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Chapter Thirty-Six

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« on: July 17, 2023, 05:57:53 am »

SHE made no resistance. The numbness closed down on her again. There was no one to whom she could cry for help. She could not struggle with Grimsby and Mr. Brown and have them put their hands on her. She stood without sound or movement whilst Mrs. Grimsby took her fur coat and Annie stripped her of her warm brown suit.

Annie fell back with the dress in her hand and laughed maliciously.

“You look nice like that---don’t you? Fancy yourself, I shouldn’t wonder---pink crępe-de-chine, and a good eight-and-eleven a yard! Nice and warm it’ll keep you out there too!” She leaned back against the table and shook. But there was no mirth in her eyes. They were hard and envious. “What about shoes and stockings?” she said, breaking off suddenly from her laughing.

Mr. Brown said, “Leave them---she mustn’t cut her feet. Some of that ice has an edge on it like a razor blade. Now, Miss Marlowe, out you go!”

Annie laughed again.

“And she can keep her hat, just to trim her up a bit! Dinky, isn’t it? All the very latest style, moddam, and suits moddam a treat! I don’t suppose it ever came into your head when you bought it that you’d be wearing it with nothing but your step-ins to a January picnic in the snow.”

“That’ll do,” said Mr. Brown. His hand fell on Sarah’s bare shoulder. “This way, Miss Marlowe. And if you waste your time and get my temper up doing anything silly like trying to climb the wall and barking yourself, I’ll send Grimsby out to keep you quiet---and you won’t like that, you know---you won’t like it at all.”

He marched her down the passage, opened the door, and put her out on the step, all in a businesslike manner and without violence. But the violence was there. It would be used against her if she roused it. The hand lifted from her shoulder. The door was banged and locked. She heard the key grate, and the sound of Mr. Brown’s footsteps going away. Going back to the kitchen.

At first she felt nothing but relief. To be alone and to be in the dark---this was what she had wanted. She moved to get farther from the house, and came within an ace of falling. The ground in front of the door was masked with ice. The overhang of the roof had kept the snow from covering it. She remembered that the rest of the yard was under snow and felt her way forward until her feet were firm upon it. Moving like that she came out into the wind. There was no force in it, only a light, deadly breath of utter cold. And she had no protection against it.

She found herself with the idea of taking shelter in the angle between the wall and the house. The wind came from that quarter. She turned and began to make her way along the side of the house. There were two windows letting out a very faint glow, and a streak or two of light where the curtains did not fit. They would be the windows of the kitchen. She had not noticed what the curtains were like at the time, but it came back to her now that they were of some red figured stuff. The light that came through them was red. It looked warm. She remembered piercingly how warm it had been in the kitchen. The light, deadly breath of the wind passed over her and left her shuddering.

Half consciously, she must have lingered near the lighted window. When she remembered to move on again there was a sense of time gone by. Time lost---the last time. . . . Time shall be no longer---that was in the Bible. She didn’t know what it meant. No, she knew quite well. It meant that there was no more time for her. A time for sowing and a time for reaping, a time to laugh and a time to weep---that was in the Bible too. No more sowing or reaping for Sarah Marlowe. No more laughing or weeping. No more anything at all.

She stood there in the snow and felt her will to reach the end of the house weaken. What was the good of struggling? It wasn’t any good. All the same she took a step forward, and another step, and another. The glowing windows were left behind. The snow was under her feet, dimly white. The house on her right was like a cliff, black and silent.

And then suddenly the silence broke. A small, familiar sound came through it---the sound of a window-sash being raised. It slid easily---a dark window opening in the dark wall. She stood still and turned towards the sound, but she could not see anything. Then there was the spirt of a match, bright against the blackness.

Sarah stood there, looking. She saw the little bright flame and part of a woman’s hand---a heavy hand with thick, work-roughened fingers. The hand moved the match downwards until it met the wick of a candle. The wick flared up.

Mrs. Grimsby was standing there, close up to the window. The candle was on the sill in a flat blue china candlestick. It showed Mrs. Grimsby’s heavy looming face and figure. She leaned on the sill and looked out. As soon as she saw Sarah she reached behind her and put down one of the blue willow-pattern cups beside the candlestick. Then she said in a flat, whispering voice, “Here’s your tea.”

It was like a miracle, the black house opening to help her. The sill was quite low---four feet from the ground at the most. Sarah came and leaned on it, and drank the tea. It was so scalding hot that she hardly knew how to swallow it. She had to take it in small sips. Between the sips she could hear Mrs. Grimsby talking with a soft country accent.

“It’s nobody’s business if I bring my cup of tea through into my room. Many’s the time I’ve done it just to get away from them---they won’t think nothing of that. But I can’t let you in. Cruel hard---and they’d do it some other way---you can’t get from it.”

The words flowed vaguely past. Sarah hardly noticed what they were. Mrs. Grimsby was kind. The tea was hot. She drank it sip by scalding sip. The two things thawed her a little---the kindness and the hot tea. Odd to put them together like that, but there it was. Even if your heart was broken and you were going to die, there was help in things like this.

She drank the last drop of the tea and set the cup back on the window-sill beside the guttering candle. She said, “Thank you very much.”

The candle-light shone on her face. “Looks like a child,” said Mrs. Grimsby to herself. “Got that look in her eyes same as puppies and kittens and all that lot of young things. No sense in them---just looking at you---not even sense enough to be afraid. Oh my dear soul---what can I do?”

She picked up the cup and put it down somewhere inside the room. When she turned back Sarah had not moved. She stood there looking past the candle-flame with those wide, dark eyes.

Mrs. Grimsby leaned out to her.

“See here, I’ll give you something to put round you against the cold. You keep close by the wall out of the wind, and so soon as they’re all asleep I’ll come round outside and pull back the bolts for you. There’s no more I can do than that, and they’d kill me if they knew.”

The blank eyes changed. Something came into them. They focussed on Mrs. Grimsby’s face.

“Will you really?”

Mrs. Grimsby nodded.

“I’ll pull back the bolts. Can you get to Hedgeley, do you think? It’s all of seven miles.”

“I can try.”

Mrs. Grimsby nodded again.

“I’ll get you something,” she said, and went back from the window.

Sarah watched her.

She pulled out a drawer, groped in it, and came back with an immense hand-knitted vest. It was old, and had been washed so often that the wool had matted. When Sarah put it on it came right down to her knees.

Mrs. Grimsby opened another drawer. This time she came back with a pair of thick grey flannel bloomers and a large safety-pin.

“You’ll need to take them up round the waist,” she said---“I’m stout. It’s a pity about your own clothes, but they took them up to your room and I dursn’t go for them. That Annie have got eyes all round her head. Grimsby’s niece, she is, and no more feeling than a ferret. I’ll give you a scarf and my coat. That’s the best I can do.”

The scarf was thick, the coat a cheap cloth one but so voluminous that it wrapped twice over in front and kept out the wind. It came down to her ankles. She said in what was almost her natural voice, “I can’t thank you properly. You’re saving my life---you know that.”

Mrs. Grimsby nodded.

“Get you along into the corner and set down. Here---as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. I’ll give you a blanket, but you must give it back when I let you out.”

Sarah took the blanket and watched the sash come down. Through the glass she saw Mrs. Grimsby pick up the candle, take it over to the chest of drawers, and come back to pull the curtains. The rattle of the rings came to her. The room was shut in, and she was shut out.

She went along the side of the house as far as the corner and huddled down there with the blanket pulled round her.

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