[To ALICE LONGWORTH]
There is a special quality about a
December sunset. The ruffles of red gold gradually
untightening, the congested mauve islands on a transparent
sea of green, the ultimate luminous primrose dissolving
into violet powder and then the cold biting night
lit up by strange patches of colour that have somehow
been forgotten in the sky.
Eve was walking home, her quick, defiant
movements challenging the evening, her head bent slightly
forward, her chin almost touching her muff, while
her eyes shone and her cheeks glowed and her lithe
figure seemed almost to be cutting through the icy
“This is happiness,” she
thought exultantly, “this bitter winter stimulus I
feel so light as if my heart and mind were
empty only my body is quivering with life the
pure life of physical fitness. Why think, or
feel, or look forward?” She doubled her pace
until her feet seemed to be skimming the road.
“I feel like a duck and drake,” she laughed
to herself. “Nothing matters, nothing, while
there is still frost in the world.”
And then she saw a little motor waiting
on the other side of the road. She stopped dead
and her heart stopped with her.
“There is no reason why it should
be his. Hundreds of people have motors like that.”
Resolutely she took a step forward.
“I can’t see from here, and I won’t
go and look,” she added as she crossed over.
And then, shutting her eyes:
“Jerry,” she said to herself, trying to
kill his ghost with his name.
The evening air had become damp and
penetrating. It made her throat feel sore and
she choked a little as she breathed it.
Gingerly she approached the motor
to make sure. What an absurd phrase! Why,
a leap of her heart would have announced its presence,
even had her eyes been shut.
She knew its every detail, the sound
the gears made changing, the feel of the seat, the
way the hood went up. And, above all, the little
clock, ticking its warning by day, regular and relentless,
while at night its bright prying eyes reminded her
of all the things she wanted to forget. “It
is my conscience,” she would say, “and
fate and mortality. It symbolises all the limitations
of life. It is the frontier to happiness, the
defeat of peace.”
“Go on,” he had said,
“and you will end by forgetting it.”
It was what he had called her habit
of talking things “away.”
How often she had slipped into his
motor after him, sliding along the shiny leather,
nestling happily against him, explaining that there
was no draught, that the rain was not coming in, that
her feet were as warm as toast. How often he
had steered slowly with one hand, while her fingers
crept into the palm of the other. And then he
had turned off the engine and they had sat there together
silent and alone, cut off from the world. How
she had loved his motor! Surreptitiously she would
caress it with her hand, stroking the cool shiny leather,
and seeing him looking at her, she would say, “I
think my purse must have fallen behind the seat.”
It had become to her a child and a mother, a refuge
and an adventure, an island cut off from all the wretched
necessities of existence, associated only with her
and with him. It was a much better kingdom than
a room; for a room is full of paraphernalia and impedimenta,
with books and photographs, and the envelopes of letters
to remind you of people and things that you want to
forget. After all she could not sweep her house
clear of her life, empty it of the necessary and the
superfluous of her ties and her duties and her responsibilities.
But his motor his little
gasping uncomfortable motor that was really
and truly hers, because it was his. Here was her
throne and his altar.
No wonder she sometimes stroked it
a little, when it was too dark for him to ask her
what she was doing.
And now, now some one else crept in
after him, slid towards him on the shiny leather,
murmured that her feet were as warm as toast, that
there was no draught, and of course the rain didn’t
Or did she say, “Do you think
there is something the matter with your motor to-day?
It seems a little asthmatic?”
Eve looked at the house. She
could see brightness shining behind the curtains.
She could imagine a glowing fire and a faint smell
of warm roses. Who was the woman? What were
they doing? Sitting on either side of the fireplace
drowsily intimate, smiling a little perhaps and hardly
talking, conscious only of the cold outside and the
warm room and one another....
Eve shivered. Almost unconsciously
she fingered the mud guard. “A room is
a horrible unprivate thing,” she said. “People
walk in and out of it, any one, and there are books
and photographs and letters. It is a market place,
not a sanctuary, whereas you....”
She looked at the little motor. It was too dark
to see anything, but every line of it was branded
on her heart.
“No one will ever love you as
I did,” she said to it and slowly, wearily,
dragging one foot after another, she walked away into
the cold raw night.
“Nothing in the world like winter
air to make you feel fit,” Bob said to himself
as he swung himself along the road at a tremendous
“Jove, what a sunset!”
he added, looking up at the red gold ruffles slowly
untightening. He reflected that there is nothing
in the world like health. Live cleanly and the
high thinking will look after itself or
at least won’t matter. Physical condition,
there’s nothing like it. Love and that
sort of thing all very well in its way, but a cold
bath in the morning and plenty of exercise....
He began to whistle, and then because he
did feel most frightfully well to run.
“Run a mile without being out
of breath,” he thought complacently, and then because
he hadn’t meant to ("wasn’t
even thinking of her,” he grumbled to Providence) he
found himself outside her door. And in the road
there was a motor, a little coral coloured motor.
He looked at it in dismay and then he looked at the
house. He saw it was lit up and he imagined the
room he knew so well. The crimson damask curtains
and the creamy walls, the glowing fire and the red
roses, the roses he had sent for her. Probably
she would be sitting on that white fur rug on the
floor, her arms clasped round her knees, her red hair
as bright as the red hot coals, her dark eyes dreamy
and half closed.
“Damn him, I wonder who he is,”
and he started examining the motor.
“It’s not very new,”
he thought, “the varnish is all off and those
shiny leather seats are damned cold and slippery,
draughty too, I should say; hood doesn’t close
properly. Must let in the rain like a leaking
He put his hand on the mud guard.
“Bent,” he said. He felt a little
cheered. But then, looking at the glowing house,
he grew disconsolate again.
“Wonder what they’re doing,”
he grumbled to himself. “Jabbering away,
I’ll be bound. Never was much of a hand
at talking myself. Wonder who the deuce he is.”
And then he looked contemptuously at the little motor.
“Damned if I couldn’t
do her better than that,” he said. “God,
how cold it is.”
Irresolutely he moved away. Then
he began to run, but the raw air caught his throat
and he felt out of breath.
“Not as young as I was,”
he thought as he walked away into the damp night.