I seem to be a long time coming to the story, but my own will intervene,
my own dreadful tale of dependence and deepening illness. Benham was my
day nurse. At ten o’clock that night she left me, considerably better
and calm. Then Lakeby came on duty, a very inferior person who always
talked to me as if I were a child to be humoured: “Now then be a dear
good girl and drink it up” represents her fairly well. Then she would
yawn in my face without apology or attempt to hide her fatigue or
boredom. Nepenthe and I were no longer friends. It gave me no ease, yet
I drank it to save argument. Lakeby took away the glass and then lay
down at the foot of the bed. I thought again, as I had thought so many
times, that no one ever sleeps so soundly as a night nurse. I could
indulge my restlessness without any fear of disturbing her. Tomorrow’s
promised excitement would not let me sleep. Their letters, the very
letters they had written to each other! I did not care so much about the
diary. I had once kept a diary myself and knew how one leaves out all
the essentials. I suppose I drowsed a little. Nepenthe was no longer my
friend, but we were not enemies, only disappointed lovers, without
reliance on each other. As I approached the borderland I wished Margaret
were in her easy-chair by the fireside. I did not care whether she was
in her grey, or with her plaits and peignoir. I watched for her in vain.
I knew she would not come whilst nurse snored on the sofa. Ella would
have to get rid of the nurse from my room. Surely now that I was better
I could sleep alone, a bell could be fixed up. Two nurses were
unnecessary, extravagant. I woke to cough and was conscious of a strange
sensation. I turned on the light by my side, but then only roused the
nurse (she had slept all day) with difficulty. I knew what had happened,
although this was the first time it had happened to me, and wanted to
reassure her or myself. Also to tell her what to do.
“Get ice. Call Benham; ring up the doctor.” This was my first
hæmorrhage, very profuse and alarming, and Lakeby although she was
inferior was not inefficient. When she was really roused she carried out
my instructions to the letter. Once Benham was in the room I knew at
least I was in good hands. I begged them not to rouse the house more
than necessary, not to call Ella.
“Don’t you speak a word. Lie quite still. We know exactly what is to be
done. Mrs. Lovegrove won’t be disturbed, nor anybody if you will only do
what you are told.”
Benham’s voice changed in an emergency; it was always a beautiful voice
if a little hard; now it was gentle, soft, and her whole manner altered.
She had me and the situation completely under her control, and that, of
course, was what she always wanted. That night she was the perfect
nurse. Lakeby obeyed her as if she had been a probationer. I often
wonder I am not more grateful to Benham, failed to become quickly
attached to her. I don’t think perhaps that mine is a grateful nature,
but I surely recognised already tonight, in this bad hour, her complete
and wonderful competence. I was in high fever, very agitated, yet
striving to keep command of my nerves.
“It looks bad, you know, but it is not really serious, it is only a
symptom, not a disease. All you have to do is to keep very quiet. The
doctor will soon be here.”
“I’m not frightened.”
“Hush! I’m sure you are not.”
A hot bottle to my feet, little lumps of ice to suck; loose warm
covering adjusted round me quickly, the blinds pulled up, and the window
opened, there was nothing of which she did not think. And the little she
said was all in the right key, not making light of my trouble, but
explaining, minimizing it, helping me to calm my disordered nerves.
“I would give you a morphia injection only that Dr. Kennedy will be here
any moment now.”
I don’t think it could have been long after that before he was in the
room. In the meantime I was hating the sight of my own blood and kept
begging the nurses or signing to them to remove basins and stained
Nurse Benham told him very quietly what had happened. He was looking at
me and said encouragingly:
“You will soon be all right.”
I was still coughing up blood and did not feel reassured. I heard him
ask for hot water. Nurse and he were at the chest of drawers, whispering
over something that might be cooking operations. Then nurse came back to
“Dr. Kennedy is going to give you a morphia injection that will stop the
hæmorrhage at once.”
She rolled up the sleeve of my nightgown, and I saw he was beside her.
“How much?” I got out.
“A quarter of a grain,” he answered quietly. “You’ll find it will be
quite enough. If not, you can have another.”
I resented the prick of the needle, and that having hurt me he should
rub the place with his finger, making it worse, I thought. I got
reconciled to it however, and his presence there, very soon. He was
still in tweeds and they smelt of gorse or peat, of something pleasant.
There was no doubt the hæmorrhage was coming to an end, and I was no
longer shivering and apprehensive. He felt my pulse and said it was
“The usual cackle!” I was able to smile.
“I shouldn’t talk if I were you.” He smiled too. “You will be quite
comfortable in half an hour.”
“I am not uncomfortable now.” He laughed, a low and pleasant laugh.
“She is wonderful, isn’t she?” he said to Benham. Benham was clearing
away every evidence of what had occurred, and I felt how competent they
both were, and again that I was in good hands. I was glad Ella was
asleep and knew nothing of what was happening.
Dr. Kennedy was over at the chest of drawers again.
“I’ll leave you another dose,” he said, and they talked together. Then
he came to say “good-bye” to me.
“Can’t I sleep by myself? I hate any one in the room with me.” I wanted
to add, “it spoils my dreams,” but am not sure if I actually said the
“You’ll find you will be all right, as right as rain. Nurse will fix you
up. All you have to do is to go to sleep. If not she will give you
another dose. I’ve left it measured out. You are not afraid, are you?”
“The good dreams will come. I am willing them to you.” I found it
difficult to concentrate.
“What did you promise me before?”
“Nothing I shan’t perform. Good-night….”
He went away quickly.
I was wider awake than I wished to be, and soon a desire for action was
racing in my disordered mind. I thought the hæmorrhage meant death, and
I had left so many things undone. I could not recollect the provisions
of my will, and felt sure it was unjust. I could have been kinder to so
many people, the dead as well as the living. It is so easy to say sharp,
clever things; so difficult to unsay them. I remembered one particular
act of unkindness … even now I cannot bear to recall it. Alas! it was
to one now dead. And Ella, Ella did not know I returned her love, full
measure, pressed down, brimming over. Once, very many years ago, when
she was in need and I supposed to be rich, she asked me to lend her five
hundred pounds. Because I hadn’t it, and was too proud to say so, I was
ruder to her than seems possible now, asking why I should work to supply
her extravagances. But she was never extravagant, except in giving. Oh,
God! That five hundred pounds! How many times I have thought of it. What
would I not give not to have said no, to have humbled my pride, admitted
I could not put my hands on so large a sum? Now she lavishes her all on
me. And if it were true that I was dying, already I was not sure, she
would be lonely in her world. Without each other we were always lonely.
Love of sisters is unlike all other love. We had slept in each other’s
bed from babyhood onward, told each other all our little secrets, been
banded together against nurses and governesses, maintained our intimacy
in changed and changing circumstances, through long and varied years.
Ella would be lonely when I was dead. A hot tear or two oozed through my
closed lids when I thought of Ella’s loneliness without me. I wiped
those tears away feebly with the sheet. The room was very strange and
quiet, not quite steady when I opened my eyes. So I shut them. The
morphia was beginning to act.
“Why are you crying?”
“How could you see me over there?” But I no longer wanted to cry and I
had forgotten Ella. I opened my eyes when she spoke. The fire was low
and the room dark, quite steady and ordinary. Margaret was sitting by
the fireside, and I saw her more clearly than I had ever seen her
before, a pale, clever, whimsical face, thin-featured and mobile, with
“It is absurd to cry,” she said. “When I finished crying there were no
tears in the world to shed. All the grief, all the unhappiness died with
“Why were you so unhappy?” I asked.
“Because I was a fool,” she answered. “When you tell my story you must
do it as sympathetically as possible, make people sorry for me. But that
is the truth. I was unhappy because I was a fool.”
“You still think I shall write your story. The critics will be
pleased….” I began to remember all they would say, the flattering
“Why were you crying?” she persisted. “Are you a fool too?”
“No. Only on Ella’s account I don’t want to die.”
“You need not fear. Is Ella some one who loves you? If so she will keep
you here. Gabriel did not love me enough. If some one needs us
desperately and loves us completely, we don’t die.”
“Did no one love you like that?”
“I died,” she answered concisely, and then gazed into the fire.
My limbs relaxed, I felt drowsy and convinced of great talent. I had
never done myself justice, but with this story of Margaret Capel’s I
should come into my own. I wrote the opening sentence, a splendid
sentence, arresting. And then I went on easily. I, who always wrote with
infinite difficulty, slowly, and trying each phrase over again, weighing
and appraising it, now found an amazing fluency come to me. I wrote and
De Quincey has not spoken the last word on morphia dreams. It is only a
pity he spoke so well that lesser writers are chary of giving their
experiences. The next few days, as I heard afterwards, I lay between
life and death, the temperature never below 102 and the hæmorrhage
recurring. I only know that they were calm and happy days. Ella was
there and we understood each other perfectly, without words. The nurses
came and went, and when it was Benham I was glad and she knew my needs,
when I was thirsty, or wanted this or that. But when Lakeby replaced her
she would talk and say silly soothing things, shake up my pillows when I
wanted to be left alone, touch the bed when she passed it, coax me to
what I would do willingly, intrude on my comfortable time. I liked best
to be alone, for then I saw Margaret. She never spoke of anything but
herself and the letters and diary she had left me, the rough notes. We
had strange little absurd arguments. I told her not to doubt that I
would write her story, because I loved writing, I lived to write, every
day was empty that held no written word, that I only lived my fullest,
my completest when I was at my desk, when there was wide horizon for my
eyes and I saw the real true imagined people with whom I was more
intimate than with any I met at receptions and crowded dinner-parties.
“The absurdity is that any one who feels what you describe should write
so badly. It is incredible that you should have the temperament of the
writer without the talent,” she said to me once.
“What makes you say I write badly? I sell well!” I told her what I got
for my books, and about my dear American public.
“Sell! sell!” She was quite contemptuous. “Hall Caine sells better than
you do, and Marie Corelli, and Mrs. Barclay.”
“Would you rather I gave one of them your MS.?” I asked pettishly. I was
vexed with her now, but I did not want her to go. She used to vanish
suddenly like a light blown out. I think that was when I fell asleep,
but I did not want to keep awake always, or hear her talking. She was
inclined to be melancholy, or cynical, and so jarred my mood, my sense
Night and morning they gave me my injections of morphia, until the
morning when I refused it, to Dr. Kennedy’s surprise and against
“It is good for you, you are not going to set yourself against it?”
“I can have it again tonight. I don’t need it in the daytime. The
hæmorrhage has left off.” Dr. Kennedy supported me in my refusal. I will
admit the next few days were dreadful. I found myself utterly ill and
helpless, and horribly conscious of all that was going on. The detail of
desperate illness is almost unbearable to a thinking person of decent
and reticent physical habits. The feeding cup and gurgling water bed,
the lack of privacy, are hourly humiliations. All one’s modesties are
outraged. I improved, although as I heard afterwards it had not been
expected that I would live. The consultants gave me up, and the nurses.
Only Dr. Kennedy and Ella refused to admit the condition hopeless. When
I continued to improve Ella was boastful and Benham contradictory. The
one dressed me up, making pretty lace and ribbon caps, sending to London
for wonderful dressing-jackets and nightgowns, pretending I was out of
danger and on the road to convalescence, long before I even had a normal
temperature. Benham fought against all the indulgences that Ella and I
ordered and Dr. Kennedy never opposed. Seeing visitors, sitting up in
bed, reading the newspapers, abandoning invalid diet in favour of
caviare and foie gras, strange rich dishes. Benham despised Dr. Kennedy
and said we could always get round him, make him say whatever we wished.
More than once she threatened to throw up the case. I did not want her
to go. I knew, if I did not admit it, that my convalescence was not
established. I had no real confidence in myself, was much weaker than
anybody but myself knew, with disquieting symptoms. It exhausted me to
fight with her continually, one day I told her so, and that she was
retarding my recovery. “I am older than you, and I hate to be ordered
about or contradicted.”
“But I am so much more experienced in illness. You know I only want to
do what is best for you. You are not strong enough to do half the things
you are doing. You turn Dr. Kennedy round your little finger, you and
Mrs. Lovegrove. He knows well enough you ought not to be getting up and
seeing people. You will want to go down next. And as for the things you
“I shall go down next week. I suppose I shall be exhausted before I get
there, arguing with you whether I ought or ought not to go.”
By this time I had got rid of the night nurse, Benham looked after me
night and day devotedly. I was no longer indifferent to her. She angered
me nevertheless, and we quarrelled bitterly. The least drawback,
however, and I could not bear her out of the room. She did not reproach
me, I must say that for her. When a horrible bilious attack followed an
invalid dinner of melon and _homard à l’américaine_ she stood by my side
for hours trying every conceivable remedy. And without a word of
After my hæmorrhage I had a few weeks’ rest from the neuritis and then
it started again. I cried out for my forsaken nepenthe, but Peter
Kennedy and Nurse Benham for once agreed, persuaded or forced me to
codein. Dear half-sister to my beloved morphia, we became friends at
once. Three or four days later the neuritis went suddenly, and has never
returned. One night I took the nepenthe as well, and that night I saw
Margaret Capel again.
“When are you going to begin?” she asked me at once.
“The very moment I can hold a pen. Now my hand shakes. And Ella or nurse
is always here—I am never alone.”
“You’ve forgotten all about me,” she said with indescribable sadness.
“You won’t write it at all.”
“No, I haven’t. I shall. But when one has been so ill …” I pleaded.
“Other people write when they are ill. You remember Green, and Robert
Louis Stevenson. As for me, I never felt well.”
The next day, before Dr. Kennedy came, I asked Benham to leave us alone
together. He still came daily, but she disapproved of his methods and
told me that she only stayed in the room and gave him her report because
she thought it her duty. They were temperamentally opposed. She had the
scientific mind and believed in authority. His was imaginative,
desultory, doubtful, but wide and enquiring. Both of them were
interested in me, so at least Ella told me. She was satisfied now with
my doctoring and nursing. At least a week had passed since she suggested
a substitute for either.
Dr. Kennedy, when we were alone, said, as he did when nurse was standing
“Well! how are you getting on?”
“Splendidly.” And then, without any circumlocution, although we had not
spoken of the matter for weeks, and so much had occurred in the
meantime, I asked him: “What did you do about that packet? I want it
now. I am quite well enough.”
“You have not seen her since?”
“Over and over again. She thinks I am shirking my responsibilities.”
“Are you well enough to write?”
“I am well enough to read. When will you bring me the letters?”
“I brought them when I said I would, the day you were taken ill.”
“Where are they?”
“In the first drawer, the right-hand drawer of the chest of drawers.” He
turned round to it. “That is, if they have not been moved. I put the
packet there myself, told nurse it was something that was not to be
touched. The morphia things are in the same place. I don’t know what she
thinks it is, some new and useless drug or apparatus; she has no opinion
of me, you know. I used to see it night and morning, as long as you were
having the injections.”
“See if it is there now.”
He went over and opened the drawer:
“It is there right enough.”
“Oh! don’t be like nurse,” I said impatiently. “I am strong enough to
look at the packet.”
He gave it to me, into my hands, an ordinary brown paper parcel, tied
with string and heavily, awkwardly, splotched and protected with
sealing-wax. I could have sworn to his handiwork.
“Why are you smiling?” he asked.
“Only at the neatness of your parcel.” He smiled too.
“I tied it up in a hurry. I didn’t want to be tempted to look inside.”
“So you make me guardian and executrix….”
“Margaret herself said you were to have them,” he answered seriously.
“She didn’t tell you so. You have only my word for it,” I retorted.
“Better evidence than that, although that would have been enough. How
else did you know they were in existence? Why were you looking for
The parcel lay on the quilt, and all sorts of difficulties rose in my
mind. I would not open it unless I was alone, and I was never alone;
literally never alone unless I was supposed to be asleep. And, thanks to
codein, when I was supposed to be asleep the supposition was generally
correct! Thinking aloud, I asked Dr. Kennedy:
“Am I out of danger?”
He answered lightly and evasively:
“No one is ever really out of danger. I take my life in my hands every
time I go in my motor.”
“Oh, yes! I’ve heard about your driving,” I answered drily.
“I am supposed to be reckless, but really I am only unlucky. With luck
“Yes, with luck?”
“You might go on for any time. I shouldn’t worry about that if I were
you. You are getting better.”
“I am not worrying, only thinking about Mrs. Lovegrove. She has two
children, a large house, literary and other engagements. Will you tell
her I am well enough to be left alone?” He answered quickly and
“She does not want to go, she likes being with you. Not that I wonder at
He was a strange person. Sometimes I had an idea he was not “all there.”
He said whatever came into his mind, and had other divergencies from the
ordinary type. I had to explain to him my need of solitude. If Ella went
back to town, Benham would soon, I hoped, with a little encouragement,
fall into the way of ordinary nurses. I had had them in London and knew
their habits. Two or three hours in the morning for their so-called
“constitutionals,” two or three hours in the afternoon for sleep,
whether they had been disturbed in the night or not; in the intervals
there were the meals over which they lingered. Solitude would be easily
secured if Ella went away and there was no one to watch or comment on
the amount of attention purchased or purchasable for two guineas a week.
I misread Benham, by the way, but that is a detail. She was not like the
average nurse, and never behaved in the same way.
My first objective, once that brown paper parcel lay on the bed, was to
persuade Ella to go back to home and children. Without hurting her
feelings. She would not have left the house for five minutes before I
should be longing for her back again. I knew that, but one cannot work
_and_ play. I have never had any other companion but Ella. Still….
_Work whilst ye have the light._ One more book I _must_ do, and here was
one to my hand.
I made Dr. Kennedy put the parcel back in the drawer. Then I lay and
made plans. I must talk to Ella of Violet and Tommy, make her homesick
for them. Unfortunately Ella knew me so well. I started that very
“How does Violet get on without you?”
“She is all right.”
But soon afterwards Ella asked me quietly whether there was any one else
I would like down.
“God forbid!” I answered in alarm, and she understood, understood
without showing pang or offence, that I wanted to be alone. One thing
Ella never quite realised, my wretched inability to live in two worlds
at once, the real and the unreal. When I want to write there is no use
giving me certain hours or times to myself. I want all the days and all
the nights. I don’t wish to be spoken to, nor torn away from my story
and new friends. For this reason I have always had to leave London many
months in the year, for the seaside or abroad. London meant Ella, almost
daily, at the telephone if not personally.
“You don’t write all day, do you? What are you pretending? Don’t be so
absurd, you must go out sometimes. I am fetching you in the car at….”
And then I was lured by her to theatres, dinners, lunches. She thought
people liked to meet me, but I have rarely noticed any interest taken in
a female novelist, however many editions she may run through. My
strength was returning, if slowly. Ella of course had duties to those
children of hers that sometimes I resented so unreasonably. I always
wished her early widowhood had left her without ties. However, the call
of them came in usefully now; it was not necessary for me to press it. I
came first with her, I exulted in it. But since I was getting better….
I wished to be alone with that parcel. I did make a tentative effort
before Ella left.
“I don’t want to settle off to sleep just yet, nurse, I should like to
read a little. There is a packet of letters….”
“No! No! I wouldn’t hear of such a thing. Starting reading at ten
o’clock. What will you be wanting to do next?”
“It would not do me any harm,” I answered irritably. “I’ve told you
before it does me more harm to be contradicted every time I make a
“Well, you won’t get me to help you to commit suicide. Night is the time
for sleep, and you’ve had your codein.”
“The codein does not send me to sleep, it only soothes and quiets me.”
“All the more reason you should not wake yourself up by any old
letters.” She argued, and I…. At the end I was too tired and out of
humour to insist. I made up my mind to do without a nurse as soon as
possible, and in the meantime not to argue but to circumvent her. At
this time, before Ella went, I was getting up every day for a few hours,
lying on the couch by the window. I tested my strength and found I could
walk from bed to sofa, from sofa to easy-chair without nurse’s arm, if I
made the effort.
“You _will_ take care of yourself?” were Ella’s last words, and I
“I don’t so much mind leaving you alone now, you have your Peter, and
nurse won’t let you overdo things.”
“_You have your Peter._” Can one imagine anything more ridiculous! My
incurably frivolous sister imagined I had fallen in love, with that
lout! I was unable to persuade her to the contrary. She argued, that at
my worst and before, I would have no other attendant. And she pointed
out that it could not possibly be Peter Kennedy’s skill that attracted
me. I defended him, feebly perhaps, for it was true that he had not
shown any special aptitude or ability. I said he was quite as good as
any of the others, and certainly less depressing.
“There is no good humbugging me, or trying to. You are in love with the
man. Don’t trouble to contradict it. And I am not a bit jealous. I only
hope he will make you happy. Nurse told me you do not even like her to
come into the room when he is here.”
“Don’t you know how old I am? It is really undignified, humiliating, to
be talked to or of in that way….”
“Age has nothing to do with it. A woman is never too old to fall in
love. And besides, what is thirty-nine?”
“In this case it is forty-two,” I put in drily, my sense of humour not
being entirely in abeyance.
“Well! or forty-two. Anyway you will admit I took a hint very quickly. I
am going to leave you alone with your Corydon.”
“He is not bad-looking really, it is only his clothes. And if anything
comes of it you will send him to Poole’s. Anyway his feet and hands are
all right, and there is a certain grace about his ungainliness.”
“Really, Ella, I can’t bear any more. Love runs in your head; feeds your
activities, agrees with you. But as for me, I’ve long outgrown it. I am
tired, old, ill. Peter Kennedy is just not objectionable. Other doctors
are. He is honest, simple….”
“I will hear all about his qualities next time I come. Only don’t think
you are deceiving me. God bless you, dear.” She turned suddenly serious.
“You know I would not go if you wanted me to stop or if I were uneasy
about you any more. You know I will come down again at any moment you
want me. I shall miss my train if I don’t rush. Can I send you anything?
I won’t forget the sofa rug, and if you think of anything else….” Her
maid knocked at the door and said the flyman had called up to say she
must come at once. Her last words were: “Well, good-bye again, and tell
him I give my consent. Tell him he gave the show away himself. I have
known about it ever since the first night I was here when he told me
what an interesting woman you were….”
“Good-bye … thanks for everything. I’m sorry you’ve got that mad idea
in your silly head….” She was gone. I heard her voice outside the
window giving directions to the man and then the crunch of the fly
wheels on the gravel as she was driven away.