Woman observation essay
A black figure stood waiting for me at the head of the stairs, the hollow eyes watching me intently from the white skull's face. Once more, I glanced up at her and once more I met her eyes, dark and sombre, in that white face of hers, instilling into me, I knew not why, a strange feeling of disquiet, of foreboding.
I tried to smile, and could not; I found myself held by those eyes, that had no light, no flicker of sympathy towards me. Still her eyes never left my face; they looked upon me with a curious mixture of pity and of scorn, until I felt myself to be even younger and more untutored to the ways of life than I had believed.
I could see she despised me, marking with all the snobbery of her class that I was no great lady, that I was humble, shy, and diffident. Yet there was something beside scorn in those eyes of hers, something surely of positive dislike, or actual malice?
I had to say something, I could not go on sitting there, playing with my hair-brush, letting her see how much I feared and mistrusted her.
We stared at one another for a moment without speaking, and I could not be certain whether it was anger I read in her eyes or curiosity, for her face became a mask directly she saw me. Although she said nothing I felt guilty and ashamed, as though I had been caught trespassing, and I felt the tell-tale colour come up into my face.
She went on looking at me, as though she expected me to tell her why I left the morning-room in sudden panic, going through the back regions, and I felt suddenly that she knew, that she must have watched me, that she had seen me wandering perhaps in that west wing from the first, her eye to a crack in the door.
She did not seem to be surprised that I was the culprit. She looked at me with her white skull's face and her dark eyes. I felt she had known it was me all along. She did not answer. She went on staring out of the window while I held his hands. My throat felt dry and tight, and my eyes were burning. Oh, God, I thought, this is like two people in a play, in a moment the curtain will come down, we shall bow to the audience, and go off to our dressing-rooms.
This can't be a real moment in the lives of her and me. I sat down on the window-seat, and let go of her hands. I heard myself speaking in a hard cool voice. 'If you don't think we are happy it would be much better if you would admit it. I don't want you to pretend anything. I'd much rather go away. Not live with you any more.' It was not really happening of course. It was the girl in the play talking, not me to her. I pictured the type of girl who would play the part. Tall and slim, rather nervy.
Her fingers tightened on my arm. She bent down to me, her skull's face close, her dark eyes searching mine. 'The rocks had battered her to bits, you know,' she whispered, 'her beautiful face unrecognisable, and both arms gone. She paused, her eyes never leaving my face.
My arm was bruised and numb from the pressure of her fingers. I could see how tightly the skin was stretched across her face, showing the cheekbones. There were little patches of yellow beneath her ears.
We stood there by the door, staring at one another. I could not take my eyes away from hers. How dark and sombre they were in the white skull's face of hers, how malevolent, how full of hatred. Then she opened the door into the corridor.
She stepped aside for me to pass. I stumbled out on to the corridor, not looking where I was going. I did not speak to her, I went down the stairs blindly, and turned the corner and pushed through the door that led to my own rooms in the east wing. I shut the door of my room and turned the key, and put the key in my pocket. Then I lay down on my bed and closed my eyes. I felt deadly sick.
My eyes were heavy too, when I looked in the glass. I looked plain, unattractive. I rubbed a little rouge on my cheeks in a wretched attempt to give myself colour. But it made me worse. It gave me a false clown look. Perhaps I did not know the best way to put it on.
The click of the receiver, and she was gone. I wandered back into the garden. I was glad she had rung up and suggested the plan of going over to see the grandmother. It made something to look forward to, and broke the monotony of the day.
The hours had seemed so long until seven o'clock. I did not feel in my holiday mood today, and I had no wish to go off with a dog outside and come to the cove and throw stones in the water. The sense of freedom had departed, and the childish desire to run across the lawns in sand-shoes. I went and sat down with a book and The Times and my knitting in the rose-garden, domestic as a matron, yawning in the warm sun while the bees hummed amongst the flowers.
I tried to concentrate on the bald newspaper columns, and later to lose myself in the racy plot of the novel in my hands. I did not want to think of yesterday afternoon and her. I tried to forget that she was in the house at this moment, perhaps looking down on me from one of the windows. And now and again, when I looked up from my book or glanced across the garden, I had the feeling I was not alone.
I should not know. Even if I turned in my chair and looked up at the windows I would not see her. I remembered a game I had played as a child that my friends next-door had called 'Grandmother's Steps' and myself 'Old Witch'. You had to stand at the end of the garden with your back turned to the rest, and one by one they crept nearer to you, advancing in short furtive fashion.
Every few minutes you turned to look at them, and if you saw one of them moving the offender had to retire to the back line and begin again. But there was always one a little bolder than the rest, who came up very close, whose movement was impossible to detect, and as you waited there, your back turned, counting the regulation Ten, you knew, with a fatal terrifying certainty, that before long, before even the Ten was counted, this bold player would pounce upon you from behind, unheralded, unseen, with a scream of triumph. I felt as tense and expectant as I did then. I was playing 'Old Witch' with her.
I think I fell asleep a little after seven. It was broad daylight, I remember, there was no longer any pretence that the drawn curtains hid the sun. The light streamed in at the open window and made patterns on the wall.
I heard the men below in the rose-garden clearing away the tables and the chairs, and taking down the chain of fairy lights. I lay across my bed, my arms over my eyes, a strange, mad position and the least likely to bring sleep, but I drifted to the borderline of the unconscious and slipped over it at last.
As I relaxed my hands and sighed, the white mist and the silence that was part of it was shattered suddenly, was rent in two by an explosion that shook the window where we stood. The glass shivered in its frame. I opened my eyes. I stared at her. The burst was followed by another, and yet a third and fourth. The sound of the explosions stung the air and the birds raised unseen from the woods around the house and made an echo with their clamour.
I shut my eyes. I was giddy from staring down at the terrace, and my fingers ached from holding to the ledge. The mist entered my nostrils and lay upon my lips rank and sour. It was stifling, like a blanket, like an anaesthetic. I was beginning to forget about being unhappy. I was beginning to forget her. Soon I would not have to think about her any more...