Although Bertha Young was thirty she still had moments like this when she wanted to run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again, or to stand still and laugh at—nothing—at nothing, simply. What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly, by a feeling of bliss—absolute bliss!—as though you'd suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe.
Oh, is there no way you can express it without being “drunk and disorderly.” How idiotic civilization is! Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle?
But in her bosom there was still that bright glowing place that shower of little sparks coming from it. It was almost unbearable. She hardly dared to breathe for fear of fanning it higher, and yet she breathed deeply, deeply. She hardly dared to look into the cold mirror—but she did look, and it gave her back a woman, radiant, with smiling, trembling lips, with big, dark eyes and an air of listening, waiting for something. . . divine to happen. . . that she knew must happen . . . infallibly.
When she had finished with them and had made two pyramids of these bright round shapes, she stood away from the table to get the effect—and it really was most curious. For the dark table seemed to melt into the dusky light and the glass dish and the blue bowl to float in the air. This, of course in her present mood, was so incredibly beautiful. . . . She began to laugh. "No, no. I'm getting hysterical." And she seized her bag and coat and ran upstairs to the nursery.
She stood watching them, her hands by her side, like the poor little girl in front of the rich little girl with the doll. The baby looked up at her again, stared, and then smiled so charmingly that Bertha couldn’t help crying: “Oh, Nanny, do let me finish giving her her supper while you put the bath things away.”
“Well, M'm, she oughtn't to be changed hands while she's eating,” said Nanny, still whispering. “It unsettles her; it’s very likely to upset her.”
How absurd it was. Why have a baby if it has to be kept—not in a case like a rare, rare fiddle-but in another woman's arms?
What Miss Fulton did, Bertha didn't know. They had met at the club and Bertha had fallen in love with her, as she always did fall in love with beautiful women who had something strange about them. The provoking thing was that, though they had been about together and met a number of times and really talked, Bertha couldn't yet make her out. Up to a certain point Miss Fulton was rarely, wonderfully frank, but the certain point was there, and beyond that she would not go.
Was there anything beyond it? Harry said “No.” Voted her dullish, and “cold like all blond women, with a touch, perhaps, of anemia of the brain.” But Bertha wouldn't agree with him; not yet, at any rate.
“No, the way she has of sitting with her head a little on one side, and smiling, has something behind it, Harry, and I must find out what that something is.”
“Most likely it's a good stomach,” answered Harry.
He made a point of catching Bertha's heels with replies of that kind . . . “liver frozen, my dear girl,” or “pure flatulence,” or “kidney disease”. . . and so on. For some strange reason Bertha liked this, and most admired it in him very much.
The windows of the drawing-room opened on to a balcony overlooking the garden. At the far end, against the wall, there was a tall, slender pear tree in fullest, richest bloom; it stood perfect, as though becalmed against the jade-green sky. Bertha couldn't help feeling, even from this distance, that it had not a single bud or a faded petal. Down below, in the garden beds, the red and yellow tulips, heavy with flowers, seemed to lean upon the dusk. A grey cat, dragging its belly, crept across the lawn, and a black one, its shadow, trailed after. The sight of them, so intent and so quick, gave Bertha a curious shiver. “What creepy things cats are!” she stammered, and she turned away from the window and began walking up and down. . . .
And she seemed to see on her eyelids the lovely pear tree with its wide open blossoms as a symbol of her own life. Really—really—she had everything. She was young. Harry and she were as much in love as ever, and they got on together splendidly and were really good pals. She had an adorable baby. They didn’t have to worry, about money. . .
“I'm absurd. Absurd!” She sat up; but she felt quite dizzy, quite drunk. It must have been the spring. Yes, it was the spring. Now she was so tired she could not drag herself upstairs to dress. A white dress, a string of jade beads, green shoes and stockings. It wasn't intentional. She had thought of this scheme hours before she stood at the drawing-room window.
And then Miss Fulton, all in silver, with a silver fillet binding her pale blond hair, came in smiling, her head a little on one side. “Am I late?”
“No, not at all,” said Bertha. “Come along.” And she took her arm and they moved into the dining-room. What was there in the touch of that cool arm that could fan—fan—start blazing – blazing – the fire of bliss that Bertha did not know what to do with. Miss Fulton did not look at her; but then she seldom did look at people directly… But Bertha knew, suddenly, as if the longest, most intimate look had passed between them—as if they had said to each other: “You, too”—that Pearl Fulton, stirring the beautiful red soup in the grey plate, was feeling just what she was feeling.
At that moment Miss Fulton “gave the sign.”
“Have you a garden?” said the cool, sleepy voice. This was so exquisite on her part that all Bertha could do was to obey. She crossed the room, pulled the curtains apart, and opened those long windows. “There!” she breathed. And the two women stood side by side looking at the slender, flowering tree. Although it was so still it seemed, like the flame of a candle, to stretch up, to point, to quiver in the bright air, to grow taller and taller as they gazed—almost to touch the rim of the round, silver moon. How long did they stand there? Both, as it were, caught in that circle of unearthly light, understanding each other perfectly, creatures of another world, and wondering what they were to do in this one with all this blissful treasure that burned in their bosoms and dropped, in silver flowers, from their hair and hands.
At those last words something strange and almost terrifying darted into Bertha's mind. And this something blind and smiling whispered to her: “Soon these people will go— The house will be quiet—quiet. The lights will be out. And you and he will be alone together in the dark room—the warm bed.”— She jumped up from her chair and ran over to the piano. “What a pity someone does not play!” she cried. “What a pity somebody does not play.”
For the first time in her life Bertha Young desired her husband. Oh, she'd loved him – she'd been in love with him, of course, in every other way, but just not in that way.
While he looked it up she turned her head towards the hall. And she saw . . . Harry with Miss Fulton's coat in his arms and Miss Fulton with her back turned to him and her head bent. He tossed the coat away, put his hands on her shoulders and turned her violently to him. His lips said: “I adore you,” and Miss Fulton laid her moonbeam fingers on his cheeks and smiled her sleepy smile. Harry's nostrils quivered; his lips curled back in a hideous grin while he whispered: “To-morrow,” and with her eyelids Miss Fulton said: “Yes.”
“Here it is,” said Eddie. “‘Why Must it Always be Tomato Soup?’ So deeply true, don't you feel? Tomato soup is so dreadfully eternal.”
“If you prefer,” said Harry's voice, very loud, from the hall, “I can phone you a cab to come to the door.”
Miss Fulton held her hand a moment longer. “Your lovely pear tree!” she murmured. And then she was gone, with Eddie following, like the black cat following the grey cat.
“I'll shut up shop,” said Harry, extravagantly cool and collected.
“Your lovely pear tree—pear tree—pear tree!” Bertha simply ran over to the long windows.
“Oh, what is going to happen now?” she cried.
But the pear tree was as lovely as ever and as full of flower and as still.