, half awed, half ashamed:
How absurd to suppose that one was altered by these abstractions; she was not branded; embraces, kissings and claspings left no traces.
She recalled her own sensations of disgust when she had seen the mulatto leave her husband's room, her sense of beauty desecrated, despoiled. How foolish that was! The girl was not the less beautiful for being the lover of many men, she, the dainty, precise, English gentlewoman who had lived far too long in chaste spinsterhood, was not the less desirable, for having had a husband, for having a lover.
All those barren virtues of which she had written so frequently—what did they mean? To her—nothing.
Her long, prudish chastity, what did that mean? Merely that she had never been wooed, merely that she had been bound and gagged by the frosty conventions in which she had been bred, which she had never had the wit or the courage to break.
"Now I begin to know myself—to understand the woman I am."
A text often on her father's withered lips came into her excited mind.
"The Lord will call on each of us to render an account of
himself."—"Does that include the women? Well, I shall know what to
SHE WENT DOWNSTAIRS and found Polly and Rosa, sullen and, as she thought, hostile, idly dusting out the great salon.
They had asked her, the day after the storm:
"Oh, Missie, where you when dat great wind go by?"
Angel had answered, secure in her falsehood,
"You silly creatures, I was in my room. Where were you? I called you several times. You must have been hidden."
"Oh, Missie," sighed Rosa, "dat wind carry duppy round and round de house, at ebery windo dat duppy look in! Dat duppy look for someone to take away!"
"Whose ghost was it, you stupid girl?"
"Rosa not know dat. But someone in dis fambly am going die soon."
As Angel sat at her breakfast, she thought, through all her happiness, of these words; how difficult it was to avoid superstition! She must be careful—so careful that she did not sicken in this place, that she did not lie in the mausoleum beside the coffin from which Betty Thicknesse rose to wander the ferny woods.
"We must escape soon. We must get away from this Island. I must find out about divorce."
She wondered, vaguely, what had happened at Venables Penn; perhaps some of the property on which her money had been spent had been destroyed; odd that she could not care. Never again, she was sure, would she be stupid or heart-weary or bitter or sad.
"Even if I were to die to-night, it has been enough."
The gloomy, dusty house, the negligent service, the badly-cooked food that she did not like, the atmosphere of the alien town—none of this could sully her happiness.
She went abroad early for the pleasure of walking past his house; she visited again the church which twice had been the means of bringing them together. She went into the stores, and from the tradesmen in their cotton suits bought little objects with her Spanish money, sticks of molasses and bright fruits in woven grass baskets, some odd pipes such as the negroes played on, a roll of muslin with silver stripes, a string of vermilion beads, any cheap trifle that caught her fancy.
"I've always been content," she thought, "with safe, shallow things. I
need toys. Is it possible that a poor creature like me has found this
SHE WAS HOME AGAIN and making preparations for a return to Venables Penn. There was a chance that he might be at his estate before he went on his mission up the mountains. She had implored him for one more meeting, cost what it would, by the limestone pool, and he had assented. Even if he disappointed her she would rather wait for him there than here in Spanish Town.
When everything was ready, she found that she had forgotten that she had no carriage. How could she get a conveyance to take her to Venables? She was still involved in this problem when her husband entered the dark house. He seemed tired, and under his usual complacency were signs of exasperation, of anger perhaps.
She looked at him furtively, almost wishing that he could know what she had experienced since he had left her; she was glad that he had come because it was convenient. She asked him about the curricle.
"Did you ride over or bring the carriage? I want to return to the plantation immediately."
"Do you? Why? I've told you again and again you're safer here." He wore his uniform and was armed; he looked clumsy, a civilian in military trim. "The whole Island will be in a rebellion. We may all have our throats cut."
"What makes you say that?"
"I know what I've seen, and what I've heard. I'm a plain man, but I can judge things for myself. Sir William is past his work, he ought to be recalled, sending that half-caste to represent the people of the Island—"
"That half-caste, John Gordon."
"What do you mean? What do you mean?"
"Why, what I say. Don't stare at me like that, Mary. You don't know the fellow, do you? He has the estate next ours. It was left him by his father."
"I know, I've heard of him. But you said—half-caste."
"Well, so he is—more than half a negro. His mother was a mulatto, a freed slave—he is a quadroon, as they call them."
"Why are you so startled? Do you know anything about him? Have you met him? Don't stare at me like that. You understand nothing, the fellow has no civil rights, he can't hold any public office, has no vote, not allowed to leave property worth more than a few hundred pounds—his word's not taken against white people's. Yet Sir William, who must be in his dotage, sent him to treat with these savages, because, he says, he understands them!"
"It is horrible. Oh, yes, you're right. It's very horrible. I think I'm going to be sick. The storm has frightened me—it disgusts me."
"You're going to be ill!" exclaimed Mr. Thicknesse sharply, thinking what a nuisance the woman was, what a bore, what a failure.
Angel sat with her elbows on the table, her knuckles propping her chin, and her stunned senses had revived with a swiftness that surprised herself; she could not have stood on her feet, but she was able to command her speech.
"It's your segar! You're always smoking."
"That couldn't have turned you sick, suddenly like that."
"Oh, I don't know, it's the whole thing, the hurricane. Go on talking."
"Talking what about?" he demanded suspiciously.
"Well, what you were telling me. About the Island, and this man—" She gave the name as if she delivered a blow, a sly, cowardly blow. "This man, John Gordon."
"Oh, why are you interested in him? You haven't met him, have you?"
"I'm not interested in him. I want to know what's going to happen. I'll have to live in the place. The packet's gone, I'm here for another month at least."
"Talking won't help," said Mr. Thicknesse dryly. "I lost my temper this afternoon, always a mistake, and one I don't often make."
He added with a flare-up of passion: "Sir William ought to be recalled. I'll do my best to see he is, to put that dirty nigger over all our heads."
"Dirty nigger," repeated Angel, "dirty nigger. Yes, that's what he is. I can't understand it, I can't understand it at all."
He thought that she referred to the Governor's action and looked at her with some approval.
"No, it's certainly never been done before. I don't like these humanitarians. Sir William must be a Radical, the whining parsons here have got hold of him. I suppose the end of it will be civil war, or a massacre."
"Who is he?" asked Angel, staring up at her husband. "Who is this man?"
"Who, John Gordon? Well, I told you just now what he is, and you repeated it. A dirty nigger."
"But I mean his father."
"Oh, his father. He was a wealthy man, much respected in the Island, too. But he'd a touch of black blood, a Cuba nigger, I don't know—his first wife and his four children were swept off by the fever in about a couple of weeks, it seemed to turn his head. Then, when he was drunk or crazy, he married this mulatto. Married her, mind you, and left all his property to their son."
"And he's not married?" asked Angel, delicately probing into the anguish of her own wound.
"Of course not. He won't marry a black, and a white woman won't look at him. He's popular with some of the men. They seem to like him. To me, he has about as much character as a glass of milk. Of course, he's got money, too—that counts."
"Where is he now? What is he doing?"
"Well, as I left it, he was to go off into the Johnny Crow mountains, with some soldiers, to try to negotiate with these wretches, with old Cuffee, who knows him. He wants to stop a war, he said, and Hayes, the fool, was for backing him up. But the chasseurs landed here this morning at Port Royal and we've got some of the sailors ashore. The only consolation is," added the cool, angry man, "that he'll probably get shot. Captain Singleton was, you know; he went up there to treat with these devils, and though he carried a white flag, they lured him on into a defile and shot him. He bled to death before he could be got down."
While her husband had been speaking Angel had been carefully gathering the strength with which to leave the room; drop by drop she had hoarded it, as a thirsty man may hoard a trickle of water until it fills his cup. Now she could stand on her feet, now she could walk to the door, now she could say:
"When are you going back to the plantation?"
"Well, it's late now—say, to-morrow."
"Very well, I'll come too."
"Devoted as all that?" he asked pleasantly. "You'll be safer here, you know."
"I don't care. I don't like Spanish Town. I'd rather go to the plantation."
"Very well, as you please." He proceeded to relight the segar he had
crushed out at her complaint, and nodded to her, pacified if not pleased by
what he thought her sympathy with his just indignation.
ANGEL CLOSED THE DOOR carefully and went slowly up the stairs. She was not able to reach the great bed where the fine white draperies hung over the urn-shaped pillars; she sank down into the chair inside the door and began tearing the tarnished braid off the curved arms.
"This is hell," she muttered in a matter-of-fact way, "this is hell."
It did not occur to her that her situation was dramatic or romantic, or a fit subject for a novel. She was entirely serious; her beautiful, flattering, ecstatic love affair had disappeared as if she had blown a thistledown from her hand. He had only wanted her out of vanity, out of spite because he couldn't get any other white woman, because all the women in the Island despised him, would not have him even in their drawing-rooms, she supposed; and she was a fool, a stranger, an ignorant, stupid woman who knew nothing; now it was all so plain.
She laughed hysterically at the thought of her own admiration. She had considered him different from any other Englishman she had met; she well might have marked the difference between him and men of pure white blood; it was the slim, the regal grace of Africa that she had noticed in that finely-modelled body, the beauty of the savage, the same manner of majesty and grace as the mulatto girl owned. She could see the traits now in his character too; even the traits which had pleased her now disgusted; of course he was fine, tender and gentle beyond what she thought it possible for a man to be—that was merely the subservience and cringing of the slave; how basely he had deceived her too; like a coward, like a slave; she saw his face now, thick-featured, dark—her Highland chief!
"Dirty nigger," she repeated, "dirty nigger."
That was what her husband called him, that is what she supposed every white man in the Island called him; he was despised, outcast, without civil rights; why, she supposed, it was only the merest chance that he was not himself a slave, the marriage of his mother had been the result of the merest caprice—no wonder her name was not on the mural tablet in the church, no wonder he had said that she died far away; how he had deceived her from the first, base and mean and unworthy!
Her rage dissolved into tears; this was the greatest sorrow of her life and she bemoaned it passionately, weeping for her dead, beautiful love which had been so flattering and charming, so entirely absorbing. Then, when the first fury of her grief had exhausted itself, she began, puzzled, to think out the dreadful circumstances.
It was not after all strange that she had been deceived, she had seen Europeans as dark as he was; she had not been such a fool, there was nothing about him to betray him; she recalled his fastidiousness, the freshness of his clothes, the fragrance of his person; his estates, so much better kept than those of her husband, his house in Spanish Town so much more comely and pleasant than her husband's house. Yet he was a mulatto—the word to Angel was the same as ape or beast; save for that fantastic chance of his mother's marriage, he was the same as the girl who sat in the Obeah woman's but counting the bracelets on her arm with the brand of slavery on her shoulder; she tried to imagine him working in the sugar-mills, cutting the canes, using the scythe on the indigo, stuffing the cotton into bales; if he had been dressed in open white shirt and cotton trousers and a battered palm-leaf hat, with rings in his ears, would he have looked like the other slaves?
Angel did not think so; she had accepted him from the first as a gentleman of breeding and education and this image would not be effaced; these rapid emotions left her exhausted.
She crawled to the bed, pulled aside the net and flung herself down. Disappointment engulfed her then; she could think of nothing but what she had missed; she could only contemplate, with the utmost amazement, the happiness she had possessed but a few hours before; she considered all the plans she had made; she could scarcely believe that these were now not only useless, but a mockery. It was as if she had found a string of diamonds that she had believed were of the finest water and lustre, and then she had discovered they were paste, and worthless paste at that, only fit to be thrown away.
She dared not contemplate her future. What was her life going to be, tied to Thomas Thicknesse, imprisoned in Jamaica? No, it was impossible for her to remain in Jamaica; the same Island could not now hold her and John Gordon; she had now no interest in her work—she thought of The Golden Violet with loathing. How she had flattered him by allowing him to read the description of the floral games and the joy of the young lovers when united at last! How he must have mocked her when he said, "This is beautiful—it has taught me something of your soul;" no, she would not be able to write again, not even the verses for the annuals and Keepsakes or little sketches for the books of beauty, and so she would be dependent upon her husband for a grudged existence.
"It can't end like this!"
She writhed on the bed, clutching at the coverlets.
"It can't end like this. I hope there will be a war, I hope there will be a massacre. I'd rather have my throat cut than go on living like this."
She felt that only violent action would assuage her agony. A dreadful energy took the place of her lassitude; she got up, put the comb through her hair and bathed her face with a sponge, tied on her hat and went quickly out of the house.
As she passed the half-open door of the great dining-room, she saw that her husband was still there, and several men with him in uniform and with arms; they were all talking earnestly together; the air was foul with segar smoke and the fumes of alcohol.
She stared at the hot and deserted square. The British flag hoisted above King's House drooped heavily about the pole, the statue of Lord Rodney cast a long shadow which reached the dusty palisades; the palms hung broken from the violence of the late storm.
Angel paced across the square to the Governor's house; she spoke in peremptory tones to the liveried servants at the door.
"Is His Excellency within?"
She looked past the man, who gazed at her as if he did not know what to reply to this unusual demand from such an unusual visitor. She saw several soldiers, Englishmen from the ships at Port Royal and Spanish Town standing in the ante-chamber.
"If you please, will you tell Sir William Hayes a Mrs. Thicknesse, Angelica Cowley, would like to speak to him. Something quite important, about the state of the Island."
The man replied doubtfully but with respect that His Excellency had been deeply occupied all day and was now resting.
"Would he see me, just for five minutes?"
She entered the hall. She passed the officers with an impressive air and ran up the wide staircase with the servant at her heels. He ushered her with some alarm into an ante-chamber, very finely furnished but not well kept; and there she waited, not trying to collect her thoughts, not, at last, planning how to act or to behave, not, for once, marshalling her affectations and her defences, but in terrible grief, and sincere.
A member of Sir William's staff entered and said that the Governor would see her. This man looked, Angel thought, at her with some surprise, but she cared nothing. She was no longer self-conscious nor awkward. She had forgotten that she was Angel Cowley, a lady novelist.
Sir William received her in the large salon which had been little used since the death of Lady Hayes. Like the ante-chamber the room was over-furnished and neglected. Though there were thirty slaves in King's House, the work was done very ill.
Angel stood facing Sir William, who looked weary and harassed; his clothes were dishevelled, like the apartment, and he had not lost the trick which she had noted before of thrusting a soiled silk handkerchief up into his damp forehead and hair.
"Why, Mrs. Thicknesse," he said in the pleasant, well-bred voice that contrasted strangely with his appearance, "what can I do for you?"
"I don't come as a petitioner," said Angel, with a thin smile.
"Sit down, my dear young lady. I wouldn't have seen everybody, to-day, but I remembered you. At dinner, soon after you arrived, wasn't it? Charming, charming," he said, as if at a pleasant recollection, and his eyes went over Angel with a look of admiration, which, on another occasion, would have given her deep pleasure. Now she was entirely oblivious even of masculine approval.
"I thought perhaps you'd see me, Sir William. I thought perhaps you'd be sorry for me. I won't take your time up long, but you see there's nobody in the Island who is really my friend."
"I quite understand. You've been down at Venables Penn, haven't you? You haven't been much in Spanish Town?"
"No, I haven't really entered your society at all. I don't seem to get on with the women here."
"Well, I don't blame you for that," smiled Sir William. "White people rather go to pieces in Jamaica. It's the climate, I suppose, and the sickness. Then, there's nothing much to do. You write, don't you—poetry?"
"I used to." She smiled at herself. "It seems a long time ago. But I won't bother you with that. It's my husband. You see, he doesn't take me into his confidence."
"You're not leaving him?" asked Sir William suddenly.
"No, what made you ask that, sir? At least, I don't know." She pulled at the frills on her skirt. "It's been an unhappy marriage, but I haven't come to you about that. I want to know what's going to happen in the Island. My husband was very angry when he came home to-day—I didn't understand all he spoke about; he wouldn't be bothered to explain to me."
"Why do you want me to explain to you?" asked the Governor curiously. "You don't look frightened."
"No, I'm not exactly frightened, I just want to know—A rising of the slaves—a war with those savages in the mountains?"
"I don't know," replied Sir William. "I'll talk to you, now, dear young lady, as I would to another man. You're a stranger here, and it's only fair that I should be quite frank. Your husband ought to have told you. Well, matters look pretty black, there's no doubt about it. I'll confess there's been a good deal of mal-administration going on, corruption and all the rest of it. And then, trade's not been good, people haven't been making the money they used to. And there's been a good deal of illness, too, among the negroes, which meant a heavy loss, and in some cases, I'm afraid, cruelty. Then, perhaps, most important of all, there's been this agitation about the abolition of slavery. The Assembly voted thirty thousand pounds to buy His Royal Highness, the Duke of Clarence, a diamond sword, because he had spoken against the Abolition Act—so you see the feeling. Well, somehow the negroes get to hear of these things and it makes them restive and difficult." He paused as if he regretted having spoken at such length, as if he felt the futility of his explanation; he gazed at her, wondering why she had come, why he had seen her.
Angel, speaking carefully, leaning forward, asked:
"You have sent, sir, a mission to the rebels in the mountains? My husband seemed very indignant about that. Forgive me, I want to understand."
"We made an agreement with the Maroons and allowed them certain settlements, and they seem to have behaved peacefully enough. I think they tried to keep their part of the bargain. They ask very little from life, poor devils, they live by hunting wild boars and growing a few poor crops—and the runaway slaves go to them, naturally enough. That stirs up trouble. Some of the white men pursued the slaves and shot the Maroons. Well, there was the provocation and the clergymen ready to take it.—But why concern yourself about it, my dear Mrs. Thicknesse, I should take the next packet home if I were you."
"My husband spoke very harshly, and very unkindly of a man who wants to negotiate with these savages, one John Gordon." She listened to her own voice, how unnatural it sounded, like that of an automaton.
"Did he trouble you with that? Well, personally, I don't think Mr. Thicknesse behaved at all well. Forgive me, my dear young lady, but men like your husband were at the bottom of the trouble. You see, they treat their negroes—well—worse than animals—like dirt, like vermin."
"He called John Gordon a dirty nigger," smiled Angel. "A dirty nigger."
"Did he? That's a pity. Of course, the man has black blood, and everybody knows it, and by law he is disabled from holding any office in the Island. I suppose you have heard all that."
"Yes, I've heard. Why I've come to you is because I have met the man—oh, I don't know where now, just by chance."
"He doesn't visit Venables Penn, does he?"
"Oh no. It was in the wood. There is a field of dodder—don't you call it dodder?—like a giant cobweb, it is," Angel controlled herself. "Well, I've met him, and I like him, and I am trying to get—all this—clear."
"You are quite right to like him," said the Governor, easily, "I consider him a fine man and an honourable gentleman: I don't care what any of 'em says. If he had been listened to from the first, there wouldn't have been all this trouble now. He treated the Maroons, you understand, as if they, too, were honourable gentlemen, and he wasn't far wrong. They've got their code, you know, just the same as they've got their feelings—that is what the planters won't understand—naturally we have many kind masters here. Some of 'em are very good to their slaves, but there is that feeling that you can't eradicate that they are slaves, that they're not ordinary human beings. That's the grievance with the unfortunate creatures."
"This Mr. Gordon, has he gone up to the mountains?"
"Yes; you see he speaks the dialect of the Maroons; they can't do much in English. Besides, I do trust him, whatever anyone says. I've sent him up with some soldiers. He gets on well with a great many of the parsons."
"Is he the only coloured man in his position in the Island?"
"Oh, I shouldn't call John Gordon a coloured man. Though in the eyes of the law, he's a quadroon."
"Then it's true," muttered Angel.
"Ah, yes, didn't you know?" Sir William rose and approached her chair. "What have you really come to me about, my dear lady?"
"Just that. It's quite natural, isn't it? The man's our neighbour, and I told you I'm not on good terms with my husband. He keeps me in the dark. He's unkind."
"Ah, yes, I've heard something about that. His first wife, you know—my God," he asked suddenly, "why did you marry him?"
"That's the most foolish question in the world, isn't it?" Angel did not know that her fingers were pulling at the fringe on her skirt.
"I think you're a brave woman," said Sir William. "I admire you."
"Brave! I'm afraid of the truth. I'm a fool. You'll never know how big a fool, sir."
"Well, you're an Englishwoman, and they have a way of rising to the occasion. I think you can trust yourself," he added carefully, "I shouldn't see too much of John Gordon, I shouldn't meet him in the woods if I were you—or where you have been meeting him—"
"But you spoke well of him."
"I know, but there is—in the eyes of everyone here—that great difficulty. He has got black blood."
"So you think, sir, that one shouldn't have him for a friend?"
"No, Mrs. Thicknesse, I shouldn't. Things being as they are, I shouldn't have him for a friend. You see, he's in an awkward position, poor devil, I pity him. He can't find a white wife, and he won't take one of mixed blood, you understand."
"Yes, I understand. But you did not answer my other question, sir. Are there any other mulattos—quadroons in his position?"
"No. You see," Sir William smiled apologetically, "it's the marriage that's rare."
"And if his mother hadn't been married," said Angel, "he might have been a slave."
"I suppose so, but many of them do earn their freedom or buy their freedom. However, it's all very complicated, and I shouldn't concern myself about it if I were you. Well, have I satisfied you?"
Angel rose, the torn fringe in her hands:
"You have helped me. I was in great trouble. I had to talk to someone, I'm quite friendless, sir, and I thought of you, the King's House, the flag, representing freedom, you know."
"I'm glad you came, ma'am." He took her hand and pressed it warmly. "I dare say your husband told you I was past my work. Many of them think so, though I've a fair backing. You see, my dear, I've all the responsibility. Sometimes it is a little too much for me."
"You must be lonely. People die so quickly here, don't they—the women do, at least."
"Yes, it's lonely. It's my work—I can't shirk it."
They changed the subject gracefully. "But I think you're safe at Venables Penn. Your husband took some of the Militia there, a young Frenchman, Dupré, whom I trust, in command. Besides, I hope we'll stop the disturbances before they get as far as your place."
"What do you mean, the disturbances?"
"Well, there's been a good deal of property destroyed, my dear, crops ruined, farms, mills burnt down. No need to ask any more, I should think. You're a clever young lady, aren't you?"
"I suppose that means that there's been killing and outraging?"
"All of that. You treat a man like a beast, and he'll behave like a beast when he has the chance."
"What happens to them," she asked, "when they're captured?"
"They're put to death, of course, though some people don't like to do it. You see, each slave is worth about eighty pounds."
"Good-bye, Sir William, and thank you for your great kindness." She dropped him a little curtsy and he took her hand again.
"I admire you, Mrs. Thicknesse, and I've often thought about you. Good luck."
She went slowly down the staircase of the King's House, and she was glad that she had come to see this overworked, untidy, dishevelled man. It had been very strengthening to hear him say that he liked her. She liked him, and he made her feel that she was not such a stupid sham, not such a miserable failure as she had thought herself, if she could win the approval of a man like Sir William; she was sorry for him, for his widowed state, his neglected house, for his untidy person. He was weak, no doubt, and being driven beyond his strength. He had a fund of obstinacy, too, she was sure, and courage. He intended to hold firmly to what he believed was the right. From him she had had a sane, just view of John Gordon, which was what she desperately needed, and he had gained by the approval of the Governor; yet Sir William himself had warned her against being a friend of the man, against meeting him by chance in the woods.
A friend! Sir William, a shrewd, experienced man, knew what the word "friend" meant when used of an unhappily-married woman and an attractive man. Possibly he read her clearly, understood why she had found the courage to visit him so unceremoniously, to speak to him so frankly.
She did not care what he had guessed, even the loss of her reputation, of her position, of all she possessed, would be light compared to what she had already been bereft of...she thought of his mother's room, with the Highland views, the Chelsea figures, the little spinet...she could understand why there was no portrait of Mrs. Gordon...a coloured woman had sat amid the English treasures aping the white lady.
The recollections of that little room overwhelmed her rage, her humiliation in sorrow; she was crying foolishly into her twisted handkerchief as she returned furtively to her gloomy house where her husband still sat with his friends under the glassy-eyed portraits of his ancestors, and the negresses peering from the lower room where they cleaned vegetables, grinned to see her, alone, glide so slyly into her own home.
MR. THICKNESSE glanced at his wife with irritation as they drove along the shaded road back to Venables Penn. He thought she was going to be ill; he dreaded the fuss and confusion that illness would cause—he did not want to have the meddling doctor and perhaps the even more tiresome clergyman in his house. There was enough trouble without that. He was grateful at least that she did not complain, but he did not like the look of her as she sat at his side, sunk back against the cushions, her head drooping on her breast almost as if she were insensible, and swaying from side to side with the motion of the carriage; even when they passed the bridge near Sinclair that she had admired, and he told her that he would take her there soon, she did not respond to his attempt at courtesy.
Good God, was the woman going to take that long lingering sickness which had made Camilla peevish, wasted and dull for years before it had sent her to her Norfolk grave?
He wondered to himself angrily if anything could be more distasteful than a sick woman, withered, yellow and petulant, and he hoped, as a matter of common sense, that if she were going to be ill, the disease would soon prove fatal.
Angel was in every way a disappointment to her husband; the packet had left for Gravesend without the final chapters of The Golden Violet and the last amount or money which he had received on account of her English sales had not been very large. There would not be much chance of making his plantation pay and of saving enough money to buy his Norfolk estate back on her earnings; he bitterly accused himself of a stupid mistake.
As they approached Venables Penn he tried to rouse her, exercising his usual self-control, speaking pleasantly, but hardly able to disguise a certain impatience.
"My dear, we are nearly there. You should control yourself. I don't want the slaves to see you in a state of collapse."
"I am not collapsed, only tired and thinking. I took a little laudanum, too—I had a pain, round my heart it seemed."
"Laudanum! You've got laudanum?" he asked sharply. "You must be careful with that, you know—you're just the kind of woman to take an overdose."
"You don't think I'm to be trusted in anything," she replied. "Do you?"
"No, I don't. You'll please to give me the laudanum. If you want anything of that kind, I'll get the doctor to measure it out for you." He assisted her out of the curricle.
"I'm glad to be away from Spanish Town," she said.
He asked her sharply and suddenly: "Why did you go and see the Governor at King's House, alone? That was an eccentric thing to do."
"Was it?" replied Angel dully. "I'm not used, you know, to the formality of the Island."
"What did you want to know of him that I could not have told you?" demanded Mr. Thicknesse.
"It is not a question of what you could, but what you would tell me," she replied, staring round on the familiar scene that had become utterly alien.
She went up to her room, which had a horrid look of home, and bolted the door. It was not true that she had been taking laudanum. She wished she had some of that drug; she had found it impossible to procure it in Spanish Town; she wanted to frighten her husband, to make him think that she had some refuge against him, to make him anxious and concerned about her state of health.
She stood by the cedar-wood chest, half in a mind to unlock it and take out the texts and her parents' funeral cards, the pious books that her father had left her, and put them again in their old places. She half hoped that they might be a defence against what had happened to her, a support in her wild grief and passion—but, no, it would not do. They had never meant much to her, they had always been pretences, and now she was past pretences.
Her husband had left the house again at once; he had gone down to the village, she supposed; she had seen some of the Militiamen standing about; a bad odour seemed to have loaded the air; she had passed two slaves in chains—were they going to be beaten, hanged? "Are we all perhaps going to be murdered?"
She called up old Flora, with whom she was most familiar and asked her what had happened while she had been absent from the Penn? The negress was sullen, withdrawn, would only give her "Yes" or "No"; but Angel understood, even from her brief, reluctant answers, that there had been trouble. Some slaves had been shot and, as far as she could understand, cast away to be devoured by worms and flies, even while alive.
"Half-dead nigger no good to no one," said the woman, twisting her hands in her striped apron. "Dead nigger no want nothing."
"I ought to go down to the village, to the hospital, I suppose," said Angel to herself. "If I was the good, pious, sentimental woman that I thought I was, I should have been down there long before. There must be women and children wanting things. But I can't face it, I'm not going to catch a horrible illness or make myself sick with disgusting sights. What am I going to do—?"
She pulled herself up short before the mirror which hung beside her desk. She always kept a mirror there so that when she was writing she could look up suddenly and see her own face, admire the curves of her neck and throat and some ornaments she wore or the tucker of lace around her bosom.
"What am I going to do?" she repeated, staring at herself. Her face, surely, which she had always thought rather meaningless, had changed; it had become sharp and refined—older, too, with a wasted look; no wonder her husband thought she was ill. Perhaps she was going to be ill, to die; the whole air seemed tainted with blood, with horror, with mysterious sickness.
For the third time she asked herself: "What am I going to do?"
She knew the answer. She was going down to the limestone pool, she was going to pretend that nothing had happened between them. If he were not there, she was going to sit and read, staring down at herself in the water. The doves were not cooing now, or the insects buzzing; it was too late in the year and all mating was over. The tropical summer was swelling everything towards fruition. She would lie there in that hot silence, pretending. There was a chance that he might come; she had begged him to do so. He was going on a dangerous enterprise up the mountains; he might be killed like that man of whom the Governor had spoken—that would be the best solution of her difficulty, that he should be killed.
"Yet if he were I should probably go mad."
She left the house without touching the food which the negresses had prepared for her. Her husband had already gone down to the village. No one seemed to take any notice of her.
There was some trouble, some ferment among the slaves. Very little work was being done in the village. She did not know if that was because there was little to do at this time of the year, or if the negroes were rebellious or being punished. "How can they revolt?" she wondered. "They've no weapons, no leader."
Two coloured Militiamen, free blacks, she supposed, were on sentry duty at the edge of the spice grove. They were talking eagerly together, and Angel did not feel she trusted them. The thought crossed her mind: "These Militia, nearly all coloured, free blacks or some mixed breed—supposing they were to join the slaves, and those savages in the mountains?"
She hurried away from the plantation; the vegetation appeared to have grown since she had been there last; the leaves and flowers were monstrous in their size, overwhelming in their vivid colour, oppressive with their perfumes, which she now found rank.
Everything that had happened to her since she had been in the Island
crowded into her mind in an ugly confusion. The deserted house with the
wasps' nests, her shopping expeditions in Spanish Town, the tasteless dinner
at Government House, the killing of the manatee, her visit to the Obeah
woman, the figure of the mulatto girl with the scarlet umbrella and the tuft
of feathers, those hours she had spent in John Gordon's house while the power
of the hurricane wind swept by outside the tall curtained windows.
HE WAS THERE, waiting for her in a thoughtful attitude; she saw him as soon as she came in sight of the pool; she went on, without, she thought, her own volition; it was impossible for her to turn back.
She was foolishly surprised at his appearance, as if she had expected him to be different since she had come to a true knowledge of him, as if she had somehow visualised him in the form of a monster; his composure, his grace and his beauty, his smiling welcome, his air of an English gentleman, his fine clothes—all oppressed her with a sense of poignant horror.
"I came down here on the chance," he began. "I hoped—oh, you have come. I must leave in an hour or so. Why, what's the matter with you? Are you ill?" he added sharply.
"Am I as changed as all that!" she exclaimed. She found that it still hurt not to be beautiful in his eyes. "I may as well tell you at once. I learnt from my husband and from the Governor—about you."
"Yes?" he said earnestly, as if genuinely puzzled and surprised.
"I'll tell him," thought Angel cruelly, "and then he'll cringe. All the slave blood in him will come out and he'll be at my feet, and after that has happened I shan't care for him any more, or regret him. I wish I had brought a whip." She felt no compassion for him; he had cheated her so horribly.
"I know why you haven't married, why you've no friends and no official position, why you live here alone. Why you've nothing but just—by chance—your name and your money." She wanted keenly to see him either flush or pale, but he remained tranquil, still with that look of astonishment.
"You are angry with me. What is it you have heard about me?"
"Oh, you know. Don't try to play with me any more. What should I hear about you? What a fool I was not to learn it before."
"There is nothing," he replied quietly. "No disgrace or shame or disaster that you could learn about me to change you so."
"He is trying," she thought desperately, "to out-face me. He is going to pretend. That's cunning, like a slave."
She said out loud: "I've learnt you're what my husband called 'a dirty nigger.'"
He understood her then; she had the horrible satisfaction of seeing the blood surge into his face, which became distorted by a slight convulsion; at last he was moved, and terribly; but he did not cringe, as she had expected, as she had hoped. He did nothing to kill that wild affection which she still felt for him.
"I had forgotten that. I did not suppose it would make any difference."
"Forgotten it! How is it possible for you to forget it?"
"When I'm with other people it isn't possible for me to forget it. They see to it that I remember. But when I was with you I did forget it."
"Because," cried he violently, "I loved you, and I thought that you loved me."
"Because of this love you deceived me, you cheated. You were base and mean. You had me under false pretences."
"No, it was not that," he said, speaking with emphasis, no longer bewildered. "At first, yes, I was, perhaps, a coward, but even then I was not sure that you did not know, I thought your husband or someone else would have told you. I thought perhaps you did not care. You were new to the Island and it seemed to me that perhaps you were indifferent to this prejudice. Afterwards, as I told you, I forgot. We were just a man and a woman, you see."
His presence, his voice, the manner in which he had received her passion calmed and soothed Angel. She sank down on the rock beneath which they had agreed to hide their messages; her passion seemed to have spent itself against his serenity as a wave will spend itself against a cliff, shattering its fierce tumult into incoherency. She no longer felt any rhythm or pattern or design in her life or her feelings; she could only cling to convention and tradition.
"To become a slave," she said. "You might have been a slave yourself."
He looked at her with tenderness, and, she thought, compassion.
"So might you, darling. I told you I saw an Algerian corsair off the coast. They capture white people and make slaves of them. Is it not a question of time and place and circumstance?"
"You are not ashamed, then?"
"Ashamed? I must not be ashamed. Can you understand that? I must even forget that they try to make me ashamed." He broke off. "I try to be a philosopher. It was bitter when I first understood, but, you know, I have many good friends."
"But you couldn't find a white woman to marry you." She thought of her own position, and added miserably, "Unless you deceived her."
"I have never wanted to marry a white woman. The only woman for whom I cared—" He smiled. "Do not let us quarrel, darling. I am going away—perhaps I shall not come back. It's dangerous, you know. I'm sorry, so sorry I've hurt you. No, I was deceived," he added quietly, "I really thought you loved me."
"Deceived! But I did love you!"
"But you couldn't have loved me, darling, or you wouldn't mind anything."
This truth silenced her; how often had she thought of immortal love, love stronger than disaster or death or long separation; now, at the first test, she had failed herself; she tried to twist in the net of her own perplexity.
"You didn't care for me," she murmured. "You only did it to give yourself a triumph, just to have a white woman at your feet."
He shook his head. "You don't believe that, even if you say it. You know I'm not vain."
She did know it. She was silent again—then she began to weep, putting her hands over her face. She heard him coming close to her; she knew that he must be bending over her, his voice was so near. She heard him blaming himself, bitterly, almost violently; he said that he ought to have known, to have "understood, that he should have made everything clear between them from the first, but that it was hard for him when he was alone with her, believing that love was between them, to remember that she might hold him tainted or disgraced; and she heard him say, with proud promise, yet without a touch of affectation or peevishness:
"I am as good a man, as honest a gentleman as your husband, as anyone in the Island. I have never failed my word nor flinched from my duty. I told you I had good teachers—my father, the doctor, and the clergyman. My father was always a tragic man—his first wife and his children died like that, you know. He had, too, black blood—he never went to Europe. But he loved my mother, and he loved me, and really, I am ashamed of nothing."
She looked up at him with blurred eyes.
"Ashamed of nothing?"
His charming face became for a second overcast.
"Oh, I should not have loved you, I suppose. That was wrong, according to the code of some of them. Again, I do not know. If it were genuine love, if you cared for me, I should not be ashamed."
With that odd, almost feminine tenderness which she had seen in him before, and always with a catch at her heart, he took her handkerchief from her half-opened reticule and delicately wiped her eyes and cheeks.
"Do not cry, my darling, do not cry for me. Very likely you will never see me again. Can you look back at it and say that it was ugly or distasteful or that you wished it had never been?"
She could not; she began to weep afresh.
"I was so grateful to you. You see, no one has ever loved me before, and a man like you—" She remembered the Governor's praise of him; she dried her eyes again to tell him breathlessly what Sir William Hayes had said: "He likes you, he believes in you. Oh, I don't know what to think."
"Why think at all, darling? Let your heart think. Consider everything well. We shall not meet for several days—if then. Go home tranquilly, my dearest, and consider it all."
"Yes, that's what I ought to do," said Angel rising. "It is dangerous, anyhow—if my husband were to see me. But I don't think he will concern himself with me at all—he is very occupied with his own affairs. I think some slaves have been flogged or shot in the village—I don't know, I kept away from it."
A sudden thought struck painfully into the confusion of her mind. She faced him as she asked earnestly:
"You want peace, don't you? You're going to risk a great deal to try to get it. Supposing you failed and there was war, on which side would you be?"
The young man stood silent, staring. Her eyes, aching from fear, searched his features; she wondered if she could find, in those comely lineaments, some traces of his slavish blood; the nostrils, rather wide and flaring perhaps, the lips too beautifully curved, the chin too rounded, and those clustering locks of dark hair, those small ears, the thick neck and wide shoulders—ah, she might have known!
"On which side would you be?" she repeated. "Supposing it came to a conflict and the whole Island was divided?"
He answered slowly, without his usual gaiety; with his serenity shaken at last.
"There are many people in Jamaica in my position, people of mixed blood—they would all have to decide."
"I don't care about them, I want to know about you."
"Perhaps you ought to know," he said. "Well, if it came to a pinch, if I had to, I'd be on the side of the negroes."
"Why?" she asked desperately.
"I don't know." He put his fine hands on the ruffles above his waistcoat. "It is just a sentiment I have here."
"And yet you said you loved me!"
"I do," he answered, frowning painfully. "I always shall. But this is something different, something that goes beyond. I understand these people, you see. In a way they are my people. To you, no doubt, they are filthy, bestial, fit only for contempt, but I know differently. I don't like to talk about it to you. I don't—I didn't—admire you because you were English, or fair. Perhaps you thought that." He smiled wistfully. "I just loved you."
Angel thought with bitterness and shame: "You loved a woman who didn't exist, you simply made an ideal of me. If you knew me as I am, you would dislike me. You loved me because of my white skin and my fair hair—I've nothing nothing else at all."
"Pray do not think," he continued, with an emphasis of his sad dignity, "that I have been longing to unite myself to a white woman. I was trying to tell you just now, the only time I would have married—it was a woman of my own race, of mixed blood."
"Why didn't you, then?" asked Angel, instantly jealous.
"Someone else took her away from me. It is a sad and tangled story. You see, she was a slave."
"Well, you might have bought her," said Angel brutally.
He accepted her remark as if it had been made in good faith. "Yes, I might have bought her," he said gravely. "But by the time I understood myself, and she understood me, it was too late." He looked down, with a sudden, strange movement into the pool, as if he expected to see something there, and repeated: "Too late. And it's too late now, for us, my dear. Good-bye."
These words showed Angel the truth she had been trying to combat.
"Love me, love me," she said, "and come back."
She walked quickly over the limestone pebbles to where he stood, the heavy, hairy ferns waist high above him. She put her hands on his shoulders and lay against his breast, begging him only for those two things—to love her and to return.
He put her sternly away.
"No. You were right. I did act a lie. I knew you did not know, I knew that you would not have come near me if you had known. I am not such a fool. I deceived you. I was ashamed and afraid."
"Don't say it! Don't say it!"
"Base and a coward. I was so lonely, they shut me out so. The way their women looked at me—I used to think of many things while I painted or played—alone, here or in Spanish Town."
"Don't speak of it—nothing matters."
"You have shown me how it matters. Good-bye—remember that if I had been wholly of your race I should not have behaved as I did—"
"You are trying to make me hate you—"
"No, I am trying to get my self-respect back." He put out his hand to hold her off; his look, his smile, his gesture showed her that he was not so tender and chivalrous as she had thought him to be. "Love, what is it? It makes a pleasing play, as I see it. Learn this, ma'am—he took the creature on whom my fancy was set, and I have always loathed him for an arrogant fool—then, the day of the hurricane wind, it seemed so safe and easy."
"Don't say any more."
"Why not? Do you not want to know why I did what I did?"
"You must not tell me that it was so because—you must not tell me that you did not love me."
"Love! Love! Oh, I dare say we are equals there—you wanted your amusement." He laughed quietly. "I wanted—well, never mind. You never guessed. That is strange, too."
He half-turned away; his glance, his smile, his gesture that put all the world between them, mocked at her, at himself.
"Yes," he said, "if you had felt that it made no difference—if you had not really cared at all that I was—a dirty nigger—what a love ours would have been!"
He was gone, leaving her beyond farewells as she was beyond regrets; she
could not tell the source of her overwhelming pain. She walked home; the
hurricane wind had blown the murderer's skull down—Angel kicked it out
of her path without noticing it any more than she noticed the wayside lilies
she trampled upon.
ANGEL EXPERIENCED to the full how tedious it was to be a woman in a time of violent action. She was unwanted, in the way, guarded from peril, but guarded also from excitement, shut in enforced idleness, yet conscious of her own helplessness and her own danger.
Her husband explained nothing to her, nor could she obtain any satisfaction of her curiosity from Dr. Morton and Edward Fremantle, who occasionally came to the house on some business to do with the rebellion. They gave it that name at last; it was a rebellion of slaves over almost the entire Island; only a few planters who had been notably kind and generous masters could count on the loyalty of their slaves. From Venables Penn alone nearly a hundred males had escaped and fled up to the settlements of the Maroons; many of the free blacks, though these negroes were guarded, arrested and imprisoned, even in some cases shot, contrived to make their way up into the Blue Mountains in large numbers. The barren part of the Island towards the east was like a huge encampment. The rebels had stolen a certain amount of arms and ammunition. Bodies of soldiers were leaving the forts and marching inland, all the plantations were put in a state of defence. The Militia, badly equipped and inefficient, were stationed in the villages; sailors from the ships in Port Royal were stationed in the three towns. Nearly all the work of the Island ceased and many planters saw themselves on the way to ruin. Sir William Hayes was accused of acting without energy or decision; he was blamed by everyone save the clergy and his own intimates, who knew his sincerity.
Angel's one concern in this confusion of civil war was the whereabouts of John Gordon. She dared to ask her husband of this, coolly enough. She learnt from the dry replies of Mr. Thicknesse that the young planter, keeping his promise to the Governor, had gone up the Blue Mountains with an escort of soldiery to the same rendezvous where he had met the chief of the Maroons before.
"I hope," Mr. Thicknesse added, "he'll get shot for his pains."
She had seen very little of her husband; that perhaps was natural enough, but she thought that his manner had sharpened from his usual cool indifference to a note of hostility, even of fierceness.
"Why do you speak to me like that?" she demanded, her nerves on edge, her patience at its limit. "What do you think it's like for me, shut up here?"
"I don't care," he replied brutally. "When this is over I'll deal with you."
Again she challenged him: "Why do you speak to me like that?"
"And how is it," he demanded, "that you dare to ask me of John Gordon's fortune? Do you think I don't know? I detest a sly woman. You might have let me know what you were instead of posing as a piece of sentimental piety, as an innocent little goose."
Angel trembled with rage, not with fear. "You can say what you like—I shall have an answer for everything," she said.
"I can't be bothered with you now, I've got my hands full. You seem to forget I'm a magistrate. I suppose there's a great deal you've forgotten. I have to go down to the Court House; almost every day we have cases."
He was at the door, but she called him back.
"You can't make those half-accusations and then leave me."
"I don't make any half-accusations. I know that you've been meeting this man—what did I call him before? A dirty nigger! I'll say it again to your face. You've been meeting this dirty nigger down by the limestone pool. Do you want to know who spied on you? It was Luna, the mulatto girl."
"Your mistress," said Angel, holding on to the edge of the table. "I knew that, you see. I saw."
"I dare say you did. I don't care whether you know or not. Perhaps what you don't know is that your romantic friend was her lover. He tried to buy her from me, but I'd taken a fancy to her myself."
"Don't talk like that. She's a woman—I can't endure it."
"Yes, you're both women, and both worth much about the same, as far as I can see. She's sly, too, and a cheat, and a fool. Well, I've told you I can't be bothered with you now, I've something to do."
"As soon as this is over," said Angel, "I shall leave you. I'm able to keep myself, you know, to earn my own living."
"Are you? It seems to me you can't even finish that damned romance. Leave me? Yes, we'll separate. But I can't go into that now. You've brought me no good luck, ma'am."
"You've had my money," said Angel. "Ten thousand pounds of my money."
"It's done me no good, I can't make this place pay."
"I shall go back to England when this is over."
"You may go where you please, but your road won't be mine."
He had recovered something of his usual cool manner. She felt her heart swell with hatred for him.
"You are a fool," he said, pausing at the door. "Indeed, a great fool. You don't realise, I suppose, how many silly women John Gordon has pleased? Well, I might have guessed that you, idle, with nothing to do, would go wandering into mischief. And it doesn't concern me much. I never cared for you, I thought I could put up with you, but I soon found I couldn't. A romantic fool," he repeated, and smiled. "You are lucky to have found out in time what he is—I suppose that even you won't go near him now."
"He doesn't know," thought Angel. "He would never suspect—he thinks it was merely a piece of coquetry."
With a frightful playfulness she led him on.
"You don't think I'm in love with this man, do you? How insulting! Just because I was bored and chanced to meet him—"
"I never said so," sneered Mr. Thicknesse. "You've not the spirit to be anything but respectable. Besides, you would not dare—" He glanced at her with an instant's suspicion which she met with a look of sweet idiocy. "I said nothing insulting. I told you not to go out alone. He ought to be horsewhipped for speaking to you."
"Of course I should never have looked at him if I'd known that he was a coloured man. You might have warned me."
"Bah! If you were the kind of woman who is warned you would not be here."
He left her; as he clattered down the verandah steps Angel laughed hysterically.
"How clumsy he is! How ridiculous in that ill-fitting uniform!"
"Of course," said Angel to herself, walking up and down, "it would be Luna. She is the most beautiful creature for miles round, perhaps the most beautiful creature in the Island. He wanted to marry her—his mother was also a mulatto. She happened to be my husband's slave and my husband wanted her too—that must have been on his last visit. The girl herself? Well, she must have preferred John Gordon, but she had no choice. She did just what I did, she made the best of it, she did the convenient, expedient thing. She gave herself to my husband for an easy life, for some of those gold bracelets, for the pleasure of sauntering about under the scarlet umbrella. Just what I should have done, just what I did. I dare say she loves John Gordon still. How changed I am to be thinking like this. I don't hate her, I even have a sympathy for her. I'll go down and see her now. I suppose she's in her hut. Perhaps she's been able to find out something about him."
Without troubling about her hat, and snatching up her buttercup-coloured parasol, Angel ran out of the verandah. The two coloured Militiamen on guard at the garden gate tried to tell her that she had better stay within the house, everything was uncertain...there had been trouble in the village Mr. Thicknesse had even been warned not to go down to the Court House that day, but he had ridden off just the same...Lieutenant Dupré, son of a French emigre from Saint Dominique, hastened up to beg her not to go.
"I'm not afraid," said Angel. "There's someone whom I want to see in the village."
"Please, Mrs. Thicknesse, you will stay on the farm? It is so bad that Mr. Thicknesse has persuaded the Governor to put this part of the Island under martial law."
She went past them, crossed by the boiler-house where the figs hung amber, purple and green amid the wide leaves. No smoke rose from the chimney, the furnaces were out. She went past the plantation; only a few girls, old women and children were working. The overseers were walking up and down with pistols in their belts and whips in their hands.
Angel skirted the hospital; some hags were, seated on the steps, weeping convulsively, holding coloured rags to their faces; beyond, negroes were digging deep in the mellow, amber-coloured soil—graves, perhaps, thought Angel.
She hastened to the Obeah woman's hut, which stood a little apart from the others, shaded by the serrated leaves of palm trees, which made a metallic sound as they brushed together in the breeze.
Angel lifted the cotton curtain and immediately entered the hovel. The girl was there alone, lying on her face on the cushion filled with cotton waste. Angel touched her on the shoulder and spoke to her simply and sincerely, as if there had been a long understanding between them.
"I'm Angel Thicknesse, do you remember me? Do you know who I am, at all?"
The girl looked up; she seemed at once to sense that Angel had something important to say, as if there were some bond between them. An expression usually so impassive and imperious became lively and keen.
"You spied on me and told my husband," said Angel rapidly. "Never mind that, I don't care. It doesn't matter whether he knows or not—the little he does know. Perhaps I'll punish you for it some day, I can't tell."
"I did not spy on you," said the girl. "That's a lie. Massa Thicknesse tell a good many lies. I know about it, but I didn't tell. Everybody knows. It was one of his old slaves, the Duke of Bath. He saw you. He thought you Missie Betty's duppy—he followed you to the pool."
Angel shivered. "There must have been people all around one, all the time, and I'm so clumsy I never saw it. Never mind, I want to know about him, John Gordon." She fell on her knees on the plaster floor of the hovel and took the girl's warm hand in hers. "Tell me quickly—I dare say we're being watched, too."
The mulatto seemed to accept her attitude, her words, without surprise. A look of friendliness softened her beautiful face.
"You want to look after him?"
"I? I'm helpless. I'm only Thomas Thicknesse's wife. I haven't got the power you have, who are his slave. You wouldn't understand that, would you?"
"Oh yes, I understand very well."
"Mr. Thicknesse has gone into Sinclair now. He won't concern himself with me for a little while—then we shall come to a reckoning. Now, tell me what you know of John Gordon."
"You think, perhaps, I use black magic. But I am a Christian—I have been to school, I know how to read and write."
"You know better than I do what's happening—I'm quite shut in. I might learn more if I went to Spanish Town, but I want to stay here. It's nearer, you understand? He might come back any minute."
"He is coming back," said Luna. "He went up the mountains to see Cuffee, who is the leader of the Maroons. They don't trust him any more, because the last bargain wasn't kept—and he got shot in the arm. Not badly, you know, but one of the men with him was killed. And now he's coming down again, very disappointed. He'll be at Sinclair to-morrow."
"Thank you, that is all I want to know." She added jealously: "How did you find it out? He doesn't write to you, does he?"
"No, he doesn't consider me at all, any longer."
"Do you mind? Are you sorry?" urged Angel.
The girl shook her head. "I don't want him to be hurt," she said. "None of the slaves wants him to be hurt. All the slaves love Massa Gordon."
"How did you find it out?" urged Angel. "Do you know all about him, everything that happens?"
Luna nodded. "You see, we pass messages one to another. It isn't difficult."
"No," said Angel, "but I am so shut out."
"You don't think his wound serious, it might fester in this climate?"
"No," said Luna. "They understand about things like that. There'd always be somebody to look after Massa Gordon."
Angel rose from the floor with a sigh of relief.
"You're a good girl," she said wearily. "I like you. I believe I'm the same kind of woman really. What nonsense I'm talking! May I come down again?"
"Luna is always here," replied the mulatto, with a slight smile. "There is
nothing for Luna to do—everyone is away."
ANGEL WENT BACK to the verandah and sat there in the shade under the tangling creepers. It was terrible, indeed, to be so shut out from the affairs of men, to be pushed aside from anything that really mattered. Why could not she go down to Sinclair and find out for herself what was happening—instead of having to sit here, lonely, helpless, useless, feeding herself on scraps of information. Why, even the slave girl was more fortunate than she was. "He's wounded. I suppose that means he'll go back to his own plantation, perhaps to his own hospital. I wonder if he has his own doctor? Now my husband knows I've met him, I might go there boldly and nurse him."
She turned over in her mind a daring, impossible plan—that of leaving her husband and eloping with John Gordon. What did it matter to her what the Island thought? But he had turned from her—she had to put that right, to make him understand that she did not really care about anything save their love.
The dark fell suddenly—she never could become used to that absence of twilight. There was a prick of terror in the sudden cessation of the vivid day. The night was very still save for the hooting of owls and the occasional twanging of some stringed instruments from the village. She fancied the negroes were playing a lament or a dirge; the air seemed thick and agitated with trouble and apprehension.
She went out on to the verandah, after vainly trying to sleep, and saw the gleam of the bayonets of the sentries through the thick creeper and the heavy interlaced foliage. She longed for her husband to return that she might continue with him her deadly half-hidden quarrel, that she might defy and insult him as he had defied and insulted her. Then at last to distract herself she tried to think what her situation really was, what she would be considered in England. Disgraced, ignored, lost! Yes, there were some people with whom she had been quite friendly in England who would consider her a lost soul, damned to hell.
She, Angel Cowley, an adulteress who had taken as a paramour a coloured man; but England and those people who would think of her thus were too far away. She belonged to the tropic night, to the rich, strange Island, to these tangled excitements. She took her head in her hands and tried to picture him, with his stiff grace and his serene courteous air, riding up the mountain path. How often she had looked at the purple outline of the Blue Mountains—what were they like when one was close to them? Yes, he would be riding up some defile, and the Maroons would come out to speak to him. She could not imagine these savages—tall, heroic, plumed warriors. He was honest and sincere, as she wished him to be. The white men had betrayed him and now the savages would not believe his proffers of peace—there must have been some treachery. As he was there on his horse, or standing, or seated on a rock, someone fired, and the man beside him was killed, and he was wounded in the arm—she saw him drooping, bleeding, helped on to his horse...
She moved impatiently, rose from her chair and lit the lamp; the reflection shone in the highly polished floor.
"I mustn't think of that—the estate, us coming home."
She looked again through the window; the night was now still; no owl hooted, no barbarous instruments sounded. The breeze from the mountains blew steadily, waving the dark fans of the palms in the clear air. Angel wished that it would become quite dark as it did in England; there was something sinister in these light nights, in these stars which cast shadows.
She became suddenly tense, conscious of someone coming up the verandah steps; but she did not raise her voice, she did not wish to rouse the sentries in case...she had a wild hope that this might be he...It was the mulatto girl.
"Can I speak to you? A few hours ago you came to me, so now I come to you."
The girl on her noiseless bare feet followed her into the cross-shaped hall; she had put a dark veil over her white gown and glittering bracelets, so that she must have crept like a shadow through the night.
"There has been a fight at Sinclair with the soldiers. Some of the slaves came down and stormed the Court House. You see, the prisoners were going to be hanged to-morrow—they wanted to rescue them. There were the magistrates, some gentlemen and a few soldiers in the Court House. They resisted—there was a battle."
"Yes," said Angel, leaning forward in the lamplight. "Yes?"
"Then, in the midst of the fight the party from the Blue Mountains came down. Mr. Gordon, you see, was with them." The girl paused, staring intently at the other woman. "One of the negroes, Sambo, came running to tell me a short time ago. Perhaps you can help him. Sambo wanted a spell—but I, I thought of you."
"Go on, go on, tell me."
"The soldiers fired from the Court House. Mr. Gordon, he tried to get a truce, he joined in the fight—he wanted to stop the killing of the prisoners."
"Was he hurt—hurt again?"
"No, not that. He was arrested. They said that he was helping the slaves. He's with the other prisoners in the Court House in Sinclair. Sambo says the white men are very angry. He was armed, he wouldn't surrender."
"They can't touch him, they can't touch him."
"He isn't a white man," said Luna, staring. "He is only what I am."
In Angel's ears were the two words—"dirty nigger, dirty nigger." She tried to understand what the girl had said; an attack on the English in Sinclair Court House by the rebel negroes, the arrival of the party from their failure in the mountains; John Gordon's protest against the slaughter of the unarmed rebels; then—what had happened that he had been arrested? Had the white men snatched at an excuse to vent long hatred of the half-breed? She still could not credit the full atrocity of the situation.
"Mr. Gordon couldn't have done anything to cause his arrest. There must be at least a court martial, he must have time for his defence. I shall appeal to the Governor."
"You don't know anything—shut up here. There's been fighting all over the Island; the negroes are in rebellion; many of the people of mixed blood are helping them. Some of the parsons, too, the Wesleyans and Moravians—two of them have been arrested."
"Ah, other white people have been arrested."
"You don't understand," sighed Luna impatiently. "Massa Gordon is not a white man."
"And then you think that they—"
"I think you had better go to the Governor at once."
"I'll go to Mr. Fremantle—"
"He's already in Sinclair—he spoke for Massa Gordon—one of the white men strike him so—on the mouth—and have him locked away."
"The doctor, then—"
"Dr. Morton, he in Sinclair, too—he can do nothing."
Angel remembered the words of Lieutenant Dupré, of which she had taken no notice at the time—"Mr. Thicknesse has persuaded the Governor to put this part of the Island under martial law." Did not that mean that a man could be tried, condemned and shot in an hour? Her husband was a magistrate, and there were English officers at Sinclair...
"I'll go to the Governor at once, but how to get the carriage—horses? They will never give me anything, they will never let me out of the estate." She stared helplessly at the girl. "Why did you come to me? I'm useless. Martial law! They would not dare!"
Luna pulled at her sleeve.
"I can show you a quick way to Sinclair—in an hour you can walk—it leads to the bridge."
"The bridge! Yes, that bridge I used to want to paint. Oh, dear! What good should I do in Sinclair?"
"You are an Englishwoman. You ask for a carriage to go to the Governor. You say you prevent the killing of all these men. There are many prisoners—how they know you think only of one of them?"
"I'll go—just to be doing something. But, of course, it's all absurd, I don't believe a word of it—I ought to try to prevent bloodshed, ought I not? I'll speak to my husband, he must listen to me."
"Put on something dark, Missie," said the mulatto, "and be quick—we quite safe, eh, they take us for the spirits, eh?"
"The duppy of Betty Thicknesse," thought Angel wildly.
She searched in her wardrobe for a dark garment—she had so few. It had been her pleasure, since she had come to the Island, to dress in bright, light clothes. There was a hooded cloak of a purple-blue colour which blended well enough with the light. She put that on over her white gown, which seemed to shimmer like the moonshine. Without further words, and deftly, the two women left the house, slipping down the verandah steps and hiding behind the thick creepers till the two Militiamen who were on sentry duty had passed.
"They won't expect you'll want to go out to-night—they won't be looking out."
Luna glanced back at the light which she had left purposely in Angel Thicknesse's bedroom window. They passed through the thick foliage of the garden. The starlight was bright, and the shadows confusing—the mulatto, who lightly held the white woman's fingers, knew how to twist and turn in and out and behind the drooping foliage so that she was invisible to a careless glance.
There were no sentries by the back entrance used by the negroes when going to and from the store-house. As Luna softly opened the logwood gate Angel pried over her shoulder and saw the two young coloured soldiers seated on the ground playing a game with ball and board.
Without speaking, the two women crept along the grove of anatta trees to the shadow of the boiler-house; the flowers and leaves were changed by the starlight into dim hues of blue, violet and purple, here and there a white blossom showed an unnatural pallid purity.
Angel thought: "What is this errand I am going on? Perhaps all this girl has told me is false, how do I know? Perhaps all I have ever heard of her is a lie, too. What is it that I have in common with her? Why do I like and trust her? For the same reason as I was hurt by the death of the manatee—we're all females, slaves, helpless."
"We ought to be there by the dawn, at Sinclair, I mean," said Luna. "You mustn't mind what you see," she added in a whisper as they passed by the rustling sugar-canes, which, unattended and entangled, swayed in the night breeze.
"What do you mean—what I see?"
"Sambo said there would be killing. There was a bloody battle, you know. Some of the white clergymen, besides Mr. Fremantle, took the side of the slaves—and some of Mr. Gordon's people came up and fought for him. I expect they will begin hanging them as soon as it's light—the prisoners, I mean."
"I can't really believe any of it," said Angel.
She said over to herself the ridiculous names they all had—Angel, Luna, Sambo, the Duke of Bath—it was all a phantasy.
Their way took them past the mausoleum, which lay in the clear purple shadows of the palm trees.
"I must stop," sighed Angel. "I can't walk so fast, I have a pain in my side." She stared at the dark face so close to her own, hollowed and fine, like a shell washed by many tides. "Tell me, have you ever met John Gordon by a limestone pool?"
"Yes, and in many other places. There is no one like him, none."
"How cool you are! I don't believe that you have a soul. You loved him and let him go—like that."
"Luna is a slave. Luna is not born for happiness."
"Who was your father?"
"I don't know. I had a black mammie. She was Massa Thicknesse's slave, and so I was born a slave too. Can you come along now, come along quick?"
"No." Angel was leaning against a tree, staring at the white dwelling of the dead. "I'm exhausted. Besides, this is the night—they won't do anything till the morning. Who educated you—you queer creature?"
"Dr. Morton and Massa Fremantle's father, and Massa Gordon, too—we used to meet in the woods, ever since we were children, and he would draw birds and flowers and teach me how to speak and the names of things—now, please hasten."
Angel began to move slowly.
"I want to get it clear—everything is tangled and barren—like the dodder. Do you know what you want—what you would like?"
"I should like to be a spirit, like Missie Betty, and wander free, free." The mulatto pressed the white woman's hand convulsively; as she started forward the brand was visible on her shoulder.
"I'll never lie there, never," said Angel. "My ghost shan't be imprisoned here!"
They hurried on through the crossing shadows. They had to pass the field of dodder, the dry and twisted plant which lay spread like a silver net in the still night; a nightingale was singing in the dark boughs of a tall black tree; the women moved quickly, the mulatto always a few steps in advance, and drawing, as it were, the white woman after her. They passed the spot on which the murderer's skull had been stuck until the night of the hurricane wind; amid the wayside ferns curled black and yellow snakes, like those which when she had first come to the Island so frightened her. She regarded them now with indifference; she was envious of everything peaceful in the tranquil night, the sleeping birds, the insects folded away in the blossoms, the reptiles slipping through the ferns, envious of any creature, however humble, who was not bewildered, foolish Angel Thicknesse.
"Will he ever forgive me for what I said to him by the pool? Will he ever care for me again? Will it ever be like it was in the little room with the views of Scotland, the Chelsea ornaments and the sea-shells on the chintz couch?"
This walk through the night seemed endless; as if she were suffering some fantastic punishment, to wander for ever in this strange starlight, with this dark guide.
"I shan't hear the conch blown to-morrow," she thought, "and nobody will do any work."
They turned on to a path unfamiliar to her; half-unconsciously mindful of her husband's warning, she had never gone far in the Island, only along that familiar road which led to the limestone pool and a cedar tree, and the confines of the Gordon estate.
"What shall I do," she asked stupidly, "when I reach the village? I suppose they will still be in bed. I will go to my husband, and what shall I say? He doesn't love me, or respect me."
"I don't know what you'll do," said Luna, still moving lightly, briskly ahead. "You'll be a white woman amongst white people."
"I don't think that I can say anything they'll listen to. I shall have to go to the Governor. He can't prevent my doing that."
She tried to imagine what she would make a heroine of a novel do under these circumstances, but her thoughts fell to pieces.
Luna left the road, still holding Angel's hand, and guided her through a heavy grove of dense and massive mangoes; trailing creepers caught at their clothes and thick ferns impeded their feet as they made their way swiftly; they heard the distant croaking of frogs and the call of owls overhead; bats, dark as the trees from which they flew, were for an instant silvered by the clear air, then disappeared into shadow again.
"It must be nearly six o'clock," thought Angel. "It will soon be light."
She braced herself against that sudden dawn, which would mean a dreadful day.
"We have nearly reached the bridge," whispered Luna. "You can hear the water falling over the rocks."
Neither of them spoke, but each, as if urged on by some inner and secret fear, hastened her pace with every step. The stars were setting. Angel did not know if the universal brightness, which began to glimmer on the vivid and brilliant flowers, was that of day or night. They reached a slight rocky eminence from which they could look down on the savannah or pasture-land which stretched either side of the Rio Cobre; the water fell in veils down the face of the stone cliffs to join the pool that spread into the river.
This landscape seemed new to Angel; it had an unearthly look and gave her a sense of panic; yet she remembered she had passed that way many times when driving to and from Spanish Town.
"Do you see," whispered the slave, coming to a sudden halt, "down there, the bridge?" She fell on her knees, parted the clusters of fern and gazed below.
Angel looked over her shoulder. There was the single-arch bridge spanning the river that she had wanted to sketch; by the side of it grew bushes of African rose, and suspended from the centre was an object hanging heavily at the end of a rope fastened to a coping-stone.
"It is a man," said Luna. "They've hanged a man over the bridge. I remember when they did that before."
Angel stood gazing at the unnatural-looking landscape clear in the odd half-tone of the colourless light, which in a second became brilliant day. A fresh breeze was blowing from the lofty peaks of the Blue Mountains. Angel turned her head to catch the wind on her face and remembered how she had seen the mighty mountain fifty miles away on the ocean—and here she was standing with its breezes on her face; she turned to look at the bridge, now clearly visible in the rarefied air.
A man, the slave said, a man hanging there; she could see patches of white and light brown—yes, that might be shirt, cravat, kerseymere trousers, that patch of dark might be a man's bent head, the hair falling over the face.
"Do you dare to go and see?" asked the mulatto.
Angel nodded. The two women scrambled down the cliff among the ferns, the water-breaks, the broken stones, the tufts of flowers and on to the pasture-land along the side of the winding river, which was edged by sorrel, reeds, sedges and water buttercups.
"It's a scarecrow," muttered Angel, "or a dummy. Something someone has been making a joke with—see the shadow—see how all is reflected in the water."
Luna did not reply. Angel continued:
"They don't use scarecrows in this country, do they?"
The figure was clear now in every detail—a man in shirt and trousers, with his hands bound and yet thrust into his pockets, with his feet hanging down pointing towards the water, with his head sunk on his breast and twisted unnaturally sideways, with his black hair stirring in the lovely morning air.
"Too late," sighed the slave. She gripped Angel's hand and held her in her place on the bank of the river, below the fine veils of falling water that wetted their dresses and hair with delicate spray.
"I will go to the Governor," whispered Angel. "I will go to Sir William Hayes."
"Don't speak, you don't know who's near." She pressed close to the white woman, whispering in her ear. "They've had their will—it's no use to be weak or foolish—I knew they'd hang him."
"Hang him?" said Angel, leaning weakly on the other woman. "Hang some negro, some rebel?"
"John Gordon. That's John Gordon dangling from the bridge. See all the blood on his left shirt-sleeve where he was shot? His clothes are torn, too. There's no need for us to go any nearer."
Angel sank on her knees on the thick fresh plants by the edge of the waterfall. The odd landscape seemed to circle round that pendent figure as if it were the centre of a wheel of garish colour. Then she bent down on the damp ferns, hiding her face in the rough leaves, thinking only of her beautiful love which was now over and which perhaps had never existed. The mulatto pulled her up, using simple and direct energy. Angel saw the girl's face grey and hollow beneath the thick black hair.
"Nothing can be done now. We must go back. Afterwards we can think what to do."
The Englishwoman began to weep in a stupid and blubbering manner.
"I think you're trying to frighten me! It isn't true! That can't be John Gordon—it isn't him! Oh, don't you understand that I love him and he loves me. I don't care at all if he's a mulatto. You, you don't know anything about it. Why, you're quite cold-blooded. You don't even seem to care that that's a man hanging over the bridge. Oh, my God, the broken body of a man who's been hanged!"
The girl put her dry hand over Angel's loose lips. "Would you like to go closer, would you like to make sure? Have you got the courage?"
"No, no," whispered Angel, cowering. "I am sure, really. Yes, they've hanged him."
"We can do nothing now. He is no longer beautiful. They have spoilt him, and soon it will be the turn of the insects and the birds."
"If we had a knife," muttered Angel, "we might cut the rope and take him down. He'd fall into the river and be washed clean. There's so much blood and dirt on him—look how his head is twisted round. Will they leave him there, will they bury him?"
"You're speaking like a little child, and this is the time to be wise and brave. I will not be found here. Will you?"
Angel rose and clung to the mulatto's arm.
"No, I want to stay with you. Don't leave me."
"Come away with me, then."
The two women turned and trembled into the shadow of the rocks from which the pure water dripped to the pool.
"Don't look back," whispered the mulatto. "There's nothing more to he seen, nothing more to be done—here. Come away quickly, let no one know we were here."
Angel climbed the cliff carefully, steadying herself by this business of finding a foothold in the rocks amid the thick plants for her feet. She saw that her yellow shoes were worn through at the soles, the heels twisted with her rapid walking. She thought: "I'm an Englishwoman, although I am, I suppose, a fool. I ought, at this juncture, to be thankful to this black girl."
She tried to adjust her thoughts, to consider her case clearly, but all her senses were tingling in confusion. She fought back a sudden panic fear as if she had been struggling against a physical enemy; she tried to keep the stark facts before her mind—John Gordon had been murdered because he had black blood, because he had taken the side of the negroes, because several of the white men disliked him, were jealous of him, because, probably most of all, Thomas Thicknesse had resolved to be rid of him.
John Gordon had been murdered, and with him had been murdered her one chance of romantic happiness. Never again, she knew, would she find such a lover with such a background. She said to herself with the air of one who gazes at an empty hand in which once a brilliant bubble glittered: "I knew it was too exquisite to last, too gorgeous to be true." He had gone and everything that was left was commonplace.
She felt her face harden and her figure become taut as she quickened her step. She heard the mulatto say in warm, deep tones:
"Ah, now I see that you are going to be brave. You were wondering, were you not, what women can do to revenge themselves on men?"
"Yes, I was thinking that."
"Perhaps I can help you, perhaps I can tell you what to do."
The two women looked at each other in the long shadow of the boughs waving overhead. Angel saw with horror that Luna's face had changed; it had curved into an expression of implacable hatred and despair, such as Angel remembered seeing once on a mask of the Medusa. Perhaps, she thought, that is how I look.
"You must go back," said the mulatto, "and pretend that you have seen nothing. That is the way women have to work—tricks and pretence."
"Yes, women and slaves. What are you thinking, what are you going to suggest?"
"I shall think. He suffered much, as someone else will have to suffer,
too. He was a beautiful man and he has been taken away."
AT THE EDGE of the plantation the mulatto crept away and Angel walked up alone to the house. She was received with relief by the young Frenchman, Lieutenant Dupré; old Flora had discovered her mistress's absence—there had been a hue and cry and a search.
"I only went abroad for a little air," smiled Angel. "I have seen nothing, heard nothing—I have been in no danger. Indeed, you must not concern yourself."
She mounted the verandah steps holding her dark hood round her face.
The young man looked at her anxiously. "You're very pale, Mrs. Thicknesse. It seems as if you've had a shock. I hope you've not seen anything horrible. I was in charge of you, you know. I had no suspicion that you had gone out or I should have sent an escort with you."
"What should I see that's horrible? A few snakes, a few spiders?"
"No, no, I don't mean that. But at Sinclair and other places—we've just heard the news—there's a rebellion all over the Island. There have been some executions. I've sent to Spanish Town for soldiers, Colonel Henderson and some of the 'West Indian regiment are at Sinclair."
"I've seen nothing. I'm tired. Tell them, if you please, to leave me alone." She entered the house, closing the door behind her on the young man's suspicious looks.
Everything was as it had been when she had last seen it. The beautiful greenheart and bloodnut wood in the floor gleaming, the walls white, the rich creepers tapping at the lattice window, chairs, newspapers, books, her husband's segars, a pair of his slippers. She went into her own room and locked the door. Everything was the same here, the desk on which lay these still unfinished sheets of The Golden Violet, the shelf that held her books—everything the same, but John Gordon murdered.
She moved about the room slowly and heavily. She took off her cloak, she
loosened her pale hair, and when she saw it she remembered how he had praised
it, and she began to realise her loss, to understand what had been taken from
her; she thought of the house to which he would never return, his drawings,
the book on botany that he would never finish.
LYING ON HER BED in the locked room she heard her husband's steps in the hall-apartment without. She thought to herself, with her hands clasped behind her fallen fair hair: "I am as strong as he is, my will is as stubborn as his." She spoke these words to herself as if they were a formula of an incantation or a charm. She felt alert, capable and intelligent, as if her character, which had begun to change the moment she had married Thomas Thicknesse, had altered rapidly ever since she had arrived on the Island, and after blooming during her love for John Gordon, had now hardened into its complete and final form.
She heard him walking about quickly as if in agitation, then the handle of her door was impatiently rattled.
"I'll shirk nothing," she said half aloud. "I'll go through with it—that is the only hope, the only consolation—courage."
She rose, and without giving herself time for the least qualm or hesitation went to the door and opened it quickly. Her husband stood there in his light riding clothes covered with reddish, dry dust; his eyes were inflamed, he was unshaven and his face was a sickly colour, disfigured with dirt and sweat.
"Come out here at once, I want to speak to you."
She came into the hall with a quick movement that he might have mistaken for obedience.
"Sit down," he commanded.
"No, I prefer to stand up."
He stared at her, his hands thrust in his pockets. She contrived to endure even that gesture, which reminded her of the dead hands she had seen in the same position, but bound, a few hours before.
"Light the lamp," he further commanded.
She did not look at him, and though it was broad daylight, she did as he asked. She was reserving her strength. He seemed disconcerted by her obedience in so ridiculous an action.
"You're wondering what that's for, perhaps?"
"Not at all, I'm humouring you."
Angel put the lit lamp beside the crumpled papers and stale segars on the table where he had thrown his riding gloves.
"I'm just back from Sinclair. There's been trouble. The rebels attacked the Court House to try and free the prisoners, and some white men encouraged them—Fremantle and other damned parsons." He withdrew one of his hands from his pocket and she saw that it grasped a letter, folded across and across in a small square. "This is for you, but you're not going to read it."
Angel stood still, holding on to the end of the table, repeating her thoughts to herself: "I am as strong as he is."
"This letter is from John Gordon. We found it in his pocket when we arrested him. I dare say if it hadn't been far that, he'd have been alive now. They saw the address—'To Angel Thicknesse.' So I've got to have that foolish name coupled with mine. Angel!"
"Give it to me. It's mine, isn't it?"
"No, it's my property." Her husband approached the table with the letter held firmly. "They handed it to me because of the address, you see, and I read it. He was inciting the blacks, he fired at Colonel Henderson. We court-martialled him and hanged him last night."
"Give me the letter."
"So, you take it like that, do you?" he asked, with a glowering look. "Either you've plenty of courage or you're a proper slut."
"Both, perhaps," said Angel, raising her small eyes and looking at her husband full. "Both a brave woman and a slut. Therefore, take care. Did you hang that young man because of me?"
"Partly. But there were many of us who had made up their minds to get him sooner or later. He always made mischief and he'd got the Governor on his side with his sly ways. But certainly you can call this his death-warrant." He touched the letter still crushed in his large, heavy hand.
"A letter of farewell, a letter of reproach?" asked Angel.
"A letter proving you were his mistress. I didn't think that of you. I thought that it was one of your sentimental affairs, romantic nonsense such as you've been writing about for years, the kind of stuff you scribbled as a school-girl. But I understood, from what he'd written here, what had really happened, how you went to his house in Spanish Town. You, the brass-faced Jezebel, to stand there and look at me so bold!"
"Why not? No, I don't care for romantic, sentimental affairs, as you term them. I loved that man, and we were lovers. Yes, I loved him—perhaps that is more than you can say of the slave who was your mistress."
"So you knew that, did you? Not that it's anything to do with it. I suppose you've been spying on me, too? My God, what a viper I brought here!"
He unfolded the letter and held it above the flame of the lamp.
"Give it to me!" cried Angel. She suddenly moved, through all her control. "That's mine. You've had everything else I've ever had."
She threw herself upon him and caught at his wrist, but the flames had already seized the paper. It fluttered, blackened and flaming, to the floor. There were only a few lines, as she snatched at the paper she could read the words "I love you"—then they were gone.
Her husband had thrown her off roughly when she had seized his arm, and now when she looked up at him she saw his malevolent eyes looking at her with triumph, and her control returned.
"Very well," she said. "As you please. I've other letters."
"I'll be sworn you have! It's always you plain women who know how to contrive these intrigues. My God, and I thought you so nice and fastidious with your dainty ways and your pious writings and your sickly verses. And you come over here and throw yourself into the arms of this dirty nigger at whom no white woman would look. Well, he's broken for it, and I'll break you too before I've done."
"Will you," said Angel softly, "will you?"
"Yes, I'll divorce you with ignominy. Then see how your mealy-mouthed friends, your parsons and your old maids will receive you, see if you can make a living from your trashy stuff when the fools who've been reading it know the kind of woman you are. I'll ruin you, as I've been ruined."
"Oh, so you are ruined," said Angel curiously.
"There's hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of damage done already. Why, it's people like you, your friends and your whining parsons with their talk of justice and equality for the poor blacks and the abolition of slavery—they who've brought it about, the massacre and this damage. But we'll put 'em down. There's more troops coming up from Spanish Town—"
He paused on a deep breath and his face became distorted with fury as he thought of his defeat, of the loss and disgrace that had come to him through his wife, through his return to Jamaica, of the failure he had made of his life which had been full of small annoyances, quarrels and stupid wastage of money on horses that did not win, on cards that came up wrong, on women who cheated.
Angel sat down on the foot-rest of the chaise-longue; she felt her hatred of this man like an ease to her spirit, as if it clarified her understanding and even strengthened her body. He took a turn about the room and was about to speak when there was a knock on the verandah door; Lieutenant Dupré entered; he began to speak to Mr. Thicknesse quickly in a low voice; Angel watched them intent on their cruel, bestial, masculine affairs—were they planning to murder someone else?
She stared down at the ashes of paper staining the polished wood; the lamp still burnt, pale in the vivid day. She would never know what he had written to her, never know if he had forgiven, if he had really cared for her or not. "You plain women," her husband had said; the taunt was true; only this brief love affair had given her the illusion that she was beautiful, she had nothing but her pallor, her fair hair. What had he written? He must have stopped on his way down the mountain defiles that looked purple in the distance and written on a pad on his knee, on the peak of his saddle perhaps—awkward, with his left arm in a sling. How had he meant to send his message? Was it to have been left under the stone by the pool where he had met herself and the slave girl?
Had she read the words "I love you"—or was that another delusion?
She heard snatches of the conversation by the door—"Gordon's slaves—an ugly temper—the West Indian regiments—the Spanish chasseurs—My God, sir, why was it done?"
She rose, helping herself along the wall, and approached the speakers; how yellow the Frenchman looked, had he coloured blood, too? What did the son of an émigré from St. Dominique mean?
Mr. Thicknesse was speaking violently; threatening to shoot his rebel negroes, to thrash them first; he flung out his hand to open the door, but the young man caught his arm:
"For God's sake, don't go out, sir. I've got my men posted round the garden palisades—the rebels are marching up. I tell you they've heard what happened last night at Sinclair—a body of them cut down Mr. Gordon's corpse from the bridge—it's roused a great indignation, sir, among white men, too."
"It was a just and a right action. You don't know what you're talking about. That damned black was a traitor, he was deceiving us all by pretended negotiations with the Maroons. He came up when we were besieged in the Court House—he had his own slaves with him and he helped those savage brutes. He fired on Colonel Henderson."
"Well, sir, it will have to be paid for. But we've got to think of ourselves for the moment. It's a pity Mrs. Thicknesse is here—she ought to have stayed in Spanish Town."
"Leave my wife to me," replied Thomas Thicknesse sombrely. "She can look after herself."
"What am I to do?" said Angel, suddenly coming forward. "I've got a pistol."
"Do you know how to use it?" asked the young Frenchman.
"No, but I can try. Are they coming up to storm the house?"
"Yes, I think so. Indeed, ma'am, I don't suppose they'll do you any harm. They want your husband."
"I was never popular among them, was I?" said the heavy man, with a grin. "Well, I'm armed and I've plenty of ammunition."
"They seemed to be armed, too, sir. I don't know how they got the weapons—they've been joined by some negroes with loot. I think they've been massacring at other penns. I hope Mrs. Thicknesse won't see them—they look a filthy crowd of beasts."
"Nothing," said Angel, "can shock or alarm me, though I thank you, sir, for your concern."
The Englishwoman went into her room, leaving the two men together talking in short sentences, arranging for the defence of the house. She thought: "I suppose the mulatto has done this. She is always doing what I should like to do. She has had the pleasure of this revenge. She has gone about telling the negroes what she saw over the bridge—they all loved John Gordon, they knew how he worked for them, how he treated his own slaves. Mr. Fremantle, too, has been working for the abolition of slavery—he will be angry, and sorry."
The words sounded curious to her and she began to laugh. The abolition of slavery. It had seemed a dry, formal, uninteresting phrase when she was in England, but now...She took the pistol from the drawer where she had placed it on top of some of her silly verses.
"When I cared about nothing I could write. Now something has really happened to me I shall never be able to put a pen to paper again." She tied up her loose hair in a fine silk handkerchief after the fashion the negresses used and went back into the hall with the pistol in her hand. She heard the young Militia officer say:
"We'll have to abandon the garden since we have not enough men to defend the palisades. We weren't expecting this, you know, sir. I think it will be better for us all to concentrate in the house and to endeavour to defend that. I've sent out a messenger to Spanish Town—it ought to be a question of a few hours only."
"We'll see," said Mr. Thicknesse, "how many of these black scoundrels we can kill in a few hours, eh? Some of them may be my property, but don't stay your hand for that—I shall get Government compensation."
Polly and Rosa came running in through the verandah door, crying like children and twisting their hands in their starched aprons.
"Don't come up here," said Mr. Thicknesse harshly. "Go downstairs—it will be quite safe in the cellars and the storerooms."
The negresses exclaimed, with many lamentations, that that place of refuge was already filled by women and children such as were either too faithful or too timid to join the rebels.
"There's room for you, too," replied Mr. Thicknesse, and thrust the weeping girls out. Turning to the young officer, he asked: "Has anyone secured the Obeah woman? These superstitious devils believe everything she tells them—she ought to have been drowned for the witch she is long ago."
"I haven't seen her, sir, nor yet the girl who lives with her. Some of the women are helping the men—they're just as ferocious, too."
While he was speaking the young man had been moving about the room pulling down the lattices of the four windows; he had only just covered the last one when a random shot rang out among the purple, crimson and white flowers and fleshy leaves of the creepers on the fence and a bullet thudded against the house.
"Mr. Thicknesse, get out of range of the windows. They mean to take the place—they're lunatic with blood, drink and fury. Why did you come back here? You would have been far safer in Sinclair. I could have looked after the estate better by myself—they were quiet enough before you returned."
"I wanted to see my wife."
Lieutenant Dupré raised his shoulders, exasperated by this obstinacy; he smiled wryly at Angel.
"That pistol is not much use unless they get very close."
"I like to have it. Please show me how to use it."
He did so rapidly; she whispered as he bent over the weapon: "Can you tell me how John Gordon died?"
"There were various reports. I suppose from what I know of the man that he first tried to induce Colonel Henderson to make a truce—and then went to the help of the rebels—a crazy thing to do. But your husband can tell you. He was there."
Angel glanced over her shoulder at her husband, who was going into his room.
"I can't ask him. Why was it done? For God's sake, tell me."
"Mrs. Thicknesse, I dare not say. I don't know. I suppose feeling ran very high. I hear he fired on the Colonel, who is a severe man."
"Do you think that it was just? Do you think they had a right to do it?"
"I think," he gave her the primed pistol, "that it was murder."
THE HOUSE LAY in silence; after that one random shot there had been no signs of any enemy approaching; the enclosed air was hot and tainted by tobacco smoke, by the fumes from the lamp which had burnt out, and by the odour of the five coloured Militiamen who crouched at the windows.
These, with Lieutenant Dupré, accounted for three windows, the fourth, that in the top of the door opening on to the verandah, was guarded by Mr. Thicknesse. He had washed, shaved and put his dress straight; his whiskers lay sharply outlined on his flat red cheeks; he wore a fresh neckcloth. Angel studied him; he must have been up all night, fighting, judging a man, seeing a man hanged, reading her letter, riding back to challenge and shame her, but he had himself well under control; he had told her curtly to keep away and had concentrated on his business.
She had cleared the table, put out glasses, bottles of lime juice, of rum, of brandy, dishes of odd prickly fruit; she had tried to gather up those ashes of paper from the floor, but they had turned to dust in her fingers; her thoughts the while ran strongly as waves before the wind.
Luna and the Obeah woman had roused them; they would know how to do that. The slaves on the Gordon estate would rise to revenge their master; how many of them were there? She could imagine them advancing past the limestone pool, the fields of dodder, the place where the skull had been, the empty boiler-house, the neglected plantations, the groves of fantastic trees...her thoughts swerved to his empty house in Spanish Town, the little room with his mother's treasures, his deserted farm, his books, drawings and music lying neglected, never to be touched by him again. Her husband was shaved and spruce, but John Gordon's broken body could never be cleansed nor made seemly.
She fumbled in her mind for strength, for the knowledge what to do; even under these circumstances there must be something that was right to do. She need not fear anything now; she was stripped, released from dread of loss, since all had gone, released from fear of shame, since all was known, released from cramping traditions, conventions and customs, since these were no longer anything to her spirit now purged of littleness. Well, what to do with this new freedom?
The drums sounded without, beating sadly; the conch blew wavering notes hesitating in the stillness.
She saw the soldiers whisper together, peering through the slats of the lattice.
How slow the negroes were! Why did they not attack at once, burn the place to the ground and hang Thomas Thicknesse from the first tree that would bear his weight?
It was because they were slaves that they were so slow, so cowardly, so fearful, even now, to challenge the white man. If they waited much longer help would come from Spanish Town and John Gordon would not be revenged.
With careful remembrance of Lieutenant Dupré's instructions, she
considered the pistol. She had known before how to use it, but she had wanted
to be sure, to make no mistake; the negroes were singing to encourage
themselves; the Wesleyan hymn tune adapted to a war chant kept time to the
beat of the poor little festival drums.
HER HUSBAND SEEMED intent on his task, his deep-set eyes glanced this way and that with a fierce resoluteness, peering through the slats of the green shutters. When at last he was able to take deliberate aim at a negro creeping on all fours through the rose-blooms, he did so with an air of relief, drawing his lips across his teeth.
"They have got into the garden," he cried. "They must have cut through the fence behind those damned creepers—I got that one." He gave his wife a glance of stern admiration as if he noticed through the tense tedium of the hours her implacable fortitude.
"You stand it pretty well," he said, after she had leaned forward and watched him again fire into the broad leaves of a lustrous bush through which he had seen a face show for an instant; two black bodies in cotton shirts lay over the glossy crushed leaves.
It gave her pleasure for an instant to see the pale fire flash in the daylight; the struggling, yelping, dying men meant no more to her than insects snared in honey.
"You seem to like to see me kill 'em," grinned her husband.
She did not answer; all her thoughts were turned inward with a dreadful yearning.
"You're standing by me well enough," he added. "I could almost forgive you what I don't like in you," he whispered, "if he had been an Englishman."
She looked at him indifferently, marking the lines of fatigue on his red face, which was again stained by sweat; he had lost his sleep for the sake of bloody murder. She recalled the mulatto girl's words: "He suffered, and some others must suffer, too."
"Bring me some brandy. These brutes are getting up their courage. I saw another then."
As she brought his drink she heard the Militiamen fire from the back window.
The ammunition began to run short; the negroes were gaining courage through increase of numbers; the bushes, the flowers, the small trees were gradually being broken down, and Venables Penn was ringed round by enemies. The sun was low behind the huge cedar trees, the shadows lengthened in the house.
"I am to shoot myself, I suppose, when they take the place."
"That romantic nonsense isn't required," said her husband thickly. "They wouldn't hurt you. It's I they want."
"Maybe, but I suppose they'll murder us all—or else we shall be burned when they set it on fire; but I'd rather be shot." She smiled at him pleasantly. "I haven't cost you much or given you a great deal of trouble so far. You might say I'm to be shot, quietly."
"The soldiers from Spanish Town must be here soon. Give me some more of that brandy."
"Ought you to drink so much, and in this heat?" But she rose and brought him the drink in a long glass.
"It gives one a little life," he said. "I was up all night. It was just hell opened."
She had turned to her post beside him, her weapon across her light dress. Kneeling there beside him, she whispered: "I expect my share in your fortune will end soon. It seems to me, in the last few hours, I have fallen from light to darkness."
She crouched down on the polished floor, stared through the lattice, watched her husband, who now and then, when he could find a human target, fired. So, through the languid hours of the tropic day they defended Venables Penn.
To Angel the peril was more exhilarating than terrible; she looked ever inward and saw the broken body of John Gordon, the dark head twisted sideways, the hands thrust into the pockets of the kerseymere trousers, hanging over the bridge arch on the Rio Cobre. She could not at that moment have endured rest, sleep or quiet thought.
A superstitious fear of the white man and an insufficiency of firearms had kept the rebels at the end of the garden. Now and then one fired, but at random and unsuccessfully. Their object seemed to be to creep unseen through the flowers and leaves up to the house.
"They want to fire it, I expect," said Thicknesse, "and so force us to come out."
His wife nodded. She often looked sideways at this strange ally of hers, the man who hated her and whom she hated, the murderer of John Gordon. Now and then she went to fetch the men a drink of brandy and water or lime juice, as they wished. She kept her fingers, which had become cramped, wrapped round the butt of the pistol; she looked cool and alert, though her face was drawn into an expression of contempt and anger.
She peered through the lattice and looked at the garden, at the broken-down shrubs and plants. She could see the negroes, timid yet ferocious, pressing forward cautiously, ducking from the possible bullets of the Militiamen, screaming and falling back when they were hit, pulling at one another's coloured rags, beating their toy drums, singing their wild songs.
"They've noticed, I suppose, that we don't fire very often now," she said. "Will you listen to me, will you speak to me?"
"This is a time to choose!"
"There may not be another."
He turned and looked at her when he heard her accent of wild and bitter rage.
"I want to know this. How did he die? Did he speak of me or of any other woman?"
"Do you think I did it with my own hands? I hardly saw him."
"You must tell me the truth now. You daren't lie to me—we may both be murdered soon." There was a touch of a sly smile on her lips. "I loved him, you see—in a way that I don't suppose you will ever understand at all. I've a right to know what really happened."
"I can't tell you," he replied harshly and hurriedly. "I didn't go with them."
"I think you're lying, I think you went and I think you watched! And I'm sure he died like a brave man."
"They said," replied her husband, "that he showed courage. But courage won't help you much when you're kicking at the end of a rope."
"No," said Angel quietly. "It's a degrading, a humiliating way to die, isn't it?" She gripped her pistol and sighed.
The young French officer came to where they were kneeling, talking together.
"I think they've got up courage at last, sir. I saw the old witch woman among them—she's urged them on, I think. She's given them a charm or some such other nonsense, I suppose, and they look as if they're going to rush the place. We've hardly any ammunition left."
Mr. Thicknesse rose, stiff, exhausted.
"You're a lot of damned fools for not coming better provided. What sort of protection is this? You should have had enough ammunition for weeks."
"We were taken by surprise, sir. I've done what I could. We've been firing for hours. We never thought there'd be a rising here. There wouldn't have been except for what happened at Sinclair last night."
"I don't want to hear any of that!"
Mr. Thicknesse came to the centre of the room, poured out brandy from the bottle on the table, mixed very little water with it and drank it quickly.
"Pardon me, sir, but you ought to think of Mrs. Thicknesse. Perhaps if we were to make a treaty with them—I could try a white flag."
"A treaty with those devils! Do you think they'd keep to anything?"
"There are some people to whom I could appeal. My God! what's that?"
The young officer ran back to the window. Mr. Thicknesse, as if his strength had run out, stood by the table, drinking indifferently.
There was a sharp yelling, trampling and shrieking which broke the hot oppressive silence without. Angel Thicknesse stared at the weapon in her hand, then past it as if she stared through the floor; everyone was so exhausted with the heat, the tension.
"It's the soldiers!" shouted Lieutenant Dupré. "They're here at last. They've attacked these wretches in the rear. Mrs. Thicknesse, madam, the danger is over, as I think. You'd better go to your room—I'll guard the door."
"I'll stay where I am," said Angel. "I'd be no safer there than here. Though thanking you, sir, I've ceased to care about safety."
"Well, now let 'em fight it out," grinned Thicknesse. "It's been a pretty ugly moment. They're damned late, anyhow, coming up. I shall have to complain about that—keeping us shut up here—for hours."
He went to the table and sat down in his usual place, weary and trembling; the sweat lay heavy and greasy on his forehead. With shaking fingers he tried to loosen his cravat.
"Do you feel as if you're choking?" said Angel, leaning forward.
"I tell you I've had enough—I was up all night. I'm cramped, too, with kneeling at that window."
Angel, standing by the table, by the spent lamp, with the stain of ashes on the parquet at her feet, looked round; the men were all crowding at the windows, watching the struggle in the garden.
"Someone is trying to force the door!" shrieked Angel, "look out!"
As her husband staggered to his feet, reached out for his musket leaning against the wall, Angel stepped back and fired, screaming the while:
"The door is being forced! They are getting in! Why did you say that we were safe?"
LIEUTENANT DUPRÉ was bewildered. It seemed to him unaccountable that a lady as cool and as brave as Mrs. Thicknesse had appeared should have so suddenly and completely lost her head. No doubt she had undergone hours of terrible strain, but this—to fire so recklessly for no reason at all when her husband was immediately in front of her—to stand staring at the man lying at her feet with an expression so dull and stupid...he slipped one of the cushions from the chaise-longue under the heavy head of Thomas Thicknesse. The Militiamen stood round staring, forgetting in this excitement the fight without.
"What did you think to do, ma'am?"
"I thought the door was coming down. I saw a black man, I fired. Is he—my husband, dead?"
"No. I don't know how dangerous the wound is—the most unaccountable accident! See, his coat is singed."
"I thought they were forcing the door, so I fired—" She repeated this again and again till the young man had a doubt of her sanity.
"Well, thank God you haven't killed him," he said. "It was the merest chance."
"Oh," said Angel, "haven't I killed him?"
"Oh, I don't know. I don't think so—it seems to be a flesh wound in the shoulder. Can you give me some bandages, something that I can make a tourniquet with?"
Angel Thicknesse remained standing with the spent weapon in her hand as if there was no very peculiar urgency in the case.
One of the coloured Militiamen grinned slyly. "Massa have so many outside want shoot him, and him shot inside!"
Angel smiled, too.
"He suddenly rose and stood in the way, as if he were going to the door. I suppose he also heard something—and so I shot him."
She went slowly into her bedroom, the young Frenchman's horrified, emphatic urgings in her ears. She returned with a petticoat torn into strips and one of her knitting-needles; she stood and watched while two of the Militiamen attended to her husband. The sound of the fighting outside seemed a long way off, as if she were in an underground cave with the waves of the sea beating overhead.
She watched the men raise her husband and carry him into his room. She heard them whisper together as they strained at the slack, heavy weight; she heard them say something about fetching Dr. Morton. She threw down her pistol, moved to one of the windows and threw wide the green lattice; the strong glossy leaves of the creeper blew forward on her face, lightly striking her stern brow.
How spoilt and trampled the garden was! The shrubs crushed, the flowers beaten down, the cotton dresses of the dead negroes showed fluttering above their still, cramped limbs. One had grey hair; blood dried on it and flies clustered thickly. The rebels had been driven off, shots sounded in the distance; she was bitterly aware of her own failure, of her stupid clumsiness; a woman could do nothing finely, with energy and decision—not, at least, a woman bred as she had been, in all manner of shams and pretences.
How was she better than a slave, forced to work underground, to intrigue, to lie—even to cringe?—yes, she would have to cringe again; she was still in her husband's power, she would have to wait his pleasure, dependent on him—on the murderer of John Gordon. He would humble her, expose her, ruin her, drag out the one beautiful thing that had happened to her and make it appear mean and sordid. Revenge and convenience went together for her—with a little cleverness she might in this bloody day have satisfied both.
But she had aimed badly and he would live.
ANGEL THICKNESSE walked slowly, with a pensive air, through the ruined plantation. Militiamen were patrolling the village, which was empty save for some women and children. The hospital was almost empty, too; all the wounded negroes had disappeared—Angel had not asked where—and there were only a few old people with fever, a few children with coco bay in the long white Lazar house.
Dr. Morton lived up at the penn, looking after Thomas Thicknesse.
Angel reached the Obeah woman's hut under the ebony tree and passed into it quickly, lifting and letting fall the cotton curtain with one movement.
"Ah, you are here, at last."
Luna was seated in a corner on a cushion, shredding vegetables into a yellow bowl.
"I've been here several times. I did not know where to find you."
"I was in hiding."
Angel seated herself on a rough stool and crushed her white frock about her. She began to speak rapidly, looking down on the ground of mellow reddish earth, flattened and covered with grass.
"You know the day there was an attack on the house? My husband was shot by accident in the mêlée—I shot him."
"Yes, but perhaps not the correct story. One doesn't always, does one? It was only a flesh wound in the shoulder. He will soon recover. It's two weeks now and he's had a fever—his blood was heated with fatigue, the brandy and anxiety, and so the wound became more serious. It might have been poisoned and he might have had gangrene—but no—" She raised her hand here and let it fall. "They've managed to save him—the tourniquet stopped the bleeding, then the doctor was there very quickly. Well, that's how it is."
She smiled sideways at the girl.
"So," said the mulatto, without looking up, "one goes and the other escapes."
"What happened to him?" asked Angel, leaning forward.
"They've cut him down and carried him away up into the mountains. I only know that."
Still leaning forward for a while with her hands on her knees, looking steadily into the set features of the other woman, Angel asked: "What am I to do now?"
"You can think of nothing?"
"What can I do? I'll have to be careful now. I am watched. Two negresses, Polly and Rosa—old Flora helps—wait on him. I dare say several people knew that we had quarrelled. Some of the men at Sinclair knew about that letter with my name on k, I dare say."
Luna was silent, shredding her yarns.
"In another few days or so he will be well again—able to speak to me. We shall have to arrange our affairs. Do you understand that? He's going to turn me off with ignominy. I don't know what he could prove, but a man always gets believed against a woman in these cases, doesn't he? I'm as defenceless as you are."
The mulatto looked up; Angel thought that her beauty was withering already; the face was too hollowed, the colour too wan, the stiff mane of black hair looked dull.
"Well, it's nearly over," smiled Angel, "my visit to Jamaica. How excited, how ignorant I must have been to have thought it all so remarkable, so enchanting."
Everything had become stale and stupid, even that attack on the house seemed trivial when she recalled it; nothing splendid nor perilous had occurred—it had been merely tedious waiting in the close, shuttered rooms, with those clumsy coloured Militiamen, with her husband, a stout man, kneeling with difficulty, tired, angry, sweating, crouching at the lattice. How feeble had been the attack of the slaves! What a miserable attempt to revenge John Gordon!
She questioned the girl as to the happenings in the Island, but the mulatto knew nothing or would not speak. With hands that were becoming like those of her grandmother, she shredded the vegetables on to the pot already half filled by lumps of salt fish.
"How can you go on doing that?" exclaimed Angel, in disgust.
"What," asked Luna, "do you do all day?"
"Oh, heavens, you're right! I nurse that—man. I want to know everything about him—where they took him, what has happened to his houses, his books, his drawings, a little room he had with Chelsea figures—"
Luna put the bowl off her knees and picked up some withes from the floor; they were taken, she said, from the black grape and the roots of the cotton tree and were used to store water; some of them were a finger-breadth across and carried sufficient water for a day's journeying. "The chasseurs use them, they carry them on cotton ropes and give them to their dogs to drink from when the beasts are tired from hunting."
"Why do you tell me this?"
Luna smiled sadly; her full lips had a bluish tinge; there were no flowers in the hut.
"So that you see what I make all day—what I do."
Angel rose; the girl, stupid or sly, was no use to her and the odour of the enclosed air was sickening.
"My grandmother knows how to make many things," added Luna. "These withes, bowls from calabashes, crowns of lilies with plumes, the banja and the dundo, and the little worm that comes from the root of the cassava tree."
"The little worm?"
"It breeds in the fermented juice. It is so small that you conceal it under your nail. So you see, you can drop it very easily into food or drink."
"It is a poison. It kills very quickly. White people don't understand about it."
Luna rose, her white robes were untidy and soiled as if she no longer cared about her appearance.
"If I could come up and help nurse Massa Thicknesse—"
"No, I could not contrive that. Dr. Morton would not allow it—besides, it would look so odd. Polly and Rosa help me."
"They are not good nurses. They don't know what to do."
"Do you—know what to do?"
"Yes. It is simple. It is easy."
Angel gave a nervous, excited laugh.
"Of course, what you have told me about the worm—is all nonsense. I don't believe a word of it. But if you have some medicine—some real medicine—to cure my husband—"
"You would give it to him?"
"I could bring it—one night. I could make a call, like a flute, like a night bird."
"The negresses might hear. Dr. Morton might be there—give it to me now."
"It is not ready. I did not think you would come."
"You despise me, I suppose. I had no chance—opium—you know, or laudanum—but there was never enough."
"There will be enough of what I bring."
Angel drew back against the plastered walls, pleating the folds of her white dress nervously together.
"I wish that you had not told me about the worm. I don't want to hear these things. I'll soon be gone from this Island—I don't want to stay here—I won't lie on the black slab in the mausoleum between the mother and sister of Mr. Thicknesse—I've got to get away."
"Yes," said the mulatto, "but I shall stay. And before you go there is something you've got to do."
"What's happened in the Island? I've hardly heard anything. I had to show myself a devoted nurse. I saw that the Gazette was full of lies."
"The rebellion is over. A great many people have been killed. There is scandal and trouble, too. Some of the white men are indignant about—the fight in Sinclair. Yes, a great many of the white men, besides the mixed people and the negroes. They say that the Governor will be recalled. Mr. Fremantle makes much trouble—he has gone into Spanish Town. But none of that," added the mulatto, with a sudden uplift of her dark red-rimmed eyes, "concerns what you and I have to do. Yes, there is something we have to do before this story is finished."
Angel left the but without answering; high above the Blue Mountains rose the storm-clouds, hard and dazzling as newly-mined alabaster; the ebony tree beside the but was heavy with blossoms that had opened after the last shower of rain; in the rubbish-heap the fleshy-necked birds scavenged; the air was heavy with the lush scents of untended fruits decaying; half-naked children played listlessly amid the filth of the village.
In the shadow of the sugar-canes an old negro was tying up festering sores on his legs; round the door of the lazar house some negresses crouched, rocking themselves, to and fro.
"Death comes here easily," thought Angel. "I might catch some horrid illness myself, any moment—with this heat, this dirt."
She pictured the mausoleum with deep fear; it seemed worse than death to have to lie there for ever; she wanted to escape, to flee from the gorgeous, detestable Island, to cower again into the safe shams, the cosy comforts of England.
First, however, there was something to be done. She daintily skirted the village, holding up her white flounces; in deliberate self-torture she thought of the limestone pool, the day of the hurricane wind, her husband's sneer—"You plain women."
Did she not owe something to the memory of the man who had created for her
woman's most cherished illusion—that of being beautiful, of being
ANGEL SUGGESTED to Dr. Morton that he need no longer sleep in the house—surely she could contrive by herself now that her husband's health was so greatly improved.
"Those wretches in the hospital are past my care, Mrs. Thicknesse. We lack everything, medicines, dressings, nurses—this upheaval in the Island!" he added abruptly. "I hear that the Governor may be recalled."
"Why—surely he is not to blame for—anything?"
"He had the responsibility. It is the hanging of John Gordon that rankles."
"Yes," said Angel, sinking into the chaise-longue and staring at the table where the lamp had stood. "That rankles. But the Governor liked him—"
"I know. But he allowed martial law to be proclaimed. Without that they could not have done it."
"Do you," asked Angel carefully, "know what happened—exactly—in Sinclair, that night?"
"I'm afraid I do not know."
"It doesn't matter. I suppose we shall soon be able to leave this place. I—we—want to return to England. The Canterbury Fair is due in a month's time, the Gazette says—I should like to sail by that—doesn't it seem strange? It is the ship that brought me here."
The dishevelled, weary doctor assured Angel Thicknesse that her husband would have returned in a few weeks to his usual health. In a fortnight he might be considered convalescent. Dr. Morton congratulated the tired wife, rather nervously, on her patience and skill as a nurse.
"It was the least I could do. It was my fault."
"Why, no, my dear Mrs. Thicknesse, you mustn't think like that. It might
have happened to anyone at such a moment. Why, everyone agrees that you
showed the greatest courage and resource."
ANGEL HAD INSISTED on seeing Mr. Fremantle, though the doctor said that he ought not to come to the penn, where he would never have been received if Mr. Thicknesse had been on his feet.
"We will talk most quietly, Dr. Morton—far away from my husband's room—so that he cannot possibly hear us. I—is it not reasonable that I should wish to see this clergyman?"
"I've no authority to prevent you, I'm sure, but—he is tedious and meddlesome, and you know the feeling there is between him and your husband."
"Yes," smiled Angel, "but it is so long since I have been to church—isn't it a chance to receive—a little spiritual comfort?"
The doctor, standing at the top of the verandah steps, glanced doubtfully at Angel and then down at the shabby figure of the parson waiting impatiently in the garden below.
"It will be a chance for you to go down to the hospital," added Angel. "Oh yes, I meant to tell you—I sent away the two little negresses, Polly and Rosa."
"Sent them away?"
"Yes, to old Flora's hut—they are tired out—and they make me nervous—black faces always about, you know—of course, they will come in every day to do the work—but I thought they might sleep outside—I'm sure," concluded Angel on a shrill laugh, "their room wants airing—and it smells so!"
"As you please, ma'am," the doctor went slowly down the stone steps and negligently bade the young clergyman enter the house.
Angel greeted warmly this man whom she had always disliked. She conducted him to the far end of the hall and asked him to lower his voice.
"Is not Mr. Thicknesse well enough to see me?"
"No—he is very ill, very weak. His heart, you know!"
"Well, then, ma'am, I won't waste your time."
"Oh, please stay—I have been so lonely here, with no one but Doctor Morton—"
"You don't find him competent?" asked Mr. Fremantle, with some softening of his stern manner.
"Well, I don't like to say—I have thought that he didn't understand my husband's case at all—"
"He is an idle drunkard, Mrs. Thicknesse, he shirks everything—he has become ruined these last few years. I should not trust him at all."
"I wish I could take my husband into Spanish Town! But he is not fit to be moved."
"As to Mr. Thicknesse, ma'am," replied Mr. Fremantle harshly, "I hold him no better than a murderer."
"That may shock you. It is my duty to say it—I came here to say it to his face. He would have had a good deal to answer for if it hadn't been for this stupid accident—"
"Yes, yes, this stupid accident—"
"Well, I should not trouble you—perhaps—but you said that you wanted to see me—and—"
—"And? Don't hesitate, Mr. Fremantle, don't spare me."
"I was thinking of the letter addressed to you that Mr. Gordon had in his pocket when he was arrested."
Angel sighed and took the chair beneath the window; the sunlight fell through the green slats of the lattice on to her face, her dress, her clasped hands.
"Please speak very low. I am alone, and if my husband wakes, I shall have to go to him."
"Your words are very earnest, Mrs. Thicknesse, you seem moved."
"Tell me what happened in Sinclair. I have asked so many—no one knows."
He looked at her harshly as he leant, in his ugly black, against the rough wall.
"Don't judge me," whispered Angel, "because I did not go to church very often or visit the hospital—because I was not charitable or kind. I can explain about the letter."
"What is it that you want to know?"
"There was a riot in Sinclair. A number of negroes were in the Court House under sentence of death. Mr. Thicknesse, Colonel Henderson and some of the West Indian regiment were defending it. Mr. Gordon came up, with an escort of soldiers and some of his own slaves. Colonel Henderson went to the window and read the Riot Act three times. Mr. Gordon put his handkerchief on his cane and asked for a truce. The soldiers with him fought their way into the Court House. He called out for a parley, saying that the negroes were unarmed and defenceless. I tried to support him, but I was insulted and struck. They fired from the Court House, and Mr. Gordon pushed his horse through the negroes, still crying out for a truce. They say that he encouraged the negroes, but I could not hear that."
"Yes—I am listening, I can see it—"
"One of his slaves thrust a musket into his hands and he fired at the Court House window where Colonel Henderson stood. I don't know if he aimed at the Colonel or not, I don't know if the musket went off accidentally in the press."
Angel sighed and put her fingers before her eyes.
"That is about all; the negroes were dispersed by the firing from the Court House; then they sallied out and arrested him."
"What did he do?"
"He was very quiet. Exhausted and weakened by loss of blood. Colonel Henderson examined him, accused him of treason, of treachery, of bad faith in dealing with the Maroons. He denied everything. They searched him for treasonable papers. They found the letter addressed to you. I spoke for him warmly. I was forced out of the court-room and locked in a corridor at the back. When I was released in the morning I heard that they'd taken him out and hanged him over the bridge."
"I can explain about the letter," whispered Angel. "I write, you know. I sketch, too. I used to go out collecting flowers to copy. Once or twice I met Mr. Gordon. He told me he, too, made drawings of plants and birds. He promised to help me, to send me a list of the names of different flowers. I suppose that was what the letter would be."
"Did not your husband give it to you?"
"No; nor mentioned it."
"It was a bloody murder, ma'am. It will be avenged."
"Yes. Do you in particular blame my husband?"
"He was the most violent against Mr. Gordon; he swore he saw him aim at Colonel Henderson; he went to the bridge—"
"Ah! I charged him with that and he denied it!"
"He lied, then. He was a witness of the last agonies of a man better in everything than himself."
"Agonies! Ah, you said agonies!"
"Mrs. Thicknesse, it is not an easy way to die—he was given no time; he asked permission to see me, to settle his affairs, to write some letters; everything was refused."
Mr. Fremantle looked compassionately at her haggard face.
"It must shock you, Mrs. Thicknesse, as a Christian woman. It was a horrible barbarity. Yes, you must be distressed, especially as you had met him. He had many graces."
"My husband must answer for it, Mr. Fremantle—if he recovers."
"Is there a doubt?"
"His heart is so weak; the fever never quite goes, and Dr. Morton is so careless. I fear—"
"Have no fear, ma'am; it will be as the Lord judges."
"Yes, as God judges." She rose. "I thank you for what you have told me." She put her cold hand in his. "It is not easy for me, I am so weak—will you, before you go, say a prayer?"
"For your husband? With your husband?"
"No, he would not see you. With me, for me."
Her hand slipped from his; she took a book from the shelf behind her head.
"This was my father's—he was a clergyman, you know—-" she searched for a page—"here, pray read this with me."
"It is from the Order for the Burial of the Dead."
"Please read it with me."
She went on her knees beside the table, on the spot where the ashes of the letter had been rubbed into dust.
"If it comforts you."
"Yes, it will."
"Take the book, Mrs. Thicknesse; I know the words."
He knelt down beside her in the vivid bars of brilliant light; their low voices rose in unison.
"I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die."
The woman's voice sank to a whisper as her gaze went down to the double-columned page divided by red lines...
"For man walketh in a vain shadow and disquieteth himself in vain: he
heapeth up riches and cannot tell who shall gather them...Take thy plague
away from me: I am even confused by means of thy heavy hand. When thou with
rebukes dost chasten man for sin, thou makest his beauty to consume away,
like, as it were, a moth fretting a garment...O spare me a little, that I may
recover my strength, before I go hence, and be no more seen...For a thousand
years in thy sight are but as yesterday: seeing that is past as a watch in
the night. As soon as thou scatterest them, they are even as a sleep; and
fade away suddenly like the grass. In the morning it is green and groweth up;
but in the evening it is cut down, dried up and withered. For we consume away
in thy displeasure; and are afraid at thy wrathful indignation."
IT WAS DARK when Dr. Morton returned to the house. Angel Thicknesse was waiting for him by the light of her little lamp; she had set out a tray with bottles, glasses and cakes; she was hemming yards of fine white flouncing.
"I'm sorry to be so late, Mrs. Thicknesse," he muttered.
"They're dying like flies in molasses up there: you ought to get out of this place. Sorry to have left you alone."
He sat down by the table.
"Oh, it is not late yet. Mr. Fremantle stayed a while. That was company. Mr. Thicknesse only woke once. I gave him the medicine that you left. Take a drink, you look tired."
"I feel queasy, I must confess. One ought to be used to it after all these years; but, God, the hopelessness of it all!"
He drank the brandy and water she offered him; she noted his soiled clothes, his flabby, unshaven cheeks, his hands stained with medicines and tobacco; her nostrils became pinched; he seemed to smell of negroes.
The tired man drank; each time she filled his glass she made the mixture stronger.
"They ought all to be put out of the way—miserable black devils—might as well give 'em to the maggots at once. What use are they? What use are any of us?" He tried to rise. "I ought to see your husband. I won't drink any more."
"He is very well. Sleeping peacefully. And you are so tired!" She filled his glass again. "You ought to go away; you ought to rest."
"Go away? Where's the money coming from? Rest—where's the sleep coming from?" he laughed. "I've seen enough of this infernal Island! Leprosy and lice—what did Fremantle say?"
"He said that it was—bloody murder—you must drink some more so that you can forget."
"Bloody murder! By God, it was! I liked John Gordon; they gave him hell, too. He was weak, mind you, weak. That African blood is no good to you. He ought to have turned on 'em before. No spirit; couldn't strike back."
"Strike back," smiled Angel. "But he died bravely."
"Yes. I wonder if that is difficult? I hope that child with coco bay will be dead before I get to the hospital to-morrow; his face is falling away; and you can't keep the damned maggots off."
"Go to bed," commanded Angel, rising, "go to bed and rest and forget. I'll sit with my husband to-night."
She overcame her revulsion towards him and pulled his dirty sleeve; he rose unsteadily, holding on to the table, laughing at himself, disgusted with himself, indifferent to everything.
"It is the infernal Island," he muttered. "The infernal Island."
"Yes," said Angel, drawing him to the door of his room, which she opened with her other hand: the untidy chamber was clearly visible in the starlight that streamed through the tangle of glistening leaves at the open window. "See, your bed is ready; everything is ready."
She closed the door on his lurching figure, hastened to her own room and washed her hands eagerly: when she, half an hour after, cautiously looked into the doctor's room, he lay as she wished to see him, sprawled in a drunken sleep across the mosquito-net.
"WHAT ARE YOU WRITING?" asked Mr. Thicknesse feebly.
Angel looked up from the table in the corner of the room where she sat, papers, books and a lamp before her. She did not answer immediately, and he added:
"Finishing The Golden Violet, eh?"
"No, I've put that aside for the moment. I am making some notes about the Island. I think I should like to write an account of Jamaica."
"You haven't seen much of it," he muttered, moving slightly on the pillows.
"I know, I want to go up the mountains and along the coast. Of course," she rested her hands under her chin, locking them tightly while she smiled at her husband, "there is a great deal I don't understand. The climate, for instance. I haven't got the seasons straight. I don't know when the various plants bloom and fruit. I'm trying to make a list here."
The sick man looked at her suspiciously across the space of wavering light and shadow.
"You're an odd woman," he whispered. "You've been nursing me, haven't you? For some weeks."
"I've done my best," smiled Angel. "The doctor says I'm a fair nurse."
The lamp made her fair hair into a halo round her pale and placid face. She continued to smile.
"It wasn't a very severe wound, you know. You would have been well much sooner if you hadn't been drinking all that brandy, and been angry too. Your blood was heated—you'd been up all night—at Sinclair."
"How did I get this confounded wound? The doctor always evades me when I question him. Who shot me?"
"I don't know. There was a scuffle, somebody was trying to break in at the door, the Militiamen were firing and so were the slaves outside." She lied in security, for it had been agreed between herself, the doctor and the young French officer, that no one should tell Mr. Thicknesse how he had received his wound.
He looked at her suspiciously, unsatisfied, then hoisted himself up in the bed, pressing his right hand down on the great mattress of cotton waste.
"I suppose you think," he asked, "that this has rather altered matters between us?"
"Not at all. I suppose that you still intend to divorce me? Yet you don't seem quite so vindictive as you were. No doubt that is weakness." She bent over her sheets of paper. "I have noted down here some of the strange things I have seen—that empty house, for instance, full of wasps' nests. Can you tell me anything about that, or does it trouble you to speak?"
"No," he replied with a certain uneasiness. "The empty house—that must be May Hall. How did you get as far as that? I warned you not to go wandering about the place. It's got an ugly history. A woman named May Louder was murdered there by her slaves—she was flogging a boy when they rushed at her and held her down under a mattress."
"I see," smiled Angel. "Then slaves do become dangerous sometimes?"
"Oh, that was in the old days, when the slavers used to come into Port Royal with the negroes from Africa." He sighed. "Where are the papers? I'm out of touch with everything. I suppose there's been trouble."
"Over what happened at Sinclair?" asked Angel coolly.
"Can you talk of it like that?" said her husband, puzzled. "My God, you're brazen!"
"How else would you have me talk of it? Yes, there's trouble, though I haven't heard much here. I think Sir William Hayes will be recalled."
Mr. Thicknesse smiled unpleasantly.
"That'll be a good thing for the Island. He was always a weak fool."
"There will be an enquiry, of course, into the death of John Gordon."
"Oh, you can speak his name, can you? Well, then, I can tell you that no enquiry will make any difference. The Island was under martial law, and Colonel Henderson was within his right. Gordon was in the Militia, he was urging the rebels on. That's enough, I don't want to hear any more about it."
"But you brought up the subject."
The sick man moved restlessly and groaned as he felt a stab of pain in his bandaged shoulder. "It's a wonder I didn't die of poison. A flesh wound is a dangerous thing to get in this country."
"You've been well nursed."
"I suppose the damage has been considerable?" he asked. "Have you heard anything about that?"
"Your plantation seems pretty well ruined. There's no one left to work it. I don't know what they ought to be doing at this season of the year, but there's no one about. I haven't much concerned myself. The hospital is full of sick negroes. It doesn't concern me."
"No, I don't suppose so, Well, it's the end of the Island for me. I shall become one of those absentee landlords they curse so heartily."
"Ten thousand pounds of my money has gone in the estate," laughed Angel.
"We shall get more than that for compensation. There's the value of all the slaves who had to be shot, and the crops, and the boiler-house and the mills—all ruined, as I suppose?"
"I suppose so," replied Angel seriously. "I haven't been abroad much."
"Well, I can justify myself in all I did, both towards you and towards him."
"I made no complaint. I told you I'm taking notes about the Island. What is the Latin name of the maple tree with a cluster of yellow blossoms at the top, and of the little plant they call 'black-eyed Susan'? And what is that large tree always covered with beautiful white flowers, and that with the plume of rosy-purple blossoms? It's named 'mountain pride,' isn't it? Oh, I have seen lovely flowers on the roadside. Forget-me-nots are so dark, violet more than blue. And the little flower that seems to make carpets of scarlet anywhere where there is a little damp. Surely," added Angel speaking rapidly, "this is a valuable estate? It is watered so well from the Rio Cobre. How beautiful the water is too—blue, as if it were dyed!"
"Why are you talking all this nonsense?" demanded her husband sullenly, moving his head from side to side on the deep, fresh pillows.
"Oh, it isn't nonsense to me. I like these things. There is a marsh here too, and the most beautiful ferns, water-lilies, water-hyacinths and reed-grasses. I should like to paint little specimens of them. Then the land-shells—yes, when I've been walking about here I've frequently come upon shells. It's the butterflies here that make the honey, isn't it?"
"Why are you chattering to me?" demanded the wounded man, sitting up. "What's behind all this? You must hate me!"
Angel rose; in her white gown and fair hair she looked unsubstantial in the lamplight; with her little fan of palm leaves she waved away the moths that fluttered round the lamp-glass.
"You must keep quiet, you know. I am in charge of you. You must not get excited. No doubt there is a good deal of trouble ahead—there is an enquiry to be held at Spanish Town—you will have to attend. For the moment you must have nothing to think about."
Thomas Thicknesse sank back into his pillows.
"I still can't understand your being so calm and cool," he said. "Have you really no heart, no feeling?"
"I shouldn't enquire into that, if I were you," said Angel, as she moved slowly up the room. "We were ill-matched from the first—so let it go at that." She was by the shutter and stood there, luminous in the dusk, listening.
"What is that sound outside like a flute?"
Her husband listened too, with a look of uneasiness on his sallow face. "Oh, it's a bird that has a note like that. You must be quiet and listen for a moment. It might be a call or a signal. I suppose the place is well-guarded?"
"Yes, some of the Militia are still in the store-rooms downstairs. Besides, I told you there were very few slaves left—those who were not killed in the fighting have been hanged since, I suppose; I never see them."
Angel Thicknesse spoke quietly; her tranquillity disturbed her husband.
"Wouldn't you like a drink?" she asked, "or some of the guava jelly? I have, too, some bunches of the sea grape—they consider them a delicacy here, do they not?"
The flute-like sound was again repeated outside; she went to her husband's bedside and stood looking down at him.
"Are we alone in the house?" he asked.
"Oh, no, the two negresses are sleeping quite close—in the room next to mine, you know. The doctor has been sleeping in the farther room. To-night is the first time he's been away. There is someone very ill, someone who is likely to die in the night at the hospital, so he thought he'd better go and that I could manage alone." She bent down a little so that her face was not far from his, and he shrank back into the pillows. "You seem rather nervous and apprehensive, don't you?" smiled Angel. "I'll go and fetch you some lime-water that is being kept cool outside."
"I don't want anything," he muttered sullenly.
"Well, your medicine, then. The doctor said you were to take that. You
must sleep, you know, or the fever will come on again."
SHE TOOK UP the lamp, and shading it with her hand, left the room, leaving him in the darkness, for the glow of the outer, luminous night was obscured by the heavy trees and creepers that grew in front of the lattice. When she reached the centre of the hall, Angel stood still for a moment and looked down towards the door that opened on to the verandah. On this there was a faint sound of scratching; she moved towards it daintily on her slippered feet. She opened it slowly, carefully, and peered out into the tropic night, the stillness only broken by the melancholy, flute-like call. From the shadow of the verandah a figure, draped in a dark-blue cloth, the colour of the sky, stepped out. The mulatto's hand touched that of the white woman, their fingers lightly locked together for a moment and something passed between them. They smiled at each other under the light of the lamp, which, with her other hand, Angel still held on a level with her face. Neither spoke. The white woman glanced for a moment at the shape of the palm tree stirring like her fan in the silver haze of the sky—then she shut the door and carefully returned to the hall, while in her hand she grasped the small object the mulatto girl had given her so carefully.
When she reached the sick man, she found him restless and impatient; he wanted to know where she had been, why she had left him, why she had been so long?
"Someone had knocked at the door—I heard it," he said. "You can't deceive me, I'm quick at hearing."
"Yes, I, too, have good ears. It was Luna, the mulatto girl. She has called frequently to see you. Would you like her to be brought up?"
Thomas Thicknesse turned his face away angrily.
"She is very beautiful," said his wife tranquilly. "I commend your choice."
"You have me at a disadvantage," he muttered. "I'm an easy target now for your spite."
"Oh no, it is I who am at a disadvantage. As soon as you are well, you're going to divorce me, are you not? I shall have no claim on you or on your property, though some of my money did help a little to build it up. As you reminded me before, I shall be ruined, I shall have lost my reputation and respectability. No one will read my books then, even if I have an inclination to write them." She moved away from him, setting the lamp down on the far table, where her writing material lay.
"I'm tired," he complained sullenly, almost as if he asked for her pity and consideration. "I'm still a sick man. I'll take that drink now, or that medicine, or whatever it is, and try to sleep."
"Sleep with pleasant thoughts, too," said Angel, smiling at him across the room. "I bear you no malice—think of the future, and the money you'll get as compensation for the loss of your property and your slaves, think what you can do with this estate. Why, you could plant tea and coffee here, as well as sugar and cotton. There are many improvements that could be made—think of that."
She passed to a side-table at the far end of the room, on which, carefully
covered with snowy muslins, were glasses, bottles, spoons and bowls—all
the paraphernalia of the sick-room, everything scrupulously clean and in
THOMAS THICKNESSE watched his wife; he could only see her outline—her bent head, her back, the falling strands of fair hair, and her hands moving deftly beside the lamp. He wished he could take her advice and fill his mind with peaceful thoughts, but he could not do so. Whilst she was in the room, he could think of nothing but her, and when she was out of the room, which was seldom, he could think of nothing but John Gordon.
She came lightly across the polished floor through the shadows, holding daintily the little glass in which was his pale, yellow-coloured dose of physic; it contained, he believed, a little laudanum, which always made him sleep.
He wanted to sleep now—he had not the courage for anything else; he only wanted to evade all issues, all thought; he hoped that he would not dream.
As he took the glass from her, he said:
"You and I will have a reckoning to make, my dear Mary. It's damnable that it should have happened and that I should be in a way dependent upon you, but I'll soon be on my feet now."
He swallowed the liquid and lay back. His wife smoothed the fine sheets and coverlets which lay over him, till all was neatly arranged.
"Now you'll sleep, you'll sleep."
She smiled, raising her hand with a curious, slow gesture that filled him with intense fear.
"What have you given me?" he cried, as he tried to get out of the bed.
She held him back, her little hand on his broad chest.
"I've done what I had to do," replied Angel. "You've had what you ought to have. Be quiet, lie still, sleep."
She moved away from the bed lightly backwards until she reached the table on which she had left the lamp. Her husband sank down in his bed; he had no strength; as soon as he tried to rise, he felt giddy, drowsy.
Angel covered up the medicine on the table with the clean net; she took
the lamp to the other table where her writing materials were, and then turned
and looked at the bed. Her husband's heavy figure showed massive under the
clothes which she had drawn straight, but he had pulled awry with his last
movements. With her hands folded together and an expectant smile on her face,
the young woman waited.
THE WHITE STARS had set, the hard clear light of the day poured down in brilliant rays, as if it fell from an immense lantern which was suspended in the centre of the heavens. It was a cloudless morning, a strong breeze blew down from the mountains. Mrs. Thicknesse ran across the neglected plantation where the ribbon-like leaves of the sugar-canes bent and shivered in the wind. Her fine pale hair and her light gown blew out behind her in her haste.
When she came in sight of the Obeah woman's hut, she put her hands to her
lips and gave a long flute-like call. This was at once answered; the cotton
curtain of the hovel was instantly pulled aside and the mulatto girl stood in
the strong sunlight which made rings of flaming gold of the bracelets on her
ash-coloured arms. Angel made a gesture towards the hospital, then she turned
and ran back to the house, while the mulatto turned away with her stiff,
graceful steps and erect carriage.
THOMAS THICKNESSE was dead. In the sheds of the village two negroes were making his coffin. Dr. Morton could not understand how he should have died so suddenly in his sleep without resistance or struggle. Probably his heart had been weak; the doctor standing stupidly by the corpse was bewildered, even alarmed; he had been so sure that the strong, heavy man was going to recover.
"What a shock for you who have been so devoted!"
He assured Angel again and again she had nothing to reproach herself with...
"Why no, he was never out of my sight," she smiled, "for more than a few moments at a time. I gave him his medicine as you directed me, and he went to sleep as usual. I was writing here to distract myself." She pointed to the papers lying by the extinguished lamp. "Then towards dawn I went to look at him and saw a change. I've never seen—death—since my mother died. I went and called old Flora and she was quite sure, and then I woke you."
"Yes," he stammered, "you had to wake me—"
"No one knows," she said quickly. "The negresses thought you were in your room mixing medicines—better let them think so."
"What do you mean?"
Angel stared down at the white sheet drawn over the heavy body of Thomas Thicknesse.
"If there is any question about his—dying so suddenly—if you think it odd or strange—it will be difficult—a scandal."
"You mean that I was drunk last night? That I left my post?"
"Yes. I don't want to say anything. If the property is mine—I'd like to recompense you for all the care you've taken of my husband."
"You're asking me, Mrs. Thicknesse, to condone—"
"Nothing," whispered Angel quickly. "He died in a natural way, didn't he? You're not surprised, are you? It was what you were expecting?"
The haggard, unshaven man stood silent, a little smile twisting his loose lips.
"I can't endure anything more, indeed I can't," said Angel. "If you were to say that there was anything strange about my husband's death—I should not be able to endure it—"
Dr. Morton sighed and straightened his shoulders.
"But you agitate yourself for nothing, Mrs. Thicknesse—there is nothing strange about—this collapse. His heart was weak and I was expecting it would fail suddenly."
"It was a terrible experience for you," added the doctor, nervously mopping his forehead, "after all you've been through." He looked at her with curiosity and compassion. "I don't know what to suggest. You see, it will have to be soon—the funeral, I mean."
"Yes, in the mausoleum, I suppose. I don't think there is any black stuff or crape in the house."
"I don't think there will be any need for you to attend. You should go to your room and think of yourself. Is there any friend, any relation or anyone to whom I should send?"
"Not that I know of, and matters being as they are in the Island—"
"I've given what orders I can. You're the mistress here now, I suppose. I mean, he left everything to you?"
"I don't know. I suppose all is in disorder—you see, he didn't know
he was going to die."
OLD FLORA, after all, found the mourning clothes. They had been packed away in long boxes of cedar-wood in the store-room under the house. They had been worn by the first Mrs. Thicknesse at the funeral of her young sister-in-law; they had been made in Kingston years ago and were of an old-fashioned pattern.
Polly and Rosa told Angel that all wealthy families kept suits of mourning because when anyone died there was not time to have anything made, the bodies had to be buried so soon.
She put on the full dress of black with a small plain hat and veil. It was a suit very much like what she had worn first for her father's and then for her mother's funeral. There was everything, black slippers and stockings, gloves, a silk-mesh bag, and the smell of the spices in which all had been packed clung to the crumpled garments. Angel shook them out, thinking how odd all the black stuff looked in the hard clear air; there was a crape veil which she pinned over her face in front of the lace on the bonnet, so that she looked at the world through a double fold of black.
Everyone was kind and most sorry for her. Lieutenant Dupré, the
Militiamen, even the slaves themselves; yes, everyone seemed sorry; she
wondered why. Even Edward Fremantle seemed shocked, seemed to dislike the
thought of taking the burial service, but there was no one else.
THE LITTLE PROCESSION started punctually and moved decorously through the tropic woods towards the mausoleum; Edward Fremantle preceded the wagon on which was the rudely-made coffin covered with the black and silver pall which had served for other members of the Thicknesse family. Behind walked Angel leaning on the arm of the doctor, who had brushed down his old shabby suit, shaved and tied a crape bow on his arm and a crape weeper round his hat. Lieutenant Dupré, the Militiamen, the overseers, some white men from Sinclair followed, then the negroes whispering among themselves, occasionally breaking into a little chant or song which might have been either a dirge or a lilt of triumph. It was odd, Angel thought, to look at the world through those black veils, to see the brilliancy of sky, foliage and flower dimmed through that dark hue of mourning.
The storm-clouds advanced from the Blue Mountains, the straight autumn rain fell pattering on the stiff leaves and thick buds that opened in the moisture, the sweeping plumes of the ferns were hung with heavy drops of water. Angel's ill-fitting black clothes were stained by the rain, her feet were damp in the thin black slippers; gay birds fluttered high overhead against the rifts of blue-violet sky.
"It will be splashing into the river, loosening the roses by the bridge, it will be falling on his empty house, beating at the window of his room where he kept his books, his drawings. Everything that belonged to Thomas Thicknesse—everything he wore, used or touched, I shall send to the boiler-house to be burned."
Edward Fremantle unlocked the door of the vault, which was white and shining under the rain.
The coffin was lifted from the wagon built for puncheons of rum and casks of molasses; it was heavy, awkward to manage, the negroes floundered for a foothold in the long grasses and ferns.
Angel peered forward through her veil into the interior of the vault; she saw the black slab, the three coffins; the negroes did not want to enter the vault; they shivered, groaned softly, and in nervous haste placed the body of Thomas Thicknesse awry between the bodies of his kin.
Edward Fremantle sternly ordered them to alter this; the negroes outside drew back, slowly, in a semi-circle under the dripping trees; behind them all Angel saw the scarlet umbrella of the mulatto, the vivid green feathers wet and drooping. She looked again into the dank, alabaster-lined vault.
"You, not me," she whispered through her veils. "You, after all, not
ANGEL WATCHED the two black women servants packing her possessions—her books, her pictures, her clothes, all her writing material, the unfinished pages of The Golden Violet, the funeral cards of her father and mother, framed texts, the pious works she had kept beside her bed in London.
"I do not choose to stay here another night." She had ordered the curricle to take her into Spanish Town. There was no one to give her much advice; the doctor had told her the name of her husband's lawyer—she had assured him everything was to go on as it was. She would engage a steward in Spanish Town to come in and administer the estate. When she found out how much her husband had left and who was the heir, she would know better what to do. As far as she understood the matter she was by her marriage settlements the owner of all her husband had left.
"Yes," she said smiling, "Venables Penn, I suppose, belongs to me—that's an odd thought, isn't it?"
She put in a pile all the light dresses which she had had so extravagantly made for her in Spanish Town and Kingston. What charming gowns they were, most of them unpaid for! She must settle the bills before she left the Island. She picked them up one by one—muslin striped with silver, muslin with gold stars, finest cotton and cambric; there was one gown she selected from the pile that she put aside—it was the one she had worn the day of the hurricane in Spanish Town.
When everything was ready she sent for Luna. The mulatto girl came at once as if she had been waiting close under the verandah.
"These are for you," said Angel. "I am going back to England, I shall not need such light clothes again. Yes, and you may have all the shoes and sashes, too, and the hats made of palm grass—that is all over for me."
The mulatto went on her knees and caught up the dresses eagerly and Angel watched her curiously as her slim, dark fingers curved over the fine clothes.
"Have them taken away soon, immediately—Flora will help you. I am going to shut up the house—I am going away. Luna, if you were free, what would you do?"
"I should go and live in Spanish Town, or perhaps at Kingston, where the ships come in, or perhaps at Port Royal, where the sailors are."
"Well, you would soon get spoiled, you know. You would lead such a lazy, idle life that you would become fat, and you might catch some disease, some infection—fever, and die suddenly."
Luna lifted her shoulders almost to her ears and laughed, showing her perfect teeth.
"You don't care, do you?" said Angel. "Well, you shall have what you want—you deserve it. I think you belong to me, I believe all the property now is mine. In any case, I'll arrange that you're free."
The girl laughed again; she seemed happy. "Why don't you come down to Spanish Town, too, Missie? Why don't you live there? The ladies, they have a very good time. This Governor will go and there will be another one—perhaps a young one with a gay wife, and there will be balls and concerts and parties. There are races, too, you know, and it's all very bright and splendid."
"No, I'm going back to England. I see what you mean, Luna—it's a nice life in its way, but it's not for me. I was bred so respectably. It's too late to change. Now if I were to suggest that you come to England with me, you wouldn't like that, would you?"
Luna threw back her head and shook her stiff mane of dull hair. "No," thought Angel, "she won't be beautiful long, she is so thin—in London she would look most peculiar."
The mulatto stood up, holding to her waist a flounced skirt of pink tarlatan; with one arm curved over her head, and looking down on the floor, she began to execute a stiff dance, stamping her little feet firmly and delicately.
"Luna has never had dresses like these. Those old dresses of old Missie Thicknesse, bah!" She snapped her fingers; Angel watched her as if she watched some part of herself that had become detached from her own person and embodied in that of the mulatto.
"Here are some other toys for you—I bought them once in Spanish Town when I was happy." She threw down on to the pile of clothes a silk handkerchief in which were tied the trifles she had bought the day after the hurricane wind. "And this money—" She looked at that, spread on the table, the dollars, the doubloons, the half-johannes, the bitts, and the note scornfully made by her husband as to the value of these coins in English money. "I thought that if I had a little money I should feel free. I've had no money of my own since I've been married—but it was no use."
"What did you want to do?" asked Luna, pausing in her slow dance.
"I hoped that we could go away. Isn't that what we all hope for? To go away?"
"Luna is going away, with all these beautiful dresses and this money, Luna will go to Port Royal."
"I wanted to go farther than that. Here, take everything I leave behind, all the shawls, gauzes, veils—this buttercup-coloured parasol, those saffron-coloured shoes." Angel rose. "Speak to me, I can't leave it quite like this—didn't you love John Gordon at all?"
Luna stood rigid, holding the shell-pink flounces above her lean flanks.
"He was a beautiful man, a good lover. We shall not forget him. But he is dead, gone like the bird blown out to sea in the storm wind. We go on, we live, we have done what we had to do."
"Does it end for you—like that? Don't you know what it is to feel savage with misery after being exalted with happiness?"
"I suppose," said Luna slowly, "you love someone if you kill the man who killed him." She put her hands to her throat. "If you risk that they throw you—also—over the bridge."
Angel did not answer; the whole Island and everything that had happened to her there, seemed like the driftage of a dream impinging fantastically on the commonplace of everyday. Singing softly to herself the mulatto moved slowly round in her rhythmic dance.
"Ole Man Glory
He gone to Glory
He found Glory
He gone home."
Angel adjusted her crape veils and looked down at the pile of pretty dresses that seemed to her like the wraiths of all the happy women in the world; women who were beautiful, who had lovers.
"Very well, then. Good-bye. How absurd I look in all this black! I shan't wear it long. Take those things away, won't you? I've asked Mr. Fremantle to shut up the place and keep the keys till I send someone from the town. I see, after all, one can trust him."
Luna, shaking out the billowing flounces, asked:
"What have you done with Massa Thicknesse's things? Where are they all, everything he had?"
"They're burnt. I had them all taken down to the boiler-house. Yes, everything to do with him, and some things of mine that I didn't wish to see again. Good-bye."
The two women parted lightly, with no more than that.
Wrapped in her black veil as in a decorous cloud of grief, Angel stepped
into the curricle and was driven off in the rain to Spanish Town, along the
road that wound by the banks of the Rio Cobre, past the bridge that she had
once wished to sketch.
ANGEL SAT in King's House talking to the Governor. He had been recalled, and as befitted a man facing misfortune, he was sprucely attired and carried himself well. She approved the change in his appearance; at the moment of crisis he had thrown off his untidy habits, his weary, disheartened air. He had been held responsible, because he had allowed martial law to be proclaimed in the Parish of St. Andrews, for the death of John Gordon, for which so many people were being taken to account. Anger, bitterness, a keen sense of injustice had hardened his face. He was pleased to see Mrs. Thicknesse and assured her of his great sympathy in her deep trouble and grief.
"I thought I ought to see you before I left the Island," said Angel, lifting her crape veil. "I'm going home by the next packet, the Canterbury Fair. You see, there is nothing to keep me in the Island, nothing whatever. I intend to sell the property. I have been to the lawyer whom Mr. Thicknesse employed and I find it is all mine."
"A fine plantation, and you will receive a handsome compensation for the damage done in the late revolt."
"Yes," said Angel indifferently. "I have found a good man to act as my steward—he understands all about these matters. Ten thousand pounds of my own money went into the place, you know, Sir William."
She smiled at his look of surprise. "Oh, yes, I earned it with my books. That seems silly now, doesn't it, to think that I really could earn money from my books, but I intend to take up writing again. The novel I brought out here is not finished yet." She looked down at her black shoes. "There's the house in Spanish Town, too. I want to sell that."
There was silence between them as he raised his eyes and looked at her quizzically. He was not more than fifty and his life was broken up; he had lost his wife in this exile and then been involved in this bad business of the revolt at Sinclair, and now he was going home to face charges which would be difficult to disprove; she knew there were so many against him...Leaning forward and speaking in ladylike tones, she ventured to express her sympathy.
"It's damnable," replied the Governor harshly. "I liked the man, I respected him, there wasn't a finer man in the Island, and now his murder is on my shoulders. It is my fault, too, for I never should have allowed martial law to be proclaimed. They've got quite a good case, the scoundrels."
"He told me that if it came to a struggle he would be on the side of the blacks."
"He told you? You were a friend?"
"I told you I liked him."
"I liked him, too, as I've told you again and again. Besides, he was working for peace—he was trying to do the difficult thing. They made his life pretty hateful, you know, he lived quite apart from everyone. There were only a few persons who really knew him. The rest were always insulting him and pulling him down. I remember when he tried to run his horses for the King's Plate. Well, never mind—they kept him out of everything—"
"What became of his body? Did you ever find that out, sir?"
"No, some of the negroes took it away to the Maroon country, to what they call the Cockpits—great basins of limestone, you know, in the centre of the Island. I suppose they gave him what they consider an honourable burial. I don't know about a Christian service or hallowing."
"He wasn't left to the carrion birds, anyway, hanging on the bridge."
"You seem to care," said Sir William, looking at her shrewdly.
"I do care—about the whole tragedy, about the way he was murdered by those vindictive men, the way they took their chance to do that base deed, and the way you've been shouldered with it. What about Colonel Henderson?" she asked quickly. "He ought to be cashiered."
"He may be. I've got some influence at home. They may recall me, but there is my side of the case to be heard. If it had been any other man than John Gordon! The man I trusted. Who trusted me. Now I must answer for his murder."
"Always a jest," said Angel, "always irony." She looked up at the gloomy portraits of the former governors which lined the walls; their round eyes stared solemnly from under their wigs.
"Everything here will have to alter," said Sir William harshly, "and soon, too. This slavery can't go on. It's been abolished in other parts of the world, and these negroes know it. Besides, all these parsons are working for it, and there is so much feeling among many of the white people. It's all wrong, out of place, an anachronism, and I've been sacrificed to it. This mixed blood, too, what do they think they're going to do about that? How are they going to treat men like John Gordon? As if he were a dirty nigger, as they called him? And who are they?" he asked. "Criminals, outlaws and rebels have been sent here for hundreds of years. Why, it isn't so long ago that they used to pardon murderers if they'd submit to service in Jamaica."
Sir William rose and walked the length of the room, thrusting his hands into the pockets of his kerseymeres.
"Oh, for God's sake, don't do that!" exclaimed Angel, straining forward. "If you don't mind, if you please!"
He looked at her astonished.
"There are some thoughts one cannot endure. The large griefs one can struggle with, but oh—!"
"I beg your pardon, Mrs. Thicknesse, but in what way have I offended you?"
He had taken his hands out of his trouser-pockets and she recovered her composure.
"How stupid of me—something in the way you stood reminded me—my nerves are a little disordered. Pray forgive me."
She thought, "I shall have to become used to it—besides, what does it matter?"
A tea equipage was brought in by the negro in gaudy livery; Angel took off her black gloves and at the Governor's invitation she poured the tea out into the thin, glossy cups.
"Do you think my name is foolish?" she asked. "Angelica—Angel, you know. My husband would always call me Mary, but Angel is really my name."
"I don't think it foolish at all," smiled Sir William. He added: "Between you and me, Mrs. Thicknesse—and I hope I don't touch a tender spot—your husband was a harsh kind of fellow, the type of man who makes trouble here. Some of 'em think of the Island merely as a place in which to make money."
"When I married," confided Angel, "I knew nothing. I had been scribbling too many silly stories and romances—my head was full of nonsense. I've learnt quite a deal in a year or so."
Sir William smiled, looking at her with admiration. She was, he decided, better than beautiful; there was something about her personality that at once distracted a man from his troubles and soothed his anxiety.
"Will you have some of these cassava cakes?"
Angel stared and bit her underlip.
"Oh, how odd, I thought it was poisonous."
"Poisonous? What, my dear ma'am?"
"Oh, nonsense! They make all kinds of delicacies from the cassava."
"That shows, sir, you see, how very little I really know about the Island. I've lived shut up at Venables Penn almost all the time I've been here. But I certainly thought that somebody said—the negroes said—isn't there a little worm they get from the cassava root, a deadly poison?"
"Why, that's all nonsense. Some of the stuff that those Obeah or witch-doctors talk. These cassava wafers are very popular here in Spanish Town. The negroes make a cake of it, too—they call it bammy."
"I see—just old wives' tales. No, I have no appetite now—I don't think I'll eat any, thank you, Sir 'William."
She opened and shut her reticule once or twice, then asked with an effort: "Don't you suppose the natives, the negroes, the slaves know something about poison?"
Sir William raised his eyebrows. "You may be sure of that. Some of these witch-doctors, of course, have a great deal of natural wisdom. They're clever with medicine, and I dare say with poisons, too. But I don't think one can say there's been much crime in the Island. They wouldn't dare, of course, with a white man—perhaps now and then among themselves—" Sir William shrugged his shoulders.
Angel rose, simpering. "I must go. You were so kind to be so interested in me, but I thought I would call on you before I left the Island. Mine has been an odd, perhaps unfortunate history."
The Governor took her slender hand and pressed it warmly. "I am at your service, ma'am, for anything I can do—I don't suppose that's much now. We'll know that when I get to London."
"Shall I see you in London?"
"I hope so, Mrs. Thicknesse, if I might do myself the honour of waiting upon you?" He escorted her past the empty ballroom out on to the heavy porticoed steps.
She looked at the statue of Lord Rodney, erect under its cupola in the centre of the railed square. She pressed the moist hand of the Governor as he again took her gloved fingers.
"I hope," said he, "that you will continue your charming novel. You mustn't let this experience put you altogether out of harmony with your delightful work."
"Yes, I shall go on writing," said Angel, lowering her crape veil, "though I no longer believe in any of it. You see, it's an easy way of earning money."
EXTRACT FROM "LA BELLE ASSEMBLE" FROM THE ISSUE DATED MAY, 183...
"At Trinity Church, Marylebone, on the 22nd of last month, Sir William Hayes, His Majesty's former Governor of Jamaica, was married to Mrs. Angelica Thicknesse, whose name is known and loved by a large circle of admiring readers as 'Angelica Cowley,' the writer. The present Lady Hayes is a well-known and deeply-admired ornament of London literary society, although her modesty is so great that it is with difficulty that she can be induced to speak of her numerous achievements.
"She has lately returned from Jamaica, where she made the acquaintance of Sir William, and where she was greatly applauded for her courage and resource during the late revolt of the slaves. Lady Hayes refuses, however, to speak of this sad affair, which was attended by the loss of her first husband, the late Thomas Thicknesse, Esq., of Thicknesse Manor, Norfolk, and of Jamaica. When questioned on the subject, she modestly remarked that 'Silence is the ornament of women'—a quotation taken from a classical author.
"The manner in which Lady Hayes has spent her life, first, in devoted attendance on invalid parents, then in the cultivation of her natural gifts and talents, which she has always turned to the uses of piety and virtue, is a beautiful example to her sex by the fashion in which she has improved her time.
"Besides several little pieces which will appear in various Annuals and Books of Beauty, now so popular among the fair sex, Lady Hayes has recently completed her last romance, entitled 'The Golden Violet,' which no doubt many of our readers will remember was to have appeared in our pages some eighteen months ago, and it is with the greatest of pleasure that we announce that this beautiful romance will commence in our May number. In this exquisite story of the Troubadours and the Floral Games of Old Provence, she shows her usual lively and penetrating genius, and it is written in the sweet strain of moral humanity, with the inspiring breath of every virtue preached to every listening and attentive ear in tones of kindness and love, in a spirit of overflowing benevolence and in the silent seeking of patience under suffering. Our readers may, therefore, look forward to a great pleasure in store for them.
"The lines of the poet written for another example of female excellence may be quoted as appropriate to Lady Hayes, or as thousands still delight to call her, Angelica Cowley:
"'Her unaffected manners, candid mind,
Her heart benevolent, and soul resigned
Were more her praise, than all she knew or thought,
Tho' Athens' wisdom to her sex she taught.'"