Cummins, peeping through the hinge-crack of the door, saw the sudden downward glance young St. George gave at the serious and glowing face, as though his wife was the most wonderful thing in the world to him just then; which she was.
She turned her chair at that, and looked at him with a blank, blue stare. She had actually forgotten that there might be a child! It was monstrous and absurd, but she had forgotten it, and after that one steady stare at her son, she turned again to her desk, and extricating some papers from a pigeon-hole, began to handle them. Her voice, when she used it again, was not unlike the crackling of paper.
She paused, her eyes looking very black in the firm pallor of her face. It was as though she had thrown a stone at a window, and was waiting to see whether the the glass would crack, or the window be thrown open by some hand of live indignation. Mrs. St. George made no sign.
She returned to the cottage, and walked round it, looking at the gutters and pipes and the putty in the windows. She was staring hard at a cracked pane of glass when a pair of red knuckles rapped on the window. She saw Miss Ives's hurried face, with its hair slipping back.
For to Mrs. St. George's son those January days were full of a tired melancholy, and the new-born year was like a grey sea sleeping. He saw the rain come down; he knew the outline of every plane-tree that was visible, the shape and the number of the chimney-pots that could be seen and counted from where he lay. There were red chimney-pots and clay-coloured chimney-pots, and galvanized tubes and funnels, and chimney-pots with cowls that swung to and fro when the wind blew, looking like the helmets of faceless ghost-soldiers. He knew everything in the room--the cracks in the plaster of the ceiling, the way the shadows crept across the wall when the winter sun was shining. There seemed to be nothing else for him to know, nothing more than he could know.
As for his mother, she came in and out, and brought him things, and arranged flowers, and sat and gazed with those blue eyes of hers until he could have cried out to her--"Don't--don't," or have hidden his face in his pillow. He was most strangely afraid of his mother. She made him think of a priestess gliding noiselessly into some holy of holies, and arranging flowers round an altar. She made him think of a white and windless flame burning, a flame that would never go out. When he talked to her it was with a sense of effort, as though the silence of the room was glass, and he was picking up a hammer and cracking it.
But these banjo lessons were a mere crackling of thorns under a pot. They relieved the tedium and gave some sense of stir to the stagnant hours. Yet they had an unexpected and unexplained effect upon Alex St. George, for after them he would show a peculiar irritability, as though Mr. Mocato's fingers had been picking at his nerves. His irritability would spend itself on Leaper; more and more he was beginning to dislike the male nurse, and to feel a prickling of the skin when the man touched him.
He believed for the moment that his patient had gone mad. The cheese-plate, whirled like a discus, struck the mirror above the mantelpiece, starred and cracked it, and fell to smash upon the fire-irons. A book hit a picture fair and square and brought the glass splintering down. The gramophone lay overturned on the floor.
She made some very perfunctory reply to this very platitudinous question. She had never been able to understand Jermyn's reputation for wit; she had failed to discover it; always he had talked to her as though he was cracking nuts and throwing the shells into the fire.
Jermyn had many things to say concerning the climate of Torquay. He could be as prolix as any club bore when he pleased. Meanwhile, he was observing his sister-in-law. She was different; she was as rigid as ever, but with the rigidity of a woman who had been ill. She gave him the impression of a woman who had had something broken inside her, and who was afraid to move lest the cracked pieces should fall apart. And she looked cold, physically cold; she sat close up to the fire, and unconsciously she would stretch out her hands to it. Old Jermyn was reminded of his own description of her as a woman with an electric bulb installed inside her in lieu of a heart. And the glass bulb had been cracked!
But she gave Jermyn the impression of a woman who had suddenly grown old: her eyes had a dry hardness, and her pale skin looked as though it would crack over her nose and cheekbones. Her rigidity remained, but it hung a little wrinkled over a shrunken self-confidence. That she was a very miserable woman sitting erect before a dying fire was as plain to him as the futility of her attitude of no-surrender. Also, she did not or would not allow herself to realize how crushingly life had defeated her. She might have been one of the bitter Puritan women watching the London crowd howling mad over the return of Charles II; amazed, shocked, scandalized, quite unable to understand that though the suppressionist has his uses, his bones will be thrown out into the charnel house when they have clogged life sufficiently to provoke the eternal and positive reaction. She sat there frozen with obstinacy. She remained wilfully apart while live and wonderful things were happening to her son. 2b1af7f3a8