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“Mr. Blifil-Gordon is very friendly this morning,” she said.

“Aye, Miss. I’ll be bound he is. It’s the election coming on next week, that’s what ’tis. All honey and butter they are till they’ve made sure as you’ll vote for them; and then they’ve forgot your very face the day afterwards.”

“Oh, the election!” said Dorothy vaguely. So remote were such things as parliamentary elections from the daily round of parish work that she was virtually unaware of them—hardly, indeed, even knowing the difference between Liberal and Conservative or Socialist and Communist. “Well, Proggett,” she said, immediately forgetting the election in favour of something more important, “I’ll speak to Father and tell him how serious it is about the bells. I think perhaps the best thing we can do will be to get up a special subscription, just for the bells alone. There’s no knowing, we might make five pounds. We might even make ten pounds! Don’t you think if I went to Miss Mayfill and asked her to start the subscription with five pounds, she might give it to us?”

“You take my word, Miss, and don’t you let Miss Mayfill hear nothing about it. It’d scare the life out of her. If she thought as that tower wasn’t safe; we’d never get her inside that church again.”

“Oh dear! I suppose not.”

“No, Miss. We shan’t get nothing out of her; the old ——”

A ghostly B floated once more across Proggett’s lips. His mind a little more at rest now that he had delivered his fortnightly report upon the bells, he touched his cap and departed, while Dorothy rode on into the High Street, with the twin problems of the shop-debts and the Church Expenses pursuing one another through her mind like the twin refrains of a villanelle.

The still watery sun, now playing hide-and-seek, April-wise, among woolly islets of cloud, sent an oblique beam down the High Street, gilding the house-fronts of the northern side. It was one of those sleepy, old-fashioned streets that look so ideally peaceful on a casual visit and so very different when you live in them and have an enemy or a creditor behind every window. The only definitely offensive buildings were Ye Olde Tea Shoppe (plaster front with sham beams nailed on to it, bottle-glass windows and revolting curly roof like that of a Chinese joss-house), and the new, Doric-pillared post office. After about two hundred yards the High Street forked, forming a tiny market-place, adorned with a pump, now defunct, and a worm-eaten pair of stocks. On either side of the pump stood the Dog and Bottle, the principal inn of the town, and the Knype Hill Conservative Club. At the end, commanding the street, stood Cargill’s dreaded shop.

Dorothy came round the corner to a terrific din of cheering, mingled with the strains of “Rule Britannia” played on the trombone. The normally sleepy street was black with people, and more people were hurrying from all the side-streets. Evidently a sort of triumphal procession was taking place. Right across the street, from the roof of the Dog and Bottle to the roof of the Conservative Club, hung a line with innumerable blue streamers, and in the middle a vast banner inscribed “Blifil-Gordon and the Empire!” Towards this, between the lanes of people, the Blifil-Gordon car was moving at a foot-pace, with Mr. Blifil-Gordon smiling richly, first to one side, then to the other. In front of the car marched a detachment of the Buffaloes, headed by an earnest-looking little man playing the trombone, and carrying among them another banner inscribed:

“Who’ll save Britain from the Reds?


Who’ll put the Beer back into your Pot?


Blifil-Gordon for ever!”

From the window of the Conservative Club floated an enormous Union Jack, above which six scarlet faces were beaming enthusiastically.

Dorothy wheeled her bicycle slowly down the street, too much agitated by the prospect of passing Cargill’s shop (she had got to pass it, to get to Solepipe’s) to take much notice of the procession. The Blifil-Gordon car had halted for a moment outside Ye Olde Tea Shoppe. Forward, the coffee brigade! Half the ladies of the town seemed to be hurrying forth, with lapdogs or shopping baskets on their arms, to cluster about the car like Bacchantes about the car of the vine-god. After all, an election is practically the only time when you get a chance of exchanging smiles with the County. There were eager feminine cries of “Good luck, Mr. Blifil-Gordon! Dear Mr. Blifil-Gordon! We do hope you’ll get in, Mr. Blifil-Gordon!” Mr. Blifil-Gordon’s largesse of smiles was unceasing, but carefully graded. To the populace he gave a diffused, general smile, not resting on individuals; to the coffee-ladies and the six scarlet patriots of the Conservative Club he gave one smile each; to the most favoured of all, young Walph gave an occasional wave of the hand and a squeaky “Cheewio!”

Dorothy’s heart tightened. She had seen that Mr. Cargill, like the rest of the shopkeepers, was standing on his doorstep. He was a tall, evil-looking man, in blue-striped apron, with a lean, scraped face as purple as one of his own joints of meat that had lain a little too long in the window. So fascinated were Dorothy’s eyes by that ominous figure that she did not look where she was going, and bumped into a very large, stout man who was stepping off the pavement backwards.

The stout man turned round. “Good Heavens! It’s Dorothy!” he exclaimed.

“Why, Mr. Warburton! How extraordinary! Do you know, I had a feeling I was going to meet you to-day.”

“By the pricking of your thumbs, I presume?” said Mr. Warburton, beaming all over a large, pink, Micawberish face. “And how are you? But by Jove!” he added, “what need is there to ask? You look more bewitching than ever.”

He pinched Dorothy’s bare elbow—she had changed, after breakfast, into a sleeveless gingham frock. Dorothy stepped hurriedly backwards to get out of his reach—she hated being pinched or otherwise “mauled about”—and said rather severely:

Please don’t pinch my elbow. I don’t like it.”

“My dear Dorothy, who could resist an elbow like yours? It’s the sort of elbow one pinches automatically. A reflex action, if you understand me.”

“When did you get back to Knype Hill?” said Dorothy, who had put her bicycle between Mr. Warburton and herself. “It’s over two months since I’ve seen you.”

“I got back the day before yesterday. But this is only a flying visit. I’m off again to-morrow. I’m taking the kids to Brittany. The bastards, you know.”

Mr. Warburton pronounced the word bastards, at which Dorothy looked away in discomfort, with a touch of naïve pride. He and his “bastards” (he had three of them) were one of the chief scandals of Knype Hill. He was a man of independent income, calling himself a painter—he produced about half a dozen mediocre landscapes every year—and he had come to Knype Hill two years earlier and bought one of the new villas behind the Rectory. There he had lived, or rather stayed periodically, in open concubinage with a woman whom he called his housekeeper. Four months ago this woman—she was a foreigner, a Spaniard it was said—had created a fresh and worse scandal by abruptly deserting him, and his three children were now parked with some long-suffering relative in London. In appearance he was a fine, imposing-looking man, though entirely bald (he was at great pains to conceal this), and he carried himself with such a rakish air as to give the impression that his fairly sizeable belly was merely a kind of annexe to his chest. His age was forty-eight, and he owned to forty-four. People in the town said that he was a “proper old rascal”; young girls were afraid of him, not without reason.

Mr. Warburton had laid his hand pseudo-paternally on Dorothy’s shoulder and was shepherding her through the crowd, talking all the while almost without a pause. The Blifil-Gordon car, having rounded the pump, was now wending its way back, still accompanied by its troupe of middle-aged Bacchantes. Mr. Warburton, his attention caught, paused to scrutinise it.

“What is the meaning of these disgusting antics?” he asked.

“Oh, they’re—what is it they call it?—electioneering. Trying to get us to vote for them, I suppose.”

“Trying to get us to vote for them! Good God!” murmured Mr. Warburton, as he eyed the triumphal cortège. He raised the large, silver-headed cane that he always carried, and pointed, rather expressively, first at one figure in the procession and then at another. “Look at it! Just look at it! Look at those fawning hags, and that half-witted oaf grinning at us like a monkey that sees a bag of nuts. Did you ever see such a disgusting spectacle?”

“Do be careful!” Dorothy murmured. “Somebody’s sure to hear you.”

“Good!” said Mr. Warburton, immedately raising his voice. “And to think that that low-born hound actually has the impertinence to think that he’s pleasing us with the sight of his false teeth! And that suit he’s wearing is an offence in itself. Is there a Socialist candidate? If so, I shall certainly vote for him.”

Several people on the pavement turned and stared. Dorothy saw little Mr. Twiss, the ironmonger, a weazened, leather-coloured old man, peering with veiled malevolence round the corner of the rush baskets that hung in his doorway. He had caught the word Socialist, and was mentally registering Mr. Warburton as a Socialist and Dorothy as the friend of Socialists.

“I really must be getting on,” said Dorothy hastily, feeling that she had better escape before Mr. Warburton said something even more tactless. “I’ve got ever such a lot of shopping to do. I’ll say good-bye for the present, then.”


“Oh, no, you won’t!” said Mr. Warburton cheerfully. “Not a bit of it! I’ll come with you.”

As she wheeled her bicycle down the street he marched at her side, still talking, with his large chest well forward and his stick tucked under his arm. He was a difficult man to shake off, and though Dorothy counted him as a friend, she did sometimes wish, he being the town scandal and she the Rector’s daughter, that he would not always choose the most public places to talk to her in. At this moment, however, she was rather grateful for his company, which made it appreciably easier to pass Cargill’s shop—for Cargill was still on his doorstep and was regarding her with a sidelong, meaning gaze.

“It was a bit of luck my meeting you this morning,” Mr. Warburton went on. “In fact, I was looking for you. Who do you think I’ve got coming to dinner with me to-night? Bewley—Ronald Bewley. You’ve heard of him, of course?”

“Ronald Bewley? No, I don’t think so. Who is he?”

“Why, dash it! Ronald Bewley, the novelist. Author of Fishpools and Concubines. Surely you’ve read Fishpools and Concubines?”

“No, I’m afraid I haven’t. In fact, I’d never even heard of it.”

“My dear Dorothy! You have been neglecting yourself. You certainly ought to read Fishpools and Concubines. It’s hot stuff, I assure you—real high-class pornography. Just the kind of thing you need to take the taste of the Girl Guides out of your mouth.”

“I do wish you wouldn’t say such things!” said Dorothy, looking away uncomfortably, and then immediately looking back again because she had all but caught Cargill’s eye. “Where does this Mr. Bewley live?” she added. “Not here, surely, does he?”

“No. He’s coming over from Ipswich for dinner, and perhaps to stay the night. That’s why I was looking for you. I thought you might like to meet him. How about your coming to dinner to-night?”

“I can’t possibly come to dinner,” said Dorothy. “I’ve got Father’s supper to see to, and thousands of other things. I shan’t be free till eight o’clock or after.”

“Well, come along after dinner, then. I’d like you to know Bewley. He’s an interesting fellow—very au fait with all the Bloomsbury scandal, and all that. You’ll enjoy meeting him. It’ll do you good to escape from the church hen-coop for a few hours.”

Dorothy hesitated. She was tempted. To tell the truth, she enjoyed her occasional visits to Mr. Warburton’s house extremely. But of course they were very occasional—once in three or four months at the oftenest; it so obviously didn’t do to associate too freely with such a man. And even when she did go to his house she was careful to make sure beforehand that there was going to be at least one other visitor.

Two years earlier, when Mr. Warburton had first come to Knype Hill (at that time he was posing as a widower with two children; a little later, however, the housekeeper suddenly gave birth to a third child in the middle of the night), Dorothy had met him at a tea-party and afterwards called on him. Mr. Warburton had given her a delightful tea, talked amusingly about books, and then, immediately after tea, sat down beside her on the sofa and begun making love to her, violently, outrageously, even brutally. It was practically an assault. Dorothy was horrified almost out of her wits, though not too horrified to resist. She escaped from him and took refuge on the other side of the sofa, white, shaking and almost in tears. Mr. Warburton, on the other hand, was quite unashamed and even seemed rather amused.

“Oh, how could you, how could you?” she sobbed.

“But it appears that I couldn’t,” said Mr. Warburton.

“Oh, but how could you be such a brute?”

“Oh, that? Easily, my child, easily. You will understand that when you get to my age.”

In spite of this bad beginning, a sort of friendship had grown up between the two, even to the extent of Dorothy being “talked about” in connection with Mr. Warburton. It did not take much to get you “talked about” in Knype Hill. She only saw him at long intervals and took the greatest care never to be alone with him, but even so he found opportunities of making casual love to her. But it was done in a gentlemanly fashion; the previous disagreeable incident was not repeated. Afterwards, when he was forgiven, Mr. Warburton had explained that he “always tried it on” with every presentable woman he met.

“Don’t you get rather a lot of snubs?” Dorothy could not help asking him.

“Oh, certainly. But I get quite a number of successes as well, you know.”

People wondered sometimes how such a girl as Dorothy could consort, even occasionally, with such a man as Mr. Warburton; but the hold that he had over her was the hold that the blasphemer and evil-liver always has over the pious. It is a fact—you have only to look about you to verify it—that the pious and the immoral drift naturally together. The best brothel-scenes in literature have been written, without exception, by pious believers or pious unbelievers. And of course Dorothy, born into the twentieth century, made a point of listening to Mr. Warburton’s blasphemies as calmly as possible; it is fatal to flatter the wicked by letting them see that you are shocked by them. Besides, she was genuinely fond of him. He teased her and distressed her, and yet she got from him, without being fully aware of it, a species of sympathy and understanding which she could not get elsewhere. For all his vices he was distinctly likeable, and the shoddy brilliance of his conversation—Oscar Wilde seven times watered—which she was too inexperienced to see through, fascinated while it shocked her. Perhaps, too, in this instance, the prospect of meeting the celebrated Mr. Bewley had its effect upon her; though certainly Fishpools and Concubines sounded like the kind of book that she either didn’t read or else set herself heavy penances for reading. In London, no doubt, one would hardly cross the road to see fifty novelists; but these things appear differently in places like Knype Hill.

“Are you sure Mr. Bewley is coming?” she said.

“Quite sure. And his wife’s coming as well, I believe. Full chaperonage. No Tarquin and Lucrece business this evening.”

“All right,” said Dorothy finally; “thanks very much. I’ll come round—about half past eight, I expect.”

“Good. If you can manage to come while it is still daylight, so much the better. Remember that Mrs. Semprill is my next-door neighbour. We can count on her to be on the qui vive any time after sundown.”

Mrs. Semprill was the town scandalmonger—the most eminent, that is, of the town’s many scandalmongers. Having got what he wanted (he was constantly pestering Dorothy to come to his house more often), Mr. Warburton said au revoir and left Dorothy to do the remainder of her shopping.

In the semi-gloom of Solepipe’s shop, she was just moving away from the counter with her two and a half yards of casement cloth, when she was aware of a low, mournful voice at her ear. It was Mrs. Semprill. She was a slender woman of forty, with a lank, sallow, distinguished face, which, with her glossy dark hair and air of settled melancholy, gave her something the appearance of a Van Dyck portrait. Entrenched behind a pile of cretonnes near the window, she had been watching Dorothy’s conversation with Mr. Warburton. Whenever you were doing something that you did not particularly want Mrs. Semprill to see you doing, you could trust her to be somewhere in the neighbourhood. She seemed to have the power of materialising like an Arabian jinneeyeh at any place where she was not wanted. No indiscretion, however small, escaped her vigilance. Mr. Warburton used to say that she was like the four beasts of the Apocalypse—“They are full of eyes, you remember, and they rest not night nor day.”

“Dorothy dearest,” murmured Mrs. Semprill in the sorrowful, affectionate voice of someone breaking a piece of bad news as gently as possible. “I’ve been so wanting to speak to you. I’ve something simply dreadful to tell you—something that will really horrify you!”

“What is it?” said Dorothy resignedly, well knowing what was coming—for Mrs. Semprill had only one subject of conversation.

They moved out of the shop and began to walk down the street, Dorothy wheeling her bicycle, Mrs. Semprill mincing at her side with a delicate birdlike step and bringing her mouth closer and closer to Dorothy’s ear as her remarks grew more and more intimate.

“Do you happen to have noticed,” she began, “that girl who sits at the end of the pew nearest the organ in church? A rather pretty girl, with red hair. I’ve no idea what her name is,” added Mrs. Semprill, who knew the surname and all the Christian names of every man, woman and child in Knype Hill.

“Molly Freeman,” said Dorothy. “She’s the niece of Freeman the greengrocer.”

“Oh, Molly Freeman? Is that her name? I’d often wondered. Well ——”

The delicate red mouth came closer, the mournful voice sank to a shocked whisper. Mrs. Semprill began to pour forth a stream of purulent libel involving Molly Freeman and six young men who worked at the sugarbeet refinery. After a few moments the story became so outrageous that Dorothy, who had turned very pink, hurriedly withdrew her ear from Mrs. Semprill’s whispering lips. She stopped her bicycle.

“I won’t listen to such things!” she said abruptly. “I know that isn’t true about Molly Freeman. It can’t be true! She’s such a nice quiet girl—she was one of my very best Girl Guides, and she’s always been so good about helping with the church bazaars and everything. I’m perfectly certain she wouldn’t do such things as you’re saying.”

“But, Dorothy dearest! When, as I told you, I actually saw with my own eyes . . .”

“I don’t care! It’s not fair to say such things about people. Even if they were true it wouldn’t be right to repeat them. There’s quite enough evil in the world without going about looking for it.”

Looking for it!” sighed Mrs. Semprill. “But, my dear Dorothy, as though one ever wanted or needed to look! The trouble is that one can’t help seeing all the dreadful wickedness that goes on in this town.”

Mrs. Semprill was always genuinely astonished if you accused her of looking for subjects for scandal. Nothing, she would protest, pained her more than the spectacle of human wickedness; but it was constantly forced upon her unwilling eyes, and only a stern sense of duty impelled her to make it public. Dorothy’s remark, so far from silencing her, merely set her talking about the general corruption of Knype Hill, of which Molly Freeman’s misbehaviour was only one example. And so from Molly Freeman and her six young men she proceeded to Dr. Gaythorne, the town medical officer, who had got two of the nurses at the Cottage Hospital with child, and then to Mrs. Corn, the Town Clerk’s wife, found lying in a field dead drunk on eau-de-Cologne, and then to the curate at St. Wedekind’s in Millborough, who had involved himself in a grave scandal with a choirboy; and so it went on, one thing leading to another. For there was hardly a soul in the town or the surrounding country about whom Mrs. Semprill could not disclose some festering secret if you listened to her long enough.

It was noticeable that her stories were not only dirty and libellous, but that they had nearly always some monstrous tinge of perversion about them. Compared with the ordinary scandalmongers of a country town, she was as Freud to Boccaccio. From hearing her talk you would have gathered the impression that Knype Hill with its two thousand inhabitants held more of the refinements of evil than Sodom, Gomorrah and Buenos Ayres put together. Indeed, when you reflected upon the lives led by the inhabitants of this latter-day City of the Plain—from the manager of the local bank squandering his client’s money on the children of his second and bigamous marriage, to the barmaid of the Dog and Bottle serving drinks in the taproom dressed only in high-heeled satin slippers, and from old Miss Channon, the music-teacher, with her secret gin-bottle and her anonymous letters, to Maggie White, the baker’s daughter, who had borne three children to her own brother—when you considered these people, all, young and old, rich and poor, sunken in monstrous and Babylonian vices, you wondered that fire did not come down from Heaven and consume the town forthwith. But if you listened just a little longer, the catalogue of obscenities became first monotonous and then unbearably dull. For in a town in which everyone is either a bigamist, a pederast or a drug-taker, the worst scandal loses its sting. In fact, Mrs. Semprill was something worse even than a slanderer; she was a bore.


As to the extent to which her stories were believed, it varied. At times the word would go round that she was a foul-mouthed old cat and everything she said was a pack of lies; at other times one of her accusations would take effect on some unfortunate person, who would need months or even years to live it down. She had certainly been instrumental in breaking off not less than half a dozen engagements and starting innumerable quarrels between husbands and wives.

All this while Dorothy had been making abortive efforts to shake Mrs. Semprill off. She had edged her way gradually across the street until she was wheeling her bicycle along the right-hand kerb; but Mrs. Semprill had followed, whispering without cease. It was not until they reached the end of the High Street that Dorothy summoned up enough firmness to escape. She halted and put her right foot on the pedal of her bicycle.

“I really can’t stop a moment longer,” she said. “I’ve got a thousand things to do, and I’m late already.”

“Oh, but, Dorothy dear! I’ve something else I simply must tell you—something most important!”

“I’m sorry—I’m in such a terrible hurry. Another time, perhaps.”

“It’s about that dreadful Mr. Warburton,” said Mrs. Semprill hastily, lest Dorothy should escape without hearing it. “He’s just come back from London, and do you know—I most particularly wanted to tell you this—do you know, he actually ——”

But here Dorothy saw that she must make off instantly, at no matter what cost. She could imagine nothing more uncomfortable than to have to discuss Mr. Warburton with Mrs. Semprill. She mounted her bicycle, and with only a very brief “Sorry—I really can’t stop!” began to ride hurriedly away.

“I wanted to tell you—he’s taken up with a new woman!” Mrs. Sempill cried after her, even forgetting to whisper in her eagerness to pass on this juicy titbit.

But Dorothy rode swiftly round the corner, not looking back, and pretending not to have heard. An unwise thing to do, for it did not pay to cut Mrs. Semprill too short. Any unwillingness to listen to her scandals was taken as a sign of depravity, and led to fresh and worse scandals being published about yourself the moment you had left her.

As Dorothy rode homewards she had uncharitable thoughts about Mrs. Semprill, for which she duly pinched herself. Also, there was another, rather disturbing idea which had not occurred to her till this moment—that Mrs. Semprill would certainly learn of her visit to Mr. Warburton’s house this evening, and would probably have magnified it into something scandalous by to-morrow. The thought sent a vague premonition of evil through Dorothy’s mind as she jumped off her bicycle at the Rectory gate, where Silly Jack, the town idiot, a third-grade moron with a triangular scarlet face like a strawberry, was loitering, vacantly flogging the gatepost with a hazel switch.


It was a little after eleven. The day, which, like some overripe but hopeful widow playing at seventeen, had been putting on unseasonable April airs, had now remembered that it was August and settled down to be broiling hot.

Dorothy rode into the hamlet of Fennelwick, a mile out of Knype Hill. She had delivered Mrs. Lewin’s corn-plaster, and was dropping in to give old Mrs. Pither that cutting from the Daily Mail about angelica tea for rheumatism. The sun, burning in the cloudless sky, scorched her back through her gingham frock, and the dusty road quivered in the heat, and the hot, flat meadows, over which even at this time of year numberless larks chirruped tiresomely, were so green that it hurt your eyes to look at them. It was the kind of day that is called “glorious” by people who don’t have to work.

Dorothy leaned her bicycle against the gate of the Pithers’ cottage, and took her handkerchief out of her bag and wiped her hands, which were sweating from the handle-bars. In the harsh sunlight her face looked pinched and colourless. She looked her age, and something over, at that hour of the morning. Throughout her day—and in general it was a seventeen-hour day—she had regular, alternating periods of tiredness and energy; the middle of the morning, when she was doing the first instalment of the day’s “visiting,” was one of the tired periods.

“Visiting,” because of the distances she had to bicycle from house to house, took up nearly half of Dorothy’s day. Every day of her life, except on Sundays, she made from half a dozen to a dozen visits at parishioners’ cottages. She penetrated into cramped interiors and sat on lumpy, dust-diffusing chairs gossiping with overworked, blowsy housewives; she spent hurried half-hours giving a hand with the mending and the ironing, and read chapters from the Gospels, and readjusted bandages on “bad legs” and condoled with sufferers from morning-sickness; she played ride a cock-horse with sour-smelling children who grimed the bosom of her dress with their sticky little fingers; she gave advice about ailing aspidistras, and suggested names for babies, and drank “nice cups of tea” innumerable—for the working women always wanted her to have a “nice cup of tea,” out of the teapot endlessly stewing.

Much of it was profoundly discouraging work. Few, very few, of the women seemed to have even a conception of the Christian life that she was trying to help them to lead. Some of them were shy and suspicious, stood on the defensive and made excuses when urged to come to Holy Communion; some shammed piety for the sake of the tiny sums they could wheedle out of the church alms box; those who welcomed her coming were for the most part the talkative ones, who wanted an audience for complaints about the “goings on” of their husbands, or for endless mortuary tales (“And he had to have glass chubes let into his veins,” etc., etc.) about the revolting diseases their relatives had died of. Quite half the women on her list, Dorothy knew, were at heart atheistical in a vague unreasoning way. She came up against it all day long—that vague, blank disbelief so common in illiterate people, against which all argument is powerless. Do what she would, she could never raise the number of regular communicants to more than a dozen or thereabouts. Women would promise to communicate, keep their promise for a month or two, and then fall away. With the younger women it was especially hopeless. They would not even join the local branches of the Church leagues that were run for their benefit—Dorothy was honorary secretary of three such leagues, besides being captain of the Girl Guides. The Band of Hope and the Companionship of Marriage languished almost memberless, and the Mothers’ Union only kept going because gossip and unlimited strong tea made the weekly sewing-parties acceptable. Yes, it was discouraging work; so discouraging that at times it would have seemed altogether futile if she had not known the sense of futility for what it is—the subtlest weapon of the Devil.

Dorothy knocked at the Pithers’ badly fitting door, from beneath which a melancholy smell of boiled cabbage and dish-water was oozing. From long experience she knew and could taste in advance the individual smell of every cottage on her rounds. Some of their smells were peculiar in the extreme. For instance, there was the salty, feral smell that haunted the cottage of old Mr. Tombs, an aged retired bookseller who lay in bed all day in a darkened room, with his long, dusty nose and pebble spectacles protruding from what appeared to be a fur rug of vast size and richness. But if you put your hand on the fur rug it disintegrated, burst and fled in all directions. It was composed entirely of cats—twenty-four cats, to be exact. Mr. Tombs “found they kept him warm,” he used to explain. In nearly all the cottages there was a basic smell of old overcoats and dish-water upon which the other, individual smells were superimposed; the cesspool smell, the cabbage smell, the smell of children, the strong, bacon-like reek of corduroys impregnated with the sweat of a decade.