A Clergyman's Daughter by George Orwell


  Author: George Orwell



  As the alarm clock on the chest of drawers exploded like a horrid

  little bomb of bell metal, Dorothy, wrenched from the depths of

  some complex, troubling dream, awoke with a start and lay on her

  back looking into the darkness in extreme exhaustion.

  The alarm clock continued its nagging, feminine clamour, which

  would go on for five minutes or thereabouts if you did not stop it.

  Dorothy was aching from head to foot, and an insidious and

  contemptible self-pity, which usually seized upon her when it was

  time to get up in the morning, caused her to bury her head under

  the bedclothes and try to shut the hateful noise out of her ears.

  She struggled against her fatigue, however, and, according to her

  custom, exhorted herself sharply in the second person plural. Come

  on, Dorothy, up you get! No snoozing, please! Proverbs vi, 9.

  Then she remembered that if the noise went on any longer it would

  wake her father, and with a hurried movement she bounded out of

  bed, seized the clock from the chest of drawers, and turned off the

  alarm. It was kept on the chest of drawers precisely in order that

  she should have to get out of bed to silence it. Still in

  darkness, she knelt down at her bedside and repeated the Lord's

  Prayer, but rather distractedly, her feet being troubled by the


  It was just half past five, and coldish for an August morning.

  Dorothy (her name was Dorothy Hare, and she was the only child of

  the Reverend Charles Hare, Rector of St Athelstan's, Knype Hill,

  Suffolk) put on her aged flannelette dressing-gown and felt her way

  downstairs. There was a chill morning smell of dust, damp plaster,

  and the fried dabs from yesterday's supper, and from either side of

  the passage on the second floor she could hear the antiphonal

  snoring of her father and of Ellen, the maid of all work. With

  care--for the kitchen table had a nasty trick of reaching out of

  the darkness and banging you on the hip-bone--Dorothy felt her way

  into the kitchen, lighted the candle on the mantelpiece, and, still

  aching with fatigue, knelt down and raked the ashes out of the


  The kitchen fire was a 'beast' to light. The chimney was crooked

  and therefore perpetually half choked, and the fire, before it

  would light, expected to be dosed with a cupful of kerosene, like a

  drunkard's morning nip of gin. Having set the kettle to boil for

  her father's shaving-water, Dorothy went upstairs and turned on her

  bath. Ellen was still snoring, with heavy youthful snores. She

  was a good hard-working servant once she was awake, but she was one

  of those girls whom the Devil and all his angels cannot get out of

  bed before seven in the morning.

  Dorothy filled the bath as slowly as possible--the splashing always

  woke her father if she turned on the tap too fast--and stood for a

  moment regarding the pale, unappetizing pool of water. Her body

  had gone goose-flesh all over. She detested cold baths; it was for

  that very reason that she made it a rule to take all her baths cold

  from April to November. Putting a tentative hand into the water--

  and it was horribly cold--she drove herself forward with her usual

  exhortations. Come on, Dorothy! In you go! No funking, please!

  Then she stepped resolutely into the bath, sat down and let the icy

  girdle of water slide up her body and immerse her all except her

  hair, which she had twisted up behind her head. The next moment

  she came to the surface gasping and wriggling, and had no sooner

  got her breath back than she remembered her 'memo list', which she

  had brought down in her dressing-gown pocket and intended to read.

  She reached out for it, and, leaning over the side of the bath,

  waist deep in icy water, read through the 'memo list' by the light

  of the candle on the chair.

  It ran:

  7 oc. H.C.

  Mrs T baby? Must visit.

  BREAKFAST. Bacon. MUST ask father money. (P)

  Ask Ellen what stuff kitchen father's tonic NB. to ask about stuff

  for curtains at Solepipe's.

  Visiting call on Mrs P cutting from Daily M angelica tea good for

  rheumatism Mrs L's cornplaster.

  12 oc. Rehearsal Charles I. NB. to order 1/2 lb glue 1 pot

  aluminium paint.

  DINNER (crossed out) LUNCHEON . . . ?

  Take round Parish Mag NB. Mrs F owes 3/6d.

  4.30 pm Mothers' U tea don't forget 2 1/2 yards casement cloth.

  Flowers for church NB. 1 tin Brasso.

  SUPPER. Scrambled eggs.

  Type Father's sermon what about new ribbon typewriter?

  NB. to fork between peas bindweed awful.

  Dorothy got out of her bath, and as she dried herself with a towel

  hardly bigger than a table napkin--they could never afford decent-

  sized towels at the Rectory--her hair came unpinned and fell down

  over her collar-bones in two heavy strands. It was thick, fine,

  exceedingly pale hair, and it was perhaps as well that her father

  had forbidden her to bob it, for it was her only positive beauty.

  For the rest, she was a girl of middle height, rather thin, but

  strong and shapely, and her face was her weak point. It was a

  thin, blonde, unremarkable kind of face, with pale eyes and a nose

  just a shade too long; if you looked closely you could see crow's

  feet round the eyes, and the mouth, when it was in repose, looked

  tired. Not definitely a spinsterish face as yet, but it certainly

  would be so in a few years' time. Nevertheless, strangers commonly

  took her to be several years younger than her real age (she was not

  quite twenty-eight) because of the expression of almost childish

  earnestness in her eyes. Her left forearm was spotted with tiny

  red marks like insect bites.

  Dorothy put on her nightdress again and cleaned her teeth--plain

  water, of course; better not to use toothpaste before H.C. After

  all, either you are fasting or you aren't. The R.C.s are quite

  right there--and, even as she did so, suddenly faltered and

  stopped. She put her toothbrush down. A deadly pang, an actual

  physical pang, had gone through her viscera.

  She had remembered, with the ugly shock with which one remembers

  something disagreeable for the first time in the morning, the bill

  at Cargill's, the butcher's, which had been owing for seven months.

  That dreadful bill--it might be nineteen pounds or even twenty, and

  there was hardly the remotest hope of paying it--was one of the

  chief torments of her life. At all hours of the night or day it

  was waiting just round the corner of her consciousness, ready to

  spring upon her and agonize her; and with it came the memory of a

  score of lesser bills, mounting up to a figure of which she dared

  not even think. Almost
involuntarily she began to pray, 'Please

  God, let not Cargill send in his bill again today!' but the next

  moment she decided that this prayer was worldly and blasphemous,

  and she asked forgiveness for it. Then she put on her dressing-

  gown and ran down to the kitchen in hopes of putting the bill out

  of mind.

  The fire had gone out, as usual. Dorothy relaid it, dirtying her

  hands with coal-dust, dosed it afresh with kerosene and hung about

  anxiously until the kettle boiled. Father expected his shaving-

  water to be ready at a quarter past six. Just seven minutes late,

  Dorothy took the can upstairs and knocked at her father's door.

  'Come in, come in!' said a muffled, irritable voice.

  The room, heavily curtained, was stuffy, with a masculine smell.

  The Rector had lighted the candle on his bed-table, and was lying

  on his side, looking at his gold watch, which he had just drawn

  from beneath his pillow. His hair was as white and thick as

  thistledown. One dark bright eye glanced irritably over his

  shoulder at Dorothy.

  'Good morning, father.'

  'I do wish, Dorothy,' said the Rector indistinctly--his voice

  always sounded muffled and senile until he put his false teeth in--

  'you would make some effort to get Ellen out of bed in the

  mornings. Or else be a little more punctual yourself.'

  'I'm so sorry, Father. The kitchen fire kept going out.'

  'Very well! Put it down on the dressing-table. Put it down and

  draw those curtains.'

  It was daylight now, but a dull, clouded morning. Dorothy hastened

  up to her room and dressed herself with the lightning speed which

  she found necessary six mornings out of seven. There was only a

  tiny square of mirror in the room, and even that she did not use.

  She simply hung her gold cross about her neck--plain gold cross; no

  crucifixes, please!--twisted her hair into a knot behind, stuck a

  number of hairpins rather sketchily into it, and threw her clothes

  (grey jersey, threadbare Irish tweed coat and skirt, stockings not

  quite matching the coat and skirt, and much-worn brown shoes) on to

  herself in the space of about three minutes. She had got to 'do

  out' the dining-room and her father's study before church, besides

  saying her prayers in preparation for Holy Communion, which took

  her not less than twenty minutes.

  When she wheeled her bicycle out of the front gate the morning was

  still overcast, and the grass sodden with heavy dew. Through the

  mist that wreathed the hillside St Athelstan's Church loomed dimly,

  like a leaden sphinx, its single bell tolling funereally boom!

  boom! boom! Only one of the bells was now in active use; the other

  seven had been unswung from their cage and had lain silent these

  three years past, slowly splintering the floor of the belfry

  beneath their weight. In the distance, from the mists below, you

  could hear the offensive clatter of the bell in the R.C. church--a

  nasty, cheap, tinny little thing which the Rector of St Athelstan's

  used to compare with a muffin-bell.

  Dorothy mounted her bicycle and rode swiftly up the hill, leaning

  over her handlebars. The bridge of her thin nose was pink in the

  morning cold. A redshank whistled overhead, invisible against the

  clouded sky. Early in the morning my song shall rise to Thee!

  Dorothy propped her bicycle against the lychgate, and, finding her

  hands still grey with coal-dust, knelt down and scrubbed them clean

  in the long wet grass between the graves. Then the bell stopped

  ringing, and she jumped up and hastened into church, just as

  Proggett, the sexton, in ragged cassock and vast labourer's boots,

  was clumping up the aisle to take his place at the side altar.

  The church was very cold, with a scent of candle-wax and ancient

  dust. It was a large church, much too large for its congregation,

  and ruinous and more than half empty. The three narrow islands of

  pews stretched barely half-way down the nave, and beyond them were

  great wastes of bare stone floor in which a few worn inscriptions

  marked the sites of ancient graves. The roof over the chancel was

  sagging visibly; beside the Church Expenses box two fragments of

  riddled beam explained mutely that this was due to that mortal foe

  of Christendom, the death-watch beetle. The light filtered, pale-

  coloured, through windows of anaemic glass. Through the open south

  door you could see a ragged cypress and the boughs of a lime-tree,

  greyish in the sunless air and swaying faintly.

  As usual, there was only one other communicant--old Miss Mayfill,

  of The Grange. The attendance at Holy Communion was so bad that

  the Rector could not even get any boys to serve him, except on

  Sunday mornings, when the boys liked showing off in front of the

  congregation in their cassocks and surplices. Dorothy went into

  the pew behind Miss Mayfill, and, in penance for some sin of

  yesterday, pushed away the hassock and knelt on the bare stones.

  The service was beginning. The Rector, in cassock and short linen

  surplice, was reciting the prayers in a swift practised voice,

  clear enough now that his teeth were in, and curiously ungenial.

  In his fastidious, aged face, pale as a silver coin, there was an

  expression of aloofness, almost of contempt. 'This is a valid

  sacrament,' he seemed to be saying, 'and it is my duty to

  administer it to you. But remember that I am only your priest, not

  your friend. As a human being I dislike you and despise you.'

  Proggett, the sexton, a man of forty with curly grey hair and a

  red, harassed face, stood patiently by, uncomprehending but

  reverent, fiddling with the little communion bell which was lost in

  his huge red hands.

  Dorothy pressed her fingers against her eyes. She had not yet

  succeeded in concentrating her thoughts--indeed, the memory of

  Cargill's bill was still worrying her intermittently. The prayers,

  which she knew by heart, were flowing through her head unheeded.

  She raised her eyes for a moment, and they began immediately to

  stray. First upwards, to the headless roof-angels on whose necks

  you could still see the sawcuts of the Puritan soldiers, then back

  again, to Miss Mayfill's black, quasi-pork-pie hat and tremulous

  jet ear-rings. Miss Mayfill wore a long musty black overcoat, with

  a little collar of greasy-looking astrakhan, which had been the

  same ever since Dorothy could remember. It was of some very

  peculiar stuff, like watered silk but coarser, with rivulets of

  black piping wandering all over it in no discoverable pattern. It

  might even have been that legendary and proverbial substance, black

  bombazine. Miss Mayfill was very old, so old that no one

  remembered her as anything but an old woman. A faint scent

  radiated from her--an ethereal scent, analysable as eau-de-Cologne,

  mothballs, and a sub-flavour of gin.

  Dorothy drew a long glass-headed pin from the lapel of her coat,

  and furtively, under cover of Miss Mayfill's back, pressed the

  point against her forearm. Her flesh tingled
apprehensively. She

  made it a rule, whenever she caught herself not attending to her

  prayers, to prick her arm hard enough to make blood come. It was

  her chosen form of self-discipline, her guard against irreverence

  and sacrilegious thoughts.

  With the pin poised in readiness she managed for several moments

  to pray more collectedly. Her father had turned one dark eye

  disapprovingly upon Miss Mayfill, who was crossing herself at

  intervals, a practice he disliked. A starling chattered outside.

  With a shock Dorothy discovered that she was looking vaingloriously

  at the pleats of her father's surplice, which she herself had sewn

  two years ago. She set her teeth and drove the pin an eighth of an

  inch into her arm.

  They were kneeling again. It was the General Confession. Dorothy

  recalled her eyes--wandering, alas! yet again, this time to the

  stained-glass window on her right, designed by Sir Warde Tooke,

  A.R.A., in 1851 and representing St Athelstan's welcome at the gate

  of heaven by Gabriel and a legion of angels all remarkably like one

  another and the Prince Consort--and pressed the pinpoint against a

  different part of her arm. She began to meditate conscientiously

  upon the meaning of each phrase of the prayer, and so brought her

  mind back to a more attentive state. But even so she was all but

  obliged to use the pin again when Proggett tinkled the bell in the

  middle of 'Therefore with Angels and Archangels'--being visited, as

  always, by a dreadful temptation to begin laughing at that passage.

  It was because of a story her father had told her once, of how when

  he was a little boy, and serving the priest at the altar, the

  communion bell had a screw-on clapper, which had come loose; and so

  the priest had said: 'Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and

  with all the company of Heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious

  name; evermore praising Thee, and saying, Screw it up, you little

  fat-head, screw it up!'

  As the Rector finished the consecration Miss Mayfill began to

  struggle to her feet with extreme difficulty and slowness, like

  some disjointed wooden creature picking itself up by sections, and

  disengaging at each movement a powerful whiff of mothballs. There

  was an extraordinary creaking sound--from her stays, presumably,

  but it was a noise as of bones grating against one another. You

  could have imagined that there was only a dry skeleton inside that

  black overcoat.

  Dorothy remained on her feet a moment longer. Miss Mayfill was

  creeping towards the altar with slow, tottering steps. She could

  barely walk, but she took bitter offence if you offered to help

  her. In her ancient, bloodless face her mouth was surprisingly

  large, loose, and wet. The underlip, pendulous with age, slobbered

  forward, exposing a strip of gum and a row of false teeth as yellow

  as the keys of an old piano. On the upper lip was a fringe of

  dark, dewy moustache. It was not an appetizing mouth; not the kind

  of mouth that you would like to see drinking out of your cup.

  Suddenly, spontaneously, as though the Devil himself had put it

  there, the prayer slipped from Dorothy'Beasts of England's lips: O God, let me not

  have to take the chalice after Miss Mayfill!

  The next moment, in self-horror, she grasped the meaning of what

  she had said, and wished that she had bitten her tongue in two

  rather than utter that deadly blasphemy upon the altar steps. She

  drew the pin again from her lapel and drove it into her arm so hard

  that it was all she could do to suppress a cry of pain. Then she

  stepped to the altar and knelt down meekly on Miss Mayfill's left,

  so as to make quite sure of taking the chalice after her.

  Kneeling, with head bent and hands clasped against her knees, she

  set herself swiftly to pray for forgiveness before her father

  should reach her with the wafer. But the current of her thoughts

  had been broken. Suddenly it was quite useless attempting to pray;

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