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LIVING ALONE

BY

STELLA BENSON

AUTHOR OF "I POSE," "THIS IS THE END"

MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON
1920





_First Edition 1919_
_Reprinted 1920 (twice)_




This is not a real book. It does not deal with real people, nor
should it be read by real people. But there are in the world so
many real books already written for the benefit of real people, and
there are still so many to be written, that I cannot believe that a
little alien book such as this, written for the magically-inclined
minority, can be considered too assertive a trespasser.




I have to thank the Editor of the _Athenæum_ for allowing me to
reprint the poem "Detachment" and the first chapter of this book.
The courtesy of the Editor of the _Pall Mall Gazette_ in permitting
me to use again any of my contributions to his paper also enables
me to include in the fifth chapter the tragic incident of the Mad
'Bus.

S.B.





CONTENTS


CHAPTER I

MAGIC COMES TO A COMMITTEE 1


CHAPTER II

THE COMMITTEE COMES TO MAGIC 19


CHAPTER III

THE EVERLASTING BOY 53


CHAPTER IV

THE FORBIDDEN SANDWICH 75


CHAPTER V

AN AIR RAID SEEN FROM BELOW 97


CHAPTER VI

AN AIR RAID SEEN FROM ABOVE 129


CHAPTER VII

THE FAERY FARM 155


CHAPTER VIII

THE REGRETTABLE WEDNESDAY 195


CHAPTER IX

THE HOUSE OF LIVING ALONE MOVES AWAY 221


CHAPTER X

THE DWELLER ALONE 257




THE DWELLER ALONE

My Self has grown too mad for me to master.
Craven, beyond what comfort I can find,
It cries: "_Oh, God, I am stricken with disaster_."
Cries in the night: "_I am stricken, I am blind_...."
I will divorce it. I will make my dwelling
Far from my Self. Not through these hind'ring tears
Will I see men's tears shed. Not with these ears
Will I hear news that tortures in the telling.

I will go seeking for my soul's remotest
And stillest place. For oh, I starve and thirst
To hear in quietness man's passionate protest
Against the doom with which his world is cursed.
Not my own wand'rings - not my own abidings -
Shall give my search a bias and a bent.
For me is no light moment of content,
For me no friend, no teller of the tidings.

The waves of endless time do sing and thunder
Upon the cliffs of space. And on that sea
I will sail forth, nor fear to sink thereunder,
Immeasurable time supporting me:
That sea - that mother of a million summers,
Who bore, with melody, a million springs,
Shall sing for my enchantment, as she sings
To life's forsaken ones, and death's newcomers.

Look, yonder stand the stars to banish anger,
And there the immortal years do laugh at pain,
And here is promise of a blessed languor
To smooth at last the seas of time again.
And all those mothers' sons who did recover
From death, do cry aloud: "_Ah, cease to mourn us.
To life and love you claimed that you had borne us,
But we have found death kinder than a lover_."

I will divorce my Self. Alone it searches
Amid dark ruins for its yesterday;
Beats with its hands upon the doors of churches,
And, at their altars, finds it cannot pray.
But I am free - I am free of indecision,
Of blood, and weariness, and all things cruel.
I have sold my Self for silence, for the jewel
Of silence, and the shadow of a vision....




CHAPTER I

MAGIC COMES TO A COMMITTEE


There were six women, seven chairs, and a table in an otherwise
unfurnished room in an unfashionable part of London. Three of the women
were of the kind that has no life apart from committees. They need not
be mentioned in detail. The names of two others were Miss Meta Mostyn
Ford and Lady Arabel Higgins. Miss Ford was a good woman, as well as a
lady. Her hands were beautiful because they paid a manicurist to keep
them so, but she was too righteous to powder her nose. She was the sort
of person a man would like his best friend to marry. Lady Arabel was
older: she was virtuous to the same extent as Achilles was invulnerable.
In the beginning, when her soul was being soaked in virtue, the heel of
it was fortunately left dry. She had a husband, but no apparent tragedy
in her life. These two women were obviously not native to their
surroundings. Their eyelashes brought Bond Street - or at least
Kensington - to mind; their shoes were mudless; their gloves had not been
bought in the sales. Of the sixth woman the less said the better.

All six women were there because their country was at war, and because
they felt it to be their duty to assist it to remain at war for the
present. They were the nucleus of a committee on War Savings, and they
were waiting for their Chairman, who was the Mayor of the borough. He
was also a grocer.

Five of the members were discussing methods of persuading poor people to
save money. The sixth was making spots on the table with a pen.

They were interrupted, not by the expected Mayor, but by a young woman,
who came violently in by the street door, rushed into the middle of the
room, and got under the table. The members, in surprise, pushed back
their chairs and made ladylike noises of protest and inquiry.

"They're after me," panted the person under the table.

All seven listened to thumping silence for several seconds, and then, as
no pursuing outcry declared itself, the Stranger arose, without grace,
from her hiding-place.

To anybody except a member of a committee it would have been obvious
that the Stranger was of the Cinderella type, and bound to turn out a
heroine sooner or later. But perception goes out of committees. The more
committees you belong to, the less of ordinary life you will understand.
When your daily round becomes nothing more than a daily round of
committees you might as well be dead.

The Stranger was not pretty; she had a broad, curious face. Her clothes
were much too good to throw away. You would have enjoyed giving them to
a decayed gentlewoman.

"I stole this bun," she explained frankly. "There is an uninterned
German baker after me."

"And why did you steal it?" asked Miss Ford, pronouncing the H in "why"
with a haughty and terrifying sound of suction.

The Stranger sighed. "Because I couldn't afford to buy it."

"And why could you not afford to buy the bun?" asked Miss Ford. "A big
strong girl like you."

You will notice that she had had a good deal of experience in social
work.

The Stranger said: "Up till ten o'clock this morning I was of the
leisured classes like yourselves. I had a hundred pounds."

Lady Arabel was one of the kindest people in the world, but even she
quivered at the suggestion of a common leisure. The sort of clothes the
Stranger wore Lady Arabel would have called "too dretful." If one is
well dressed one is proud, and may look an angel in the eye. If one is
really shabby one is even prouder, one often goes out of one's way to
look angels in the eye. But if one wears a squirrel fur "set," and a
dyed dress that originally cost two and a half guineas, one is damned.

"You have squandered all that money?" pursued Miss Ford.

"Yes. In ten minutes."

A thrill ran through all six members. Several mouths watered.

"I am ashamed of you," said Miss Ford. "I hope the baker will catch
you. Don't you know that your country is engaged in the greatest
conflict in history? A hundred pounds ... you might have put it in the
War Loan."

"Yes," said the Stranger, "I did. That's how I squandered it."

Miss Ford seemed to be partially drowned by this reply. One could see
her wits fighting for air.

But Lady Arabel had not committed herself, and therefore escaped this
disaster. "You behaved foolishly," she said. "We are all too dretfully
anxious to subscribe what we can spare to the War Loan, of course. But
the State does not expect more than that of us."

"God bless it," said the Stranger loudly, so that everybody blushed. "Of
course it doesn't. But it is fun, don't you think, when you are giving a
present, to exceed expectations?"

"The State - " began Lady Arabel, but was nudged into silence by Miss
Ford. "Of course it's all untrue. Don't let her think we believe her."

The Stranger heard her. Such people do not only hear with their ears.
She laughed.

"You shall see the receipt," she said.

Out of her large pocket she dragged several things before she found what
she sought. The sixth member noticed several packets labelled MAGIC,
which the Stranger handled very carefully. "Frightfully explosive," she
said.

"I believe you're drunk," said Miss Ford, as she took the receipt. It
really was a War Loan receipt, and the name and address on it were:
"Miss Hazeline Snow, The Bindles, Pymley, Gloucestershire."

Lady Arabel smiled in a relieved way. She had not long been a social
worker, and had not yet acquired a taste for making fools of the
undeserving. "So this is your name and address," she said.

"No," said the Stranger simply.

"This is your name and address," said Lady Arabel more loudly.

"No," said the Stranger. "I made it up. Don't you think 'The Bindles,
Pymley,' is too darling?"

"Quite drunk," repeated Miss Ford. She had attended eight committee
meetings that week.

"S - s - s - sh, Meta," hissed Lady Arabel. She leaned forward, not
smiling, but pleasantly showing her teeth. "You gave a false name and
address. My dear, I wonder if I can guess why."

"I dare say you can," admitted the Stranger. "It's such fun, don't you
think, to get no thanks? Don't you sometimes amuse yourself by sending
postal orders to people whose addresses look pathetic in the telephone
book, or by forgetting to take away the parcels you have bought in poor
little shops? Or by standing and looking with ostentatious respect at
boy scouts on the march, always bearing in mind that these, in their own
eyes, are not little boys trotting behind a disguised curate, but
British Troops on the Move? Just two pleased eyes in a crowd, just a
hundred pounds dropped from heaven into poor Mr. Bonar Law's wistful
hand...."

Miss Ford began to laugh, a ladylike yet nasty laugh. "You amuse me,"
she said, but not in the kind of way that would make anybody wish to
amuse her often.

Miss Ford was the ideal member of committee, and a committee, of course,
exists for the purpose of damping enthusiasms.

The Stranger's manners were somehow hectic. Directly she heard that
laughter the tears came into her eyes. "Didn't you like what I was
saying?" she asked. Tears climbed down her cheekbones.

"Oh!" said Miss Ford. "You seem to be - if not drunk - suffering from some
form of hysteria."

"Do you think youth is a form of hysteria?" asked the Stranger. "Or
hunger? Or magic? Or - "

"Oh, don't recite any more lists, for the Dear Sake!" implored Miss
Ford, who had caught this rather pretty expression where she caught her
laugh and most of her thoughts - from contemporary fiction. She had a lot
of friends in the writing trade. She knew artists too, and an actress,
and a lot of people who talked. She very nearly did something clever
herself. She continued: "I wish you could see yourself, trying to be
uplifting between the munches of a stolen bun. You'd laugh too. But
perhaps you never laugh," she added, straightening her lips.

"How d'you mean - laugh?" asked the Stranger. "I didn't know that noise
was called laughing. I thought you were just saying 'Ha - ha.'"

At this moment the Mayor came in. As I told you, he was a grocer, and
the Chairman of the committee. He was a bad Chairman, but a good grocer.
Grocers generally wear white in the execution of their duty, and this
fancy, I think, reflects their pureness of heart. They spend their days
among soft substances most beautiful to touch; and sometimes they sell
honest-smelling soaps; and sometimes they chop cheeses, and thus reach
the glory of the butcher's calling, without its painfulness. Also they
handle shining tins, marvellously illustrated.

Mayors and grocers were of course nothing to Miss Ford, but Chairmen
were very important. She nodded curtly to the Mayor and grocer, but she
pushed the seventh chair towards the Chairman.

"May I just finish with this applicant?" she asked in her thin inclusive
committee voice, and then added in the direction of the Stranger: "It's
no use talking nonsense. We all see through you, you cannot deceive a
committee. But to a certain extent we believe your story, and are
willing, if the case proves satisfactory, to give you a helping hand. I
will take down a few particulars. First your name?"

"M - m," mused the Stranger. "Let me see, you didn't like Hazeline Snow
much, did you? What d'you think of Thelma ... Thelma Bennett Watkins?...
You know, the Rutlandshire Watkinses, the younger branch - - "

Miss Ford balanced her pen helplessly. "But that isn't your real name."

"How d'you mean - real name?" asked the Stranger anxiously. "Won't that
do? What about Iris ... Hyde?... You see, the truth is, I was never
actually christened ... I was born a conscientious objector, and
also - - "

"Oh, for the Dear Sake, be silent!" said Miss Ford, writing down "Thelma
Bennett Watkins," in self-defence. "This, I take it, is the name you
gave at the time of the National Registration."

"I forget," said the Stranger. "I remember that I put down my trade as
Magic, and they registered it on my card as 'Machinist.' Yet Magic, I
believe, is a starred profession."

"What is your trade really?" asked Miss Ford.

"I'll show you," replied the Stranger, unbuttoning once more the flap of
her pocket.

* * * * *

She wrote a word upon the air with her finger, and made a flourish under
the word. So flowery was the flourish that it span her round, right
round upon her toes, and she faced her watchers again. The committee
jumped, for the blind ran up, and outside the window, at the end of a
strange perspective of street, the trees of some far square were as soft
as thistledown against a lemon-coloured sky. A sound came up the
street....

The forgotten April and the voices of lambs pealed like bells into the
room....

Oh, let us flee from April! We are but swimmers in seas of words, we
members of committees, and to the song of April there are no words. What
do we know, and what does London know, after all these years of
learning?

Old Mother London crouches, with her face buried in her hands; and she
is walled in with her fogs and her loud noises, and over her head are
the heavy beams of her dark roof, and she has the barred sun for a
skylight, and winds that are but hideous draughts rush under her door.
London knows much, and every moment she learns a new thing, but this she
shall never learn - that the sun shines all day and the moon all night on
the silver tiles of her dark house, and that the young months climb her
walls, and run singing in and out between her chimneys....

* * * * *

Nothing else happened in that room. At least nothing more important than
the ordinary manifestations attendant upon magic. The lamp had
tremulously gone out. Coloured flames danced about the Stranger's head.
One felt the thrill of a purring cat against one's ankles, one saw its
green eyes glare. But these things hardly counted.

It was all over. The Mayor was heard cracking his fingers, and
whispering "Puss, Puss." The lamp relighted itself. Nobody had known
that it was so gifted.

The Mayor said: "Splendid, miss, quite splendid. You'd make a fortune on
the stage." His tongue, however, seemed to be talking by itself, without
the assistance of the Mayor himself. One could see that he was shaken
out of his usual grocerly calm, for his feverish hand was stroking a cat
where no cat was.

Black cats are only the showy properties of magic, easily materialised,
even by beginners, at will. It must be confusing for such an orderly
animal as the cat to exist in this intermittent way, never knowing, so
to speak, whether it is there or not there, from one moment to another.

The sixth member took a severely bitten pen from between her lips, and
said: "Now you mention it, I think I'll go down there again for the
week-end. I can pawn my ear-rings."

Nobody of course took any notice of her, yet in a way her remark was
logical. For that singing Spring that had for a moment trespassed in the
room had reminded her of very familiar things, and for a few seconds she
had stood upon a beloved hill, and had looked down between beech trees
on a far valley, like a promised land; and had seen in the valley a pale
river and a dark town, like milk and honey.

As for Miss Ford, she had become rather white. Although the blind had
now pulled itself down, and dismissed April, Miss Ford continued to look
at the window. But she cleared her throat and said hoarsely: "Will you
kindly answer my questions? I asked you what your trade was."

"It's too dretful of me to interrupt," said Lady Arabel suddenly. "But,
do you know, Meta, I feel we are wasting this committee's time. This
young person needs no assistance from us." She turned to the Stranger,
and added: "My dear, I am dretfully ashamed. You must meet my son
Rrchud.... My son Rrchud knows...."

She burst into tears.

The Stranger took her hand.

"I should like awfully to meet Rrchud, and to get to know you better,"
she said. She grew very red. "I say, I should be awfully pleased if you
would call me Angela."

It wasn't her name, but she had noticed that something of this sort is
always said when people become motherly and cry.

Then she went away.

"Lawdy," said the Mayor. "I didn't expect she'd go out by the door,
somehow. Look - she's left some sort of hardware over there in the
corner."

It was a broomstick.




CHAPTER II

THE COMMITTEE COMES TO MAGIC


I don't suppose for a moment that you know Mitten Island: it is a
difficult place to get to; you have to change 'buses seven times, going
from Kensington, and you have to cross the river by means of a ferry. On
Mitten Island there is a model village, consisting of several hundred
houses, two churches, and one shop.

It was the sixth member who discovered, after the committee meeting,
that the address on the forsaken broomstick's collar was: Number 100
Beautiful Way, Mitten Island, London.

The sixth member, although she was a member of committees, was neither a
real expert in, nor a real lover of, Doing Good. In Doing Good, I think,
we have got into bad habits. We try in groups to do good to the
individual, whereas, if good is to be done, it would seem more likely,
and more consonant with precedent, that the individual might do it to
the group. Without the smile of a Treasurer we cannot unloose our
purse-strings; without the sanction of a Chairman we have no courage;
without Minutes we have no memory. There is hardly one of us who would
dare to give a flannelette nightgown to a Factory Girl who had Stepped
Aside, without a committee to lay the blame on, should the Factory Girl,
fortified by the flannelette nightgown, take Further Steps Aside.

The sixth member was only too apt to put her trust in committees.
Herself she did not trust at all, though she thought herself quite a
good creature, as selves go. She had come to London two years ago, with
a little trunk and a lot of good intentions as her only possessions, and
she had paid the inevitable penalty for her earnestness. It is a sad
thing to see any one of naturally healthy and rebellious tendency stray
into the flat path of Charity. Gay heedless young people set their
unwary feet between the flowery borders of that path, the thin air of
resigned thanks breathed by the deserving poor mounts to their heads
like wine; committees lie in wait for them on every side; hostels and
settlements entice them fatally to break their journey at every mile;
they run rejoicing to their doom, and I think shall eventually find
themselves without escape, elected eternal life-members of the Committee
that sits around the glassy sea.

The sixth member was saved by a merciful inefficiency of temperament
from attaining the vortex of her whirlpool of charity. To be in the
vortex is, I believe, almost always to see less. The bull's eye is
generally blind.

The sixth member was a person who, where Social Work was concerned, did
more or less as she was told, without doing it particularly well. The
result, very properly, was that all the work which a committee
euphemistically calls "organising work" was left to her. Organising work
consists of sitting in 'buses bound for remote quarters of London, and
ringing the bells of people who are almost always found to be away for a
fortnight. The sixth member had been ordered to organise the return of
the broomstick to its owner.

Perhaps it would be more practical to call the sixth member Sarah Brown.

The bereaved owner of the broomstick was washing her hair at Number 100
Beautiful Way, Mitten Island. She was washing it behind the counter of
her shop. She was the manageress of the only shop on Mitten Island. It
was a general shop, but made a speciality of such goods as Happiness and
Magic. Unfortunately Happiness is rather difficult to get in war-time.
Sometimes there was quite a queue outside the shop when it opened, and
sometimes there was a card outside, saying politely: "Sorry, it's no use
waiting. I haven't any." Of course the shop also sold Sunlight Soap, and
it was with Sunlight Soap that the shop-lady was washing her hair,
because it was Sunday, and this was a comparatively cheap amusement. She
had no money. She had meant to go down to the offices of her employer
after breakfast, to borrow some of the salary that would be due to her
next week. But then she found that she had left her broomstick
somewhere. As a rule Harold - for that was the broomstick's name - was
fairly independent, and could find his way home alone, but when he got
mislaid and left in strange hands, and particularly when kindly finders
took him to Scotland Yard, he often lost his head. You, in your
innocence, are suggesting that his owner might have borrowed another
broomstick from stock. But you have no idea what arduous work it is,
breaking in a wild broomstick to the saddle. It sometimes takes days,
and is not really suitable work for a woman, even in war-time. Often the
brutes are savage, and always they are obstinate. The shop-lady could
not afford to go to the City by Tube, not to mention the ferry fare,
which was rather expensive and erratic, not being L.C.C. Of course a
flash of lightning is generally available for magic people. But it is
considered not only unpatriotic but bad form to use lightning in
war-time.

The shop was not expecting customers on Sunday, but its manageress had
hardly got her head well into the basin when somebody entered. She stood
up dripping.

"Is Miss Thelma Bennett Watkins at home?" asked Sarah Brown, after a
pause, during which she made her characteristic effort to remember what
she had come for.

"No," said the other. "But do take a seat. We met last night, you may
remember. Perhaps you wouldn't mind lending me one-and-twopence to buy
two chops for our luncheon. I've got an extra coupon. There's tinned
salmon in stock, but I don't advise it."

"I've only got sevenpence, just enough to take me home," answered Sarah
Brown. "But I can pawn my ear-rings."

I dare say you have never been in a position to notice that there is no
pawn-shop on Mitten Island. The inhabitants of model villages always
have assured incomes and pose as lilies of the field. Sarah Brown and
her hostess sat down on the counter without regret to a luncheon
consisting of one orange, found by the guest in her bag and divided, and
two thin captain biscuits from stock. They were both used to dissolving
visions of impossible chops, both were cheerfully familiar with the
feeling of light tragedy which invades you towards six o'clock P.M., if
you have not been able to afford a meal since breakfast.

"Now look here," said Sarah Brown, as she plunged her pocket-knife into


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