Bliss (II)

  “Has she been good, Nanny?”

“She’s been a little sweet all the afternoon,” whispered Nanny. “We went to the park and I sat down on a chair and took her out of the pram and a big dog came along and put its head on my knee and she clutched its ear, tugged it. Oh, you should have seen her.”

Bertha wanted to ask if it wasn’t rather dangerous to let her clutch at a strange dog’s ear. But she did not dare to. She stood watching them, her hands by her side, like the poor little girl in front of the rich girl with the doll.

The baby looked up at her again, stared, and then smiled so charmingly that Bertha couldn’t help crying:

“Oh, Nanny, do let me finish giving her her supper while you put the bath things away.

“Well, M’m, she oughtn’t to be changed hands while she’s eating,” said Nanny, still whispering. “It unsettles her; it’s very likely to upset her.”

How absurd it was. Why have a baby if it has to be kept – not in a case like a rare, rare fiddle – but in another woman’s arms?

“Oh, I must!” said she.

Very offended, Nanny handed her over.

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“Now, don’t excite her after her supper. You know you do, M’m. And I have such a time with her after!”

Thank heaven! Nanny went out of the room with the bath towels.

“Now I’ve got you to myself, my little precious,” said Bertha, as the baby leaned against her.

She ate delightfully, holding up her lips for the spoon and then waving her hands. Sometimes she wouldn’t let the spoon go; and sometimes, just as Bertha had filled it, she waved it away to the four winds.

     When the soup was finished Bertha turned round to the fire. “You’re nice – you’re very nice!” said she, kissing her warm baby. “I’m fond of you. I like you.”

And indeed, she loved Little B so much – her neck as she bent forward, her exquisite toes as they shone transparent in the firelight – that all her feeling of bliss came back again, and again she didn’t know how to express it – what to do with it.

“You’re wanted on the telephone,” said Nanny, coming back in triumph and seizing her Little B.

Down she flew. It was Harry.

“Oh, is that you, Ber? Look here. I’ll be late. I’ll take a taxi and come along as quickly as I can, but get dinner put back ten minutes – will you? All right?”

“Yes, perfectly. Oh, Harry!”

“Yes?”

What had she to say? She’d nothing to say. She only wanted to get in touch with him for a moment. She couldn’t absurdly cry: “Hasn’t it been a divine day!”

“What is it?” rapped out the little voice.

“Nothing. Entendu,” said Bertha, and hung up the receiver, thinking how much more than idiotic civilisation was.

They had people coming to dinner. The Norman Knights – a very sound couple – he was about to start a theatre, and she was awfully keen on interior decoration, a young man, Eddie Warren, who had just published a little book of poems and whom everybody was asking to dine, and a “find” of Bertha’s called Pearl Fulton. What Miss Fulton did, Bertha didn’t know. They had met at the club and Bertha had fallen in love with her, as she always did fall in love with beautiful women who had something strange about them…

Katherine Mansfield

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Bliss ( I )

Although Bertha Young was thirty she still had moments like this when she wanted to run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again, or to stand still and laugh at – nothing – at nothing, simply.

What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly by a feeling of bliss – absolute bliss! – as though you’d suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe? …

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Oh, is there no way you can express it without being “drunk and disorderly”? How idiotic civilisation is! Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle?

“No, that about the fiddle is not quite what I mean,” she thought, running up the steps and feeling in her bag for the key – she’d forgotten it, as usual – and rattling the letter-box. “It’s not what I mean, because – Thank you, Mary” – she went into the hall. “Is nurse back?”

“Yes, M’m.”

“And has the fruit come?”

“Yes, M’m. Everything’s come.”

“Bring the fruit up to the dining-room, will you? I’ll arrange it before I go upstairs.”

It was dusky in the dining-room and quite chilly. But all the same Bertha threw off her coat; she could not bear the tight clasp of it another moment, and the cold air fell on her arms.

But in her bosom there was still that bright glowing place – that shower of little sparks coming from it. It was almost unbearable. She hardly dared to breathe for fear of fanning it higher, and yet she breathed deeply, deeply. She hardly dared to look into the cold mirror – but she did look, and it gave her back a woman, radiant, with smiling, trembling lips, with big, dark eyes and an air of listening, waiting for something … divine to happen … that she knew must happen … infallibly.

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Mary brought in the fruit on a tray and with it a glass bowl, and a blue dish, very lovely, with a strange sheen on it as though it had been dipped in milk.

“Shall I turn on the light, M’m?”

“No, thank you. I can see quite well.”

There were tangerines and apples stained with strawberry pink. Some yellow pears, smooth as silk, some white grapes covered with a silver bloom and a big cluster of purple ones. These last she had bought to tone in with the new dining-room carpet. Yes, that did sound rather far-fetched and absurd, but it was really why she had bought them. She had thought in the shop: “I must have some purple ones to bring the carpet up to the table.” And it had seemed quite sense at the time.

When she had finished with them and had made two pyramids of these bright round shapes, she stood away from the table to get the effect – and it really was most curious. For the dark table seemed to melt into the dusky light and the glass dish and the blue bowl to float in the air. This, of course, in her present mood, was so incredibly beautiful … She began to laugh.

“No, no. I’m getting hysterical.” And she seized her bag and coat and ran upstairs to the nursery.

Nurse sat at a low table giving Little B her supper after her bath. The baby had on a white flannel gown and a blue woollen jacket, and her dark, fine hair was brushed up into a funny little peak. She looked up when she saw her mother and began to jump.

“Now, my lovey, eat it up like a good girl,” said nurse, setting her lips in a way that Bertha knew, and that meant she had come into the nursery at another wrong moment….

Katherine Mansfield

Torn Apart

The pain that comes from loneliness is so bad, that death almost always seems preferable. I have felt this way for the past year now, ever since the accident.

I am alone now,… and I am having a hard time getting used to it. You see, my wife Laura was like a gift from God, so going on without her has been the hardest thing for me to so. All I ever wanted was for her to be happy. I always said that I would do anything for her, even die for her.

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Now that she’s gone, my world has been reduced to nothing more than an endless walk through empty rooms. Sometimes I can see our favorite record on the turntable, spinning,.. but I can’t hear the music. It’s as if all my senses are dull, numb. When I am in a room full of people, I can barely see them,..as if they were enveloped in fog. In fact, it feels as though I’m not really there at all.

I know that the drunk driver regrets that night,.. and I know that he thought something like this could never happen. That’s just the problem, he never thought.

I can’t help feeling angry, angry at him, even angry at Laura for leaving me, even though I know it’s not her fault. I feel so helpless, so alone, so scared.

I have been able to feel other things, too, such as warmth and love. When I think of the times we spent together, laughing, crying, loving… it helps me to keep her alive in my mind by keeping our memories alive. Sometimes, I have even felt a strange, unfamiliar glimmer of hope. This is when I am alone at night, and I think that I can see her, right in front of me. I believe, even for a moment, that she is with me again, that she never really left, that she has always been there by my side. So I reach out to hold her, but when I do her image fades,…then disappears.

Then I remember that I am alone.

Sometimes, it helps me if I visit the gravesite, for it forces me to face the truth, peeling away any remnants of denial. I find it painful to read the tombstone, but I force myself anyway. As always, it reads:

HERE LIES DAVID IAN WILLIAMS

SURVIVED BY HIS LOVING WIFE LAURA

1949-1999

Sometimes, the pain that comes from loneliness is so bad, that death is almost always preferable.

The end.

A. Le Sage

THE BLUE DEATH

The skay is in my eyes, I don´t have a body
Is the moment of death the truth of absence?
Is the moment of life the fire of purity?
Is the moment of light!
Is the moment of flight!
Where is the worry?
The plenitude absorbed my mind
The sea is like silk
The wind is slipknots
The space is my country
The kisses of time disappeared; carried me
To essence, to the cell, to the knowledge
No more pain; no longer the need to worry
No more memory
Only my blue heart!
Just blue envelopes me in it´s cloak!

©Julie Sopetran

 

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Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book VI

The tone in which this and much more was said was unmistakably genuine, so that Dennistoun was reduced to profuse thanks, and submitted to have the chain put round his neck. It really seemed as if he had rendered the father and daughter some service which they hardly knew how to repay. As he set off with his book they stood at the door looking after him, and they were still looking when he waved them a last good night from the steps of the Chapeau Rouge.

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Dinner was over, and Dennistoun was in his bedroom, shut up alone with his acquisition. The landlady had manifested a particular interest in him since he had told her that he had paid a visit to the sacristan and bought an old book from him. He thought, too, that he had heard a hurried dialogue between her and the said sacristan in the passage outside the _salle à manger_; some words to the effect that ‘Pierre and Bertrand would be sleeping in the house’ had closed the conversation.

All this time a growing feeling of discomfort had been creeping over him–nervous reaction, perhaps, after the delight of his discovery. Whatever it was, it resulted in a conviction that there was someone behind him, and that he was far more comfortable with his back to the wall. All this, of course, weighed light in the balance as against the obvious value of the collection he had acquired. And now, as I said, he was alone in his bedroom, taking stock of Canon Alberic’s treasures, in which every moment revealed something more charming.

‘Bless Canon Alberic!’ said Dennistoun, who had an inveterate habit of talking to himself. ‘I wonder where he is now? Dear me! I wish that landlady would learn to laugh in a more cheering manner; it makes one feel as if there was someone dead in the house. Half a pipe more, did you say? I think perhaps you are right. I wonder what that crucifix is that the young woman insisted on giving me? Last century, I suppose. Yes, probably. It is rather a nuisance of a thing to have round one’s neck–just too heavy. Most likely her father has been wearing it for years. I think I might give it a clean up before I put it away.’

He had taken the crucifix off, and laid it on the table, when his attention was caught by an object lying on the red cloth just by his left elbow. Two or three ideas of what it might be flitted through his brain with their own incalculable quickness.

A penwiper? No, no such thing in the house. A rat? No, too black. A large spider? I trust to goodness not–no. Good God! a hand like the hand in that picture!

In another infinitesimal flash he had taken it in. Pale, dusky skin, covering nothing but bones and tendons of appalling strength; coarse black hairs, longer than ever grew on a human hand; nails rising from the ends of the fingers and curving sharply down and forward, grey, horny, and wrinkled.

He flew out of his chair with deadly, inconceivable terror clutching at his heart. The shape, whose left hand rested on the table, was rising to a standing posture behind his seat, its right hand crooked above his scalp. There was black and tattered drapery about it; the coarse hair covered it as in the drawing. The lower jaw was thin–what can I call it?–shallow, like a beast’s; teeth showed behind the black lips; there was no nose; the eyes, of a fiery yellow, against which the pupils showed black and intense, and the exulting hate and thirst to destroy life which shone there, were the most horrifying features in the whole vision. There was intelligence of a kind in them–intelligence beyond that of a beast, below that of a man.

The feelings which this horror stirred in Dennistoun were the intensest physical fear and the most profound mental loathing. What did he do? What could he do? He has never been quite certain what words he said, but he knows that he spoke, that he grasped blindly at the silver crucifix, that he was conscious of a movement towards him on the part of the demon, and that he screamed with the voice of an animal in hideous pain.

Pierre and Bertrand, the two sturdy little serving-men, who rushed in, saw nothing, but felt themselves thrust aside by something that passed out between them, and found Dennistoun in a swoon. They sat up with him that night, and his two friends were at St Bertrand by nine o’clock next morning. He himself, though still shaken and nervous, was almost himself by that time, and his story found credence with them, though not until they had seen the drawing and talked with the sacristan.

Almost at dawn the little man had come to the inn on some pretence, and had listened with the deepest interest to the story retailed by the landlady. He showed no surprise.

‘It is he–it is he! I have seen him myself,’ was his only comment; and to all questionings but one reply was vouchsafed: ‘Deux fois je l’ai vu: mille fois je l’ai senti.’ He would tell them nothing of the provenance of the book, nor any details of his experiences. ‘I shall soon sleep, and my rest will be sweet. Why should you trouble me?’ he said.[2]

[2] He died that summer; his daughter married, and settled at St Papoul. She never understood the circumstances of her father’s ‘obsession’.

We shall never know what he or Canon Alberic de Mauléon suffered. At the back of that fateful drawing were some lines of writing which may be supposed to throw light on the situation:

_Contradictio Salomonis cum demonio nocturno. Albericus de Mauléone delineavit. V. Deus in adiutorium. Ps. Qui habitat. Sancte Bertrande, demoniorum effugator, intercede pro me miserrimo. Primum uidi nocte 12(mi) Dec. 1694: uidebo mox ultimum. Peccaui et passus sum, plura adhuc passurus. Dec. 29, 1701_.[3]

[3] _i.e._, The Dispute of Solomon with a demon of the night. Drawn by Alberic de Mauléon. _Versicle_. O Lord, make haste to help me. _Psalm_. Whoso dwelleth xci.

Saint Bertrand, who puttest devils to flight, pray for me most unhappy. I saw it first on the night of Dec. 12, 1694: soon I shall see it for the last time. I have sinned and suffered, and have more to suffer yet. Dec. 29, 1701.

The ‘Gallia Christiana’ gives the date of the Canon’s death as December 31, 1701, ‘in bed, of a sudden seizure’. Details of this kind are not common in the great work of the Sammarthani.

I have never quite understood what was Dennistoun’s view of the events I have narrated. He quoted to me once a text from Ecclesiasticus: ‘Some spirits there be that are created for vengeance, and in their fury lay on sore strokes.’ On another occasion he said: ‘Isaiah was a very sensible man; doesn’t he say something about night monsters living in the ruins of Babylon? These things are rather beyond us at present.’

Another confidence of his impressed me rather, and I sympathized with it. We had been, last year, to Comminges, to see Canon Alberic’s tomb. It is a great marble erection with an effigy of the Canon in a large wig and soutane, and an elaborate eulogy of his learning below. I saw Dennistoun talking for some time with the Vicar of St Bertrand’s, and as we drove away he said to me: ‘I hope it isn’t wrong: you know I am a Presbyterian–but I–I believe there will be “saying of Mass and singing of dirges” for Alberic de Mauléon’s rest.’ Then he added, with a touch of the Northern British in his tone, ‘I had no notion they came so dear.’

* * * * *

The book is in the Wentworth Collection at Cambridge. The drawing was photographed and then burnt by Dennistoun on the day when he left Comminges on the occasion of his first visit.

by Montague Rhodes James