It was summer when the Arnoldsons first asked me to go and stay with them. I could not go. I did not go until the following winter, on the fifth of January. It was bitterly cold that day, with thin drifts of snow whipped up from the ground like fierce white sandstorms, and there was snow on the ground almost all the time until I left four days later.
The Arnoldsons lived about seven miles from the nearest town. The house is quite ordinary: plain red brick, double-fronted, with large bay windows and a large brass-knockered front door and a spotless white doorstep. It is the color of a new flowerpot, and at the back in the garden there is a long pergola of bay trees which is like a tunnel leading to nowhere.
Before that day in January I did not know any of the Arnoldsons except Laurence. We were at school together, but we had not seen each other for fifteen years. He was an architect, and I had written a letter to a paper about country architecture and he had seen it, and that was how the invitation to stay with them had come about. Laurence Arnoldson is of medium height, with straight dark hair brushed back. He wears plain ascetic-looking gold spectacles and is a man of meticulous habits — always paring his fingernails, polishing his glasses, splitting life into millimetres. His craze for exactitude and his contempt for people who have no time for it have made him a prig. He holds his head very high and you can see him looking down his nose at the world. The best thing about him is his eyes: they are weak, but they are a deep, rather strange shade of brown. There is something remote about them.
Laurence met me at the station that day in a fairly old but carefully kept Morris-Oxford, a four-seater. His father was with him. Mr. Arnoldson sat in the front seat, huddled in a black rug, with a large shaggy gray scarf muffled round his head. The scarf covered almost all of his face except his eyes. As Laurence introduced me I saw that his father’s eyes had exactly the same deep remote brownness as the son’s. It was snowing a little at the time, and Laurence had left the windscreen wiper working, and I could see the man’s eyes mechanically following its pendulum motions. They slid to and fro like two brown ball bearings moving in gray oil, fascinated by the clear glass arc made by the wiper in the furred snow.
Laurence’s father did not speak to me, and neither he nor Laurence exchanged a word as we drove slowly out into the frozen country. Their silence depressed me. I felt it had something to do with me. Now and then I made a remark, and once, about half a mile from the house, we passed a pond frozen over and I said something about skating and Laurence said: —
‘Oh yes. That’s the pond where my sister saw a fox walk across the ice yesterday.’
The Arnoldsons’ house stands on what was formerly a private estate, and there is a private gravel road half a mile long leading up to it through fenceless fields that are planted with groups of elm and lime.
There is no Mrs. Arnoldson. She has been dead for thirteen years, and the house has been run for all that time by her sister, Aunt Wilcox. It was Aunt Wilcox who met us at the front door that afternoon, a dumpy woman with white hair scraped back sharply from her soappolished face. She came out of the house briskly, shook hands with me without waiting to be introduced, and then helped Mr. Arnoldson out of the car. I thought at first he had been ill, but then as he stood upright I could see that there was nothing wrong with him and that he was really a big and rather powerful man. His hands were excessively large-boned, and his head, hugely swathed in the great scarf, had-a kind of ill-balanced power about it. It swayed slightly to and fro as he walked, as though it were loose on the spine. He did not speak to me.
Aunt Wilcox spoke with a strong Yorkshire accent. The Arnoldsons themselves are Yorkshire people, and the house is furnished in Yorkshire fashion: a rocking chair in my room, big dressers, patchwork cushions, heavy pink-andgold tea services. In the large drawingroom the curtains are of some claretcolored woolen material, with plush bobbles, and they hang from great mahogany rods by mahogany rings that are like the rings on a hoopla. On the mantelpiece stand two large china dogs, spaniels, black and white. They are looking at something. They are extraordinarily lifelike.
I had been upstairs to unpack my things and had come down again and was looking at these dogs when Laurence came in to say that tea was ready. We went across the hall into the opposite room. It was about four o’clock, and the white reflected light of the fallen snow was prolonging by a few minutes the fall of darkness. We sat down to tea in this strange snow-twilight, Aunt Wilcox and Mr, Arnoldson opposite each other at the ends of the table, Laurence and I at the sides, I myself facing the window. The room was the exact reflection of the other. At the windows were the same sort of heavy, plushbobbled curtains, and on the mantelpiece stood what might have been the same pair of china spaniels watching with extraordinary lifelike fixedness some invisible object between them.
We sat there eating and drinking, without saying much. Aunt Wilcox poured tea from a huge electroplated pot that might have held a gallon. The cups wore like pink-and-gold basins.
I drink my tea very hot, and suddenly, as Aunt Wilcox was taking my empty cup, I saw someone coming up the road towards the house. I knew at once, somehow, that it was Laurence’s sister. She was wearing a big brown coat, but no hat. Every now and then she stepped off the road on to the grass and wandered off, as though looking for something. She was like someone playing follow-my-leader with herself. Once she wandered farther off than usual, and in the half-darkness I lost her for a moment. Then I saw her again. She was running. She was running quite fast, and all at once she fell down on her knees in the snow and then ran on again. She was still running when she came to the house.
Two minutes later she came in. Her knees and the fringe of her coat were covered with snow where she had fallen down, and there was a small salt-sprinkling of snow on her hair. She was about twenty-three, but she looked much younger, and I shall never forget how she came in, out of breath, to look at us with the same remote brown eyes as Laurence’s, intensely excited, with a stare that had nothing to do with earth at all.
‘I saw him again,’ she said.
For a moment no one spoke. Then Laurence said: ‘Who? The fox?’
‘Yes. I saw him run over the pond again and I chased him up through the park, and then just as I got near the house I lost him.’
No one spoke a word.
That evening, after supper, she told me more about the fox. She described him: how bright he was and good-colored, and how it was only in snowy or frosty weather that she saw him, and as she described him I saw him, bright, quiet, his back feet slipping from under him a little as he sloped across the ice on the small pond. I saw him as she saw him, as she wanted me to see him.
She told me about the fox in two or three minutes. She talked rather quickly, but all her impressions were in reality created with her eyes; the images of fox and snow and frozen pond were thrown up in them with untarnishable clarity. Unlike a great many people, she looked straight at me while talking. Her eyes were full of great candor. They looked straight forward, with natural ardor. You felt that they could never look sideways. They had in them an unblemished honesty that was very beautiful and also very convincing, but also, in some way, empty.
For those two or three minutes we were alone. We had all had supper and we were going to play cribbage. Laurence had gone into his room to finish a letter and Aunt Wilcox was in the kitchen. Mr. Arnoldson had gone upstairs to find a new pack of cards.
‘I’d like to come out in the morning,’ I said, ‘and see this fox.’
She did not say anything.
In a little while first Laurence and then Mr. Arnoldson and then Aunt Wilcox came back, and we made arrangements to play. Cribbage was the only card game all of us knew, and we decided to play in two pairs, for a shilling a horse, throw out scoring. We cut the cards, ace high, lowest out, and Aunt Wilcox said: —
‘It’s you, Christiana. Mind now, no edging.’
The girl had cut a two of hearts, and I realized suddenly that it was the first time I had heard her name.
Aunt Wilcox and I played together. We were both rather quick, downright players, quick to sense a hand. We always had the pips counted before we put them on the table. This was not the Arnoldson way. Deliberation, to me an increasingly irritating deliberation, marked everything Laurence and his father did. They weighed up their hands guardedly and put on poker expressions, giving nothing away. Just as the girl spoke with her eyes, they played with their eyes. Between the counting of the hands they did not speak a word.
The game was a near thing, and it looked, for a moment, as if Aunt Wilcox and I might die in the hole, but we got home and I noticed Aunt Wilcox pocketing the shilling. The Arnoldsons were not at all satisfied, and Laurence went over the last hand again, architectfashion, checking up, before giving in.
Mr. Arnoldson looked at Christiana. I forgot to say that he had a large gray sheep-dog moustache. The expression of his mouth was thus hidden. The whole expression of his face was compressed into his eyes. They shone very brightly, with a rather queer glassy look of excitement.
For the second game Aunt Wilcox dropped out and Christiana took her place, playing with me. She was the quickest player I had ever seen. Every player gets now and then a hand he cannot make up his mind about, but that never seemed to happen to her. She played by instinct, second sight. She hardly looked at the cards. She kept her eyes on me. Yet she made up her mind before we began. I felt that, in some miraculous way, she could see through the cards.
All through the game she sat with her eyes on me. This constant but completely passionless stare had me beaten. It was hypnotic, so that whenever I looked away from her I was conscious of being drawn back. At first I thought it was deliberate, that she was simply trying hard to attract me. Then I got into the way of accepting her stare, of returning it.
But where there should have been some response, there was only an unchanged anonymity, a beautiful brown wateriness filled with a remote, quietly hypnotic strength. I saw her as one of those composite pictures of two people. Two personalities are fused and there remains no personality, only some discomforting anonymity that fascinates.
During the game the tension between Christiana and her father increased. She was constantly one leap ahead of us all. She knew; we guessed. She had good cards, twice a hand of twenty-four.
All the time I could see Mr. Arnoldson fidgeting, his eyes generating new phases of resentment.
Aunt Wilcox seemed to understand this. The Christmas decorations were still hanging up in the house, sprays of holly, withering now, stuck up behind the pictures, and a wand or two of box and fir. Suddenly Aunt Wilcox said: —
‘Twelve days to-morrow. We mustn’t forget the decorations.’
‘Pancakes,’ Christiana said.
‘Fifteen two and a pair’s four and three’s seven,’ I said. ‘Pancakes?’
‘A north-country custom,’ Aunt Wilcox said. ‘ You fry the pancakes with a fire of the evergreens.’
‘I think,’ Laurence said, ‘I have a pair.’ He slowly laid out his cards. ‘Mind you don’t set the chimney on fire.’
Suddenly Christiana’s hand was on the table. She counted it like a parrot saying something by heart. She had three sixes and a nine, and a three was up, and she rattled it off, running the words together, making eighteen. Eighteen was quite right, but Mr. Arnoldson sprang to his feet, as though he had not heard it.
‘Nineteen, nineteen! You can’t score nineteen!’ he shouted. ‘It’s not possible.’
‘I said eighteen!’
‘Eighteen is right,’ I began.
‘She said nineteen. I heard her. I distinctly heard her. You think I don’t know her voice? ‘
‘Eighteen!’ she said.
‘You said nineteen, and now you’re lying on top of it!’
He was on his feet, shouting at her, gray with anger. Suddenly he began to shake violently and I knew he had lost control. He turned round and picked up the heavy mahogany Yorkshire chair he had been sitting in and swung it about, over his head. Aunt Wilcox got hold of Christiana and half pushed, half dragged her out of the room, and I automatically went after her, shouting after her as she ran upstairs in the darkness.
When I went back into the room, a moment later, Mr. Arnoldson was lying on the hearthrug, on his back, in a fit. The chair was lying smashed on the table where he had brought it down. He was clenching in his hands some bits of withered holly he had torn down from one of the pictures. His hands were bleeding, and it was a long time before we could get them open again.
The next morning Laurence, Aunt Wilcox, Christiana, and I sat down to a large and healthy breakfast — plates of porridge, lumps of rather fat beefsteak with fried mashed potatoes and eggs, thick toast and very strong marmalade, and the usual basins of tea. It was ail very solid, very real. Unlike the behavior of Mr. Arnoldson on the previous night, it was something you could get your hands on and understand. Mr. Arnoldson did not appear at breakfast, and no one said anything about him.
During breakfast Laurence read his letters and said he had a couple of hours’ work to do and would I mind amusing myself. In t he afternoon we could go and look at some houses; there were one or two good stone mansions in the neighborhood. It was still bitterly cold that morning, but there had been no more snow. The snow of yesterday had been driven, like white sand, into thin drifts, leaving exposed black islands of ice.
I decided to go for a walk, and after breakfast I asked Christiana to come with me. ‘We could look for the fox,’ I said.
Except for refusing, she did not say much. She was going to help Aunt Wilcox. About the fox she was very evasive. It might not have existed. She might not have seen it.
‘I’ll have a look for it myself,’ I said.
She looked at me emptily, not speaking. Her eyes had lost completely the natural ardor and candor, both very childlike, which had infused the picture of the fox with reality and which had made me believe in both it and her. At that moment she could not have made me believe in anything.
I got my overcoat and gloves and went out. It was an east wind, steady, bitter, the sky a dull iron color, without sun. In the fields the grass had been driven flat by wind. The earth was like rock. In a scoop of the land a small stream flowed down between squat clumps of elder, catkins wind-frozen, cat ice jagging out like frosted glass from the fringe of frost-burnt rushes on both banks. Farther on, a flock of pigeons clapped up from a field of white kale, clattering wings on steel leaves, spiraling up, gathering, separating again like broken bits of the dead sky.
I went on until I found the pond. I knew it at once because, a field away, I could see the road, and because of what Christiana had said about it. She had described the black sloe bushes barricading one side, the speared army of dead rushes, and a broken-down, now halfsubmerged cattle trough on which the fox, she said, had leapt and sat, and stared at her. The pond was covered with ice, and the ice in turn with the fine snow swept in a succession of smooth drifts across it.
I stood and looked at the pond. Then I walked round it. At the opposite point, by the cattle trough, I stood and looked at it again. On the cattle trough the light snow crusts were unbroken; on two sides of it, away from the water, snow had drifted in long arcs, rippled and firm as lard. On the trough and in the snow drifted round it and all across the pond there were no marks of any fox at all.
When I got back to the house, about twelve, Aunt Wilcox and Christiana were taking down the decorations. Most of the evergreens had been hung up in the hall, holly behind the pictures, sheaves of yew tied to the newel posts of the polished pine staircase, and a very dry spray of mistletoe hung from the big brass oil lamp. Aunt Wilcox and Christiana were putting the evergreens into a zinc bath tin.
‘You’re just in time,’ Christiana said.
‘Last come must last kiss,’ Aunt Wilcox said.
‘And what does that mean?’ I said.
‘You’vegot to kiss us both.’
Laughing, Aunt Wilcox stood under the mistletoe and I kissed her. Her lips were solid and sinewy, like beefsteak, and lukewarm wet. As she clasped me round the waist I felt her coopered, with stays, like a barrel. Then Christiana stood under the mistletoe and I kissed her. Just before I kissed her she looked at me for a moment. Her eyes had the same remote anonymity as on the previous day, the same tranquil but disturbing candor. As I kissed her she was quite still, without fuss. Kissing her was like kissing someone who was not there. It was a relationship of ghosts. For one moment I felt I was not there myself. The recollection of this unreal lightness of touch was something I carried about with me for the rest of the day.
That afternoon Laurence and I went for a walk. I asked after his father and he said he was better, but resting. We talked about him for a short time. He told me how he had begun as a pit boy in a Yorkshire colliery, but had worked himself up, and had later become a schoolmaster. Then the war broke out and he felt suddenly that he was wasted in the classroom and had gone back to the pit, to become undermanager. After about six months there was a disaster in the pit, an explosion that had brought down a vast roof fall, entombing thirty-five men. Arnoldson went down for rescue work. For two days he could hear the voices of the entombed men quite clearly, then for a whole day he could hear them intermittently, then they ceased. But though they ceased Arnoldson fancied all the time he could still hear them, the voices of the dead, of men he had known, screaming or whispering in his mind more sharply than in life. He went on hearing these voices for weeks, the voices of people who were not there, until they broke him down. Christiana had been born about a year later,
Laurence spoke of his father with a slight impatience. He spoke as though, occupied himself with concrete things, the small matter of voices disturbing the spirit of another man had no material importance for him. It was clear that he did not believe in voices. From the subject of his father we went on to the subject of himself. I walked with head slightly down, mouth set against the wind, saying yes and no, not really listening, my thoughts in reality a long way behind me, like a kite on a string.
When we got back to the house, about four o’clock, I noticed a curious thing as we went past the dining room. The door of the room was open and I could see that one of the china spaniel dogs was missing from the mantelpiece. At the time I did not take much notice of this. I went upstairs to wash my hands and came down and went into the drawing-room. Christiana sat reading by the fire, but for about half a minute I did not look at her. One of the china dogs was missing from the mantelpiece.
It was only about ten seconds after this that I heard Laurence coming downstairs. His way of coming downstairs was unmistakable. I heard his feet chipping the edges of the stairs with the precision of an engine firing in all its cylinders: the assured descent of a man who knew he could never fall down.
As he came into the hall Christiana suddenly went to the door and said in a loud voice: —
‘Tea’s ready. You’re just right.’
We went straight into the dining room. Christiana was last. She shut the door of the drawing-room after her. On the mantelpiece of the dining room the two china dogs sat facing each other.
All through tea I sat looking at Christiana. She sat looking at me, but without any relationship between the eyes and the mind. Her eyes rested on me with a stare of beautiful emptiness. It might have been a stare of wonder or distrust or adoration or appeal: I could not tell. There was no way of telling. For the first time I saw some connection between this expressive vacancy and the voices that Mr. Arnoldson had heard in his mind. Sitting still, eyes dead straight but not conscious, she looked as though she also were listening to some voices very far away.
Just as we were finishing tea, Aunt Wilcox said to me: ‘I hope you didn’t get cold this afternoon. You look a bit peaked.’
‘I’m all right,’ I said. ‘But I never really got my feet warm.’
‘Why don’t you go and put on your slippers?’ Christiana said.
‘I’d like to,’ I said.
So I went upstairs to put on my slippers, while Laurence went to write his evening letters, and Aunt Wilcox and Christiana cleared the table. It was Sunday, and Aunt Wilcox was going to chapel.
I came downstairs again in less than five minutes. Christiana was sitting by the fire in the drawing-room. The two china dogs sat on the mantelpiece. I looked at the dogs, then at Christiana, with double deliberation. She must have seen I was trying to reason it out, that perhaps I had reasoned it out, but she gave no sign.
I sat down and we began to talk. It was warm; the small reading lamp imprisoned us, as it were, in a small world of light, the rest of the room an outer darkness. I tried to get her to talk of the fox. There was no response. It was like pressing the buttons of a dead doorbell. Once I said something about her father. ‘He’s asleep,’ she said. That was all. We went on to talk of various odd things.
She lay back in the chair, facing the light, looking quietly at me. I fixed my eyes on hers. I had a feeling, very strong after a few minutes, that she wanted me to touch her. All at once she asked me if I had ever been abroad. I said: ‘Yes, to Franco and Holland. That’s all. Holland is lovely.’
She did not say anything at once. She looked slowly away from me, down at the floor, as though she could see something in the darkness beyond the ring of light. Suddenly she said: ‘I’ve been to Mexico, that’s all.’ I asked her for how long. She looked up at me. Without answering my question she began to tell me about Mexico. She told me about it as she had told me about the fox, speaking rather quickly, telling me where she had been, reciting the beautiful names of the places, talking about the food, the color, the women’s dresses. I had a feeling of traveling through a country in a train, in a hurry, getting the vivid transient panoramic effect of fields and villages, sun and trees, of faces and hands suddenly uplifted. She described everything quickly, her voice quiet and regular, like a train passing over metals.
She described an episode about Indians — how she had gone up into the mountains, to a small town where there was a market, where thin emaciated Indians came down to sell things, squatting close together on the ground in the cold, with phlegmatic and degenerate eyes downcast. There a woman had tried to sell her a few wizened tomatoes, holding them out with blue old veined hands, not speaking, simply holding the tomatoes out to her. Then suddenly, because the girl would not have them, the woman had squeezed one of them in a rage until seeds and juice ran out like reddish-yellow blood, oozing out of the fissure between her frozen knuckles. As the girl told it, I felt rather than saw it. I felt the bitter coldness of the little town cut by mountain winds and the half-frozen juice of the tomato running down my own hands.
She went on talking, with intervals, for about an hour. Once again, some time after she had told me about the Indian woman, I had the feeling that she wanted me to touch her. Her hands were spread out on her lap. I watched the light on them. I could see the slight upheaval of the white fingers, regular and intense, as she breathed, and this small but intense motion radiated a feeling of inordinate and almost fearful strength. The effect on me was as though I were looking down into very deep, not quite still water: an effect slightly hypnotic, slightly pleasurable, quietly governed by fear. I felt afraid to take my eyes away from her and I felt, also, that she did not want me to take them away.
After a time I did something else I knew she wanted me to do. I went and sat by her, in the same chair. I put my arms round her, not speaking a word. As I held her I could feel her listening. ‘Perhaps she is listening,’ I thought, ‘for someone to come.’ She did not speak. I could feel her fingers, outspread, clutching my back, as though she were falling into space. After a while she spoke.
‘What did you say?’ she said. I sat silent. ‘What did you say?’ she said. ‘I thought I heard you say something.’
‘No,’ I said, ‘I didn’t speak.’
‘Perhaps it was someone else,’ she said.
I sat still. I did not say anything. Her breathing was slightly deeper. All the time I could feel her listening, as though waiting for the echo of some minute explosion on the other side of the earth.
‘Don’t you ever think you hear the voices of people who are not here?’
‘Everybody does that,’ I said.
‘I mean you.’
The small reading lamp stood on a table between the chair and the fireplace. I felt her stretch out her hand towards it. About us, for one moment, the house seemed dead still. She put out the light. I heard the small click of the switch freeing us, as it were, from the restriction of light. She put her hands on my face, held it. I remember wondering suddenly what sort of night it was, if it was starlight, whether there was snow.
‘Can you see me?’ she said.
‘I can see you.’
I felt her withdraw herself very slightly from me. Then I knew why she could see me. I was sitting facing the window and through the slits of the dark curtains I could see blurred snowwhite chinks of moonlight.
We did not have supper that night until nine o’clock. We had Yorkshire ham and pork pie, cold apple tart with red cheese, mince pies and cheesecakes, with large basins of strong tea. Aunt Wilcox had pickles, and towards the end of the meal we pulled half a dozen crackers that had been left over from Christmas. Out of her cracker Christiana had a tall white paper hat in the twelfth-century style, pointed, like a cone. As she put it on I got an instant impression that the dark brown eyes under the white cap looked darker than ever, and that they were slightly strange, not quite real, and for the first time it hurt me to look at them.
This impression continued until the following day. The moonlight was very strong part of the night and I did not sleep well. All through the next morning I wanted to be alone with Christiana, but the chance did not seem to come. Mr. Arnoldson came downstairs and sat all day in front of the drawing-room fire, wrapped in rugs, so that the drawing-room was never empty. The two china dogs sat on the mantelpiece there and were not, as on the previous day, changed at all. Once I heard the voices of Aunt Wilcox and Christiana coming from the kitchen. They were talking about the dogs. ‘It’s in my room,’ Christiana said. ‘I’ve stuck it with seccotine.’
I sat most of that morning in Laurence’s study, reading. He went in mostly for technical books, and towards the end of the morning I got bored and asked him if he had any books of travel. He said there were a few in his bedroom. I went up to his room and there, on his chest of drawers, I found a book on Mexico. I took it downstairs and in five minutes T was reading the episode about the tomato and the Indian woman in the little cold mountain town.
In the night there had been another fall of snow, but it was a bit warmer. The sun was very brilliant on the snow, and out of Laurence’s study window I could see, high up, pewits flashing like semaphores, white and dark against the very blue winter sky. I felt I had to get out.
I went out and walked across the fields, in the snow, past the brook and over towards the pond. The white of the snow was dazzling, and I felt a slightly dazed effect, the light too sharp for my eyes. Along by the brook the snow was beginning to melt a little on the branches of the alders, bringing down showers of bright ice rain. I could see everywhere that rabbits had loped about in the early morning snow, and there were many prints of moor hens, but there was nothing that looked at all like the mark of a fox.
The snow had covered everything of the pond, and the surface was smoother than water. I stood and looked at it for a moment and then went on. A little farther on I picked up the brook again and I did not come back for half an hour.
Coming back, I saw Christiana. I could sec where she had walked in the snow. She had walked round the pond and now she was about half a field away, going back towards the house. I called and she turned and waited for me, standing against the sun. She stood with arms folded, her big coat lapped heavily over her. Her face was white with the strong upward reflection of snow.
We walked on together. She walked with her arms continually folded. ‘Have you seen the fox?’ I said.
I know I did not expect her to answer. She did not answer. Farther on wTe had to cross the brook by a small wooden bridge. On the bridge I stopped her, holding her coat. I put my arms round her and held her for a moment. Holding her, I could feel, then, why she walked with her arms folded. She had something under her coat. She kissed me without speaking. All the time I could feel her holding some object under her coat, as hard as stone.
We stood there, above the sun-shining water, slightly dazzled by the world of snow, for about five minutes, and I kissed her again. She was acquiescent, but it was an acquiescence that was stronger, by a long way, than all the strange remote activity of her spirit had ever been. It was normal. I felt for the first time that she was there, very young, very sweet, very real, perhaps a little frightened. Up to that time we had said nothing at all about affection. I had not thought of it. Now I wanted her. It seemed very natural, an inevitable part of things.
‘You like me, don’t you?’ I said. It was all I could think of saying.
‘Yes,’ she said.
‘ Very much.’
She smiled very quietly. I did not know what to do except to smile back. We walked on. Out in the open snow I stopped and, before she could do or say anything, kissed her again.
‘Someone will see us.’
‘I don’t care,’ I said.
I was very happy. At that moment, out in the snow, walking away from the sun, watching our two blue shadows climbing before us up the slight slope to the house, I had no doubts about her. Half an hour before I had wanted to tell her that I knew there was no fox, that she had never been to Mexico, that all she had told me was an imposture. Now it did not seem to matter. And the voices? They did not seem to matter either. Many people hear the voices of people who are not there, who have never been there. There is nothing strange in that.
I was worried only by one thing: what she was carrying under her coat. Then, when we went in for lunch I knew, for certain, that it was the china dog. And that night I knew why it was.
Mr. Arnoldson went to bed very early that night, about half-past seven, and Aunt Wilcox went upstairs with him, to see that he was all right. Laurence had gone down to the post office and I was sitting in the drawing-room, reading the morning paper. From the dining room, suddenly, I could hear voices.
They went on for five minutes, and I could not understand it. At last I got up and opened the drawing-room door. Across the hall the dining-room door was open a little and Christiana was sitting at the dining table, talking to a china dog.
‘The fox,’ she was saying, ‘the fox.’
I stood looking. She was jabbering quite fast to the dog, strangely excited, her fingers tense.
‘Christiana,’ I said.
She did not hear me.
She got the dog by the neck and ran it across the mahogany table, towards a glass fruit dish, in crazy pursuit of something, jabbering, laughing a little, until I could see that the dog had the fox by the neck and that they were tearing each other to bits in the snow.
I saw it quite clearly for a moment, like a vision: the mahogany changed to snow, the fruit dish to fox, the china dog to a dog in reality, and in that moment, for the first time, I felt a little mad myself.
I went away on the following afternoon. Laurence drove me to the station. Nothing much happened. It was snowing fast, and Christiana did not come outside to see us off. She stood at the window of the drawing-room, staring out. Except that her face was white with the reflection of the snow, she looked quite normal, quite herself. No one would have noticed anything. But as we drove away I saw her, for one second, as someone imprisoned, cut off from the world, shut away.
We had not much time for the train, and Laurence drove rather fast. ‘You look a bit queer,’ he said at the station. ‘Are you all right?’
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Are you sure? Let me carry your bag. You don’t look quite yourself.’
I could not speak. ‘No,’ I thought, ‘I am not myself.’