During those early days Miriam realised that school routine, as she knew it⁠—the planned days⁠—the regular unvarying succession of lessons and preparations, had no place in this new world. Even the masters’ lessons, coming in from outside and making a kind of framework of appointments over the otherwise fortuitously occupied days, were, she soon found, not always securely calculable. Herr Kapellmeister Bossenberger would be heard booming and intoning in the hall unexpectedly at all hours. He could be heard all over the house. Miriam had never seen him, but she noticed that great haste was always made to get a pupil to the Saal and that he taught impatiently. He shouted and corrected and mimicked. Only Millie’s singing, apparently, he left untouched. You could hear her lilting away through her little high songs as serenely as she did at Vorspielen.

Miriam was at once sure that he found his task of teaching these girls an extremely tiresome one.

Probably most teachers found teaching tiresome. But there was something peculiar and new to her in Herr Bossenberger’s attitude. She tried to account for it⁠ ⁠… German men despised women. Why did they teach them anything at all?

The same impression, the sense of a half-impatient, half-exasperated tuition came to her from the lectures of Herr Winter and Herr Schraub.

Herr Winter, a thin tall withered-looking man with shabby hair and bony hands whose veins stood up in knots, drummed on the table as he taught botany and geography. The girls sat round bookless and politely attentive and seemed, the Germans at least, to remember all the facts for which he appealed during the last few minutes of his hour. Miriam could never recall anything but his weary withered face.

Herr Schraub, the teacher of history, was, she felt, almost openly contemptuous of his class. He would begin lecturing, almost before he was inside the door. He taught from a book, sitting with downcast eyes, his round red mass of face⁠—expressionless save for the bristling spikes of his tiny straw-coloured moustache and the rapid movements of his tight rounded little lips⁠—persistently averted from his pupils. For the last few minutes of his time he would, ironically, his eyes fixed ahead of him at a point on the table, snap questions⁠—indicating his aim with a tapping finger, going round the table like a dealer at cards. Surely the girls must detest him.⁠ ⁠… The Germans made no modification of their polite attentiveness. Amongst the English only Gertrude and the Martins found any answers for him. Miriam, proud of sixth-form history essays and the full marks she had generally claimed for them, had no memory for facts and dates; but she made up her mind that were she ever so prepared with a correct reply, nothing should drag from her any response to these military tappings. Fräulein presided over these lectures from the corner of the sofa out of range of the eye of the teacher and horrified Miriam by voicelessly prompting the girls whenever she could. There was no kind of preparation for these lessons.

Miriam mused over the difference between the bearing of these men and that of the masters she remembered and tried to find words. What was it? Had her masters been more⁠—respectful than these Germans were? She felt they had. But it was not only that. She recalled the men she remembered teaching week by week through all the years she had known them⁠ ⁠… the little bolster-like literature master, an albino, a friend of Browning, reading, reading to them as if it were worthwhile, as if they were equals⁠ ⁠… interested friends⁠—that had never struck her at the time.⁠ ⁠… But it was true⁠—she could not remember ever having felt a schoolgirl⁠ ⁠… or being “talked down” to⁠ ⁠… dear Stroodie, the music master, and Monsieur⁠—old white-haired Monsieur, dearest of all, she could hear his gentle voice pleading with them on behalf of his treasures⁠ ⁠… the drilling master with his keen, friendly blue eye⁠ ⁠… the briefless barrister who had taught them arithmetic in a baritone voice, laughing all the time but really wanting them to get on.

What was it she missed? Was it that her old teachers were “gentlemen” and these Germans were not? She pondered over this and came to the conclusion that the whole attitude of the Englishman and of Monsieur, her one Frenchman, towards her sex was different from that of these Germans. It occurred to her once in a flash during these puzzled musings that the lessons she had had at school would not have been given more zestfully, more as if it were worthwhile, had she and her schoolfellows been boys. Here she could not feel that. The teaching was grave enough. The masters felt the importance of what they taught⁠ ⁠… she felt that they were formal, reverently formal, “pompous” she called it, towards the facts that they flung out down the long schoolroom table, but that the relationship of their pupils to these facts seemed a matter of less than indifference to them.

She began to recognise now with a glow of gratitude that her own teachers, those who were enthusiastic about their subjects⁠—the albino, her dear Monsieur with his classic French prose, a young woman who had taught them logic and the beginning of psychology⁠—that strange, new subject⁠—were at least as enthusiastic about getting her and her mates awake and into relationship with something. They cared somehow.

She recalled the albino, his face and voice generally separated from his class by a book held vertically, close to his left eye, while he blocked the right eye with his free hand⁠—his faintly wheezy tones bleating triumphantly out at the end of a passage from The Ring and the Book, as he lowered his volume and bent beaming towards them all, his right eye still blocked, for response. Miss Donne, her skimpy skirt powdered with chalk, explaining a syllogism from the blackboard, turning quietly to them, her face all aglow, her chalky hands gently pressed together, “Do you see? Does anyone see?” Monsieur, spoiling them, sharpening their pencils, letting them cheat over their pages of rules, knowing quite well that each learned only one and directing his questioning accordingly, Monsieur dreaming over the things he read to them, repeating passages, wandering from his subject, making allusions here and there⁠—and all of them, she, at any rate, and Lilla⁠—she knew, often⁠—in paradise. How rich and friendly and helpful they all seemed.

She began to wonder whether hers had been in some way a specially good school. Things had mattered there. Somehow the girls had been made to feel they mattered. She remembered even old Stroodie⁠—the least attached member of the staff⁠—asking her suddenly, once, in the middle of a music lesson what she was going to do with her life and a day when the artistic vice principal⁠—who was a connection by marriage of Holman Hunt’s and had met Ruskin, Miriam knew, several times⁠—had gone from girl to girl round the collected fifth and sixth forms asking them each what they would best like to do in life. Miriam had answered at once with a conviction born that moment that she wanted to “write a book.” It irritated her when she remembered during these reflections that she had not been able to give to Fräulein Pfaff’s public questioning any intelligible account of the school. She might at least have told her of the connection with Ruskin and Browning and Holman Hunt, whereas her muddled replies had led Fräulein to decide that her school had been “a kind of high school.” She knew it had not been this. She felt there was something questionable about a high school. She was beginning to think that her school had been very good. Pater had seen to that⁠—that was one of the things he had steered and seen to. There had been a school they might have gone to higher up the hill where one learned needlework even in the “first class” as they called it instead of the sixth form as at her school, and “Calisthenics” instead of drilling⁠—and something called elocution⁠—where the girls were “finished.” It was an expensive school. Had the teachers there taught the girls⁠ ⁠… as if they had no minds? Perhaps that school was more like the one she found herself in now? She wondered and wondered. What was she going to do with her life after all these years at the good school? She began bit by bit to understand her agony on the day of leaving. It was there she belonged. She ought to go back and go on.

One day she lay twisted and convulsed, face downwards on her bed at the thought that she could never go back and begin. If only she could really begin now, knowing what she wanted.⁠ ⁠… She would talk now with those teachers.⁠ ⁠… Isn’t it all wonderful! Aren’t things wonderful! Tell me some more.⁠ ⁠… She felt sure that if she could go back, things would get clear. She would talk and think and understand.⁠ ⁠… She did not linger over that. It threatened a storm whose results would be visible. She wondered what the other girls were doing⁠—Lilla? She had heard nothing of her since that last term. She would write to her one day, perhaps. Perhaps not.⁠ ⁠… She would have to tell her that she was a governess. Lilla would think that very funny and would not care for her now that she was so old and worried.⁠ ⁠…

Woven through her retrospective appreciations came a doubt. She wondered whether, after all, her school had been right. Whether it ought to have treated them all so seriously. If she had gone to the other school she was sure she would never have heard of the Aesthetic Movement or felt troubled about the state of Ireland and India. Perhaps she would have grown up a Churchwoman⁠ ⁠… and “ladylike.” Never.

She could only think that somehow she must be “different”; that a sprinkling of the girls collected in that school were different, too. The school she decided was new⁠—modern⁠—Ruskin. Most of the girls perhaps had not been affected by it. But some had. She had. The thought stirred her. She had. It was mysterious. Was it the school or herself? Herself to begin with. If she had been brought up differently, it could not, she felt sure, have made her very different⁠—for long⁠—nor taught her to be affable⁠—to smile that smile she hated so. The school had done something to her. It had not gone against the things she found in herself. She wondered once or twice during these early weeks what she would have been like if she had been brought up with these German girls. What they were going to do with their lives was only too plain. All but Emma, she had been astounded to discover, had already a complete outfit of house linen to which they were now adding fine embroideries and laces. All could cook. Minna had startled her one day by exclaiming with lit face, “Ach, ich koche so schrecklich gern!”⁠ ⁠… Oh, I am so frightfully fond of cooking.⁠ ⁠… And they were placid and serene, secure in a kind of security Miriam had never met before. They did not seem to be in the least afraid of the future. She envied that. Their eyes and their hands were serene.⁠ ⁠… They would have houses and things they could do and understand, always.⁠ ⁠… How they must want to begin, she mused.⁠ ⁠… What a prison school must seem.

She thought of their comfortable German homes, of ruling and shopping and directing and being looked up to.⁠ ⁠… German husbands.

That thought she shirked. Emma in particular she could not contemplate in relation to a German husband.

In any case one day these girls would be middle-aged⁠ ⁠… as Clara looked now⁠ ⁠… they would look like the German women on the boulevards and in the shops.

In the end she ceased to wonder that the German masters dealt out their wares to these girls so superciliously.

And yet⁠ ⁠… German music, a line of German poetry, a sudden light on Clara’s face.⁠ ⁠…

There was one other teacher, a Swiss and some sort of minister she supposed as everyone called him the Herr Pastor. She wondered whether he was in any sense the spiritual adviser of the school and regarded him with provisional suspicion. She had seen him once, sitting short and very black and white at the head of the schoolroom table. His black beard and dark eyes as he sat with his back to the window made his face gleam like a mask. He had spoken very rapidly as he told the girls the life story of some poet.

The time that was not taken up by the masters and the regular succession of rich and savoury meals⁠—wastefully plentiful they seemed to Miriam⁠—was filled in by Fräulein Pfaff with occupations devised apparently from hour to hour. On a master’s morning the girls collected in the schoolroom one by one as they finished their bed-making and dusting. On other days the time immediately after breakfast was full of uncertainty and surmise. Judging from the interchange between the four first-floor bedrooms whose doors were always open during this bustling interval, Miriam, listening apprehensively as she did her share of work on the top floor, gathered that the lack of any planned programme was a standing annoyance to the English girls. Millie, still imperfectly acclimatised, carrying out her duties in a large bibbed apron, was plaintive about it in her conscientious German nearly every morning. The Martins, when the sense of Fräulein as providence was strong upon them made their beds vindictively, rapping out sarcasms to be alternately mocked and giggled at by Jimmie who was generally heard, as the gusts subsided, dispensing the comforting assurance that it wouldn’t last forever. Miriam once heard even Judy grumbling to herself in a mumbling undertone as she carried the lower landing’s collective Wäsche upstairs to the back attic to await the quarterly Waschfrau.

The German side of the landing was uncritical. On free mornings the Germans had one preoccupation. It was generally betrayed by Emma in a loud excited whisper, aimed across the landing: “Gehen wir zu Kreipe? Do we go to Kreipe’s?” “Kreipe, Kreipe,” Minna and Clara would chorus devoutly from their respective rooms. Gertrude on these occasions always had an air of knowledge and would sometimes prophesy. To what extent Fräulein did confide in the girl and how much was due to her experience of the elder woman’s habit of mind Miriam could never determine. But her prophecies were always fulfilled.

Fräulein, who generally went to the basement kitchen from the breakfast table, would be heard on the landing towards the end of the busy half hour, rallying and criticising the housemaids in her gentle caustic voice. She never came to the top floor. Miriam and Mademoiselle, who agreed in accomplishing their duties with great despatch and spending any spare time sitting in their jackets on their respective beds reading or talking, would listen for her departure. There was always a moment when they knew that the excitement was over and the landing stricken into certainty. Then Mademoiselle would flit to the top of the stairs and demand, leaning over the balustrade, “Eh bien! Eh bien!” and someone would retail directions.

Sometimes Anna would appear in her short, chequered cotton dress, shawled and with her market basket on her arm, and would summon Gertrude alone or with Solomon Martin to Fräulein’s room opposite the Saal on the ground floor. The appearance of Anna was the signal for bounding anticipations. It nearly always meant a holiday and an expedition.

During the cold weeks after Miriam’s arrival there were no expeditions; and very commonly uncertainty was prolonged by a provisional distribution of the ten girls between the kitchen and the five pianos. In this case neither she nor Mademoiselle received any instructions. Mademoiselle would go to the Saal with needlework, generally the lighter household mending. The Saal piano at practising time was allotted to the pupil to whom the next music lesson was due, and Mademoiselle spent the greater part of her time installed, either awaiting the possible arrival of Herr Bossenberger or presiding over his lessons when he came. Miriam, unprovided for, sitting in the schoolroom with a book, awaiting events, would watch her disappear unconcernedly through the folding doors, every time with fresh wonder. She did not want to take her place, though it would have meant listening to Herr Bossenberger’s teaching and a quiet alcove of freedom from the apprehensive uncertainty that hung over so many of her hours. It seemed to her odd, not quite the thing, to have a third person in the room at a music lesson. She tried to imagine a lesson being given to herself under these conditions. The thought was abhorrent. And Mademoiselle, of all people. Miriam could see her sitting in the Saal, wrapped in all the coolness of her complete insensibility to music, her eyes bent on her work, the quick movements of her small, thin hands, the darting gleam of her thimble, the dry way she had of clearing her throat, a gesture that was an accentuation of the slightly metallic quality of her voice, and expressed, for Miriam, in sound, that curious sense of circumspect frugality she was growing to realise as characteristic of Mademoiselle’s face in repose.

The Saal doors closed, the little door leading into the hall became the centre of Miriam’s attention. Before long, sometimes at the end of ten minutes, this door would open and the day become eventful. She had already taken Clara, with Emma, to make a third, three times to her masseuse, sitting for half an hour in a room above a chemist’s shop so stuffy beyond anything in her experience that she had carried away nothing but the sense of its closely-interwoven odours, a dim picture of Clara in a saffron-coloured wrapper and the shocked impression of the resounding thwackings undergone by her. Emma was paying a series of visits to the dentist and might appear at the schoolroom door with frightened eyes, holding it open⁠—“Hendchen! Ich muss zum Zahnarzt.” Miriam dreaded these excursions. The first time Miriam had accompanied her Emma had had “gas.” Miriam, assailed by a loud scream followed by the peremptory voices of two white-coated, fiercely moustached operators, one of whom seemed to be holding Emma in the chair, had started from her sofa in the background. “Brutes!” she had declared and reached the chair side voluble in unintelligible German to find Emma serenely emerging from unconsciousness. Once she had taken Gertrude to the dentist⁠—another dentist, an elderly man, practising in a frock coat in a heavily-furnished room with high sash windows, the lower sashes filled with stained glass. There had been a driving March wind and Gertrude with a shawl round her face had battled gallantly along shouting through her shawl. Miriam had made out nothing clearly, but the fact that the dentist’s wife had a title in her own right. Gertrude had gone through her trial, prolonged by some slight complication, without an anaesthetic, in alternations of tense silence and great gusts of her hacking laughter. Miriam, sitting strained in the far background near a screen covered with a mass of strange embroideries, wondered how she really felt. That, she realised with a vision of Gertrude going on through life in smart costumes, one would never know.

The thing Miriam dreaded most acutely was a visit with Minna to her aurist. She learned with horror that Minna was obliged every few months to submit to a series of small operations at the hands of the tall, scholarly-looking man, with large, clear, impersonal eyes, who carried on his practice high up in a great block of buildings in a small faded room with coarse coffee-coloured curtains at its smudgy windows. The character of his surroundings added a great deal to her abhorrence of his attentions to Minna.

The room was densely saturated with an odour which she guessed to be that of stale cigar smoke. It seemed so tangible in the room that she looked about at first for visible signs of its presence. It was like an invisible dry fog and seemed to affect her breathing.

Coming and going upon the dense staleness of the room and pervading the immediate premises was a strange savoury pungency. Miriam could not at first identify it. But as the visits multiplied and she noticed the same odour standing in faint patches here and there about the stairways and corridors of the block, it dawned upon her that it must be onions⁠—onions freshly frying but with a quality of accumulated richness that she could not explain. But the fact of the dominating kitchen side by side with the consulting room made her speculate. She imagined the doctor’s wife, probably in that kitchen, a hard-browed bony North German woman. She saw the clear-eyed man at his meals; and imagined his slippers. There were dingy books in the room where Minna started and moaned.

She compared this entourage with her recollection of her one visit to an oculist in Harley Street. His stately house, the exquisite freshness of his appointments and his person stood out now. The English she assured herself were more refined than the Germans. Even the local doctor at Barnes whose effect upon her mother’s perpetual ill health, upon Eve’s nerves and Sarah’s mysterious indigestion was so impermanent that the very sound of his name exasperated her, had something about him that she failed entirely to find in this German⁠—something she could respect. She wondered whether the professional classes in Germany were all like this specialist and living in this way. Minna’s parents she knew were paying large fees.

These dreaded expeditions brought a compensation.

Her liking for Minna grew with each visit. She wondered at her. Here she was with her nose and her ear⁠—she was subject to rheumatism too⁠—it would always, Miriam reflected, be doctor’s treatment for her. She wondered at her perpetual cheerfulness. She saw her with a pang of pity, going through life with her illnesses, capped in defiance of all the care she bestowed on her person, with her disconcerting nose, a nose she reflected, that would do splendidly for charades.

On several occasions a little contingent selected from the pianos and kitchen had appeared in the schoolroom and settled down to read German with Fräulein. Miriam had been despatched to a piano. After these readings the mid-morning lunching plates of sweet custardlike soup or chocolate soup or perhaps glasses of sweet syrup and biscuits⁠—were, if Fräulein were safely out of earshot, voluble indignation meetings. If she were known to be in the room beyond the little schoolroom, lunch was taken in silence except for Gertrude’s sallies, cheerful generalisations from Minna or Jimmie, and grudging murmurs of response.

On the mornings of Fräulein’s German readings the school never went to Kreipe’s. Going to Kreipe’s Miriam perceived was a sign of fair weather.

They had been twice since her coming. Sitting at a little marble-topped table with the Bergmanns near the window and overlooking the full flood of the Georgstraße Miriam felt a keen renewal of the sense of being abroad. Here she sat, in the little enclosure of this upper room above a shopful of strange Delikatessen, securely adrift. Behind her she felt, not home but the German school where she belonged. Here they all sat, free. Germany was all around them. They were in the midst of it. Fräulein Pfaff seemed far away.⁠ ⁠… How strange of her to send them there.⁠ ⁠… She glanced towards the two tables of English girls in the centre of the room wondering whether they felt as she did.⁠ ⁠… They had come to Germany. They were sharing it with her. It must be changing them. They must be different for having come. They would all go back she supposed. But they would not be the same as those who had never come. She was sure they felt something of this. They were sitting about in easy attitudes. How English they all looked⁠ ⁠… for a moment she wanted to go and sit with them⁠—just sit with them, rejoice in being abroad; in having got away. She imagined all their people looking in and seeing them so thoroughly at home in this little German restaurant free from home influences, in a little world of their own. She felt a pang of response as she heard their confidently raised voices. She could see they were all, even Judy, a little excited. They chaffed each other.

Gertrude had taken everyone’s choice between coffee and chocolate and given an order.

Orders for Schokolade were heard from all over the room. There were only women there⁠—wonderful German women in twos and threes⁠—ladies out shopping, Miriam supposed. She managed intermittently to watch three or four of them and wondered what kind of conversation made them so emphatic⁠—whether it was because they held themselves so well and “spoke out” that everything they said seemed so important. She had never seen women with so much decision in their bearing. She found herself drawing herself up.

She heard German laughter about the room. The sounds excited her and she watched eagerly for laughing faces.⁠ ⁠… They were different.⁠ ⁠… The laughter sounded differently and the laughing faces were different. The eyes were expressionless as they laughed⁠—or evil⁠ ⁠… they had that same knowing way of laughing as though everything were settled⁠—but they did not pretend to be refined as Englishwomen did⁠ ⁠… they had the same horridness⁠ ⁠… but they were⁠ ⁠… jolly.⁠ ⁠… They could shout if they liked.

Three cups of thick-looking chocolate, each supporting a little hillock of solid cream arrived at her table. Clara ordered cakes.

At the first sip, taken with lips that slid helplessly on the surprisingly thick rim of her cup Miriam renounced all the beverages she had ever known as unworthy.

She chose a familiar-looking éclair⁠—Clara and Emma ate cakes that seemed to be alternate slices of cream and very spongy coffee-coloured cake and then followed Emma’s lead with an open tartlet on which plump green gooseberries stood in a thick brown syrup.

During dinner Fräulein Pfaff went the round of the table with questions as to what had been consumed at Kreipe’s. The whole of the table on her right confessed to one Kuchen with their chocolate. In each case she smiled gravely and required the cake to be described. The meaning of the pilgrimage of enquiry came to Miriam when Fräulein reached Gertrude and beamed affectionately in response to her careless “Schokolade und ein Biskuit.” Miriam and the Bergmanns were alone in their excesses.

Even walks were incalculable excepting on Saturdays, when at noon Anna turned out the schoolrooms. Then⁠—unless to Miriam’s great satisfaction it rained and they had a little festival shut in in holiday mood in the Saal, the girls playing and singing, Anna loudly obliterating the weekdays next door and the secure harbour of Sunday ahead⁠—they went methodically out and promenaded the streets of Hanover for an hour. These Saturday walks were a recurring humiliation. If they had occurred daily, some crisis, she felt sure would have arisen for her.

The little party would file out under the leadership of Gertrude⁠—Fräulein Pfaff smiling parting directions adjuring them to come back safe and happy to the beehive and stabbing at them all the while, Miriam felt, with her keen eye⁠—through the high doorway that pierced the high wall and then⁠—charge down the street. Gertrude alone, having been in Hanover and under Fräulein Pfaff’s care since her ninth year, was instructed as to the detail of their tour and she swung striding on ahead, the ends of her long fur boa flying out in the March wind, making a flourishing scrollwork round her bounding tailor-clad form⁠—the Martins, short-skirted and thick-booted, with hard cloth jackets and hard felt hats, and short thick pelerines almost running on either side, Jimmie, Millie and Judy hard behind. Miriam’s ever-recurring joyous sense of emergence and her longing to go leisurely and alone along these wonderful streets, to go on and on at first and presently to look, had to give way to the necessity of keeping Gertrude and her companions in sight. On they went relentlessly through the Saturday throng along the great Georgstraße⁠—a foreign paradise, with its great bright cafés and the strange promising detail of its shops⁠—tantalisingly half seen.

She hated, too, the discomfort of walking thus at this pace through streets along pavements in her winter clothes. They hampered her horribly. Her heavy three-quarter length cloth coat made her too warm and bumped against her as she hurried along⁠—the little fur pelerine which redeemed its plainness tickled her neck and she felt the outline of her stiff hat like a board against her uneasy forehead. Her inflexible boots soon tired her.⁠ ⁠… But these things she could have endured. They were not the main source of her troubles. She could have renounced the delights all round her, made terms with the discomforts and looked for alleviations. But it was during these walks that she began to perceive that she was making, in a way she had not at all anticipated, a complete failure of her role of English teacher. The three weeks’ haphazard curriculum had brought only one repetition of her English lesson in the smaller schoolroom; and excepting at meals, when whatever conversation there was was general and polyglot, she was never, in the house, alone with her German pupils. The cessation of the fixed readings arranged with her that first day by Fräulein Pfaff did not, in face of the general absence of method, at all disturb her. Mademoiselle’s classes had, she discovered, except for the weekly mending long since lapsed altogether. These walks, she soon realised, were supposed to be her and her pupils’ opportunity. No doubt Fräulein Pfaff believed that they represented so many hours of English conversation⁠—and they did not. It was cheating, pure and simple. She thought of fee-paying parents, of the probable prospectus. “French and English governesses.”

Her growing conviction and the distress of it were confirmed each week by a spectacle she could not escape and was rapidly growing to hate. Just in front of her and considerably behind the flying van, her full wincey skirt billowing out beneath what seemed to Miriam a dreadfully thin little close-fitting stockinette jacket, trotted Mademoiselle⁠—one hand to the plain brim of her large French hat, and obviously conversational with either Minna and Elsa or Clara and Emma on either side of her. Generally it was Minna and Elsa, Minna brisk and trim and decorous as to her neat plaid skirt, however hurried, and Elsa showing her distress by the frequent twisting of one or other of her ankles which looked, to Miriam, like sticks above her high-heeled shoes. Mademoiselle’s broad hat brim flapped as her head turned from one companion to the other. Sometimes Miriam caught the mocking tinkle of her laughter. That all three were interested, too, Miriam gathered from the fact that they could not always be relied upon to follow Gertrude. The little party had returned one day in two separate groups, fortunately meeting before the Waldstraße gate was reached, owing to Mademoiselle’s failure to keep Gertrude in sight. There was no doubt, too, that the medium of their intercourse was French, for Mademoiselle’s knowledge of German had not, for all her six months at the school, got beyond a few simple and badly managed words and phrases. Miriam felt that this French girl was perfectly carrying out Fräulein Pfaff’s design. She talked to her pupils, made them talk; the girls were amused and happy and were picking up French. It was admirable and it was wonderful to Miriam because she felt quite sure that Mademoiselle had no clear idea in her own mind that she was carrying out any design at all. That irritated Miriam. Mademoiselle liked talking to her girls. Miriam was beginning to know that she did not want to talk to her girls. Almost from the first she had begun to know it. She felt sure that if Fräulein Pfaff had been invisibly present at any one of her solitary conversational encounters with these German girls she would have been judged and condemned. Elsa Speier had been the worst. Miriam could see as she thought of her, the angle of the high garden wall of a corner house in Waldstraße and above it a blossoming almond tree. “How lovely that tree is,” she had said. She remembered trying hard to talk and to make her talk and making no impression upon the girl. She remembered monosyllables and the pallid averted face and Elsa’s dreadful ankles. She had walked along intent and indifferent and presently she had felt a sort of irritation rise through her struggling. And then further on in the walk, she could not remember how it had arisen, there was a moment when Elsa had said with unmoved, averted face hurriedly, “My fazzer is offitser”⁠—and it seemed to Miriam as if this were the answer to everything she had tried to say, to her remark about the almond tree and everything else; and then she felt that there was nothing more to be said between them. They were both quite silent. Everything seemed settled. Miriam’s mind called up a picture of a middle-aged man in a Saxon blue uniform⁠—all voice and no brains⁠—and going to take to gardening in his old age⁠—and longed to tell Elsa of her contempt for all military men. Clearly she felt Elsa’s and Elsa’s mother’s feeling towards herself. Elsa’s mother had thin ankles, too, and was like Elsa intent and cold and dead. She could imagine Elsa in society now⁠—hard and thin and glittery⁠—she would be stylish⁠—military men’s women always were. The girl had avoided being with her during walks since then, and they never voluntarily addressed one another. Minna and the Bergmanns had talked to her. Minna responded to everything she said in her eager husky voice⁠—not because she was interested Miriam felt, but because she was polite, and it had tired her once or twice dreadfully to go on “making conversation” with Minna. She had wanted to like being with these three. She felt she could give them something. It made her full of solicitude to glance at either of them at her side. She had longed to feel at home with them and to teach them things worth teaching; they seemed pitiful in some way, like children in her hands. She did not know how to begin. All her efforts and their efforts left them just as pitiful.

Each occasion left her more puzzled and helpless. Now and again she thought there was going to be a change. She would feel a stirring of animation in her companions. Then she would discover that someone was being discussed, generally one of the girls; or perhaps they were beginning to tell her something about Fräulein Pfaff, or talking about food. These topics made her feel ill at ease at once. Things were going wrong. It was not to discuss such things that they were together out in the air in the wonderful streets and boulevards of Hanover. She would grow cold and constrained, and the conversation would drop.

And then, suddenly, within a day or so of each other, dreadful things had happened.

The first had come on the second occasion of her going with Minna to see Dr. Dieckel. Minna, as they were walking quietly along together had suddenly begun in a broken English which soon turned to shy, fluent, animated German, to tell about a friend, an Apotheker, a man, Miriam gathered⁠—missing many links in her amazement⁠—in a shop, the chemist’s shop where her parents dealt, in the little country town in Pomerania which was her home. Minna was so altered, looked so radiantly happy whilst she talked about this man that Miriam had wanted to put out a hand and touch her. Afterwards she could recall the sound of her voice as it was at that moment with its yearning and its promise and its absolute confidence, Minna was so certain of her happiness⁠—at the end of each hurried little phrase her voice sounded like a chord⁠—like three strings sounding at once on some strange instrument.

And soon afterwards Emma had told her very gravely, with Clara walking a little aloof, her doglike eyes shining as she gazed into the distance, of a “most beautiful man” with a brown moustache, with whom Clara was in love. He was there in the town, in Hanover, a hair specialist, treating Clara’s thin short hair.

Even Emma had a Jüngling. He had a very vulgar surname, too vulgar to be spoken; it was breathed against Miriam’s shoulder in the half-light. Miriam was begged to forget it at once and to remember only the beautiful little name that preceded it.

At the time she had timidly responded to all these stories and had felt glad that the confidences had come to her.

Mademoiselle, she knew, had never received them.

But after these confidences there were no more serious attempts at general conversation.

Miriam felt ashamed of her share in the hairdresser and the chemist. Emma’s Jüngling might possibly be a student.⁠ ⁠… She grieved over the things that she felt were lying neglected, “things in general” she felt sure she ought to discuss with the girls⁠ ⁠… improving the world⁠ ⁠… leaving it better than you found it⁠ ⁠… the importance of life⁠ ⁠… sleeping and dreaming that life was beauty and waking and finding it was duty⁠ ⁠… making things better, reforming⁠ ⁠… being a reformer.⁠ ⁠… Pater always said young people always wanted to reform the universe⁠ ⁠… perhaps it was so⁠ ⁠… and nothing could be done. Clearly she was not the one to do anything. She could do nothing even with these girls and she was nearly eighteen.

Once or twice she wondered whether they ever had thoughts about things⁠ ⁠… she felt they must; if only she were not shy, if she had a different manner, she would find out. She knew she despised them as they were. She could do nothing. Her fine ideas were no good. She did less than silly little Mademoiselle. And all the time Fräulein thinking she was talking and influencing them was keeping her⁠ ⁠… in Germany.