Introduction by Jo Lloyd.
I only read Dorothy Edwards for the first time quite recently. For years, when people mentioned her, I had nodded and agreed, thinking they meant Dorothy Richardson, whose Pilgrimage novels I believed I knew, having inexplicably confused them with Doris Lessing’s Martha Quests, which I actually do love. Then I saw some glowing references to Edwards and some quotations and none of it tallied with my false memories.
When I got hold of Rhapsody, her short story collection, I was transfixed by the hushed resonance of her sentences, her muddled, hopeful characters, their small, hopeless dreams, the choirs of pianos and violins singing out while the humans silently endure their ordinary human pain.
If you hear in the title of this story a foreshadowing of Larkin, you won’t be far wrong. Where can we live but days? Edwards’s personal response was tragic – she killed herself when barely into her 30s.
The opening paragraphs are typical of her gorgeous, quiet beginnings – this is prose that you want to read aloud. And sentences of this quality weave through the pages. Towards the middle of ‘Days’ you’ll find this one: “And with the twilight, great grey shadows seemed to come from each curve and valley and walk about over the earth.” If you like that, I think you’ll like Dorothy Edwards.
Permission to use this story comes from the lovely people at Parthian Books. Buy this beautiful edition of Dorothy Edwards' collection Rhapsody here!
by Dorothy Edwards
Mr George Morn, the novelist, began to write about the people and the scenes of the district around his old home only when he was already over forty, and almost as soon as he had begun to be recognised for these novels as a very great artist, it suddenly seemed to him that all he should ever want for the rest of his life would be to live among these old scenes and he immediately bought a house a few miles from the house where he was born, and since then he has hardly been seen or heard of.
The house that he bought was exceedingly ugly, built of dark stone. There was certainly no idea of beauty in the mind of the man who designed it. All around it was a high wall enclosing a garden full of stones. And outside the wall the road curved over the stretches of short grass with a certain monotony.
George Morn came here in January, and he strolled through the cold rooms and walked about the country in the biting wind, and so far from noticing any of this ugliness he was overjoyed at being there, and his new novel, which he had intended to work at as soon as he came, was not even begun. He visited again the old places where he had played as a boy, and felt within himself a new energy and power, which it would be difficult to describe to anyone.
It was not until his wife wrote to say that, after giving a concert in June, she would be able to stay there with him for the three summer months, that he began to see that, objectively speaking, the house was really ugly, and even gloomy and depressing. He went out into the garden with her letter open in his hand and looked around him rather desperately. It was evening, and the moon was shining in the cold sky. It seemed to him, however, that something could be done about the garden.
The next day he sent for a boy from a cottage nearby, and together they took nearly a week only to carry the stones away. This was Easter Week. Afterwards the boy went back to school and could help only in the evenings, and Morn did all the digging by himself. After a day’s work outside he would go in, his boots covered with earth, to the Golden Cock, which was not far away, for a drink and a smoke, and then come home, read some Voltaire, and go to bed. After a few days of this, with the invigoration of a giant he began his novel. He worked in a room at the back of the house, by a window looking on to a lawn of coarse grass, in the middle of which was a dead rose tree. There was no shelter there and no bud ever came on the tree.
But Morn never noticed it. Through an ugly little gate he could see the country outside, just where the road curves into sight. He forgot about the garden, and it remained all the year like a badly ploughed little field of poor soil, and some more stones had been turned up. As the summer came the earth began to look dry, but some grass and a few harebells grew on it.
On the morning of the day that Leonora came there a letter marked urgent arrived for her, and she opened it as soon as she arrived, without taking her hat off. It was from her friend Alexander Sorel, asking if he might come there to see them. He had long wished to meet her husband, and had always been very enthusiastic about his books. She wrote immediately asking him to come, and Morn added a very cordial postscript to her letter, reflecting that their guest could talk to Leonora all day and would not be likely to interfere with him.
During the first days after she came he worked very hard. He read the first few chapters to her, and this made him write more quickly. And she collected the loose sheets of paper on which he wrote and put them in order, and recopied what was necessary. He wrote neatly and legibly, but he inserted scraps of paper in so many places that her help was quite necessary. It was not at all warm, and it rained, so that she did not go out. He could hear her practising sometimes in the drawing-room, but the rest of the time she sat with a book open on her lap, not reading, but looking at her hands or thinking. It seemed to her that she had not had time to think for years. She had the curious feeling of living over again some of the days of her girlhood.
There was the same quiet and solitude as then. She used in those days to have a music lesson once a week, and except for that she did nothing after her practising but sit, as now, and think. Only then she sat, as it were, at a window always looking out and always expecting something, whereas now everything was settled for her and nothing new could come from the outside. Then it was for the meaning of her life that she anxiously scanned the passers-by; but now, as one gets old, it is not the meaning of one’s life but of life itself that one tries to understand, looking at one’s hands or on the same black-and-white page of a book. That was the difference. There seemed, too, to be something pressing heavily upon her, but it was almost pleasant not to have to throw that feeling quickly off.
The day that Alexander Sorel came the rain stopped, and she went in the morning for a walk by herself. He came in the afternoon. She saw the car coming along the road and went to the gate to meet him. He came hurriedly out of the car. He is a little man, and there is something doll-like about his clothes. His collars always look very high. He was already very much excited. He greeted her, but he looked anxiously around the garden. He had the most extreme admiration for George Morn. But the comical thing was that when Morn came out he hardly looked at him, but even while they were shaking hands he glanced nervously about as though he expected some of the men and women in the novels to come out of some door, or from behind some tree, and eventually he addressed his remarks into Morn’s coat. And Morn, who has very bright blue eyes, looked down at him in a way rather amused, but then he hurried back to his room. That evening Alexander Sorel began earnestly talking to him about the novels, but within a very short time he stopped asking questions. As one who has expected to find an authority on something and finds only a more superficial knowledge of the subject than his own, he listened with respect and consideration to the remarks he had called forth, and then allowed the subject to change. After this he took all his questions again to Leonora, though he showed the utmost respect and affection for Morn, which had nothing at all to do with his opinion of his views on aesthetics.
The day after he came he and Leonora only sat out on the lawn, he with a rug over his knees, because when the sun disappeared for a moment behind a cloud it was very cold. They did not read, and they spoke only sometimes. But the next day, with all the air of a pilgrimage, they started out to visit George’s birthplace. They did not suggest that he should come with them. There would have been something rather funny about asking a man to make a pilgrimage to his own birthplace, almost as though one should invite him to visit his own grave. Leonora had not been there for many years – only once since she went there the first time.
They walked along the road. Morn could have seen them from his window until they came right to the end. After that they turned down to the right along a steep path into a valley. Here there was an old farmhouse, and by its side some tall trees much greener than anything up there. It is the setting, too, of one of Morn’s earlier novels. Alexander Sorel was looking about him eagerly.
‘Laura lived here, you know,’ said Leonora.
‘Ah, did she?’ said Sorel, and he hurried up the path of the garden and stood peering into the dark passage.
Leonora stayed at the gate and stroked a cat sleeping on the wall. The sun shone slantingly across the garden, so that the front of the house was left dark, but the cat had chosen the sunniest place on the wall. Someone lifted up a curtain at the window, and then a woman came out to see what was wanted. She was a thin woman in an old black dress and an apron, with a pale, hard, austere face, and pale, almost colourless eyes.
‘I came only to see the house,’ said Alexander Sorel.
An old man came walking as quickly as he could into the garden, so curious to know what was the matter that he walked past Leonora without seeing her at all.
‘What does he want?’ he asked.
‘Wants to see the house, father,’ said the woman.
Alexander Sorel turned round to see the old man and shook hands with him.
‘Thinking of buying it, perhaps?’ said the man.
‘No, it wasn’t that,’ Sorel explained. ‘I merely wanted to see the house. You know that George Morn, the writer, lives near here, don’t you?’
‘Yes, he’s the writer,’ said the old man, even with some pride. ‘Knew him when he was born.’
‘Well, I am staying with him,’ said Sorel, ‘and I wanted to see this house because the heroine of one of his novels once lived here.’
‘My family has always lived here as far back as anyone remembers,’ said the old man doubtfully.
‘But it’s only pretending, father,’ said the woman. ‘Not a real woman, but in the book, out of his head.’
The old man looked round at her rather contemptuously, but turning again to Sorel asked, ‘Which room did she live in?’
‘That, unfortunately, I don’t know,’ said Sorel; ‘but perhaps this lady knows.’ He turned round to look at Leonora. ‘But don’t you know her?’ he asked in surprise.
‘Can’t say I do,’ said the old man.
‘She is the lady who has come to live with Mr Morn,’ Sorel explained.
‘I am Mr Morn’s wife,’ said Leonora, coming up to the door.
‘It don’t make no difference. You’re welcome either way,’ said the old man kindly.
‘I am not quite sure about Laura’s room,’ said Leonora, smiling, ‘but I think it must have been that side, because one could see from it just the roof of the house with the large barn over there – I have forgotten who lives there.’
‘The Rogers used to live there,’ said the woman.
Her father cast another contemptuous look at her, and turning to Sorel with an expression of triumph said, ‘That’s my room. My bed’s in there.’
He insisted on leading them round to the side of the house, and showed the one small window that must have been Laura’s. He and Alexander Sorel looked up at it.
‘If you want to see Rogers’ roof from up there the woman can get it cleaned up a bit, and I’ll take you,’ said the old man.
‘I should like that very much,’ said Sorel earnestly.
‘Hey!’ said the man as they went back to the front of the house; ‘can you get my bit of a room cleaned up by tomorrow for him to see?’
‘I can’t do it ’fore Friday,’ said his daughter.
‘Will you be coming this way Friday, perhaps?’ asked the old man.
‘Yes, certainly,’ said Sorel, taking out a notebook; ‘and in that case perhaps you would be kind enough to have lunch with me first. Is there an inn near here?’
‘Yes,’ said Leonora, smiling, ‘the Golden Cock.’
‘Will you come at one o’clock?’ asked Sorel. The old man looked a little puzzled.
‘He wants you to have dinner with him in the Cock,’ said his daughter.
He threw her the accustomed look of scorn, and answered Sorel, weighing his words very carefully, ‘Yes, I’ll come.’
Sorel shook his hand excitedly. ‘Good. Then le Coq d’Or at one o’clock.’
And they began to walk down the path, Sorel writing in his notebook. At the gate he turned and hurried back to the house.
‘Excuse me, I do not know your name,’ he said, holding his pencil up.
‘Tom Burgess,’ said the man; ‘that’ll find me.’
Sorel wrote it down and began to search through all his pockets. At last he handed Tom Burgess his card. ‘That is my name,’ he explained.
‘Yes, all right,’ said he; ‘and if you want to bring the lady along you can. I’ve nothing much against females’ society.’
‘Yes, thank you,’ said Sorel.
He and Leonora walked on, past the Rogers’ farm where Laura’s lover had lived.
‘You know, Laura is the only one of his women who was beautiful,’ said he. ‘Did he know you when he created her?’
‘No,’ she answered. ‘I had read the book before I met him.’
‘She was like you, too,’ said Sorel, half closing his eyes to imagine Laura with Leonora’s face. ‘She would have been dark and pale, but your forehead is too high – and she was a peasant.’
‘I have also some peasant blood in me somewhere,’ said Leonora with a smile.
‘Ah, yes,’ said Sorel, laughing, ‘but not much.’
Tom Burgess’ was only the remains of a farm, but the Rogers’ farm was large and flourishing. From the road one could see through the trees glimpses of the front of the house, which looked rich and quite imposing. Much farther back there was an enormous barn. Opposite the house, on the other side of the road, were also a few trees, and the road between was white and dusty. Beyond this they went down into a little village and then up the other side. The house where George was born is on the side of a hill.
It is an ugly house built of grey stone, with three windows and a door in the front of it, and a small sloping garden where nothing grows. Leonora did not know who lived there now. The door was closed and they did not see anyone about. They sat down on the short grass at the side of the stony road and looked at the house. They were a little tired. It had become hot, and the road up to the house was steep.
George had lived here with his mother. His father died when he was a child, and she looked after him and all his brothers. Each one of them has been successful, and George is the youngest. His mother was exactly like the women about there, thin, and with a pale, austere face. Leonora saw her only once, when she was dying. She wanted to see the girl George was going to marry. Leonora was playing somewhere not far away, and she came down here to see her. It was in the winter, and it was already dark when she arrived. There was only a lamp in the room. George’s mother was lying on the bed perfectly still, her face quite grey. Only her eyes, blue like his, but without any trace of gentleness in them, looked from her son to Leonora and back again. It was impossible to know what she thought; it was only quite easily to be seen that for him she would have let herself be trampled underfoot or torn in pieces. Leonora went back the same evening. It was not until a year after they were married that she came here again and saw the place properly.
She and Alexander Sorel sat for a long time at the side of the road. From here they could see for many miles; but there was nothing but the curves of the roads; the villages were all hidden in the little shallow valleys. The sun was shining, but the sky was a whitish grey. A cart came slowly up the hill, pulled by a white horse walking uncertainly on the loose stones of the road. After this Alexander Sorel and Leonora began to walk down the hill.
On Friday Sorel hurried off to ‘le Coq d’Or’ to meet Tom Burgess. Leonora only went to meet them afterwards at the house. When she reached there they had not yet arrived, but in a few minutes they came along the road. Sorel, walking as slowly as he could, listened with absorption to what Tom Burgess was saying. Tom carried a large bunch of roses.
‘If you’d been at the dinner you’d have had them sooner,’ he said, giving them to Leonora with a mixture of severity and magnanimity.
They went upstairs to his bedroom. It was a small room with a small bed, an old rocking-chair, a broken cane chair, and a little window which, though the day was warm, was fast closed. He invited Leonora to sit in the rocking-chair. Sorel seated himself uninvited on the bed.
‘I don’t often smoke in this room, but you’re welcome to today if she’s got no objection,’ said Tom Burgess, taking a pipe out of his pocket.
Sorel held his cigarette up in front of him and began to examine the room. He had already told Tom some of the story. ‘But when Laura slept here the bed must have been over on that side,’ he said, walking to the back of Leonora’s chair, ‘because she could see the tree from her bed. It must have been that tree. Has any tree been cut down from here, do you think?’
‘No,’ said Tom decidedly.
‘Then it must be that one,’ said Sorel.
‘And there’s the Rogers’ place,’ said Tom, pointing with one hand and holding his pipe with the other.
‘Oh yes,’ said Sorel, coming to the window. ‘Can we open it, please?’
They opened it with a little difficulty, and Sorel stood in front of it and looked intently at the roof of the Rogers’ farm. ‘And you remember,’ he said, bending down to talk to Tom Burgess, ‘it was there that Frederick lived and Laura used to stand at the window and look at the roof.’
‘Aye, poor thing!’ said Tom Burgess thoughtfully.
Sorel leaned out of the window as far as he could. ‘And look,’ he said, ‘if she had leaned out like this she could have seen the road along which he must have come here.’
Leonora leaned out too, to see, and he held her arm while he turned to look around the room.
‘You know,’ he said, going up to Tom Burgess’ chair and looking down at him, ‘I think you ought to read that book. It’s long, but you would like it. I’ll send it to you.’
‘Aye, but I can’t read,’ said Tom, puffing at his pipe.
‘Isn’t there someone who could read it to you?’ asked Leonora. ‘Your daughter, perhaps?’
‘Perhaps she can and perhaps she can’t,’ he said, without enthusiasm, and took another puff of his pipe. Then suddenly leaning out of the window he shouted to someone in the garden. ‘Hey, Bessie, girl, come up here at once. That’s my gran’daughter,’ he explained. ‘She can read.’
In a few moments a girl of about sixteen came into the room. She wore a print dress with flowers on it and a white pinafore. She was a big girl, rather pretty, but a little stupid-looking, very unlike her mother.
‘Can you read?’ asked her grandfather abruptly.
She looked from Alexander Sorel to Leonora and back again, and, puzzled and shy, stood silent, with an embarrassed smile on her face.
‘Can you read or can’t you?’ shouted Tom, with the utmost impatience.
‘Yes,’ she said, not taking her eyes off Sorel.
‘That is all right then,’ said Sorel to Tom, and, without looking at her, he took out his little notebook and wrote in it. ‘I’ll send the book down this evening if Mrs Morn will let me send someone, and you can start at once.’
‘You are going to read a book to me,’ said Tom impressively to the girl.
She did not answer, but rather stupidly stared at Sorel without moving.
‘You’re not wanted any more,’ said Tom. ‘And tell your mother I’m to have my bed moved against that wall where I can see the tree.’
‘But, gran’father –’ she began.
‘Go on,’ he said; ‘that’s enough.’
Sorel turned round to look at her, and with a slight giggle she went out of the room.
Soon afterwards Sorel and Leonora went. As they passed through the kitchen on their way out Tom’s daughter asked them to stay to tea. But Tom looked at her with hardly restrained irritation and impatience, and did not seem satisfied until he had shown his guests off the premises without interference of any kind.
‘Goodbye, and thank you very much for the roses,’ said Leonora.
‘You’re welcome to them,’ said Tom, and began to walk back to the house.
Bessie, picking gooseberries in the garden, looked up at them with large eyes as they passed.
Not far from the wall of George Morn’s garden there is a wooden bench at the side of the road, and also a few trees, and from this the road curves down through the grass, and a little lower down there is a telegraph-post, its top about on a level with the top of the bench. Morn, Leonora, and Alexander Sorel went towards it one evening after tea. Sorel and Leonora sat on the bench, and Morn stretched himself on the ground opposite them. He was in a very good mood. He put his hat half over his eyes, though there was no sun, and looked lazily down at the road, with a half-smile in his blue eyes. Sorel leaned forward on the bench, and Leonora sat upright but in an attitude of repose, and with a slight smile on her face, one of her hands resting palm upwards on the bench, the other on her lap.
Sorel looked restlessly about him until his attention was caught by the bench itself, on which innumerable names were carved. He studied the names on both sides of him, and afterwards stood up to look at those he had been sitting on.
‘I should like to put my name there too,’ he said, ‘but I have no knife.’
Morn laughed and sat up, with his hat still half over his eyes, to search his pockets. He handed out a large pocket-knife. ‘Here,’ he said, ‘but don’t break the blade; it is a treasured possession.’
‘Oh, thank you,’ said Sorel. ‘Do you mind opening it for me too?’
Morn did so and lay down on his back again. Sorel stooped over the bench and began slowly carving his name. He paused in the middle to say, ‘I am rather fond of my name, you know.’
Leonora bent over to look at it. ‘He is writing it far bigger than anyone else’s,’ she said, smiling.
‘Yes, I am,’ said Sorel with interest, standing back from the bench to look at his work.
Morn got up from the ground and came over to look. ‘Yes,’ he said, smiling down at it. ‘The truth is, of course, that the names here are usually in pairs and carved at moments when individuality seemed to pale a little before the infinity of love.’ He looked quickly along the bench. ‘Why, good Lord, man, this is quite impossible. They are all in pairs but yours. Get up a moment, Leo. Yes, yours is the only single name on the bench. Beware. Venus might take her revenge.’
Sorel looked a little distressed.
‘Can’t you think of a lady to put down too?’ said Morn, laughing.
Sorel smiled a little and thought for a moment. His expression became more puzzled.
‘I don’t know anyone appropriate,’ he said.
He looked at Leonora for help, but she was laughing.
Morn lay down again on the ground.
‘I know,’ said Sorel excitedly. ‘I can put Laura. You have no objection, have you?’
‘My Laura?’ said Morn.
‘But I had better alter the o to e in her surname. I can’t carve o’s,’ said Sorel. He knelt down before the bench and began to carve.
Morn sat up and looked at his back with an expression of astonishment, but he was also a little amused and pleased.
‘I’ll have to make her smaller, but I’ll put her above me,’ said Sorel.
They were silent.
At last Sorel got up and carefully brushed his knees. ‘Now,’ he said, sitting on the very edge of the bench by the side of his work, ‘I have forged an interesting literary document. Your admirers of another generation will come here with notebooks and magnifying-glasses and discover that your Laura was a real person at one time betrothed to one Alexander Sorel.’
‘It will work more havoc with your biography than with mine,’ said Morn, laughing.
‘I’ll put a bracket,’ said Sorel, and after that he handed the knife back to Morn.
Over on the other side of the house the sun was setting. Already a pale, almost transparent new moon had appeared in the grey sky. As the twilight came the road looked whiter in the middle of the dark ground, and the telegraph-post like a black line.
Morn lay without moving. Sorel, his light mood suddenly vanished, with his arms tightly folded, gazed intently at the ground in front of him. Leonora sat quite still on the bench and looked down half smiling at her hands.
Beyond the telegraph-post the road was hidden for a few hundred yards, and then it curved again into sight. Now the sun had quite set and it grew darker. Sorel, looking up from the ground, saw someone walking along the road in the distance – a man with a hat and a thick stick. From there he looked quite black, almost a silhouette.
Sorel, with his head bent forward, wrinkled his forehead to look upwards at him, and he watched him intently until he disappeared in the hollow of the road. Then he bent down and felt the ground with his fingers. He turned to Leonora.
‘The grass is damp,’ he said anxiously in a whisper. ‘You ought not to let him lie on it.’
Leonora looked at him for a moment without answering.
‘He is very strong, you know,’ she said, ‘and quite used to it.’ She put her other hand down on the bench and looked across at the road.
‘He’ll catch cold,’ said Sorel, and, getting up, bent over Morn and touched his shoulder. ‘The grass is wet,’ he said.
There was no answer.
‘Why, would you believe it,’ said Sorel in surprise, ‘he is fast asleep, and it is the sleep of a good conscience.’
Morn opened his eyes and pushed his hat off.
‘The grass is wet,’ said Sorel, still with his hand on Morn’s shoulder.
Sorel looked at him without smiling, but as he did so he caught sight of the same man climbing the road towards them. ‘It is Mr Burgess,’ he said, and, leaving Morn, hurried down the road to meet him. They came up together, Tom Burgess talking and Sorel listening, walking slowly with his head bent.
‘Evening,’ said Tom.
‘Hullo!’ said Morn. ‘How d’ye do?’
‘I’m all right,’ said Tom.
‘Won’t you sit down, Mr Burgess?’ said Leonora.
‘Thank you, I will,’ he said. ‘I’ve been visiting an old chap I used to know. He won’t last long.’
He sat down on the bench and Sorel on the other side of him.
‘Who is that?’ asked Morn, turning over on his side.
‘Old Harris,’ said Tom. ‘Used to work for Rogers.’
‘Yes, I knew him very well,’ said Morn. ‘Dying, is he?’
‘Aye, dying, if anyone was,’ said Tom in a depressed voice.
‘I’d better call in and see him,’ said Morn. ‘Poor old chap!’ He looked down at the grass.
‘Are you reading the book?’ asked Sorel, breaking in.
‘Yes,’ said Tom, pulling out his pipe. ‘But my gran’daughter Bessie’s a fool of a girl.’
‘Why, can’t she read after all?’ asked Sorel anxiously.
Tom’s expression changed to one of the deepest scorn.
‘Oh aye, she can read,’ he said at last. And then turning to Sorel he said, ‘The girl’s taken a fancy to you now. Wants to know what your work is. She thinks you must be a lawyer,’ and he puffed disgustedly at his pipe.
Sorel was immensely amused. He laughed. ‘And do you know what I really do?’ he said to Tom delightedly.
‘No,’ said Tom.
‘Well, when I am in a good temper I compose music, and when I am not I don’t.’
‘Yes, I’ll tell her that then,’ said Tom, looking a trifle bored. He turned to Leonora and said, ‘And how are you getting along now?’
‘Very well, Mr Burgess,’ she said; ‘the place suits me, I think.’
‘Perhaps it’s the first time you’ve been here,’ said Tom, putting his head slightly on one side and covering his curiosity with a casual air.
‘Why, good Lord, no,’ said Morn. ‘We came down here about a year after we were married, and stayed three or four months with Mrs Semley up at the farm. Surely you met her then? I came to see you.’
‘Aye, aye, I remember you,’ said Tom, ‘but I don’t remember seeing her. And she’s the same one, is she?’ ‘Yes, the same one,’ said Morn, laughing.
‘And I suppose you didn’t find her round about here?’ said Tom.
‘No,’ said Morn; ‘I found her in London.’
‘Aye, the women about here aren’t up to much. When I married my missus it wasn’t for her looks.’
‘My mother was a wonderful woman,’ said Morn. ‘But perhaps you’re right. She wasn’t really beautiful.’
‘But she’s a beauty,’ said Tom, indicating Leonora with his finger.
She smiled. ‘You are very kind,’ she said, ‘but I am getting older, you know.’
‘But your granddaughter is rather a pretty girl, Mr Burgess; don’t you think so?’ said Leonora, smiling again.
‘Oh, her!’ said Tom, and became silent. ‘Her father wasn’t from round here,’ he added.
It had become much darker. The moon shed a little light, but the road and the telegraph-post were scarcely distinguishable any longer. Tom Burgess took his pipe out of his mouth and knocked the ashes out of it against the bench.
‘Well, I must be going,’ he said, getting up.
‘It has got so cold,’ said Leonora, pulling a thin scarf around her shoulders and shivering a little. They walked up the road past the wall of the garden.
‘I’ll be getting on now,’ said Tom at the gate.
‘I’ll come part of the way with you,’ said Sorel. And they walked together along the road.
At the side of the road some water trickled over the stones. The light, suddenly turned on in Morn’s room, sent one long ray after them. Before they turned down the path into the valley someone came along the road towards them.
‘Is that you, gran’father?’ said Bessie’s voice out of the darkness.
‘Aye,’ he said sulkily.
‘We thought you was lost, and I had to come after you,’ she said, coming to a standstill in front of him.
‘H’m,’ he said, walking to the side past her. And they walked on again, Bessie following quietly behind them, her eyes fixed on Sorel’s back. Sorel went with him right as far as the house, but he stopped at the gate.
‘You can have a bit of supper if you come in,’ said Tom. ‘No, thank you very much,’ said Sorel, and shaking hands with him he turned to go. It was only then he remembered that Bessie was the girl who had taken a fancy to him. He turned round again, but only in time to see her following the old man up the path. But when they got to the door the light from the kitchen showed her turning round to look at him. And after that he walked home.
The river is not very far away from here. There is a very gradual slope for about a mile from the house, then there are a few ferns here and there and numbers of big stones, and then the river, with at that point three small bare islands in it. It is fairly wide but not at all deep, except in one or two places. But these are holes in the river-bed. Everywhere else one can see the stones quite distinctly, and in some places the water breaking over a larger stone. There are probably no fish in it now, though Morn says he used to catch trout there when he was a boy. There are no trees anywhere, only far away on the other side of the river there are about six trees growing all crowded together. And in one of Morn’s novels two lovers used to meet here on this bank and walk up and down by the river. So Leonora brought Sorel here also.
That day it was not hot; Leonora wore a coat, and Sorel, because his own coat was too thick, wore a thin green raincoat of Morn’s which reached almost to his boots. They walked the short distance slowly, and at last sat down on a large grey stone, like a low oval table, a few yards from the river’s edge. Leonora sat in silence, and Sorel looked straight in front of him across the river. His coat was buttoned up at the neck, and his cap rather hid the upper part of his face. In fact, the coat made him look a little ridiculous. It was particularly cold. There was no wind, but it seemed colder down there than up by the house. Leonora looked for a moment at Sorel’s feet and at the bottom of her husband’s coat.
‘George wore that coat when I came down here first,’ she said. ‘It rained nearly the whole time we were here. We came to see all these places in the rain.’
‘How much had he written by then?’ asked Sorel.
‘Only three,’ said Leonora, ‘besides the early stories, which are really bad. He was already over forty.’
‘If he had written only the first stories would you have married him?’
‘I do not know,’ she said. ‘There was no promise of any kind in them.’
She looked up and smiled, but Sorel was still gazing intently across the river. She looked beyond him up the slope and smiled again.
‘Do look at that sheep meditating on human nature,’ she said.
Sorel turned round to see. A sheep was standing near looking at them with absorbed interest. Sorel looked at its thin, white, mild, intellectual face.
‘Ah, this is positively sublime!’ he said, laughing excitedly, and, getting up from the stone, he walked in his long coat towards the sheep, holding out his hand enticingly.
The sheep, still looking at him, turned to retreat, and then ran up the slope and, stopping higher up near a flat stone, resumed its contemplation. Sorel came back laughing to the stone and sat down again.
‘There. That is how I see life,’ he said – ‘two people sitting on a stone by a river with stones in it, and a sheep looking at them. Ah, in that, you know, there is something ineffably tragic and also very agreeable.’
Leonora smiled, but looked into the distance up the river. Sorel, instead of speaking, looked at her. The scarf of her coat was wound tightly round her neck, and sitting there on the stones she looked thin and tall, and also perhaps a little old. Sorel looked at her. Then he leaned forward on the stone and covered his face with his hands. For some reason he began to feel extraordinarily depressed. Nothing moved around, the sheep had gone, there were no birds. Perhaps right beneath the stone on which they sat there were ants. The sky was grey, and soon a soft drizzling rain began to fall.
‘It has begun to rain,’ said Leonora gently.
Sorel took his hands from his eyes and looked up. ‘Yes,’ he said, and stood up.
‘No, don’t go unless you want to,’ she said. ‘The rain suits this place.’
He looked down at her. ‘But your hair,’ he said; ‘you have no hat.’
‘It will not hurt it. Rain is very good for hair.’
‘Is it?’ he said with interest, and put his cap in his pocket. ‘Now there is also equality,’ he added.
She smiled. ‘No, you will catch cold.’
He sat and watched the fine rain fall on the water of the river.
‘It rained the day Annie sat here for hours waiting,’ said Leonora. ‘Do you remember? Those women were always waiting for somebody. Now in these days there is nothing to wait for.’
‘Yes, one almost feels that she is still sitting upon that rock in the rain,’ he said. ‘What would she have been dressed in?’
‘She was in service,’ said Leonora. ‘I suppose a black dress and an old coat over it. I am afraid it is the kind of rain that makes one very wet,’ she added after a pause.
Sorel stood up and took her hand to help her up from her seat. They walked away through the grey drizzling rain, leaving two dry places where they had sat on the stone.
One day Mr James Carmen, who had been a friend of Morn’s since they were boys, called on him.
‘I knew you were in residence from the papers,’ he said, sitting down and passing his white handkerchief over his forehead. ‘Is the missus here too?’
‘Yes,’ said Morn. ‘This is excellent, you know. How long can you stay? Whisky and soda?’
‘Yes, better make it weak though,’ he said. ‘Only tonight. Did you ever meet the man my sister Annie married?’
‘No, I don’t think so. How is she?’
‘He has just died suddenly. The world is better off in consequence; but, of course, the poor girl is upset. I have been up to see her, and I am on my way back. There are a number of business matters to attend to. That is why I mustn’t get drunk.’
‘At any rate it is good to see you tonight,’ said Morn, putting his papers one by one into the drawer of the table. ‘Couldn’t you come back some time this summer?’
‘Perhaps I could,’ said James Carmen. ‘Anyone here besides you and Leo?’
‘Yes,’ said Morn, ‘Alexander Sorel.’
‘Oh!’ said Carmen, taking two cigars very carefully out of his pocket and handing one to Morn. ‘Here, this is a very valuable cigar; smoke it thoughtfully. And who is Alexander Sorel? He wasn’t mentioned in the paper?’
‘No, we don’t use the same papers,’ said Morn, laughing. ‘Alexander Sorel the composer.’
‘Never heard of him,’ said James Carmen. ‘What’s he like? Daft?’
Morn paused in lighting his cigar, opened his eyes very wide in pretended surprise, and slowly winked.
‘Oh!’ said Carmen, laughing, and showing his very white teeth.
Sorel and Leonora were out and did not return until after tea. Sorel sat on the edge of a chair and looked at James Carmen attentively. But Carmen talked to Leonora.
‘I’m said to be drinking myself to death,’ he said, looking at her with solemnity. She smiled.
‘George will leave a lot of books behind him,’ he continued, ‘I a lot of bills for whisky. There’s no difference.’
Morn looked at him with a smile in his blue eyes.
‘Go on,’ said Sorel, leaning forward earnestly.
Carmen turned to look at him. ‘Go on with what?’ he asked abruptly.
‘With what you were saying,’ said Sorel.
Carmen began to shake with invisible laughter and held his white handkerchief up to his mouth. Sorel smiled in perplexity and looked inquiringly at Leonora.
‘Will you let me play the Greek dance to Mr Carmen after dinner?’ she said. ‘I should like him to hear it. It is something of Mr Sorel’s,’ she said to Carmen.
‘But it is not yet finished,’ said Sorel, turning to Carmen anxiously and apologetically.
‘The first part is finished,’ said Leonora.
‘All right; let’s have it,’ said Carmen, putting his white handkerchief in his pocket.
After dinner they went into the drawing-room. Morn, talking to Carmen over his shoulder, fetched Leonora’s cello out of its case in the corner and she sat down and took it. Sorel sat at the piano and looked round at her. The cello rested against her white dress. Her head was bent in an attitude of strength and the position of her arms gave her shoulders breadth. There is something strange about a woman playing the cello. Women like sibyls, with strength like iron, do not exist any more. Goddesses now are whisps of things. But there are still women who play the cello. She began to play the Greek dance.
All the time while Sorel played, while the melody fell wailing away from his fingers, and then at the end when only the dark rhythm of the dance was left, he could see Leonora quite clearly in the air in front of him. And when it was over he looked round in time to see her with her head still bent carrying the bow slowly away. He stood up. ‘I think I will go on with the second part,’ he said. ‘Please excuse me.’ He shook hands with Carmen, and then said to Leonora on the way out, ‘There isn’t any ink in my room.’
She went into Morn’s room and came back bringing a little square green inkwell. Sorel took it and went away carrying it very carefully, so that it should not spill.
‘I hope you are not going to retire to worship art in secret?’ said Carmen.
‘No,’ she said; ‘I am going to walk round the garden first.’
‘I’ll come with you,’ said he, moving his empty glass to the middle of the table.
‘What did you think of the music?’ she asked.
‘Oh, the Lord knows!’ said Carmen. ‘Are you fed up with this place yet?’
‘It is not so very desolate,’ she said.
‘I don’t think much of your garden,’ he said.
‘No; that is rather desolate by moonlight, I admit.’
The moon was not full, but its light fell on the garden and on the house, and the garden wall cast a black shadow. Leonora walked first along the path, stopping sometimes to speak of something. He stood beside her, and pressed his white handkerchief over his forehead, though it was certainly no longer hot. He looked around him uneasily.
‘Here am I in the moonlight with a pretty woman, and the wife of my best friend into the bargain,’ he thought, ‘and I don’t feel like making love to her. There is something wrong with me, or that little fool of a man has spoiled my digestion.’
‘It is a pity the garden is so ugly,’ said Leonora.
‘I am not surprised,’ he said. ‘The place must have been full of stones. I threw about a hundredweight in here when I was a boy.’
‘Yes, I believe it was full of stones,’ said Leonora; ‘George carried them all out. Why did you do that?’
‘I don’t know. George threw a lot of them in himself,’ said Carmen in a depressed voice. ‘I suppose it was to annoy somebody. There doesn’t seem much sense in it now. It seemed a sensible thing to do then. I suppose there is no sense in anything I do now either.’
‘One cannot know that,’ said Leonora. She stooped down to a straggling rose tree whose roses, with the moon shining on them, looked almost blue. ‘Would you like a blue rose?’ she said. ‘Put it under your pillow and in the morning it will be pink.’
‘Like litmus paper,’ said Carmen. ‘See if there is any acid in me. Is alcohol an acid?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said, smiling. ‘Must you really go tomorrow?’
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘George likes having you here very much. Won’t you come again this summer? He won’t go on working at the present rate indefinitely. Then you could have a good holiday here together. Only don’t throw stones into the garden.’
‘How long are you staying?’ he asked doubtfully.
‘Until October,’ she answered. ‘And what about your little friend?’
‘He,’ said Leonora, looking up at the sky, ‘he stays only a few weeks longer.’
‘She’s a darned beautiful woman,’ thought Carmen. looking at her. She was in white, and her face was white too, except for her dark eyes.
‘There is nothing so entirely without form as the moon at this stage,’ she said. ‘Nothing on earth. Have you noticed?’
‘I’ll try to come some time in September,’ he said, as they walked back to the house.
‘Yes, do come,’ she said. ‘We shall both be delighted.’
Alexander Sorel did not go to bed until it was beginning to get light, and he did not come down in time for breakfast. But he came down immediately afterwards. James Carmen had already gone. Sorel went for a walk by himself. It was a fine day, and he wore a light suit and no hat, and went jauntily along the road. By the time he had reached a wooden seat at the side of the road upon the grass his state of mind had reached such a degree of idyllic happiness that he did not exhaust himself in any further effort, but sat down on the seat. He put one hand on his knee, crossed his legs, and swung one of them back and fore a little. It was a very fine day. The sky was blue, with round white clouds in it very high up. A few harebells, the exact blue of the sky, grew on their threadlike green stems near one of the legs of the bench. The sun shone on his head.
A girl in a pink dress was coming along the road in the distance, but she turned off on to the grass and walked there from one place to another, apparently without aim, and stooped down to the grass. Sorel looked at her. He felt exceedingly light-hearted, and thought over a few bars of L’ Après-Midi d’un Faune to himself. The girl, describing like a bird illogical circles on the grass, came gradually nearer to him, and at last stood facing him on the opposite side of the road, with her mouth slightly open and the under-lip drooping. He saw that it was Bessie, and that she had been picking harebells. He smiled across at her. She gave a shy laugh and put her head down, raising one shoulder as she did so and keeping her eyes on him.
‘Come over here,’ he called, smiling.
She laughed again, but came slowly across the road and sat down on the bench at the other end.
‘And you have been picking flowers?’ he said.
‘Yes. But these here die as soon as they’re picked. It’s because they’ve got thin stalks.’
‘Yes, extraordinarily thin stalks,’ agreed Sorel.
Bessie bent down to put the harebells under the bench in the shadow of her legs. ‘It’s not so hot there,’ she explained.
‘No,’ he said. ‘How is your grandfather today?’
‘And what do you do all day?’ he asked.
‘I look after the chickens and do the house, but my mother sells the eggs. Today she’s gone to market, so there isn’t much to do.’
‘And do you like it?’
‘Like what, do you mean?’ she asked.
‘Do you like your life here?’
‘But I live here,’ she said. ‘Only I’d like to travel.’
‘To travel!’ said Sorel, laughing. ‘But where?’
‘I’d like to go to France,’ she said.
‘What would you do there?’
‘Go into service.’
‘Oh,’ he said thoughtfully.
‘Have you travelled, please?’ she asked.
‘Travelled?’ he said. ‘Well, yes, I’ve been to a lot of places. Last year I went to Greece.’
‘Have you been to France?’ she asked.
‘Yes,’ he said.
She looked longingly at the ground.
‘I don’t think it is a very good idea of yours,’ he said. ‘I think this place is quite as nice.’ He smiled down at her.
She giggled again shyly and began to scrape her boot on the ground.
‘I must go,’ she said reluctantly. ‘Gran’father’ll want his dinner.’
She picked up the harebells and walked past Sorel, then she turned back and put the flowers on top of his hand.
‘You can have them if you like,’ she said.
‘Oh, thank you very much,’ said Sorel, and turned his attention to gathering them into a bunch again. But he did so in time to shake hands with her, and then he carried them very carefully home, bending now and then to pick up one that unfastened itself from his hand. And he had them put in a vase in his room.
That evening he sat up there at the table before the window and began to play with his pen. The harebells were on the table, but he moved them to another part of the room. Outside the twilight was beginning almost imperceptibly to creep like a grey transparent cloud over the grass. He could see a very long way from his window. And with the twilight great grey shadows seemed to come from each curve and valley and walk about over the earth. He looked at them, and began to turn the lines of the manuscript sheet in front of him into little squares. When he looked up again it was much darker outside; there were lights in houses here and there. He turned on the light at his table.
There was a knock at the door and Leonora came in. ‘Forgive me for disturbing you,’ she said. ‘I could copy the second part tonight if you have it. Is it quite finished?’
‘Yes; you can have it now. I am doing the third part,’ he said, indicating the manuscript paper.
She looked down at the three bands of little squares without smiling. He did not notice it.
‘You shall play it in October,’ he said.
‘I like it very much,’ said Leonora.
He wrinkled his forehead and looked down at the manuscript sheets doubtfully, but he put his hand on hers, which rested on the table, and ran his fingers across the stone of her ring before he took his hand away.
‘And the second part?’ she asked.
He walked over to the table on which the harebells were and opened a drawer. He took some collars out and laid them on the table, and then carefully brought the manuscript from the bottom of the drawer. It came out with a tie hanging to it. He gave her the music and began to tidy the drawer.
‘I’ll copy the piano part too, and then my copy can go to the publisher instead of this,’ she said, looking over it.
‘You can keep the original if you would like to,’ he said, pushing the drawer closed.
‘I should like it very much,’ she said, and walked to the door holding the music sheets up against her as she examined the last of them. ‘I like so much to have to copy it before I play it.’
‘Leonora!’ he said suddenly.
‘Yes,’ she said, turning.
He drew his hand across his forehead and looked at her with his head bent forward.
‘I was going to ask you to stay here and talk to me,’ he said, ‘but I had better get on with this.’
‘Would you like some coffee?’ she asked.
‘Ah, please,’ he said, and sat down at the table.
He wrote a few bars and looked at the darkness outside.
George knocked at the door and came in. ‘I met your coffee coming upstairs,’ he said, putting it on the table. He looked out through the window. ‘It’s going to rain tomorrow.’
‘Can you tell the weather?’ asked Sorel.
‘I know more or less how it behaves in this part of the country,’ said Morn. ‘I liked that Greek dance of yours last night.’
‘Did you really?’ said Sorel. ‘That pleases me very much.’
‘Enough sugar?’ said Morn.
Sorel hurriedly sipped the coffee. ‘Yes, quite, thank you.’
Morn took the sugar-basin and went out of the room and down the stairs. He put some of the lumps of sugar into his pocket and put the basin on the bottom pillar of the balusters. He put his hand on the door-handle of the drawing-room where Leonora had begun the copying. He listened for a moment. She was whistling softly, almost under her breath. But he did not go in. He walked into his study, moved one or two papers on the table, and went and stood by the window and looked out into the darkness. The dead rose tree was just distinguishable on the lawn. He began to eat a lump of sugar. He stayed there a few minutes, and afterwards he went into the dining-room. But there was nothing there. He went out and stood at the bottom of the stairs, half meaning to go up again, but instead he took up the sugar-basin, which was still there, and carried it into the kitchen. There was no one there. The fire was still in, but it needed stirring. He sat down in the basket chair and took up the poker. At the side of the fireplace was a calendar with a photograph of a beauty spot in Great Britain over each month. After he had poked the fire he took the calendar down and ate his sugar, and looked at the photographs with interest.
And a few days afterwards he heard Leonora going out by herself and ran out to the door to stop her.
‘I want to read to you what I have done this week,’ he said. ‘When can you come?’
‘Now,’ she said, beginning to unbutton her coat.
‘No. I tell you what,’ he said. ‘I will bring it out and come with you.’
He went into his room to fetch it, and came back with the papers sticking out of his coat pocket.
They walked along the road and up to the seat where Sorel had carved his name. They sat down there and Morn began to read, and as he finished each page he pushed it into his coat pocket again, but some of them he put on the bench with a large stone on them. The wind rustled them a bit but they did not blow away.
She looked at the grass all around with the shadows of the grey clouds upon it, and bent her head and listened to his voice. The monotonous hard simplicity of the words and of his reading deepened and darkened into tragedy. Through the brightness of the sun shining on the grass, and through the shadows of the clouds which implied the sun’s presence, the dark, hard austerity of the earth seemed to penetrate as a bright sun through a curtain of black gauze. The woman of the novel, in her black dress with her pale, hard face, seemed to walk over the land, her feet below the sunlight, resting on this under-surface.
For Leonora the scene and the book and her husband’s voice blended into this one impression. It was not a tragedy that sweeps to its climax with hysterical and ironic laughter. She sat quite still upon the bench looking down. She was very conscious of her own stillness. She felt that her soul was being touched by the emotions of a woman infinitely far away, in another time and in another world. There was nothing equally in them both but that they were both women.
As the story fell slowly down from its climax Morn suddenly stopped reading and said, ‘Damnation!’
She looked up. Alexander Sorel was coming along the road towards them.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ she said. ‘You can go on from where you are.’
‘No. Look here,’ he said, ‘I can’t read it to him. Wait until it is out.’
‘But why?’ she asked. ‘It would please him very much.’
‘No, I’d rather not,’ he said. ‘You shall see the rest tonight.’ He looked at her questioningly.
‘Yes, it has moved me very deeply,’ she said, and looked down at the ground.
He pushed the remaining sheets and those under the stone into his pocket as Sorel came up.
Sorel walked quickly, his hands in his pockets, his head bent forward. He wore no hat, and his hair was blown about and his forehead quite damp. He looked very hot. He came and sat down on the bench between Leonora and Morn without speaking.
Morn had forgiven him the interruption. ‘You look warm,’ he said.
‘Yes,’ said Sorel. ‘I have been walking quickly. I like the sensation of moving very quickly. There is something even sublime about trees and houses streaming past me.’
‘Do you walk as quickly as that?’ asked Leonora, smiling.
He looked sideways up at her with a look of tired perplexity. ‘Oh yes, I think so,’ he said. ‘Quite quickly enough to get the sensation.’
They were silent. The sun, half hidden by a cloud, shone a little on the trunk of the tree just above Sorel’s shoulder. He rested his head on his hands and suddenly began to weep. He hastily reached for his handkerchief with one hand. Morn looked at him and then at Leonora with an embarrassed grimace. She was looking calmly at Sorel. But afterwards she touched his shoulder with her hand and said, ‘What is the matter?’
‘Oh, my God, I don’t know,’ said Sorel, looking up and suddenly beginning to laugh. He put his hands back in his pockets.
After that they became silent again. Morn, smiling a little to himself, contemplated with an inward eye the sheets of manuscript in his coat pocket. Leonora sat upright on the bench looking down at her hands, turned palm upwards on her lap. She was thinking of the woman in George’s novel again. And Sorel, with his head stretched back, looked up at the sky, his forehead wrinkled and the same look of tired perplexity on his face. They stayed there a long time.
In the evening Leonora went on reading the novel. When she had finished all that was yet written she put the papers in the drawer of the table, and putting over her shoulder a coat of George’s that lay on the chair she stepped over the low sill of the window and walked across the grass past the dead rose tree to the gate. As she opened it she saw that there was someone standing at the side against the wall.
‘Who is there?’ she asked.
A girl slipped out into the light from the window. It was Bessie, and she carried half behind her back a large bunch of sweet-peas.
‘Do you want anyone?’ asked Leonora.
‘No, miss,’ said Bessie.
‘Are you just going for a walk?’ said Leonora, beginning to walk on.
The girl did not answer.
‘Goodnight,’ said Leonora.
‘Here, miss,’ said Bessie, and held out the bunch of flowers.
Leonora took them. ‘Are they for Mr Sorel?’ she asked. Bessie reddened. ‘No, miss; for you.’
‘For me?’ said Leonora. ‘That is very kind of you. Are they from your grandfather?’
‘Yes – no – from me,’ said Bessie.
‘Thank you very much,’ said Leonora.
Bessie hesitated a moment and then ran down the road. Leonora opened the gate again and went in. She carried the sweet-peas up to Sorel’s room and put them in the vases, but afterwards she took off George’s coat and carried it back to his room.
After that there was only one day that is worth remembering before Sorel went away. It was a very warm day, the best in the whole summer. He and Leonora went early after breakfast for a walk. The long, straight road shone quite white in the sun. It led right away from the house and sloped gradually, not over a hill but over a little mound. Here grew very many harebells, and Leonora and Sorel sat down on the light dry grass. That day there was not a cloud. The sun shone silently.
‘Will you let me take off my shoes?’ asked Sorel. She nodded.
He leaned forward and took them off, and moved his toes about in his green socks. Then he measured their length flat on the ground. A harebell was growing up just by the side, and it bent like a Lilliputian princess over the foot of this Gulliver. He looked down at it. Sorel’s eyes were not blue but a kind of pale greyish green.
‘Those sweet-peas in my room are very nice, but I like harebells better,’ he said.
‘Mr Burgess’ granddaughter brought them,’ said Leonora. ‘She gave them to me, but I think they were intended for you.’
‘Oh, did she really?’ said Sorel, looking up, but afterwards he turned his attention to the little harebell again.
Leonora sat without a movement and looked down along the road. The houses here and there seemed from up here very small. In one of them George was writing. Sorel’s empty shoes stood on the grass beside him. He arranged them very carefully toe to toe.
‘My shoes look extraordinarily large when I am not in them,’ he observed.
‘Yes,’ she said, looking at them and at his feet. ‘Do you get them a size too large for you?’
‘I don’t think so,’ he said.
They were silent again. Sorel leaned back on his elbows on the grass and looked up at the pale blue sky. There was not the slightest breath of wind, and not a sound even of a grasshopper.
‘All the time I have been here I have not seen a butterfly,’ he said suddenly.
‘Nor have I,’ said Leonora.
He moved his shoulders sideways along the grass until his head nearly touched her. He looked up at her backwards.
‘Leonora,’ he said, ‘do you know I am always alone?’
She looked down at him and did not smile.
‘So am I,’ she said.
He looked again up at the sky, but without knowing it he had grasped a fold of her white dress in his hand.
‘I thought a lot about you when I wrote the second part of the dance,’ he said.
‘And do I mean for you strength and the spirit that reflects?’ she said.
He sat up and looked at her. She still looked down along the road towards the house, her dress, pulled tightly by his hand, stretched out in front of her, not like a dress, but like stone.
‘No,’ he said, ‘no.’
He lay down again on the grass and let her dress go. ‘I can’t get on with the third part,’ he said.
‘Perhaps when you leave here you will,’ she said.
‘Yes. I suppose so.’
They stayed there a long time, he with his eyes wide open looking up at the sky. Afterwards he put on his shoes and they went, and one could see for a long time where they had rested by the pressed-down grass.
A few days afterwards he went away. Morn carried his bag downstairs and out to the gate. He came hurrying along the path looking worried, carrying his grey gloves in his hand.
‘Leonora,’ he said, ‘I have forgotten to say goodbye to Mr Burgess. Please go there this afternoon for me, and tell him he can keep the book as a present. It is the first edition, and my name is written in it,’ he added. ‘His great-grandchildren will be able to sell it.’
He turned to Morn and shook hands with him and thanked him, but all the time he looked anxiously about him, as he did before when he came there first. Morn remained standing by the dead rose tree.
Sorel got into the car. ‘Don’t forget Mr Burgess,’ he said. ‘And if I have forgotten anything, please be so kind as to send it after me.’
He pressed Leonora’s hands. Then the car drove away and Leonora turned and walked back along the path.
Jo Lloyd won the 2019 BBC Short Story Award. Her collection, The Earth, Thy Great Exchequer, Ready Lies, was published by Swift Press in 2021 and is shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize. In the US, the collection is published by Tin House under the title Something Wonderful.