D. H. Lawrence
From "The New Decameron"--Volume III.
By D. H. Lawrence
There was thin, crisp snow on the ground, the sky was blue, the wind
very cold, the air clear. Farmers were just turning out the cows for an
hour or so in the midday, and the smell of cow-sheds was unendurable
as I entered Tible. I noticed the ash-twigs up in the sky were pale and
luminous, passing into the blue. And then I saw the peacocks. There they
were in the road before me, three of them, and tailless, brown, speckled
birds, with dark-blue necks and ragged crests. They stepped archly over
the filigree snow, and their bodies moved with slow motion, like small,
light, flat-bottomed boats. I admired them, they were curious. Then a
gust of wind caught them, heeled them over as if they were three frail
boats, opening their feathers like ragged sails. They hopped and skipped
with discomfort, to get out of the draught of the wind. And then, in
the lee of the walls, they resumed their arch, wintry motion, light
and unballasted now their tails were gone, indifferent. They were
indifferent to my presence. I might have touched them. They turned off
to the shelter of an open shed.
As I passed the end of the upper house, I saw a young woman just coming
out of the back door. I had spoken to her in the summer. She recognised
me at once, and waved to me. She was carrying a pail, wearing a white
apron that was longer than her preposterously short skirt, and she had
on the cotton bonnet. I took off my hat to her and was going on. But she
put down her pail and darted with a swift, furtive movement after me.
"Do you mind waiting a minute?" she said. "I'll be out in a minute."
She gave me a slight, odd smile, and ran back. Her face was long and
sallow and her nose rather red. But her gloomy black eyes softened
caressively to me for a moment, with that momentary humility which
makes a man lord of the earth.
I stood in the road, looking at the fluffy, dark-red young cattle that
mooed and seemed to bark at me. They seemed happy, frisky cattle, a
little impudent, and either determined to go back into the warm shed, or
determined not to go back. I could not decide which.
Presently the woman came forward again, her head rather ducked. But she
looked up at me and smiled, with that odd, immediate intimacy, something
witch-like and impossible.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," she said. "Shall we stand in this
cart-shed--it will be more out of the wind."
So we stood among the shafts of the open cart-shed, that faced the road.
Then she looked down at the ground, a little sideways, and I noticed a
small black frown on her brows. She seemed to brood for a moment. Then
she looked straight into my eyes, so that I blinked and wanted to turn
my face aside. She was searching me for something and her look was too
near. The frown was still on her keen, sallow brow.
"Can you speak French?" she asked me abruptly.
"More or less," I replied.
"I was supposed to learn it at school," she said. "But I don't know a
word." She ducked her head and laughed, with a slightly ugly grimace and
a rolling of her black eyes.
"No good keeping your mind full of scraps," I answered.
But she had turned aside her sallow, long face, and did not hear what
I said. Suddenly again she looked at me. She was searching. And at the
same time she smiled at me, and her eyes looked softly, darkly, with
infinite trustful humility into mine. I was being cajoled.
"Would you mind reading a letter for me, in French?" she said, her face
immediately black and bitter-looking. She glanced at me, frowning.
"Not at all," I said.
"It's a letter to my husband," she said, still scrutinising.
I looked at her, and didn't quite realise. She looked too far into me,
my wits were gone. She glanced round. Then she looked at me shrewdly.
She drew a letter from her pocket, and handed it to me. It was addressed
from France to M. Alfred Goyte, at Tible. I took out the letter and
began to read it, as mere words. "Mon cher Alfred"--it might have been a
bit of a torn newspaper. So I followed the script: the trite phrases of
a letter from a French-speaking girl to an Englishman. "I think of
you always, always. Do you think sometimes of me?" And then I vaguely
realised that I was reading a man's private correspondence. And yet, how
could one consider these trivial, facile French phrases private? Nothing
more trite and vulgar in the world than such a love-letter--no newspaper
Therefore I read with a callous heart the effusions of the Belgian
damsel. But then I gathered my attention. For the letter went on, "Notre
cher petit bébé--our dear little baby was born a week ago. Almost I
died, knowing you were far away, and perhaps forgetting the fruit of our
perfect love. But the child comforted me. He has the smiling eyes and
virile air of his English father. I pray to the Mother of Jesus to send
me the dear father of my child, that I may see him with my child in his
arms, and that we may be united in holy family love. Ah, my Alfred, can
I tell you how I miss you, how I weep for you? My thoughts are with you
always, I think of nothing but you, I live for nothing but you and our
dear baby. If you do not come back to me soon, I shall die, and our
child will die. But no, you cannot come back to me. But I can come to
you. I can come to England with our child. If you do not wish to present
me to your good mother and father you can meet me in some town, some
city, for I shall be so frightened to be alone in England with my child,
and no one to take care of us. Yet I must come to you, I must bring my
child, my little Alfred, to his father, the big, beautiful Alfred that
I love so much. Oh, write and tell me where I shall come. I have some
money. I am not a penniless creature. I have money for myself and my
I read to the end. It was signed: "Your very happy and still more
unhappy Elise." I suppose I must have been smiling.
"I can see it makes you laugh," said Mrs. Goyte, sardonically. I looked
up at her.
"It's a love-letter, I know that," she said. "There's too many 'Alfreds'
"One too many," I said.
"Oh yes.--And what does she say--Eliza? We know her name's Eliza, that's
another thing." She grimaced a little, looking up at me with a mocking
"Where did you get this letter?" I said.
"Postman gave it me last week."
"And is your husband at home?"
"I expect him home to-night. He had an accident and hurt his leg. He's
been abroad most of his time for this last four years. He's chauffeur to
a gentleman who travels about in one country and another, on some sort
of business. Married? We married? Why, six years. And I tell you I've
seen little enough of him for four of them. But he always was a rake.
He went through the South African War, and stopped out there for five
years. I'm living with his father and mother. I've no home of my own
now. My people had a big farm--over a thousand acres--in Oxfordshire.
Not like here--no. Oh, they're very good to me, his father and mother.
Oh yes, they couldn't be better. They think more of me than of their own
daughters.--But it's not like being in a place of your own, is it? You
can't really do as you like. No, there's only me and his father and
mother at home. Always a chauffeur? No, he's been all sorts of things:
was to be a farm-bailiff by rights. He's had a good education--but he
liked the motors better.--Then he was five years in the Cape Mounted
Police. I met him when he came back from there, and married him--more
At this point the peacocks came round the corner on a puff of wind.
"Hello, Joey!" she called, and one of the birds came forward, on
delicate legs. Its grey spreckled back was very elegant, it rolled its
full, dark-blue neck as it moved to her. She crouched down. "Joey dear,"
she said, in an odd, saturnine caressive voice: "you're bound to find
me, aren't you?" She put her face downward, and the bird rolled his
neck, almost touching her face with his beak, as if kissing her.
"He loves you," I said.
She twisted her face up at me with a laugh.
"Yes," she said, "he loves me, Joey does"--then, to the bird--"and I
love Joey, don't I? I do love Joey." And she smoothed his feathers for
a moment. Then she rose, saying: "He's an affectionate bird."
I smiled at the roll of her "bir-rrd."
"Oh yes, he is," she protested. "He came with me from my home seven
years ago. Those others are his descendants--but they're not like
Joey--are they, dee-urr?" Her voice rose at the end with a witch-like
Then she forgot the birds in the cart-shed, and turned to business
"Won't you read that letter?" she said. "Read it, so that I know what
"It's rather behind his back," I said.
"Oh, never mind him," she cried, "He's been behind my back long enough.
If he never did no worse things behind my back than I do behind his, he
wouldn't have cause to grumble. You read me what it says."
Now I felt a distinct reluctance to do as she bid, and yet I began--"'My
"I guessed that much," she said. "Eliza's dear Alfred." She laughed.
"How do you say it in French? Eliza?"
I told her, and she repeated the name with great contempt--Elise.
"Go on," she said. "You're not reading."
So I began--"'I have been thinking of you sometimes--have you been
thinking of me?'"
"Of several others as well, beside her, I'll wager," said Mrs. Goyte.
"Probably not," said I, and continued. "'A dear little baby was born
here a week ago. Ah, can I tell you my feelings when I take my darling
little brother into my arms----'"
"I'll bet it's his," cried Mrs. Goyte.
"No," I said. "It's her mother's."
"Don't you believe it," she cried. "It's a blind. You mark, it's her own
right enough--and his."
"No," I said. "It's her mother's. 'He has sweet smiling eyes, but not
like your beautiful English eyes----'"
She suddenly struck her hand on her skirt with a wild motion, and bent
down, doubled with laughter. Then she rose and covered her face with her
"I'm forced to laugh at the beautiful English eyes," she said.
"Aren't his eyes beautiful?" I asked.
"Oh yes--very! Go on!--Joey dear, dee-urr Joey!"--this to the
"--Er--'We miss you very much. We all miss you. We wish you were here
to see the darling baby. Ah, Alfred, how happy we were when you stayed
with us. We all loved you so much. My mother will call the baby Alfred
so that we shall never forget you----'"
"Of course it's his right enough," cried Mrs. Goyte.
"No," I said. "It's the mother's. Er--'My mother is very well. My father
came home yesterday--from Lille. He is delighted with his son, my little
brother, and wishes to have him named after you, because you were so
good to us all in that terrible time, which I shall never forget.
I must weep now when I think of it. Well, you are far away in England,
and perhaps I shall never see you again. How did you find your dear
mother and father? I am so happy that your leg is better, and that you
can nearly walk----'"
"How did he find his dear wife!" cried Mrs. Goyte. "He never told her
that he had one. Think of taking the poor girl in like that!"
"'We are so pleased when you write to us. Yet now you are in England you
will forget the family you served so well----'"
"A bit too well--eh, Joey!" cried the wife.
"'If it had not been for you we should not be alive now, to grieve and
to rejoice in this life, that is so hard for us. But we have recovered
some of our losses, and no longer feel the burden of poverty. The little
Alfred is a great comforter to me. I hold him to my breast and think of
the big, good Alfred, and I weep to think that those times of suffering
were perhaps the times of a great happiness that is gone for ever.'"
"Oh, but isn't it a shame to take a poor girl in like that!" cried Mrs.
Goyte. "Never to let on that he was married, and raise her hopes--I call
it beastly, I do."
"You don't know," I said. "You know how anxious women are to fall in
love, wife or no wife. How could he help it, if she was determined to
fall in love with him?"
"He could have helped it if he'd wanted to."
"Well," I said. "We aren't all heroes."
"Oh, but that's different!--The big, good Alfred!--did you ever hear
such Tommy-rot in your life?--Go on--what does she say at the end?"
"Er--' We shall be pleased to hear of your life in England. We all send
many kind regards to your good parents. I wish you all happiness for
your future days. Your very affectionate and ever-grateful Elise.'"
There was silence for a moment, during which Mrs. Goyte remained with
her head dropped, sinister and abstracted. Suddenly she lifted her face,
and her eyes flashed.
"Oh, but I call it beastly, I call it mean, to take a girl in like
"Nay," I said. "Probably he hasn't taken her in at all. Do you think
those French girls are such poor innocent things? I guess she's a great
deal more downy than he."
"Oh, he's one of the biggest fools that ever walked," she cried.
"There you are!" said I.
"But it's his child right enough," she said.
"I don't think so," said I.
"I'm sure of it."
"Oh well," I said--"if you prefer to think that way."
"What other reason has she for writing like that----?"
I went out into the road and looked at the cattle.
"Who is this driving the cows?" I said. She too came out.
"It's the boy from the next farm," she said.
"Oh well," said I, "those Belgian girls! You never know where their
letters will end.--And after all, it's his affair--you needn't bother."
"Oh----!" she cried, with rough scorn--"it's not me that bothers. But
it's the nasty meanness of it. Me writing him such loving letters"--she
put her hands before her face and laughed malevolently--"and sending him
nice little cakes and bits I thought he'd fancy all the time. You bet
he fed that gurrl on my things--I know he did. It's just like him.--I'll
bet they laughed together over my letters. I'll bet anything they
"Nay," said I. "He'd burn your letters for fear they'd give him away."
There was a black look on her yellow face. Suddenly a voice was heard
calling. She poked her head out of the shed, and answered coolly:
"All right!" Then, turning to me: "That's his mother looking after me."
She laughed into my face, witch-like, and we turned down the road.
When I awoke, the morning after this episode, I found the house darkened
with deep, soft snow, which had blown against the large west windows,
covering them with a screen. I went outside, and saw the valley all
white and ghastly below me, the trees beneath black and thin looking
like wire, the rock-faces dark between the glistening shroud, and the
sky above sombre, heavy, yellowish-dark, much too heavy for the world
below of hollow bluey whiteness figured with black. I felt I was in
a valley of the dead. And I sensed I was a prisoner, for the snow was
everywhere deep, and drifted in places. So all the morning I remained
indoors, looking up the drive at the shrubs so heavily plumed with snow,
at the gateposts raised high with a foot or more of extra whiteness.
Or I looked down into the white-and-black valley, that was utterly
motionless and beyond life, a hollow sarcophagus.
Nothing stirred the whole day--no plume fell off the shrubs, the valley
was as abstracted as a grove of death. I looked over at the tiny,
half-buried farms away on the bare uplands beyond the valley hollow,
and I thought of Tible in the snow, of the black, witch-like little
Mrs. Goyte. And the snow seemed to lay me bare to influences I wanted to
In the faint glow of half-clear light that came about four o'clock in
the afternoon, I was roused to see a motion in the snow away below, near
where the thorn-trees stood very black and dwarfed, like a little savage
group, in the dismal white. I watched closely. Yes, there was a flapping
and a struggle--a big bird, it must be, labouring in the snow. I
wondered. Our biggest birds, in the valley, were the large hawks that
often hung flickering opposite my windows, level with me, but high
above some prey on the steep valley-side. This was much too big for a
hawk--too big for any known bird. I searched in my mind for the largest
English wild birds--geese, buzzards.
Still it laboured and strove, then was still, a dark spot, then
struggled again. I went out of the house and down the steep slope,
at risk of breaking my leg between the rocks. I knew the ground so
well--and yet I got well shaken before I drew near the thorn-trees.
Yes, it was a bird. It was Joey. It was the grey-brown peacock with a
blue neck. He was snow-wet and spent.
"Joey--Joey de-urr!" I said, staggering unevenly towards him. He looked
so pathetic, rowing and struggling in the snow, too spent to rise,
his blue neck stretching out and lying sometimes on the snow, his eyes
closing and opening quickly, his crest all battered.
"Joey dee-urr! Dee-urr!" I said caressingly to him. And at last he lay
still, blinking, in the surged and furrowed snow, whilst I came near and
touched him, stroked him, gathered him under my arm. He stretched his
long, wetted neck away from me as I held him, none the less he was quiet
in my arm, too tired, perhaps, to struggle. Still he held his poor,
crested head away from me, and seemed sometimes to droop, to wilt, as if
he might suddenly die.
He was not so heavy as I expected, yet it was a struggle to get up to
the house with him again. We set him down, not too near the fire, and
gently wiped him with cloths. He submitted, only now and then stretched
his soft neck away from us, avoiding us helplessly. Then we set warm
food by him. I put it to his beak, tried to make him eat. But he ignored
it. He seemed to be ignorant of what we were doing, recoiled inside
himself inexplicably. So we put him in a basket with cloths, and left
him crouching oblivious. His food we put near him. The blinds were
drawn, the house was warm, it was night. Sometimes he stirred, but
mostly he huddled still, leaning his queer crested head on one side. He
touched no food, and took no heed of sounds or movements. We talked of
brandy or stimulants. But I realised we had best leave him alone.
In the night, however, we heard him thumping about. I got up anxiously
with a candle. He had eaten some food, and scattered more, making
a mess. And he was perched on the back of a heavy arm-chair. So I
concluded he was recovered, or recovering.
The next day was clear, and the snow had frozen, so I decided to carry
him back to Tible. He consented, after various flappings, to sit in a
big fish-bag with his battered head peeping out with wild uneasiness.
And so I set off with him, slithering down into the valley, making
good progress down in the pale shadows beside the rushing waters,
then climbing painfully up the arrested white valley-side, plumed with
clusters of young pine-trees, into the paler white radiance of the snowy
upper regions, where the wind cut fine. Joey seemed to watch all the
time with wide, anxious, unseeing eyes, brilliant and inscrutable. As I
drew near to Tible township, he stirred violently in the bag, though
I do not know if he had recognised the place. Then, as I came to the
sheds, he looked sharply from side to side, and stretched his neck
out long. I was a little afraid of him. He gave a loud, vehement yell,
opening his sinister beak, and I stood still, looking at him as he
struggled in the bag, shaken myself by his struggles, yet not thinking
to release him.
Mrs. Goyte came darting past the end of the house, her head sticking
forward in sharp scrutiny. She saw me, and came forward.
"Have you got Joey?" she cried sharply, as if I were a thief.
I opened the bag, and he flopped out, flapping as if he hated the touch
of the snow, now. She gathered him up and put her lips to his beak. She
was flushed and handsome, her eyes bright, her hair slack, thick, but
more witch-like than ever. She did not speak.
She had been followed by a grey-haired woman with a round, rather sallow
face and a slightly hostile bearing.
"Did you bring him with you, then?" she asked sharply. I answered that I
had rescued him the previous evening.
From the background slowly approached a slender man with a grey
moustache and large patches on his trousers.
"You've got 'im back 'gain, Ah see," he said to his daughter-in-law. His
wife explained how I had found Joey.
"Ah," went on the grey man. "It wor our Alfred scarred him off, back
your life. He must 'a' flyed ower t' valley. Tha ma' thank thy stars
as 'e wor fun, Maggie. 'E'd a bin froze. They a bit nesh, you know," he
concluded to me.
"They are," I answered. "This isn't their country."
"No, it isna," replied Mr. Goyte. He spoke very slowly and deliberately,
quietly, as if the soft pedal were always down in his voice. He looked
at his daughter-in-law as she crouched, flushed and dark, before the
peacock, which would lay its long blue neck for a moment along her lap.
In spite of his grey moustache and thin grey hair, the elderly man had
a face young and almost delicate, like a young man's. His blue eyes
twinkled with some inscrutable source of pleasure, his skin was fine
and tender, his nose delicately arched. His grey hair being slightly
ruffled, he had a debonnair look, as of a youth who is in love.
"We mun tell 'im it's come," he said slowly, and turning he called:
"Alfred--Alfred! Wheer's ter gotten to?"
Then he turned again to the group.
"Get up, then, Maggie, lass, get up wi' thee. Tha ma'es too much o' th'
A young man approached, limping, wearing a thick short coat and
knee-breeches. He was Danish-looking, broad at the loins.
"I's come back, then," said the father to the son--"leastwise, he's bin
browt back, flyed ower the Griff Low."
The son looked at me. He had a devil-may-care bearing, his cap on one
side, his hands stuck in the front pockets of his breeches. But he said
"Shall you come in a minute, Master?" said the elderly woman, to me.
"Ay, come in an' ha'e a cup o' tea or summat. You'll do wi' summat,
carryin' that bod. Come on, Maggie wench, let's go in."
So we went indoors, into the rather stuffy, overcrowded living-room,
that was too cosy and too warm. The son followed last, standing in
the doorway. The father talked to me. Maggie put out the tea-cups. The
mother went into the dairy again.
"Tha'lt rouse thysen up a bit again now, Maggie," the father-in-law
said--and then to me: "'Er's not bin very bright sin' Alfred come whoam,
an' the bod flyed awee. 'E come whoam a Wednesday night, Alfred did. But
ay, you knowed, didna yer. Ay, 'e comed 'a Wednesday--an' I reckon there
wor a bit of a to-do between 'em, worn't there, Maggie?"
He twinkled maliciously to his daughter-in-law, who was flushed
brilliant and handsome.
"Oh, be quiet, father. You're wound up, by the sound of you," she said
to him, as if crossly. But she could never be cross with him.
"'Er's got 'er colour back this mornin'," continued the father-in-law
slowly. "It's bin heavy weather wi' 'er this last two days. Ay--'er's
bin north-east sin 'er seed you a Wednesday."
"Father, do stop talking. You'd wear the leg off an iron pot. I can't
think where you've found your tongue, all of a sudden," said Maggie,
with caressive sharpness.
"Ah've found it wheer I lost it. Aren't goin' ter come in an' sit thee
But Alfred turned and disappeared.
"'E's got th' monkey on 'is back, ower this letter job," said the father
secretly to me. "Mother 'er knows nowt about it. Lot o' tomfoolery,
isn't it? Ay! What's good o' makin' a peck o' trouble ower what's far
enough off, an' ned niver come no nigher. No--not a smite o' use. That's
what I tell 'er. 'Er should ta'e no notice on't. Ay, what can y'expect."
The mother came in again, and the talk became general. Maggie flashed
her eyes at me from time to time, complacent and satisfied, moving among
the men. I paid her little compliments, which she did not seem to hear.
She attended to me with a kind of sinister, witch-like gracious-ness,
her dark head ducked between her shoulders, at once humble and powerful.
She was happy as a child attending to her father-in-law and to me. But
there was something ominous between her eyebrows, as if a dark moth were
settled there--and something ominous in her bent, hulking bearing.
She sat on a low stool by the fire, near her father-in-law. Her head
was dropped, she seemed in a state of abstraction. From time to time she
would suddenly recover, and look up at us, laughing and chatting. Then
she would forget again. Yet in her hulked black forgetting she seemed
very near to us.
The door having been opened, the peacock came slowly in, prancing
calmly. He went near to her, and crouched down, coiling his blue neck.
She glanced at him, but almost as if she did not observe him. The bird
sat silent, seeming to sleep, and the woman also sat huddled and silent,
seeming oblivious. Then once more there was a heavy step, and Alfred
entered. He looked at his wife, and he looked at the peacock crouching
by her. He stood large in the doorway, his hands stuck in front of him,
in his breeches pockets. Nobody spoke. He turned on his heel and went
I rose also to go. Maggie started as if coming to herself.
"Must you go?" she asked, rising and coming near to me, standing in
front of me, twisting her head sideways and looking up at me. "Can't
you stop a bit longer? We can all be cosy to-day, there's nothing to
do outdoors." And she laughed, showing her teeth oddly. She had a long
I said I must go. The peacock uncoiled and coiled again his long blue
neck as he lay on the hearth. Maggie still stood close in front of me,
so that I was acutely aware of my waistcoat buttons.
"Oh, well," she said, "you'll come again, won't you? Do come again."
"Come to tea one day--yes, do!"
I promised--one day.
The moment I was out of her presence I ceased utterly to exist for
her--as utterly as I ceased to exist for Joey. With her curious
abstractedness she forgot me again immediately. I knew it as I left her.
Yet she seemed almost in physical contact with me while I was with her.
The sky was all pallid again, yellowish. When I went out there was no
sun; the snow was blue and cold. I hurried away down the hill, musing on
Maggie. The road made a loop down the sharp face of the slope. As I went
crunching over the laborious snow I became aware of a figure striding
awkwardly down the steep scarp to intercept me. It was a man with his
hands in front of him, half stuck in his breeches pockets, and his
shoulders square--a real knock-about fellow. Alfred, of course. He
waited for me by the stone fence.
"Excuse me," he said as I came up.
I came to a halt in front of him and looked into his sullen blue eyes.
He had a certain odd haughtiness on his brows. But his blue eyes stared
insolently at me.
"Do you know anything about a letter--in French--that my wife opened--a
letter of mine?"
"Yes," said I. "She asked me to read it to her."
He looked square at me. He did not know exactly how to feel.
"What was there in it?" he asked.
"Why?" I said. "Don't you know?"
"She makes out she's burnt it," he said.
"Without showing it you?" I asked.
He nodded slightly. He seemed to be meditating as to what line of action
he should take. He wanted to know the contents of the letter: he must
know: and therefore he must ask me, for evidently his wife had taunted
him. At the same time, no doubt, he would like to wreak untold vengeance
on my unfortunate person. So he eyed me, and I eyed him, and neither of
us spoke. He did not want to repeat his request to me. And yet I only
looked at him, and considered.
Suddenly he threw back his head and glanced down the valley. Then he
changed his position and he looked at me more confidentially.
"She burnt the blasted thing before I saw it," he said.
"Well," I answered slowly, "she doesn't know herself what was in it."
He continued to watch me narrowly. I grinned to myself.
"I didn't like to read her out what there was in it," I continued.
He suddenly flushed out so that the veins in his neck stood out, and he
stirred again uncomfortably.
"The Belgian girl said her baby had been born a week ago, and that they
were going to call it Alfred," I told him.
He met my eyes. I was grinning. He began to grin, too.
"Good luck to her," he said.
"Best of luck," said I.
"And what did you tell her?" he asked.
"That the baby belonged to the old mother--that it was brother to your
girl, who was writing to you as a friend of the family."
He stood smiling, with the long, subtle malice of a farmer.
"And did she take it in?" he asked.
"As much as she took anything else."
He stood grinning fixedly. Then he broke into a short laugh.
"Good for her!" he exclaimed cryptically.
And then he laughed aloud once more, evidently feeling he had won a big
move in his contest with his wife.
"What about the other woman?" I asked.
"Oh"--he shifted uneasily--"she was all right------"
"You'll be getting back to her," I said.
He looked at me. Then he made a grimace with his mouth.
"Not me," he said. "Back your life it's a plant."
"You don't think the cher petit bébé is a little Alfred?"
"It might be," he said.
"Yes--an' there's lots of mites in a pound of cheese." He laughed
boisterously but uneasily.
"What did she say, exactly?" he asked.
I began to repeat, as well as I could, the phrases of the letter:
"Mon cher Alfred,--Figure-toi comme je suis désolée----"
He listened with some confusion. When I had finished all I could
remember, he said:
"They know how to pitch you out a letter, those Belgian lasses."
"Practice," said I.
"They get plenty," he said.
There was a pause.
"Oh well," he said. "I've never got that letter, anyhow."
The wind blew fine and keen, in the sunshine, across the snow. I blew my
nose and prepared to depart.
"And she doesn't know anything?" he continued, jerking his head up the
hill in the direction of Tible.
"She knows nothing but what I've said--that is, if she really burnt the
"I believe she burnt it," he said, "for spite. She's a little devil, she
is. But I shall have it out with her." His jaw was stubborn and sullen.
Then suddenly he turned to me with a new note.
"Why?" he said. "Why didn't you wring that b---- peacock's neck--that
"Why?" I said. "What for?"
"I hate the brute," he said. "I let fly at him the night I got back----"
I laughed. He stood and mused.
"Poor little Elise," he murmured.
"Was she small--petite?" I asked. He jerked up his head.
"No," he said. "Rather tall."
"Taller than your wife, I suppose."
Again he looked into my eyes. And then once more he went into a loud
burst of laughter that made the still, snow-deserted valley clap again.
"God, it's a knockout!" he said, thoroughly amused. Then he stood at
ease, one foot out, his hands in his breeches pocket, in front of him,
his head thrown back, a handsome figure of a man.
"But I'll do that blasted Joey in----" he mused, I ran down the hill,
shouting also with laughter.