by Katherine Mansfield
ALTHOUGH it was so brilliantly fine—the blue sky powdered with
gold and great spots of light like white wine splashed over the
Jardins Publiques—Miss Brill was glad that she had decided on
her fur. The air was motionless, but when you opened your mouth
there was just a faint chill, like a chill from a glass of iced
water before you sip, and now and again a leaf came drifting—from nowhere, from the sky. Miss Brill put up her hand and
touched her fur. Dear little thing! It was nice to feel it
again. She had taken it out of its box that afternoon, shaken out
the moth powder, given it a good brush, and rubbed the life back
into the dim little eyes. "What has been happening to me?" said
the sad little eyes. Oh, how sweet it was to see them snap at her
again from the red eiderdown! . . . But the nose, which was of some
black composition, wasn't at all firm. It must have had a knock,
somehow. Never mind—a little dab of black sealing-wax when the
time came—when it was absolutely necessary . . . Little rogue! Yes,
she really felt like that about it. Little rogue biting its tail
just by her left ear. She could have taken it off and laid it on
her lap and stroked it. She felt a tingling in her hands and
arms, but that
came from walking, she supposed. And when she
breathed, something light and sad—no, not sad,
exactly—something gentle seemed to move in her bosom.
There were a number of people out this afternoon, far more
than last Sunday. And the band sounded louder and gayer. That
was because the Season had begun. For although the band played
all the year round on Sundays, out of season it was never the
same. It was like some one playing with only the family to
listen; it didn't care how it played if there weren't any strangers
present. Wasn't the conductor wearing a new coat, too? She was
sure it was new. He scraped with his foot and flapped his arms
like a rooster about to crow, and the bandsmen sitting in the
green rotunda blew out their cheeks and glared at the music. Now
there came a little "flutey" bit—very pretty!—a little chain of
bright drops. She was sure it would be repeated. It was; she
lifted her head and smiled.
Only two people shared her "special" seat: a fine old man in
a velvet coat, his hands clasped over a huge carved walking-stick,
and a big old woman, sitting upright, with a roll of
knitting on her embroidered apron. They did not speak. This was
disappointing, for Miss Brill always looked forward to the
conversation. She had become really quite expert, she thought,
at listening as though she didn't listen, at sitting in other
people's lives just for a minute while they talked round her.
She glanced, sideways, at the old couple. Perhaps they
would go soon. Last Sunday, too, hadn't been as interesting as
usual. An Englishman and his wife, he wearing a dreadful Panama
hat and she button boots. And she'd gone on the whole time about
how she ought to wear spectacles; she knew she needed them; but
that it was no good getting any; they'd be sure to break and
they'd never keep on. And he'd been so patient. He'd suggested
everything—gold rims, the kind that curve round your ears,
little pads inside the bridge. No, nothing would please her.
"They'll always be sliding down my nose!" Miss Brill had wanted
to shake her.
The old people sat on a bench, still as statues. Never
mind, there was always the crowd to watch. To and fro, in front
of the flower beds and the band rotunda, the couples and groups
paraded, stopped to talk, to greet, to buy a handful of flowers
from the old beggar who had his tray fixed to the railings.
Little children ran among them, swooping and laughing; little
boys with big white silk bows under their chins, little girls,
little French dolls, dressed up in velvet and lace. And
sometimes a tiny staggerer came suddenly rocking into the open
from under the trees, stopped, stared, as suddenly sat down
"flop," until its small high-stepping mother, like a young hen,
rushed scolding to its rescue. Other people sat on the benches
and green chairs, but they were nearly always the same, Sunday
and—Miss Brill had often noticed—there was
something funny about nearly all of them. They were odd, silent,
nearly all old, and from the way they stared they looked as
though they'd just come from dark little rooms or even—even
Behind the rotunda the slender trees with yellow leaves down
drooping, and through them just a line of sea, and beyond the
blue sky with gold-veined clouds.
Tum-tum-tum tiddle-um! tiddle-um! tum tiddley-um tum ta! blew
Two young girls in red came by and two young soldiers in
blue met them, and they laughed and paired and went off arm-in-arm.
Two peasant women with funny straw hats passed, gravely,
leading beautiful smoke-coloured donkeys. A cold, pale nun
hurried by. A beautiful woman came along and dropped her bunch
of violets, and a little boy ran after to hand them to her, and
she took them and threw them away as if they'd been poisoned.
Dear me! Miss Brill didn't know whether to admire that or not!
And now an ermine toque and a gentleman in gray met just in front
of her. He was tall, stiff, dignified, and she was wearing the
ermine toque she'd bought when her hair was yellow. Now
everything, her hair, her face, even her eyes, was the same colour
as the shabby ermine, and her hand, in its cleaned glove, lifted
to dab her lips, was a tiny yellowish paw. Oh, she was so
pleased to see him—delighted! She rather thought they were
to meet that afternoon. She described where she'd
been—everywhere, here, there, along by the sea. The day was so
charming—didn't he agree? And wouldn't he, perhaps? . . . But he
shook his head, lighted a cigarette, slowly breathed a great deep
puff into her face, and even while she was still talking and
laughing, flicked the match away and walked on. The ermine toque
was alone; she smiled more brightly than ever. But even the band
seemed to know what she was feeling and played more softly,
played tenderly, and the drum beat, "The Brute! The Brute!" over
and over. What would she do? What was going to happen now? But
as Miss Brill wondered, the ermine toque turned, raised her hand
as though she'd seen someone else, much nicer, just over there,
and pattered away. And the band changed again and played more
quickly, more gayly than ever, and the old couple on Miss Brill's
seat got up and marched away, and such a funny old man with long
whiskers hobbled along in time to the music and was nearly
knocked over by four girls walking abreast.
Oh, how fascinating it was! How she enjoyed it! How she
loved sitting here, watching it all! It was like a play. It was
exactly like a play. Who could believe the sky at the back
wasn't painted? But it wasn't till a little brown dog trotted on
solemn and then slowly trotted off, like a little "theatre" dog,
a little dog that had been drugged, that Miss Brill discovered
what it was
that made it so exciting. They were all on stage.
They weren't only the audience, not only looking on; they were
acting. Even she had a part and came every Sunday. No doubt
somebody would have noticed if she hadn't been there; she was
part of the performance after all. How strange she'd never
thought of it like that before! And yet it explained why she
made such point of starting from home at just the same time each
week—so as not to be late for the performance—and it also
explained why she had a queer, shy feeling at telling her English
pupils how she spent her Sunday afternoons. No wonder! Miss
Brill nearly laughed out loud. She was on the stage. She
thought of the old invalid gentleman to whom she read the
newspaper four afternoons a week while he slept in the garden.
She had got quite used to the frail head on the cotton pillow, the
hollowed eyes, the open mouth and the high pinched nose. If he'd
been dead she mightn't have noticed for weeks; she wouldn't have
minded. But suddenly he knew he was having the paper read to him
by an actress! "An actress!" The old head lifted; two points of
light quivered in the old eyes. "An actress—are ye?" And Miss
Brill smoothed the newspaper as though it were the manuscript of
her part and said gently; "Yes, I have been an actress for a long
The band had been having a rest. Now they started again.
And what they played was warm,
sunny, yet there was just a faint
chill—a something, what was it?—not sadness—no, not sadness—a
something that made you want to sing. The tune lifted, lifted,
the light shone; and it seemed to Miss Brill that in another
moment all of them, all the whole company, would begin singing.
The young ones, the laughing ones who were moving together, they
would begin and the men's voices, very resolute and brave, would
join them. And then she too, she too, and the others on the
benches—they would come in with a kind of accompaniment—something
low, that scarcely rose or fell, something so
beautiful—moving. . . . And Miss Brill's eyes filled with tears and
she looked smiling at all the other members of the company. Yes,
we understand, we understand, she thought—though what they
understood she didn't know.
Just at that moment a boy and girl came and sat down where
the old couple had been. They were beautifully dressed; they
were in love. The hero and heroine, of course, just arrived from
his father's yacht. And still soundlessly singing, still with
that trembling smile, Miss Brill prepared to listen.
"No, not now," said the girl. "Not here, I can't."
"But why? Because of that stupid old thing at the end
there?" asked the boy. "Why does she come here at all—who wants
her? Why doesn't she keep her silly old mug at home?"
"It's her fu-ur which is so funny," giggled the girl. "It's
exactly like a fried whiting."
"Ah, be off with you!" said the boy in an angry whisper.
Then: "Tell me, ma petite chère—"
"No, not here," said the girl. "Not yet."
. . . . . . .
On her way home she usually bought a slice of honeycake at
the baker's. It was her Sunday treat. Sometimes there was an
almond in her slice, sometimes not. It made a great difference.
If there was an almond it was like carrying home a tiny present—a
surprise—something that might very well not have been there.
She hurried on the almond Sundays and struck the match for the
kettle in quite a dashing way.
But to-day she passed the baker's by, climbed the stairs,
went into the little dark room—her room like a cupboard—and sat
down on the red eiderdown. She sat there for a long time. The
box that the fur came out of was on the bed. She unclasped the
necklet quickly; quickly, without looking, laid it inside. But
when she put the lid on she thought she heard something crying.