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- JEREMY - 2/48 -


truth she was a strange looking child. Very thin, she had a large head, with big outstanding ears, spectacles, and yellow hair pulled back and "stringy." Her large hands were always red, and her forehead was freckled. She was as plain a child as you were ever likely to see, but there was character in her mouth and eyes, and although she was only seven years old, she could read quite difficult books (she was engaged at this particular time upon "Ivanhoe"), and she was a genius at sums.

The passion of her life, as the family were all aware, was Jeremy, but it was an unfortunate and uncomfortable passion. She bothered and worried him, she was insanely jealous; she would sulk for days did he ever seem to prefer Helen to herself. No one understood her; she was considered a "difficult child," quite unlike any other member of the family, except possibly Samuel, Mr. Cole's brother- in-law, who was an unsuccessful painter and therefore "odd."

As Mary was at present only seven years of age it would be too much to say that the family was afraid of her. Aunt Amy's attitude was: "Well, after all, she's sure to be clever when she grows up, poor child;" and although the parishioners of Mary's father always alluded to her as "the ludicrous Cole child," they told awed little stories about the infant's mental capacities, and concluded comfortably, "I'm glad Alice (or Jane or Matilda or Anabel) isn't clever like that. They overwork when they are young, and then when they grow up--"

Meanwhile Mary led her private life. She attached herself to no one but Jeremy; she was delicate and suffered from perpetual colds; she therefore spent much of her time in the nursery reading, her huge spectacles close to the page, her thin legs like black sticks stuck up on the fender in front of the fire or curled up under her on the window-seat.

Very different was Helen. Helen had a mass of dark black hair, big black eyes with thick eye-lashes, a thin white neck, little feet, and already an eye to "effects" in dress. She was charming to strangers, to the queer curates who haunted the family hall, to poor people and rich people, to old people and young people. She was warm-hearted but not impulsive, intelligent but not clever, sympathetic but not sentimental, impatient but never uncontrolled. She liked almost everyone and almost everything, but no one and nothing mattered to her very deeply; she liked going to church, always learnt her Collect first on Sunday, and gave half her pocket- money to the morning collection. She was generous but never extravagant, enjoyed food but was not greedy. She was quite aware that she was pretty and might one day be beautiful, and she was glad of that, but she was never silly about her looks.

When Aunt Amy, who was always silly about everything, said in her presence to visitors, "Isn't Helen the loveliest thing you ever saw?" she managed by her shy self- confidence to suggest that she was pretty, that Aunt Amy was a fool, and life was altogether very agreeable, but that none of these things was of any great importance. She was very good friends with Jeremy, but she played no part in his life at all. At the same time she often fought with him, simply from her real deep consciousness of her superiority to him. She valued her authority and asserted it incessantly. That authority had until last year been unchallenged, but Jeremy now was growing. She had, although she did not as yet realise it, a difficult time before her.

Helen and Mary advanced with their presents, laid them on the breakfast-table, and then retreated to watch the effect of it all.

"Shall I now?" asked Jeremy.

"Yes, now," said Helen and Mary.

There were three parcels, one large and "shoppy," two small and bound with family paper, tied by family hands with family string. He grasped immediately the situation. The shoppy parcel was bought with mother's money and only "pretended" to be from his sisters; the two small parcels were the very handiwork of the ladies themselves, the same having been seen by all eyes at work for the last six months, sometimes, indeed, under the cloak of attempted secrecy, but more often--because weariness or ill-temper made them careless--in the full light of day.

His interest was centred almost entirely in the "shoppy" parcel, which by its shape might be "soldiers"; but he knew the rules of the game, and disregarding the large, ostentatious brown-papered thing, he went magnificently for the two small incoherent bundles.

He opened them. A flat green table-centre with a red pattern of roses, a thick table-napkin ring worked in yellow worsted, these were revealed.

"Oh!" he cried, "just what I wanted." (Father always said that on his birthday.)

"Is it?" said Mary and Helen.

"Mine's the ring," said Mary. "It's dirty rather, but it would have got dirty, anyway, afterwards." She watched anxiously to see whether he preferred Helen's.

He watched them nervously, lest he should be expected to kiss them. He wiped his mouth with his hand instead, and began rapidly to talk:

"Jampot will know now which mine is. She's always giving me the wrong one. I'll have it always, and the green thing too."

"It's for the middle of a table," Helen interrupted.

"Yes, I know," said Jeremy hurriedly. "I'll always have it too--like Mary's--when I'm grown up and all. . . . I say, shall I open the other one now?"

"Yes, you can," said Helen and Mary, ceasing to take the central place in the ceremony, spectators now and eagerly excited.

But Mary had a last word.

"You do like mine, don't you?"

"Of course, like anything."

She wanted to say "Better than Helen's?" but restrained herself.

"I was ever so long doing it; I thought I wouldn't finish it in time."

He saw with terror that she meditated a descent upon him; a kiss was in the air. She moved forward; then, to his extreme relief, the door opened and the elders arriving saved him.

There were Father and Mother, Uncle Samuel and Aunt Amy, all with presents, faces of birthday tolerance and "do-as-you-please-to-day, dear" expressions.

The Rev. Herbert Cole was forty years of age, rector of St. James's, Polchester, during the last ten years, and marked out for greater preferment in the near future. To be a rector at thirty is unusual, but he had great religious gifts, preached an admirable "as-man-to- man" sermon, and did not believe in thinking about more than he could see. He was an excellent father in the abstract sense, but the parish absorbed too much of his time to allow of intimacies with anyone.

Mrs. Cole was the most placid lady in Europe. She had a comfortable figure, but was not stout, here a dimple and there a dimple. Nothing could disturb her. Children, servants, her husband's sermons, district visiting, her Tuesday "at homes," the butcher, the dean's wife, the wives of the canons, the Polchester climate, bills, clothes, other women's clothes--over all these rocks of peril in the sea of daily life her barque happily floated. Some ill-natured people thought her stupid, but in her younger days she had liked Trollope's novels in the Cornhill, disapproved placidly of "Jane Eyre," and admired Tennyson, so that she could not be considered unliterary.

She was economical, warm-hearted, loved her children, talked only the gentlest scandal, and was a completely happy woman--all this in the placidest way in the world. Miss Amy Trefusis, her sister, was very different, being thin both in her figure and her emotions. She skirted tempestuously over the surface of things, was the most sentimental of human beings, was often in tears over reminiscences of books or the weather, was deeply religious in a superficial way, and really--although she would have been entirely astonished had you told her so--cared for no one in the world but herself. She was dressed always in dark colours, with the high shoulders of the day, elegant bonnets and little chains that jingled as she moved. In her soul she feared and distrusted children, but she did not know this. She did know, however, that she feared and distrusted her brother Samuel.

Her brother Samuel was all that the Trefusis family, as a conservative body who believed in tradition, had least reason for understanding. He had been a failure from the first moment of his entry into the Grammar School in Polchester thirty-five years before this story. He had continued a failure at Winchester and at Christ Church, Oxford. He had desired to be a painter; he had broken from the family and gone to study Art in Paris. He had starved and starved, was at death's door, was dragged home, and there suddenly had relapsed into Polchester, lived first on his father, then on his brother-in-law, painted about the town, painted, made cynical remarks about the Polcastrians, painted, made blasphemous remarks about the bishop, the dean and all the canons, painted, and refused to leave his brother-in-law's house. He was a scandal, of course; he was fat, untidy, wore a blue tam-o'-shanter when he was "out," and sometimes went down Orange Street in carpet slippers.

He was a scandal, but what are you to do if a relative is obstinate and refuses to go? At least make him shave, say the wives of the canons. But no one had ever made Samuel Trefusis do anything that he did not want to do. He was sometimes not shaved for three whole days and nights. At any rate, there he is. It is of no use saying that he does not exist, as many of the Close ladies try to do. And at least he does not paint strange women; he prefers flowers and cows and the Polchester woods, although anything less like cows, flowers and woods, Mrs. Sampson, wife of the Dean, who once had a water-colour in the Academy, says she has never seen. Samuel Trefusis is a failure, and, what is truly awful, he does not mind; nobody buys his pictures and he does not care; and, worst taste of all, he laughs at his relations, although he lives on them. Nothing further need be said.

To Helen, Mary and Jeremy he had always been a fascinating object, although they realised, with that sharp worldly wisdom to be found


JEREMY - 2/48

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