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London being empty, Wemyss had it all his own way. No one else was there to cut him out, as his expression was. Lucy had many letters with offers of every kind of help from her father's friends, but naturally she needed no help and had no wish to see anybody in her present condition of secret contentment, and she replied to them with thanks and vague expressions of hope that later on they might all meet. One young man—he was the one who often proposed to her—wasn't to be put off like that, and journeyed all the way from Scotland, so great was his devotion, and found out from the caretaker of the Bloomsbury house that she was living with her aunt, and called at Eaton Terrace. But that afternoon Lucy and Miss Entwhistle were taking the air in a car Wemyss had hired, and at the very moment the young man was being turned away from the Eaton Terrace door Lucy was being rowed about the river at Hampton Court—very slowly, because of how soon Wemyss got hot—and her aunt, leaning on the stone parapet at the end of the Palace gardens, was observing her. It was a good thing the young man wasn't observing her too, for it wouldn't have made him happy.
'What is Mr. Wemyss?' asked Miss Entwhistle unexpectedly that evening, just as they were going to bed.
Lucy was taken aback. Her aunt hadn't asked a question or said a thing about him up to then, except general comments on his kindness and good-nature.
'What is Mr. Wemyss?' she repeated stupidly; for she was not only taken aback, but also, she discovered, she had no idea. It had never occurred to her even to wonder what he was, much less to ask. She had been, as it were, asleep the whole time in a perfect contentment on his breast.
'Yes. What is he besides being a widower?' said Miss Entwhistle. 'We know he's that, but it is hardly a profession.'
'I—don't think I know,' said Lucy, looking and feeling very stupid.
'Oh well, perhaps he isn't anything,' said her aunt kissing her good-night. 'Except punctual,' she added, smiling, pausing a moment at her bedroom door.
And two or three days later, when Wemyss had again hired a car to take them for an outing to Windsor, while she and Lucy were tidying themselves for tea in the ladies' room of the hotel she turned from the looking-glass in the act of pinning back some hair loosened by motoring, and in spite of having a hairpin in her mouth said, again suddenly, 'What did Mrs. Wemyss die of?'
This unnerved Lucy. If she had stared stupidly at her aunt at the other question she stared aghast at her at this one.
'What did she die of?' she repeated, flushing.
'Yes. What illness was it?' asked her aunt, continuing to pin.
'It—wasn't an illness,' said Lucy helplessly.
'Not an illness?'
'I—believe it was an accident.'
'An accident?' said Miss Entwhistle, taking the hairpin out of her mouth and in her turn staring. 'What sort of an accident?'
'I think a rather serious one,' said Lucy, completely unnerved.
How could she bear to tell that dreadful story, the knowledge of which seemed somehow so intimately to bind her and Everard together with a sacred, terrible tie?
At that her aunt remarked that an accident resulting in death would usually be described as serious, and asked what its nature, apart from its seriousness, had been; and Lucy, driven into a corner, feeling instinctively that her aunt, who had already once or twice expressed what she said was her surprised admiration for Mr. Wemyss's heroic way of bearing his bereavement, might be too admiringly surprised altogether if she knew how tragically much he really had to bear, and might begin to inquire into the reasons of this heroism, took refuge in saying what she now saw she ought to have begun by saying, even though it wasn't true, that she didn't know.
'Ah,' said her aunt. 'Well—poor man. It's wonderful how he bears things.' And again in her mind's eye, and with an increased doubt, she saw the grey trousers.
That day at tea Wemyss, with the simple naturalness Lucy found so restful, the almost bald way he had of talking frankly about things more sophisticated people wouldn't have mentioned, began telling them of the last time he had been at Windsor.
It was the summer before, he said, and he and his wife—at this Miss Entwhistle became attentive—had motored down one Sunday to lunch in that very room, and it had been so much crowded, and the crowding had been so monstrously mismanaged, that positively they had had to go away without having had lunch at all.
'Positively without having had any lunch at all,' repeated Wemyss, looking at them with a face full of astonished aggrievement at the mere recollection.
'Ah,' said Miss Entwhistle, leaning across to him, 'don't let us revive sad memories.'
Wemyss stared at her. Good heavens, he thought, did she think he was talking about Vera? Any one with a grain of sense would know he was only talking about the lunch he hadn't had.
He turned impatiently to Lucy, and addressed his next remark to her. But in another moment there was her aunt again.
'Mr. Wemyss,' she said, 'I've been dying to ask you——'
Again he was forced to attend. The pure air and rapid motion of the motoring intended to revive and brace his little love were apparently reviving and bracing his little love's aunt as well, for lately he had been unable to avoid noticing a tendency on her part to assert herself. During his first eight visits to Eaton Terrace—that made four weeks since his coming back to London and six since the funeral in Cornwall—he had hardly known she was in the room; except, of course, that she was in the room, completely hindering his courting. During those eight visits his first impression of her remained undisturbed in his mind: she was a wailing creature who had hung round him in Cornwall in a constant state of tears. Down there she had behaved exactly like the traditional foolish woman when there is a death about,—no common sense, no grit, crying if you looked at her, and keeping up a continual dismal recital of the virtues of the departed. Also she had been obstinate; and she had, besides, shown unmistakable signs of selfishness. When he paid his first call in Eaton Terrace he did notice that she had considerably, indeed completely, dried up, and was therefore to that extent improved, but she still remained for him just Lucy's aunt,—somebody who poured out the tea, and who unfortunately hardly ever went out of the room; a necessary, though luckily a transitory, evil. But now it was gradually being borne in on him that she really existed, on her own account, independently. She asserted herself. Even when she wasn't saying anything—and often she said hardly a word during an entire outing—she still somehow asserted herself.
And here she was asserting herself very much indeed, and positively asking him across a tea-table which was undoubtedly for the moment his, asking him straight out what, if anything, he did in the way of a trade, profession or occupation.
She was his guest, and he regarded it as less than seemly for a guest to ask a host what he did. Not that he wouldn't gladly have told her if it had come from him of his own accord. Surely a man has a right, he thought, to his own accord. At all times Wemyss disliked being asked questions. Even the most innocent, ordinary question appeared to him to be an encroachment on the right he surely had to be let alone.
Lucy's aunt between sips of tea—his tea—pretended, pleasantly it is true, and clothing what could be nothing but idle curiosity in words that were not disagreeable, that she was dying to know what he was. She could see for herself, she said, smiling down at the leg nearest her, that he wasn't a bishop, she was sure he wasn't either a painter, musician or writer, but she wouldn't be in the least surprised if he were to tell her he was an admiral.
Wemyss thought this intelligent of the aunt. He had no objection to being taken for an admiral; they were an honest, breezy lot.
Placated, he informed her that he was on the Stock Exchange.
'Ah,' nodded Miss Entwhistle, looking wise because on this subject she so completely wasn't, the Stock Exchange being an institution whose nature and operations were alien to anything the Entwhistles were familiar with; 'ah yes. Quite. Bulls and bears. Now I come to look at it, you have the Stock Exchange eye.'
'Foolish woman,' thought Wemyss, who for some reason didn't like being told before Lucy that he had the Stock Exchange eye; and he dismissed her impatiently from his mind and concentrated on his little love, asking himself while he did so how short he could, with any sort of propriety, cut this unpleasant time of restricted courting, of never being able to go anywhere with her unless her tiresome aunt came too.
Nearly two months now since both those deaths; surely Lucy's aunt might soon be told now of the engagement. It was after this outing that he began in his letters, and in the few moments he and she were alone, to urge Lucy to tell her aunt. Nobody else need know, he wrote; it could go on being kept secret from the world; but the convenience of her aunt's knowing was so obvious,—think of how she would then keep out of the way, think of how she would leave them to themselves, anyhow indoors, anyhow in the house in Eaton Terrace.
Lucy, however, was reluctant. She demurred. She wrote begging him to be patient. She said that every week that passed would make their engagement less a thing that need surprise. She said that at present it would take too much explaining, and she wasn't sure that even at the end of the explanation her aunt would understand.
Wemyss wrote back brushing this aside. He said her aunt would have to understand, and if she didn't what did it matter so long as she knew? The great thing was that she should know. Then, he said, she would leave them alone together, instead of for ever sticking; and his little love must see how splendid it would be for him to come and spend happy hours with her quite alone. What was an aunt after all? he asked. What could she possibly be, compared to Lucy's own Everard? Besides, he disliked secrecy, he said. No honest man could stand an atmosphere of concealment. His little girl must make up her mind to tell her aunt, and believe that her Everard knew best; or, if she preferred it, he would tell her himself.
Lucy didn't prefer it, and was beginning to feel worried, because as the days went on Wemyss grew more and more persistent the more he became bored by Miss Entwhistle's development of an independent and inquiring mind, and she hated having to refuse or even to defer doing anything he asked, when her aunt one morning at breakfast, in the very middle of apparent complete serene absorption in her bacon, looked up suddenly over the coffee-pot and said, 'How long had your father known Mr. Wemyss?'
This settled things. Lucy felt she could bear no more of these shocks. A clean breast was the only thing left for her.
'Aunt Dot,' she stammered—Miss Entwhistle's Christian name was Dorothy,—'I'd like—I've got—I want to tell you——'
'After breakfast,' said Miss Entwhistle briskly. 'We shall need lots of time, and to be undisturbed. We'll go up into the drawing-room.'
And immediately she began talking about other things.
Was it possible, thought Lucy, her eyes carefully on her toast and butter, that Aunt Dot suspected?
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