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- JEREMY - 10/48 -


II

I pass swiftly over Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the day after, although I should like to linger upon these sumptuous dates. Jeremy had a sumptuous time; Hamlet had a sumptuous time (a whole sugar rat, plates and plates of bones, and a shoe of Aunt Amy's); Mary and Helen had sumptuous times in their own feminine fashion.

Upon the evening of Christmas Eve, when the earth was snow-lit, and the street-lamps sparkled with crystals, and the rime on the doorsteps crackled beneath one's feet, Jeremy accompanied his mother on a present-leaving expedition. The excitement of that! The wonderful shapes and sizes of the parcels, the mysterious streets, the door- handles and the door-bells, the glittering stars, the maidservants, the sense of the lighted house, as though vou opened a box full of excitements and then hurriedly shut the lid down again. Jeremy trembled and shook, not with cold, but with exalting, completely satisfying happiness.

There followed the Stocking, the Waits, the Carols, the Turkey, the Christmas Cake, the Tree, the Presents, Snapdragon, Bed. . . There followed Headache, Ill- temper, Smacking of Mary, Afternoon Walk, Good Temper again, Complete Weariness, Hamlet sick on the Golden Cockatoos, Hamlet Beaten, Five minutes with Mother downstairs, Bed. . . Christmas was over.

From that moment of the passing of Boxing Day it was simply the counting of the minutes to "Dick Whittington." Six days from Boxing Day. Say you slept from eight to seven--eleven hours; that left thirteen hours; six thirteen hours was, so Helen said, seventy- eight. Seventy-eight hours, and Sunday twice as long as the other days, and that made thirteen more; ninety-one, said Helen, her nose in the air.

The week dragged along, very difficult work for everybody, and even Hamlet felt the excitement and watched his corner with the Jampot's sewing machine in it with more quivering intensity than ever. The Day Before The Day arrived, the evening before The Day, the last supper before The Day, the last bed before The Day. . . Suddenly, like a Jack-in-the-Box, The Day itself.

Then the awful thing happened.

Jeremy awoke to the consciousness that something terrific was about to occur. He lay for a minute thinking--then he was up, running about the nursery floor as though he were a young man in Mr. Rossetti's poetry shouting: "Helen! Mary! Mary! Helen! . . . It's Dick Whittington! Dick Whittington!"

On such occasions he lost entirely his natural reserve and caution. He dressed with immense speed, as though that would hasten the coming of the evening. He ran into the nursery, carrying the black tie that went under his sailor-collar.

He held it out to the Jampot, who eyed him with disfavour. She was leaving them all in a week and was a strange confusion of sentiment and bad temper, love and hatred, wounded pride and injured dignity.

"Nurse. Please. Fasten it," he said impatiently.

"And that's not the way to speak, Master Jeremy, and well you know it," she said. "'Ave you cleaned your teeth?"

"Yes," he answered without hesitation. It was not until the word was spoken that he realised that he had not. He flushed. The Jampot eyed him with a sudden sharp suspicion. He was then and ever afterwards a very bad hand at a lie. . .

He would have taken the word back, he wanted to take it back--but something held him as though a stronger than he had placed his hand over his mouth. His face flamed.

"You've truly cleaned them?" she said.

"Yes, truly," he answered, his eyes on the ground. Never was there a more obvious liar in all the world.

She said no more; he moved to the fireplace. His joy was gone. There was a cold clammy sensation about his heart. Slowly, very slowly, the consciousness stole upon him that he was a liar. He had not thought it a lie when he had first spoken, now he knew.

Still there was time. Had he turned round and spoken, all might still have been well. But now obstinacy held him. He was not going to give the Jampot an opportunity for triumphing over him. After all, he would clean them so soon as she went to brush Helen's hair. In a moment what he had said would be true.

But he was miserable. Hamlet came up from the nether regions where he had spent the night, showing his teeth, wagging his tail, and even rolling on the cockatoos. Jeremy paid no attention. The weight in his heart grew heavier and heavier. He watched, from under his eyelids, the Jampot. In a moment she must go into Helen's room. But she did not. She stayed for a little arranging the things on the breakfast-table--then suddenly, without a word, she turned into Jeremy's bedchamber. His heart began to hammer. There was an awful pause; he heard from miles away Mary's voice: "Do do that button, Helen, I can't get it!" and Helen's "Oh, bother!"

Then, like Judgment, the Jampot appeared again. She stood in the doorway, looking across at him.

"You 'ave not cleaned your teeth, Master Jeremy," she said. "The glass isn't touched, nor your toothbrush. . . You wicked, wicked boy. So it's a liar you've become, added on to all your other wickedness."

"I forgot," he muttered sullenly. "I thought I had."

She smiled the smile of approaching triumph.

"No, you did not," she said. "You knew you'd told a lie. It was in your face. All of a piece--all of a piece."

The way she said this, like a pirate counting over his captured treasure, was enraging. Jeremy could feel the wild fury at himself, at her, at the stupid blunder of the whole business rising to his throat.

"If you think I'm going to let this pass you're making a mighty mistake," she continued, "which I wouldn't do not if you paid me all the gold in the kingdom. I mayn't be good enough to keep my place and look after such as you, but anyways I'm able to stop your lying for another week or two. I know my duty even though there's them as thinks I don't."

She positively snorted, and the excitement of her own vindication and the just condemnation of Jeremy was such that her hands trembled.

"I don't care what you do," Jeremy shouted. "You can tell anyone you like. I don't care what you do. You're a beastly woman."

She turned upon him, her face purple. "That's enough, Master Jeremy," she said, her voice low and trembling. "I'm not here to be called names by such as you. You'll be sorry for this before you're much older. . . . You see."

There was then an awful and sickly pause. Jeremy seemed to himself to be sinking lower and lower into a damp clammy depth of degradation. What must this world be that it could change itself so instantly from a place of gay and happy pleasure into a dim groping room of punishment and dismay?

His feelings were utterly confused. He supposed that he was terribly wicked. But he did not feel wicked. He only felt miserable, sick and defiant. Mary and Helen came in, their eyes open to a crisis, their bodies tuned sympathetically to the atmosphere of sin and crime that they discerned around them.

Then Mr. Cole came in as was his daily habit--for a moment before his breakfast.

"Well, here are you all," he cried. "Ready for to-night? No breakfast yet? Why, now . . . ?"

Then perceiving, as all practised fathers instantly must, that the atmosphere was sinful, he changed his voice to that of the Children's Sunday Afternoon Service--a voice well known in his family.

"Please, sir," began the Jampot, "I'm sorry to 'ave to tell you, sir, that Master Jeremy's not been at all good this morning."

"Well, Jeremy," he said, turning to his son, "what is it?"

Jeremy's face, raised to his father's, was hard and set and sullen.

"I've told a lie," he said; "I said I'd cleaned my teeth when I hadn't. Nurse went and looked, and then I called her a beastly woman."

The Jampot's face expressed a grieved and at the same time triumphant confirmation of this.

"You told a lie?" Mr. Cole's voice was full of a lingering sorrow.

"Yes," said Jeremy.

"Are you sorry?"

"I'm sorry that I told a lie, but I'm not sorry I called Nurse a beastly woman."

"Jeremy!"

"No, I'm not. She is a beastly woman."

Mr. Cole was always at a loss when anyone defied him, even though it were only a small boy of eight. He took refuge now in his ecclesiastical and parental authority.

"I'm very distressed--very distressed indeed. I hope that punishment, Jeremy, will show you how wrong you have been. I'm afraid you cannot come with us to the Pantomime to-night."

At that judgement a quiver for an instant held Jeremy's face, turning it, for that moment, into something shapeless and old. His


JEREMY - 10/48

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