He hated the way his wife woke him up in the morning. She did it on purpose, of course. It showed that she was angry with him. But he was not going to show her that he was angry. But it was really dangerous to wake up an artist like that! It made him feel bad for hours — simply hours.
She came into the room in her working clothes, with a handkerchief over her head, just to show him that she had been awake and working for hours. She called in a low warning voice: 'Reginald!'
'Eh! What! What's that? What's the matter?'
'It's time to get up. It's half-past eight.' And then she left the room, shutting the door quietly behind her. He supposed that she felt very pleased with herself.
He turned over in the big bed. His heart felt heavy. She seemed to enjoy making life more difficult for him; more difficult than it was already. She made an artist's life impossible. She wanted to pull him down, to make him like herself.
What was the matter with her? What did she want? Didn't he have three times as many pupils now as he did when they were first married? Didn't he earn three times as much money? Hadn't he paid for everything they owned? He now had begun to pay for Adrian's school, too. She didn't have any money, but he never said that to her. Never!
When you married a woman she wanted everything. Nothing was worse for an artist than marriage. Artists should wait until they are over forty before they get married. Why had he married her? He asked himself this question about three times a day, but he never could answer it. She had caught him at a weak moment.
Looking back, he saw himself as a poor young thing, half-child, half-wild bird. He was totally unable to manage bills and things like that. Well, she had tried hard to change him, and she was changing him with her early morning trick. An artist ought to wake slowly, he thought, moving down in the warm bed. He began to imagine delightful pictures, one after the other. The pictures ended with his latest, most charming pupil putting her arms around him and covering him with her long hair. 'Awake my love!...'
As usual, while the bath water ran, Reginald Peacock tried his voice.
' When her mother sees her before the laughing mirror, Tying up her shoes and tying up her hair!
He sang softly at first, listening to the quality of his voice, until he came to the third line:
'Often she thinks, were this wild thing married ...' and when he got to the last word his voice became a shout, and a glass on the bathroom shelf shook ...
Well, there was nothing wrong with his voice, he thought, as he jumped into the bath and covered his soft pink body with soap. He could fill a very large theatre with that voice! He sang again as he took the towel and dried himself quickly.
He returned to his bedroom and began to do his exercises -deep breathing, bending forward and back. He was terribly afraid of getting fat. Men in his job often did get fat. However, there was no sign of fatness at present. He was, he decided, just right. In fact, he felt deeply satisfied when he looked at himself in the mirror dressed in a black coat, dark grey trousers, grey socks and a black and silver tie. He was not vain, of course — he hated vain men - no, the feeling he had when he looked at himself was purely artistic.
People often asked him if he was really English. They could never believe that he didn't have some Southern blood.
His singing had an emotional quality that was not English ...
The door began to open and Adrian's head appeared.
'Please, Father, Mother says breakfast is ready, please.'
'Very well,' said Reginald. Then just as Adrian disappeared: 'Adrian!'
'You haven't said "Good morning".'
A few months ago, Reginald had spent a weekend with a very important family, where the father received his little sons in the morning and shook hands with them. Reginald thought that this was charming. He immediately started to do the same in his own home, but Adrian felt silly when he had to shake hands with his own father every morning. And why did his father always sound like he was singing to him instead of talking?
Reginald walked into the dining-room and sat down. There was a pile of letters, a copy of the newspaper and a little covered dish in front of him. He looked quickly at the letters and then at his breakfast. There were two thin pieces of bacon and one egg.
'Don't you want any bacon?' he asked.
'No, I prefer an apple. I don't need bacon every morning.'
Now, what did she mean? Did she mean that she didn't want to cook bacon for him every morning?
'If you don't want to cook the breakfast,' he said, 'why don't you have a servant? We have enough money, and you know how I hate to see my wife doing the work. I know that all the servants we had in the past were mistakes. They stopped my practising and I couldn't have any pupils in the house. But now, you have stopped trying to find the right kind of servant. You could teach a servant, couldn't you?'
'But I prefer to do the work myself; it makes life so much more peaceful ... Run along, Adrian dear, and get ready for school.'
'Oh, no, that's not it!' Reginald pretended to smile. 'You do the work yourself, because, I don't know why, you want me to feel bad. You may not realize this, but it's true.' He felt pleased with himself and opened an envelope ...
Dear Mr Peacock,
I feel that I cannot go to sleep until I have thanked you for the wonderful pleasure your singing gave me this evening. It was quite unforgettable. It made me wonder if the ordinary world is everything there is. Some of us can perhaps understand that there is more in the world, more beauty and richness to enjoy. The house is so quiet. I wish you were here now. Then I could thank you again face to face. You are doing a great thing. You are teaching the world to escape from life!
Yours, most sincerely,
PS I am in every afternoon this week ...
He felt proud. 'Oh well, don't let us argue about it,' he said, and actually held out his hand to his wife.
But she was not generous enough to answer him.
'I must hurry and take Adrian to school,' she said. 'Your room is ready for you.'
Very well — very well — it was war between them! Well, he would not be the first to make it up again!
He walked up and down his room. He was not calm again until he heard the front door close as Adrian and his wife left. Of course, if this went on, he would have to make some other arrangement. That was obvious.
How could he help the world to escape from life? He opened the piano and checked the list of pupils for the morning. Miss Betty Brittle, the Countess Wilkowska and Miss Marian Morrow. They were charming, all three.
At half-past ten exactly, the doorbell rang. He went to the door. Miss Betty Brittle was there, dressed in white with her music in a blue case.
'I'm afraid I'm early,' she said shyly, and she opened her big blue eyes very wide. 'Am I?'
'Not at all, dear lady. I am only too charmed,' said Reginald, 'Won't you come in?'
'It's such a beautiful morning,' said Miss Brittle, 'I walked across the park. The flowers were wonderful.'
'Well, think about the flowers while you sing your exercises,' said Reginald, sitting down at the piano. 'It will give your voice colour and warmth.'
'Oh, what a charming idea! How clever Mr Peacock is!' Miss Brittle thought. She opened her pretty lips and began to sing like a flower.
'Very good, very good!' said Reginald, as he played the piano.
'Make the notes round. Don't be afraid. Breathe the music.'
How pretty she looked, standing there in her white dress, her little fair head raised, showing her milky neck.
'Do you ever practise in front of a mirror?' asked Reginald. 'You ought to, you know. Come over here.'
They went across the room to the mirror and stood side by side.
'Now sing — moo-e-koo-e-oo-e-a!'
But she could not sing, and her face became pinker than ever.
'Oh,' she cried, 'I can't. It makes me feel so silly. It makes me want to laugh. I look so silly!'
'No, you don't. Don't be afraid,' said Reginald, but he laughed, too, very kindly. 'Now, try again!'
The lesson went past very quickly, and Betty Brittle stopped feeling shy.
'When can I come again?' she asked, tying the music up in the blue case. 'I want to take as many lessons as I can just now. Oh, Mr Peacock, I do enjoy them so much. May I come the day after tomorrow?'
'Dear lady, I shall be only too charmed,' said Reginald, as he showed her out.
Wonderful girl! And when they had stood in front of the mirror, her white sleeve had just touched his black one. He could feel — yes, he could actually feel a warm place on his sleeve, and he touched it. She loved her lessons.
His wife came in.
'Reginald, can you let me have some money? I must pay for the milk. And will you be in for dinner tonight?'
'Yes, you know I'm singing at Lord Timbuck's at half-past nine. Can you give me some clear soup, with an egg in it?'
'Yes. And the money, Reginald.' She told him how much she needed.
'That's a lot of money — isn't it?'
'No — that's what it should be. And Adrian must have milk.'
There she was again. Now she was talking about Adrian.
'I certainly don't want to stop my child having enough milk,' he said. 'Here's the money.'
The doorbell rang. He went to the door.
'Oh,' said the Countess Wilkowska, 'the stairs. I'm out of breath.' And she put her hand over her heart as she followed him into the music room. She was all in black, with a little black hat and a bunch of fresh flowers on her dress.
'Do not make me sing exercises, today,' she said, throwing out her hands in her delightful foreign way. 'No, today, I want only to sing songs ... And may I take off my flowers? They die so soon.'
'They die so soon — they die so soon,' played Reginald on the piano.
'May I put them there?' asked the Countess, putting the flowers in front of one of the photographs of Reginald.
'Dear lady, I shall be only too charmed!' said Reginald.
She began to sing, and all went well until she came to the words:'You love me.Yes, I know you love me!' His hands dropped down from the piano, and he turned round, facing her.
'No, no, that's not good enough.You can do better than that!' Reginald cried. 'You must sing as if you were in love. Listen: let me try and show you.'And he sang.
'Oh, yes, yes. I see what you mean,' said the little Countess. 'May I try again?'
'Certainly. Do not be afraid. Let yourself go!' he called above the music. And he sang.
'Yes, better that time. But still I feel that you could do better. Try it with me.' And they sang together.
Ah! Now she was sure she understood. 'May I try once again?'
'You love me. Yes, I know you love me.'
The lesson was over before those words were quite perfect. Her little foreign hands shook as they put the music together.
'And you are forgetting your flowers,' said Reginald softly.
'Yes, I think I will forget them,' said the Countess, biting her lip.
'And you will come to my house on Sunday and make music?' she asked.
'Dear lady, I shall be only too charmed!' said Reginald.
Miss Marian Morrow arrived ... She began to sing a sad little song, and her eyes filled with tears.
'Don't sing just now,' said Reginald. 'Let me play it for you.' He played so softly.
'Is there anything the matter?' asked Reginald. 'You're not quite happy this morning.'
No, she wasn't, she was awfully sad.
'Would you tell me what it is?'
It really wasn't anything. Sometimes, she felt that life was very hard.
'Ah, I know,' he said,'if I could only help!'
'But you do help, you do! Oh, these lessons are so important to me.'
'Sit down in the armchair and smell these flowers and let me sing to you. It will do you as much good as a lesson.'
Why weren't all men like Mr Peacock?
'I wrote a poem after I heard you sing last night — just about what I felt. Of course, it wasn't personal. May I send it to you?'
'Dear lady, I would be only too charmed!'
By the end of the afternoon, he was quite tired, and lay down on a sofa to rest his voice before dressing. The door of his room was open. He could hear Adrian and his wife talking in the dining-room.
'Do you know what the teapot reminds me of, Mummy? It reminds me of a little sitting-down cat.'
'Does it, Mr Imagination?'
Reginald slept. The telephone bell woke him.
'Aenone Fell speaking. Mr Peacock, I have just heard that you are singing at Lord Timbuck's tonight. Will you have dinner with me? We can go on together afterwards.'
And the words of his reply dropped like flowers down the telephone.
'Dear lady, I shall be only too charmed.'
What an evening! The little dinner with Aenone Fell, the drive to Lord Timbuck's in her white car, when again she thanked him for the unforgettable pleasure of his singing. And Lord Timbuck's wine!
'Have some more wine, Peacock,' said Lord Timbuck. Lord Timbuck did not call him Mr Peacock, he called him Peacock, as I if he were a friend. And wasn't he a friend? He was an artist. Wasn't he teaching them all to escape from life? How he sang! And how they all listened to him!
'Have another glass of wine, Peacock.'
'They all love me. I could have anyone I liked by lifting a finger,' thought Peacock as he walked home with uncertain steps.
But as he let himself into the dark flat the wonderful feeling of happiness began to disappear. He turned on the light in his |bedroom. His wife was asleep on her side of the bed. He remembered suddenly the conversation they had had earlier.
'I'm going out to dinner,' he had said.
'But why didn't you tell me before?'
'Must you always talk to me like that? Must you always be so rude?' he had told her. He could not believe that she wasn't interested in all his wonderful artistic successes. So many other women would have been so happy .. .Yes, he knew it .. .Why not say it? And there she was, an enemy, even when she was sleeping.
Must it always be the same? he thought, the wine still working. Can't we be friends? If we were friends I could tell her so much now! About this evening: even about the way Lord Timbuck talked to me, and all that they said to me and so on and so on. If only I felt that she were here to come back to — that I could tell her everything — and so on and so on.
He felt so emotional that he pulled off his evening boot and threw it in the corner of the room. The noise woke his wife. She sat up suddenly, pushing back her hair. And he suddenly decided to try one more time to talk to her like a friend, to tell her everything, to win her. He sat down on the side of the bed and took one of her hands. But he could not say any of the wonderful things he wanted to say. To his surprise, the only words he could say were: 'Dear lady, I should be so charmed — so charmed!'
The Doll's House
When old Mrs Hay went back to town after staying with the Burnells, she sent the children a doll's house. The doll's house was so big that two men had to carry it. It stood outside the Burnells' house, on two boxes. The doll's house was safe outside; it was summer. It smelled of paint. Perhaps when winter came, and they had to carry it inside, the smell would be gone. Because, really, the smell was awful.
'It was sweet of old Mrs Hay to give the children a present; most sweet and kind,' said the children's Aunt Beryl when they unpacked the doll's house. 'But the smell of paint is enough to make anyone seriously ill.'
The doll's house was green, dark and oily, and bright yellow. There was a door, yellow and shiny, and there were four windows, real windows.
But what a perfect, perfect little house! Who could possibly be worried about the smell? It was part of the feeling of happiness, part of the newness.
'Open it quickly, someone!'
At first, they could not open it, it was too stiff and new, but at last, the whole house front opened. And there you were, staring straight into the rooms, the living-room, the dining-room, the kitchen and the two bedrooms. That is the way for a house to open! Why don't all houses open like that? It was much more exciting than just looking in through a narrow front door!
'Oh-oh!'The girls' cries sounded almost sad.The doll's house was too wonderful; it was too much for the Burnell children. They had never seen anything like it in their lives. There were pictures on the wall. Red carpet covered all the floors except the kitchen.There were red chairs in the living-room and green chairs in the dining-room, there were tables, and beds with real covers, there was a cooker, and shelves with tiny plates and a jug-But more than anything, Kezia liked the lamp. The lamp stood in the middle of the dining-room table, a little yellow and white lamp.
The father and mother dolls, who sat stiffly in the living-room, and their two little children asleep upstairs, were really too big for the doll's house. They didn't look as if they belonged there. But the lamp was perfect. It seemed to smile at Kezia, to say: 'I live here. 'The lamp was real.
The Burnell children could hardly walk fast enough to school the next morning. They wanted to tell everybody, proudly to describe their doll's house before the school bell rang.
'I'll tell them,' said Isabel,'because I'm the eldest. And you two can join in after. But I'm going to tell first.'
There was nothing to answer. Isabel was always right, and Lottie and Kezia knew this. So they walked along the road to school and said nothing.
'And then I'll choose who's going to come and see it first. Mother said I could bring someone.'
Their mother had told them that they could ask the girls from school to come and look at the doll's house, while it stood outside. The girls could come two at a time. They could not stay for tea, or come into the house, though. But they could stand quietly outside, while Isabel pointed to all the beautiful things in the doll's house, and Lottie and Kezia looked pleased ...
But even though they hurried to school, the bell was ringing as they arrived at the gate. They didn't have time to tell the others about the doll's house, after all. But Isabel looked very important and whispered behind her hand to the girls near her, 'Got something to tell you at playtime.'
Playtime came and the girls surrounded Isabel. The girls in her class nearly fought to put their arms around her, to walk away with her, to be her special friend. Isabel stood under the trees and the little girls pressed up close. And the only two who stayed outside the group were the little Kelveys. But they were always on the outside. They knew better than to come anywhere near the Burnells.
The fact was, the school was not really the kind of school that the Burnells wanted their children to go to. But it was the only school for miles. So all the children in the neighbourhood, rich and poor, went there. But the Kelveys were different from all the rest. Many of the parents, including the Burnells, even told their children that they must not speak to the Kelveys. And so the other girls, led by the Burnells, walked past the Kelveys with their noses in the air. Even the teacher had a special voice for the Kelveys, and a special smile for the other children when Lil Kelvey brought her a bunch of sad-looking flowers.
The Kelveys were the daughters of a hard-working little woman who went from house to house washing people's clothes. This was awful enough. But where was Mr Kelvey? Nobody knew for certain. But everybody said he was in prison.Very nice friends for other people's children! And their appearance! People said that they couldn't understand why Mrs Kelvey dressed her children in such strange clothes. The truth was that the people Mrs Kelvey worked for sometimes gave her old things that they did not need. She used these things to dress her children.
Lil Kelvey, the older girl, for instance, came to school in a skirt made from the Burnells' old green tablecover, and a blouse made from the Logans' old red curtains. Her hat used to belong to Miss Lecky, who worked in the post office. Lil really looked very funny - it was impossible not to laugh at her. And her little sister, Else, wore a long white dress and a pair of little boy's boots. But Else looked strange all the time. She was small and thin, with very short hair, and enormous eyes. Nobody had ever seen her smile, and she rarely spoke. She spent her life holding on to Lil, a piece of Lil's skirt held tight in her hand. Where Lil went, Else followed.
Now, they stood on the edge of the group of girls; you couldn't stop them listening. When the little girls turned round and looked at them coldly, Lil, as usual, gave her silly smile, but Else only looked.
And Isabel's voice, very proud, continued telling. The girls were excited when they heard about the carpet, and the beds with real covers, and the cooker with an oven door.
When she had finished, Kezia said,'You've forgotten the lamp, Isabel.'
'Oh yes,' said Isabel, 'and there's a little lamp, all made of yellow glass, that stands on the dining-room table. It looks just like a real one.'
'The lamp's best of all,' cried Kezia. She thought Isabel wasn't telling the girls enough about the little lamp. But nobody was listening to her, because now Isabel was choosing two girls to come back with them after school and look at the doll's house. She chose Emmie Cole and Lena Logan. But when the others knew that they were all going to have a chance to see the doll's house, they were very, very nice to Isabel. One by one, they put their arms around Isabel's waist and walked away with her. They had something to whisper to her, a secret,'Isabel's my friend.'
Only the little Kelveys moved away, forgotten — there was nothing more for them to hear.
Days passed, and more and more children saw the doll's house. It was all they talked about.
'Have you seen the Burnells' doll's house?'
'Oh, isn't it lovely!'
'Haven't you seen it yet? Oh, dear!'
Even in the lunch hour, they talked about it. The little girls sat under the trees eating their thick meat sandwiches and big pieces of cake. All the time, the Kelveys were sitting as near as they could. They listened too, little Else holding on to Lil, as they ate their jam sandwiches out of a newspaper.
'Mother,' said Kezia, 'can't I ask the Kelveys just once?' 'Certainly not, Kezia.'
'But why not?'
'Run away, Kezia, you know quite well why not.'
At last, everybody had seen the doll's house except the Kelveys. On that day, the little girls were not quite so interested in the subject. It was the lunch hour. The children were standing together under the trees. Suddenly, as they looked at the Kelveys, eating out of their paper, always by themselves, always listening, they wanted to be nasty to them. Emmie Cole started the whisper.
'Lil Kelvey's going to be a servant when she grows up.'
'O-oh, how awful!' said Isabel Burnell, and she looked back at Emmie with very wide eyes.
Emmie swallowed and nodded to Isabel. She had often seen her mother swallow and nod like that at similar times.
'It's true - it's true - it's true,' she said.
Lena Logan looked very interested. 'Shall I ask her?' she whispered.
'You wouldn't,' said Jessie May.
'Pooh, I'm not frightened,' said Lena. Suddenly, she jumped up and danced in front of the other girls. 'Watch! Watch me! Watch me now!' said Lena. And moving slowly along, laughing behind her hand, and looking back at the others, Lena went over to the Kelveys.
Lil looked up from her lunch. She put the rest of her jam sandwich away quickly. Else also stopped eating. What was coming now?
'Is it true you're going to be a servant when you grow up, Lil Kelvey?' Lena cried.
Dead silence. But instead of answering, Lil only gave her silly smile. The question didn't seem to worry her at all. Poor Lena!
Her friends smiled at each other and even began to laugh a little.
Lena got angry. She moved closer to Lil and Else and spoke to them through her teeth. 'Yah, your fathers in prison!' she said, quite clearly.
This was such a wonderful thing to say that the little girls all rushed away, deeply, deeply excited, and wild with happiness. Someone found a long rope and they began skipping. And they had never skipped so high, or run in and out of ropes so fast before.
In the afternoon, the Burnell children went home. There were visitors. Isabel and Lottie liked visitors, so they ran upstairs to change their clothes. But Kezia quietly went out of the back of the house. There was nobody there. She climbed onto the big white gates.
Presently, she saw two small shapes coming along the road towards her. Now she could see that one was in front and one close behind. Now she could see that they were the Kelveys. Kezia jumped down from the gate. She started to run away, but then she changed her mind. She stopped and waited. The Kelveys came nearer, and beside them walked their shadows, very long. Kezia climbed back onto the gate. The Kelveys were coming nearer.
'Hello,' she said as they passed her.
They were so surprised that they stopped walking. Lil gave her silly smile. Else stared.
'You can come and see our doll's house if you want to,' said Kezia.
But Lil's face turned red and she shook her head quickly.
'Why not?' asked Kezia.
Lil opened her mouth. At first, she said nothing, then she said, 'Your mother told our mother that you mustn't speak to us.'
'Oh, well,' said Kezia. She didn't know what to say. 'It doesn't matter. You can come and see our doll's house all the same. Come on. Nobody's looking.'
But Lil shook her head still harder.
'Don't you want to?' asked Kezia.
Suddenly, something pulled at Lil's skirt. She turned round. Else was looking at her with big eyes, she was looking worried, she wanted to go with Kezia. For a moment, Lil looked back at Else. But then Else gave her skirt a little pull again. So Lil started forward. Kezia led the way. They followed her, like two little lost cats, to where the doll's house stood.
'There it is,' said Kezia.
There was a pause. Lil breathed very loudly; Else was still as stone.
'I'll open it for you,' said Kezia kindly. She opened the front of the doll's house and they all looked inside.
'There's the living-room and the dining-room, and that's the...'
It was Aunt Beryl's voice. They turned around. Aunt Beryl stood at the back door, staring as if she could not believe what she saw.
'How dare you invite the little Kelveys to come here!' Aunt Beryl said. Her voice was cold and very angry. 'Kezia, you know very well that you must not talk to them. Run away, children, run away at once. And don't come back again.'And she came out and chased them out as if she were chasing chickens.
'Off you go, immediately!' she called, cold and proud.
She didn't need to tell them more than once. Their faces were burning, red with shame, and they tried to make themselves very small. Lil hurried off, and Else, looking as if she did not quite understand what was happening, followed her.
'You disobedient little girl!' said Aunt Beryl to Kezia. She turned and shut up the doll's house quickly and noisily.
Beryl's afternoon had been awful. She had received a very frightening letter from Willie Brent. He wanted to meet her that evening; he wanted to meet her secretly. If she did not appear, he wrote, he would come to the house and ask for her. He would tell her family all about their secret meetings!
But now, after frightening the little Kelvey girls and shouting angrily at Kezia, she suddenly felt much better. Her heart felt lighter. She went back into the house, singing a little song to herself.
After the Kelveys had gone quite a long way from the Burnells' house, they sat down to rest at the side of the road. Lil's cheeks were still burning! She took off her hat and held it on her knee. Silently, they looked across the fields, past the river, to the group of trees where Logan's cows were standing. What were their thoughts?
Presently, Else moved closer to her sister. By now she had forgotten the angry lady. She put out a finger, touched her sister's hat and smiled her rare smile.