By the British author, H E Bates
The Thurlows lived on a small hill. As though it were not high
enough, the house was raised up, as on invisible stilts, with a
wooden flight of steps to the front door. Exposed and isolated,
the wind striking at it from all quarters, it seemed to have
no part with the surrounding landscape. Empty ploughed lands,
in winter-time, stretched away on all sides in wet steel
At half-past seven every morning Mrs Thurlow pushed her
great rusty bicycle down the hill; at six every evening she pushed
it back. Loaded, always, with grey bundles of washing, oilcans,
sacks, cabbages, bundles of old newspaper, boughs of wind-
blown wood and bags of chicken food, the bicycle could never
be ridden. It was a vehicle of necessity. Her relationship to it
was that of a beast to a cart. Slopping along beside it, flat heavy
feet pounding painfully along under mud-stained skirts, her face
and body ugly with lumpy angles of bone, she was like a beast of
Coming out of the house, raised up even above the level of the
small hill, she stepped into a country of wide horizons. This fact
meant nothing to her. The world into which she moved was very
small: from six to nine she cleaned for the two retired sisters,
nine to twelve for the retired photographer, twelve-thirty to
three for the poultry farm, four to six for the middle-aged
bachelor. She did not think of going beyond the four lines which
made up the square of her life. She thought of other people
going beyond them, but this was different. Staring down at a
succession of wet floors, working always for other people, against
time, she had somehow got into the habit of not thinking about
She thought much, in the same stolid pounding way as she
pushed the bicycle, of other people: in particular of Thurlow,
more particularly of her two sons. She had married late; the boys were nine and thirteen. She saw them realising refined ambi- tions, making their way as assistants in shops, as clerks in
offices, even as butlers. Heavily built, with faces having her own
angular boniness, they moved with eyes on the ground. She had
saved money for them. For fifteen years she had hoarded the
scubbing-and-washing money, keeping it in a bran bag under a
mattress in the back bedroom. They did not know of it; she felt
that no one, not even Thurlow, knew of it.
Thurlow had a silver plate in his head. In his own eyes it set
him apart from other men. ‘I got a plate in me head. Solid silver.
Enough silver to make a dozen spoons and a bit over. Solid. Beat
that ! ‘ Wounded on the Marne, and now walking about with the
silver plate in his head, Thurlow was a martyr. ‘I didn’t ought to
stoop. I didn’t ought to do nothing. By rights. By rights I didn’t
ought to lift a finger.’ He was a hedge cutter. ‘Lucky I’m tall,
else that job wouldn’t be no good to me.’ He had bad days and
good days, even days of genuine pain. ‘Me plate’s hurting me!
It’s me plate. By God, it’ll drive me so’s I don’t know what I’m
doing! It’s me plate again.’ And he would stand wild and
vacant, rubbing his hands through his thin black hair, clawing
his scalp as though to wrench out the plate and the pain.
Once a week, on Saturdays or Sundays, he came home a little
tipsy, in a good mood, laughing to himself, riding his bicycle up
the hill like some comic rider in a circus. ‘Eh? Too much be
damned. I can ride me bike, can’t I? S’ long as I can ride me
bike I’m all right.’ In the pubs he had only one theme, ‘I got a
plate in me head. Solid silver,’ recited in a voice challenging the
world to prove it otherwise.
All the time Mrs Thurlow saved money. It was her creed.
Sometimes people went away and there was no cleaning. She
then made up the gap in her life by other work: picking
potatoes, planting potatoes, dibbing cabbages, spudding roots,
pea picking, more washing. In the fields she pinned up her skirt
so that it stuck out behind her like a thick stiff tail, making her
look like some bony ox. She did washing from five to six in the
morning, and again from seven to nine in the evening. Taking in
more washing, she tried to wash more quickly, against time.
Somehow she succeeded, so that from nine to ten she had time
for ironing. She worked by candlelight. Her movements were
largely instinctive. She had washed and ironed for so long, in the
same way, at the same time and place, that she could have
worked in darkness.
There were some things, even, which could be done in dark-
ness; and so at ten, with Thurlow and the sons in bed, she blew
out the candle, broke up the fire, and sat folding the clothes or
cleaning boots, and thinking. Her thoughts, like her work, went
always along the same lines, towards the future, out into the re-
splendent avenues of ambitions, always for the two sons. There
was a division in herself, the one part stolid and uncomplaining
in perpetual labour, the other fretful and almost desperate in an
anxiety to establish a world beyond her own. She had saved
fifty-four pounds. She would make it a hundred. How it was to
be done she could not think. The boys were growing; the cost of
keeping them was growing. She trusted in some obscure provi-
dential power as tireless and indomitable as herself.
At eleven she went to bed, going up the wooden stairs in dark-
ness, in her stockinged feet. She undressed in darkness, her
clothes falling away to be replaced by a heavy grey nightgown
that made her body seem still larger and more ponderous. She
fell asleep almost at once, but throughout the night her mind,
propelled by some inherent anxiety, seemed to work on. She
dreamed she was pushing the bicycle down the hill, and then that
she was pushing it up again; she dreamed she was scrubbing
floors; she felt the hot stab of the iron on her spittled finger and
then the frozen bite of icy swedes as she picked them off un-
thawed earth on bitter mornings. She counted her money, her
mind going back over the years throughout which she had saved
it, and then counted it again, in fear, to make sure, as though
in terror that it might be gone in the morning.
She had one relaxation. On Sunday afternoons she sat in the
kitchen alone, and read the newspapers. They were not the news-
papers of the day, but of all the previous week and perhaps of
the week before that. She had collected them from the houses
where she scrubbed, bearing them home on the bicycle. Through
them and by them she broke the boundaries of her world. She
made excursions into the lives of other people: tragic lovers,
cabinet ministers, Atlantic flyers, suicides, society beauties,
murderers, kings. It was all very wonderful. But emotionally,
as she read, her face showed no impression. It remained ox-like
in its impassivity. It looked in some way indomitably strong,
as though little things like beauties and suicides, murderers and
kings, could have no possible effect on her. About three o’clock,
as she sat reading, Thurlow would come in, lumber upstairs,
and sleep until about half-past four.
One Sunday he did not come in at three o’clock. It was after
four when she heard the bicycle tinkle against the woodshed out-
side. She raised her head from the newspaper and listened for
him to come in. Nothing happened. Then after about five
minutes Thurlow came in, went upstairs, remained for some
minutes, and then came down again. She heard him go out into
the yard. There was a stir among the chickens as he lumbered
about the woodshed.
Mrs Thurlow got up and went outside, and there, at the door
of the woodshed, Thurlow was just hiding something under his
coat. She thought it seemed like his billhook. She was not sure.
Something made her say :
‘Your saw don’t need sharpening again a’ready, does it?’
‘That it does,’ he said. ‘That’s just what it does. Joe Woods is
going to sharp it.’ Thurlow looked upset and slightly wild, as he
did when the plate in his head was hurting him. His eyes were a
little drink-fired, dangerous. ‘I gonna take it down now, so’s I can
git it back to-night’
All the time she could see the saw itself hanging in the dark-
ness of the woodshed behind him. She was certain then that he
was lying, almost certain that it was the billhook he had under
She did not say anything else. Thurlow got on his bicycle and
rode off, down the hill, his coat bunched up, the bicycle slightly
crazy as he drove with one tipsy hand.
Something, as soon as he had gone, made her rush upstairs.
She went into the back bedroom and flung the clothes off the
mattress of the small iron bed that was never slept in. The
money: it was all right. It was quite all right. She sat down
heavily on the bed. And after a moment’s anxiety her colour
returned again – the solid, immeasurably passive calm with
which she scrubbed, read the newspapers, and pushed the
In the evening, the boys at church, she worked again. She
darned socks, the cuffs of jackets, cleaned boots, sorted the wash-
ing for the following day. The boys must look well, respectable.
Under the new scheme they went, now, to a secondary school in
the town. She was proud of this, the first real stepping-stone to
the higher things of the future. Outside, the night was windy,
and she heard the now brief, now very prolonged moan of wind
over the dark winter-ploughed land. She worked by candlelight.
When the boys came in she lighted the lamp. In their hearts,
having now some standard by which to judge her, they despised
her a little. They hated the cheapness of the candlelight. When
they had eaten and gone lumbering up to bed, like two colts, she
blew out the lamp and worked by candlelight again. Thurlow
had not come in.
He came in a little before ten. She was startled, not hearing
‘You want something t’ eat?’
‘No/ he said. He went straight into the scullery. She heard
him washing his hands, swilling the sink, washing, swilling again.
‘You want the light?’ she called.
He came into the kitchen. She saw his still-wet hands in the
candlelight. He gave her one look and went upstairs without
speaking. For some time she pondered on the memory of this
look, not understanding it. She saw in it the wildness of the
afternoon, as though the plate were hurting him, but now it had
in addition fear, and, above fear, defiance.
She got the candle and went to the door. The wind tore the
candle flame down to a minute blue bubble which broke, and she
went across the yard, to the woodshed, in darkness. In the wood-
shed she put a match to the candle again, held the candle up at
eye level, and looked at the walls. The saw hung on its nail, but
there was no billhook. She made a circle with the candle, looking
for the bicycle with dumb eyes. It was not there. She went into
the house again. Candleless, faintly perturbed, she went up
to bed. She wanted to say something to Thurlow, but he was
dead still, as though asleep, and she lay down herself, hearing
nothing but the sound of Thurlow’s breathing and, outside, the
sound of the wind blowing across the bare land.
Asleep, she dreamed, as nearly always, about the bicycle, but
this time it was Thurlow’s bicycle and there was something
strange about it. It had no handles, but only Thurlow’s billhook
where the handles should have been. She grasped the billhook,
and in her dream she felt the pain of the blood rushing out of
her hands, and she was terrified and woke up.
Immediately she put out her hands, to touch Thurlow. The
bed was empty. That scared her. She got out of bed. ‘Thurlow !
Bill! Thurlow! Thurlow!’
The wind had dropped, and it was quiet everywhere. She
went downstairs. There, in the kitchen, she lighted the candle
again and looked round. She tried the back door; it was unlocked
and she opened it and looked out, feeling the small ground wind
icy on her bare feet.
‘Thurlow ! ‘ she said. ‘Bill ! Thurlow ! ‘
She could hear nothing, and after about a minute she went
back upstairs. She looked in at the boys’ bedroom. The boys
were asleep, and the vast candle shadow of herself stood behind
her and listened, as it were, while she listened. She went into
her own bedroom. Thurlow was not there. Then she went into
the back bedroom.
The mattress lay on the floor. And she knew, even before she
began to look for it, that they money was gone. She knew that
Thurlow had taken it.
Since there was nothing else she could do, she went back to
bed, not to sleep, but to lie there, oppressed but never in de-
spondency, thinking. The money had gone, Thurlow had gone,
but it would be all right. Just before five she got up, fired the
copper, and began the washing. At seven she hung it out in
long grey lines in the wintry grey light, holding the pegs like a
bit in her teeth. A little after seven the boys came down to wash
in the scullery.
‘Here, here! Mum! There’s blood all over the sink!’
‘Your dad killed a rabbit,’ she said. ‘That’s all.’
She lumbered out into the garden, to cut cabbages. She cut
three large cabbages, put them in a sack, and, as though nothing
had happened, began to prepare the bicycle for the day. She tied
the cabbages on the carrier, two oilcans on the handlebars, and
then on the crossbar a small bundle of washing, clean, which she
had finished on Saturday. That was all: nothing much for a
At half-past seven the boys went across the fields, by footpath,
to catch the bus for school. She locked the house, and then,
huge, imperturbable, planting down great feet in the mud, she
pushed the bicycle down the hill. She had not gone a hundred
yards before, out of the hedge, two policemen stepped into the
road to meet her.
We was wondering if Mr Thurlow was in?’
4 No,’ she said, ‘he ain’t in.’
‘You ain’t seen him ? ‘
‘No, I ain’t seen him.’
‘Since last night.’
‘You mind,’ they said, ‘if we look round your place?’
‘No,’ she said, ‘you go on up. I got to git down to Miss Han-
ley’s.’ She began to push the bicycle forward, to go.
‘No,’ they said. ‘You must come back with us.’
So she turned the bicycle round and pushed it back up the
hill again. ‘You could leave your bike,’ one of the policemen
said. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I’d better bring it. You can never tell nowa-
days what folk are going to be up to.’
Up at the house she stood impassively by while the two
policemen searched the woodshed, the garden, and finally the
house itself. Her expression did not change as they looked at the
blood in the sink. ‘He washed his hands there last night,’ she
‘Don’t touch it,’ the policeman said. ‘Don’t touch it.’ And then
suspiciously, almost in implied accusation: ‘You ain’t touched
nothing – not since last night?’
‘I got something else to do,’ she said.
‘We’d like you to come along with us, Mrs Thurlow,’ they
said, ‘and answer a few questions.’
‘All right.’ She went outside and took hold of her bicycle.
‘You can leave your bicycle.’
‘No,’ she said. ‘I’ll take it. It’s no naughty way, up here, from
‘We got a car down the road. You don’t want a bike.’
‘I better take it,’ she said.
She wheeled the bicycle down the hill. When one policeman
had gone in the car she walked on with the other. Ponderous,
flat-footed, unhurried, she looked as though she could have gone
on pushing the bicycle in the same direction, at the same pace,
They kept her four hours at the station. She told them about
the billhook, the blood, the way Thurlow had come home and
gone again, her waking in the night, Thurlow not being there,
the money not being there.
‘The money. How much was there ? ‘
‘Fifty-four pounds, sixteen and fourpence. And twenty-eight
of that in sovereigns. ‘
In return they told her something else.
‘You know that Thurlow was in the Black Horse from eleven
to two yesterday?’
‘Yes, I dare say that’s where he’d be. That’s where he always
‘He was in the Black Horse, and for about two hours he was
arguing with a man stopping down here from London. Arguing
about that plate in his head. The man said he knew the plate was
aluminium and Thurlow said he knew it was silver. Thurlow got
very threatening. Did you know that ?
‘No. But that’s just like him.’
‘This man hasn’t been seen since, and Thurlow hasn’t been
seen since. Except by you last night.’
‘Do you want me any more?’ she said. ‘I ought to have been at
Miss Hanley’s hours ago.’
‘You realise this is very important, very serious?’
‘I know. But how am I going to get Miss Hanley in, and Mrs
Acott, and then the poultry farm and then Mr George?’
‘We’ll telephone Miss Hanley and tell her you can’t go.’
‘The money,’ she said. ‘That’s what I can’t understand. The
It was the money which brought her, without showing it, to
the edge of distress. She thought of it all day. She thought of it
as hard cash, coin, gold and silver, hard-earned and hard-saved.
But it was also something much more. It symbolised the future,
another life, two lives. It was the future itself. If, as seemed
possible, something terrible had happened and a life had been
destroyed, it did not seem to her more terrible than the fact that
the money had gone and that the future had been destroyed.
As she scrubbed the floors at the poultry farm in the late after-
noon, the police telephoned for her again. We can send the car
for her/ they said.
‘I got my bike/ she said. ‘I’ll walk/
With the oilcans filled, and cabbages and clean washing now
replaced by newspapers and dirty washing she went back to the
police station. She wheeled her bicycle into the lobby and they
then told her how, that afternoon, the body of the man from
London had been found, in a spinney, killed by blows from some
sharp instrument like an axe. ‘We have issued a warrant for
Thurlow’s arrest/ they said.
‘You never found the money?’ she said.
‘No/ they said. ‘No doubt that’ll come all right when we find
That evening, when she got home, she fully expected Thurlow
to be there, as usual, splitting kindling wood with the billhook,
in the outhouse, by candlelight. The same refusal to believe that
life could change made her go upstairs to look for the money.
The absence of both Thurlow and the money moved her to no
sign of emotion. But she was moved to a decision.
She got out her bicycle and walked four miles, into the next
village, to see her brother. Though she did not ride the bicycle, it
seemed to her as essential as ever that she should take it with her.
Grasping its handles, she felt a sense of security and fortitude.
The notion of walking without it, helplessly, in the darkness, was
Her brother was a master carpenter, a chapel-going man of
straight-grained thinking and purpose, who had no patience with
slovenliness. He lived with his wife and his mother in a white-
painted electrically-lighted house whose floors were covered with
scrubbed coco-matting. His mother was a small woman with
shrill eyes and ironed-out mouth who could not hear well.
Mrs Thurlow knocked on the door of the house as though
these people, her mother and brother, were strangers to her. Her
brother came to the door and she said :
‘It’s Lil. I come to see if you’d seen anything o’ Thurlow?’
‘No, we ain’t seen him. Summat up ? ‘
‘Who is it?’ the old woman called.
‘It’s Lil/ the brother said, in a louder voice. ‘She says have we
seen anything o’ Thurlow?’
‘No, an’ don’t want ! ‘
Mrs Thurlow went in. For fifteen years her family had openly
disapproved of Thurlow. She sat down on the edge of the chair
nearest the door. Her large lacc-up boots made large black mud
prints on the virgin coco-matting. She saw her sister-in-law look
first at her boots and then at her hat. She had worn the same
boots and the same hat for longer than she herself could
remember. But her sister-in-law remembered.
She sat untroubled, her eyes sullen, as though not fully con-
scious in the bright electric light. The light showed up the mud
on her skirt, her straggling grey hair under the shapeless hat, the
edges of her black coat weather-faded to a purplish grey.
‘So you ain’t heard nothing about Thurlow?’ she said.
‘No,’ her brother said. ‘Be funny if we had, wouldn’t it? He
ain’t set foot in this house since dad died.’ He looked at her hard.
‘Why? What’s up?’
She raised her eyes to him. Then she lowered them again. It
was almost a minute before she spoke.
‘Ain’t you heard?’ she said. ‘They reckon he’s done a murder.’
‘What’s she say?’ the old lady said. ‘I never heard her.’
Mrs Thurlow looked dully at her boots, at the surrounding
expanse of coco-matting. For some reason the fissured pattern of
the coco-matting, so clean and regular, fascinated her. She said :
‘He took all the money. He took it all and they can’t find
‘Eh? What’s she say? What’s she mumbling about?’
The brother, his face white, went over to the old woman. He
said into her ear: ‘One of the boys is won a scholarship, She
come over to tell us.’
‘Want summat to do, I should think, don’t she ? Traipsing over
here to tell us that.’
The man sat down at the table. He was very white, his hands
shaking. His wife sat with the same dumb, shaking expression of
shock. Mrs Thurlow raised her eyes from the floor. It was as
though she had placed on them the onus of some terrible re-
‘For God’s sake,’ the man said, ‘when did it happen?’
Ail Mrs Thurlow could think of was the money. ‘Over fifty
pounds. I got it hid under the mattress. I don’t know how he
could have found out about it. I don’t know. I can’t think. It’s
all I got. I got it for the boys.’ She paused, pursing her lips to-
gether, squeezing back emotion. ‘It’s about the boys I come.’
‘The boys?’ The brother looked up, scared afresh. ‘He ain’t –
‘I didn’t know whether you’d have them here,’ she said. ‘Till
it’s blowed over. Till they find Thurlow. Till things are
‘Then they ain’t found him ? ‘
‘No. He’s done a bunk. They say as soon as they find him I
shall git the money.’
‘Yes,’ the brother said. ‘We’ll have them here.’
She stayed a little longer, telling the story dully, flatly, to the
scared pairs of eyes across the table and to the old shrill eyes,
enraged because they could not understand, regarding her from
the fireplace. An hour after she had arrived, she got up to go.
Her brother said : ‘Let me run you back in the car. I got a car
now. Had it three or four months. I’ll run you back.’
‘No, I got my bike,’ she said.
She pushed the bicycle home in the darkness. At home, in the
kitchen, the two boys were making a rabbit hutch. She saw that
they had something of her brother’s zeal for handling wood. She
saw that their going to him would be a good thing. He was a man
who had got on in the world: she judged him by the car, the
white-painted house, the electric light, the spotless coco-matting.
She saw the boys, with deep but inexpressible pride, going to the
same height, beyond it.
‘Dad ain’t been home,’ they said.
She told them there had been a little trouble. ‘They think your
dad took some money.’ She explained how it would be better for
them, and for her, if they went to stay with her brother. ‘Git to
bed now and I’ll get your things packed.’
‘You mean we gotta go and live there?’
‘For a bit,’ she said.
They were excited. ‘We could plane the wood for the rabbit
hutch ! ‘ they said. ‘Make a proper job of it.’
That night, and again on the following morning, she looked
under the mattress for the money. In the morning the boys de-
parted. She was slightly depressed, slightly relieved by their
excitement. When they had gone she bundled the day’s washing
together and tied it on the bicycle. She noticed, then, that the
back tyre had a slow puncture, that it was already almost flat.
This worried her. She pumped up the tyre and felt a little more
Then, as she prepared to push the bicycle down the hill, she
saw the police car coming along the road at the bottom. Two
policemen hurried up the track to meet her.
‘We got Thurlow,’ they said. ‘We’d like you to come to the
‘Is he got the money?’ she said.
‘There hasn’t been time,’ they said, ‘to go into that.’
As on the previous morning she pushed her bicycle to the
village, walking with one policeman while the other drove on in
the car. Of Thurlow she said very little. Now and then she
stopped and stooped to pinch the back tyre of the bicycle. ‘Like
I thought. I got a slow puncture,’ she would say. ‘Yes, it’s gone
down since I blowed it up. I s’li have to leave it at the bike shop
as we go by.’
Once she asked the policeman if he thought that Thurlow had
the money. He said, ‘I’m afraid he’s done something more serious
than taking money.’
She pondered over this statement with dull astonishment.
More serious? She knew that nothing could be more serious. To
her the money was like a huge and irreplaceable section of her
life. It was part of herself, bone and flesh, blood and sweat.
Nothing could replace it. Nothing, she knew with absolute
finality, could mean so much.
In the village she left the bicycle at the cycle shop. Walking on
without it, she lumbered dully from side to side, huge and un-
steady, as though lost. From the cycle-shop window the repairer
squinted after her, excited. Other people looked from other
windows as she lumbered past, always a pace or two behind the
policeman, her ill-shaped feet painfully set down. At the entrance
to the police station there was a small crowd. She went heavily
into the station. Policemen were standing about in a room. An
inspector, many papers in his hand, spoke to her. She listened
heavily. She looked about for a sign of Thurlow. The inspector
said, with kindness, ‘Your husband is not here.’ She felt a sense
of having been cheated. ‘They are detaining him at Metford. We
are going over there now/
‘You know anything about the money V she said.
Five minutes later she drove away, with the inspector and two
other policemen, in a large black car. Travelling fast, she felt
herself hurled, as it were, beyond herself. Mind and body
seemed separated, her thoughts numbed. As the car entered the
town, slowing down, she looked out of the side windows, saw
posters: ‘Metford Murder Arrest.’ People, seeing policemen in
the car, gaped. ‘Murder Sensation Man Detained.’
Her mind registered impressions gravely and confusedly.
People and posters were swept away from her and she was con-
scious of their being replaced by other people, the police station,
corridors in the station, walls of brown glazed brick, fresh faces,
a room, desks covered with many papers, eyes looking at her, box
files in white rows appearing also to look at her, voices talking to
her, an arm touching her, a voice asking her to sit down.
‘I have to tell you, Mrs Thurlow, that we have detained your
husband on a charge of murder.’
‘He say anything about the money?’
‘He has made a statement. In a few minutes he will be charged
and then remanded for further inquiries. You are at liberty to
see him for a few moments if you would like to do so.’
In a few moments she was standing in a cell, looking at Thur-
low. He looked at her as though he did not know what had hap-
pened. His eyes were lumps of impressionless glass. He stood
with long arms loose at his sides. For some reason he looked
strange, foreign, not himself. It was more than a minute before
she realised why this was. Then she saw that he was wearing a
new suit. It was a grey suit, thick, ready-made, and the sleeves
were too short for him. They hung several inches above his thick
protuberant wrist bones, giving his hands a look of inert defeat.
‘You got the money, ain’t you?’ she said. ‘You got it?’
He looked at her. ‘Money ? ‘
‘The money you took. The money under the mattress.’
He stared at her. Money? He looked at her with a faint ex-
pression of appeal. Money. He continued to stare at her with
complete blankness. Money?
‘You remember,’ she said. ‘The money under the mattress/
‘The money. That money. Don’t you remember ?’
He shook his head.
After some moments she went out of the cell. She carried out
with her the sense of Thurlow’s defeat as she saw it expressed in
the inert hands, the dead, stupefied face, and his vacant in-
ability to remember anything. She heard the court proceedings
without interest or emotion. She was oppressed by a sense of in-
creasing bewilderment, a feeling that she was lost. She was
stormed by impressions she did not understand. ‘I do not pro-
pose to put in a statement at this juncture. I ask for a remand
until the sixteenth/ ‘Remand granted. Clear the court.’
This effect of being stormed by impressions continued outside
the court, as she drove away again in the car. People. Many
faces. Cameras. More faces. Posters. The old sensation of mind
severed from body, of thoughts numbed. In the village, when the
car stopped, there were more impressions: more voices, more
people, a feeling of suppressed excitement. ‘We will run you
home/ the policemen said.
‘No/ she said. ‘I got my cleaning to do. I got to pick up my
She fetched the bicycle and wheeled it slowly through the vil-
lage. People looked at her, seemed surprised to see her in broad
daylight, made gestures as though they wished to speak, and then
went on. Grasping the handles of the bicycle, she felt a return
of security, almost of comfort. The familiar smooth handlebars
hard against her hands had the living response of other hands.
They brought back her sense of reality : Miss Hanley, the clean-
ing, the poultry farm, the time she had lost, the boys, the money,
the fact that something terrible had happened, the monumental
fact of Thurlow’s face, inert and dead, with its lost sense of re
Oppressed by a sense of duty, she did her cleaning as though
nothing had happened. People were very kind to her. Miss
Hanley made tea, the retired photographer would have run her
home in his car. She was met everywhere by tender, remote
words of comfort.
She pushed home her bicycle in the darkness. At Miss Han-
ley’s at the poultry farm, at the various places where she
worked, the thought of the money had been partially set aside
Now, alone again, she felt the force of its importance more
strongly, with the beginnings of bitterness. In the empty house
she worked for several hours by candlelight, washing, folding,
ironing. About the house the vague noises of wind periodically
resolved themselves into what she believed for a moment were the
voices of the two boys. She thought of the boys with calm un-
happiness, and the thought of them brought back with renewed
force the thought of the money. This thought hung over her
with the huge preponderance of her own shadow projected on
the ceiling above her.
On the following Sunday afternoon she sat in the empty
kitchen, as usual, and read the stale newspapers. But now they
recorded, not the unreal lives of other people, but the life of
Thurlow and herself. She saw Thurlow’s photograph. She read
the same story told in different words in different papers. In all
the stories there was an absence of all mention of the only thing
that mattered. There was no single word about the money.
During the next few weeks much happened, but she did not
lose the belief that the money was coming back to her. Nothing
could touch the hard central core of her optimism. She saw the
slow evolution of circumstances about Thurlow as things of sub-
sidiary importance, the loss of the life he had taken and the loss
of his own life as things which, terrible in themselves, seemed
less terrible than the loss of ideals built up by her sweat and
She knew, gradually, that Thurlow was doomed, that it was
all over. She did not know what to do. Her terror seemed remote,
muffled, in some way incoherent. She pushed the bicycle back
and forth each day in the same ponderous manner as ever, her
heavy feet slopping dully beside it.
When she saw Thurlow for the last time his face had not
changed, one way or the other, from its fixed expression of de-
feat. Defeat was cemented into it with imperishable finality. She
asked him about the money for the last time.
‘The money. You took it. What you do with it? That money.
Under the mattress/ For the first time she showed some sign of
desperation. ‘Please, what you done with it? That money. My
‘Eh?’ And she knew that he could not remember.
A day later it was all over. Two days later she pushed the
bicycle the four miles to the next village, to see her brother. It
was springtime, time for the boys to come back to her. Pushing
the bicycle in the twilight, she felt she was pushing forward into
the future. She had some dim idea, heavily dulled by the sense
of Thurlow’s death, that the loss of the money was not now so
great. Money is money; death is death; the living are the living
The living were the future. The thought of the boys’ return
filled her with hopes for the future, undated hopes, but quite
real, strong enough to surmount the loss of both Thurlow and
At her brother’s they had nothing to say. They sat, the
brother, the mother, and the sister-in-law, and looked at her with
eyes over which, as it were, the blinds had been drawn.
‘The boys here?’ she said.
‘They’re making a bit of a wheelbarrow.’
‘They all right?’
‘Yes.’ He wetted his lips. His clean-planed mind had been
scarred by events as though by a mishandled tool. ‘They don’t
know nothing. We kept it from ’em. They ain’t been to school
and they ain’t seen no papers. They think he’s in jail for stealing
She looked at him, dully. ‘Stealing money? That’s what he
did do. That money I told you about. That money I had under
‘Well,’ he said slowly, ‘it’s done now.’
‘What did he do with it?’ she said. ‘What d’ye reckon he done
He looked at her quickly, unable suddenly to restrain his
anger. ‘Done with it? What d’ye suppose he done with it? Spent
it. Threw it away. Boozed it. What else? You know what
he was like. You knew! You had your eyes open. You knew
‘Will, Will,’ his wife said.
He was silent. The old lady said: ‘Eh? What’s that? What’s
the matter now?’
The brother said, in a loud voice, ‘Nothing.’ Then more
softly: ‘She don’t know everything.’
‘I came to take the boys back/ Mrs Thurlow said.
He was silent again. He wetted his lips. He struck a match on
the warm fire-hob. It spurted into a sudden explosion, igniting of
its own volition. He seemed startled. He put the match to his
pipe, let it go out.
He looked at Mrs Thurlow, the dead match in his hands. ‘The
boys ain’t coming back no more/ he said.
‘Eh?’ she said. She was stunned. ‘They ain’t what?’
‘They don’t want to come back/ he said.
She did not understand. She could not speak. Very slowly he
it’s natural they don’t want to come back. I know it’s hard.
But it’s natural. They’re getting on well here. They want to stop
here. They’re good boys. I could take ’em into the business.’
She heard him go on without hearing the individual words.
He broke off, his face relieved – like a man who has liquidated
some awful obligation.
‘They’re my boys/ she said. ‘They got a right to say what they
shall do and what they shan’t do.’
She spoke heavily, without bitterness.
‘I know that/ he said. ‘That’s right. They got a right to speak.
You want to hear what they got to say?’
‘Yes, I want to/ she said.
Her sister-in-law went out into the yard at the back of the
house. Soon voices drew nearer out of the darkness and the two
boys came in.
‘Hullo/ she said.
‘Hello, Mum/ they said.
‘Your Mum’s come/ the carpenter said, ‘to see if you want to
go back with her.’
The two boys stood silent, awkward, eyes glancing past her.
‘You want to go?’ the carpenter said. ‘Or do you want to stay
‘Here/ the elder boy said. ‘We want to stop here.’
‘You’re sure o’ that?’
‘Yes/ the other said.
Mrs Thurlow stood silent. She could think of nothing to say
in protest or argument or persuasion. Nothing she could say
would, she felt, give expression to the inner part of herself, the
crushed core of optimism and faith.
The Ox 137
She stood at the door, looking back at the boys. ‘You made up
your minds, then?’ she said. They did not speak.
‘I’ll run you home,’ her brother said.
‘No,’ she said. ‘I got my bike/
She went out of the house and began to push the bicycle
slowly home in the darkness. She walked with head down,
lumbering painfully, as though direction did not matter. Where-
as, coming, she had seemed to be pushing forward into the
future, she now felt as if she were pushing forward into no-
After a mile or so she heard a faint hissing from the back
tyre. She stopped, pressing the tyre with her hand. ‘It’s slow,’
she thought; ‘it’ll last me.’ She pushed forward. A little later it
seemed to her that the hissing got worse. She stopped again, and
again felt the tyre with her hand. It was softer now, almost flat.
She unscrewed the pump and put a little air in the tyre and
went on. ‘I better stop at the shop,’ she thought, ‘and have it
In the village the cycle-shop was already in darkness. She
pushed past it. As she came to the hill leading up to the house
she lifted her head a little. It seemed to her suddenly that the
house, outlined darkly above the dark hill, was a long way off
She had for one moment an impression that she would never
She struggled up the hill. The mud of the track seemed to
suck at her great boots and hold her down. The wheels of the
bicycle seemed as if they would not turn, and she could hear the
noise of the air dying once again in the tyre.
Contributed by Moushumi