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The land of promise : a novelization of W. Somerset Maugham's play online

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NOEA opened her eyes to an unaccustomed
consciousness of well-being. She was
dimly aware that it had its origin in
something deeper than mere physical comfort;
but for the moment, in that state between sleep-
ing and wakening, which still held her, it was
enough to find that body and mind seemed

Youth was reasserting itself. And it was
only a short time ago that she had felt that
never, never, could she by any possible chance
feel young again. When one is young, one re-
sents the reaction after any strain not purely
physical as if it were a premature symptom of
old age.

A ray of brilliant sunshine, which found its
way through a gap in the drawn curtains,
showed that it was long past the usual hour
for rising. She smiled whimsically and closed
her eyes once more. She remembered now that
she was not in her own little room in the other
wing of the house. The curtains proved that.


How often in the ten years she had been with
Miss Wickham had she begged that the staring
white window blind, which decorated her one
window, be replaced by curtains or even a blind
of a dark tone that she might not be awakened
by the first ray of light. She had even ven-
tured to propose that the cost of such altera-
tions be stopped out of her salary. Miss Wick-
ham had refused to countenance any such

Three years before, when the offending blind
had refused to hold together any longer, Nora
had had a renewal of hope. But no ! The new
blind had been more glaringly white than its
predecessor, which by contrast had taken on a
grateful ivory tone in its old age. They had
had one of their rare scenes at its advent. Nora
had as a rule an admirable control of her nat-
urally quick temper. But this had been too

" I might begin to understand your refusal
if you ever entered my room. But since it
would no more occur to you to do so than to
visit the stables, I cannot see what possible dif-
ference it can make," Nora had stormed.

Miss Wickham 's smile, which at the begin-
ning of her companion's outburst had been
faintly ironic, had broadened into the frankly


" Stated with your characteristic regard for
-exactitude, my dear Miss Marsh, it would never
enter my head to do either. I prefer the white
blind, however. As you know, I have no taste
for explanations. We will let the matter rest
there, if you please." Then she had added:
" Some day, I strongly suspect, some man will
amuse himself breaking that fiery temper of
yours. I wish I were not so old, I think that I
should enjoy knowing that he had succeeded.'*
And the incident had ended, as always, with a
few angry tears on Nora's part, as a prelim-
inary to the inevitable game of bezique which
finished off each happy day!

And this had been her life for ten years ! A
wave of pity, not for herself but for that young
girl of eighteen who had once been herself, that
proudly confident young creature who, when
suddenly deprived of the protection of her only
parent, Nora's father had died when she was
too young to remember him, had so bravely
faced the world, serene in the consciousness
that the happiness which was her right was sure
to be hers after a little waiting, dimmed her
eyes for a moment. The dreams she had
dreamed after she had received Miss "Wick-
ham's letter offering her the post of compan-
ion ! She recalled how she had smiled to herself
when the agent with whom she had filed her


application congratulated her warmly on her
good fortune in placing herself so promptly,
and, by way of benediction, had wished that she
might hold the position for many years. Many
years indeed! That had been no part of her
plan. Those nebulous plans had always been
consistently rose-colored. It was impossible to
remember them all now.

Sometimes the unknown Miss Wickham
turned out to be a soft-hearted and sentimental
old lady who was completely won by her young
companion's charm and unmistakable air of
good breeding. After a short time, she either
adopted her, or, on dying, left her her entire

Again, she proved to be a perfect ogre. In
this variation it was always the Prince Charm-
ing, that looms large in every young girl's
dreams, who finally, after a brief period of un-
happiness, came to the rescue and everything
ended happily if somewhat conventionally.

The reality had been sadly different. Miss
Wickham had disclosed herself as being a hard,
self-centered, worldly woman who considered
that in furnishing her young companion with
board, lodging and a salary of thirty pounds a
year, she had, to use a commercial phrase, ob-
tained the option on her every waking hour, and
indeed, during the last year of her life, she had


extended this option to cover many of the hours
which should have been dedicated to rest and

All the fine plans that the young Nora had
made while journeying down from London to
Tunbridge Wells, for going on with her music,
improving herself in French and perhaps tak-
ing up another modern language, in her leisure
hours, had been nipped in the bud before she
had been an inmate of Miss Wickham's house
many days. She had no leisure hours. Miss
Wickham saw to that. She had apparently an
abhorrence for her own unrelieved society that
amounted to a positive mania. She must never
be left alone. Let Nora but escape to her own
little room in the vain hope of obtaining a few
moments to herself, and Kate, the parlor maid,
was certain to be sent after her.

" Miss Wickham's compliments and she was
waiting to be read to." " Miss Wickham's
compliments, but did Miss Marsh know that
the horses were at the door? " " Miss Wick-
ham's compliments, and should she have Kate
set out the backgammon board? "

And upon the rare occasions when there was
company in the house, Miss Wickham's ingenu-
ity in providing occupation for dear Miss
Marsh, while she was herself occupied with her
friends, was inexhaustible. In an evil hour


Nora had confessed to a modest talent for wash-
ing lace. Miss Wickham, it developed, had a
really fine collection of beautiful pieces which
naturally required the most delicate handling.
Their need for being washed was oddly coin-
cident with the moment when the expected guest
arrived at the door.

Or, it appeared that the slugs had attacked
the rose trees in unusual numbers. The gar-
dener was in despair as he was already behind
with setting out the annuals. " Would Miss
Marsh mind while Miss Wickham had her little
after-luncheon nap I ' Miss Marsh did
mind. She loved flowers; to arrange them was
a delight at least it had been once but she-
hated slugs. But she was too young and too
inexperienced to know how to combat the sub-
tle encroachments upon her own time made by
this selfish old woman. And so, gradually, she
had found that she was not only companion, but
a sort of superior lady's maid and assistant
gardener as well. And all for thirty pounds a
year and her keep.

And alas! Prince Charming had never ap-
peared, unless Nora laughed aloud at the
thought he had disguised himself with a clev-
erness defying detection. With Reginald
Hornby, a callow youth, the son of Miss Wick-
ham's dearest friend, who occasionally made


the briefest of duty visits; Mr. Wynne, the
family solicitor, an elderly bachelor; and the
doctor's assistant, a young person by the name
of Gard, Nora's list of eligible men was com-
plete. There had been a time when Nora had
flirted with the idea of escaping from bondage
by becoming the wife of young Gard.

He was a rather common young man, but he
had been sincerely in love with her. He was
not sufficiently subtle to recognize that it was
the idea of escaping from Miss Wickham and
the deadly monotony of her days that tempted
her. He had laid his case before Miss Wick-
ham. There had been some terrible scenes.
Nora had felt the lash of her employer's bitter
tongue. Partly because she was still smarting
from the attack, and partly because she was
indignant with her suitor for having gone to
Miss Wickham at all and particularly without
consulting her, she, too, had turned on the un-
fortunate young man. There had been mutual
recriminations and reproaches, and young
Gard, after his brief and bitter experience with
the gentry, had left the vicinity of Tunbridge
Wells and later on married a girl of his own

But Miss Wickham had been more shaken at
the prospect of losing her young companion,
who was so thoroughly broken in, than she


would have liked to have confessed. She de-
tested new faces about her, and as a matter of
fact, she came as nearly caring for Nora as it
was possible for her to care for any human
being. She had told the girl then that it was
her intention to make some provision for her
at her death, so that she might have a decent
competence and not be obliged to look for an-
other position. There was, of course, the im-
plied understanding that she would remain
with Miss Wickham until that lady was sum-
moned to a better and brighter world, a step
which Miss Wickham, herself, was in no im-
mediate hurry to take. In the meantime, she
knew perfectly well just how often a pro-
spective legacy could be dangled before ex-
pectant eyes with perfect delicacy.

It furnished her with an additional weapon,
too, against her nephew, James Wickham, and
his wife, both of whom she cordially detested,
although she fully intended leaving them the
bulk of her fortune. The consideration and
tenderness she showed toward Nora when Mr.
and Mrs. Wickham ran down from London to
see their dear aunt showed a latent talent for
comedy, on the part of the chief actress, of no
mean order. These occasions left Nora in a
state of mind in which exasperation and amuse-
ment were about equally blended. It was


amusing to note the signs of apprehension on
the part of Miss Wickham's disagreeable rela-
tives as they noted their aunt's doting fondness
for her hired companion. And while she felt
that they richly deserved this little punish-
ment, it was humiliating to be so cynically made
use of.

And now it was all over. After a year of
illness and gradual decline the end had come
two days before. Nothing could induce Miss
Wickham to have a professional nurse. The
long strain and weeks of broken rest had told
even on Nora's strength. Kindly Dr. Evans
had insisted that she be put immediately to bed
and Kate, the parlor maid, who had always
been devoted to her, had undressed her as if
she had been a baby. For the last two days
she had done little but sleep the dreamless sleep
of utter exhaustion. And to-day was the day
of the funeral. She was just about to ring to
find the time, when Kate's gentle knock came
at the door.

" Come in. Good morning, Kate. Do tell
me the time. Oh! How good it is to be lazy
once in a while."

" Good morning to you, Miss. I hope you're
feeling a bit rested. It 's just gone eleven. Dr.
Evans has called, Miss. He told me to see if
you had waked. ' '


" How good of him. Ask him to wait a few
moments and I'll come right down." ' Com-
ing right down > was not so easy a matter as
she had thought. Nora found herself strangely
weak and languid. She was still sitting on the
edge of her bed, trying to gather energy for
the task of dressing, when Kate returned.

" I beg your pardon, Miss, but Dr. Evans
says you're not to get up until he sees you.
I'm to bring you a bit of toast and your tea
and to help you freshen up a bit and then he
will come up in twenty minutes. He says to
tell you that he has plenty of time."

Nora made a show of protest. Secretly she
was rather glad to give in. She had not reck-
oned with the weakness following two unac-
customed days in bed. Dr. Evans was a kindly
elderly man, whose one affectation was the
gruffness which the country doctor of the old
school so often assumes as if he wished to em-
phasize his disapproval of the modern suave
manner of his city confrere. He had a sardonic
humor and a sharp tongue which had at first
quite terrified Nora, until she discovered that
they were meant to hide the most generous
heart in the world. Many were the kindly acts
he performed in secret for the very people he
was most accustomed to abuse.

Having felt Nora's pulse and looked at her


sharply with his keen gray eyes, he settled the
question of her attendance at Miss "Wickham's
funeral with his accustomed finality.

" You'll do nothing of the sort," he growled.
" You may get up after a while and go and
sit in the garden a bit ; the air is fairly spring-
like. But this afternoon you must lie down
again for an hour or two. I suppose you'll
have to get up to do the civil for James Wick-
ham and his wife before they go back to town.
Oh, no ! they'll not stay the night. They'll rush
back as fast as the train will take them, once
they've heard the will read. Couldn't bear the
associations with the place, now that their dear
aunt has departed! " He gave one of his sar-
donic chuckles.

" It may be nonsense ' ! this in reply to
Nora's remonstrance " but I'm not going to
have you on my hands next. You'll go to that
funeral and get hysterical like all women, and
begin to think that you wish her back. I should
think this last year would have been about all
anyone would want. But you're a poor senti-
mental creature, after all," he jeered.

"I'm nothing of the sort. But I did feel
sorry for her, badly as she often treated me.
She was a desperately lonely old soul. Nobody
cared a bit about her, really, and she knew it. ' '

" In spite of all her little amiable tricks to


make people love her," said the doctor. " Now,
remember, the garden for an hour this morn-
ing, the drawing-room later in the day, after
you've rested for an hour or so. And don't
dare disobey me." With that, he left.

It was pleasant in the garden. The air,
though chilly, held the promise of spring.
Warmly wrapped in an old cape, which the
thoughtful Kate had discovered somewhere,
with a book on Paris and some Italian sketches
to fall back upon when her own thoughts ceased
to divert her, Nora sat in a sheltered corner
and looked out on the border which would soon
be gay with the tulips whose green stocks were
just beginning to push themselves up through
the brown earth. Poor Miss Wickham! She
had been so proud of her garden always. But
for her it had bloomed for the last time. Would
the James Wickhams take as much pride in it?
Somehow, she fancied not. And she? Where
would she be a year from now? A year!
Where would she be in another month?

The whole world, in a modest sense, would
be hers to choose from. While she had no
definite notion as to the amount of her legacy,
she had understood that it would bring in suf-
ficient income to keep her from the necessity
of seeking further employment. Probably
something between two and three hundred


pounds a year. She had always longed to
travel. Italy, France, Germany, Spain, she
would see them all. One could live very rea-
sonably in really good pensions abroad, she had
been told.

And then, some day, after a few years of
happy wandering, she might adventure to that
far-off Canada where her only brother was
living the life of a frontiersman on an incredi-
bly huge farm. She had not seen him for many
years, but her heart warmed at the thought of
seeing her only relative again. He was much
older. Yes, Eddie must now be about forty.
Oh, all of that. She, herself, was almost twenty-
eight. But she wouldn't go to him for several
years. He had done one thing which seemed
to her quite dreadful. He had made an un-
fortunate marriage with a woman far beneath
him socially. Men were so weak ! Because they
fancied themselves lonely, or even captivated
by a pretty face, they were willing to make im-
possible marriages. Women were different.
Still, she had the grace to blush when she re-
called the episode of the doctor's assistant.

Yes, she would go out to Eddie after his wife
had had the chance to form herself a little more.
Living with a husband so much superior was
bound to have its influence. And she must have
some really good qualities at bottom or she!


could never have attracted him. There was
nothing vicious about her brother. She must
write him of Miss Wickham's death. They
were neither of them fond of writing. It must
be nearly a year since she had heard from him
last. And then, it was so difficult to keep up a
correspondence when people had no mutual
friends and so little in common.

A glance at her watch told her that it must
be nearly time for the London Wickhams to
arrive. It would be better not to see them, un-
less they sent for her, until after they had re-
turned from the cemetery. They were just the
sort of people to think that she was forgetting
her position if she had the manner of playing
hostess by receiving them. Thank goodness!
she would probably never see them again after

With a word to Kate that she would presently
have her luncheon in her room and then rest for
a few hours until the people returned after the
funeral, she made her way to her own bare little
room. How cold and bare it was! With the
exception of the framed pictures of her father
and mother and a small photograph of Eddie,
taken before he had gone out, there was nothing
but the absolutely necessary furniture. Miss
Wickham's ideas of what a ' companion's '
room should be like had partaken of the aus-


tere. And all the rest of the house was so
crowded and overloaded with things. The
drawing-room had always been an eyesore to
Xora, crammed as it was with little tables and
cabinets containing china. And in every avail-
able space there were porcelain ornaments and
photographs in huge silver frames. It was all
like a badly arranged museum or a huddled
little curio shop. Well, she would soon be done
with that, too !

Armed with her portfolio and writing ma-
terials Xora returned to the guest chamber,
which was her temporary abode. The motherly
Kate was waiting with an appetizing lunch on
a neat tray. What a good friend she had been.
She would be genuinely sorry to part with Kate.
She must ask her to give her some address that
would always reach her. Who knew, years
hence when she returned to England, but what
she might afford to set up a modest flat with
Kate to manage things for her. She would
speak to her on the morrow after the will was

" Ah, Kate, you knew just what would tempt
me. Thank you so much! By the way, has
Miss Pringle sent any message? '

Yes, Miss. Miss Pringle stopped on her
way to the village a moment ago. She was with
Mrs. Hubbard and had only a moment. I was


to tell you that she would call this afternoon
and hoped you could see her. I told her, Miss,
that the doctor had said you were not to go to
the burial. She will come while they are away. ' '

" Let me know the moment she comes. I
want to see her very much."

Miss Pringle was the only woman friend
Nora had made in the years of her sojourn at
Tunbridge Wells. They had little in common
beyond the fellow-feeling that binds those in
bondage. Miss Pringle was also a companion.
Her task mistress, Mrs. Hubbard, was in Nora's
opinion, about as stolidly brainless as a woman
could well be. Miss Pringle was always laud-
ing her kindness. But then Miss Pringle had
been a companion to various rich women for
thirty years. Nora had her own ideas as to
the value of the opinions of any woman who
had been in slavery for thirty years.

Having eaten her luncheon and written her
letter to her brother, she felt glad to rest once
more. How wise the doctor had been to forbid
her to go to the funeral, and how grateful she
was that he had forbidden it, was her last
waking thought.


IT was well on to three o'clock when Miss
Pringle made her careful way up the path that
led to the late Miss Wickham's door.

" How strange it will be not to find her in
her own drawing-room! " she reflected. " I
don't recall that Nora Marsh and I have ever
been alone together for two consecutive minutes
in our lives. I simply couldn't have stood it."

" I'll tell Miss Marsh you're here, Miss Prin-
gle," said Kate, at the door.

" How is she to-day, Kate? "

" Still tired out, poor thing. The doctor
made her promise to lie down directly after
she had had a bite of luncheon. But she said
I was to let her know the moment you came,

"I'm very glad she didn't go to the funeral."

" Dr. Evans simply wouldn't hear of it,

1 i I wonder how she stood it all these months,
waiting on Miss Wickham hand and foot. She
should have been made to have a professional

" It wasn't very easy to make Miss Wickham



have anything she had made up her mind not to,
you know that, Miss, ' ' said Kate as she led the
way to the drawing-room. " Miss Marsh slept
in Miss Wickham 's room towards the last, and
the moment she fell asleep Miss Wickham would
have her up because her pillow wanted shaking
or she was thirsty, or something."

" I suppose she was vefy inconsiderate."

Miss Pringle did not in general approve of
discussing things with servants. But Nora had
told her frequently how faithfully Kate looked
after her and, as far as it was possible, made
things bearable, so she felt she could make an
exception of her.

" Inconsiderate isn't the word, Miss. I
wouldn't be a lady's companion," Kate paused,
her hand on the doorknob, to make a sweeping
gesture, " not for anything. What they have
to put up with ! ' '

11 Everyone isn't like Miss Wickham," said
Miss Pringle, a trifle sharply. " The lady I'm
companion to, Mrs. Hubbard, is kindness it-

" That sounds like Miss Marsh coming down
the stairs now," said Kate, opening the door.
" Miss Pringle is here, Miss."

As Kate closed the door behind her, Nora
advanced to meet her friend from the doorway
with her pretty smile and outstretched hand.


Miss Pringle kissed her warmly and then drew
her down on a large sofa by her side. Her
glance had a certain note of disapproval as it
took in her friend's black dress, which did not
escape that observant young person.

" I was so glad to hear you were coming to
me this afternoon ; it is good of you. How did
you escape the dragon? "

She had long ago nicknamed the excellent
Mrs. Hubbard ' the dragon ' simply to tease
Miss Pringle.

" Mrs. Hubbard has gone for a drive with
somebody or other and didn't want me," said
Miss Pringle primly. " You haven't been cry-
ing, Nora? "

" Yes, I couldn't help it. My dear, it's not

Miss Pringle dropped the hand she had
been stroking to clasp both her own over the
handle of her umbrella. " Well, I don't
like to say anything against her now
she's dead, poor thing, but Miss Wickham
was the most detestable old woman I ever

" Still," said Nora slowly, looking toward
the French window which opened on the garden,
at the sun streaming through the drawn blinds,
" I don't suppose one can live so long with
anyone and not be a little sorry to part with


them forever. I was Miss Wickham's compan-
ion for ten years."

" How you stood it! Exacting, domineering,
disagreeable! "

" Yes, I suppose she was. Because she paid
me a salary, she thought I wasn't a human be-
ing. I certainly never knew anyone with such
a bitter tongue. At first I used to cry every
night when I went to bed because of the things
she said to me. But I got used to them."

" I wonder you didn't leave her. I would
have." Miss Pringle attempting to delude her-
self with the idea that she was a mettlesome,
high-spirited person who would stand no non-
sense, was immensely diverting to Nora. To
hide an irrepressible smile, she went over to
a bowl of roses which stood on one of the little
tables and pretended to busy herself with their

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Online LibraryD TorbettThe land of promise : a novelization of W. Somerset Maugham's play → online text (page 1 of 15)