Read CHAPTER XXII of The Devil's Garden, free online book, by W. B. Maxwell, on

The new housemaid was adequately filling Mary’s place, and life at Vine-Pits as of old ran smoothly on. With increasing means the Dales still refrained from frivolous additions to household expenditure. Neither craved for further pomp or luxury; both took pleasure in amassing rather than in squandering.

To get up early, work hard, and go to bed thoroughly tired all this Mavis took for granted as a correct and undeviating program for one’s days. Indeed in her complete satisfaction she tended naturally to a mental attitude that was taking for granted all phenomena, whether objective or subjective. The visible comforts of her home, the love of her husband, the bliss of being the mother of two perfect children, together with her contented thoughts in relation to each and all of these matters, were accepted as so intimately connected with the prime fact of her existence itself that no fear of possible disturbance or cessation ever troubled her. She no more thought of a break in the grand routine of placid joy than she thought of leaving off the process by which she filled and emptied her lungs when breathing.

As perhaps is usual with the majority of successful people, she never considered whether the hour had not come for diminishing the effort that was producing the success. They had fixed no goal which when reached should be a resting-place as well as a winning-post.

They were working for the future. The money they earned was for then, and not for now. But she very rarely thought of this remote period; and when she did, it was with absolute vagueness. A lot of money would be required for the children; and eventually she and Will would be old, feeble, unable to go on working, and then a modest amount of money would be required for themselves.

Always in her early dreams of affluence she had pictured holidays, the excitement of traveling, and rapid changes of scene; yet, although since they first came to Vine-Pits they had not been away for a single staying holiday, she had no sense of missing something that might have been enjoyed. It would be absurd to drag Dale away from home while he was so busy. For herself it seemed quite sufficient change and excitement to drive over to Old Manninglea for an afternoon’s severe shopping about six times a year.

Now, of a sudden, Dale himself offered to give her a day out at the very first opportunity. Little Rachel had never seen the sea, and expressed a strong desire to look upon the wonders of the deep; so daddy promised to take her and her mother to Rodhaven Pier directly he was free enough to do so. In the end he chose a Sunday for this treat, saying that the better the day the better the deed.

He came out of chapel before the sermon; they dined at noon, and started in good time to catch the train at Rodchurch Road. At the moment of departure, when the horse and wagonette stood ready, and Dale in his silk hat, black coat, and dogskin gloves was about to mount the box-seat, the boy Billy began to howl most pitifully because he was being left behind. Mavis, whose heartstrings were torn by the sight of her angel’s tears and the sound of his yells, looked at Dale appealingly.

“All right,” said Dale. “Will you behave yourself, Billy, if we take you?”

But this meant taking Norah too, because obviously Mavis could not manage both children unaided.

“Norah,” said Dale, impressively, “I give you two minutes, and no more, to get yourself and the boy ready.”

Mavis, overjoyed, put Rachel in the back of the wagonette, took her seat by her husband’s side, and with sprightly chat endeavored to make two long minutes seem two short ones.

“How nice the horse looks! Will, I do feel we are all in luck. Such a fine day too. Do you think your top hat is necessary? Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in your straw?”

“May be but I don’t think it would be the thing,” said Dale. “We shall be sure to meet a lot of people we know.”

“I only thought you’d get it so dusty. Is it your best or the old one?”

He did not answer, because just then Norah and Billy came rushing down the garden path.

It proved an altogether delightful excursion. There was so little in it really, and yet long years afterward Mavis sometimes thought of it as perhaps the happiest day of her life. They drove through Rodchurch, past the post office, the church, and other interesting sights; then along the broader road beneath big trees, to the railway station. Billy sat between his parents, and did not behave too well, wriggling, contorting himself, threatening to jump out, and even grabbing for the reins.

“It’s his excitement,” said Norah.

“Yes, it’s his excitement,” said Mavis; and she and Norah talked reassuringly, as if to each other, but really at Dale. “He’ll be all right, Norah, when he has had his run about.”

“Yes,” sad Norah sagely, “children are like that. They must let off steam. As soon as they’re tired they remember their manners and behave nicely.”

At the Station Inn Dale put up the horse and trap, and the journey was pursued by rail.

The brightness and gaiety of Rodhaven charmed them all. They seemed to get out of the train into another climate, another world. Everything was new and strange blazing sun with a wind that made you as cool as a cucumber; crowds and crowds of people, Salvation Army band, procession of volunteers; and the pier, the streamers, the sea and the sands.

Rachel scarcely glanced at Ocean’s face: the sands were enough for her. They got away from the crowd, and played on the sands. Dale was so jolly with the children, running about, sportively chasing them, hunting for shells, popping the buds of seaweed; while Mavis sat on a dry bit of rock, looking large, red, overblown, and adored her family. The little boy soon became, frankly, a nuisance, wanting his sister’s shells, refusing to catch daddy, wishing to paddle in his boots; and Dale, testy at last, very hot and perspiring said: “Ma lad, if you wear out my patience, you’ll suffer for your conduct.”

Then, almost at the same moment, Dale’s top hat blew off; and a mad chase ensued. The hat, like a live thing with the devil in it, bounded and curvetted wildly, doubled away from Dale, dodged Rachel, and sprang right over Norah’s head, threatening to make for the open sea. Mavis had scrambled up; and she stood on the rock, a tragic figure, with a finger to her lip, watching the hat chase distractedly. Norah caught the hat in the end, and it was really not much the worse for its gambol.

Mavis’ first words were, “Is it your best?”

“No,” gasped Dale, very much out of breath; “my second-best.”

“Thank goodness,” said Mavis.

They made a fine solid meal at tea in a vast refreshment-hall on the sands; Mavis and Norah, with their hats on adjacent chairs and their hair untidy, helping the little ones to top and tail the first shrimps that they had ever encountered; Dale eating heaps of shrimps and drinking cup after cup of tea. The wind blew sand against the glass front of the hall the smell of the sea mingled with the smell of the shrimps and they were absolutely happy. But when all felt replete the boy began to cry, and soon howled. “I wis’ I lived here always, yes, I do.”

“O Billy, you like home best.”

“No, I don’t. I like this best. I hate home;” and he bellowed.

“He’s getting tired,” said Norah sagely.

“Yes,” said Mavis. “That’s all it is. He’s getting tired.”

He fell asleep directly they got into the lamplit train; and Norah carried him from the station, carried him all the time the horse was being put to and they were getting ready to leave. “He’s too much for you,” said Dale kindly. “Give him to me.”

“Oh, no, sir.”

And Dale whispered approvingly to Mavis, saying that he liked Norah’s grit.

Then they drove home; Norah behind with the children, both of them sleeping now; and Dale and Mavis side by side in front, talking quietly as they passed beneath the dark trees and out beneath the bright stars.