BOOK ONE INFANCY (1865-1869)
BOOK TWO CHILDHOOD (1869-1875)
BOOK THREE ADOLESCENCE (1876-1879)
BOOK FOUR MATURITY (1879-1900)
BOOK FIVE MIDDLE AGE (1900-1910)
The curtain of the big bed hung down beside the cot.
When old Jenny shook it the wooden
rings rattled on the pole and grey
men with pointed
heads and squat, bulging bodies came out of the folds
on to the flat green ground. If you looked at them they turned into
squab faces smeared with green.
Every night, when Jenny had gone away with the doll and the donkey,
you hunched up the blanket and the stiff white counterpane to hide the
curtain and you played with the knob in the green painted iron railing
of the cot. It stuck out close to your face, winking and grinning at
you in a friendly way. You poked it till it left off and turned grey
and went back into the railing. Then you had to feel for it with your
finger. It fitted the hollow of your hand, cool and hard, with a blunt
nose that pushed agreeably into the palm.
In the dark you could go tip-finger along the slender, lashing
flourishes of the ironwork. By stretching your arm out tight you could
reach the curlykew at the end. The short, steep flourish
took you to
the top of the railing
and on behind your head.
that way you got into the grey lane where the
prickly stones were and the hedge of little biting
trees. When the
door in the hedge opened you saw the man in the night-shirt. He had
only half a face. From his nose and his cheek-bones downwards
beard hung straight like a dark cloth. You opened your mouth, but
before you could scream
you were back in the cot; the room was light;
the green knob winked and grinned at you from the railing, and behind
the curtain Papa and Mamma were lying in the big bed.
One night she came back out of the lane as the door in the hedge was
opening. The man stood in the room by the washstand, scratching his long
thigh. He was turned slantwise from the nightlight on the washstand so
that it showed his yellowish skin under the lifted shirt. The white
half-face hung by itself on the darkness. When he left off scratching
and moved towards the cot she screamed.
Mamma took her into the big bed. She curled up there under the shelter
of the raised hip and shoulder. Mamma's face was dry and warm and
smelt sweet like Jenny's powder-puff. Mamma's mouth moved over her wet
cheeks, nipping her tears.
Her cry changed to a whimper
and a soft, ebbing sob.
Mamma's breast: a smooth, cool, round thing that hung to your hands
and slipped from them when they tried to hold it. You could feel the
little ridges of the stiff nipple as your finger pushed it back into
Her sobs shook in her throat
and ceased suddenly.
The big white globes hung in a ring above the dinner table. At first,
when she came into the room, carried high in Jenny's arms, she could
see nothing but the hanging, shining globes. Each had a light inside
it that made it shine.
Mamma was sitting at the far end of the table. Her face and neck shone
white above the pile of oranges on the dark blue dish. She was dipping
her fingers in a dark blue glass bowl.
When Mary saw her she strained towards her, leaning dangerously
Jenny's arms. Old Jenny said "Tchit-tchit!" and made her arms tight
and hard and put her on Papa's knee.
Papa sat up, broad and tall above the table, all by himself. He was
dressed in black. One long brown beard hung down in front of him and
one short beard covered his mouth. You knew he was smiling because his
cheeks swelled high up his face so that his eyes were squeezed into
narrow, shining slits. When they came out again you saw scarlet
and smears in their corners.
Papa's big white hand was on the table, holding
a glass filled with
some red stuff that was both dark and shining and had a queer, sharp
"Porty-worty winey-piney," said Papa.
The same queer, sharp smell came from between his two beards when he
Mark was sitting up beside Mamma a long way off. She could see them
looking at each other. Roddy and Dank were with them.
They were making flowers out of orange peel and floating them in the
finger bowls. Mamma's fingers were blue and sharp-pointed in the water
behind the dark blue glass of her bowl. The floating orange-peel
flowers were blue. She could see Mamma smiling as she stirred them
about with the tips of her blue fingers.
Her underlip pouted and shook. She didn't want to sit by herself on
Papa's knee. She wanted to sit in Mamma's lap beside Mark. She wanted
Mark to make orange-peel flowers for her. She wanted Mamma to look
down at her and smile.
Papa was spreading butter on biscuit
and powdered sugar on the butter.
"Sugary--Buttery--Bippery," said Papa.
She shook her head. "I want to go to Mamma. I want to go to Mark."
She pushed away the biscuit. "No. No. Mamma give Mary. Mark give
"Drinky--winky," said Papa.
He put his glass to her shaking mouth. She turned her head away, and
he took it between his thumb and finger and turned it back again. Her
neck moved stiffly. Her head felt small and brittle under the weight
and pinch of the big hand. The smell and the sour, burning taste of
the wine made her cry.
"Don't tease Baby, Emilius," said Mamma.
"I never tease anybody."
He lifted her up. She could feel her body swell and tighten
bands and drawstrings of her clothes, as she struggled and choked,
straining against the immense
clamp of his arms. When his wet red lips
pushed out between his beards to kiss her she kicked. Her toes drummed
against something stiff and thin that gave way and sprang
with a cracking and popping sound.
He put her on the floor. She stood there all by herself, crying, till
Mark came and took her by the hand.
"Naughty Baby. Naughty Mary," said Mamma. "Don't kiss her, Mark."
He knelt on the floor beside her and smiled into her face and wiped it
with his pocket-handkerchief. She put out her mouth and kissed him and
"Jenny must come," Mamma said, "and take Mary away."
"No. Mark take Mary."
"Let the little beast take her," said Papa. "If he does he shan't come
back again. Do you hear that, sir?"
Mark said, "Yes, Papa."
They went out of the room hand in hand. He carried her upstairs
pickaback. As they went she rested her chin on the nape of his neck
where his brown hair thinned off into shiny, golden down.
Old Jenny sat in the rocking-chair by the fireguard in the nursery.
She wore a black net cap with purple
rosettes above her ears. You
could look through the black net and see the top of her head laid out
in stripes of grey hair and pinky skin.
She had a grey face, flattened and wide-open like her eyes. She held
it tilted slightlybackwards
out of your way, and seemed to be always
staring at something just above your head. Jenny's face had tiny
creases and crinkles all over it. When you kissed it you could feel
the loose flesh crumpling and sliding softly
over the bone. There was
always about her a faint smell of sour milk.
No use trying
to talk to Jenny. She was too tired to listen. You
climbed on to her lap and stroked her face, and said "Poor Jenny. Dear
Jenny. Poor Jenny-Wee so tired," and her face shut up and went to
sleep. Her broad flat nose drooped; her eyelids drooped; her long,
grey bands of hair drooped; she was like the white donkey
in the back lane and slept standing
on three legs with his ears lying
Mary loved old Jenny next to Mamma and Mark; and she loved the white
donkey. She wondered why Jenny was always cross when you stroked her
grey face and called her "Donkey-Jenny." It was not as if she minded
being stroked; because when Mark or Dank did it her face woke up
suddenly and smoothed out its creases. And when Roddy climbed up with
his long legs into her lap she hugged him tight and rocked him,
singing Mamma's song, and called him her baby.
He wasn't. _She_ was the baby; and while you were the baby you could
sit in people's laps. But old Jenny didn't want her to be the baby.
had shiny, slippery
yellow walls and a brown floor, and a
black hearthrug with a centre of brown and yellow flowers. The greyish
chintz curtains were spotted with small brown leaves and crimson
berries. There were dark-brown cupboards and chests of drawers, and
chairs that were brown frames for the yellow network
of the cane. Soft
bits of you squeezed through the holes and came out on the other side.
That hurt and made a red pattern on you where you sat down.
The tall green fireguard was a cage. When Jenny poked the fire you
peeped through and saw it fluttering inside. If you sat still you
could sometimes hear it say "teck-teck," and sometimes the fire would
fly out suddenly with a soft hiss.
High above your head you could just see the gleaming edge of the brass
and where's to-morrow?"
When you had run a thousand hundred times round the table you came to
the blue house. It stood behind Jenny's rocking-chair, where Jenny
couldn't see it, in a blue garden. The walls and ceilings were blue;
the doors and staircases were blue; everything in all the rooms was
Mary ran round and round. She loved the padding of her feet on the
floor and the sound of her sing-song:
"The pussies are blue, the beds are blue, the matches are blue and the
mousetraps and all the litty mouses!"
Mamma was always there dressed in a blue gown; and Jenny was there,
all in blue, with a blue cap; and Mark and Dank and Roddy were there,
all in blue. But Papa was not allowed in the blue house.
Mamma came in and looked at her as she ran. She stood in the doorway
with her finger on her mouth, and she was smiling. Her brown hair was
parted in two sleek bands, looped and puffed out softly
ears, and plaited in one plait that stood up on its edge above her
forehead. She wore a wide brown silk gown with falling sleeves.
"Pretty Mamma," said Mary. "In a blue dress."
Every morning Mark and Dank and Roddy knocked at Mamma's door, and if
Papa was there he called out, "Go away, you little beasts!" If he was
not there she said, "Come in, darlings!" and they climbed up the big
bed into Papa's place and said "Good morning, Mamma!"
When Papa was away the lifted curtain spread like a tent over Mary's
cot, shutting her in with Mamma. When he was there the drawn curtain
hung straight down from the head of the bed.
White patterns on the window, sharp spikes, feathers, sprigs with
furled edges, stuck flat on to the glass; white webs, crinkled like
the skin of boiled milk, stretched across the corner of the pane;
stuff that bit your fingers.
Out of doors, black twigs thickened with a white fur; white powder
sprinkled over the garden walk. The white, ruffled grass stood out
stiffly and gave under your feet with a pleasant crunching. The air
smelt good; you opened your mouth and drank it in gulps. It went down
like cold, tingling water.
You saw the sun for the first time, a red ball that hung by itself on
the yellowish white sky. Mamma said, "Yes, of course it would fall if
God wasn't there to hold it up in his hands."
Supposing God dropped the sun--
The yellowish white sky had come close up to the house, a dirty
blanket let down outside the window. The tree made a black pattern on
it. Clear glass beads hung in a row from the black branch, each black
twig was tipped with a glass bead. When Jenny opened the window there
was a queer cold smell like the smell of the black water in the butt.
Thin white powder fluttered out of the blanket and fell. A thick
powder. A white fluff that piled itself in a ridge on the window-sill
and curved softly
in the corner of the sash. It was cold, and melted
on your tongue with a taste of window-pane.
In the garden Mark and Dank and Roddy were making the snow man.
Mamma stood at the nursery
window with her back to the room. She
called to Mary to come and look at the snow man.
Mary was tired of the snow man. She was making a tower with Roddy's
bricks while Roddy wasn't there. She had to build it quick before he
could come back and take his bricks away, and the quicker you built it
the sooner it fell down. Mamma was not to look until it was finished.
"Look--look, Mamma! M-m-mary's m-m-made a tar. And it's _not_ falled
The tower reached above Jenny's knee.
"Come and look, Mamma--" But Mamma wouldn't even turn her head.
"I'm looking at the snow man," she said.
Something swelled up, hot and tight, in Mary's body and in her face.
She had a big bursting face and a big bursting body. She struck the
tower, and it fell down. Her violence
made her feel light and small
again and happy.
"Where's the tower, Mary?" said Mamma.
"There isn't any tar. I've knocked it down. It was a nashty tar."
Aunt Charlotte had sent the Isle of Skye terrier to Dank.
There was a picture of Aunt Charlotte in Mamma's Album. She stood on a
strip of carpet, supported by the hoops of her crinoline; her black
lace shawl made a pattern on the light gown. She wore a little hat
with a white sweeping
feather, and under the hat two long black curls
hung down straight on each shoulder.
The other people in the Album were sulky, and wouldn't look at you.
The gentlemen made cross faces at somebody who wasn't there; the
ladies hung their heads and looked down at their crinolines. Aunt
Charlotte hung her head too, but her eyes, tilted up straight under
her forehead, pointed
at you. And between her stiff black curls she