In a German Pension

第22章 A BIRTHDAY.(4)

Saddled with work all day,and couldn't shake it off in the evening like other men.Besides,Anna was interested--they talked of practically nothing else together.Excellent mother she'd make for a boy;she had a grip of things.

Church bells started ringing through the windy air,now sounding as though from very far away,then again as though all the churches in the town had been suddenly transplanted into their street.They stirred something in him,those bells,something vague and tender.Just about that time Anna would call him from the hall."Andreas,come and have your coat brushed.

I'm ready."Then off they would go,she hanging on his arm,and looking up at him.She certainly was a little thing.He remembered once saying when they were engaged,"Just as high as my heart,"and she had jumped on to a stool and pulled his head down,laughing.A kid in those days,younger than her children in nature,brighter,more "go"and "spirit"in her.The way she'd run down the road to meet him after business!And the way she laughed when they were looking for a house.By Jove!that laugh of hers!

At the memory he grinned,then grew suddenly grave.Marriage certainly changed a woman far more than it did a man.Talk about sobering down.She had lost all her go in two months!Well,once this boy business was over she'd get stronger.He began to plan a little trip for them.He'd take her away and they'd loaf about together somewhere.After all,dash it,they were young still.She'd got into a groove;he'd have to force her out of it,that's all.

He got up and went into the drawing-room,carefully shut the door and took Anna's photograph from the top of the piano.She wore a white dress with a big bow of some soft stuff under the chin,and stood,a little stiffly,holding a sheaf of artificial poppies and corn in her hands.Delicate she looked even then;her masses of hair gave her that look.She seemed to droop under the heavy braids of it,and yet she was smiling.Andreas caught his breath sharply.She was his wife--that girl.Posh!it had only been taken four years ago.He held it close to him,bent forward and kissed it.Then rubbed the glass with the back of his hand.At that moment,fainter than he had heard in the passage,more terrifying,Andreas heard again that wailing cry.The wind caught it up in mocking echo,blew it over the house-tops,down the street,far away from him.He flung out his arms,"I'm so damnably helpless,"he said,and then,to the picture,"Perhaps it's not as bad as it sounds;perhaps it is just my sensitiveness."In the half light of the drawing-room the smile seemed to deepen in Anna's portrait,and to become secret,even cruel."No,"he reflected,"that smile is not at all her happiest expression--it was a mistake to let her have it taken smiling like that.She doesn't look like my wife--like the mother of my son."Yes,that was it,she did not look like the mother of a son who was going to be a partner in the firm.The picture got on his nerves;he held it in different lights,looked at it from a distance,sideways,spent,it seemed to Andreas afterwards,a whole lifetime trying to fit it in.The more he played with it the deeper grew his dislike of it.Thrice he carried it over to the fireplace and decided to chuck it behind the Japanese umbrella in the grate;then he thought it absurd to waste an expensive frame.There was no good in beating about the bush.Anna looked like a stranger--abnormal,a freak--it might be a picture taken just before or after death.

Suddenly he realised that the wind had dropped,that the whole house was still,terribly still.Cold and pale,with a disgusting feeling that spiders were creeping up his spine and across his face,he stood in the centre of the drawing-room,hearing Doctor Erb's footsteps descending the stairs.

He saw Doctor Erb come into the room;the room seemed to change into a great glass bowl that spun round,and Doctor Erb seemed to swim through this glass bowl towards him,like a goldfish in a pearl-coloured waistcoat.

"My beloved wife has passed away!"He wanted to shout it out before the doctor spoke.

"Well,she's hooked a boy this time!"said Doctor Erb.Andreas staggered forward.

"Look out.Keep on your pins,"said Doctor Erb,catching Dinzer's arm,and murmuring,as he felt it,"Flabby as butter."A glow spread all over Andreas.He was exultant.

"Well,by God!Nobody can accuse ME of not knowing what suffering is,"he said.

Katherine Mansfield

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