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It was not only possible, but the fact. Aunt Dot had suspected, only she hadn't suspected anything like all that was presently imparted to her, and she found great difficulty in assimilating it. And two hours later Lucy, standing in the middle of the drawing-room, was still passionately saying to her, and saying it for perhaps the tenth time, 'But don't you see? It's just because what happened to him was so awful. It's nature asserting itself. If he couldn't be engaged now, if he couldn't reach up out of such a pit of blackness and get into touch with living things again and somebody who sympathises and—is fond of him, he would die, die or go mad; and oh, what's the use to the world of somebody good and fine being left to die or go mad? Aunt Dot, what's the use?'
And her aunt, sitting in her customary chair by the fireplace, continued to assimilate with difficulty. Also her face was puckered into folds of distress. She was seriously upset.
Lucy, looking at her, felt a kind of despair that she wasn't being able to make her aunt, whom she loved, see what she saw, understand what she understood, and so be, as she was, filled with confidence and happiness. Not that she was happy at that moment; she, too, was seriously upset, her face flushed, her eyes bright with effort to get Wemyss as she knew him, as he so simply was, through into her aunt's consciousness.
She had made her clean breast with a completeness that had included the confession that she did know what Mrs. Wemyss's accident had been, and she had described it. Her aunt was painfully shocked. Anything so horrible as that hadn't entered her mind. To fall past the very window her husband was sitting at ... it seemed to her dreadful that Lucy should be mixed up in it, and mixed up so instantly on the death of her of her natural protector,—of her two natural protectors, for hadn't Mrs. Wemyss as long as she existed also been one? She was bewildered, and couldn't understand the violent reactions that Lucy appeared to look upon as so natural in Wemyss. She would have concluded that she didn't understand because she was too old, because she was out of touch with the elasticities of the younger generation, but Wemyss must be very nearly as old as herself. Certainly he was of the same generation; and yet behold him, within a fortnight of his wife's most shocking death, able to forget her, able to fall in love——
'But that's why—that's why,' Lucy cried when Miss Entwhistle said this. 'He had to forget, or die himself. It was beyond what anybody could bear and stay sane——'
'I'm sure I'm very glad he should stay sane,' said Miss Entwhistle, more and more puckered, 'but I can't help wishing it hadn't been you, Lucy, who are assisting him to stay it.'
And then she repeated what at intervals she had kept on repeating with a kind of stubborn helplessness, that her quarrel with Mr. Wemyss was that he had got happy so very quickly.
'Those grey trousers,' she murmured.
No; Miss Entwhistle couldn't get over it. She couldn't understand it. And Lucy, expounding and defending Wemyss in the middle of the room with all the blaze and emotion of what was only too evidently genuine love, was to her aunt an astonishing sight. That little thing, defending that enormous man. Jim's daughter; Jim's cherished little daughter....
Miss Entwhistle, sitting in her chair, struggled among other struggles to be fair, and reminded herself that Mr. Wemyss had proved himself to be most kind and eager to help down in Cornwall,—though even on this there was shed a new and disturbing light, and that now that she knew everything, and the doubts that had made her perhaps be a little unjust were out of the way and she could begin to consider him impartially, she would probably very soon become sincerely attached to him. She hoped so with all her heart. She was used to being attached to people. It was normal to her to like and be liked. And there must be something more in him than his fine appearance for Lucy to be so very fond of him.
She gave herself a shake. She told herself she was taking this thing badly; that she ought not, just because it was an unusual situation, be so ready to condemn it. Was she really only a conventional spinster, shrinking back shocked at a touch of naked naturalness? Wasn't there much in what that short-haired child was so passionately saying about the rightness, the saneness, of reaction from horror? Wasn't it nature's own protection against too much death? After all, what was the good of doubling horror, of being so much horrified at the horrible that you stayed rooted there and couldn't move, and became, with your starting eyes and bristling hair, a horror yourself?
Better, of course, to pass on, as Lucy was explaining, to get on with one's business, which wasn't death but life. Still—there were the decencies. However desolate one would be in retirement, however much one would suffer, there was a period, Miss Entwhistle felt, during which the bereaved withdrew. Instinctively. The really bereaved would want to withdraw——
'Ah, but don't you see,' Lucy once more tried despairingly to explain, 'this wasn't just being bereaved—this was something simply too awful. Of course Everard would have behaved in the ordinary way if it had been an ordinary death.'
'So that the more terrible one's sorrow the more cheerfully one goes out to tea,' said Miss Entwhistle, the remembrance of the light trousers at one end of Wemyss and the unmistakably satisfied face at the other being for a moment too much for her.
'Oh,' almost moaned Lucy at that, and her head drooped in a sudden fatigue.
Miss Entwhistle got up quickly and put her arms round her. 'Forgive me,' she said. 'That was just stupid and cruel. I think I'm hide-bound. I think I've probably got into a rut. Help me out of it, Lucy. You shall teach me to take heroic views——'
And she kissed her hot face tenderly, holding it close to her own.
'But if I could only make you see,' said Lucy, clinging to her, tears in her voice.
'But I do see that you love him very much,' said Miss Entwhistle gently, again very tenderly kissing her.
That afternoon when Wemyss appeared at five o'clock, it being his bi-weekly day for calling, he found Lucy alone.
'Why, where——? How——-?' he asked, peeping round the drawing-room as though Miss Entwhistle must be lurking behind a chair.
'I've told,' said Lucy, who looked tired.
Then he clasped her with a great hug to his heart. 'Everard's own little love,' he said, kissing and kissing her. 'Everard's own good little love.'
'Yes, but——' began Lucy faintly. She was, however, so much muffled and engulfed that her voice didn't get through.
'Now wasn't I right?' he said triumphantly, holding her tight. 'Isn't this as it should be? Just you and me, and nobody to watch or interfere?'
'Yes, but——' began Lucy again.
'What do you say? "Yes, but?"' laughed Wemyss, bending his ear. 'Yes without any but, you precious little thing. Buts don't exist for us—only yeses.'
And on these lines the interview continued for quite a long time before Lucy succeeded in telling him that her aunt had been much upset.
Wemyss minded that so little that he didn't even ask why. He was completely incurious about anything her aunt might think. 'Who cares?' he said, drawing her to his heart again. 'Who cares? We've got each other. What does anything else matter? If you had fifty aunts, all being upset, what would it matter? What can it matter to us?'
And Lucy, who was exhausted by her morning, felt too as she nestled close to him that nothing did matter so long as he was there. But the difficulty was that he wasn't there most of the time, and her aunt was, and she loved her aunt and did very much hate that she should be upset.
She tried to convey this to Wemyss, but he didn't understand. When it came to Miss Entwhistle he was as unable to understand Lucy as Miss Entwhistle was unable to understand her when it came to Wemyss. Only Wemyss didn't in the least mind not understanding. Aunts. What were they? Insects. He laughed, and said his little love couldn't have it both ways; she couldn't eat her cake, which was her Everard, and have it too, which was her aunt; and he kissed her hair and asked who was a complicated little baby, and rocked her gently to and fro in his arms, and Lucy was amused at that and laughed too, and forgot her aunt, and forgot everything except how much she loved him.
Meanwhile Miss Entwhistle was spending a diligent afternoon in the newspaper room of the British Museum. She was reading The Times report of the Wemyss accident and inquest; and if she had been upset by what Lucy told her in the morning she was even more upset by what she read in the afternoon. Lucy hadn't mentioned that suggestion of suicide. Perhaps he hadn't told her. Suicide. Well, there had been no evidence. There was an open verdict. It had been a suggestion made by a servant, perhaps a servant with a grudge. And even if it had been true, probably the poor creature had discovered she had some incurable disease, or she may have had some loss that broke her down temporarily, and—oh, there were many explanations; respectable, ordinary explanations.
Miss Entwhistle walked home slowly, loitering at shop windows, staring at hats and blouses that she never saw, spinning out her walk to its utmost, trying to think. Suicide. How desolate it sounded on that beautiful afternoon. Such a giving up. Such a defeat. Why should she have given up? Why should she have been defeated? But it wasn't true. The coroner had said there was no evidence to show how she came by her death.
Miss Entwhistle walked slower and slower. The nearer she got to Eaton Terrace the more unwillingly did she advance. When she reached Belgrave Square she went right round it twice, lingering at the garden railings studying the habits of birds. She had been out all the afternoon, and, as those who have walked it know, it is a long way from the British Museum to Eaton Terrace. Also it was a hot day and her feet ached, and she very much would have liked to be in her own chair in her cool drawing-room having her tea. But there in that drawing-room would probably still be Mr. Wemyss, no longer now to be Mr. Wemyss for her—would she really have to call him Everard?—or she might meet him on the stairs—narrow stairs; or in the hall—also narrow, which he would fill up; or on her doorstep she might meet him, filling up her doorstep; or, when she turned the corner into her street, there, coming towards her, might be the triumphant trousers.
No, she felt she couldn't stand seeing him that day. So she lingered forlornly watching the sparrows inside the garden railings of Belgrave Square, balancing first on one and then on the other of those feet that ached.
This was only the beginning, she thought; this was only the first of many days for her of wandering homelessly round. Her house was too small to hold both herself and love-making. If it had been the slender love-making of the young man who was so doggedly devoted to Lucy, she felt it wouldn't have been too small. He would have made love youthfully, shyly. She could have sat quite happily in the dining-room while the suitably paired young people dallied delicately together overhead. But she couldn't bear the thought of being cramped up so near Mr. Wemyss's—no, Everard's; she had better get used to that at once—love-making. His way of courting wouldn't be,—she searched about in her uneasy mind for a word, and found vegetarian. Yes; that word sufficiently indicated what she meant: it wouldn't be vegetarian.
Miss Entwhistle drifted away from the railings, and turning her back on her own direction wandered towards Sloane Street. There she saw an omnibus stopping to let some one out. Wanting very much to sit down she made an effort and caught it, and squeezing herself into its vacant seat gave herself up to wherever it should take her.
It took her to the City; first to the City, and then to strange places beyond. She let it take her. Her clothes became steadily more fashionable the farther the omnibus went. She ended by being conspicuous and stared at. But she was determined to give the widest margin to the love-making and go the whole way, and she did.
For an hour and a half the omnibus went on and on. She had no idea omnibuses did such things. When it finally stopped she sat still; and the conductor, who had gradually come to share the growing surprise of the relays of increasingly poor passengers, asked her what address she wanted.
She said she wanted Sloane Street.
He was unable to believe it, and tried to reason with her, but she sat firm in her place and persisted.
At nine o'clock he put her down where he had taken her up. She disappeared into the darkness with the movements of one who is stiff, and he winked at the passenger nearest the door and touched his forehead.
But as she climbed wearily and hungrily up her steps and let herself in with her latchkey, she felt it had been well worth it; for that one day at least she had escaped Mr. We—— no, Everard.
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