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Love In The Slump

I
The marriage of Tom Watch and Angela Trench-Troubridge was, perhaps, as unimportant an event as has occurred within living memory. No feature was lacking in the previous histories of the two young people, in their engagement, or their wedding, that could make them completely typical of all that was most unremarkable in modern social conditions. The evening paper recorded:
“This has been a busy week at St. Margaret’s. The third fashionable wedding of the week took place there this afternoon, between Mr. Tom Watch and Miss Angela Trench-Troubridge. Mr. Watch, who, like so many young men nowadays, works in the city, is the second son of the late Hon. Wilfrid Watch of Holyborne House, Shaftesbury; the bride’s father, Colonel Trench-Troubridge, is well known as a sportsman, and has stood several times for Parliament in the Conservative interest. Mr. Watch’s brother, Captain Peter Watch of the Coldstream Guards, acted as best man. The bride wore a veil of old Brussels lace lent by her grandmother. In accordance with the new fashion for taking holidays in Britain, the bride and bridegroom are spending a patriotic honeymoon in the West of England.”
And when that has been said there is really very little that need be added.
Angela was twenty-five, pretty, good-natured, lively, intelligent and popular—just the sort of girl, in fact, who, for some mysterious cause deep-rooted in Anglo-Saxon psychology, finds it most difficult to get satisfactorily married. During the last seven years she had done everything which it is customary for girls of her sort to do. In London she had danced on an average four evenings a week, for the first three years at private houses, for the last four at restaurants and night clubs; in the country she had been slightly patronizing to the neighbours and had taken parties to the hunt ball which she hoped would shock them; she had worked in a slum and a hat shop, had published a novel, been bridesmaid eleven times and godmother once; been in love, unsuitably, twice; had sold her photograph for fifty guineas to the advertising department of a firm of beauty specialists; had got into trouble when her name was mentioned in gossip columns; had acted in five or six charity matinées and two pageants, had canvassed for the Conservative candidate at two General Elections, and, like every girl in the British Isles, was unhappy at home.
In the Crisis years things became unendurable. For some time her father had shown an increasing reluctance to open the London house; now he began to talk in a sinister way about “economies,” by which he meant retiring permanently to the country, reducing the number of indoor servants, stopping bedroom fires, cutting down Angela’s allowance and purchasing a mile and a half of fishing in the neighbourhood, on which he had had his eye for several years.
Faced with the grim prospect of an indefinitely prolonged residence in the home of her ancestors, Angela, like many a sensible English girl before her, decided that after her two unhappy affairs she was unlikely to fall in love again. There was for her no romantic parting of the ways between love and fortune. Elder sons were scarcer than ever that year and there was hot competition from America and the Dominions. The choice was between discomfort with her parents in a Stately Home or discomfort with a husband in a London mews.
Poor Tom Watch had been mildly attentive to Angela since her first season. He was her male counterpart in about every particular. Normally educated, he had, after aking a Third in History at the University, gone into the office of a reliable firm of chartered accountants, with whom he had worked ever since. And throughout those sunless city afternoons he looked back wistfully to his undergraduate days, when he had happily followed the normal routine of University success by riding second on a borrowed hunter in the Christ Church “grind,” breaking furniture with the Bullingdon, returning at dawn through the window after dances in London, and sharing dingy but expensive lodgings in the High with young men richer than himself.
Angela, as one of the popular girls of her year, used to be a frequent visitor to Oxford and to the houses where Tom stayed during the vacation, and as the bleak succession of years in his accountant’s office sobered and depressed him, Tom began to look upon her as one of the few bright fragments remaining from his glamorous past. He still went out a little, for an unattached young man is never quite valueless in London, but the late dinner parties to which he went sulkily, tired by his day’s work and out of touch with the topics in which the débutantes attempted to interest him, served only to show him the gulf that was widening between himself and his former friends.
Angela, because (as cannot be made too clear) she was a thoroughly nice girl, was always charming to him, and he returned her interest gratefully. She was, however, a part of his past, not of his future. His regard was sentimental but quite unaspiring. She was a piece of his irrecapturable youth; nothing could have been more remote from his attitude than to think of her as a possible companion for old age. Accordingly her proposal of marriage came to him as a surprise that was by no means welcome.
They had left a particularly crowded and dull dance, and were eating kippers at a night club. They were in the intimate and slightly tender mood which always developed between them when Angela had said in a gentle voice:
“You’re always so much nicer to me than anyone else, Tom; I wonder why?” and before he could deflect her—he had had an unusually exacting day’s business and the dance had been stupefying—she had popped the question.
“Well, of course,” he had stammered, “I mean to say there’s nothing I’d like more, old girl. I mean, you know, of course I’ve always been crazy about you ... But the difficulty is I simply can’t afford to marry. Absolutely out of the question for years, you know.”
“But I don’t think I should mind being poor with you, Tom; we know each other so well. Everything would be easy.”
And before Tom knew whether he was pleased or not, the engagement had been announced.
He was making eight hundred a year; Angela had two hundred. There was “more coming” to both of them eventually. Things were not too bad if they were sensible about not having children. He would have to give up his occasional days of hunting; she was to give up her maid. On this basis of mutual sacrifice they arranged for their future.
It rained heavily on the day of the wedding, and only the last-ditchers among the St. Margaret’s crowd turned out to watch the melancholy succession of guests popping out of their dripping cars and plunging up the covered way into the church. There was a party afterwards at Angela’s home in Egerton Gardens. At half past four, the young couple caught a train at Paddington for the West of England. The blue carpet and the striped awning were rolled away and locked among candle-ends and hassocks in the church store-room. The lights in the aisles were turned out and the doors locked and bolted. The flowers and shrubs were stacked up to await distribution in the wards of a hospital for incurables in which Mrs. Watch had an interest. Mrs. Trench-Troubridge’s secretary set to work dispatching silver-and-white cardboard packets of wedding cake to servants and tenants in the country. One of the ushers hurried to Covent Garden to return his morning coat to the firm of gentlemen’s outfitters from whom it was hired. A doctor was summoned to attend the bridegroom’s small nephew, who, after attracting considerable attention as page at the ceremony by his outspoken comments, developed a high temperature and numerous disquieting symptoms of food poisoning. Sarah Trumpery’s maid discreetly returned the travelling clock which the old lady had inadvertently pouched from among the wedding presents. (This foible of hers was well known and the detectives had standing orders to avoid a scene at the reception. It was not often that she was asked to weddings nowadays. When she was, the stolen presents were invariably returned that evening or on the following day.) The bridesmaids got together over dinner and fell into eager conjecture about the intimacies of the honeymoon, the odds in this case being three to two that the ceremony had not been anticipated. The Great Western express rattled through the sodden English counties. Tom and Angela sat glumly in a first-class smoking carriage, discussing the day.
“It was so wonderful neither of us being late.”
“Mother fussed so ...”
“I didn’t see John, did you?”
“He was there. He said good-bye to us in the hall.”
“Oh, yes ... I hope they’ve packed everything.”
“What books did you bring?”
A thoroughly normal, uneventful wedding.
Presently Tom said: “I suppose in a way it’s rather unenterprising of us, just going off to Aunt Martha’s house in Devon. Remember how the Lockwoods went to Morocco and got captured by brigands?”
“And the Randalls got snowed up for ten days in Norway.”
“We shan’t get much adventure in Devon, I’m afraid.”
“Well, Tom, we haven’t really married for adventure, have we?”
And, as things happened, it was from that moment onwards that the honeymoon took an odd turn.

II

“D’you know if we change?”
“I rather think we do. I forgot to ask. Peter got the tickets. I’ll get out at Exeter and find out.”
The train drew into the station.
“Shan’t be a minute,” said Tom, shutting the door behind him to keep out the cold. He walked up the platform, purchased a West country evening paper, learned that they need not change and was returning to his carriage when his arm was seized and a voice said:
“Hello, Watch, old man! Remember me?” And with a little difficulty he recognized the smiling face of an old school acquaintance. “See you’ve just got married. Congratulations. Meant to write. Great luck running into you like this. Come and have a drink.”
“Wish I could. Got to get back to the train.”
“Heaps of time, old man. Waits twelve minutes here. Must have a drink.”
Still searching his memory for the name of his old friend, Tom went with him to the station buffet.
“I live fifteen miles out, you know. Just come in to meet the train. Expecting some cow-cake down from London. No sign of it ... Well, all the best.”
They drank two glasses of whisky—very comforting after the cold train journey. Then Tom said:
“Well, it’s been jolly seeing you. I must get back to the train now. Come with me and meet my wife.”
But when they reached the platform, the train was gone.
“I say, old man, that’s darned funny, you know. What are you going to do? There’s not another train tonight. Tell you what, you’d better come and spend the night with me and go on in the morning. We can wire and tell your wife where you are.”
“I suppose Angela will be all right?”
“Heavens, yes! Nothing can happen in England. Besides, there’s nothing you can do. Give me her address and I’ll send a wire now, telling her where you are. Jump into the car and wait.”
Next morning Tom woke up with a feeling of slight apprehension. He turned over in bed, examining with sleepy eyes the unaccustomed furniture of the room. Then he remembered. Of course he was married. And Angela had gone off in the train, and he had driven for miles in the dark to the house of an old friend whose name he could not remember. It had been dinnertime when they arrived. They had drunk Burgundy and port and brandy. Frankly, they had drunk rather a lot. They had recalled numerous house scandals, all kinds of jolly insults to chemistry masters, escapades after dark when they had gone up to London to the “43.” What was the fellow’s name? It was clearly too late to ask him now. And anyway he would have to get on to Angela. He supposed that she had reached Aunt Martha’s house safely and had got his telegram. Awkward beginning to the honeymoon—but then he and Angela knew each other so well ... It was not as though this were some sudden romance.
Presently he was called. “Hounds are meeting near here this morning, sir. The Captain wondered if you’d care to go hunting.”
“No, no! I have to leave immediately after breakfast.”
“The Captain said he could mount you, sir, and lend you clothes.”
“No, no! Quite impossible.”
But when he came down to breakfast and found his host filling a saddle flask with cherry-brandy, secret threads began to pull at Tom’s heart.
“Of course we’re a comic sort of pack. Everyone turns out, parson, farmers, all kinds of animals. But we generally get a decent run along the edge of the moor. Pity you can’t come out. I’d like you to try my new mare, she’s a lovely ride ... a bit fine for this type of country, perhaps ...”
Well, why not? ... after all, he and Angela knew each other so well ... it was not as though ...
And two hours later Tom found himself in a high wind galloping madly across the worst hunting country in the British Isles—alternations of heather and bog, broken by pot-holes, boulders, mountain streams and disused gravel pits—hounds streaming up the valley opposite, the mare going perfectly, farmers’ boys on shaggy little ponies, solicitors’ wives on cobs, retired old sea-captains bouncing about eighteen hands high, vets and vicars plunging on all sides of him, and not a care in his heart.
Two hours later still he was in less happy circumstances, seated alone in the heather, surrounded on all sides by an unbroken horizon of empty moor. He had dismounted to tighten a girth, and galloping across a hillside to catch up with the field, his mount had put her foot in a rabbit hole, tumbled over, rolled perilously near him, and then regaining her feet, had made off at a brisk canter towards her stable, leaving him on his back, panting for breath. Now he was quite alone in a totally strange country. He did not know the name of his host or of his host’s house. He pictured himself tramping from village to village saying: “Can you tell me the address of a young man who was hunting this morning? He was in Butcher’s house at Eton!” Moreover, Tom suddenly remembered he was married. Of course he and Angela knew each other so well ... but there were limits.
At eight o’clock that evening a weary figure trudged into the gas-lit parlour of the Royal George Hotel, Chagford. He wore sodden riding boots and torn and muddy clothes. He had wandered for five hours over the moor, and was hungry. They provided him with Canadian cheese, margarine, tinned salmon, and bottled stout, and sent him to sleep in a large brass bedstead which creaked as he moved. But he slept until half past ten next morning.
The third day of the honeymoon started more propitiously. A bleak sun was shining a little. Stiff and sore in every muscle, Tom dressed in the still damp riding clothes of his unknown host and made inquiries about reaching the remote village where his Aunt Martha’s house stood, and where Angela must be anxiously awaiting him. He wired to her: “Arriving this evening. Will explain. All love,” and then inquired about trains. There was one train in the day which left early in the afternoon and, after three changes, brought him to a neighbouring station late that evening. Here he suffered another check. There was no car to be hired in the village. His aunt’s house was eight miles away. The telephone did not function after seven o’clock. The day’s journey in damp clothes had set him shivering and sneezing. He was clearly in for a bad cold. The prospect of eight miles’ walk in the dark was unthinkable. He spent the night at the inn.
The fourth day dawned to find Tom speechless and nearly deaf. In this condition the car came to conduct him to the house so kindly lent for his week’s honeymoon. Here he was greeted with the news that Angela had left early that morning.
“Mrs. Watch received a telegram, sir, saying that you had met with an accident hunting. She was very put out as she had asked several friends to luncheon.”
“But where has she gone?”
“The address was on the telegram, sir. It was the same address as your first telegram ... No, sir, the telegram has not been preserved.”
So Angela had gone to his host near Exeter; well, she could jolly well look after herself. Tom felt far too ill to worry. He went straight to bed.
The fifth day passed in a stupor of misery. Tom lay in bed listlessly turning the pages of such books as his aunt had collected in her fifty years of vigorous out-of-door life. On the sixth day conscience began to disturb him. Perhaps he ought to do something about Angela. It was then the butler suggested that the name in the inside pocket of the hunting coat would probably be that of Tom’s late, Angela’s present host. Some work with a local directory settled the matter. He sent a telegram.
“Are you all right? Awaiting you here. Tom,” and received the answer:
“Quite all right. Your friend divine. Why not join us here. Angela.”
“In bed severe cold. Tom.”
“So sorry darling. Will see you in London or shall I join you. Hardly worth it is it. Angela.”
“Will see you London. Tom.”
Of course Angela and he knew each other very well ...
Two days later they met in the little flat which Mrs. Watch had been decorating for them.
“I hope you’ve brought all the luggage.”
“Yes, darling. What fun to be home!”
“Office tomorrow.”
“Yes, and I’ve got hundreds of people to ring up. I haven’t thanked them for the last batch of presents yet.”
“Have a good time?”
“Not bad. How’s your cold?”
“Better. What are we doing tonight?”
“I promised to go and see mama. Then I said I would dine with your Devon friend. He came up with me to see about some cow-cake. It seemed only decent to take him out after staying with him.”
“Quite right. But I think I won’t come.”
“No, I shouldn’t. I shall have heaps to tell her that would bore you.”
That evening Mrs. Trench-Troubridge said: “I thought Angela was looking sweet tonight. The honeymoon’s done her good. So sensible of Tom not to take her on some exhausting trip on the Continent. You can see she’s come back quite rested. And the honeymoon is so often such a difficult time particularly after all the rush of the wedding.”
“What’s this about their taking a cottage in Devon?” asked her husband.
“Not taking dear, it’s being given them. Near the house of a bachelor friend of Tom’s apparently. Angela said it would be such a good place for her to go sometimes when she wanted a change. They can never get a proper holiday because of Tom’s work.”
“Very sensible, very sensible indeed,” said Mr. Trench-Troubridge, lapsing into a light doze, as was usual with him at nine in the evening.



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