Short Stories 1927-1956

Short Stories 1927-1956 by Walter de la Mare

Book: Short Stories 1927-1956 by Walter de la Mare Read Free Book Online
Authors: Walter de la Mare
almost British, in her own queer way, and overwhelmingly worth writing even to America about. How his young friend would lap her up! And the subtlety of it all!
    The female spider was, of course, notorious not only for its voracity but its astuteness. They even devoured their many husbands. Mrs Cotton had put down, it seemed, every single card in her hand face upwards on the bright green table; and Ronnie had lost – every single trick! She had hopelessly queered his pitch. And yet, as he had sat there, transfixed by those small glittering eyes, a warm (and rather un-Ronnieish) camaraderie had sprung up in his mind. Affection at first sight!
    His glance drifted down from the portrait to a full-length photograph that stood in an old leather frame on the Pembroke table immediately beneath it. He stooped and looked closer. Yes, it was without any doubt a photograph of James’s mother herself and one taken at about the same date as that of the picture. Square and plump and substantial in figure even then; in a neat tight-fitting bodice and flounced flow-away skirts, she stood there, one small shapely hand on a Victorian ‘occasional’ chair, looking as straight and decisively out at the camera as her son at his R.A. And the camera had been kinder than the painter. The wide open face was smiling; there was an almost audacious sparkle of coquetry in the eyes; and even Ronnie’s worldly-wise but still susceptible masculine heart responded to this charming feminine challenge.
    Indeed, he was still intent on the photograph – the album and the excellent portrait of the smiling, skull-capped old gentleman with the pug-dog on his lap having been completely ignored – when at the same moment he heard voices from far within, and the clink of teacups near at hand. When the parlour-maid entered the room with her salver he was seated on his chair again, a green-bound Moxon Tennyson in his hand, opened at ‘Mariana’, but upside down …
    In the talk during the meal that followed – and Ronnie failed even to nibble at the scone on his plate until itwas stone cold – the elder Mrs Cotton took little part. The two ladies sat opposite to him, while, with his back to the door, and on a stiff barley-sugar-legged prie-dieu chair, he himself faced the little warrior in the portrait. In spite, however, of the hypnotic power of that infantile blue eye, Mrs James Cotton easily held her own. She was almost embarrassingly tall and dark and flat – a tall dark flattishness accentuated rather than enhanced by the black dress she was wearing and the necklace of jet that dangled round her neck beneath a prolonged chin. Still, black against cucumber green is not an unpleasing contrast, and though (as Ronnie was thinking), this countenance was more sombre and equine in its contours even than that of the aged William Wordsworth, she was soon prattling away as if the only marvel were that circumstances had kept them so long apart.
    She was enraptured and earnest and astonished and coy all in the same breath. She assured him again and again how much she adored the country and how beautiful Nature was in the spring. One of her very favourite seasons of the year – everything so fresh, so verdant, ‘so full of lafe, Mr Forbes. And yet just the same – year in, year out!’ Why, if you closed your eyes and listened to the birds, or opened them and looked at the flowers, they might both be exactly the same ones as you had seen last spring and the one before that and the one before that!
    ‘As if, Mr Forbes, there had been no winter in between!’
    But, of course, that couldn’t be so, that was only a fancy. Besides, it was just the reverse. Absolutely. What a perfectly dreadful winter they had had, to be sure: so cold, so gloomy, so protracted. ‘I can’t like the winter, Mr Forbes, I can’t indeed.’ Besides, he must remember, she cried almost with elation, ‘we haven’t any theatres here, or concert halls, or picture galleries. Not one.

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