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But Christmas was spent after all at Eaton Terrace, and they lived on Wemyss's turkeys and plum puddings for a fortnight.
It was not a very successful Christmas, because Wemyss was so profoundly disappointed, and Miss Entwhistle had the apologeticness of those who try to make up for having got their own way, and Lucy, who had shrunk from The Willows far more than her aunt, wished many times before it was over that they had after all gone there. It would have been much simpler in the long run, and much less painful than having to look on at Everard being disappointed; but at the time, and taken by surprise, she had felt that she couldn't have borne festivities, and still less could she have borne seeing Everard bearing festivities in that house.
'This is morbid,' he said, when in answer to his questioning she at last told him it was poor Vera's dreadful death there that made her feel she couldn't go; and he explained, holding her in his arms, how foolish it was to be morbid, and how his little girl, who was marrying a healthy, sensible man who, God knew, had had to fight hard enough to keep so—she pressed closer—and yet had succeeded, must be healthily sensible too. Otherwise, if she couldn't do this and couldn't do that because it reminded her of something sad, and couldn't go here and couldn't go there because of somebody's having died, he was afraid she would make both herself and him very unhappy.
'Oh, Everard——' said Lucy at that, holding him tight, the thought of making him unhappy, him, her own beloved who had been through such terrible unhappiness already, giving her heart a stab.
His little girl must know, he continued, speaking with the grave voice that was natural to him when he was serious, the voice not of the playmate but of the man she adored, the man she was in love with, in whose hands she could safely leave her earthly concerns,—his little girl must know that somebody had died everywhere. There wasn't a spot, there wasn't a house, except quite new ones——
'Oh yes, I know—but——' Lucy tried to interrupt.
And The Willows was his home, the home he had looked forward to and worked for and had at last been able to afford to rent on a long lease, a lease so long that it made it practically his very own, and he had spent the last ten years developing and improving it, and there wasn't a brick or a tree in it in which he didn't take an interest, really an almost personal interest, and his one thought all these months had been the day when he would show it to her, to its dear future mistress.
'Oh, Everard—yes—you shall—I want to——' said Lucy incoherently, her cheek against his, 'only not yet—not festivities—please—I won't be so morbid—I promise not to be morbid—but—please——'
And just when she was wavering, just when she was going to give in, not because of his reasoning, for her instincts were stronger than his reasoning, but because she couldn't bear his disappointment, Miss Entwhistle, sure now of Lucy's dread of Christmas at The Willows, suddenly turned firm again and announced that they would spend it in Eaton Terrace.
So Wemyss was forced to submit. The sensation was so new to him that he couldn't get over it. Once it was certain that his Christmas was, as he insisted, spoilt, he left off talking about it and went to the other extreme and was very quiet. That his little love should be so much under the influence of her aunt saddened him, he told her. Lucy tried to bring gaiety into this attitude by pointing out the proof she was giving him of how very submissive she was to the person she happened to live with,—'And presently all my submissiveness will be concentrated on you,' she said gaily.
But he wouldn't be gay. He shook his head in silence and filled his pipe. He was too deeply disappointed to be able to cheer up. And the expression 'happen to live with,' jarred a little. There was an airy carelessness about the phrase. One didn't happen to live with one's husband; yet that had been the implication.
Every year in April Wemyss had a birthday; that is, unlike most people of his age, he regularly celebrated it. Christmas and his birthday were the festivals of the year for Him, and were always spent at The Willows. He regarded his birthday, which was on the 4th of April, as the first day of spring, defying the calendar, and was accustomed to find certain yellow flowers in blossom down by the river on that date supporting his contention. If these flowers came out before his birthday he took no notice of them, treating them as non-existent, nor did he ever notice them afterwards, for he did not easily notice flowers; but his gardener had standing orders to have a bunch of them on the table that one morning in the year to welcome him with their bright shiny faces when he came down to his birthday breakfast, and coming in and seeing them he said, 'My birthday and Spring's'; whereupon his wife—up to now it had been Vera, but from now it would be Lucy—kissed him and wished him many happy returns. This was the ritual; and when one year of abnormal cold the yellow flowers weren't there at breakfast, because neither by the river's edge nor in the most sheltered of the swamps had the increasingly frantic gardener been able to find them, the entire birthday was dislocated. He couldn't say on entering the room and beholding them, 'My birthday and Spring's,' because he didn't behold them; and his wife—that year Vera—couldn't kiss him and wish him many happy returns because she hadn't the cue. She was so much used to the cue that not having it made her forget her part,—forget, indeed, his birthday altogether; and consequently it was a day of the extremest spiritual chill and dinginess, matching the weather without. Wemyss had been terribly hurt. He hoped never to spend another birthday like it. Nor did he, for Vera remembered it after that.
Birthdays being so important to him, he naturally reflected after Miss Entwhistle had spoilt his Christmas that she would spoil his birthday too if he let her. Well, he wasn't going to let her. Not twice would he be caught like that; not twice would he be caught in a position of helplessness on his side and power on hers. The way to avoid it was very simple: he would marry Lucy in time for his birthday. Why should they wait any longer? Why stick to that absurd convention of the widower's year? No sensible man minded what people thought. And who were the people? Surely one didn't mind the opinions of those shabby weeds he had met on the two Thursday evenings at Lucy's aunt's. The little they had said had been so thoroughly unsound and muddled and yet dangerous, that if they one and all emigrated to-morrow England would only be the better. After meeting them he had said to Lucy, who had listened in some wonder at this new light thrown on her father's friends, that they were the very stuff of which successful segregation was made. In an island by themselves, he told her, they would be quite happy undermining each other's backbones, and the backbone of England, which consisted of plain unspoilt patriots, would be let alone. They, certainly, didn't matter; while as for his own friends, those friends who had behaved badly to him on Vera's death, not only didn't he care twopence for their criticisms but he could hardly wait for the moment when he would confound them by producing for their inspection this sweetest of little girls, so young, so devoted to him, Lucy his wife.
He accordingly proceeded to make all the necessary arrangements for being married in March, for going for a trip to Paris, and for returning to The Willows for the final few days of his honeymoon on the very day of his birthday. What a celebration that would be! Wemyss, thinking of it, shut his eyes so as to dwell upon it undisturbed. Never would he have had a birthday like this next one. He might really quite fairly call it his First, for he would be beginning life all over again, and entering on years that would indeed be truthfully described as tender.
So much was it his habit to make plans privately and not mention them till they were complete, that he found it difficult to tell Lucy of this one in spite of the important part she was to play in it. But, after all, some preparing would, he admitted to himself, be necessary even for the secret marriage he had decided on at a registrar's office. She would have to pack a bag; she would have to leave her belongings in order. Also he might perhaps have to use persuasion. He knew his little girl well enough to be sure she would relinquish church and white satin without a murmur at his request, but she might want to tell her aunt of the marriage's imminence, and then the aunt would, to a dead certainty, obstruct, and either induce her to wait till the year was out, or, if Lucy refused to do this, make her miserable with doubts as to whether she had been right to follow her lover's wishes. Fancy making a girl miserable because she followed her lover's wishes! What a woman, thought Wemyss, filling his pipe. In his eyes Miss Entwhistle had swollen since her conduct at Christmas to the bulk of a monster.
Having completed his preparations, and fixed his wedding day for the first Saturday in March, Wemyss thought it time he told Lucy; so he did, though not without a slight fear at the end that she might make difficulties.
'My little love isn't going to do anything that spoils her Everard's plans after all the trouble he has taken?' he said, seeing that with her mouth slightly open she gazed at him in an obvious astonishment and didn't say a word.
He then proceeded to shut the eyes that were gazing up into his, and the surprised parted lips, with kisses, for he had discovered that gentle, lingering kisses hushed Lucy quiet when she was inclined to say, 'But——' and brought her back quicker than anything to the mood of tender, half-asleep acquiescence in which, as she lay in his arms, he most loved her; then indeed she was his baby, the object of the passionate protectiveness he felt he was naturally filled with, but for the exercise of which circumstances up to now had given him no scope. You couldn't passionately protect Vera. She was always in another room.
Lucy, however, did say, 'But——' when she recovered from her first surprise, and did presently—directly, that is, he left off kissing her and she could speak—make difficulties. Her aunt; the secrecy; why secrecy; why not wait; it was so necessary under the circumstances to wait.
And then he explained about his birthday.
At that she gazed at him again with a look of wonder in her eyes, and after a moment began to laugh. She laughed a great deal, and with her arm tight round his neck, but her eyes were wet. 'Oh, Everard,' she said, her cheek against his, 'do you think we're really old enough to marry?'
This time, however, he got his way. Lucy found she couldn't bring herself to spoil his plans a second time; the spectacle of his prolonged silent disappointment at Christmas was still too vividly before her. Nor did she feel she could tell her aunt. She hadn't the courage to face her aunt's expostulations and final distressed giving in. Her aunt, who loomed so enormous in Wemyss's eyes, seemed to Lucy to be only half the size she used to be. She seemed to have been worried small by her position, like a bone among contending dogs, in the middle of different indignations. What would be the effect on her of this final blow? The thought of it haunted Lucy and spoilt all the last days before her marriage, days which she otherwise would have loved, because she very quickly became infected by the boyish delight and excitement over their secret that made Wemyss hardly able to keep still in his chair. He didn't keep still in it. Once at least he got up and did some slow steps about the room, moving with an apparent solemnity because of not being used to such steps, which he informed her presently were a dance. Till he told her this she watched him too much surprised to say anything. So did penguins dance in pictures. She couldn't think what was the matter with him. When he had done, and told her, breathing a little hard, that it was a dance symbolic of married happiness, she laughed and laughed, and flew to hug him.
'Baby, oh, baby!' she said, rubbing her cheek up and down his coat.
'Who's another baby?' he asked, breathless but beaming.
Such was their conversation.
But poor Aunt Dot....
Lucy couldn't bear to think of poor little kind Aunt Dot. She had been so wonderful, so patient, and she would be deeply horrified by a runaway marriage. Never, never would she understand the reason for it. She didn't a bit understand Everard, didn't begin to understand him, and that his birthday should be a reason for breaking what she would regard as the common decencies would of course only seem to her too childish to be even discussed. Lucy was afraid Aunt Dot was going to be very much upset, poor darling little Aunt Dot. Conscience-stricken, she couldn't do enough for Aunt Dot now that the secret date was fixed. She watched for every possible want during their times alone, flew to fetch things, darted at dropped handkerchiefs, kissed her not only at bedtime and in the morning but whenever there was the least excuse and with the utmost tenderness; and every kiss and every look seemed to say, 'Forgive me.'
'Are they going to run away?' wondered Miss Entwhistle presently.
Lucy would have been immensely taken aback, and perhaps, such is one's perversity, even hurt, if she could have seen the ray of hope which at this thought lit her Aunt Dot's exhausted mind; for Miss Entwhistle's life, which had been a particularly ordered and calm one up to the day when Wemyss first called at Eaton Terrace, had since then been nothing but just confused clamour. Everybody was displeased with her, and each for directly opposite reasons. She had fallen on evil days, and they had by February been going on so long that she felt worn out. Wemyss, she was quite aware, disliked her heartily; her Jim was dead; Lucy, her one living relation, so tenderly loved, was every day disappearing further before her very eyes into Wemyss's personality, into what she sometimes was betrayed by fatigue and impatience into calling to herself the Wemyss maw; and her little house, which had always been so placid, had become, she wearily felt, the cockpit of London. She used to crawl back to it with footsteps that lagged more and more the nearer she got, after her enforced prolonged daily outings—enforced and prolonged because the house couldn't possibly hold both herself and Wemyss except for the briefest moments,—and drearily wonder what letters she would find from Jim's friends scolding her, and what fresh arrangements in the way of tiring motor excursions, or invitations to tea at that dreadful house in Lancaster Gate, would be sprung upon her. Did all engagements pursue such a turbulent course? she asked herself,—she had given up asking the oracle of Chesham Street anything because of her disconcerting answers. How glad she was she had never been engaged; how glad she was she had refused the offers she had had when she was a girl. Quite recently she had met one of those would-be husbands in an omnibus, and how glad she was when she looked at him that she had refused him. People don't keep well, mused Miss Entwhistle. If Lucy would only refuse Wemyss now, how glad she would be that she had when she met him in ten years' time in an omnibus.
But these, of course, were merely the reflections of a tired-out spinster, and she still had enough spirit to laugh at them to herself. After all, whatever she might feel about Wemyss Lucy adored him, and when anybody adores anybody as much as that, Miss Entwhistle thought, the only thing to do is to marry and have done with it. No; that was cynical. She meant, marry and not have done with it. Ah, if only the child were marrying that nice young Teddy Trevor, her own age and so devoted, and with every window-sill throughout his house in Chelsea the proper height....
Miss Entwhistle was very unhappy all this time, besides having feet that continually ached. Though she dreaded the marriage, yet she couldn't help feeling that it would be delicious to be able once more to sit down. How enchanting to sit quietly in her own empty drawing-room, and not to have to walk about London any more. How enchanting not to make any further attempts to persuade herself that she enjoyed Battersea Park, and liked the Embankment, and was entertained by Westminster Abbey. What she wanted with an increasing longing that amounted at last to desperation as the winter dragged on, was her own chair by the fire and an occasional middle-aged crony to tea. She had reached the time of life when one likes sitting down. Also she had definitely got to the period of cronies. One's contemporaries—people who had worn the same kinds of clothes as oneself in girlhood, who remembered bishop's sleeves and could laugh with one about bustles—how very much one longed for one's contemporaries.
When, then, Lucy's behaviour suddenly became so markedly attentive and so very tender, when she caught her looking at her with wistful affection and flushing on being caught, when her good-nights and good-mornings were many kisses instead of one, and she kept on jumping up and bringing her teaspoons she hadn't asked for and sugar she didn't want, Miss Entwhistle began to revive.
'Is it possible they're going to run away?' she wondered; and so much reduced was she that she very nearly hoped so.
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