Bliss VI

And still, in the back of her mind, there was the pear tree. It would be silver now, in the light of poor dear Eddie’s moon, silver as Miss Fulton, who sat there turning a tangerine in her slender fingers that were so pale a light seemed to come from them.

What she simply couldn’t make out – what was miraculous – was how she should have guessed Miss Fulton’s mood so exactly and so instantly. For she never doubted for a moment that she was right, and yet what had she to go on? Less than nothing.

 photo NATY-1_zps119e32c5.gif

“I believe this does happen very, very rarely between women. Never between men,” thought Bertha. “But while I am making the coffee in the drawing-room perhaps she will ‘give a sign’ “

What she meant by that she did not know, and what would happen after that she could not imagine.

While she thought like this she saw herself talking and laughing. She had to talk because of her desire to laugh.

“I must laugh or die.”

But when she noticed Face’s funny little habit of tucking something down the front of her bodice – as if she kept a tiny, secret hoard of nuts there, too – Bertha had to dig her nails into her hands – so as not to laugh too much.

It was over at last. And: “Come and see my new coffee machine,” said Bertha.

“We only have a new coffee machine once a fortnight,” said Harry. Face took her arm this time; Miss Fulton bent her head and followed after.

The fire had died down in the drawing-room to a red, flickering “nest of baby phoenixes,” said Face.

“Don’t turn up the light for a moment. It is so lovely.” And down she crouched by the fire again. She was always cold … “without her little red flannel jacket, of course,” thought Bertha.

< 12 >
At that moment Miss Fulton “gave the sign.”

“Have you a garden?” said the cool, sleepy voice.

This was so exquisite on her part that all Bertha could do was to obey. She crossed the room, pulled the curtains apart, and opened those long windows.

“There!” she breathed.

And the two women stood side by side looking at the slender, flowering tree. Although it was so still it seemed, like the flame of a candle, to stretch up, to point, to quiver in the bright air, to grow taller and taller as they gazed – almost to touch the rim of the round, silver moon.

How long did they stand there? Both, as it were, caught in that circle of unearthly light, understanding each other perfectly, creatures of another world, and wondering what they were to do in this one with all this blissful treasure that burned in their bosoms and dropped, in silver flowers, from their hair and hands?

For ever – for a moment? And did Miss Fulton murmur: “Yes. Just that.” Or did Bertha dream it?

Then the light was snapped on and Face made the coffee and Harry said: “My dear Mrs. Knight, don’t ask me about my baby. I never see her. I shan’t feel the slightest interest in her until she has a lover,” and Mug took his eye out of the conservatory for a moment and then put it under glass again and Eddie Warren drank his coffee and set down the cup with a face of anguish as though he had drunk and seen the spider.

“What I want to do is to give the young men a show. I believe London is simply teeming with first-chop, unwritten plays. What I want to say to ‘em is: ‘Here’s the theatre. Fire ahead.'”

“You know, my dear, I am going to decorate a room for the Jacob Nathans. Oh, I am so tempted to do a fried-fish scheme, with the backs of the chairs shaped like frying-pans and lovely chip potatoes embroidered all over the curtains.”…

Katherine Mansfield

Anuncios

Bliss (V)

“I wonder if Miss Fulton has forgotten?”

“I expect so,” said Harry. “Is she on the ‘phone?”

“Ah! There’s a taxi, now.” And Bertha smiled with that little air of proprietorship that she always assumed while her women finds were new and mysterious. “She lives in taxis.”

“She’ll run to fat if she does,” said Harry coolly, ringing the bell for dinner. “Frightful danger for blonde women.”

“Harry – don’t!” warned Bertha, laughing up at him.

 photo 0_81f6c_c9da9079_XXL_zpsda1d5102.gif

Came another tiny moment, while they waited, laughing and talking, just a trifle too much at their ease, a trifle too unaware. And then Miss Fulton, all in silver, with a silver fillet binding her pale blonde hair, came in smiling, her head a little on one side.

“Am I late?”

“No, not at all,” said Bertha. “Come along.” And she took her arm and they moved into the dining-room.

What was there in the touch of that cool arm that could fan – start blazing – the fire of bliss that Bertha did not know what to do with?

Miss Fulton did not look at her; but then she seldom did look at people directly. Her heavy eyelids lay upon her eyes and the strange half-smile came and went upon her lips as though she lived by listening rather than seeing. But Bertha knew, suddenly, as if the longest, most intimate look had passed between them – as if they had said to each other: “You too?” – that Pearl Fulton, stirring the beautiful red soup in the grey plate, was feeling just what she was feeling.

And the others? Face and Mug, Eddie and Harry, their spoons rising and falling – dabbing their lips with their napkins, crumbling bread, fiddling with the forks and glasses and talking.

“I met her at the Alpha show – the weirdest little person. She’d not only cut off her hair, but she seemed to have taken a dreadfully good snip off her legs and arms and her neck and her poor little nose as well.”

“Isn’t she very liee with Michael Oat?”

“The man who wrote Love in False Teeth? “

“He wants to write a play for me. One act. One man. Decides to commit suicide. Gives all the reasons why he should and why he shouldn’t. And just as he has made up his mind either to do it or not to do it – curtain. Not half a bad idea.”

“What’s he going to call it – ‘Stomach Trouble’ ?”

“I think I’ve come across the same idea in a little French review, quite unknown in England.”

No, they didn’t share it. They were dears – dears – and she loved having them there, at her table, and giving them delicious food and wine. In fact, she longed to tell them how delightful they were, and what a decorative group they made, how they seemed to set one another off and how they reminded her of a play by Tchekof!

Harry was enjoying his dinner. It was part of his – well, not his nature, exactly, and certainly not his pose – his – something or other – to talk about food and to glory in his “shameless passion for the white flash of the lobster” and “the green of pistachio ices – green and cold like the eyelids of Egyptian dancers.”

When he looked up at her and said: “Bertha, this is a very admirable soufflee! ” she almost could have wept with child-like pleasure.

Oh, why did she feel so tender towards the whole world tonight? Everything was good – was right. All that happened seemed to fill again her brimming cup of bliss.

Bliss (IV)

“But the cream of it was,” said Norman, pressing a large tortoiseshell-rimmed monocle into his eye, “you don’t mind me telling this, Face, do you?” (In their home and among their friends they called each other Face and Mug.) “The cream of it was when she, being full fed, turned to the woman beside her and said: ‘Haven’t you ever seen a monkey before?'”

 photo DBK_NOT_PERFECT_Hnaty.gif

“Oh, yes!” Mrs. Norman Knight joined in the laughter. “Wasn’t that too absolutely creamy?”

And a funnier thing still was that now her coat was off she did look like a very intelligent monkey who had even made that yellow silk dress out of scraped banana skins. And her amber ear-rings: they were like little dangling nuts.

“This is a sad, sad fall!” said Mug, pausing in front of Little B’s perambulator. “When the perambulator comes into the hall–” and he waved the rest of the quotation away.

The bell rang. It was lean, pale Eddie Warren (as usual) in a state of acute distress.

“It is the right house, isn’t it?” he pleaded.

“Oh, I think so – I hope so,” said Bertha brightly.

“I have had such a dreadful experience with a taxi-man; he was most sinister. I couldn’t get him to stop. The more I knocked and called the faster he went. And in the moonlight this bizarre figure with the flattened head crouching over the little wheel … “

He shuddered, taking off an immense white silk scarf. Bertha noticed that his socks were white, too – most charming.

“But how dreadful!” she cried.

“Yes, it really was,” said Eddie, following her into the drawing-room. “I saw myself driving through Eternity in a timeless taxi.”

He knew the Norman Knights. In fact, he was going to write a play for N.K. when the theatre scheme came off.

< 8 >
“Well, Warren, how’s the play?” said Norman Knight, dropping his monocle and giving his eye a moment in which to rise to the surface before it was screwed down again.

And Mrs. Norman Knight: “Oh, Mr. Warren, what happy socks?”

“I am so glad you like them,” said he, staring at his feet. “They seem to have got so much whiter since the moon rose.” And he turned his lean sorrowful young face to Bertha. “There is a moon, you know.”

She wanted to cry: “I am sure there is – often – often!”

He really was a most attractive person. But so was Face, crouched before the fire in her banana skins, and so was Mug, smoking a cigarette and saying as he flicked the ash: “Why doth the bridegroom tarry?”

“There he is, now.”

Bang went the front door open and shut. Harry shouted: “Hullo, you people. Down in five minutes.” And they heard him swarm up the stairs. Bertha couldn’t help smiling; she knew how he loved doing things at high pressure. What, after all, did an extra five minutes matter? But he would pretend to himself that they mattered beyond measure. And then he would make a great point of coming into the drawing-room, extravagantly cool and collected.

Harry had such a zest for life. Oh, how she appreciated it in him. And his passion for fighting – for seeking in everything that came up against him another test of his power and of his courage – that, too, she understood. Even when it made him just occasionally, to other people, who didn’t know him well, a little ridiculous perhaps … For there were moments when he rushed into battle where no battle was … She talked and laughed and positively forgot until he had come in (just as she had imagined) that Pearl Fulton had not turned up…

Katherine Mansfield

Bliss (III)

The provoking thing was that, though they had been about together and met a number of times and really talked, Bertha couldn’t make her out. Up to a certain point Miss Fulton was rarely, wonderfully frank, but the certain point was there, and beyond that she would not go.

Was there anything beyond it? Harry said “No.” Voted her dullish, and “cold like all blonde women, with a touch, perhaps, of anaemia of the brain.” But Bertha wouldn’t agree with him; not yet, at any rate.

 photo OTONtildeO_zps7800efb8.gif

“No, the way she has of sitting with her head a little on one side, and smiling, has something behind it, Harry, and I must find out what that something is.”

“Most likely it’s a good stomach,” answered Harry.

He made a point of catching Bertha’s heels with replies of that kind … “liver frozen, my dear girl,” or “pure flatulence,” or “kidney disease,” … and so on. For some strange reason Bertha liked this, and almost admired it in him very much.

She went into the drawing-room and lighted the fire; then, picking up the cushions, one by one, that Mary had disposed so carefully, she threw them back on to the chairs and the couches. That made all the difference; the room came alive at once. As she was about to throw the last one she surprised herself by suddenly hugging it to her, passionately, passionately. But it did not put out the fire in her bosom. Oh, on the contrary!

The windows of the drawing-room opened on to a balcony overlooking the garden. At the far end, against the wall, there was a tall, slender pear tree in fullest, richest bloom; it stood perfect, as though becalmed against the jade-green sky. Bertha couldn’t help feeling, even from this distance, that it had not a single bud or a faded petal. Down below, in the garden beds, the red and yellow tulips, heavy with flowers, seemed to lean upon the dusk. A grey cat, dragging its belly, crept across the lawn, and a black one, its shadow, trailed after. The sight of them, so intent and so quick, gave Bertha a curious shiver.

“What creepy things cats are!” she stammered, and she turned away from the window and began walking up and down …

How strong the jonquils smelled in the warm room. Too strong? Oh, no. And yet, as though overcome, she flung down on a couch and pressed her hands to her eyes.

“I’m too happy – too happy!” she murmured.

And she seemed to see on her eyelids the lovely pear tree with its wide open blossoms as a symbol of her own life.

Really – really – she had everything. She was young. Harry and she were as much in love as ever, and they got on together splendidly and were really good pals. She had an adorable baby. They didn’t have to worry about money. They had this absolutely satisfactory house and garden. And friends – modern, thrilling friends, writers and painters and poets or people keen on social questions – just the kind of friends they wanted. And then there were books, and there was music, and she had found a wonderful little dressmaker, and they were going abroad in the summer, and their new cook made the most superb omelettes …

“I’m absurd. Absurd!” She sat up; but she felt quite dizzy, quite drunk. It must have been the spring.

Yes, it was the spring. Now she was so tired she could not drag herself upstairs to dress.

A white dress, a string of jade beads, green shoes and stockings. It wasn’t intentional. She had thought of this scheme hours before she stood at the drawing-room window.

Her petals rustled softly into the hall, and she kissed Mrs. Norman Knight, who was taking off the most amusing orange coat with a procession of black monkeys round the hem and up the fronts.

” … Why! Why! Why is the middle-class so stodgy – so utterly without a sense of humour! My dear, it’s only by a fluke that I am here at all – Norman being the protective fluke. For my darling monkeys so upset the train that it rose to a man and simply ate me with its eyes. Didn’t laugh – wasn’t amused – that I should have loved. No, just stared – and bored me through and through.”…

Katherine Mansfield