Read CHAPTER III - ANGELINA of The Golden Scarecrow, free online book, by Hugh Walpole, on ReadCentral.com.

I

Angelina Braid, on the morning of her third birthday, woke very early.  It would be too much to say that she knew it was her birthday, but she awoke, excited.  She looked at the glimmering room, heard the sparrows beyond her windows, heard the snoring of her nurse in the large bed opposite her own, and lay very still, with her heart thumping like anything.  She made no noise, however, because it was not her way to make a noise.  Angelina Braid was the quietest little girl in all the Square.  “You’d never meet one nigher a mouse in a week of Sundays,” said her nurse, who was a “gay one” and liked life.

It was not, however, entirely Angelina’s fault that she took life quietly; in 21 March Square, it was exceedingly difficult to do anything else.  Angelina’s parents were in India, and she was not conscious, very acutely, of their existence.  Every morning and evening she prayed, “God bless mother and father in India,” but then she was not very acutely conscious of God either, and so her mind was apt to wander during her prayers.

She lived with her two aunts Miss Emmy Braid and Miss Violet Braid in the smallest house in the Square.  So slim was N, and so ruthlessly squeezed between the opulent N and the stout ruddy-faced N, that it made one quite breathless to look at it; it was exactly as though an old maid, driven by suffragette wildness, had been arrested by two of the finest possible policemen, and carried off into custody.  Very little of any kind of wildness was there about the Misses Braid.  They were slim, neat women, whose rather yellow faces had the flat, squashed look of lawn grass after a garden roller has passed over it.  They believed in God according to the Reverend Stephen Hunt, of St. Matthew-in-the-Crescent the church round the corner but in no other kind of God whatever.  They were not rich, and they were not poor; they went once a week Fridays to visit the poor of St. Matthew’s, and found the poor of St. Matthew’s on the whole unappreciative of their efforts, but that made their task the nobler.  Their house was dark and musty, and filled with little articles left them by their grand-parents, their parents, and other defunct relations.  They had no friendly feeling towards one another, but missed one another when they were separated.  They were, both of them, as strong as horses, but very hypochondriacal, and Dr. Armstrong of Mulberry Place made a very pleasant little income out of them.

I have mentioned them at length, because they had a great deal to do with Angelina’s quiet behaviour.  N was not a house that welcomed a child’s ringing laughter.  But, in any case, the Misses Braid were not fond of children, but only took Angelina because they had a soft spot in their dry hearts for their brother Jim, and in any case it would have been difficult to say no.

Their attitude to children was that they could not understand why they did not instantly see things as they, their elders, saw them; but then, on the other hand, if an especially bright child did take a grown-up point of view about anything that was considered “forward” and “conceited,” so that it was really very difficult for Angelina.

“It’s a pity Jim’s got such a dull child,” Miss Violet would say.  “You never would have expected it.”

“What I like about a child,” said Miss Emmy, “is a little cheerfulness and natural spirit not all this moping.”

Angelina was not, on the whole, popular....  The aunts had very little idea of making a house cheerful for a child.  The room allotted to Angelina as a nursery was at the top of the house, and had once been a servant’s bedroom.  It possessed two rather grimy windows, a faded brown wallpaper, an old green carpet, and some very stiff, hard chairs.  On one wall was a large map of the world, and on the other an old print of Romans sacking Jerusalem, a picture which frightened Angelina every night of her life, when the dark came and the lamp illuminated the writhing limbs, the falling bodies, the tottering walls.  From the windows the Square was visible, and at the windows Angelina spent a great deal of her time, but her present nurse nurses succeeded one another with startling frequency objected to what she called “window-gazing.”  “Makes a child dreamy,” she said; “lowers her spirits.”

Angelina was, naturally, a dreamy child, and no amount of nurses could prevent her being one.  She was dreamy because her loneliness forced her to be so, and if her dreams were the most real part of her day to her that was surely the faults of her aunts.  But she was not at all a quick child; although to-day was her third birthday she could not talk very well, could not pronounce her r’s, and lisped in what her trail of nurses told her was a ridiculous fashion for so big a girl.  But, then, she was not really a big girl; her figure was short and stumpy, her features plain and pale with the pallor of her first Indian year.  Her eyes were large and black and rather fine.

On this morning she lay in bed, and knew that she was excited because her friend had come the night before and told her that to-day would be an important day.  Angelina clung, with a desperate tenacity, to her memories of everything that happened to her before her arrival on this unpleasant planet.  Those memories now were growing faint, and they came to her only in flashes, in sudden twists and turns of the scene, as though she were surrounded by curtains and, every now and then, was allowed a peep through.  Her friend had been with her continually at first, and, whilst he had been there, the old life had been real and visible enough; but on her second birthday he had told her that it was right now that she should manage by herself.  Since then, he had come when she least expected him; sometimes when she had needed him very badly he had not appeared....  She never knew.  At any rate, he had said that to-day would be important....  She lay in bed, listening to her nurse’s snores, and waited.

II

At breakfast she knew that it was her birthday.  There were presents from her aunts a picture-book and a box of pencils there was also a mysterious parcel.  Angelina could not remember that she had ever had a parcel before, and the excitement of this one must be prolonged.  She would not open it, but gazed at it, with her spoon in the air and her mouth wide open.

“Come, Miss Angelina what a name to give the poor lamb! get on with your breakfast now, or you’ll never have done.  Why not open the pretty parcel?”

“No.  Do you think it is a twain?”

“Say train not twain.”

“Train.”

“No, of course not; not a thing that shape.”

“Oh!  Do you think it’s a bear?”

“Maybe maybe.  Come now, get on with your bread and butter.”

“Don’t want any more.”

“Get down from your chair, then.  Say your grace now.”

“Thank God nice bweakfast, Amen.”

“That’s right!  Now open it, then.”

“No, not now.”

“Drat the child!  Well, wipe your face, then.”

Angelina carried her parcel to the window, and then, after gazing at it for a long time, at last opened it.  Her eyes grew wider and wider, her chubby fingers trembled.  Nurse undid the wrappings of paper, slowly folded up the sheets, then produced, all naked and unashamed, a large rag doll.

“There!  There’s a pretty thing for you, Miss ’Lina.”

She had her hand about the doll’s head, and held her there, suspended.

“Give her me!  Give her me!” Angelina rescued her, and, with eyes flaming, the doll laid lengthways in her arms, tottered off to the other corner of the room.

“Well, there’s gratitude,” said the nurse, “and never asking so much as who it’s from.”

But nurse, aunts, all the troubles and disappointments of this world had vanished from Angelina’s heart and soul.  She had seen, at that first glimpse that her nurse had so rudely given her, that here at last, after long, long waiting, was the blessing that she had so desired.  She had had other dolls quite a number of them.  Even now Lizzie (without an eye) and Rachel (rather fine in bridesmaid’s attire) were leaning their disconsolate backs against the boarding beneath the window seat.  There had been, besides Rachel and Lizzie, two Annies, a Mary, a May, a Blackamoor, a Jap, a Sailor, and a Baby in a Bath.  They were now as though they had never been; Angelina knew with absolute certainty of soul, with that blending of will and desire, passion, self-sacrifice and absence of humour that must inevitably accompany true love that here was her Fate.

“It’s been sent you by your kind Uncle Teny,” said nurse.  “You’ll have to write a nice letter and thank him.”

But Angelina knew better.  She a name had not yet been chosen had been sent to her by her friend....  He had promised her last night that this should be a day of days.

Her aunts, appearing to receive thanks where thanks were due, darkened the doorway.

“Good-morning, mum.  Good-morning, mum.  Now, Miss ’Lina, thank your kind aunties for their beautiful presents.”

She stood up, clutching the doll.

“T’ank you, Auntie Vi’let; t’ank you, Auntie Em’ly your lovely pwesents.”

“That’s right, Angelina.  I hope you’ll use them sensibly.  What’s that she’s holding, nurse?”

“It’s a doll Mr. Edward’s sent her, mum.”

“What a hideous creature!  Edward might have chosen something Time for her to go out, nurse, I think now, while the sun’s warm.”

But she did not hear.  She did not know that they had gone.  She sat there in a dreamy ecstasy rocking the red-cheeked creature in her arms, seeing, with her black eyes, visions and the beauty of a thousand worlds.

III

The name Rose was given to her.  Rose had been kept, as a name, until some one worthy should arrive....  “Wosie Bwaid,” a very good name.  Her nakedness was clothed first in Rachel’s bridesmaid’s attire alas! poor Rachel! but the lace and finery did not suit those flaming red cheeks and beady black eyes.  Rose was, there could be no question, a daughter of the soil; good red blood ran through her stout veins.  Tess of the countryside, your laughing, chaffing, arms-akimbo dairymaid; no poor white product of the over-civilised cities.  Angelina felt that the satin and lace were wrong; she tore them off, searched in the heaped-up cupboard for poor neglected Annie N, found her, tore from her her red woollen skirt and white blouse, stretched them about Rose’s portly body.

“T’ank God for nice Wose, Amen,” she said, but she meant, not God, but her friend.  He, her friend, had never sent her anything before, and now that Rose had come straight from him, she must have a great deal to tell her about him.  Nothing puzzled her more than the distressing fact that she wondered sometimes whether her friend was ever really coming again, whether any of the wonderful things that were happening on every side of her wouldn’t suddenly one fine morning vanish altogether, and leave her to a dreary world of nurse, bread and milk, and the Romans sacking Jerusalem.  She didn’t, of course, put it like that; all that it meant to her was that stupid people and tiresome things were always interfering between herself and real fun.  Now it was time to go out, now to go to bed, now to eat, now to be taken downstairs into that horrid room where she couldn’t move because things would tumble off the tables so ... all this prevented her own life when she would sit and try, and try, and remember what it was all like once, and wonder why when once things had been so beautiful they were so ugly and disappointing now.

Now Rose had come, and she could talk to Rose about it.  “What she sees in that ugly old doll!” said the nurse to the housemaid.  “You can take my word, Mary, she’ll sit in that window looking down at the gardens, nursing that rag and just say nothing.  It fair gives you the creeps ... left too much to herself, the poor child is.  As for those old women downstairs, if I ’ad my way but there!  Living’s living, and bread and butter’s bread and butter!”

But, of course, Angelina’s heart was bursting with affection, and there had been, until Rose’s arrival, no one upon whom she might bestow it.  Rose might seem to the ordinary observer somewhat unresponsive.  She sat there, whether it were tea-time, dressing-time, bed-time, always staring in front of her, her mouth closed, her arms, bow-shaped, standing stiffly away from her side, taking, it might seem, but little interest in her mistress’s confidences.  Did one give her tea she only dribbled at the lip; did one place upon her head a straw hat with red ribbon torn from poor May once a reigning favourite she made no effort to keep it upon her head.  Jewels and gold could rouse no appreciation from her; she was sunk in a lethargy that her rose-red cheeks most shamefully belied.

But Angelina had the key to her.  Angelina understood that confiding silence, appreciated that tactful discretion, adored that complete submission to her will.  It was true that her friend had only come once to her now within the space of many, many weeks, but he had sent her Rose.  “He’s coming soon, Wose weally soon to tell us stowies.  Bu-ootiful ones.”

She sat, gazing down into the Square, and her dreams were longer and longer and longer.

IV

Miss Emily Braid was a softer creature than her sister, and she had, somewhere in her heart, some sort of affection for her niece.  She made, now and then, little buccaneering raids upon the nursery, with the intention of arriving at some intimate terms with that strange animal.  But she had no gift of ease with children; her attempts at friendliness were viewed by Angelina with the gravest suspicion and won no return.  This annoyed Miss Emily, and because she was conscious that she herself was in reality to blame, she attacked Angelina all the more fiercely.  “This brooding must be stopped,” she said.  “Really, it’s most unhealthy.”

It was quite impossible for her to believe that a child of three could really be interested by golden sunsets, the colours of the fountain that was in the centre of the gardens, the soft, grey haze that clothed the houses on a spring evening; and when, therefore, she saw Angelina gazing at these things, she decided that the child was morbid.  Any interest, however, that Angelina may have taken in her aunts before Rose’s arrival was now reduced to less than nothing at all.

“That doll that Edward gave the child,” said Miss Emily to her sister, “is having a very bad effect on her.  Makes her more moody than ever.”

“Such a hideous thing!” said Miss Violet.  “Well, I shall take it away if I see much more of this nonsense.”

It was lucky for Rose meanwhile that she was of a healthy constitution.  The meals, the dressing and undressing, the perpetual demands upon her undivided attention, the sudden rousings from her sleep, the swift rockings back into slumber again, the appeals for response, the abuses for indifference, these things would have slain within a week one of her more feeble sisters.  But Rose was made of stern stuff, and her rosy cheeks were as rosy, the brightness of her eyes was undimmed.  We may believe and surely many harder demands are made upon our faith that there did arise a very special relationship between these two.  The whole of Angelina’s heart was now devoted to Rose’s service, Rose’s was not devoted to Angelina?...  And always Angelina wondered when her friend would return, watched for him in the dusk, awoke in the early mornings and listened for him, searched the Square with its trees and its fountain for his presence.

“Wosie, when did he say he’d come next?” But Rose could not tell.  There were times when Rose’s impenetrability was, to put it at its mildest, aggravating.

Meanwhile, the situation with Aunt Emily grew serious.  Angelina was aware that Aunt Emily disliked Rose, and her mouth now shut very tightly and her eyes glared defiance when she thought of this, but her difference with her aunt went more deeply than this.  She had known for a long, long time that both her aunts would stop her “dreaming” if they could.  Did she tell them about her friend, about the kind of pictures of which the fountain reminded her, about the vivid, lively memories that the tree with the pink flowers the almond tree in the corner of the gardens you could just see it from the nursery window called to her mind; she knew that she would be punished put in the corner, or even sent to bed.  She did not think these things out consecutively in her mind, but she knew that the dark room downstairs, the dark passages, the stillness and silence of it all frightened her, and that it was always out of these things that her aunts rose.

At night when she lay in bed with Rosie clasped tightly to her, she whispered endlessly about the gardens, the fountain, the barrel organs, the dogs, the other children in the Square she had names of her own for all these things and him, who belonged, of course, to the world outside....  Then her whisper would sink, and she would warn Rose about the rooms downstairs, the dining-room with the black chairs, the soft carpet, and the stuffed birds in glass cases for these things, too, she had names.  Here was the hand of death and destruction, the land of crooked stairs, sudden dark doors, mysterious bells and drippings of water out of all this her aunts came....

Unfortunately it was just at this moment that Miss Emily Braid decided that it was time to take her niece in hand.  “The child’s three, Violet, and very backward for her age.  Why, Mrs. Mancaster’s little girl, who’s just Angelina’s age, can talk fluently, and is beginning with her letters.  We don’t want Jim to be disappointed in the child when he comes home next year.”  It would be difficult to determine how much of this was true; Miss Emily was aggravated and, although she would never have confessed to so trivial a matter, the perpetual worship of Rose “the ugliest thing you ever saw” was irritating her.  The days followed, then, when Angelina was constantly in her aunt’s company, and to neither of them was this companionship pleasant.

“You must ask me questions, child.  How are you ever going to learn to talk properly if you don’t ask me questions?”

“Yes, auntie.”

“What’s that over there?”

“Twee.”

“Say tree, not twee.”

“Tree.”

“Now look at me.  Put that wretched doll down....  Now....  That’s right.  Now tell me what you’ve been doing this morning.”

“We had bweakfast nurse said I (long pause for breath) was dood girl; Auntie Vi’let came; I dwew with my pencil.”

“Say ‘drew,’ not ‘dwew.’”

“Drew.”

All this was very exhausting to Aunt Emily.  She was no nearer the child’s heart....  Angelina maintained an impenetrable reserve.  Old maids have much time amongst the unsatisfied and sterile monotonies of their life this is only true of some old maids; there are very delightful ones to devote to fancies and microscopic imitations.  It was astonishing now how largely in Miss Emily Braid’s life loomed the figure of Rose, the rag doll.

“If it weren’t for that wretched doll, I believe one could get some sense out of the child.”

“I think it’s a mistake, nurse, to let Miss Angelina play with that doll so much.”

“Well, mum, it’d be difficult to take it from her now.  She’s that wrapped in it.” ...  And so she was....  Rose stood to Angelina for so much more than Rose.

“Oh, Wosie, when will he come again....  P’r’aps never.  And I’m forgetting.  I can’t remember at all about the funny water and the twee with the flowers, and all of it.  Wosie, you ’member Whisper.”  And Rose offered in her own mysterious, taciturn way the desired comfort.

And then, of course, the crisis arrived.  I am sorry about this part of the story.  Of all the invasions of Aunt Emily, perhaps none were more strongly resented by Angelina than the appropriation of the afternoon hour in the gardens.  Nurse had been an admirable escort because, as a lady of voracious appetite for life with, at the moment, but slender opportunities for satisfying it, she was occupied alertly with the possible vision of any male person driven by a similar desire.  Her eye wandered; the hand to which Angelina clung was an abstract, imperceptive hand Angelina and Rose were free to pursue their own train of fancy the garden was at their service.  But with Aunt Emily how different!  Aunt Emily pursued relentlessly her educational tactics.  Her thin, damp, black glove gripped Angelina’s hand; her eyes (they had a “peering” effect, as though they were always searching for something beyond their actual vision) wandered aimlessly about the garden, looking for educational subjects.  And so up and down the paths they went, Angelina trotting, with Rose clasped to her breast, walking just a little faster than she conveniently could.

Miss Emily disliked the gardens, and would have greatly preferred that nurse should have been in charge, but this consciousness of trial inflamed her sense of merit.  There came a lovely spring afternoon; the almond tree was in full blossom; a cloud of pink against the green hedge, clumps of daffodils rippled with little shudders of delight, even the statues of “Sir Benjamin Bundle” and “General Sir Robinson Cleaver” seemed to unbend a little from their stiff angularity.  There were many babies and nurses, and children laughing and crying and shouting, and a sky of mild forget-me-not blue smiled protectingly upon them.  Angelina’s eyes were fixed upon the fountain, which flashed and sparkled in the air with a happy freedom that seemed to catch all the life of the garden within its heart.  Angelina felt how immensely she and Rose might have enjoyed all this had they been alone.  Her eyes gazed longingly at the almond tree; she wished that she might go off on a voyage of discovery for, on this day of all days, did its shadow seem to hold some pressing, intimate invitation.  “I shall get back I shall get back....  He’ll come and take me; I’ll remember all the old things,” she thought.  She and Rose what a time they might have if only She glanced up at her aunt.

“Look at that nice little boy, Angelina,” Aunt Emily said.  “See how good ” But at that very instant that same playful breeze that had been ruffling the daffodils, and sending shimmers through the fountain decided that now was the moment to catch Miss Emily’s black hat at one corner, prove to her that the pin that should have fastened it to her hair was loose, and swing the whole affair to one side.  Up went her hands; she gave a little cry of dismay.

Instantly, then, Angelina was determined.  She did not suppose that her freedom would be for long, nor did she hope to have time to reach the almond tree; but her small, stumpy legs started off down the path almost before she was aware of it.  She started, and Rose bumped against her as she ran.  She heard behind her cries; she saw in front of her the almond tree, and then coming swiftly towards her a small boy with a hoop....  She stopped, hesitated, and then fell.  The golden afternoon, with all its scents and sounds, passed on above her head.  She was conscious that a hand was on her shoulder, she was lifted and shaken.  Tears trickling down the side of her nose were checked by little points of gravel.  She was aware that the little boy with the hoop had stopped and said something.  Above her, very large and grim, was her aunt.  Some bird on a tree was making a noise like the drawing of a cork. (She had heard her nurse once draw one.) In her heart was utter misery.  The gravel hurt her face, the almond tree was farther away than ever; she was captured more completely than she had ever been before.

“Oh, you naughty little girl you naughty girl,” she heard her aunt say; and then, after her, the bird like a cork.  She stood there, her mouth tightly shut, the marks of tears drying to muddy lines on her face.

She was dragged off.  Aunt Emily was furious at the child’s silence; Aunt Emily was also aware that she must have looked what she would call “a pretty figure of fun” with her hat askew, her hair blown “anyway,” and a small child of three escaping from her charge as fast as she could go.

Angelina was dragged across the street, in through the squeezed front door, over the dark stairs, up into the nursery.  Miss Violet’s voice was heard calling, “Is that you, Emily?  Tea’s been waiting some time.”

It was nurse’s afternoon out, and the nursery was grimly empty; but through the open, window came the evening sounds of the happy Square.  Miss Emily placed Angelina in the middle of the room.  “Now say you’re sorry, you wicked child!” she exclaimed breathlessly.

“Sowwy,” came slowly from Angelina.  Then she looked down at her doll.

“Leave that doll alone.  Speak as though you were sorry.”

“I’m velly sowwy.”

“What made you run away like that?” Angelina said nothing.  “Come, now!  Didn’t you know it was very wicked?”

“Yes.”

“Well, why did you do it, then?”

“Don’t know.”

“Don’t say ‘don’t know’ like that.  You must have had some reason.  Don’t look at the doll like that.  Put the doll down.”  But this Angelina would not do.  She clung to Rose with a ferocious tenacity.  I do not think that one must blame Miss Emily for her exasperation.  That doll had had a large place in her mind for many weeks.  It were as though she, Miss Emily Braid, had been personally, before the world, defied by a rag doll.  Her temper, whose control had never been her strongest quality, at the vision of the dirty, obstinate child before her, at the thought of the dancing, mocking gardens behind her, flamed into sudden, trembling rage.

She stepped forward, snatched Rose from Angelina’s arms, crossed the room and had pushed the doll, with a fierce, energetic action, as though there was no possible time to be lost, into the fire.  She snatched the poker, and with trembling hands pressed the doll down.  There was a great flare of flame; Rose lifted one stolid arm to the gods for vengeance, then a stout leg in a last writhing agony.  Only then, when it was all concluded, did Aunt Emily hear behind her the little half-strangled cry which made her turn.  The child was standing, motionless, with so old, so desperate a gaze of despair that it was something indecent for any human being to watch.

V

Nurse came in from her afternoon.  She had heard nothing of the recent catastrophe, and, as she saw Angelina sitting quietly in front of the fire she thought that she had had her tea, and was now “dreaming” as she so often did.  Once, however, as she was busy in another part of the room, she caught half the face in the light of the fire.  To any one of a more perceptive nature that glimpse must have seemed one of the most tragic things in the world.  But this was a woman of “a sensible, hearty” nature; moreover, her “afternoon” had left her with happy reminiscences of her own charms and their effect on the opposite sex.

She had, however, her moment....  She had left the room to fetch something.  Returning she noticed that the dusk had fallen, and was about to switch on the light when, in the rise and fall of the firelight, something that she saw made her pause.  She stood motionless by the door.

Angelina had turned in her chair; her eyes were gazing, with rapt attention, toward the purple dusk by the window.  She was listening.  Nurse, as she had often assured her friends, “was not cursed with imagination,” but now fear held her so that she could not stir nor move save that her hand trembled against the wall paper.  The chatter of the fire, the shouts of some boys in the Square, the ringing of the bell of St. Matthew’s for evensong, all these things came into the room.  Angelina, still listening, at last smiled; then, with a little sigh, sat back in her chair.

“Heavens!  Miss ’Lina!  What were you doing there?  How you frightened me!” Angelina left her chair, and went across to the window.  “Auntie Emily,” she said, “put Wosie into the fire, she did.  But Wosie’s saved....  He’s just come and told me.”

“Lord, Miss ’Lina, how you talk!” The room was right again now just as, a moment before, it had been wrong.  She switched on the electric light, and, in the sudden blaze, caught the last flicker in the child’s eyes of some vision, caught, held, now surrendered.

“’Tis company she’s wanting, poor lamb,” she thought, “all this being alone....  Fair gives one the creeps.”

She heard with relief the opening of the door.  Miss Emily came in, hesitated a moment, then walked over to her niece.  In her hands she carried a beautiful doll with flaxen hair, long white robes, and the assured confidence of one who is spotless and knows it.

“There, Angelina,” she said.  “I oughtn’t to have burnt your doll.  I’m sorry.  Here’s a beautiful new one.”

Angelina took the spotless one; then with a little thrust of her hand she pushed the half-open window wider apart.  Very deliberately she dropped the doll (at whose beauty she had not glanced) out, away, down into the Square.

The doll, white in the dusk, tossed and whirled, and spun finally, a white speck far below, and struck the pavement.

Then Angelina turned, and with a little sigh of satisfaction looked at her aunt.