Daisy and Venison
By Laura Riding, 1935
Daisy was a consciously happy young woman without any of the usual endowments that make for conscious happiness, money apart. She was not pretty, she was not clever, she had no friends, no talents, nor even an imagination to make her think she was happy when she was really miserable. As she was never miserable, she had no need of an imagination. She was what most people with imaginations would call still-witted. True, she had no money cares. But her life was not a monied life; her happy ways were obviously not connected with her having no money cares. She lived by herself in an abandoned house that belonged to nobody and that she had been able to take possession of without ceremony because nobody wanted it. It was somewhat in the mountains, above a small, characterless town; she had found the key in the door and walked in.
Venison was the daughter of the once richest family in that town. This was her real name, given her by her mother because when she was born she had a freakish, gamey look, and her father had said, “She’d have an odd taste, not like ordinary meat.” The name had an odd but pretty sound. And Venison had turned out odd-looking, but pretty—as a spoilt photograph is sometimes quite pretty. She spoke little, took a morbid interest in herself though she was not really a thoughtful girl, and stole from people. One day she stole from her father. When she had stolen from other people he had always laughed heartily and said, “It brings out the worst in people to have something stolen.” But when she stole from him he said, “Get out of my house, I don’t want to live strange!” ‘Living strange’ was how he described anything that made people different from animals. He didn’t mind stealing in itself, but he minded problems and discussions and attitudes and in general all brain-activity. If he gave Venison a clout on the head for taking his drinking-money out of the tobacco-jar in which he concealed it from her mother, there would be talk about the propriety of a father’s striking his daughter, about the merits and demerits of physical punishment for moral offences, about the propriety of concealing drinking-money in a tobacco jar— about what not? So he merely told her to get out of his house. To her mother he said, “I’m tired of that girl.” Her mother gave her a hoard of gold pieces that she kept concealed in a sock in her sewing-basket, and advised her to get Daisy to take her in.
Daisy took her in, almost without noticing that there was a new person in the house. Daisy continued to do all the work, but treating Venison less as a guest than as a flaw that had developed in her happiness, which she must accept uncomplainingly along with it. Venison spent her time sitting in comfortable positions indoors or out of doors. As she had no clothes but delicate Sunday ones, it was a pleasure to Daisy to have her about, as she liked to have illustrated magazines in different places in the house, though she never read much or bothered much to look at the pictures. Somehow, by sitting about in comfortable positions in Sunday clothes with nothing to do, Venison found herself making up stories and then writing them down daintily in her lap—as a summer visitor writes letters under a sunshade, looking as nice as possible and not really occupied. Her stories were mostly about people who did not altogether moral things that turned out well and therefore seemed, after all, right things to do. She had never travelled and so could invent all kinds of strange places without being limited, as travelled people are, by knowledge of certain places only. Nor did she know much about people. But as she was a timid, somewhat wicked person herself, she thought of other people as being like herself, only a little bolder. She did not think of wickedness as wickedness, but rather as the stuff people were made of, like flesh. Thus, without any knowledge of life or geography, she gave an impression of wide experience in her stories. With a little training in grammar and literary style she would undoubtedly have been a successful author. Her one serious failing was that she could not write above love. She could not write a story with more than one important character in it, whom she thought of for the moment as herself; with love there had to be at least two important characters.
Venison wrote story after story. For a long time this did not affect the course of her life with Daisy. The stories were packed away in the dog-basket in which she had brought all her things. There were two air spaces in the basket and Daisy filled them with putty to keep the dust out, then painting the putty over with gold paint. The dog-basket was kept in the store-room. Practically everything in the store-room had gold paint on it somewhere. Everything in Daisy’s house that was not of immediate use went into the store-room; and being put into the store-room made a treasure of a thing—this is why practically everything there had gold paint on it. Venison had never been in the store-room, although it stood between her bedroom and Daisy’s. Venison was not interested in the house she lived in. She was not even interested in Daisy. The house and Daisy supplied her with comforts: she was only interested in the comforts. For example, she never went into the kitchen; she did not know what the shed where the washing was done looked like inside. It did not worry her that the house or Daisy might have secrets. If it had secrets, she preferred not to know them. It was more convenient to trust Daisy. She had handed over her gold pieces to Daisy when she came. She had not allowed herself to think that Daisy would do anything else with them than spend them on her comfort. Nor did she ever wonder, during all the years she lived with Daisy, how long her money had lasted.
Daisy went down into the town every Saturday morning with a donkey and cart and brought back whatever she thought necessary. Without ever asking for anything, Venison had all she wanted; at any rate it never occurred to her to want anything not provided by Daisy. Daisy had a way of shopping that seemed extravagant; but it was really a very good way, considering how much money she had. When she went down into the village she would take with her all the money that a certain glass jar with a screw-top would hold. She would go from shop to shop, set the jar down on the counter and buy everything in the shop that might at some time be of some possible use to her—or to Venison, after she came. If there was change she would say, “No, give me something for it.” She thus accumulated many things of no immediate use except as storeroom treasures. The money in the jar was, like Venison’s money, in gold pieces. The shopkeepers became quite used to Daisy and her way of shopping, as it is always easy to become used to people with eccentricities if they have money. But they would have liked to know exactly how Daisy came by hers.
How she came by it is really another story. When she first arrived in the town she had carried only a bundle, which could not have been very heavy: there were some people who insisted that they had seen her swing it. Nor did she ever get letters, nor did anyone ever come to see her. People used to say that she must have found the gold up in the mountains, and that she must have had information about it before she settled there. And this was indeed the truth. Her father had been a famous bad-man. When he reached that time of life when a bad-man is in danger of becoming socially acceptable precisely because he is a popular legend, he knew that the good old days were over. So he made his plans accordingly. They had to do principally with Daisy and his money. He had hidden the money there one night, after having studied the town all day and decided that his money, if spent there, would never breed more money: it would remain to the last gold piece his money. He did not like to think that his money might have a business career and thus get mixed with other money.
He managed to have a conversation with Daisy without being seen by her mother. She knew him because her mother used to cut pictures of him out of the papers and paste them in a book so that she would know her father if she ever saw him. Her father’s first words were, “Not a word of this to your mother.” This thrilled her; to be disconnected from her mother made her real to herself. Then he had explained about the hiding- hole and the house nearby. She was to go there as soon as she read of his death in the newspapers, settle in the house, spend the money only in buying things, and spend it all, and spend it there. And then he had gone away again, in a mood to get himself killed in a brawl about honour, for which he cared nothing. Daisy, whose mother had actually been her father’s wife and who had been taught to hope that she might, though neither pretty nor clever, one day enjoy the dignity to which she was legally entitled, was emotionally prepared for the demand made on her. The important point was not the money, but that she had been recognized by her father. She now had a definite location in the world, having previously been merely, as it were, an illusion of her mother’s. She stole out of her mother’s house on the day that she read of her father’s death, went to the town, found the money—more, it seemed, than she could ever use up on herself—and settled in the house nearby as her father had directed. She never forgot that it was her father’s money she was spending; this was what made her seem such a happy young woman. Spending it on Venison reminded her still more strongly that it was her father’s money. She did not much like having Venison about, but accepted her as a sort of miscalculation of her father’s. She liked to see the money go, at any rate; it made her feel that she was her father’s daughter. And it was better to spend it on Venison than to have it stolen. There was, of course, no real danger of anyone’s stealing it. The people in that town were not very honest, but they were lazy. And strangers never came there; or if they did, they never lingered there. It was not an attractive place; it would have been difficult to explain why it was a place at all. It was called Fingerbend—no one knew why.
When Venison had lived with Daisy for ten uneventful years, a change took place. Venison’s mother died and Venison went to the funeral. She stayed away two days, and with her return things began to be different. An aunt who read novels had said to her ironically, “If I were able to live in such seclusion, I’d become an authoress.” And Venison had answered truthfully, “I have become an authoress. I write stories.” Of course her aunt had laughed at her. She had not insinuated that Venison did not write stories, but that the stories that she wrote could not be what was meant by literature. Venison lacked, she said, both education and human sympathy. So when Venison returned, Daisy had to get out the dog-basket for her, and she read all her stories over again.
“I haven’t any human sympathy, as people who write stories are supposed to have,” she said to Daisy, “but I have instincts. They say it is like being an animal to rely on your instincts, but if an animal wrote stories about people, they would be good stories in their way. And my stories are good stories in their way. When I write them I feel like an animal writing about people.”
Daisy did not let Venison’s sudden talkativeness upset her. She said calmly, “You ought to get the stories printed.” They chose one of the illustrated magazines to send them to. The following Saturday Daisy took the dog-basket to the post-office and sent it off, having made the papers solid inside with an embroidered sofa cushion out of the store-room. And now for the first time she learned Venison’s last name. Venison showed her the letter that she had written to the Editor. “I am sending you a lot of stories in a dog-basket. It opens by pressing on the lock. Yours respectfully, Venison Bride.”
The next thing, after Venison’s return from her mother’s funeral, had to do with her father. She came back thinking about him. She did not want to live with him, nor did he want her to. She knew, of course, that he would drink himself to death now, since he no longer had her mother to hide his drinking from; but the real reason for this new interest in him was that she would have liked him to approve of her life with Daisy. Seeing him again made her feel that she was her father’s daughter; she told herself proudly that her lack of human sympathy came from him. She pressed him to visit her; every Saturday morning Daisy went to ask when he was coming. Finally, one afternoon he came. He stayed to supper and let the evening run out without talking of going down again. Daisy arranged a bed for him in the store-room. In the morning he was gone before Venison was up. No talk had passed between Venison and him, but from the pleased, narrow glint in his eyes when he looked at Daisy she knew that it was Daisy whom he admired, not her, and that if he ever came up again it would be to see not her but Daisy. She had hoped that he would approve of her shrewdness in handling Daisy. But it was clear that he thought her the fool, not Daisy. She admitted to herself that she did not want him to come up again.
And he came up again, to tease her, knowing that she did not want it. Once he tried to get Daisy to kiss him, but she hit him on the head with the flat of a wood-cleaver and knocked him unconscious. Then she bundled him into the cart—still unconscious—and took him home and put him to bed. By this time he had revived. He said jokingly that he must get a wood- cleaver to put himself to sleep with—he was a poor sleeper. They had a friendly talk about ways of putting oneself to sleep. Daisy always lay for a bit thinking over what she had done during the day, then she sat up, turned her pillow over, put her head on it again and went straight to sleep. He always put his head under the blankets until he felt stifled and had to let the fresh air in, which took away what little sleepiness he had worked up under the blankets. When he began to talk about Venison, saying that she was certainly insane, Daisy started to go. She did not like thinking about Venison except as a sane household responsibility. “Good-night, Mr. Bride,” she said, “I suppose we won’t be seeing you again.” After that Venison began to dislike Daisy. She wanted someone to admire her—as an animal, however wild, feels the need of admiration, if only from other animals. Daisy kept her clothes going neatly round the year, but she never looked at her except to be satisfied that her work was well done. Perhaps Daisy disliked her.
The third break in the uneventfulness of their life together was caused by an interest in money that Venison brought back with her from her mother’s funeral. For her mother had left her another hoard of gold pieces tied up in another sock. When she came back she put it on the sitting-room table; and, looking for it there the next day, she found it gone. “Where’s my money?” she asked Daisy haughtily. “I put it away,” Daisy answered in a matter-of-fact tone. Venison could not object to its being put away. She could not object to anything. She must have used up more money than both hoards together since she had been with Daisy. She had everything she wanted. She liked the way she lived: if there was a still easier way, she was not prepared to take the trouble to look for it. Here she could at least be as lazy as she pleased without feeling that she was losing anything by it.
Nevertheless, she came back from her mother’s funeral with an interest in money; money not as something she lacked but as something which, like admiration, made one feel excited as well as contented. She now wrote more and more stories. She sat up late at night and grew irritable, like a person waiting feverishly for a legacy, animated by his own inertia. Daisy made things easier than ever for her. She was careful about her pencils and brought her tasty breakfasts in bed. She put up a special shelf in the sitting-room for the new stories, at a comfortable height, with little cretonne dust-curtains hanging from a covering shelf on which she stood the new clock—for Venison had begun to have an interest in time as well as money. She would go into the kitchen, where Daisy kept her alarm-clock by day, and say, “Have I time before lunch to start another story?” So Daisy bought her a clock of her own.
Daisy now found it necessary to read Venison’s stories. Venison did not actually ask her to do this, but Daisy noticed that Venison attached more importance to the stories than she had in the past; and Daisy always took trouble with whatever Venison attached importance to. Daisy knew very well how to read, though she was not fond of reading: one shut out all other thoughts and went on to the end, without thinking of anything except what one was reading about, and at the end got up and went back to work cheerfully, as one always did after interruptions that could not be avoided. Reading Venison’s stories was not different from any of the other things she did for her. There was nothing more dishonest in Daisy’s trying to interest herself in Venison’s stories than in her trying to please her in any other way. In her general handling of Venison, Daisy was guided only by a desire to live in a way that her father would have approved of; and it seemed to her that her father had meant her, most of all, to be steady and calm, and not to be distracted. She had never treated Venison as anything new. In trying to interest herself in Venison’s stories, she was studying Venison’s new appetite for excitement as she might conscientiously study any sudden change in her tastes, to avoid irritation on either side at meal-times.
But Venison really wanted to start something new, even though she was, as she argued with herself, thoroughly contented. She could not help flirting with her own good luck in being so contented. As soon as Daisy understood something of what was going on in Venison’s mind she began doing fewer things for her. She continued to be careful about her pencils and to give her the things she liked to eat; but she tried to make her as unimportant as she could without seeming to want to drive her away. She no longer interested herself in Venison’s clothes. She kept Venison’s room clean, but let it get untidy and stay untidy. Thus Daisy became confused and uncertain in her dealings with Venison; she sometimes wondered if she herself should not go away. She did not want to talk to Venison about things; indeed, she had nothing to say. She was in a very difficult position as her father’s daughter; her father had not thought of Venison.
Then Mr. Valentine came. Mr. Valentine was the editor to whom they had sent the stories. He arrived one summer morning with the dog-basket, smiling like a clergyman on holiday. He was too tall and too thin to be handsome, but he had long, thick, unruly hair that gave him a poetical look. Venison was still in bed, so he spoke to Daisy, whom he took to be her sister. “I didn’t write to your sister about her stories,” he said. “I wanted to see her myself before doing anything about them. The stories are powerful—er—powerful. Powerful but quite cold. They need a personality to hang them on—a little publicity, perhaps. Wonderful style. Ruthless. Simple. Almost too simple. Quaint.” “She has lots more,” Daisy said. And, kindly, “Will you have a cup of tea?” “This is going to be great fun,” said Mr. Valentine. “Your sister must be an extraordinary woman.” He put the dog-basket on the table and pressed hard on the lock with a knowing wink at Daisy. “I got the trick all right,” he laughed. He patted the basket as if it were something of his own, saying, “I’ve grown very fond of it.” Daisy noticed that it had had hard use. The gilded pieces of putty had fallen out. He untied the rope and took out a gramophone, a box of chocolates and a comb. He combed his hair with the comb and left it lying on the table. Then he untied the ribbon round the chocolates and offered them to Daisy. “Perhaps Venison would like one,” she said. Venison was still asleep. “Would you like a chocolate?” Daisy said, tapping her on the shoulder. “The Editor has come.” Venison woke up and took a chocolate sleepily. “The Editor has come,” repeated Daisy. “Oh, yes, the Editor,” she mumbled. She did not seem surprised, as if she had known all along that he would come.
Mr. Valentine had by now started playing the gramophone and was walking about the room smiling to himself. “She took a chocolate,” Daisy reported. “I suppose she will be down soon.” Mr. Valentine chuckled. Daisy cleared away his tea-cup and put his comb back in the basket. He took it out and used it again, leaving it again on the table. Then he put on another record. Daisy went up to her room and packed her clothes. She left the house. She went to the hole in the rock where the gold pieces were hidden. When she had got them all out, she found at the end of the hole a wad of bank-notes of high denominations. In a way, her father had thought of Venison, after all; he had allowed for some miscalculation. She tucked the notes into her blouse. In the kitchen she put the gold pieces into a deep water-jug and carried it up into Venison’s room. Venison was getting into her most elaborate dress, and Daisy helped her, having set the jug on the floor where Venison would not notice it too soon. Then Daisy went downstairs and out of the house. Mr. Valentine was still playing the gramophone, walking about the room and smiling to himself.
Daisy went out of the house, down the mountain, and out of the town. There was no train at that hour, so she hired the only taxi in the town and drove to the nearest large railway station. Here she took the first train that went a long way. She wanted to go as far from Fingerbend as she could without spending too much money on the fare. Her object now was to make her money last as long as she lasted. In Fingerbend she had never wanted change when she went shopping. Now she must try to get as much change back as possible. The train brought her to a city. In a city there were bargains and one could not avoid getting change back when one went shopping: bargain prices always came in irregular figures. Daisy grew into a very economical, very old woman and forgot all about Venison. Venison had never been more to her than a miscalculation of her father’s that she had to be dutiful about and let take its course. When Mr. Valentine arrived, she had known that its course was finished as far as she was concerned.
Venison came down into the sitting-room carrying the chocolate-box and munching a second chocolate. “Ah!” said Mr. Valentine, staring at Venison greedily, “Here we are!” Venison stared back without a smile and without a word of greeting. She sat down in a chair turned somewhat away from him. He picked up another chair and placed it opposite hers, leaning towards her over the back of it. “I haven’t come before,” he said, “because I have been thinking about you. You are an extraordinary woman. We must only be patient at first about money.” At the word ‘money’ Venison smiled at him for the first time. “The deuce!” he cried admiringly. He went over to the table, put on a record and walked about the room, rubbing his hands together. Venison got up and took down the stories behind the curtain, laying them on the table as if they were more his affairs than hers. “You just leave it all to me,” he said. “There’s plenty of time. Do you think your sister would mind my staying here a few days? I’ve got to learn all about you.” Venison went to tell Daisy, but Daisy was not in the house. Perhaps she was in the washing-shed; Venison did not trouble to look. Mr. Valentine assumed that he might stay, though Venison said nothing. He seemed to find her silence intoxicating. “And now,” he said, pressing down the lid of the gramophone emphatically, “what about a little love?”
Venison ran upstairs to her bedroom to think. She was not sure how she ought to react. Why not a little love? It need not interfere with anything if one thought only of oneself. That was one of the advantages of being a woman: one didn’t have to love, only let oneself be loved. Perhaps love was a more practical way of being worldly, while living a retired, lazy life, than writing stories. She looked into her mirror and decided to change into a more sensible frock. Then she noticed the water- jug full of gold pieces. She knew immediately that Daisy had gone away for good. She went downstairs, picked up the pile of stories from the table and put them into the kitchen stove.
Mr. Valentine was outside, triumphantly planning his next step. She put the gramophone in the dog-basket, and the comb, and what was left of the chocolates, and carried it out to him. “You can keep the dog-basket,” she said with a sneer. “Now go along.” She shut the door without waiting for an answer.
Venison went to live in her father’s house, now hers. He had, as she had expected, drunk himself to death. She put the house in order and ran it on a dignified scale, keeping two maids. She did not marry. With her money, her house, her maids, her proud looks, and her air of sitting in unbroken serenity at a private counting-table, she was able to keep going without scandalous misadventure a sequence of passionless love affairs with respectable men in the town. She lived long, and yet when she died she was not noticeably an old woman. The town gave her a splendid funeral. She had left it all her money, to be spent on preserving its character. As they were not quite sure what this meant, they were only too pleased to spend as much of the money as they could on burying her in an appropriately grateful manner. No one had a word to say against her, not even the wives. She had never let anything or anyone disturb her daily peace; and such people do not disturb the daily peace of others.
Sometimes Venison thought about Daisy. Suppose Daisy had not gone away? Then she would not have had the money, and the long, quiet excitement of living a life that was really her own. Had Daisy gone away for her sake, because she had suddenly felt that she, Venison, was entitled to a life that was really all her own? No, she decided, Daisy had gone away because she had suddenly felt that she, Daisy, was entitled to a life that was really all her own. How alike she and Daisy were —except that she would never have gone away first or left the money behind. Venison smiled to herself good-naturedly whenever she thought of Daisy—as a dog wags his tail good- naturedly at a cat that he has chased up a tree, and then turns to finish her supper with friendly relish, not at all upset by the obscure way in which she watches him.