I went to the window, and, pulling the curtain aside, looked vaguely out into the damp, black garden, from which the last light was fading. The red, rectangular house stood in the midst of the garden, and the garden was surrounded by four brick walls, which preserved it from four streets where dwelt artisans of the upper class. The occasional rattling of a cart was all we caught of the peaceable rumour of the town; but on clear nights the furnaces of Cauldon Bar Ironworks lit the valley for us, and we were reminded that our refined and inviolate calm was hemmed in by rude activities. On the east border of the garden was a row of poplars, and from the window I could see the naked branches of the endmost. A gas-lamp suddenly blazed behind it in Acre Lane, and I descried a bird in the tree. And as the tree waved its plume in the night-wind, and the bird swayed on the moving twig, and the gas-lamp burned meekly and patiently beyond, I seemed to catch in these simple things a glimpse of the secret meaning of human existence, such as one gets sometimes, startlingly, in a mood of idle receptiveness. And it was so sad and so beautiful, so full of an ecstatic melancholy, that I dropped the curtain. And my thought ranged lovingly over our household—prim, regular, and perfect: my old aunt embroidering in the breakfast-room, and Rebecca and Lucy ironing in the impeachable kitchen, and not one of them with the least suspicion that Adam had not really waked up one morning minus a rib. I wandered in fancy all over the house—the attics, my aunt’s bedroom so miraculously neat, and mine so unkempt, and the dark places in the corridors where clocks ticked.
I had the sense of the curious compact organism of which my aunt was the head, and into which my soul had strayed by some caprice of fate. What I felt was that the organism was suspended in a sort of enchantment, lifelessly alive, unconsciously expectant of the magic touch which would break the spell, and I wondered how long I must wait before I began to live. I know now that I was happy in those serene preliminary years, but nevertheless I had the illusion of spiritual woe. I sighed grievously as I went back to the piano, and opened the volume of Mikuli’s Chopin.
Just as I was beginning to play, Rebecca came into the room. She was a maid of forty years, and stout; absolutely certain of a few things, and quite satisfied in her ignorance of all else; an important person in our house, and therefore an important person in the created universe, of which our house was for her the centre. She wore the white cap with distinction, and when an apron was suspended round her immense waist it ceased to be an apron, and became a symbol, like the apron of a Freemason.
‘Well, Rebecca?’ I said, without turning my head.
I guessed urgency, otherwise Rebecca would have delegated Lucy.
’If you please, Miss Carlotta, your aunt is not feeling well, and she will not be able to go to the concert to-night.’