About the Author

Ethel Wilson

Ethel Wilson is a Fitzhenry and Whiteside author.

Books by this Author
Hetty Dorval
Excerpt

One

The day that Mrs. Dorval’s furniture arrived in Lytton, Ernestine and I had gone to the station to see the train come in. It was a hot day. The heat of the sun burned down from above, it beat up from the ground and was reflected from the hot hills. Mr. Miles, the station agent, was in his shirt-sleeves; the station dog lay and panted, got up, moved away, lay down and panted again; and the usual Indians stood leaning against the corners of the wooden station (we called it “the deepo”) in their usual curious incurious fashion, not looking as though they felt the heat or anything else. The Indians always looked as though they had nothing to do, and perhaps they had nothing to do. Ernestine and I had nothing much to do, but school was out and supper wasn’t ready and so we had drifted over to the station. Neither of our mothers liked us to do this every day; but we were not absolutely forbidden.

When the train clanked in, a number of the stifling passengers got out seeking coolness in the bright glaring heat of the station platform. Ernestine and I watched these passengers with experienced eyes and saw that there was no one interesting to us. We did not find grown-ups interesting, but were always on the look-out for other children or for dogs. And sure enough there at the end of the train was a large dog, perhaps a Newfoundland, hot in his hot coat. The train men had got him out of a freight car, and then they heaved and pushed and lifted out a huge crated object that might be a piano, and then they got out packing case after packing case.

Directly the great dog stood upon the platform, looking sadly and nobly about him, a woman moved up to him and said casually, “Well, Sailor,” and you might almost say the dog smiled. His thick bell-rope of a tail swung and he moved up to the woman who patted him lightly but gave her full attention to the crates and packing cases that the train hands and station hands deposited upon the platform. Ernestine and I had seen this woman before in the Lytton main street, but she was really the kind of woman that you don’t notice. You might see her in a village, or in a big city, or in a street-car, or on a train, and you would never notice. Nevertheless, we now saw that she had authority. She was dressed in dark grey. Her hair was dark grey too, and was taken straight back from her plain strong face. Suddenly she began to be interesting to Ernestine and to me, because she belonged to Sailor the dog and to all the new packing cases.

We did not need to ask, because, before you could count fifty, word had travelled along the platform, perhaps from the station agent or perhaps from the express company, to us and through us, and even to the leaning inscrutable Indians, that the dog Sailor and all these packing cases belonged to a Mrs. Dorval and that Mrs. Dorval had taken that square bungalow all alone above the river, just to the east of Lytton. So as Ernestine and I had nothing better to do, we trailed along the dusty road behind the waggon that took the first load out. The horses toiled up the winding trail, sending up clouds of fine clay dust, and we idled far enough behind to be out of the worst of it. Mrs. Dorval rode with the teamster. The trucks were out that day and one was broken down, so they had to use the team. The toiling waggon topped three or four little slopes before it reached the square bungalow above the river. Only the knowledge that we were to see something new in Lytton, and the niceness of having something to tell our families that would cause us to be important made Ernestine and me keep on walking in the dust and heat behind the waggon, because the declining sun, still just above the high near hills, was very hot indeed. You couldn’t walk on the side of the road very well because there was nothing but sage and tumbleweed, and that made walking difficult, although it was easy enough to ride horseback there.

The sun dipped behind the hills across the river and the windows of the bungalow ceased blazing with evening sunlight. At once you felt the cool air as if it were the earth’s cool breath. Anybody looking out of the front windows of Mrs. Dorval’s bungalow could look down on to the racing Thompson River. Perhaps the water was emerald, perhaps it was sapphire. It is both. It is neither. It is a brilliant river, bluegreen with lacings of white foam and spray as the water hurls itself violently along in rapids against hidden or projecting rocks, a rapid, racing, calling river. The hills rise high and lost on each side of the banks. These hills are traversed hardly at all. There is no reason to climb, to scale the top, to look down. In the sunlight the dun-coloured gorges of the blue-green river look yellow and ochreous, and in some places there are outcroppings of rock that are nearly rose red. Large dark and solitary pine trees give landmark and meaning. Here and there in a gully an army of these dark pointed pine trees marches up an ancient waterway of the hill-side, static. How do they grow on stone? A figure of man or of beast crawling distant across the great folds and crevasses of these sprawling hills would make you stop, look, point with surprise, and question. One is accustomed to their being empty of life. As evening comes on, the hills grow dove grey and purple; they take on a variety of surprising shapes and shades, and the oblique shafts of sunlight disclose new hills and valleys which in daylight merge into one and are not seen. It is the sage-brush that covers nearly everything, that helps to transform everything, and that in the mutations of sunlight and moonlight helps to change the known hills to the unfamiliar. Because the hills are so desolate, strange and still, without movement, the strong brilliant water in headlong motion at their base holds your eyes with its tumult. If the person in Mrs. Dorval’s bungalow feels any fear of this desolate scene, or if the person is subject in solitude to moods of depression or despair, then that person had better take her piano and her dog Sailor and her packing cases and go by train or by the Cariboo highway to some comfortable town full of people. No one can travel by the Thompson River at Lytton; it is too turbulent and too thickly sown with rapids.

close this panel
Mrs. Golightly and Other Stories
Excerpt

Mrs. Golightly and the First Convention
 
 
Mrs. Golightly was a shy woman. She lived in Vancouver. Her husband, Tommy Golightly, was not shy. He was personable and easy to like. He was a consulting engineer who was consulted a great deal by engineering firms, construction firms, logging firms in particular, any firm that seemed to have problems connected with traction. When he was not being consulted he played golf, tennis, or bridge according to whether the season was spring, summer, autumn or winter. Any time that was left over he spent with his wife and three small children of whom he was very fond. When he was with them, it seemed that that was what he liked best. He was a very extroverted sort of man, easy and likeable, and his little wife was so shy that it just was not fair.
 
At the period of which I write, Conventions had not begun to take their now-accepted place in life on the North American continent. I am speaking of Conventions with a capital C. Conventions with a small c have, of course, always been with us, but not as conspicuously now as formerly. In those days, when a man said rather importantly I am going to a Convention, someone was quite liable to ask What is a Convention? Everyone seemed to think that they must be quite a good thing, which of course they are. We now take them for granted.
 
Now Mr. Golightly was admirably adapted to going to Conventions. His memory for names and faces was good; he liked people, both in crowds and separately; he collected acquaintances who rapidly became friends. Everyone liked him.
 
One day he came home and said to his wife, “How would you like a trip to California?”
 
Mrs. Golightly gave a little gasp. Her face lighted up and she said, “Oh Tom . . . !”
 
“There’s a Western and Middle Western Convention meeting at Del Monte the first week of March, and you and I are going down,” said Mr. Golightly.
 
Mrs. Golightly’s face clouded and she said in quite a different tone and with great alarm, “Oh Tom . . . !”
 
“Well, what?” said her husband.
 
Mrs. Golightly began the sort of hesitation that so easily overcame her. “Well, Tom,” she said, “I’d have to get a hat, and I suppose a suit and a dinner dress, and Emmeline isn’t very good to leave with the children and you know I’m no good with crowds and people, I never know what to say, and –”
 
“Well, get a new hat,” said her husband, “get one of those hats I see women wearing with long quills on. And get a new dress. Get twenty new dresses. And Emmeline’s fine with the children and what you need’s a change, and I’m the only one in my profession invited from British Columbia. You get a hat with the longest feather in town and a nice dinner dress!” Mr. Golightly looked fondly at his wife and saw with new eyes that she appeared anxious and not quite as pretty as she sometimes was. He kissed her and she promised that she would get the new hat, but he did not know how terrified she was of the Convention and all the crowds of people, and that she suffered at the very thought of going. She could get along all right at home, but small talk with strangers – oh, poor Mrs. Golightly. These things certainly are not fair. However, she got the dress, and a new hat with the longest quill in town. She spent a long time at the hairdresser’s; and how pretty she looked and how disturbed she felt! “I’ll break the quill every time I get into the car, Tom,” she said.
 
“Non-sense,” said her husband, and they set off in the car for California.
 
Mrs. Golightly travelled in an old knitted suit and a felt hat pulled down on her head in observance of a theory which she had inherited from her mother that you must never wear good clothes when travelling. The night before arriving at Del Monte a car passing them at high speed side-swiped them ever so little, but the small damage and fuss that resulted from that delayed them a good deal. The result was that they got late to bed that night, slept little, rose early, and had to do three hundred miles before lunch. Mrs. Golightly began to feel very tired in spite of some mounting excitement, but this did not make her forget to ask her husband to stop at the outskirts of Del Monte so that she could take her new hat out of the bag and put it on. Mr. Golightly was delighted with the way his wife was joining in the spirit of the thing. “Good girl,” he said, which pleased her, and neither of them noticed that nothing looked right about Mrs. Golightly except her hat, and even smart hats, worn under those circumstances, look wrong.
 
How impressive it was to Mrs. Golightly, supported by her hat, to approach the portals of the fashionable Del Monte Hotel. Large cars reclined in rows, some sparkling, some dimmed by a film of dust, all of them costly. Radiant men and women, expensively dressed (the inheritors of the earth, evidently), strolled about without a care in the world, or basked on the patio, scrutinizing new arrivals with experienced eyes. Mrs. Golightly had already felt something formidably buoyant in the air of California, accustomed as she was to the mild, soft and (to tell the truth) sometimes deliciously drowsy air of the British Columbia coast. The air she breathed in California somehow alarmed her. Creatures customarily breathing this air must, she thought, by nature, be buoyant, self-confident – all the things that Mrs. Golightly was not. Flowers bloomed, trees threw their shade, birds cleft the air, blue shone the sky, and Mrs. Golightly, dazzled, knocked her hat crooked as she got out of the car, and she caught the long quill on the door. She felt it snick. Oh, she thought, my darling quill!
 
No sooner had they alighted from their car, which was seized on all sides by hotel minions of great competence, than her husband was surrounded by prosperous men who said, “Well Tom! And how’s the boy! Say Tom this is great!” And Tom turned from side to side greeting, expansive, the most popular man in view. Mrs. Golightly had no idea that Tom had so many business friends that loved him dearly. And then with one accord these prosperous men turned their kindly attention to Mrs. Golightly. It overwhelmed her but it really warmed her heart to feel that they were all so pleased that she had come, and that she had come so far, and although she felt shy, travel-worn and tired, she tried to do her best and her face shone sweetly with a desire to please.
 
“Now,” said the biggest of the men, “the boys are waiting for you, Tom. Up in one three three. Yes in one three three. And Mrs. Golightly I want you to meet Mrs. Allyman of the Ladies’ Committee. Mrs. Allyman meet Mrs. Tom Golightly from British Columbia. Will you just register her please, we’ve planned a good time for the ladies, Tom . . . we’ll take good care of Tom, Mrs. Golightly.” And Mr. Golightly said, “But my wife . . .” and then a lot of people streamed in, and Tom and the other men said, “Well, well, well, so here’s Ed! Say, Ed . . .” and the words streamed past Mrs. Golightly and Tom was lost to her view.
 
A lump that felt large came in her throat because she was so shy, and Tom was not to be seen, but Mrs. Allyman was very kind and propelled her over to a group of ladies and said, “Oh this is the lady from British Columbia, the name is Golightly isn’t it? Mrs. Golightly I want you to meet Mrs. Finkel and Mrs. Connelly and Mrs. Magnus and – pardon me I didn’t catch the name – Mrs. Sloper from Colorado. Oh there’s the President’s wife Mrs. Bagg. Well Mrs. Bagg did you locate Mr. Bagg after all, no doubt he’s in one three three. Mrs. Golightly I’d like to have you meet Mrs. Bagg and Mrs. Simmons, Mrs. Bagg, Mrs. Finkel, Mrs. Bagg, and Mrs. Sloper, Mrs. Bagg. Mrs. Golightly is all the way from British Columbia, I think that’s where you come from, Mrs. Golightly?” Mrs. Allyman, speaking continually, seemed to say all this in one breath. By the time that Mrs. Golightly’s vision had cleared (although she felt rather dizzy), she saw that all these ladies were chic, and that they wore hats with very long quills, longer even than hers, which made her feel much more secure. However, her exhilaration was passing; she realized that she was quite tired, and she said, smiling sweetly, “I think I’d better find my room.” The hubbub in the hotel rotunda increased and increased.
 
When she reached her room she found that Tom had sent the bags up, and she thought she would unpack, and lie down for a bit to get rested, and then go down and have a quiet lunch. Perhaps she would see Tom somewhere. But first she went over to the window and looked out upon the incredible radiance of blue and green and gold, and the shine of the ethereal air. She looked at the great oak trees and the graceful mimosa trees and she thought, After I’ve tidied up and had some lunch I’ll just go and sit under one of those beautiful mimosa trees and drink in this . . . this largesse of air and scent and beauty. Mrs. Golightly had never seen anything like it. The bright air dazzled her, and made her sad and gay. Just then the telephone rang. A man’s strong and purposeful voice said, “Pardon me, but may I speak to Tom?”
 
“Oh I’m sorry,” said Mrs. Golightly, “Tom’s not here.”
 
“Can you tell me where I can get him?” asked the voice very urgently.
 
“I’m so sorry . . . ,” faltered Mrs. Golightly.
 
“Sorry to troub . . .” said the voice and the telephone clicked off.
 
There. The Convention had invaded the bedroom, the azure sky, and the drifting grace of the mimosa tree outside the bedroom window.
 
“I think,” said Mrs. Golightly to herself, “if I had a bath it would freshen me, I’m beginning to have a headache.” She went into the bathroom and gazed with pleasure on its paleness and coolness and shiningness, on the lavish array of towels, and an uneven picture entered and left her mind of the bathroom at home, full, it seemed to her, of the essentials for cleaning and dosing a father and mother and three small children, non-stop. The peace! The peace of it! She lay in the hot water regarding idly and alternately the soap which floated agreeably upon the water, and the window through which she saw blue sky of an astonishing azure.
 
The telephone rang. She dripped to the telephone. “Is that Mrs. Goodman?” purred a voice.
 
“No no, not Mrs. Goodman,” said Mrs. Golightly, wrapped in a towel.
 
“I’m so sorry,” purred the voice.
 
Mrs. Golightly got thankfully into the bath and turned on some more hot water.
 
The telephone rang.
 
She scrambled out, “Hello, hello?”
 
“There’s a wire at the desk for Mr. Golightly,” said a voice, “shall we send it up?”
 
“Oh dear, oh dear,” said Mrs. Golightly, wrapped in a towel, “well . . . not yet . . . not for half an hour.”
 
“Okay,” said the voice.
 
She got back into the bath. She closed her eyes in disturbed and recovered bliss.
 
The telephone rang.
 
“Hello, hello,” said Mrs. Golightly plaintively, wrapped in a very damp towel.
 
“Is that Mrs. Golightly?” said a kind voice.
 
“Yes, oh yes,” agreed Mrs. Golightly.
 
“Well, this is Mrs. Porter speaking and we’d be pleased if you’d join Mrs. Bagg and Mrs. Wilkins and me in the Tap Room and meet some of the ladies and have a little drink before lunch.”
 
“Oh thank you, thank you, that will be just lovely, I’d love to,” said Mrs. Golightly. Away went the sky, away went the birds, away went the bath, and away went the mimosa tree.
 
“Well, that will be lovely,” said Mrs. Porter, “in about half an hour?”
 
“Oh thank you, thank you, that will be lovely . . . !” said Mrs. Golightly, repeating herself considerably.
 
She put on her new gray flannel suit which was only slightly rumpled, and straightened the tip of her quill as best she could. She patted her rather aching forehead with cold water and felt somewhat refreshed. She paid particular and delicate attention to her face, and left her room looking and feeling quite pretty but agitated.
 
When she got down to the Tap Room everyone was having Old-Fashioneds and a little woman in gray came up and said, “Pardon me but are you Mrs. Golightly from British Columbia? Mrs. Golightly, I’d like to have you meet Mrs. Bagg (our President’s wife) and Mrs. Gillingham from St. Louis, Mrs. Wilkins from Pasadena; Mrs. Golightly, Mrs. Finkel and – pardon me? – Mrs. Connelly and Mrs. Allyman of Los Angeles.”
 
Mrs. Golightly felt confused, but she smiled at each lady in turn, saying “How do you do,” but neglected to remember or repeat their names because she was so inexperienced. She slipped into a chair and a waiter brought her an Old-Fashioned. She then looked round and tried hard to memorize the ladies nearly all of whom had stylish hats with tall quills on. Mrs. Bagg very smart. Mrs. Wilkins with pince-nez. Little Mrs. Porter in gray. Mrs. Simmons, Mrs. Connelly and Mrs. Finkel in short fur capes. Mrs. Finkel was lovely, of a gorgeous pale beauty. Mrs. Golightly sipped her Old-Fashioned and tried to feel very gay indeed. She and Mrs. Connelly who came from Chicago found that each had three small children, and before they had finished talking a waiter brought another Old-Fashioned. Then Mrs. Connelly had to speak to a lady on her other side, and Mrs. Golightly turned to the lady on her left. This lady was not talking to anyone but was quietly sipping her Old-Fashioned. By this time Mrs. Golightly was feeling unusually bold and responsible, and quite like a woman of the world. She thought to herself, Come now, everyone is being so lovely and trying to make everyone feel at home, and I must try too.
 
So she said to the strange lady, “I don’t think we met, did we? My name is Mrs. Golightly and I come from British Columbia.” And the lady said, “I’m pleased to meet you. I’m Mrs. Gampish and I come from Toledo, Ohio.” And Mrs. Golightly said, “Oh isn’t this a beautiful hotel and wouldn’t you like to see the gardens?” and then somehow everyone was moving.
 
When Mrs. Golightly got up she felt as free as air, but as if she was stepping a little high. When they reached the luncheon table there must have been about a hundred ladies and of course everyone was talking. Mrs. Golightly was seated between two perfectly charming people, Mrs. Carillo from Little Rock, Arkansas, and Mrs. Clark from Phoenix, Arizona. They both said what a cute English accent she had and she had to tell them because she was so truthful that she had never been in England. It was a little hard to talk as there was an orchestra and Mrs. Golightly and Mrs. Carillo and Mrs. Clark were seated just below the saxophones. Mrs. Golightly couldn’t quite make out whether she had no headache at all, or the worst headache of her life. This is lovely, she thought as she smiled back at her shouting companions, but how nice it would be to go upstairs and lie down. Just for half an hour after lunch, before I go and sit under the mimosa tree.
 
But when the luncheon was over, Mrs. Wilkins clapped her hands and said, “Now Ladies, cars are waiting at the door and we’ll assemble in the lobby for the drive.” And Mrs. Golightly said, “Oh hadn’t I better run upstairs and see whether my husband . . .” But Mrs. Wilkins said again, “Now Ladies!” So they all gathered in the lobby, and for one moment, one moment, Mrs. Golightly was still.
 
Oh, she thought, I feel awful, and I am so sleepy, and I feel a little queer. But she soon started smiling again, and they all got into motor cars.
 
She got into a nice car with some other ladies whom she did not know. They all had tall quills on their hats which made it awkward. Mrs. Golightly was the smallest and sat in the middle. She turned from side to side with great politeness. Flick, flick went the quills, smiting against each other. Well, we’d better introduce ourselves, she thought. But the lady on her right had already explained that she was Mrs. Johnson from Seattle, so she turned to her left and said to the other stranger, “Do tell me your name? I’m Mrs. Golightly and I come from British Columbia.”
 
The other lady said a little stiffly, “Well, I’m Mrs. Gampish and I come from Toledo, Ohio,” and Mrs. Golightly felt awful and said, “Oh Mrs. Gampish, how stupid of me, we met in the Tap Room, of course! So many people!” “Oh, it’s quite all right,” said Mrs. Gampish rather coldly. But she and Mrs. Johnson soon found that their husbands both had gastric ulcers and so they had a very very interesting conversation. Mrs. Golightly did not join in because she had nothing to offer in the way of an ulcer, as she and Tom and the children never seemed to be ill and the ladies did not appear to need sympathy. She dodged this way and that behind Mrs. Gampish and Mrs. Johnson, interfering with their quills, and peering at gleaming Spanish villas enfolded in green, blazing masses of flowers, a crash and white spume of breakers, a twisted Monterey pine – they all rushed dazzling past the car windows – villas, pines, ocean and all. If I were courageous or even tactful, thought Mrs. Golightly, I could ask to sit beside the window where I want to be, and these ladies could talk in comfort (the talk had moved from ulcers to their sons’ fraternities), which is what they wish, but she knew that she was not skilful in such matters, and it would not do. Oh, she yearned, if I could ever be a woman of the world and achieve these simple matters!
 
Then all the cars stopped at a place called Point Lobos, and everybody got out.
 
Mrs. Golightly sped swiftly alone toward the cliffs. She stood on a high rock overlooking the vast ocean, and the wind roared and whistled about her. She took off her hat as the whistling, beating broken quill seemed to impede her. She looked down and could hardly believe the beauty that lay below her. Green ocean crashed and broke in towering spray on splintered rocky islets, on the cliffs where she stood, and into swirling, sucking, rock-bound bays and caves. In the translucent green waves played joyous bands of seals, so joyous that they filled her with rapture. Bellowing seals clambered upon the rocks, but the din of wind and ocean drowned their bellowing. The entrancement of sea and sky and wind and the strong playing bodies of the seals so transported Mrs. Golightly that she forgot to think, Oh I must tell the children, and how Tom would love this! She was one with the rapture of that beautiful unexpected moment. She felt someone beside her and turned. There was Mrs. Carillo with a shining face. They shouted at each other, laughing with joy, but could not hear each other, and stood arm in arm braced against the wind, looking down at the playing bands of seals.
 
As the party assembled again, Mrs. Golightly stepped aside and waited for Mrs. Gampish and Mrs. Johnson to get in first. Then she got in, and sat down beside the window. Conversation about Point Lobos and the seals became general, and Mrs. Johnson who was in the middle found herself turning from side to side, bending and catching her quill. They then became quiet, and the drive home was peaceful. I shall never forget, thought Mrs. Golightly, as the landscape and seascape flashed past her rather tired eyes, the glory of Point Lobos, and the strong bodies of the seals playing in the translucent water. Whatever happens to me on earth, I shall never never forget it.
 
When she arrived at the hotel she discovered that she was nearly dead with excitement and noise and fatigue and when Tom came in she said, because she was so simple and ignorant, “Oh darling, can we have dinner somewhere quietly tonight, I must tell you about all those seals.” Tom looked shocked, and said, “Seals? But darling, aren’t you having a good time? I was just talking to Mr. Bagg and he tells me that you made a great hit with his wife. This is a Convention, you know,” he said reprovingly, “and you can’t do that kind of thing! Seals indeed! Where’s your programme? Yes, Ladies’ Dinner in the Jacobean Room, and I’ll be at the Men’s.” And Mrs. Golightly said, “Oh, Tom . . . Yes, of course, I know, how stupid of me . . . I’m having the loveliest time, Tom, and we had the loveliest drive, and now I’m really going to have a proper bath and a rest before I dress.” And Tom said, “Fine! But can I have the bathroom first because . . .” and then the telephone rang and Tom said, “Yes? Yes, Al, what’s that? In the Tap Room? In fifteen minutes? Make it twenty, Al, I want to have a bath and change. Okay, Al . . . That was Al, dear. I’ll have to hurry but you have a good rest.” And then the telephone rang and it was Mrs. Wilkins and she said, “Oh Mrs. Golightly, will you join Mrs. Porter and me and some of the ladies in my room one seven five for cocktails at six o’clock? I do hope it won’t rush you. One seven five. Oh that will be lovely.” “Oh, yes, that will be lovely,” said Mrs. Golightly. She put her hands to her face and then she took out her blue dinner dress and began pressing it, and away went the bath and away went the rest and away went the mimosa tree. Tom came out of the bathroom and said, “Whyever aren’t you lying down? That’s the trouble with you, you never will rest! Well, so long darling, have a good time.” He went, and she finished pressing her dress and put it on.
 
The next time Mrs. Golightly saw Tom was downstairs in the hotel lobby as she waited with some of the other ladies to go into the ladies’ dinner. Tom was in the middle of a group of men who walked down the centre of the lobby. They walked almost rolling with grandeur or something down the lobby, owning it, sufficient unto themselves, laughing together at their own private jokes and unaware of anyone else. But Mr. Golightly’s eyes fell on his wife. He saw how pretty she looked and was delighted with her. He checked the flow of men down the lobby and stepped forward and said, “Terry, I want you to meet Mr. Flanagan; Bill, this is my wife.” A lively and powerful small man seized Mrs. Golightly’s hand and held it and looked admiringly at her and said, “Well, Mrs. Golightly, I certainly am pleased to meet you. I’ve just got Tom here to promise that you and he will come and stay with Mrs. Flanagan and me this fall when the shooting’s good up at our little place in Oregon – now, no argument, it’s all settled, you’re coming!” What a genial host! It would be a pleasure to stay with Mr. Flanagan.
 
Tom beamed in a pleased way, and Mrs. Golightly’s face sparkled with pleasure. “Oh Mr. Flanagan,” she said, “how kind! Tom and I will just love to come.” (Never a word or thought about What shall we do with the children – just “We’d love to come.”) “So that’s settled,” said Mr. Flanagan breezily, and the flow of men down the hotel lobby was resumed.
 
At dinner Mrs. Golightly sat beside a nice woman from San Francisco called Mrs. de Kay who had once lived in Toronto so of course they had a lot in common. Before dinner everyone had had one or two Old-Fashioneds, and as the mists cleared a bit, Mrs. Golightly had recognized Mrs. Bagg, Mrs. Connelly, dear Mrs. Carillo, and beautiful Mrs. Finkel. How lovely was Mrs. Finkel, sitting in blonde serenity amidst the hubbub, in silence looking around her with happy gentle gaze. You could never forget Mrs. Finkel. Her face, her person, her repose, her shadowed eyes invited scrutiny. You gazed with admiration and sweetly she accepted your admiration. While all around her were vivacious, Mrs. Finkel sat still. But now Mrs. Finkel and Mrs. Carillo were far down the table and Mrs. Golightly conversed with Mrs. de Kay as one woman of the world to another. How well I’m coming along! she thought, and felt puffed up.
 
During the sweet course she became hot with shame! She had not spoken a word to the lady on her left who wore a red velvet dress. She turned in a gushing way and said to the lady in the red dress who, she realized, was not speaking to anyone at the moment, “Isn’t this a delightful dinner! We haven’t had a chance of a word with each other, have we, and I don’t believe we’ve met, but I’m Mrs. Golightly from British Columbia.”
 
The lady in the red cut-velvet dress turned towards Mrs. Golightly and said clearly, “I am Mrs. Gampish, and I come from Toledo, Ohio.” Their eyes met.
 
Mrs. Golightly remained silent. Blushes flamed over her. She thought, This is, no doubt, some dreadful dream from which I shall soon awake. And still the chatter and clatter and music went on. Mrs. Golightly could not think of anything to say. Mrs. Gampish continued to eat her dessert. Mrs. Golightly attempted to smile in a society way, but it was no good, and she couldn’t say a thing.
 
After dinner there was bridge and what do you suppose? Mrs. Golightly was set to play with Mrs. Magnus and Mrs. Finkel and Mrs. Gampish. Trembling a little, she stood up.
 
“I think I will go to bed,” she said. She could not bear to think of Mrs. Gampish being compelled to play bridge with her.
 
“No, I shall go to bed,” said Mrs. Gampish.
 
“No, do let me go to bed,” cried Mrs. Golightly, “I simply insist on going to bed.”
 
“And I insist on going to bed too,” said Mrs. Gampish firmly. “In any case I have a headache.” Mrs. Magnus and Mrs. Finkel looked on in amazement.
 
“No no, I shall go to bed,” said Mrs. Golightly in distress.
 
“No, I shall go to bed,” said Mrs. Gampish. It was very absurd.
 
Mrs. Bagg hurried up. “Everything all set here?” she said in a hostess voice.
 
Mrs. Gampish and Mrs. Golightly said, speaking together, “I am going to bed.”
 
“Oh, don’t both go to bed,” pleaded Mrs. Bagg, unaware of any special feeling. “If one of you must go to bed, do please one of you stay, and I will make the fourth.”
 
Mrs. Golightly considered and acted quickly. “If Mrs. Gampish really wants to go to bed,” she said, timidly but with  effect, “I will stay . . . a slight headache . . .” she said bravely fluttering her fingers and batting her eyelashes which were rather long.
 
Mrs. Gampish did not argue any more. She said good night to the ladies, and left.
 
“Oh do excuse me a minute,” said Mrs. Golightly, flickering her eyelashes, and she caught Mrs. Gampish at the elevator. Mrs. Gampish looked at her with distaste.
 
“I want to tell you, Mrs. Gampish,” said Mrs. Golightly with true humility, and speaking very low, “that I have never been to a Convention before, and I want to confess to you my stupidity. I am not really rude, only stupid and so shy although I have three children that I am truly in a whirl. Will you be able ever to forgive me? . . . It would be very kind of you if you feel that you could. Oh, please do try.”
 
There was a silence between them as the elevators came and went. Then Mrs. Gampish gave a wan smile.
 
“You are too earnest, my child,” she said. (“Oh how good you are,” breathed Mrs. Golightly) “I wouldn’t myself know one person in this whole Convention – except Mrs. Finkel and no one could forget her,” continued Mrs. Gampish, “and I never knew you each time you told me who you were until you told me, so you needn’t have worried. If you want to know why I’m going to bed, it’s because I don’t like bridge and anyway, I do have a headache.”
 
“Oh I’m so glad you really have a headache, no I mean I’m so sorry, and I think you’re perfectly sweet, Mrs. Gampish, and if ever you come to Canada . . .” and she saw the faintly amused smile of Mrs. Gampish going up in the elevator. “Well I never,” she said, but she felt happier.
 
She turned, and there was Tom hurrying past. “Oh Tom,” she called. He stopped.
 
“Having a good time darling?” he said in a hurry. “D’you want to come to the meeting at Salt Lake City next year?” and he smiled at her encouragingly.
 
“Oh Tom,” she said, “I’d adore it!” (What a changed life. Del Monte, Mr. Flanagan’s shooting lodge, Salt Lake City all in a minute, you might say)
 
“Well, well!” said Tom in surprise and vanished.
 
On the way to her bedroom that night Mrs. Golightly met Mr. Flanagan walking very slowly down the hall.
 
“How do you do, Mr. Flanagan!” said Mrs. Golightly gaily. She felt that he was already her host at his shooting lodge.
 
Mr. Flanagan stopped and looked at her seriously as from a great distance. It was obvious that he did not know her. “How do you do,” he said very carefully and with a glazed expression. “Did we meet or did we meet? In any case, how do you do.” And he continued walking with the utmost care down the corridor.
 
“Oh . . . ,” said Mrs. Golightly, her eyes wide open . . . “oh . . .” It was probable that Mr. Flanagan invited everyone to the shooting lodge. The shooting lodge began to vanish like smoke.
 
When she entered the bedroom she saw that in her hurry before dinner she had not put her hat away. The quill was twice bent, and it dangled. She took scissors and cut it short. There, she thought, caressing and smoothing the feather, it looks all right, doesn’t it? She had felt for a moment very low, disintegrated, but now as she sat on the bed in her blue dinner dress she thought, Mr. Flanagan isn’t a bit afraid to be him and Mrs. Gampish isn’t a bit afraid to be her and now I’m not a bit afraid to be me . . . at least, not much. As she looked down, smoothing her little short feather, a dreamy smile came on her face. Seals swam through the green waters of her mind, Mrs. Finkel passed and repassed in careless loveliness. Mrs. Gampish said austerely, “Too earnest, my child, too earnest.” The ghost of the mimosa tree drifted, drifted. Salt Lake City, she thought fondly . . . and then . . . where? . . . anticipation . . . a delicious fear . . . an unfamiliar pleasure.
 
Mrs. Golightly was moving out of the class for beginners. She is much more skilful now (how agile and confiding are her eyelashes!) and when her husband says, “There’s going to be a Convention in Mexico City” (or Chilliwack or Trois Rivières), she says with delight, “Oh Tom . . . !”

From the Trade Paperback edition.

close this panel

Swamp Angel

Large Print Edition
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged : classics
More Info
The Equations of Love
Excerpt

One
 
The fresh light of the rising sun touched, and then travelled – losing as it travelled its first quality of morning – down the Golden Ears, down the mountains northeast of Burrard Inlet, down the Sleeping Beauty, down the Lions, and down the lesser slopes descending westwards to the Pacific Ocean, until the radiant sunrise deteriorated into mere flat day. Milkmen were up and about in Vancouver and some railway workers and street railway workers and some hospital attendants; but the phenomenon of sunrise, being only the prelude to another day, slid away unobserved by anybody.
 
Because Mortimer Johnson’s bedroom faced westwards and was darkened as much as possible, the sun had risen fairly high before Mort woke up. Then, because he had to get up some time or other, he got up. He got up quietly and gently pulled the grey blankets back again over the warm bed because he did not want to disturb his wife Myrtle who still slept. Mort emerged from bed in his underclothes and stood sleepily regarding the curved pile in the bed, which was Myrtle. He stretched and rubbed himself slowly over his stomach and sides and back and shoulders and arms. The feeling of the woollen combinations rubbing on his skin gave him a slow obscure pleasure. Mort’s angel, who usually woke at the same time as Mort (but sometimes awoke at night and plagued him to no purpose in dreams), stepped for a moment outside its domicile, also stretched, and then returned to its simple yet interesting spiritual or shall we say psychic quarters. Mort’s angel had some time ago found out that the insecurity of the quarters wherein it often rocked as in a rough mountainous sea before settling down again facing in a different direction, was due to a weakness in Mort’s potentially strong inner structure, but, as it had discovered that it could do nothing about this weakness, had rather given up.
 
A man’s angel, after a long residence within or around a man, knows its host (or charge) very well indeed; far better than you or I, who, looking, see perhaps only a stocky middle-aged man, strong but now flabby, frowsty at the moment but when his face has been washed and shaved and his hair parted on the side and brushed back (as it will be in an hour’s time), and his shirt and suit and socks and boots pulled on, and his hat put on, too, at a debonair angle, are justified in believing that this is Mr. Johnson who is coming to do the garden, and seems a very nice man and you hope you’ll get a little satisfaction at last. You are inclined to believe this, because Mort turns upon you his kind brown eyes and tells you that he is a gardener, that he doesn’t pretend to be a carpenter or a plumber or a mechanic, but one thing he can truthfully say is that he’s a gardener and that he loves gardening above all things in the world, and that he has a green thumb. Mort’s angel used to kick him a little when Mort said things like this; but the angel does not kick any more, because it – the angel – realizes that the two things Mort really loves are his wife Myrtle and himself – the first inconstantly and the second with a varying intensity that sometimes includes his fellowman in some vicarious way identified with himself; and that when Mort makes these statements (that he loves being a gardener, or a shepherd, or a plumber, or a horse-breaker, or a plasterer), he really means them, at the moment, and it often gives his interlocutor a great deal of pleasure and a sense of security, poor thing.
 
After Mortimer had looked at his wife as he continued to rub himself, his early morning thought arose, the first thought of each morning. Was Myrtle pleased last night and will she be pleased this morning when she wakes up, or am I in wrong again, because if she acts like she did yesterday, I’ll slug her. He then applied the usual solution to this important little puzzle and walked barefooted and picking up dust into the adjoining room which was kitchen and everything else, and struck a match and lighted the gas ring and put on the kettle for a cup of tea. When he had made the tea he put the things on a little tray the way Myrtle had taught him to do fifteen years ago, and then he brought the tray to the bedside and put it on the floor because everything else had something on it, and pulled up the blinds and let the morning in, but no air, and bent over Myrtle and poked her.
 
“Wake up, Myrt. Wake up, Queen,” he said in his pleasant hoarse voice that could sound so easy-going or so angry. “Here’s your tea, honey,” and he watched for the first raising of Myrtle’s heavy lids. One of these days if she doesn’t treat him good he certainly will slug her.
 
Myrtle was no beauty. She had once had a faint disdainful prettiness. Now she stretched herself like a thin cat in the bed. Her hair was both straight and frizzy. Her nose was thin and would some day be very thin. Her eyes, which she would soon disclose, were of pale indeterminate colour. She was a com plete mistress (or victim) of the volte-face, of the turnabout, and this dubious possession was one of the reasons for her control and enslavement of Mort. The other was her eyelids. When she slowly raises her heavy eyelids as she soon will, but not until she feels inclined to, you will see their power. Myrtle’s eyelids, and her small amused smile, which is not a turning-up but a turning-down of her lips, induce a sudden loss of self-confidence in the individual towards whom the look or non-look, the smile or non-smile, is directed. She can make you, or Mort, feel insecure and negligible, just by the extra quarter-inch of her dropped eyelids and by that amused small turned-down smile. It is not fair. If you should in your beauty, your new hat, and your recent tennis championship appear before Myrtle, she can by her special look and without saying a word, intimate to you and your friends that, for some reason obscure to them and to you but well known to her and to the rest of the world, she thinks very poorly of you. If your uncle, the great explorer from the Gobi Desert, accompanied by a Lama just flown over specially with affidavits from the Desert – if your uncle should arrive with distinctions thick upon him, Myrtle’s eyelids and her secret smile will set him down where your uncle belongs. If, more important still, you should have finished and hung out your sparkling wash for your husband and ten children before bottling two crates of peaches and running up before lunch that nice dress which you are wearing, Myrtle’s eyelids faintly flickering and dropping will discount this and leave you uneasy about something, you know not what. If your son, brilliant young University graduate and soldier that he is, should, so young, be elected to Parliament, Myrtle’s eyelids will say that she knows all about graft and politics, and you can’t tell her. No wonder Myrtle controls and also aggravates her husband Mort Johnson. She is much more aggravating and less lovely than Mona Lisa of whom she has never heard, but from whom she is probably descended. There is only one person on whom the eyelids have no effect, and that is her aunt Mrs. Emblem. Aunty Emblem is able to make Myrtle feel foolish and inadequate any time she wants to. In fact, on Aunty Emblem, the eyelids work quite in reverse.
 
Well, Myrtle opened her eyes and slowly pulled herself up in bed a bit, and Mort gave her her tea, and then he went and made some breakfast and dressed and shaved and said goodbye and not to hurry and get up for anyone; and he put on his hat at the debonair angle that always gave him such an air, and started down the stairs clumping a good deal, and went out into the street feeling quite pleased with himself because Myrtle was in a good temper and because he had a new job that promised to be easy. He looked very nice as he walked, rolling almost sailor fashion, along Powell Street, and then to the street car. His face was square and pleasant, a bit soft round the jaws perhaps, his smile ready and easy when it came, his brown head and moustache with never a grey hair made him look ten years younger than his age, and his brown eyes that could be laughing, sullen and opaque, or furious – all very nice to look at.
 
When Mort had gone, Myrtle sat up and really looked about her. What she saw was their bedroom and because she was so accustomed to these two rooms (with sink) at the top of the house off Powell Street, she did not see that the room was dingy and needed cleaning; that it was not carpeted except by one small bed-side mat (which was the cause of daily and nightly outrage and something near madness to the two old men living below); that the bureau was littered with brush, pins, comb, Eno’s, face cream, hair, hairnets, powder, beads and old dust; that the blankets and flannelette sheets were unfresh; that there was no attempt at cheer or colour in the room; that, in short, everything was uniformly dingy and need not be so. She had, of course, her eyelids for a source of pride; but the queer thing was that Myrtle did not realize her eyelids qua eyelids – they were but the outward and physical sign of an inward and spiritual conceit, and were her instrument; the fact that she was not clean was irrelevant to her scorn of other people, however clean they might be.
 
Myrtle’s angel had long since become a nervous and ineffectual creature because Myrtle’s various entities and impersonations were enough to keep any angel thin. Of all people, Myrtle loved herself in whatever guise she saw herself. If her parents had been alive, she might have loved them, too. If she had had children she might have loved them too since they would have been her children. She had Mort, and (and this comforted the angel a good deal) she really loved him in her own way. She reserved the licence to dislike him, to hate him even. For very irrational reasons she would end the day disliking Mort, even when she hadn’t seen him all day; because, perhaps, the butcher had said that so upstanding a man as Mort deserved the best steak in the shop, or because Aunty Emblem in her luscious fashion had said that there was a man, if you like! Or even because his socks had gone at the toe, or because he was darn lazy, which he was, or for no reason at all. Then she knew herself wasted on this louse. But let her friend Irma Flask who lived three blocks away ask how many jobs it was Mort had had since Christmas, and say she pitied Myrtle she certainly did, and whether that was that souse Hansen she seen him with on Thursday, and what a wonderful provider her sister Ruby’s husband was – then Myrtle displayed Mort as the perfect husband, hers and none other, and let them that couldn’t keep their own husbands lay off of hers, whatever she had said about him fifteen minutes before.
 
“Well well well,” said Myrtle, “this won’t buy the child a frock.” And she got up and dressed and pulled the bedclothes over the bed, and did her face, and put on her hat, and went downstairs, and took the street car to Mrs. H. X. Lemoyne’s. She “gave” Mrs. H. X. Lemoyne three part days a week, and Mrs. Lemoyne, who was not very strong, cossetted Myrtle and apologized to her in a way that annoyed Mr. H. X. Lemoyne whose money Myrtle received.
 
When Myrtle got on the street car in a fairly good humour, she sat down behind a woman of about her own age, say forty-five, and this woman wore a nice suit and hat made of soft brown tweed. The woman sat there in a composed way and it would appear from her suede gloves and her alligator shoes and the well-made suit and becoming hat that she had a comfortable amount of money and was fairly successful in her undertakings and was happy and satisfied – for the moment – in her mind. This set up a faint irritation in Myrtle, and her angel heard Myrtle’s inner whisper that this woman should not be taking up working people’s places in street cars but should be driving herself. Myrtle and Mort became, for the purpose of argument, “working people,” as opposed to people wearing alligator shoes. The woman was actually a school teacher on leave of absence, and she had put her small house to rights, prepared dinner ahead of time, packed her nephews down to the beach with their lunches, put on her best clothes of which she was very proud, and was going to have lunch with her favourite sister-in-law to show her the new alligator shoes. Myrtle could not be expected to know this, and so she said within herself “A society woman! You can’t tell me! You can’t tell me anything about society women! I know them. I’ll bet her husband’s no good. They make me smile, they certny do, society women.” Having endowed the woman in the brown suit with several unpleasant qualities, and having herself assumed the character of a woman universally put upon, Myrtle got off the street car virtuous but in a poor temper and walked to Mrs. H. X. Lemoyne’s and let herself in.
 
“Oh, there you are, Mrs. Johnson!” cried Mrs. H. X. Lemoyne, who was still in her dressing gown and anxious to please. “What a beautiful day!” She was terrified by Myrtle’s eyelids, and could be disciplined any minute that Myrtle chose.
 
Myrtle did not answer (Oh Lord! groaned Mrs. Lemoyne who felt silly at once), but walked to her cupboard, took off her things and put on a coverall which she kept there. She then went to Mrs. H. X. Lemoyne. “Anything special?” she asked, with her mood still upon her.
 
Mrs. H. X. Lemoyne had worked herself up considerably before Myrtle came, because last night an old school friend from Toronto had rung up, and she had enthusiastically arranged a small luncheon for the old school friend. Three other old school friends. “Just pot luck.” All this she now explained to Myrtle, becoming, as she did so, voluble and undignified. She explained that she had sent the children off to school with sandwiches and that her husband was not coming home to lunch. She kept on saying “Just pot luck!” Myrtle had not bargained for lunch parties, even pot luck. She patted the back of her hair and used her eyelids while avoiding looking at Mrs. Lemoyne who felt guilty and yet very angry with her own self for being so weak-minded.
 
“I’m not feeling so good this morning,” said Myrtle. “I don’t know how long I’ll be able to stay. Mr. Johnson brought me some tea this morning. When he saw how I looked he begged me not to come. He said, ‘Gosh, you look awful,’ and I said, ‘Believe me, it’s nothing to the way I feel.’ He wanted to stay home with me but I made him go because he’s got a big contracting job up in West Vancouver, but he sure didn’t want me to come. If I’d a known there was a luncheon party on I’d a stayed home like he asked me. He said ‘Now you’ve no need to work like this.’ He doesn’t like me going out, and him getting good money. He thinks it reflects.”
 
Mrs. H. X. Lemoyne apologized for all of this and felt that she was not paying Myrtle enough for coming and then said she had the dessert ready and what else would Myrtle like her to do. (How cross Hughie would be if he heard me talking like this! But I can’t help it), and Myrtle, now that she had vented her ill-humour and also displayed Mort as a superior type of husband, and had tossed in an artful disparagement of other husbands including Mr. H. X. Lemoyne, now that she had done her bit of drama, became fairly co-operative and “did” the house while Mrs. Lemoyne prepared the lunch. Myrtle forgot that last time Mort had figured in her conversation with Mrs. Lemoyne, he was lazy and you just couldn’t ever depend on him, and she, Myrtle, was the sole provider for the two of them, and what her parents (who had brought her up in affluence) would ever have said, she did not know. Mrs. Lemoyne, who was a pleasant woman but temperamentally afraid of people, remembered this and was puzzled, but did not stop to argue as she ran about the kitchen.

close this panel
The Innocent Traveller
Excerpt

Far away at the end of the table sat Father, the kind, handsome and provident man. At this end sat Mother, her crinoline spread abroad. On Mother’s right was Mr. Matthew Arnold. On each side of the table the warned children ate their food gravely, all except Topaz on Mother’s left. Topaz, who could not be squelched, was perched there on the top of two cushions, as innocent as a poached egg. Mother sat gracious, fatigued, heavy behind the majestic crinoline with the last and fatal child.

Said Mr. Matthew Arnold in large and musical tones, speaking across the children and three jellied fowls to Father who with divided attention carved, “It is now my hope to make a survey of the educational systems of France and Germany with a view to the establishment in this country of reasonable educational facilities for every child, rich or poor. You will agree with me, Mr. Edgeworth, that a modicum of education, given under healthy and happy conditions, is the right of every boy. This I would extend to girls also.” Thus spoke Mr. Matthew Arnold.

Father, as he carved for ten people, made encouraging sounds, although he had not yet considered this novel idea. He was, however, prepared to do so. He looked forward to a pleasant afternoon with this agreeable and enlightened person who was a coming Inspector of Schools, a present poet, and a son of Arnold of Rugby.
Mother’s quiet sombre gaze swept round the table, dwelt for a moment thoughtfully on the poet, rested on Father busy with the jellied fowls, rested on the two young grown-up daughters, on the four sons, on the little Topaz at her side, and on the ministering Cook and Emma.

Topaz was anxious to be noticed. But nobody was noticed today except Mr. Matthew Arnold. Not Annie, Mary, Blakey, George, John, nor Joe. She determined to be noticed immediately, so she spoke across the table to the guest.

As she was so unimportant no one paid her any attention at first until she was heard to say, “. . . and it’s got a lovely yellow glass handle and you pull it and it goes woosh! Woosh, woosh!” she trumpeted, and smiled happily at Mr. Matthew Arnold.

“What goes woosh, my child?” he asked.

“Our new —”

“Topaz!” thundered Father, and Mother put out a grieved and loving hand. The outraged brothers and sisters looked across and downwards. Only Mr. Matthew Arnold regarded Topaz without horror.

“Topaz, eat your bread and butter,” commanded Mother. But Topaz had succeeded. She had been noticed, although she had failed to tell Mr. Matthew Arnold about their new plumbing.

close this panel
Show editions
close this panel

This author has been listed 1 time

User Activity

more >
X
Contacting facebook
Please wait...