The Art-Music, Literature and Linguistics Forum
September 27, 2023, 06:02:30 am
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

Login with username, password and session length
News: Here you may discover hundreds of little-known composers, hear thousands of long-forgotten compositions, contribute your own rare recordings, and discuss the Arts, Literature and Linguistics in an erudite and decorous atmosphere full of freedom and delight.
  Home Help Search Gallery Staff List Login Register  

Chapter 2

Pages: [1]   Go Down
Author Topic: Chapter 2  (Read 13 times)
Level 8

Times thanked: 53
Offline Offline

Posts: 3047

View Profile
« on: April 04, 2023, 10:48:12 am »

WHEN Annie Marble woke in the early morning she was oppressed with a headache—a real headache, this time. She had had a restless night, although, true to his word, astonishingly enough, her husband had not disturbed her when he came up. At this very moment he was sleeping heavily at her side. She turned in the bed and looked at him in the half light that was straying through the untidy blinds. He lay on his back, his sparse hair standing on end, his eyes closed and his mouth open, his bristling red moustaches reinforced now by a coarse but scanty growth of beard. His hands clutched the sheets, and his breath passed in and out of his mouth with a stertorous sound. To most people he would have been an unpleasing picture, but Annie Marble did not think so. She was used to it in any case, and his present helpless attitude and appearance always roused the mother spirit within her which was almost her sole ordinary characteristic now. She would have liked to have taken him into her arms and hugged him a little, but she would not do so for fear of disturbing him.

Instead, she began to wonder whether he had been successful in his management of his interview with the strange nephew last night. She hoped so. She knew he had been worried about money lately; he had told her so on occasions. And he had cut down the money he was accustomed to give her. That didn’t matter much, as Mr. Evans and the milkman and the others were all so obliging. But he had been bothered about it, she knew. So she hoped the nephew—she was sure she would never learn to call such a splendid young man plain ‘Jim’—had done something for them. He ought to have done, for he had stayed long enough. She had heard them talking long after she had settled herself to sleep. The remembrance brought a new rush of dim recollections to her mind. Will had come upstairs then, just when she was nearly asleep. She remembered wondering what he came for. He had gone into the bathroom; she had heard his keys rattle as he unlocked, she supposed, his photographic cupboard. It was probably to get something he wanted to show Jim. There, she had got it quite natural that time. Jim must be interested in photography too.

For a space her muddled thoughts followed no settled line. Then she came back to last night. If Jim was interested in photography he must have done something for Will—to Annie’s mind everything was done for everybody by somebody else. And she must have been dreaming when she thought she heard that loud cry. She was awake just afterwards, she knew; she must have been dreaming that someone had called out loud, and had awakened still dreaming it. Yes, that must have been it, and she must have gone to sleep again and started dreaming again at once, for she had a hazy, muddled recollection of hearing a strange noise downstairs, as though something was being dragged along the linoleum of the passage downstairs, and one or two sharp taps as though some things were dropping sharply from one step to another on the little dark staircase just outside the kitchen door. What a silly thing to dream!

So Jim must have done something for Will. That was a good thing. She hoped Will would tell her all about it when he had the chance, because generally he did not tell her anything, and she was not much good at guessing. It was a little bit of a pity that Will said so little, for he could talk so nicely when he was in the mood. But, there, you can’t have everything. And Will was such a dear all the time. And just now he looked such a baby, such a nice little baby. She did wish she could take him in her arms just for a moment or two, the way she used to hold John, and Winnie too, when they were little. They weren’t such babies now, and tried to get on without their mother, and she felt a little bit lonely sometimes. When Will wasn’t worried by things she could still love him like that, though. It was a pity that he was worried such a lot nowadays. But now that Jim had done something for him it would be all right perhaps. She would buy some new nightdresses, like those in the windows in Rye Lane, very warm and nice, but looking quite nice, too, with nearly real lace on the edges of the sleeves. Then perhaps—but here the alarum on the table at her side went off, and she had to stop thinking.

The sudden noise brought her husband to a sitting-up position in an instant. He was still grasping the sheets, and his erect hair made him look so like a frightened baby that Mrs. Marble laughed. He glared and blinked at her uncomprehendingly for a while.

‘W—what is it?’ he demanded.

To Mrs. Marble, mentally constituted as she was, no strange mood came amiss, or seemed strange to her.

‘It’s just the clock, dear,’ she said, ‘half-past seven.’

‘The clock?’ said Mr. Marble. ‘I thought—I was dreaming. Just the clock?’

He still muttered to himself as he snuggled down into the bed again, with his face hidden by the pillows. Annie had never known him mutter to himself before, but he was still muttering and mumbling to himself as she began to dress. Then suddenly he stopped muttering, and sat upright again in the bed.

‘By God!’ he said. ‘I wasn’t dreaming.’

He threw off the bedclothes and climbed stiffly out of the bed. He looked like a pathetic little boy in his striped blue and white pyjamas as he hobbled across the room, to where his clothes were piled untidily on a chair. He tumbled some of these on the floor as he seized his coat, and he plunged his hand into the breast-pocket. Annie could not see what he found there, but apparently it confirmed his suspicions. He stared vacantly across the room for several seconds, the coat dangling from his hands.

‘No,’ he repeated, ‘I wasn’t dreaming.’

He hobbled stiffly but feverishly back across the room and thrust his feet into his carpet slippers, and then hurried out of the room. Annie, amazed, heard him enter Winnie’s bedroom next door. Then she heard him pull up the blind there, while Winnie sleepily inquired what was the matter, unanswered. Annie simply did not understand it. It was the first time she could ever remember his getting out of bed before breakfast was ready. But she could not wait to reflect on the matter. She huddled on the rest of her clothes and hastened downstairs to look after breakfast.

There was no end to the surprises of that day. To begin with, Mr. Marble came down in his Sunday clothes of neat blue serge, instead of the dilapidated suit which he usually wore to business, and he only replied to Annie’s innocent and inevitable remark on this strange phenomenon with a scowl. He had not come straight down into the dining-room, as was his wont, either. Instead, he had gone into the tiny and seldom entered sitting-room at the back, and Annie, hastening in duty bound to see what he wanted, found him staring out of the window at the little patch of muddy backyard beyond. It was the same view as he must have seen when he went so surprisingly into Winnie’s bedroom. He could see it at any time when he was home, and he must have seen it several hundred, but for all that he was peering through the window at the muddy bed, flowerless as ever, with an intentness that even Annie noticed. It was extraordinary. It was true that by getting up as soon as she had done he was a quarter of an hour ahead of his usual time, yet even that was no reason for his wasting a good five minutes after his breakfast out in the yard wandering aimlessly up and down as though he was looking for something. Yet even Annie could see that he was relieved not to find anything.

During breakfast there was nothing unusual. Mr. Marble ate little, but that was his way, and he said less, but no one ever said anything at breakfast at 53 Malcolm Road. John was deep in homework he had to prepare for school, and Winnie sewed a button on her glove in the interval of eating porridge. But after breakfast, while Mrs. Marble was in the passage with her husband helping him on with his coat, he pulled from his pocket, loose, as though he had laid them there ready, a small roll of Treasury notes.

‘Here,’ he said, ‘take these, and for God’s sake go and pay Evans off this morning. And we aren’t going to deal with him any more. Get what you want from Richards’ in the future. There’s enough there for Evans’ bill and a bit over.’

Annie took the notes thankfully.

‘Oh, I am so glad, dear,’ she said. ‘So Jim did do something for you after all?’

‘Eh?’ said Mr Marble suddenly, and she shrank back as she caught sight of the expression on his face. ‘What do you mean?’ he said.

‘Nothing, dear, except that. Why—what——?’

But Mr. Marble had snatched open the door and was striding off. He was muttering again.

Truly, Annie had much to think about as she began her daily household duties, and even she felt what a pity it was that she could not think very clearly. There was Will’s stiffness, now. He was so stiff that he could hardly walk that morning, and she had never known that since before they were married and he used to play football. But Will couldn’t have been playing football last night, could he now? It made her anxious. Then upstairs a new surprise awaited her. Will’s other suit, his old everyday one, lay in a tumbled heap on the bedroom floor. She picked it up and put it away. It was sopping wet, and it was thick with mud. That must be why he did not wear it in the morning. How could he have got it so wet and muddy? The idea of football came to her mind again, but of course that was silly. Will did not play football now, and if he did it wouldn’t be late at night and in his ordinary clothes. With a sigh she left the problem alone and went on tidying the room. Then there were Winnie’s and John’s bedrooms to be done, and after that a look round just to see that everything was in order. In the bathroom an old memory recurred to her. Will had come in here last night. Perhaps she could see what he came for? But she could see nothing different from usual as she looked round. The locked, glass-fronted cupboard in which Will kept his chemicals hung on the wall beside her. She peered in, as she had done hundreds of times before. The manifold bottles meant nothing to her; but she liked to look at the labels and wonder what they were all about. Some of the bottles were of a mysterious brown, and some were white. They were all very neatly arranged. Except one, and that was a little out of its place on the shelf. (As it might be if a man had put it back there in the dark.) Annie glanced casually at the label. It conveyed nothing to her at all, but it happened that the queer name stuck in her mind—potassium cyanide. She turned away from the cupboard without further thought.

There was a pleasurable little excursion before her. She felt quite thrilled with imagining it as she put on her hat before her bedroom mirror. It was a long time since she had had a lot of money in her pocket as she had now. Not that it would stay there long, as she had to pay off Evans’ bill, but it made her feel very rich and great to go into Evans’ shop and ask, in quite a matter-of-fact way, for her bill, and then to open her bag and produce a roll of notes and hand over the amount as if she were accustomed to such transactions every minute of her life. That would be nice, and then she would go on to Richards’, and walk in there, and Mr. Richards would be so nice to her because she was a new customer, and she would order what she wanted, and he would say ‘Yes, madam’, and ‘No, madam’, as if her every word was law. She was glad that Jim had done something for Will. Otherwise she would not be having such a happy day. After all, by contrast with the ordinary day of a woman with a house to look after, it would be a happy day.

She was still feeling happy when Mr. Marble returned from the office in the evening, just after the children had had their tea and were settling down to their homework. He looked very tired, poor soul, and he still walked stiffly, but Mrs. Marble had a nice tea ready for him thanks to her visit to Mr. Richards’ shop. There were nice scrambled eggs, good eggs, not the other kind, and three pieces of toast, and there was fresh tea in the pot. Mrs. Marble was disappointed when he looked at the pleasant tea-table with evident distaste. He flung himself down in an armchair with a sigh.

‘Anybody been?’ he demanded.

‘No, dear, no one,’ replied Annie, surprised.


‘Of course I am, dear. Who is there to come? There was no one besides the milkman, and people selling things. It wasn’t Mr. Brown’s day for the insurance.’

‘That’s all right then,’ said Mr. Marble, and he began to unwrap the parcel he had brought in with him. The children looked up with interest, but they were disappointed. It was only a stupid old bottle of whisky. But Mr. Marble looked at it very eagerly.

‘Aren’t you going to have your tea, dear?’ asked Mrs. Marble.

Mr. Marble looked, hesitated, and looked again.

‘Oh, all right, then,’ he said grudgingly.

He sat down before his tray and began to eat while his wife began her delightful duty of looking after him, pouring out his tea, refilling the teapot from the kettle on the fire, and seeing that he was comfortable. But Mr. Marble had hardly begun when he rose from the table and hurried out of the room. Annie, hurt and mystified, heard him in the sitting-room next door—for the second time that day, and yet perhaps the second time for months. Almost mechanically she followed him, to find him peering through the window in the half light out into the backyard, where there was a small rain falling. He started as he heard her behind him.

‘What are you following me about for like this?’ he snapped.

‘Nothing dear. Is there anything you want, dear?’

‘Nothing, dear. Anything you want, dear?’ he gibed. ‘Only a wife with some sense. That’s all.’

He pushed past her without apology, back to the dining-room. She found him there seated at the table, but he had pushed his nice tray away, and was staring gloomily at the whisky bottle, which was perched, like some family god, in the exact centre of the table. He could not take his eyes off it. He did not look up as she came in, nor did he speak. For some minutes there was quiet in the room, broken only by the scratching of Winnie’s pen and the whispering of the two children to themselves as they toiled over their homework. Annie ought to have taken away the tray and started the washing up. That was her next duty, but for some reason she did not do it. Mr. Marble’s gaze shifted from the whisky bottle, and fixed itself on the tablecloth. Clearly he was following some new train of thought. Suddenly he moved uneasily in his chair, and then he looked up.

‘Has Mrs. What’s-her-name been here to-day?’ he asked his wife. ‘Oh, you know who I mean—the washerwoman person.’

‘No, dear, of course not. She comes on every other Monday. She won’t be coming until Monday week.’

‘Well, she’s not to come at all. You must do the washing yourself if you can’t afford to send it out.’

‘Of course we can’t afford to send it out, dear. Laundries are dreadfully expensive now.’

‘Then you must do it yourself.’

‘But I don’t want to. Why must I, Will? It’s dreadfully hard work.’

‘Hard work never killed anyone yet. I’m not going to have strange women in my house and hanging up clothes in my garden any more. That’s why.’


‘That’s enough, now. Do what I say and don’t argue.’ And Mr. Marble turned his gloomy gaze once more to the whisky bottle.

Poor Annie was almost crying. It had been such a nice day up to now, and now everything was going wrong. To cover her whimpering sniffs she took up the tray and went with it down the stairs into the kitchen.

Mr. Marble eyed the whisky bottle. He felt he needed some, despite the fact that he had already had three or four—or was it five or six?—whiskies that day. He was very tired, very, very tired, and his head ached. Just as it ached this time yesterday. No, he didn’t want to think about yesterday. How his arms ached with that digging! He ought to have caught cold, too, seeing how it had been raining, but he hadn’t. Pure Scotch Whisky. Very plain on the bottle, but it was good stuff inside. God, but it was! An indescribably passionate longing to drink came over him, and he scraped his chair back from the table and fetched the corkscrew from the sideboard drawer. He drew the cork rapidly and dexterously. Not a scrap fell into the bottle. Then he found himself a tumbler and stood it beside the bottle. There was no soda-water left after last night, but he didn’t want soda-water. He didn’t want anything besides the relief that he knew a few sips of that yellow liquid would bring him. He fingered the bottle lovingly, still standing by the table. Suddenly he became aware of his children’s gaze upon him. Glad of the distraction from the drudgery of homework, they had been sitting silently watching his every movement. With a gust of fury Marble realized that it was impossible for him to drink with those solemn eyes upon him. He put the bottle down again upon the table with a thump.

‘Confound you kids!’ he said furiously. ‘Why on earth aren’t you in bed?’

Neither child spoke. The doom was close upon them again, they knew, and this time it was more than could be hoped for for another new arrival to postpone it, as had happened so miraculously yesterday. But if they kept quiet and pretended to be closely occupied with their work it might be all aright. They buried their noses in their books. Marble could only see the tops of their heads, moving a little as they pored over their writing.

‘Bah!’ he said. ‘Don’t act about like that. Shut up those books and go to bed. At once, now.’

Under more favourable circumstances they would have protested that it was not nearly bedtime yet. They should have pointed out that it was only a little after seven o’clock, and they were entitled to another hour at least. But they knew, in the intuitive manner of children, that this time the less they said the better for them. They began silently to pack up their books.

‘Go to bed! Go to bed!’ raved Mr. Marble.

‘Don’t look at me like that, sir,’ thundered Mr. Marble. He had suddenly become half hysterical with rage. He pounded on the table with the whisky bottle, crazy with thwarted eagerness. John turned his scowling face in another direction, but the expression on his face was unchanged, and served to drive his father more frantic than ever, if that were possible. He reached out and struck the boy a heavy blow with his open hand, making him stagger.

They went, without a word, but the scowl on John’s face had somehow something triumphant about it now. If he was going to be sent to bed in arbitrary fashion, he would at least see that his father lost his temper during the process. John always felt he disliked his father during these queer moods of his—and the moods were becoming more and more frequent too.

The children went, and Mr. Marble sighed with relief. He dragged his armchair up to the fire, and put the small table beside it for his glass. He would wait and be quite methodical now that a drink was an immediate certainty. He poured himself out a moderate drink and tossed it off. He felt better at once, more peaceful, more safe. He refilled his glass, and set it beside him. Then he sat down comfortably by the fire and gazed at the leaping flames. This was just what he wanted to do yesterday, before that wretched boy turned up and spoilt his evening. But it was even better than yesterday, because then he had only three drinks in the decanter. Now he had a whole bottle full, which would last him for this evening at least, without any thought of stinting. It was fine not having to stint. He wouldn’t have to stint in any direction at all for another two weeks at least, thank goodness, or for a lot more than that, if only he were to change those five-pound notes. And after all, why shouldn’t he? Of course the one-pound notes were as safe as anything, but the fivers ought to be just as safe too. They wouldn’t give anything away, even if they were traced from Medland to himself. And if he took care and only cashed them at places where he wasn’t known they wouldn’t be traced at all. Anyway what did it all matter? It was silly to think that he was going to all the trouble he went to last night just to pay off a miserable thirty pounds of debts. Better to be hung for a sheep than for a lamb. Stop! Why was he thinking about hanging?

Mrs. Marble, re-entering from the kitchen, saw her husband reach out greedily for the glass on the table at his side, and swallow its contents in violent gulps. Then she knew that dear Will would be unapproachable for the rest of the evening, and she would not be able to have that pleasant chat with him about what Jim had done for them that she had been looking forward to all day. Mrs. Marble was rather disappointed.
Report Spam   Logged

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Pages: [1]   Go Up
Jump to:  

Powered by EzPortal
Bookmark this site! | Upgrade This Forum
SMF For Free - Create your own Forum

Powered by SMF | SMF © 2016, Simple Machines
Privacy Policy