The Eye of Love

The Eye of Love by Margery Sharp

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Authors: Margery Sharp
The slovenly bed mightn’t have been made since she last saw it. From the hook behind the door still depended the old winter coat used by Ma Battleaxe as a dressing-gown, its colour a dingy puce Martha had particularly disliked. But all these offences her eye accurately omitted, and she saw simply what she’d come to see. The jutting-up piece that bothered her wasn’t a wardrobe, it was a grandfather-clock. (How it came to be there, upstairs, in a bedroom, wasn’t Martha’s concern. The long tale of compounded debts and subsequent furniture-shiftings wouldn’t have interested her in the least.) She noted carefully, however, the narrow shape of the clock in relation to the broader shape of the window, and to the low squat oblong of the bed, and found all three in conjunction as satisfactory as she hoped. Only then did she look at the box-ottoman, to remember how she’d slept on it for two years—and even as she did so remembered something else: the hippopotamus-hump of Ma Battleaxe a-bed. What a silhouette it has presented, as in lamplight or at dawn Martha opened her infant eyes! A prize, a plum too good to lose, not even the sudden racket on the landing without could divert her from its recapture …
    In any case she knew what was going on, just suit-cases being hurled downstairs. Ma Battleaxe regularly so sped a parting guest, especially the high-and-mighty sort who gave notice of their own accord. Martha in frivolous youth (that is, before the age of six) had found these dramas pleasantly exciting, and in fact was once herself, hovering too near, bowled over by a Gladstone bag. Now she simply closed her ears like a hunting-dog’s.
    It was thus by no design that some fifteen minutes later she made contact with Mr Phillips.
    2
    Martha let herself out as she’d intended, without going back to the kitchen; if she was heard, Ma Battleaxe and Mrs Hopkinson and Miss Fish were all too busy holding ghoulish wake to bother with her. (The pot re-brewed black and strong, all the old corpses disinterred—of Mr Pyke who robbed the gas-meter, of Mr Comfrey who cooked in his room, of Mr Byers who brought in women. High-and-mighty Mr Phillips, now added to the grisly roll, had asked for a sheet changed every week …) Any listener who didn’t know the ropes must have supposed lodgers a desperate race indeed, must have marvelled that defenceless females ever dared to harbour them: to Martha, however, the chorus of commination was simply the natural coda or amen to the suit-case-chucking, too familiar to interest, and she went straight out.
    It was pleasant in the open air again, after the smells of the house. Martha strolled relaxed. Observing suit-cases in her path, she indulged herself with a game of jumping over them. They were by the gate with the red-tiled step; she naturally loitered a little; and so observed a dejected figure being turned from the Yorkshire woman’s door.
    Martha sized up the situation at a glance. It was obviously the lodger just ejected by Ma Battleaxe, the high-and-mighty Mr Phillips, seeking fresh accommodation—and she could have spared him his pains. There were never any vacancies at Number 6, whose celebrated Regulars actually kept their rooms on while holidaying, so clean and comfortable the beds, so excellent the Yorkshire cooking. Mr Phillips, returning down the path, showed a familiar face of disappointment as the door behind him closed on a familiar face of pride.
    â€œ I could have told you that,” said Martha smugly.
    â€œTold me what?” asked the frustrated lodger, angrily seizing his bags.
    â€œThat it’s always full. She makes ginger puddings.”
    â€œCan you tell me anywhere that isn’t?” demanded Mr Phillips.
    The question was actually a rhetorical one, but Martha took it literally, and it jerked her out of her own preoccupations. Until that moment she had in no way considered Ma Battleaxe’s as a

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