My Cousin Rachel Chapter 23

In the morning when I sat to breakfast, looking out upon the blustering windy day with eyes that saw nothing, Seecombe came into the dining room with a note upon the salver. My heart jumped at the sight of it. It might be that she asked me to call upon her in her room. But it was not from Rachel. The handwriting was larger, rounder. The note was from Louise. “Mr. Kendall’s groom has just brought this, sir,” said Seecombe, “he is waiting for an answer.”

I read it through. “Dear Philip, I have been so much distressed by what occurred last night. I think I understand what you felt, more so than my father. Please remember I am your friend, and always will be. I have to go to town this morning. If you want someone to talk to, I could meet you outside the church a little before noon. Louise.”

I put the note in my pocket and asked Seecombe to bring me a piece of paper and a pen. My first instinct, as always at the suggestion of any encounter with no matter whom, but more especially upon this morning, was to scribble a word of thanks, and then refuse. When Seecombe brought the pen and paper, though, I had decided otherwise. A sleepless night, an agony of loneliness made me of a sudden yearn for company. Louise was better known to me than anyone. I wrote therefore, telling her I would be in the town that morning, and would look for her outside the church.

“Give this to Mr. Kendall’s groom,” I said, “and tell Wellington I shall want Gypsy saddled at eleven.”

After breakfast I went to the office, and cleared up the bills, and wrote the letter that I had started yesterday. Somehow it was simpler today. A part of my brain worked in a dull fashion, took note of facts and figures, and jotted them down as if compelled by force of habit. My work accomplished I walked round to the stable, in a haste to get away from the house and all it meant to me. I did not ride by the avenue through the woods, with its memories of yesterday, but straight across the park and to the high road. My mare was very fresh, and nervous as a fawn; starting at nothing she pricked and shied, and backed into the hedgerows, and the tearing wind did its worst to both of us.

The bluster that should have been in February and March had come at last. Gone was the mellow warmth of the past weeks, the smooth sea, and the sun. Great clouds with dragging tails, black-edged and filled with rain, came scudding from the west, and now and again with sudden bursting fury emptied themselves as hail. The sea was a turmoil in the western bay. In the fields on either side of the road the gulls screamed and dipped in the fresh plowed earth, seeking the green shoots fostered by the early spring. Nat Bray, whom I had dismissed so swiftly the preceding morning, stood by his gate as I passed it, a wet sack hanging about his shoulders to protect him from the hail, and he put up his hand and shouted me good morning, but the sound of his voice carried beyond me, and away.

Even from the high road I could hear the sea. To the west, where it ran shallow over the sands, it was short and steep, turned backwards on itself and curling into foam, but to the east, before the estuary, the great long rollers came, spending themselves upon the rocks at the harbor entrance, and the roar of the breakers mingled with the biting wind that swept the hedgerows and forced back the budding trees.

There were few people about as I descended the hill into the town, and those I saw went about their business bent sideways with the wind, their faces nipped with the sudden cold. I left Gypsy at the Rose and Crown, and walked up the path to the church. Louise was sheltering beneath the porch. I opened the heavy door and we went in together, to the church itself. It seemed dark and peaceful, after the bluster of the day without, yet with it too that chill so unmistakable, oppressive, heavy, and the moldering churchy smell. We went and sat by the marble recumbent figure of my ancestor, his sons and daughters weeping at his feet, and I thought how many Ashleys were scattered about the countryside, some here, others in my own parish, and how they had loved, and suffered, and then gone upon their way.

Instinct hushed us both, in the silent church, and we spoke in whispers.

“I have been unhappy about you for so long,” said Louise, “since Christmas, and before. But I could not tell you. You would not have listened.”

“There was no need,” I answered, “all had gone very well until last night. The fault was mine, in saying what I did.”

“You would not have said it,” she replied, “unless you had believed it to be the truth. There has been deception from the first, and you were prepared for it, in the beginning, before she came.”

“There was no deception,” I said, “until the last few hours. If I was mistaken there is no one but myself to blame.”

A sudden shower stung the church windows southward, and the long aisle with the tall pillars turned darker than before.

“Why did she come here last September?” said Louise. “Why did she travel all this way to seek you out? It was not sentiment that brought her here, or idle curiosity. She came to England, and to Cornwall, for a purpose, which she has now accomplished.”

I turned and looked at her. Her blue eyes were simple and direct.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“She has the money,” said Louise. “That was the plan she had in mind before she took her journey.”

My tutor at Harrow, when teaching in Fifth Form, told us once that truth was something intangible, unseen, which sometimes we stumbled upon and did not recognize, but was found, and held, and understood only by old people near their death, or sometimes by the very pure, the very young.

“You are mistaken,” I said, “you know nothing about her. She is a woman of impulse and emotion, and her moods are unpredictable and strange, God knows, but it is not in her nature to be otherwise. Impulse drove her from Florence. Emotion brought her here. She stayed because she was happy, and because she had a right to stay.”

Louise looked at me in pity. She put her hand upon my knee.

“Had you been less vulnerable,” she said, “Mrs. Ashley would not have stayed. She would have called upon my father, struck a close fair bargain, and then departed. You have misunderstood her motives from the first.”

I could have stood it better, I thought, as I stumbled from the pew into the aisle, if Louise had struck Rachel with her hands, or spat upon her, torn her hair, her gown. That would be primitive and animal. That would be fighting fair. But this, in the quietude of the church, with Rachel absent, was slander, almost blasphemy.

“I can’t sit here and listen to you,” I said. “I wanted your comfort and your sympathy. If you have none to give, no matter.”

She stood up beside me, catching at my arm.

“Don’t you see I am trying to help you?” she pleaded. “But you are so blind to everything, it’s no use. If it’s not in Mrs. Ashley’s nature to plan the months ahead, why has she been sending her allowance out of the country week by week, month by month, throughout the winter?”

“How do you know,” I said, “that she has done that?”

“My father had means of knowing,” she answered. “These things could not be hidden, between Mr. Couch and my father, acting as your guardian.”

“Well, what if she did?” I said. “There were debts in Florence, I have known that all along. Creditors were pressing to be paid.”

“From one country to another?” she said. “Is it possible? I would not have thought so. Isn’t it more likely that Mrs. Ashley hoped to build up something for her return, and that she spent the winter here only because she knew you came legally into your money and your property on your twenty-fifth birthday, which was yesterday? Then, with my father no longer guardian, she could bleed you as she chose. But there was suddenly no need. You made her a present of everything you had.”

I could not believe it possible that a girl I knew and trusted could have so damnable a mind, and speak—that was the greatest hell—with so much logic and plain common sense, to tear apart another woman like herself.

“Is it your father’s legal mind speaking in you, or you yourself?” I said to her.

“Not my father,” she said; “you know his reserve. He has said little to me. I have a judgment of my own.”

“You set yourself against her from the day you met,” I said. “A Sunday, wasn’t it, in church? You came back to dinner and did not say a word, but sat there, at the table, with your face all stiff and proud. You had made up your mind to dislike her.”

“And you?” she said. “Do you remember what you said about her before she came? I can’t forget the enmity you had for her. And with good reason.” There was a creaking movement from the side door near to the choir stalls. It opened, and the cleaner, a little mousy woman, Alice Tabb, crept in with broom in hand to sweep the aisles. She glanced at us furtively, and went away behind the pulpit; but her presence was with us, and solitude had gone.

“It’s no use, Louise,” I said, “you can’t help me. I am fond of you, and you of me. If we continue talking we shall hate each other.”

Louise looked at me, her hand dropped from my arm.

“Do you love her, then, so much?” she said.

I turned away. She was younger than myself, a girl, and she could not understand. No one could ever understand, save Ambrose, who was dead.

“What does the future hold now for either of you?” asked Louise.

Our footsteps sounded hollow down the aisle. The shower, that had spat upon the windows, ceased. A gleam of fitful sun lit the halo on St. Peter’s head in the south window, then left it dim once more.

“I asked her to marry me,” I said; “I have asked her once, and twice. I shall continue asking her. That’s my future for you.”

We came to the church door. I opened it and we stood in the porch again. A blackbird, heedless of the rain, was singing from the tree by the church gate, and a butcher’s boy, his tray upon his shoulder, went past it whistling for company, his apron over his head.

“When was the first time that you asked her?” said Louise.

The warmth was with me once again, the candlelight, the laughter. And suddenly no light, and suddenly no laughter. Only Rachel and myself. Almost in mockery of midnight, the church clock struck twelve of noon.

“On the morning of my birthday,” I told Louise.

She waited for the final stroke of the bell that sounded so loud above our heads.

“What did she answer you?” she said.

“We spoke at cross purposes,” I answered; “I thought that she meant yes, when she meant no.”

“Had she read the document at that time?”

“No. She read that later. Later, the same morning.”

Below the church gate I saw the Kendall groom and the dogcart. He raised his whip, at sight of his master’s daughter, and climbed down from the trap. Louise fastened her mantle and pulled her hood over her hair. “She lost little time in reading it, then, and driving out to Pelyn to see my father,” said Louise.

“She did not understand it very well,” I said.

“She understood it when she drove away from Pelyn,” said Louise. “I remember perfectly, as the carriage waited and we stood upon the steps, my father said to her ‘The remarriage clause may strike a little hard. You must remain a widow if you wish to keep your fortune.’ And Mrs. Ashley smiled at him, and answered, ‘That suits me very well.’ ”

The groom came up the path, bearing the big umbrella. Louise fastened her gloves. A fresh black squall came scudding across the sky.

“The clause was inserted to safeguard the estate,” I said, “to prevent any squander by a stranger. If she were my wife it would not apply.”

“That is where you are wrong,” said Louise. “If she married you, the whole would revert to you again. You had not thought of that.”

“But even so?” I said. “I would share every penny of it with her. She would not refuse to marry me because of that one clause. Is that what you are trying to suggest?”

The hood concealed her face, but the blue eyes looked out at me, though the rest was hidden.

“A wife,” said Louise, “cannot send her husband’s money from the country, nor return to the place where she belongs. I suggest nothing.”

The groom touched his hat, and held the umbrella over her head. I followed her down the path and to the trap, and helped her to her seat.

“I have done you no good,” she said, “and you think me merciless and hard. Sometimes a woman sees more clearly than a man. Forgive me for hurting you. I only want you to be yourself again.” She leaned to the groom. “Very well, Thomas,” she said, “we will go back to Pelyn,” and he turned the horse and they went away up the hill to the high road.

I went and sat in the little parlor of the Rose and Crown. Louise had spoken true when she told me she had done me no good. I had come for comfort, and found none. Only cold hard facts, twisted to distortion. All of what she said would make sense to a lawyer’s mind. I knew how my godfather weighed things in the balance, without allowance for the human heart. Louise could not help it if she had inherited his shrewd strict outlook and reasoned accordingly.

I knew better than she did what had come between Rachel and myself. The granite slab, above the valley in the woods, and all the months that I had never shared. “Your cousin Rachel,” Rainaldi said, “is a woman of impulse.” Because of impulse she had let me love her. Because of impulse she had let me go again. Ambrose had known these things. Ambrose had understood. And neither for him, nor for me, could there ever be another woman, or another wife.

I sat a long while in the chill parlor of the Rose and Crown. The landlord brought me cold mutton and some ale, though I was not hungry. Later I went out and stood upon the quay and watched the high tide splashing on the steps. The fishing vessels rocked at their buoys, and one old fellow, seated across a thwart, baled out the water from the bottom boards of his boat, his back turned to the spray that filled it again with every breaking sea.

The clouds came lower than they had before, turning to mist, cloaking the trees on the opposite shore. If I wished to return home without a soaking, and Gypsy without a chill, I had best return before the weather worsened. No one remained now without doors. I mounted Gypsy and climbed the hill, and to spare myself the further mileage of the high road turned down where the four roads met, and into the avenue. We were more sheltered here, but scarce had gone a hundred yards before Gypsy suddenly hobbled and went lame, and rather than go into the lodge and have the business of removing the stone that had cut into her shoe, and having gossip there, I decided to dismount and lead her gently home. The gale had brought down branches that lay strewn across our path, and the trees that yesterday had been so still tossed now, and swayed, and shivered with the misty rain.

The vapor from the boggy valley rose in a white cloud, and I realized, with a shudder, how cold I had been the livelong day, since I had sat with Louise in the church, and all the while in the fireless parlor at the Rose and Crown. This was another world from yesterday.

I led Gypsy past the path that Rachel and I had taken. Our footmarks were still there, where we had trodden in around the beeches for the primroses. Clumps of them nestled still, dejected, in the moss. The avenue seemed endless, with Gypsy hobbling, my hand upon her bridle guiding her, and the dripping rain found its way down the collar of my coat to chill my back.

When I reached home I was too tired to say good afternoon to Wellington, but threw him the reins without a word, leaving him staring after me. God knows, after the night before, I had little desire to drink anything but water, but being cold and wet I thought a taste of brandy might bring some sort of warmth to me, however raw. I went into the dining room and John was there, laying the table for dinner. He went to fetch me a glass from the pantry, and while I waited I saw he had laid three places on the table.

On his return I pointed to them. “Why three?” I said.

“Miss Pascoe,” he replied, “she’s been here since one o’clock. The mistress went calling there this morning, not long after you had gone. She brought Miss Pascoe back with her. She’s come to stay.”

I stared at him, bewildered. “Miss Pascoe come to stay?” I said.

“That’s so,” he answered, “Miss Mary Pascoe, the one that teaches in the Sunday school. We have been busy getting the pink room ready for her. She and the mistress are in the boudoir now.”

He went on with his laying of the table, and leaving the glass upon the sideboard, without bothering to pour the brandy, I went upstairs. There was a note upon the table in my room, Rachel’s hand upon it. I tore it open. There was no beginning, only the day, and the date. “I have asked Mary Pascoe to stay here with me in the house as a companion. After last night, I cannot be alone with you again. You may join us in the boudoir, if you wish, before and after dinner. I must ask you to be courteous. Rachel.”

She could not mean it. It could not be true. How often we had laughed about the Pascoe daughters, and more especially about chattering Mary, forever working samplers, visiting those poor who had rather be left alone, Mary, a stouter, even a plainer edition of her mother. As a joke, yes, Rachel could have invited her as a joke, merely for dinner, so as to watch my glum face at the end of the table—but the note was not written as a joke.

I went out onto the landing from my room, and saw that the door of the pink bedroom was open. There was no mistake. A fire burned in the grate, shoes and a wrapper were laid out upon a chair, there were brushes, books, the personal paraphernalia of a stranger all about the room, and the further door, usually kept locked, which communicated with Rachel’s suite of rooms, was locked no longer, but wide open too. I could even hear the distant murmur of voices from the boudoir beyond. This, then, was my punishment. This my disgrace. Mary Pascoe had been invited to make a division between Rachel and myself, that we might no longer be alone together, even as she had written in her note.

My first feeling was one of such intense anger that I hardly knew how to contain myself from walking along the corridor to the boudoir, seizing Mary Pascoe by the shoulders and telling her to pack and begone, that I would have Wellington take her home in the carriage without delay. How had Rachel dared to invite her to my house on such a pretext, miserable, flimsy, and insulting, that she could no longer be alone with me? Was I then doomed to Mary Pascoe at every meal, Mary Pascoe in the library and the drawing room, Mary Pascoe walking in the grounds, Mary Pascoe in the boudoir, for evermore the interminable chatter between women that I had only endured through force of habit over Sunday dinner?

I went along the corridor—I did not change, I was still in my wet things. I opened the boudoir door. Rachel was seated in her chair, with Mary Pascoe beside her on the stool, the pair of them looking at the great volume with the illustrations of Italian gardens.

“So you are back?” said Rachel. “It was an odd day to choose to go out riding. The carriage was nearly blown from the road when I went down to call at the Rectory. As you see, we have the good fortune to have Mary here as visitor. She is already quite at home. I am delighted.”

Mary Pascoe gave a trill of laughter.

“Such a surprise, Mr. Ashley,” she said, “when your cousin came to fetch me. The others were green with envy. I can hardly believe yet I am here. And how pleasant and snug it is to sit here in the boudoir. Nicer even than below. Your cousin says it is your habit to sit here of an evening. Do you play cribbage? I am wild for cribbage. If you cannot play I shall be pleased to teach you both.”

“Philip,” said Rachel, “has little use for games of chance. He prefers to sit and smoke in silence. You and I, Mary, will play together.”

She looked across at me, over Mary Pascoe’s head. No, it was no joke. I could see by her hard eyes that she had done this thing with great deliberation.

“Can I speak to you alone?” I said bluntly.

“I see no need for that,” she answered. “You are at liberty to say anything you please in front of Mary.”

The vicar’s daughter rose hurriedly to her feet. “Oh, please,” she said, “I don’t wish to make intrusion. I can easily go to my room.”

“Leave the doors wide open, Mary,” said Rachel, “so that you can hear me if I call.” Her eyes, so hostile, remained fixed on me.

“Yes, certainly, Mrs. Ashley,” said Mary Pascoe. She brushed past me, her eyes goggling, leaving all the doors ajar.

“Why have you done this?” I said to Rachel.

“You know perfectly well,” she answered; “I told you in my note.”

“How long is she to stay?”

“As long as I choose.”

“You will not be able to stand her company for more than one day. You will drive yourself mad, as well as me.”

“You are mistaken,” she said. “Mary Pascoe is a good harmless girl. I shall not talk to her if I do not wish for conversation. At least I feel some measure of security with her in the house. Also, it was time. Things could not have continued as they had been, not after your outburst at the table. Your godfather said as much before he left.”

“What did he say?”

“That there was gossip about my being here, which your boast of marriage will have done little to improve. I don’t know what other people you have chatted to. Mary Pascoe will silence further gossip. I shall take good care of that.”

Was it possible that my action of the night before could bring about such change, such terrible antagonism?

“Rachel,” I said, “this can’t be settled in a moment’s conversation, with the doors open. I beg of you, listen to me, let me talk to you alone, after dinner, when Mary Pascoe goes to bed.”

“You threatened me last night,” she said. “Once was enough. There is nothing to settle. You can go now, if you wish. Or stay and play cribbage here with Mary Pascoe.” She turned again to the book of gardens.

I went from the room. There was nothing else to do. This then was my punishment, for that brief moment of the night before, when I had put my hands about her neck. The action, instantly repented and regretted, was unforgivable. This, then, the reward. As quickly as my anger had come, it went, turning, with heavy dullness, to despair. Oh, God, what had I done?

Such a little while ago, so few hours in time, we had been happy. The exultation of my birthday eve, and all the magic, was now gone, frittered away by my own fault. Sitting in the cold parlor of the Rose and Crown it had seemed to me that perhaps, in a few weeks, her reluctance to become my wife might be overcome. If not immediately, then later; if not later, then what matter, so long as we could be together, in love, as on my birthday morning. Hers the decision, hers the choice, yet surely she would not refuse? I had been almost hopeful when I had come into the house. But now the stranger, the third person, misunderstanding all about us still. Presently as I stood in my room, I heard their voices approach the stair, and then the sweep of gowns descending. It was later than I thought, they must be ready dressed for dinner. I knew I could not face the business of sitting with them. They must dine alone. Anyway, I was not hungry; I felt cold and stiff, probably I had taken chill, and would be better in my room. I rang the bell and told John to make my apologies, but I would not be down to dinner, I was going straight to bed. This made a pother, as I feared it might, and Seecombe came up, concern upon his face.

“Unwell, Mr. Philip, sir?” he said. “May I suggest a mustard bath, and a hot grog? It comes of riding out in such weather.”

“Nothing, thank you, Seecombe,” I replied. “I’m a little tired, that’s all.”

“No dinner, Mr. Philip? We have venison, and apple pie. It is all ready to serve. Both the ladies are in the drawing room now.”

“No, Seecombe. I slept badly last night. I shall be better in the morning.”

“I will tell the mistress,” he said, “she will be much concerned.”

At least by remaining in my room it might give me a chance to see Rachel alone. After dinner, perhaps, she would come up and inquire about me.

I undressed and got into my bed. Undoubtedly I must have caught some sort of chill. The sheets seemed bitter cold, and I threw them off and got between the blankets. I felt stiff and numb and my head throbbed, things most unusual and unknown. I lay there, waiting for them to finish dinner. I heard them pass from the hall into the dining room, the chatter ceaseless—I was spared that, at any rate—and then, after a long interval, back again to the drawing room.

Some time after eight o’clock I heard them come upstairs. I sat up in bed and put my jacket round my shoulders. This, perhaps, was the moment she would choose. In spite of the rough blankets I was still cold, and the stiff pain that was about my legs and neck shifted in full measure to my head, so that it seemed on fire.

I waited, but she did not come. They must be sitting in the boudoir. I heard the clock strike nine, then ten, then eleven. After eleven, I knew that she did not intend to come and see me that night at all. Ignoring me, then, was but a continuation of my punishment.

I got out of bed and stood in the passage. They had retired for the night, for I could hear Mary Pascoe moving about in the pink bedroom, and now and then an irritating little cough to clear her throat—another habit she had taken from her mother.

I went along the corridor to Rachel’s room. I put my hand upon the handle of the door, and turned it. But it did not open. The door was locked. I knocked, very softly. She did not answer. I went slowly back to my own room and to my bed, and lay there, icy cold.

I remember in the morning that I dressed, but I have no recollection of John coming in to call me, nor that I breakfasted, nor of anything at all, but only the strange stiffness in my neck and the agonizing pain in my head. I went and sat on my chair in the office. I wrote no letters, I saw no one. Some time after midday Seecombe came to find me to tell me that the ladies were awaiting luncheon. I said I wanted none. He came near to me and looked into my face.

“Mr. Philip,” he said, “you are ill. What is it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. He took my hand and felt it. He went out of the office and I heard him hurry across the courtyard.

Presently the door opened once again. Rachel stood there, with Mary Pascoe behind her and Seecombe also. She came towards me.

“Seecombe says you are ill,” she said to me. “What is the matter?”

I stared up at her. Nothing of what was happening was real at all. I hardly knew that I was sitting there, in my office chair, but thought myself to be upstairs in my room cold in my bed, as I had been the night before.

“When will you send her home?” I said. “I won’t do anything to harm you. I give you my word of honor.”

She put her hand on my head. She looked into my eyes. She turned swiftly to Seecombe. “Get John,” she said. “Both of you, help Mr. Ashley to bed. Tell Wellington to send the groom quickly for the doctor…”

I saw nothing but her white face and her eyes; and then over her shoulder, ludicrous somehow, out of place and foolish, the startled, shocked gaze of Mary Pascoe fixed upon me. Then nothing. Only the stiffness, and the pain.

Back in my bed again, I was aware that Seecombe stood by the windows, closing the shutters, drawing the curtains, bringing the room to darkness which I craved. Possibly the darkness would ease the blinding pain. I could not move my head upon the pillow, it was as though the muscles of my neck were taut and rigid. I felt her hand in mine. I said again, “I promise not to harm you. Send Mary Pascoe home.”

She answered, “Don’t talk now. Only lie still.”

The room was full of whispers. The door opening, shutting, opening once again. Soft footsteps creeping on the floor. Chinks of light coming from the landing, and always this furtiveness of whispers, so that it seemed to me, in the sudden sharp delirium that must be sweeping me, that the house was filled with people, a guest in every room, and that the house itself was not large enough to contain them, they stood shoulder to shoulder in the drawing room and in the library, with Rachel moving in the midst of them, smiling, talking, holding out her hands. I kept repeating, over and over again, “Send them away.”

Then I saw the round spectacled face of Dr. Gilbert looking down on me; he too, then, was of the company. When I was a lad he had come to treat me for the chickenpox, I had scarce seen him since.

“So you went swimming in the sea at midnight?” he said to me. “That was a very foolish thing to do.” He shook his head at me as if I were still a child, and stroked his beard. I closed my eyes against the light. I heard Rachel say to him, “I know too much about this kind of fever to be mistaken. I have seen children die of it in Florence. It attacks the spine, and then the brain. Do something, for God’s sake…”

They went away. And once again the whispering began. This was followed by the sound of wheels on the drive, and a departing carriage. Later, I heard someone breathing, close to the curtains of my bed. I knew then what had happened. Rachel had gone. She had driven to Bodmin, to take the coach for London. She had left Mary Pascoe in the house to watch me. The servants, Seecombe, John, they had all departed; no one was left but Mary Pascoe.

“Please go,” I said, “I need no one.”

A hand came out to touch my forehead. Mary Pascoe’s hand. I shook it off. But it returned again, stealthy, cold, and I shouted loud to her to go, but it pressed down upon me, hard, gripping like ice, and so to ice it turned, on my forehead, on my neck, clamping me close, a prisoner. Then I heard Rachel whisper in my ear, “Dear, lie still. This will help your head. It will be better, by-and-by.”

I tried to turn, but could not. Had she not gone to London after all?

I said, “Don’t leave me. Promise not to leave me.”

She said, “I promise. I will be with you all the time.”

I opened my eyes but I could not see her, the room was in darkness. The shape of it was different, not the bedroom that I knew. It was long and narrow, like a cell. The bedstead hard, like iron. There was one candle burning somewhere, behind a screen. In a niche, on the wall opposite, knelt a madonna. I called loudly “Rachel… Rachel…”

I heard footsteps running, and a door opening, and then her hand in mine and she was saying, “I am with you.” I closed my eyes again.

I was standing on a bridge, beside the Arno, making a vow to destroy a woman I had never seen. The swollen water passed under the bridge, bubbling, brown, and Rachel, the beggar girl, came up to me with empty hands. She was naked, save for the pearl collar round her throat. Suddenly she pointed at the water and Ambrose went past us, under the bridge, his hands folded on his breast. He floated away down the river out of sight, and slowly, majestically, his paws raised stiff and straight, went the body of the dead dog after him.