Traditional Drama Forum - No.8 ISSN 1743-3789 September 2003

An Enjoyable Christmas: A Prelude [Part 3]
[by David Herbert Lawrence]

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A Maiden's Heart.

Nellie did not laugh. Seeing him turn, she saw him again as a child, before her father had made money by the cattle-dealing, when she was a poor, wild little creature. But her father had grown rich and the mill was a big farm, and when the old cattle dealer had died, she became sole mistress. Then Preston, their chief man, came with Betty and Sarah, to live in, and take charge of the farm.

Nellie had seen little of her old friends since then. She had stayed a long time in town, and when she called on them after her return found them cool and estranged. So she had not been again, and now it was almost a year since she had spoken many words to Fred.

Her brief meditations were disturbed by a scream from Betty in the scullery, followed by the wild rush of that damsel into the kitchen.

"What's up?" asked her father.

"There's somebody there got hold of my legs."

Nellie felt suddenly her own loneliness. Preston struck a match and investigated. He returned with a bunch of glittering holly, thick with scarlet berries.

"Here's yer somebody," said he, flinging the bunch down on the table.

"Oh, that is pretty," exclaimed Blanche. Nellie rose, looked, then hurried down the passage to the sitting-room, followed by her friend. There, to the consternation of Blanche, she sat down and began to cry.

"Whatever is the matter?" asked Blanche.

It was some time before she had a reply, then, "It's so miserable." faltered Nellie, "and so lonely. I do think Will and Harry and Louie and all the others were mean not to com, then this wouldn't have happened. It was such a shame - such a shame."

"What was a shame?" asked Blanche.

"Why, when he had got me that holly, and come down to see --" she ended blushing.

"Whom do you mean - the Bedouin?"

"And I had not seen him for months, and he will think I am Just a mean, proud thing."

"You don't mean to say you care for him?"

Nellie's tears began to flow again. "I do, and I wish this miserable farm and bit of money had never come between us. He'll never come again, never, I know."

"Then," said Blanche. "you must go to him."

"Yes, and I will."

"Come along, then."

The Disconsolate Lover.

In the meantime, the disappointed brothers had reached home. Fred had thrown down his Bedouin wardrobe, and put on his coat, muttering something about having a walk up the village. Then he had gone out, his mother's eyes watching his exit with helpless grief, his father looking over his spectacles in a half-surprised paternal sympathy. However, they heard him tramp down the yard and enter the barn, and they knew he would soon recover. Then the lads went out, and nothing was heard In the kitchen save the beat of the clock and the rustle of the newspaper, or the rattle of the board, as the mother rolled out paste for the mince-pies.

In the pitch-dark barn, the rueful Bedouin told himself that he expected no other than this, and that it was high time he ceased fooling himself with fancies, that he was well-cured, that even if she had invited him to stay, how could he; how could he have asked her; she must think he wanted badly to become master of Ramsley Mill. What a fool he had been to go - what a fool!

"But," he argued, "let her think what she likes. I don't care. She may remember if she can that I used to sole her boots with my father's leather, and she went home in mine. She can remember that my mother taught her how to write and sew decently. I should think she must sometimes."

Then he admitted to himself that he was sure she did not forget. He could feel quite well that she was wishing that this long estrangement might cease.

"But," came the question, "why doesn't she end it? Pah, It's only my conceit; she thinks more of those glib, grinning fellows from the clerk's stools. Let her, what do I care!"

The Serenade.

Suddenly he heard voices from the field at the back, and sat up listening.

"Oh, it's a regular slough." said someone. "We can never get through the gate. See, let us climb the stockyard fence. They've put some new rails in. Can you manage, Blanche? Here, just between the lilac bush and the stack. What a blessing they keep Chris at the front! Mind, bend under this plum tree. Dare we go, Blanche?"

"Go on, go on," whispered Blanche, and they crept up to the tiny window, through which the lamplight streamed uninterrupted. Fred stole out of the barn and hid behind the great water-butt. He saw them stoop and creep to the window and peep through.

Illustration of Fred watching the girls from hiding, from 'A Prelude' by D.H.Lawrence.
Original block size 5.25in x 6.75in.

In the kitchen sat the father, smoking and appearing to read, but really staring into the fire. The mother was putting the top crusts on the little pies, but she was interrupted by the need to wipe her eyes.

"Oh, Blanche," whispered Nellie. "he's gone out."

"It looks like it," assented the other.

"Perhaps he's not, though," resumed the former bravely. "He's very likely only in the parlour."

"That's all right, then." said Blanche. "I thought we should have seen him looking so miserable. But, of course, he wouldn't let his mother see it."

"Certainly not," said Blanche.

Fred chuckled.

"But," she continued doubtfully, "If he has gone out, whatever shall we do? What can we tell his mother?"

"Tell her we came up for fun."

"But if he's out?"

"Stay till he comes home."

"If it's late?"

"It's Christmas Eve."

"Perhaps he doesn't care after all."

"You think he does, so do I; and you're quite sure you want him."

"You know I do, Blanche, and I always have done."

"Let us begin, then."

"What? 'Good King Wenceslas?'"

The mother and father started as the two voices suddenly began to carol outside. She would have run to the door, but her husband waved her excitedly back. "Let them finish," his eyes shining. "Let them finish."

The girls had retired from the window lest they should be seen, and stood near the water-butt. When the old carol was finished, Nellie began the beautiful song of Giordani's:-

Turn once again, heal thou my pain,
Parted from thee, my heart is sore.

As she sang she stood holding a bough of the old plum tree, so close to Fred that by leaning forward he could have touched her coat. Carried away by the sweet pathos of her song, he could hardly refrain from rising and flinging his arms around her.

She finished, the door opened, showing a little woman holding out her hands.

Both girls made a motion towards her, but -

"Nell, Nell," he whispered, and caught her in his arms. She gave a little cry of alarm and delight. Blanche stepped into the kitchen, and shut the door, laughing.

She sat in the low rocking-chair swinging to and fro in a delighted excitement, chattering brightly about a hundred things. And with a keen woman's eye, she noticed the mother put her hands on her husband's as she sat on the sofa by his chair, and saw him hold the shining stiffened hand in one of his, and stroke it with old, undiminished affection.

Soon the two came in, Nellie all blushing. Without a word she ran and kissed the little mother, lingering a moment over her before she turned to the quiet embrace of the father. Then she took off her hat, and brushed back the brown tendrils all curled so prettily by the damp.

Already she was at home.

(Notes >>)

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