Authors: James Hanley
EARLY BIRD BOOKS
FRESH EBOOK DEALS, DELIVERED DAILY
BE THE FIRST TO KNOW ABOUT
FREE AND DISCOUNTED EBOOKS
NEW DEALS HATCH EVERY DAY!
The Secret Journey
Mrs. Anna Ragner was a lady who had certain very definite ideas not only about the state of the world, but about the society which inhabited it. For one thing, she believed that people were divided into two classes, those who waited and those who were attended to at once. Mrs. Ragner had passed the stage where sociologists had divided the world's inhabitants into three classes. The word class was not in that lady's vocabulary. It belonged to the dictionary of the social sciences. Mrs. Anna Ragner spoke of persons, not classes. Necessity created her. Therefore Mrs. Ragner's sustenance was necessity. She was of middle age and unmarried. Her form was designed by nature to fit easily into any kind of dress. All designs and all colours suited this plump lady. She looked well in everything she wore, though curiously enough she lacked that essential feminine vanity which would have set the seal upon her perfection. She had lived in Gelton for a number of years, but her history was as obscure even as her big, ugly-looking house that was situated in Banfield Road. This road lay at the top of a hill in the northern district of Gelton. Banfield House stood alone, flanked by patches of waste ground. It was old, squat, ugly. There was something solid about it, something impregnable; it suggested the bleakness of a fort on windswept rock. At the back of the house there stood a large sauce and pickle factory. All day the odours of essences and spices floated about Banfield House, but if passers-by were conscious of them, Anna Ragner who lived in their midst was not. Such smells were part of the atmosphere, like the air, the bricks, the stone steps, and heavy, dusty windows, all of which windows, with the exception of the sitting-room ones, were covered with iron bars. Anna Ragner liked these. It seemed fitting indeed that one of her calling should have bars upon her windows. Mrs. Anna Ragner's mission in life was to supply money to needy clients. Necessity created the clients, and society created necessity. Only by the harmonious working of this trinity could she live. Mrs. Ragner always sat at the top of the long, low-ceilinged sitting-room when interviewing her clients. The windows were never opened. In cold weather she had an oil-stove by her side. The clients sat at the other end of the room. They were always orderly, patient, and even on the windiest nights never seemed to feel the cold draughts along the bare wooden floor. Huddled together they kept each other warm. Anna Ragner did not supply warmth to clients, only money. During interviews she was attended by her factotum, a Mr. Corkran. He was the only person living with Mrs. Ragner. He had a room of his own at the top of the house. They rarely saw each other except during hours of business, and that was always in the evening, as during the day Mrs. Ragner attended at her small office in the city to interview other clients. They took their meals, which Mr. Corkran himself cooked, in their own rooms. This gentleman was an ex-sailor, a man who had sailed the world over, and who now, fortified by the touchstone of experience, had settled himself permanently in the house in Banfield Road. Mr. Corkran knew his employer better than anybody, and none knew Mr. Corkran better than Mrs. Ragner. They respected each other. No more than that. Neither cherished any affection for the other. Clients had often remarked to each other that Mr. Corkran was living with the woman as his wife, that he had had complete control over everything. But this was wrong. Anna Ragner would have thought any such associations repulsive. One thing, however, seemed certainâthat the one could not exist without the other. Mr. Corkran not only looked after the domestic side of the business, but he also acted as counsellor on money matters. Also when necessity arose he could deal effectively with stubborn or bullying clients. Mrs. Ragner would never have thought of having a woman about the house, for in her opinion this ex-sailor was worth a hundred of them. She made him an allowance. He paid the rent, bought the food and cooked it. He cleaned the house, and washed the clothes, even Anna Ragner's. He saw to everything. Mr. Corkran's imagination never shaped or fashioned a future. Working with Mrs. Ragner was in no sense a means to an end. He neither thought of marrying her nor of inheriting her money. He was perfectly content. He was happy, and even told the lady so. He called the house âhis haven.' He had no friends. If he had relations Mrs. Ragner had never seen them. He was entirely alone, Banfield Road was his world and he was wholly absorbed in the life there. He had become one with the rhythm of that life, and nothing could disturb it. After seeing her clients in the evening Mrs. Ragner generally went out, but when she did not, she passed her time alone in her own room. Her favourite pastime was going through the letters of clients. Her psychological bent expressed itself in this way. She would look at a letter, speak the name aloud, and then try to conjure up in her mind a picture of its writer. If a person whom she had already met, the picture stood out crystal-clear at once. She liked faces, the faces of people who knew how to keep their mouths closed and listen to what she said, suggested, or commanded. She liked the faces of proud people when they called about a little matter of a loan. The map of a human face as it looked down at her seated at her desk was the only geography in which this woman was interested. As for Mr. Corkran, after his services were dispensed with, he retired to his own room to read. Daniel Corkran's speciality was murder, but murder with an atmosphere. He liked murders in March, bodies found in entries or alleys, outside conveniences, and in bleak back-yards of public-houses. About midnight he would get up and, leaving the room, walk along the landing in his home-made rope shoes about which he was very proud, and stand silently outside the door of Mrs. Ragner's room. He would say, âGoodnight, mam.' He never waited for an answer, but went straight back to his room. Mrs. Ragner, hearing that voice, would call back, âGood-night, Corkran. See everything is locked up.' To this request there was never any reply. To ask that gentleman if he had locked up was really an insult to his intelligence. On only one occasion had Mr. Corkran entered Mrs. Ragner's room at the late hour of eleven or half-past. This was when by some peculiar oversight he had forgotten to empty a certain vessel. It was the only occasion on which he had seen his employer undressed. Instinct rather than mere curiosity caused him to open wide those strange eyes he had, as he beheld Mrs. Ragner's legs, and not only her legs but her expansive bosom with its heavy breasts. âWhy haven't you removed this?' Mrs. Ragner had demanded, and fixed him with a penetrating glance that seemed more suited to her necessitous clients than to a faithful and devoted servant. Mr. Corkran, whose eyes, satisfied with that glimpse of the white and heavy flesh, had said âSorry, mam,' had picked up the vessel and had taken it out and emptied it. Neither had suffered embarrassment, and Mr. Corkran had completely forgotten the matter. The next morning when he served her breakfast she said sharply, glancing at that weather-beaten face with its so knowledgeable air, âUnderstand, Corkran, that when I call, I must be attended to at once.'
âYes, mam,' he had replied. Mrs. Ragner ever after retained a picture in her mind of that little scene. Her nakedness revealed for the first time to any man. It remained imprinted very clearly upon her mind. It was as though for the first time she had seen as in a mirror the deficiency in her make-up. She had realized that inner being, dead, voiceless. The fruit and essence of feeling lay buried beneath it. The more urgent and strident voice of the world of Banfield Road held her firmly within its mesh. An isolated incident, a momentary invasion of the rhythm of daily life. Mr. Corkran and Mrs. Ragner respected each other too much. For either to have succumbed in that delicate moment would have put an end to that respect, which transcended everything.
This morningâthe hall clock had just chimed nineâAnna Ragner was dressing in front of her mirror. She had put on a black velvet dress, its sole decoration a pearl necklace that hung round her neck and lay gracefully on her bosom. Her jet-black hair was brushed straight back from the forehead. As she smoothed out her dress she called out, âCorkran!'
Mr. Corkran, appearing as though by magic, stood outside waiting. âYes, mam,' he said.
âYou will get my things ready, Corkran, I have to be at the court at half-past ten.'
âYes, mam.' Mr. Corkran moved away as silently as a cat. Mrs. Ragner closed the drawer of her dressing-table, picked up a bunch of keys, and crossing the room opened a small safe in the wall. From it she took her moneylender's expired licence, three testimonials, and a recent letter from her solicitor. These she put into her black bag, a Gladstone that had seen much service, and whose life only held together, it seemed, by the application of Mr. Corkran's special polish. She locked the bag, surveyed herself in the mirror and patted her cheek, a habit she had whenever she was going off to the court. The significance of this habit was something that only that plump lady knew. To Mr. Corkran it was just a habit. She went downstairs, where she heard the man pottering away in the kitchen, and a few minutes later he appeared in the drawing-room with a tray. Mrs. Ragner began breakfast. âHer things,' consisting of hat, coat, scarf and umbrella, were already lying on the hall box. To her left lay the mail. She picked up the neatly piled heap of letters and with the same hand spread them out in a long row, and her experienced eye surveyed them. Here were badly addressed envelopes, dirty envelopes, important-looking envelopes, and envelopes that simply cried out to be opened and attended to. âCorkran!' she called. When that gentleman came in, Mrs. Ragner took three letters from her pile of forty and said casually, âYou might attend to those, Corkran.' Then she went on eating. The man picked up the letters and left the room. âAh!' she exclaimed under her breath. Then she opened her three letters and began to read.