The Expensive Halo

The Expensive Halo

by Josephine Tey

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It had been raining all day, but now a wild red sunset flooded the town
with uncanny light, so that the dripping black buildings stood glorified
and the hurrying crowds turned their heads, half-consciously, in uneasy
wonder at the magnificent west.

Mary Ellis stood by the kitchen table in the basement window, and the
light, reflected from the wet pavement, shone round her with a mild
radiance very different from the disturbing crimson of the angry sky. It
lit her grey hair to a halo, and made her intent, secret-smiling face
that of a saint at her devotions. She was icing a cake. And as she piped
the pink sugar in careful preordained scrolls on the white plateau, her
mind was filled with a radiance which no sunset could produce. By the
cake lay a cardboard box containing twenty-four little candles. She had
had to buy twenty-four because they were sold by the box. But the little
Marsden girl could have the other three. There was no use in keeping
them, because never again would she put candles on a cake. Not until she
had a grandchild, and that might be never. She hoped Gareth wouldn't
think it babyish of her to do it this once. Babyish people often had an
eager nose for babyishness in others. She hadn't made a birthday cake for
many years now. The habit had been dropped during the war, when there was
nothing to make a cake with. And somehow, afterwards, people were less
overtly sentimental. Symbols counted less. The children had had treats on
their birthdays, but there had been no cake with little candles. It was a
practical age.

She laid aside the piping-bag and looked at her work with her still,
secret smile. A cake for Gareth's birthday: that's all it was. But it
was, too, the crowning of her own life, and she felt it in all her being.
To-morrow her baby was twenty-one; the baby she had not wanted; the baby
they had said she would never rear: and it seemed as if her whole
existence had been but a preparation for this moment. Her five other
children had each in turn achieved their majority and there had been
congratulation and pleasure in each event. But to-morrow Gareth would be
twenty-one, and her spirit rose up and overflowed in her at the thought.

She chose from the box the more perfect of the candles (it would not
matter to the Marsden baby that her three were a little chipped), and
began to set them in the cake, carefully because of the still-soft icing.
It was strange that the baby whose coming she had resented so
passionately should be more a part of her now than he had been to those
months before his birth. Even his name was hers. Alfred had said that the
baby was to have a Biblical name, like the others. No child of his should
have other than a Biblical name. Always on previous occasions, she had
agreed for the sake of peace, but this time she had fought him, weak,
determined and furious. Now that the puny brat was there she felt that
for once it should be hers to do as she liked with. She had borne it,
suffered for it, and she should mime it. It should be called Gareth.
Gareth was the name of the hero in a book which she had been reading, and
the word had sung itself through her head during those awful hours. She
did not like the name particularly, but that did not matter. All that
mattered was that it should be a name of her own choosing and that it
should have no Biblical associations.

And Alfred had given in. She had been surprised at the time but too
relieved and weary to marvel long. Afterwards she had discovered that the
doctor had spoken to Alfred as one man very rarely speaks to another. He
had, in his own phrase, put the fear of God in Alfred, and to Alfred,
that intimate of God, it was a new sensation. Alfred had agreed that Mary
should choose the name.

And he had, of course, changed his doctor. But as there were no more
babies that had not mattered very greatly.

Because he was hers in a sense that the others had never been, the
sickly, wailing baby had been taken to her heart. When they tried to warn
her that he might never make old bones her lips tightened in the little
movement with which all her children were familiar, and her chin lifted,
Fools! Of course he would live. He was hers, wasn't he? The only one to
be wholly hers. She would see to it that he lived. And it seemed that her
son had inherited her spirit, for he not only lived but, in spite of his
many illnesses, throve. Her hand hesitated a moment and she smiled at a
passing vision of Gareth at the age of seven; a battered little figure,
with thin scarred knees, red hair damp and tumbled, one eye dark where a
black eye was coming, and the other eye faintly green where a black eye
was going.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940013755642
Publisher: WDS Publising
Publication date: 01/11/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 483,684
File size: 154 KB

About the Author

Josephine Tey was a pseudonym used by Elizabeth Mackintosh (25 July 1896–13 February 1952) a Scottish author best known for her mystery novels. She also wrote as Gordon Daviot, under which name she wrote plays with an historical theme.

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