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Novkey > Library > Romance > DANGEROUS AGES



Author: Rose Macaulay Total hits: 3025 User hits: 1 Date: 05-15-2014

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Epublisher - ebook, enovel, DANGEROUS AGES

It was a Monday evening, late in July. Pamela Hilary, returning from a Care Committee meeting, fitted her latch-key into the door of the rooms in Cow Lane which she shared with Frances Carr, and let herself into the hot dark passage hall.

A voice from a room on the right called "Come along, my dear. Your pap's ready."

Pamela entered the room on the right. A pleasant, Oxfordish room, with the brown paper and plain green curtains of the college days of these women, and Dürer engravings, and sweet peas in a bowl, and Frances Carr stirring bread and milk over a gas ring. Frances Carr was small and thirty-eight, and had a nice brown face and a merry smile. Pamela was a year older and tall and straight and pale, and her ash-brown hair swept smoothly back from a broad white forehead. Her grey eyes regarded the world shrewdly and pleasantly through pince-nez. Pamela was distinguished-looking, and so well-bred that you never got through her guard; she never hurt the feelings of others or betrayed her own. Competent she was, too, and the best organizer in Hoxton, which is to say a great deal, Hoxton needing and getting, one way and another, a good deal of organisation. Some people complained that they couldn't get to know Pamela, the guard was too complete. But Frances Carr knew her.

Frances Carr had piled cushions in a deep chair for her.

"Lie back and be comfy, old thing, and I'll give you your pap."

She handed Pamela the steaming bowl, and proceeded to take off her friend's shoes and substitute moccasin slippers. It was thus that she and Pamela had mothered one another at Somerville eighteen years ago, and ever since. They had the maternal instinct, like so many women.

"Well, how went it? How was Mrs. Cox?"

Mrs. Cox was the chairwoman of the Committee. All committee members know that the chairman or woman is a ticklish problem, if not a sore burden.

"Oh well...." Pamela dismissed Mrs. Cox with half a smile. "Might have been worse.... Oh look here, Frank. About the library fund...."

The front door-bell tingled through the house.

Frances Carr said "Oh hang. All right, I'll see to it. If it's Care or Continuation or Library, I shall send it away. You're not going to do any more business to-night."

She went to the door, and there, her lithe, drooping slimness outlined against the gas-lit street, stood Nan Hilary.

"Oh, Nan.... But what a late call. Yes, Pamela's just in from a committee. Tired to death; she's had neuralgia all this week. She mustn't sit up late, really. But come along in."


Nan came into the room, her dark eyes blinking against the gaslight, her small round face pale and smutty. She bent to kiss Pamela, then curled herself up in a wicker chair and yawned.

"The night is damp and dirty. No, no food, thanks. I've dined. After dinner I was bored, so I came along to pass the time.... When are you taking your holidays, both of you? It's time."

"Pamela's going for hers next week," said Frances Carr, handing Nan a cigarette.

"On the contrary," said Pamela, "Frances is going for hers next week. Mine is to be September this year."

"Now, we've had all this out before, Pam, you know we have. You faithfully promised to take August if your neuralgia came on again, and it has. Tell her she is to, Nan."

"She wouldn't do it the more if I did," Nan said, lazily. These competitions in unselfishness between Pamela and Frances Carr always bored her. There was no end to them. Women are so terrifically self-abnegatory; they must give, give, give, to someone all the time. Women, that is, of the mothering type, such as these. They must be forever cherishing something, sending someone to bed with bread and milk, guarding someone from fatigue.

"It ought to be their children," thought Nan, swiftly. "But they pour it out on one another instead."

Having put her hand on the clue, she ceased to be interested in the exhibition. It was, in fact, no more and no less interesting than if it had been their children. Most sorts of love were rather dull, to the spectator. Pamela and Frances were all right; decent people, not sloppy, not gushing, but fine and direct and keen, though rather boring when they began to talk to each other about some silly old thing that had happened in their last year at Oxford, or their first year, or on some reading party. Some people re-live their lives like this; others pass on their way, leaving the past behind. They were all right, Pamela and Frances. But all this mothering....

Yet how happy they were, these two, in their useful, competent work and devoted friendship. They had achieved contacts with life, permanent contacts. Pamela, in spite of her neuralgia, expressed calm and entirely unbumptious attainment, Nan feverish seeking. For Nan's contacts with life were not permanent, but suddenly vivid and passing; the links broke and she flew off at a tangent. Nan had lately been taken with a desperate fear of becoming like her mother, when she was old and couldn't write any more, or love any more men. Horrible thought, to be like Mrs. Hilary, roaming, questing, feverishly devoured by her own impatience of life....

In here it was cool and calm, soft and blurred with the smoke of their cigarettes. Frances Carr left them to talk, telling them not to be late. When she had gone, Pamela said "I thought you were still down at Windover, Nan."

"Left it on Saturday.... Mother and Grandmama had been there a week. I couldn't stick it any longer. Mother was outrageously jealous, of course."

"Neville and Grandmama? Poor mother."

"Oh yes, poor mother. But it gets on my nerves. Neville's an angel. I can't think how she sticks it. For that matter, I never know how she puts up with Rodney's spoilt fractiousness.... And altogether life was a bit of a strain ... no peace. And I wanted some peace and solitude, to make up my mind in."

"Are you making it up now?" Pamela, mildly interested, presumed it was a man.

"Trying to. It isn't made yet. That's why I roam about your horrible slums in the dark. I'm considering; getting things into focus. Seeing them all round."

"Well, that sounds all right."

"Pam." Nan leant forward abruptly, her cigarette between two brown fingers. "Are you happy? Do you enjoy your life?"

Pamela withdrew, lightly, inevitably, behind guards.

"Within reason, yes. When committees aren't too tiresome, and the accounts balance, and...."

"Oh, give me a straight answer, Pam. You dependable, practical people are always frivolous about things that matter. Are you happy? Do you feel right-side-up with life?"

"In the main—yes." Pamela was more serious this time. "One's doing one's job, after all. And human beings are interesting."

"But I've got that too. My job, and human beings.... Why do I feel all tossed about, like a boat on a choppy sea? Oh, I know life's furiously amusing and exciting—of course it is. But I want something solid. You've got it, somehow."

Nan broke off and thought "It's Frances Carr she's got. That's permanent. That goes on. Pamela's anchored. All these people I have—these men and women—they're not anchors, they're stimulants, and how different that is!"

They looked at each other in silence. Pamela said then, "You don't look well, child."

"Oh—" Nan threw her cigarette end impatiently into the grate. "I'm all right. I'm tired, and I've been thinking too much. That never suits me.... Thanks, Pam. You've helped me to make up my mind. I like you, Pam," she added dispassionately, "because you're so gentlewomanly. You don't ask questions, or pry. Most people do."

"Surely not. Not most decent people."

"Most people aren't decent. You think they are. You've not lived in my set—nor in Rosalind's. You're still fresh from Oxford—stuck all over with Oxford manners and Oxford codes. You don't know the raddled gossip who fishes for your secrets and then throws them about for fun, like tennis balls."

"I know Rosalind, thank you, Nan."

"Oh, Rosalind's not the only one, though she'll do. Anyhow I've trapped you into saying an honest and unkind thing about her, for once; that's something. Wish you weren't such a dear old fraud, Pammie."

Frances Carr came back, in her dressing gown, looking about twenty-three, her brown hair in two plaits.

"Pamela, you mustn't sit up any more. I'm awfully sorry, Nan, but her head...."

"Right oh. I'm off. Sorry I've kept you up, Pammie. Good-night. Good-night, Frances. Yes, I shall get the bus at the corner. Good-night."

The door closed after Nan, shutting in the friends and their friendship and their anchored peace.


Off went Nan on the bus at the corner, whistling softly into the night. Like a bird her heart rose up and sang, at the lit pageant of London swinging by. Queer, fantastic, most lovely life! Sordid, squalid, grotesque life, bitter as black tea, sour as stale wine! Gloriously funny, brilliant as a flower-bed, bright as a Sitwell street in hell—

"(Down in Hell's gilded street Snow dances fleet and sweet, Bright as a parakeet....)"

unsteady as a swing-boat, silly as a drunkard's dream, tragic as a poem by Massfield.... To have one's corner in it, to run here and there about the city, grinning like a dog—what more did one want? Human adventures, intellectual adventures, success, even a little fame, men and women, jokes, laughter and love, dancing and a little drink, and the fields and mountains and seas beyond—what more did one want?

Roots. That was the metaphor that had eluded Nan. To be rooted and grounded in life, like a tree. Someone had written something about that.

"Let your manhood be Forgotten, your whole purpose seem The purpose of a simple tree Rooted in a quiet dream...."

Roots. That was what Neville had, what Pamela had; Pamela, with her sensible wisdom that so often didn't apply because Pamela was so far removed from Nan's conditions of life and Nan's complicated, unstable temperament. Roots. Mrs. Hilary's had been torn up out of the ground....

"I'm like mother." That was Nan's nightmare thought. Not intellectually, for Nan's brain was sharp and subtle and strong and fine, Mrs. Hilary's was an amorphous, undeveloped muddle. But where, if not from Mrs. Hilary, did Nan get her black fits of melancholy, her erratic irresponsible gaieties, her passionate angers, her sharp jealousies and egoisms? The clever young woman saw herself in the stupid elderly one; saw herself slipping down the years to that. That was why, where Neville and Pamela and their brothers pitied, Nan, understanding her mother's bad moods better than they, was vicious with hate and scorn. For she knew these things through and through. Not the sentimentality; she didn't know that, being cynical and cool except when stirred to passion. And not the posing, for Nan was direct and blunt. But the feverish angers and the black boredom—they were hers.

Nevertheless Nan's heart sang into the night. For she had made up her mind, and was at peace.

She had held life at arm's length, pushed it away, for many months, hiding from it, running from it because she didn't with the whole of her, want it. Again and again she had changed a dangerous subject, headed for safety, raced for cover. The week-end before this last, down at Windover, it had been like a game of hide and seek.... And then she had come away, without warning, and he, going down there this last week-end, had not found her, because she couldn't meet him again till she had decided. And now she had decided.

How unsuited a pair they were, in many ways, and what fun they would have! Unsuited ... what did it matter? His queer, soft, laughing voice was in her ears, his lean, clever, merry face swam on the rushing tides of night. His untidy, careless clothes, the pockets bulging with books, papers and tobacco, his glasses, that left a red mark on either side of the bridge of his nose, his easily ruffled brown hair—they all merged for her into the infinitely absurd, infinitely delightful, infinitely loved Barry, who was going to give her roots.

She was going away, down into Cornwall, in two days. She would stay in rooms by herself at Marazion and finish her book and bathe and climb, and lie in the sun (if only it came out) and sleep and eat and drink. There was nothing in the world like your own company; you could be purely animal then. And in a month Gerda and Kay were coming down, and they were going to bicycle along the coast, and she would ask Barry to come too, and when Barry came she would let him say what he liked, with no more fencing, no more cover. Down by the green edge of the Cornish sea they would have it out—"grip hard, become a root ..." become men as trees walking, rooted in a quiet dream. Dream? No, reality. This was the dream, this world of slipping shadows and hurrying gleams of heartbreaking loveliness, through which one roamed, a child chasing butterflies which ever escaped, or which, if captured, crumbled to dust in one's clutching hands. Oh for something strong and firm to hold. Oh Barry, Barry, these few more weeks of dream, of slipping golden shadows and wavering lights, and then reality. Shall I write, thought Nan, "Dear Barry, you may ask me to marry you now." Impossible. Besides, what hurry was there? Better to have these few more gay and lovely weeks of dream. They would be the last.

Has Barry squandered and spilt his love about as I mine? Likely enough. Likely enough not. Who cares? Perhaps we shall tell one another all these things sometime; perhaps, again, we shan't. What matter? One loves, and passes on, and loves again. One's heart cracks and mends; one cracks the hearts of others, and these mend too. That is—inter alia—what life is for. If one day you want the tale of my life, Barry, you shall have it; though that's not what life is for, to make a tale about. So thrilling in the living, so flat and stale in the telling—oh let's get on and live some more of it, lots and lots more, and let the dead past bury its dead.

Between a laugh and a sleepy yawn, Nan jumped from the bus at the corner of Oakley Street.

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