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- JEREMY - 1/48 -
was still the same Jeremy of yesterday. He did not know what it was exactly that he had expected, but he did not feel at present that confident proud glory for which he had been prepared. Perhaps it was too early.
He turned round, curled his head into his arm, and with a half- muttered, half-dreamt statement about the wicker chair, he was once again asleep.
He awoke to the customary sound of the bath water running into the bath. His room was flooded with sunshine, and old Jampot, the nurse (her name was Mrs. Preston and her shape was Jampot), was saying as usual: "Now, Master Jeremy, eight o'clock; no lying in bed--out--you get--bath--ready."
He stared at her, blinking.
"You should say 'Many Happy Returns of the Day, Master Jeremy,'" he remarked. Then suddenly, with a leap, he was out of bed, had crossed the floor, pushed back the nursery door, and was sitting in the wicker arm-chair, his naked feet kicking a triumphant dance.
"Helen! Helen!" he called. "I'm in the chair."
"I'm eight," he shouted, "and I'm in the chair."
Mrs. Preston, breathless and exclaiming, hurried across to him.
"Oh, you naughty boy . . . death of cold . . . in your nightshirt."
"I'm eight," he said, looking at her scornfully, "and I can sit here as long as I please."
Helen, her pigtails flapping on either shoulder, her nose red, as it always was early in the morning, appeared at the opposite end of the nursery.
"Nurse, he mustn't, must he? Tell him not to. I don't care how old you are. It's my chair. Mother said--"
"No, she didn't. Mother said--"
"Yes, she did. Mother said--"
"Mother said that when--"
"Oh, you story. You know that Mother said--" Then suddenly a new, stiffening, trusting dignity filled him, as though he had with a turn of the head discovered himself in golden armour.
He was above this vulgar wrangling now. That was for girls. He was superior to them all. He got down from the chair and stood, his head up, on the old Turkey rug (red with yellow cockatoos) in front of the roaring fire.
"You may have your old chair," he said to Helen. "I'm eight now, and I don't want it any more . . . although if I do want it I shall have it," he added.
He was a small, square boy with a pug-nosed face. His hair was light brown, thin and stiff, so that it was difficult to brush, and although you watered it, stood up in unexpected places and stared at you. His eyes were good, dark brown and large, but he was in no way handsome; his neck, his nose ridiculous. His mouth was too large, and his chin stuck out like a hammer.
He was, plainly, obstinate and possibly sulky, although when he smiled his whole face was lighted with humour. Helen was the only beautiful Cole child, and she was abundantly aware of that fact. The Coles had never been a good-looking family.
He stood in front of the fireplace now as he had seen his father do, his short legs apart, his head up, and his hands behind his back.
"Now, Master Jeremy," the Jampot continued, "you may be eight years old, but it isn't a reason for disobedience the very first minute, and, of course, your bath is ready and you catching your death with naked feet, which you've always been told to put your slippers on and not to keep the bath waiting, when there's Miss Helen and Miss Mary, as you very well know, and breakfast coming in five minutes, which there's sausages this morning, because it's your birthday, and them all getting cold--"
He was across the floor in a moment, had thrown off his nightshirt and was in his bath. Sausages! He was translated into a world of excitement and splendour. They had sausages so seldom, not always even on birthdays, and to-day, on a cold morning, with a crackling fire and marmalade, perhaps--and then all the presents.
Oh, he was happy. As he rubbed his back with the towel a wonderful glowing Christian charity spread from his head to his toes and tingled through every inch of him. Helen should sit in the chair when she pleased; Mary should be allowed to dress and undress the large woollen dog, known as "Sulks," his own especial and beloved property, so often as she wished; Jampot should poke the twisted end of the towel in his ears and brush his hair with the hard brushes, and he would not say a word. Aunt Mary should kiss him (as, of course, she would want to do), and he would not shiver; he would (bravest deed of all) allow Mary to read "Alice in Wonderland" in her sing-sing voice so long as ever she wanted. . . Sausages! Sausages!
In his shirt and his short blue trousers, his hair on end, tugging at his braces, he stood in the doorway and shouted:
"Helen, there are sausages--because it's my birthday. Aren't you glad?”
And even when the only response to his joyous invitation was Helen's voice crossly admonishing the Jampot: "Oh, you do pull so; you're hurting!"--his charity was not checked.
Then when he stood clothed and of a cheerful mind once more in front of the fire a shyness stole over him. He knew that the moment for Presents was approaching; he knew that very shortly he would have to kiss and be kissed by a multitude of persons, that he would have to say again and again, "Oh, thank you, thank you so much!" that he would have his usual consciousness of his inability to thank anybody at all in the way that they expected to be thanked. Helen and Mary never worried about such things. They delighted in kissing and hugging and multitudes of words. If only he might have had his presents by himself and then stolen out and said "Thank you" to the lot of them and have done with it.
He watched the breakfast-table with increasing satisfaction--the large teapot with the red roses, the dark blue porridge plates, the glass jar with the marmalade a rich yellow inside it, the huge loaf with the soft pieces bursting out between the crusty pieces, the solid square of butter, so beautiful a colour and marked with a large cow and a tree on the top (he had seen once in the kitchen the wooden shape with which the cook made this handsome thing). There were also his own silver mug, given him at his christening by Canon Trenchard, his godfather, and his silver spoon, given him on the same occasion by Uncle Samuel.
All these things glittered and glowed in the firelight, and a kettle was singing on the hob and Martha the canary was singing in her cage in the window. (No one really knew whether the canary were a lady or a gentleman, but the name had been Martha after a beloved housemaid, now married to the gardener, and the sex had followed the name.)
There were also all the other familiar nursery things. The hole in the Turkey carpet near the bookcase, the rocking-horse, very shiny where you sit and very Christmas- tree-like as to its tail; the doll's house, now deserted, because Helen was too old and Mary too clever; the pictures of "Church on Christmas Morning" (everyone with their mouths very wide open, singing a Christmas hymn, with holly), "Dignity and Impudence," after Landseer, "The Shepherds and the Angels," and "The Charge of the Light Brigade." So packed was the nursery with history for Jeremy that it would have taken quite a week to relate it all. There was the spot where he had bitten the Jampot's fingers, for which deed he had afterwards been slippered by his father; there the corner where they stood for punishment (he knew exactly how many ships with sails, how many ridges of waves, and how many setting suns there were on that especial piece of corner wallpaper--three ships, twelve ridges, two and a half suns); there was the place where he had broken the ink bottle over his shoes and the carpet, there by the window, where Mary had read to him once when he had toothache, and he had not known whether her reading or the toothache agonised him the more; and so on, an endless sequence of sensational history.
His reminiscences were cut short by the appearance of Gladys with the porridge. Gladys, who was only the between-maid, but was nevertheless stout, breathless from her climb and the sentiment of the occasion, produced from a deep pocket a dirty envelope, which she laid upon the table.
"Many 'appy returns, Master Jeremy." Giggle . . . giggle. . . "Lord save us if I 'aven't gone and forgotten they spunes," and she vanished. The present-giving had begun.
He had an instant's struggle as to whether it were better to wait until all the presents had accumulated, or whether he would take them separately as they arrived. The dirty envelope lured him. He advanced towards it and seized it. He could not read very easily the sprawling writing on the cover, but he guessed that it said "From Gladys to Master Jeremy." Within was a marvellous card, tied together with glistening cord and shining with all the colours of the rainbow. It was apparently a survival from last Christmas, as there was a church in snow and a peal of bells; he was, nevertheless, very happy to have it.
After his introduction events moved swiftly. First Helen and Mary appeared, their faces shining and solemn and mysterious--Helen self- conscious and Mary staring through her spectacles like a profound owl.
Because Jeremy had known Mary ever since he could remember, he was unaware that there was anything very peculiar about her. But in
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