Mary Anne, Page 2Daphne Du Maurier
The moon was shining and the dome of St. Paul’s stood clear against the sky, and without realizing it some long-lost sense of direction took him through the maze of streets to their old childhood home, the existence of which he would have denied among his friends of the tavern; or, as his sister so often did, he would have invented for it a new locality, Oxfordshire, perhaps, or even Scotland. But there it stood, dark and cramped among its fellows, at the head of Bowling Inn Alley, not even a slant from the moon to light the windows where they had knelt together as children and planned the future. Or rather, she had planned it and he had listened. People were living there still. He heard a child cry and a woman’s voice, faint and fretful, call up to it in anger, and then the door of the dark house opened and somebody came and threw a basin of slops onto the flagged stones, shouting abuse over his shoulder.
Charles Thompson turned away and the ghosts followed him. They followed him through the streets to the river, where the tide ran fast and high in the Pool of London, and he realized he had no money and no future and she was not with him anymore, and the blood she would have wiped away from his face was running into his mouth.
Some children dabbling in the mud found him, but that was a long time afterwards.
It was William Dowler, faithful to her for twenty-five years, who identified Charles Thompson’s body. A sick man at the time, he came up from Brighton to London to do so, a letter from her solicitors telling him of the discovery in the London river. Certain details tallied with descriptions of the missing brother, and Dowler, in his capacity of Trustee, braced himself to the task. He had never cared for Thompson, and when he stared down at all that remained of him in the mortuary, he thought how different life might have turned out for her if only the brother had drowned himself after he was cashiered, seventeen years before. Different for Dowler, too. She would have turned to him, brokenhearted, and he could have taken her away to forget all about it, instead of which bitterness and anger drove her to revenge. Well, there he lay, the cause of so much trouble. Her “precious brother,” as she used to call him, her “darling boy.”
Back again in Brighton, Dowler wondered if his dislike of Thompson had been jealousy all the time. He had accepted her many friends, they never seemed to matter—sycophants, most of them, courting her for what they could get. One or two more intimate, perhaps, but he had shut his eyes to that. As to the Duke, after the first shock to the emotions he had looked upon that relationship as a necessity, a matter of business. Nothing he might have said would have stopped her.
“I told you that I aimed high,” she had said to him, “and the arrow’s found its mark. I shall still need you in the background.”
And in the background he had remained. He waited on her when she summoned him. He gave her advice, which she never took. He paid her bills when the Duke forgot to do so. He even took her diamonds out of pawn. The final degradation of escorting her children back to school had been thrust upon him, while she followed His Royal Highness down to Weybridge.
Why had he done it? What had he got out of it all?
Staring at the sea that broke so serenely on the Brighton shore, William Dowler thought of the weeks they had shared there together, before the Duke appeared upon the scene. Of course she had been in search of quarry even then—Cripplegate Barrymore and the Four-in-Hand gallants—but he had been too much in love to notice or to care.
Hampstead had been the happiest—she had needed him then, running to him on impulse from her sick child’s bedroom. Later, when the Duke left her, she had needed him even more. Hampstead revisited, he had believed at that time she had no thoughts for anyone but him, but with her restless mind he could not be sure.
Finally, was it emotion that sent her to him that night in Reid’s Hotel, barely an hour after he had arrived from Lisbon, travel-stained and weary? She had flung a cloak round her shoulders—there was no attempt at disguise. “You’ve been away too long,” she said. “I’ve wanted your help so much!” Or was her visit exquisitely timed to catch him unawares, knowing his weakness for her, certain in her intuitive mind that he would make a most valuable witness for her before the bar of the House of Commons?
There was no answer to that, or to any other questions. No matter, the smile remained. William Dowler turned his back on the sea, and stood still for a moment with the other promenaders, his hat in his hand, as like an echo to memory a carriage drove past containing a stout, elderly gentleman and a little girl.
It was the Duke of York and his niece, the Princess Victoria. The Duke had aged lately—he looked a great deal more than sixty-two. Still the same high color, though, the same stiff military bearing, his hand half raised in a salute as he acknowledged the passers-by. Then Dowler saw him bend and smile down at the child who looked up to him, laughing, and for the first time in his life he felt a stab of pity for the man he had once envied.
There was something pathetic in the sight of the old fellow sitting there in the carriage in the company of the child, and Dowler wondered if he was very lonely. Gossip said that he could not get over the death of his last love, the Duchess of Rutland, but gossip could say anything, as Dowler knew too well. There was more likelihood of truth in the rumor that dropsy would carry him off before many months were past, and when that happened the more scurrilous newspapers would rake up the old mud of the Investigation, and side by side with the black-edged obituary notices Dowler would see her name splashed once again.
He was spared this ordeal by dying himself just four months before the Duke, and it was the Duke who read Dowler’s obituary tucked away in an old number of the Gentleman’s Magazine. He was sitting in the library of the house in Arlington Street, wrapped in a gray dressing-gown, his swollen bandaged legs propped up in the chair in front of him. He must have fallen asleep—he tired very easily these days, though he said little about it, even to Herbert Taylor, his private secretary; but everyone told him he was very ill and must rest, from his brother the King down to the useless muddling doctors who called every morning.
Dowler… What did the magazine say? “The death occurred at Brighton on the 7th of September of William Dowler, Esq., late Commissioner of His Majesty’s Forces.” And the Duke was not sitting, crippled and useless, in Rutland’s house in Arlington Street anymore, but standing in the hall of the house in Gloucester Place, taking off his sword belt and throwing it to Ludovick, and then mounting the stairs, three steps at a time, as she called to him from the floor above. “Sir, I expected you hours ago!” The little ritual of ceremony meant nothing at all—it was just in case the servants should hear—and while she dropped her absurd curtsey (she adored doing this, no matter how she was dressed, from ball gown to night attire) he kicked the door open with his boot, slamming it behind him, and in a moment she was in his arms, undoing the top button of his tunic.
“What kept you this time? The Horse Guards or St. James’s?”
“Both, my darling. Try and remember we’re at war.”
“I never forget it for a moment. You’d get through your business quicker if you’d kept Clinton as your M.S. instead of Gordon.”
“Why not run the office for me?”
“I’ve been doing so, behind the scenes, for the past six months. Tell your tailor he makes these buttonholes too small, my nail’s broken.”
Dowler… William Dowler… That was the chap. He’d found him a job in the Commissariat. Stores and Provisions, Eastern Command. He could even remember the date, June or July, 1805.
“Bill Dowler’s a very old friend, sir,” she had said. “If he gets this appointment he will show his gratitude to me.”
He was half asleep at the time—it was the last glass of port that did it. Always fatal. Her head on his shoulder, too.
“How will he show it?”
“By doing whatever I tell him. He could pay the butcher’s bill, for instance—it’s been outstanding for three months. That’s why you had fish for dinner tonight.”
God! How the ghost of her laugh
came echoing out of the past to haunt him. Here, suddenly, in Arlington Street, that held no memories of her. He thought they were all buried long ago, hidden away in the dust and cobwebs of the empty house in Gloucester Place.
At the Investigation it turned out that Dowler had given her a thousand quid for that appointment, and had been her lover, off and on, for years. So they said. Probably all lies. What did it matter now? The havoc she had caused in his life was only temporary. He had lived it down. And there had never been another woman to touch her, though Lord knows he had done his best to find one. They all lacked that indefinable quality which had made those brief years in Gloucester Place so memorable. He used to go back there in the evening after an interminable day at his Headquarters, and she made him forget all the frustration and obstruction and annoyance that inevitably fell to his lot as Commander-in-Chief of an army fifty times smaller than that of the enemy. (He had got all the abuse and none of the praise, and it hadn’t been easy dealing with a lot of nincompoops and struggling to put the home defenses in order while the enemy squatted across the Channel waiting the right moment for invasion.) But once he was inside that house the irritation went from him and he could relax.
She fed him so damn well. Knew his hatred of big dinners. Everything just right. And then to be able to stretch himself full length before a blazing fire and drink his brandy, while she made him laugh with idiocies. He could remember the very smell of the room, the slight disorder everywhere that made it a home, her painting attempts on the table—she was always taking lessons at something—the harp in the corner, the ridiculous doll that she had brought back from some masquerade perching from the chandelier where she had thrown it.
Why had it ended? Too hot to last, or that meddler Adam interfering in the affair and making mischief? Or the drunken sot of a husband with his threats? He must have finished in the gutter. Dead, probably. Everyone was either dead or dying. He was dying himself. He pulled the bell for his personal servant Batchelor.
“What’s the movement I hear going on outside in the street?”
“They are laying straw, Your Royal Highness, in Piccadilly, so that you won’t be disturbed by the sound of the traffic. Sir Herbert Taylor’s orders.”
“Damn nonsense. Tell ’em to stop. I like the sound of traffic. I hate silence.”
There had been a barracks at the back of Gloucester Place. They used to look down on the Life Guards, riding, from the window of his dressing room. There was always life in that house, and laughter, always something afoot—singing as she dressed her hair; calling to her children, who had the run of the top floor when they visited her; hurling abuse at the maid when she put out the wrong pair of shoes. It was never silent, like this, never dead.
The damned old idiot, Taylor, ordering straw to be laid in Piccadilly…
The husband whom the Duke of York had called a drunken sot preferred silence to the sound of traffic. It was softer to the backside to fall on heather than in gutters. Not that he fell often. Sutherland the farmer, with whom he lodged and who looked after him so well, took good care of that. He kept the whiskey locked up. But Joseph Clarke had a private store hidden away under the floorboards of his bedroom, and now and then, when melancholy descended upon him—and the winters in Caithness were very long—he held what he called a little celebration all to himself, and when he was well lit, but still in the first stage of his bout, he solemnly drank the health of His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief.
“It’s not everyone,” he said aloud, with no one to listen, “who has been made a cuckold by a prince of the blood.”
Unfortunately this mood was not one that lasted long. Self-pity followed. He might have achieved so much, but the fates were against him. He’d had ill luck from beginning to end. He knew so well the kind of work he would have done, but there was never a chance to show it—he could not get going, something always happened to prevent it. If someone would only put a hammer and a chisel into his hand now, and stand him before a block of granite six feet high, or perhaps six foot three, the height of the Commander-in-Chief, he would… he would create the masterpiece she had always asked him to create. Or else break the stone to blazes, and finish the whiskey.
There was far too much granite in Caithness anyway. There was granite all over the county. That’s why he’d been sent there in the first place. “You were bred a mason, weren’t you? Well, get on with it.” A mason? No! An artist, a sculptor, a dreamer of dreams. All three combined, after a bottle of whiskey.
Yet she had had the face to stand up in the House of Commons and tell the Attorney-General, and the whole crowd assembled there to listen, that he was nothing.
“Is your husband living?”
“I don’t know if he is living or dead. He is nothing to me.”
“Was he in any business?”
“He was nothing. Merely a man.”
And they laughed when she said this. It was written in the paper. He bought it and read. They laughed. Merely a man.
He forgot the insult with the third glass of whiskey. Throwing the window wide so that the Scotch mist filled the cold bedroom, he lay down on the bed and stared at the ceiling. And instead of the heads of saints he might have carved, remote, austere, with blind eyes looking to heaven, he saw the smile and heard the laugh, and she was holding out her hand to him in the early morning as they stood in the little churchyard of St. Pancras.
“Something fearful has happened,” he said. “I’ve forgotten the license.”
“I have it,” she answered; “and there has to be a second witness. I thought of that too.”
“Who is it?”
“The gravedigger at Pancras church. I’ve given him two shillings for his pains. Hurry. They’re waiting.”
She was so excited that she signed her name before his on the register. It was her sixteenth birthday.
Nothing but a man. Though he got his obituary, too. Not in The Times, nor in the Gentleman’s Magazine, but in John O’Groats Journal.
“Died, on the 9th of February 1836, at the house of Mr. Sutherland, of Bylbster, Parish of Wattin, in this County, Mr. J. Clarke, generally believed to be the husband of the celebrated Mary Anne Clarke, remarkable for having acted such a conspicuous part during the trial of His Royal Highness the late Duke of York. He had for some time been addicted to intemperate habits, which, together with the severe domestic misfortune he had been subjected to, had visibly affected his mind. Several books, it is said, were found in his possession, in which was written the name of Mary Anne Clarke.”
So the last link went, wafted to eternity in a haze of alcohol, and nothing was left of any of them but bundles of letters and scurrilous pamphlets and old newspaper reports dingy with dust. But the owner of the smile had the laugh on them, right to the end. She was not a ghost, nor a memory, nor a figment of the imagination seen in a dream long vanished, breaking the hearts of those who had loved her unwisely and too well. At seventy-six, she sat at the window of her house in Boulogne, looking across the Channel to an England that had forgotten all about her. Her favorite daughter was dead, and the second lived in London, and the grandchildren she had nursed as babies were ashamed of her and never wrote. The son she adored had his own life to lead. The men and women she had known had passed into oblivion.
The dreams were all hers.
Mary Anne’s first memory was the smell of printer’s ink. Her stepfather, Bob Farquhar, used to come back with it on his clothes, and then she and her mother would have a job with it in the wash. However hard they scrubbed the stain remained, and his shirt cuffs never looked clean. He never looked clean himself, for that matter, and her mother, who was spotless and very refined, continually grumbled at him. He would sit down to the evening meal with ink-stained hands—the stuff even got under his fingernails, turning them black—and Mary Anne, quick and watchful, would see the pained expression on her mother’s face, the gentle face of the martyr, the long-sufferer; and because she was fond of her step
father and disliked to see him nagged, Mary Anne would pinch one of her brothers under the table to make him cry out, and so cause a diversion.
“Shut your mouth,” said Bob Farquhar; “I can’t hear myself eat.” Noisily he would slop the food into his mouth, drag a stub of pencil and a roll of copy out of his pocket with his left hand, the copy still wet and reeking from the press, and so he would eat and correct all at the same time, the smell of the ink mingling with the steam of the gravy.
This was how Mary Anne taught herself to read. Words fascinated her, the shape of the curling letters, how some, by repeating themselves more often, had importance. They had difference of sex, too. The a’s, the e’s and the u’s were women; the hard g’s, the b’s and the q’s were all men, and seemed to depend on the others.
“What does that mean? Spell it out!” she said to Bob Farquhar, and her stepfather, easy-going, good-natured, put his arm round the child and showed her how letters formed words and what could be done with them. This was the only reading matter that came her way, for her mother’s books and possessions had been sold long ago to supplement the small income Bob Farquhar earned from Mr. Hughes, owner of the printing press where he worked: who, employed by certain anonymous scribblers, turned out a spate of pamphlets at a halfpenny a sheet.
Thus Mary Anne, at an age when most children would be learning their catechism or spelling out proverbs, sat on the doorstep of the cramped house in Bowling Inn Alley, poring over attacks on the Government, outbursts on foreign policy, hysterical acclaim or equally hysterical denunciation of popular leaders, the whole mixed up with a profusion of dirt, scandal and innuendo.
“Look after the boys, Mary Anne, and see to the dishes for me,” her mother would call, tired and fretful, and her small daughter, laying aside the grubby sheets of newsprint that her stepfather had left behind him, would get up from the doorway and wash the breakfast things, or whatever meal it was that her mother, pregnant again, could not face: while Charley, her own brother, helped himself to the jam, and her two half brothers, George and Eddie, crawled on the floor under her feet.