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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » I Walked in Arden » Chapter Thirteen WE ARRIVE AND LOOK FORWARD TO ANOTHER ARRIVAL
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Chapter Thirteen WE ARRIVE AND LOOK FORWARD TO ANOTHER ARRIVAL
My father, mother, and sifter met the steamer train at Euston. We tumbled out of our compartment a little breathless over the prospect of another ordeal. We seemed hopelessly mixed up with luggage and steamer acquaintances saying good-byes, when I saw my father pushing through the crowd toward us. He hardly looked at me; it was Helen he wanted to see. My mother and sister were close behind. It gave me quite a shock to note that my sister had her hair up and was wearing long dresses. She looked almost as old as Helen, as indeed she was. The family kissed Helen thoroughly, and my sister clung tenaciously to me. I couldn't think of much to say, except "Well, here we are."

"What a frightful Yankee twang you have, Ted," exclaimed my sister. We made our way toward one of the London and North Western's private omnibuses.

"Ted! Please don't forget our trunks," Helen cautioned, as I was about to climb in. My father went with me to the luggage van, a porter following. We left Helen chattering away at mother and sister as if there were no such thing in the world as embarrassment.

"I like the look of her, Ted," my father said.

"I'm not surprised," I answered, trying to imitate one of Knowlton's grins. We fished out the trunks and started back.

"Pleasant passage?" my father inquired. "Helen wasn't seasick, I hope."

"A bit off her feed one day—remarkably smooth voyage."

"Ah—it's certain to be a good crossing in August."

"Quite," I replied.

We got into the omnibus, after Helen had completed taking the census of the luggage.

"Don't trust Ted with anything like that," my mother remarked. "He's left my boxes all over the Continent."

I sat beside Helen, for I wanted to watch her face when she first saw the streets of London.

"Ted, look!" she cried, as we emerged from the classic gateway of Euston Station, "there's a huge horse with fluffy feet."

"It's a Clydesdale—aren't they beauties?"

"I never saw such a splendid horse."

My mother was sitting quietly watching us. I am afraid she felt I had gone a long way from her—or perhaps it was the effect of Leonidas. We had forgotten to warn the family he was coming. The first sight of Leonidas was always a shock to any one. Even my sister, who was thoroughly doggy, had recoiled when he smiled at her at the station. Helen was finding a succession of wonders through the omnibus window.

"We've taken a small house out Kensington way, where you'll live with us for the present, Ted." I looked up in surprise at my father's words.

"It will be much more economical and in every way better, until Helen learns English housekeeping," my mother said.

"I suppose you've some work for me to do?" I asked anxiously, for I thought I saw the first trace of a cloud on Helen's face.

"We'll talk about that later," my father replied, with a desire to change the subject obvious in his tone.

It is a long drive from Euston to Kensington. I sat close to Helen and pointed out the streets and buildings we passed. Her interest was keen, eager, for the panorama contained many places that we had talked about—the Marble Arch, Park Lane, Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge. Names were changing into realities before her eyes—and all the while my sister and mother sat studying Helen. I was extremely quick to detect my mother's unexpressed opinions and impressions, chiefly because I had differed so often with them that instinct had taught me how to anticipate, when possible, her displeasure. And I could feel, with absolute certainty, as our bus trotted on down Knightsbridge, that she had made up her mind to be hostile. "Very well," I thought to myself, "Helen and I must fight it out alone, then." My father was looking out the rear window; I recognized from his attitude that he had sensed the same thing I had. Perhaps the news had not been so well received as letters had led me to suppose. I was hoping desperately that the sensitive girl by my side would not notice the growing tension in the air.

It was a pleasant house before which we stopped. There were a few shrubs in front, and the yellow cream stucco residence appeared to hint at a bit of garden behind. It was on a quiet side street and stood in the centre of a row of other houses exactly like it.

Chitty, now three years our man-of-all-work, and Sims, my mother's maid, received us. Chitty drew himself up and saluted me, a thing he always did on my homecomings. He had been an officer's batman. "Glad to see you home, sir," he said.

"Thanks, Chitty. Kiddies all well?" He had a numerous family who lived out.

"Thank you, sir. Every one quite fit."

"It's good to see you back again, master Ted," Sims contributed. Chitty and Sims attacked the pile of luggage on the roof of the bus, after a preliminary run-in between Chitty and the driver concerning the best method to pursue. There was a new housemaid, who curtseyed to us as we entered.

"Your rooms are up here, Edward," said my mother. Helen and I followed her upstairs hand in hand. My sister tagged along in the rear. We were shown into a cozy little bedroom, with a cozier study off it. The windows looked out into the bit of garden which I had guessed was there. All my books and furniture were arranged as I had always had them, but in the bedroom there were several new things for Helen. A little box of a dressing room completed our quarters, which were tiny but ours. Helen's eyes lighted as she looked around. Then she walked straight up to my mother and kissed her. My mother received it coldly, making no return. Helen was so delighted with all that had been done for her that I don't think she noticed.

"Are you pleased, Ted?" my mother asked.

"Of course, mother. Why do you ask?"

Chitty arrived, bowed beneath a trunk. My mother and sister left us. The total of our baggage swamped our little rooms. It was all in at last and the door closed. The belated Sims arrived with hot water, just as Helen had seated herself on my lap in the study for a talk.

"Anything else I can fetch you, Mrs. Ted?" Sims inquired. We got her out of the way.

"Mrs. Ted!" Helen cried gleefully,—"what a delicious name for me! I love it!"

"Old Sims is a privileged character, dear. She is one of my earliest recollections. She is also the family safety-valve. Every one curses her when anything goes wrong."

Helen laughed. "What a delightfully absurd country, Ted. Imagine a Deep Harbor servant being any one's earliest recollection."

She began that feminine mystery known as "changing," still talking to me over her shoulder.

"Ted, I'll have to pinch myself—I can't believe I'm awake. Is it all really true?"

"Absolutely true," I answered, kissing her mouth.

"And to think you never told me about Chitty. He's marvellous. Where did you get him?"

"He's one of my finds," I answered. "I met this big chap one day on the street—looking for work. An ex-soldier with a good many years in India to his credit. I liked his face and the way he stood up to my questions. I offered him a job, and now I don't think he could be driven away. My father pays him, but when I am home, he regards himself as my exclusive property."

"We'll take him to the cottage with us, Ted. I won't have you without Chitty."

"I'd put on a dinner gown, Helen," I said, as I saw her getting out one of her afternoon dresses from a trunk.

"Just to dine at home with the family, Ted?"

"My mother is rather fussy about dinner. It is the one ceremony she believes in. And besides, I want Helen to look her beautifullest tonight."

I helped her unpack a bit, for she began to exclaim over the condition of her dresses as she took them out.

"You might as well leave them," I objected. "Sims will see to them."

I made her put on all her finery, including the few pieces of simple jewelry that had been among her wedding presents. The total effect was most satisfactory to my eyes. She seemed more beautiful every time I looked at her.

The dinner gong had gone about five minutes before we were ready to come down. I had clumsily mussed Helen's hair at the last moment, and there had been a pause to repair the damage.

"I wish, Ted, you would try, while you are in my house, to be on time to dinner," my mother said as we sat down.

The dinner began under an air of constraint, for it was always difficult for me to conceal my irritation when my mother rebuked me. My sister smiled sympathy and reassurance across the table at me, and Chitty hovered about me with the hock. Helen felt that I had been put off and kept her eyes on her plate. Right after the soup, Leonidas was ordered out of the room. I was on the verge of a protest when I felt Helen's hand on my arm. Instead, there was another silence.

"Helen, where did you and Ted get that extraordinary dog?" my sister asked, meaning well.

"Let us talk about something pleasant, if we can," my mother cut in. Revolt came near to breaking forth. My father saved the situation this time by telling me rapidly some story of an occurrence during my absence.

The table was cleared at last, and I was left with my father and our glasses of port. I could hear my mother playing a Beethoven sonata, which I knew for an ominous sign. The piano was her refuge in times of stress. When things were very bad, she played Bach. My father and I looked at each other, each waiting for the other to begin. I was damned if I would, for I felt most emphatically that Helen required no explanation. Any one who could not see by looking once at her that she was the most adorable girl in the world—words failed even my thoughts.

"It isn't Helen—it's you," my father said, studying his cigar.

"I don't see—" I began.

"Steady, Ted. Listen to me. There are a good many factors in the problem. Your mother idolizes you—"

"It has been fairly well dissembled tonight—"

"Be quiet, Ted! I won't have you speak in that way. If you knew more about the world—or about women—you would know that it is very hard for your mother to forgive the woman who marries you—you are an only son—Ted, you must not explode until I have finished. Last of all, she can't quite forgive you for getting married when she was not there. Nothing has ever hurt her so much as not being at your wedding. Can't you understand?"

"Well, what am I to do? Sit quiet while she insults Helen?"

"You are riding for trouble, Ted, if you go at it like that. Helen will bring her around in no time, provided you behave yourself. I think your wife has commonsense—she has a level-headed look in her face—"

"Thank you very much," I sneered.

"She's good old American stock like the rest of us, Ted, and I'll back her to win. I haven't been home much, Ted, for a good many years, but I recognized her type the instant I saw her at Euston. Now the thing for you to do is to go out of your way to be nice to your mother—and leave the rest to Helen."

"Considering everything," I replied, "I think my mother might meet me at least half way. I've been out in America for over a year, working ten hours a day in a bloody factory, and when I come home with the best wife in the world, I am regarded as having done something criminal."

"Don't be an ass, Ted—or try to make yourself sorry for yourself. You had a damned good time with your ten hours a day, as you call it, and you got a jolly sight better reward for it than you deserve. In my humble opinion, Helen is too good for you."

"We agree on one thing—that's a blessing," I answered, feeling that I was losing when I really had a good case. "I'll do what I can, but I won't sit by and see Helen—"

"Oh, shut up, Ted! To use plain American, you make me tired. Go into the drawing room and be nice to your mother. Tell her what you have been doing. She'll like to hear about the ten hours a day. You can pitch it strong."

I looked up and saw Helen standing at the door. "Won't you come into the drawing room, Ted? I think your mother expects you."

"Come here, little girl," my father said to Helen. She went and sat on his lap. "Can you manage that boy?"

Helen smiled at me and kissed her father-in-law by way of answer.

"You speak American, don't you?"

Helen nodded her head vigorously.

"Well, will you please tell him to keep his hair on?"

Helen came to me with a laugh and caught me by the arm.

"Come, Ted."

I followed her meekly.

When we reached the drawing room, my sister said: "Mother has gone up to bed."

We kissed Frances good night and climbed to our own quarters. I went into my study to look out some of my old books. Upon my return I found Helen lying on her bed, sobbing.

"What is it, my love?"—I flew to her and whispered in her ear.

"Ted, darling—will you ever forgive me? I'm homesick."

She sobbed herself asleep in my arms that night. I lay awake, thinking of many things.

A week later the deadlock between my mother and me was still unbroken. Helen, however, was rapidly finding her feet in the joy of exploring London. We went the second evening of our homecoming to the Lyceum to see Henry Irving in The Bells and the next night to his Charles I. We lunched out, sometimes at Kettner's in Greek Street, Soho, or down in the City at Crosby Hall or at The Ship and Turtle. Helen could not get enough of riding on the tops of the busses. We used no other conveyance except for going to the theatres. We did a certain standard thing each morning, such as going to the Abbey, St. Paul's, or The Tower, and the rest of the time we rode or walked about without plan or purpose. It was enough to be in London—it mattered little where one went or why, there were marvels to be seen in any direction. We sat a lot in quiet old City churches, particularly in St. Bartholomew's in Smithfield. The restoration had not quite done for the simple majesty of its Norman pillars. I could see London literally soaking into Helen's blood. And she greeted the bookshops on Charing Cross Road like a discovery of old friends. We bought all the plays we could find in the sixpenny boxes.

We went out each day early in the morning and returned only in time to dress for dinner. The family were quiescent; no comment was made on our comings and goings, except the daily question whether we were to be expected at luncheon. My mother never said an unkind word to Helen, but she treated her with a stiff, formal politeness that resisted all advances. Frances, my sister, was in despair, not knowing with whom to side. She adored her mother and at the same time had always been a good pal of mine—as much of one, in fact, as the discrepancy in our ages had permitted. Once or twice she went out for the day with us, but our energetic sight-seeing tired her out. She had been born in London and had never lived anywhere else, and its lions did not appeal to her as they did to Helen. Helen and Frances were already fast friends, wandering about the house in the mornings with their arms about each other or exchanging mysterious whispered conferences and giggles in their dressing gowns. They had reached at a bound the intimacy which involved borrowing each other's stockings, garters, and gloves. If Helen had felt homesick again, she said nothing about it.

Then at the end of the week my father requested me to see him in the library. I could tell from the way he was examining a pile of papers that he had something to say to me that he found difficult to express. He never smoked in the morning—a habit which was in itself a handicap.

"Ted," he said at the conclusion of a few commonplaces, "I am sending you to Berlin tomorrow for a month."

"What fun that will be for Helen," I exclaimed, springing to my feet.

"Sit down—I haven't finished." I resumed my chair with an unpleasant foreboding. "I can't afford to send Helen with you—you are going alone."

"Hell!" I ejaculated impolitely. "You might have told me a few days ago."

"I didn't want to interfere with your first week."

"What am I to do in Berlin?"

"I want you to learn a new chemical process we are going to handle. The money from the sale of the Deep Harbor factory has been entirely used to found a new company here. Until we get that on its feet we shall be rather hard-up. But we are playing for big stakes now, Ted. If this goes, you will be free to do as you please."

"I suppose I receive a salary."

"Not enough for you and Helen to live on—that's why you must live with us for the present. But I'll give you a ten per cent. interest in the new company, and it will be up to you to make it good. Meanwhile your salary is the nominal one of two pounds a week."

"But we can't go to the theatre on that," I exclaimed. It was rather a shock, for in Deep Harbor I had been well paid. "I can get a better job on my own."

"I have no doubt of it," replied my father. "Your chemical work is reported as expert. If you want to back out now and leave me in the lurch, go ahead."

I opened my mouth to speak—and paused. A recollection of my interview with Knowlton on this very subject crossed my mind. I heard him say—"play the skunk and leave you flat, Ted." On the other hand, what was my duty to Helen?

"We'll be paying dividends after the first twelve months, Ted. Then you'll be all right. Your interest in the company will be worth a lot of money."

"It's more or less of a gamble, I suppose?"

"All business is," said my father. "But I was flattering myself I had a son who had the grit to gamble for big stakes, and the brains to play the game."

"Damn," I said, getting up and walking about the room. My father began writing with an abominably scratchy nib.

"I ought to consult Helen," I turned and shot at him. He looked up from his letter and shrugged. The nib scratched on. "I told her I had excellent prospects when I married her—that Knowlton and I had made good with the Deep Harbor Manufacturing Company—" I paused in my argument, for my father appeared to be ignoring my remarks. He began another letter.

"Take it or leave it, Ted," he said after another silence. "All I ask is that you let me know definitely by lunch time. If you don't go, I must send another chemist to Berlin. I've made you the best offer in my power. A father can't do more than that."

"I wish you could see my point of view."

"I see it perfectly. Facts, however, overrule a point of view. If I had the means, I'd set you free this minute. As I haven't, there is nothing to argue about."

"Facts are damned unfair."

"They are," agreed my father.

"If I put it up to Helen, she'll tell me, of course, to stick by you, no matter what the sacrifice."

"In that case I should decide for myself, if I were you. It's a poor plan to try to shift your responsibilities on to some other person."

I had a suspicion my father was secretly laughing at me. I had a knack of making the worst possible showing in a crisis.

"I want to be fair to you and to Helen," I exclaimed.

"I'm not impressed by heroics," my father answered coldly. "I don't think either of you is being very hardly used—you have a comfortable home offered you and a good opportunity to work for. I am not asking favours—I'm giving them."

In one sense this was, of course, strictly true; yet there was something to be said on my side. Nothing was to be gained by stating it; I therefore kept silent. Ten minutes more must have passed while I turned the problem over. My father imperturbably continued to write, address, and seal letters.

"Do you know which way I am going to decide?" I asked, curiosity getting the better of me.

"Frankly," my father replied, "I don't. I'm not bluffing, Ted. I have never understood you very well. We've always been good chums; still, I have known that inwardly you go your own gait."

"I don't think I have ever disobeyed an important command."

"No, I don't believe you have—perhaps I have never asked you to do anything I didn't think was for the best. You didn't like being sent to Deep Harbor. Are you sorry now you went?"

"You can't take the credit to yourself for Helen and make that into an argument," I said. "Logic has its limits."

"I never went to college, so logic doesn't bother me," my father smiled. It was the first time his face had relaxed since I came in.

"I'll go," I announced. My father opened a desk drawer and took out a bundle of papers.

"Here's your railway ticket—Harwich—Hook of Holland. You leave from Victoria. And here's your instructions and a letter of introduction to the Treptow Chemische Gesellschaft. When you know how to use the process you will be taught, come home. The quicker you learn, the quicker you get back. But you must know it thoroughly."

"Then you did think I'd accept," I remarked, rather indignant again.

"My dear boy, it never crossed my mind you would make a fuss. You took me entirely by surprise."

"I always seem to be wrong," I growled.

"But fortunately you often end up by doing right," my father smiled.

Helen was a brick. We talked the whole thing over, and she scolded me for having hesitated. Helen's scoldings were very affectionate affairs. She smiled and assured me she would be all right. It might be the best way to win my mother over, and so on. Besides she would do a thousand things with Frances and would write me every day. At the end I rang for Chitty and told him to pack enough things for a month's journey.

"Will you be playing golf, sir?" he asked. Helen squealed with delight from the bed, where she was sitting with her feet tucked under her.

"No—business, Chitty. No riding clothes."

"Very good, sir. Thank you."

Helen saw me off the next evening, accompanied by the family. Her eyes were swimming, but she didn't let go. She was the last to kiss me, after a formal kiss from my mother and a huge puppy embrace from Frances.

"Don't worry, Ted darling. I promise not to be homesick. I love you."

A guard most unceremoniously slammed the door between us. The train pulled out. I sat and swore nearly all the way to Harwich.

The month did not pass quickly, although I worked hard, for long hours. The process was intricate and complicated, quite beyond the range of anything I had done before. The German chemists did their best to help me, and at the same time made no secret of their contempt for my training.

Helen wrote amusing and cheerful letters, in which Leonidas and Frances chiefly figured. She spoke little of my mother, and only to reassure me that "everything was all right." I knew, therefore, that no progress had been made there. One piece of news, which, I thought might possibly come, did not. That had been one of my chief anxieties over leaving Helen.

I saw a lot of Berlin and went nightly to cheap seats at the theatre. My experiences of this city are not, however, germane to this narrative. It was not until the middle of the fifth week of my stay that the Treptow Chemische Gesellschaft notified me that I had now performed the process successfully several times and was in a position to return to instruct others. I made one of the quickest trips to a telegraph office known to German history. From there to my hotel and on to the Bahnhof I at least equalled any existing record. Twenty-four hours later Helen was in my arms on the platform of Victoria Station.

The family were at dinner when we reached Kensington. I hope Gabriel's trumpet is not timed for the dinner hour, for it is quite certain my mother will not allow even that to postpone her sitting down.

"Have you got it, Ted?" my father asked.

"What isn't in my head is in the bag upstairs," I replied.

Right after dinner Helen and I fled to our retreat, brutally closing the door in Frances's face. We sat on the floor before a fire and talked. Berlin and London—we compared notes until after midnight. As we were about to go to bed, Helen whispered:

"There's one thing more, Ted, I haven't told you."

And then came the big news I had been expecting while away.

"I just had to tell you yourself, darling. I didn't want to write it."

God! If anything should happen to my beloved! and I went sick and cold at the thought. But she did not know this fear, for I held her tight, kissing her eyes. We sat on before the fire, far into the night, talking of the new future this revealed, of the new wonder that had come into our lives.

"Edward Jevons, Junior," Helen murmured as she fell asleep on my shoulder.



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