You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 10

Engaged

BUT, my dear, we can’t be married from the same address. That would never do. There’s People to consider. My people anyhow.”

Edward Albert did not see that at first. His mind was concentrated upon the achievement of Evangeline and It, and the intervening events that must precede this consummation did not interest him at all, until she made them interest him. He saw no reason why they should not anticipate marriage at Doober’s, and he had a vague idea that it was possible to go to the nearest registry office and accomplish marriage there and then. These things had never entered his circle of ideas before his return from Edinburgh,

“But if one’s in love one wants each other. I tell you I want you, Evangeline. Dreadfully. I can’t tell you. I can’t hold myself. . . . ”

“Darling, I’m as impatient as you are. More I think. But we murst not create a scandal. We murst not. How will it look in the Times, Marriages — of the same address? Pas possible, Chéri. Je m’enfiche de tout celà.”

She regarded him. “You look like a sulky baby, you darling!. . . . Diddums. Diddums keep um waiting? I could kiss you right away now. I shall it you don’t mind.”

“Aw! Don’t torment me,” said Edward Albert and edged away from her.

They had been engaged three days and they were sitting in the pretty lower garden of Regent’s Park. The fact of the engagement had been conveyed to Mrs Doober for tactful release to the boarders, and apart from a humorous grimace on the part of Mr Chamble Pewter and a rather pointed discourse delivered by Miss Blame in a corner of the drawing-room to the little old lady in mittens and Mr Doober’s niece on the subject of gold-diggers and kidnappers, which may or may not have been intended for Edward Albert’s ears, the social disturbance was slight. Mrs Doober behaved generously although she was losing two regular and solvent clients, and she gave Edward Albert an excellent and quite unsolicited testimonial. “So quiet and well-bred,” she specified.

Gawpy told Evangeline she was a lucky girl no end and Edward Albert that he was a lucky man no end, and confided to them that she was still waiting for fur knight to come and rescue her from the enchanted castle.

Edward Albert, after a slight hesitation, had ended his clerkship with North London Leaseholds, but Evangeline found it flatteringly difficult to sever her business connection.

“They jurst don’t know where anything is, if I’m not there,”

she said, and it was arranged for her to keep on upon a half-time arrangement until she had trained a successor. The training she gave was considerably weakened by her overwhelming impulse to talk all the time to her trainee about her matrimonial anticipations.

She had revealed a very considerable amount of administrative self-confidence from the very outset of their new relationship. Edward Albert’s worldly inexperience and his extreme preoccupation appealed to the latent mother in her. Every side of her womanhood was aroused.

She had decided that a comfortable apartment, a whole floor at least (” Our home, darling “) was to be found in one of the Bloomsbury Squares. “We’ll go and begin looking for it the afternoon after tomorrow. Surch fun!”

“I suppose we got to do all this,” he said. She managed the hunt for a home very capably. She talked to house agents and lodging-house proprietors. She did all the talking. He affected a masterful dignity, but inwardly he resented her leadership. But his desire for her subdued him. He had something of the expectant meekness of a dog in love.

They found what she wanted just out of Torrington Square, not simply a floor but the upper part of a house, two reception rooms, two good bedrooms and two other rooms that might also be bedrooms or anything else you liked, a pantry kitchen, a larder, a box-room and a bathroom! He was secretly dismayed at the difficulty he would have in living in such a lot of rooms at once, but she was delighted. The rent was very reasonable and she had never expected so much social expansion.

The rent was low because the meek incapable little lady who owned the house and lived in the lower half of it had hitherto let the upper half unfurnished. Then, seized by a spirit of enterprise, she had decided to furnish the rooms on the hire purchase system and do for the new occupants. An artist gentleman had moved in with a wife and such a lot of lovely pictures, and he had bought a piano on the hire purchase system. It had seemed a most satisfactory arrangement for some days. Then everything had begun not to work. There was trouble about the servants doing for the additional people, the little lady explained in tones of mild indignation. Her cook had given notice and her other servant had walked out on her, the cook was downstairs at that very moment still being most disagreeable, and the artist gentleman, after ringing his bell until the battery was exhausted, had departed with his wife and his pictures in a taxi-cab, leaving the piano on her hands and his bills unpaid. “There he was, a great big man, and when I asked him what I could do about it all, he just said, ‘You can sue me,’ and made a nasty face at me. And he didn’t even think to leave his address, so how could I sue him?”

The situation appealed to the quick business instincts of Evangeline. She surveyed the none too amply furnished rooms. “The piano’s gone,” she remarked.

“They took it yesterday. Where the plaster is knocked off the staircase wall. If only we could come to some arrangement. I should be so glad. But I can’t do for you, I really can’t do for you. It’s the servants. Since the war — Servants aren’t what they were. Days out and Sunday afternoons. But everything’s very convenient up here. You could have a nice respectable woman of your own to do for you. Then there wouldn’t be the strain.”

Evangeline’s ready mind expanded at once to include a servant of her own. Doing for her, under her orders. A real servant one could put in a cap and apron! Who would answer the door. And a still more brilliant idea followed. When there was occasion for a special dinner, she might borrow the downstairs cook and pay her something extra.

“Not too much,” said Evangeline, “but enough to make things easy. And if I have to do a bit of cooking myself, it won’t be the first time I’ve fayd the cuisine.”

Before she had done with the incapable little lady the rooms were not so. much taken as captured, and captured at a rental that was less than most of the mere apartments they had looked at hitherto.

“My husband — he’ll be my husband in a few weeks and then I’ll come here to look after him for good,” said Evangeline, “we’ll take over the hire purchase agreement, and we’ll have to get in a few things of our own, pictures and so on, to make the place homey. We’ll get along all right.”

The incapable little lady said incoherent things about taking up references which Evangeline swept aside. “But I’ll have to write something down. Business, you know. There’s your names and everything,” said the incapable little lady, and after having looked about for a pen and ink that had probably never been there, departed to get writing materials from the lower regions. Evangeline ushered her out competently, watched her descend, made sure the door was closed, and turned upon her lover, an Evangeline transfigured.

She had taken off her business face like a mask and she was all bright excitement. “You darling patient thing!” she said. “Isn’t it lovely! Isn’t it all perfect?”

She threw her hands up in the air, pirouetted round towards him and finished by kissing him, vigorously. He gripped her responsively. “Not now!” she said, disengaging his arms, “She’s coming back.”

They stood regarding each other. “You done it pretty well,” he said.

“I’m glad my lord approves.”

That was quite the tone to take. “You do set about this sort of business pretty well,” he repeated.

The incapable little lady returned and took down their names and the proposed date of entry and what she called “references.” Evangeline gave two addresses that were strange to Edward Albert, and one — if he heard aright — was Scotland Yard. Scotland Yard? Then came a pause.

“We’ll just look round a bit,” said Evangeline, dismissing her. “There’s just one or two things I want to measure.”

The incapable little lady withdrew, because there was manifestly nothing else for her to do, and again Evangeline was transfigured.

“Mr Edward Albert Tewler at Home,” she said, bowing.

“Evadne darling.”

“And about our wedding. We’re going to have a real, proper wedding. None of your jump over a broomstick registry office affair. Voice that breathed o’er Eden and all of it. And you looking lovely in a silk hat and light grey trousers. You’ll have, you know, white slips to your waistcoat.”

“Gaw!” said Edward Albert, flattered and attracted but very much scared.

“And orange blossom for me.”

“But won’t it be an expense?”

“I’m afraid you’ll think me terribly old-fashioned, but then I’ve got other people to consider. Isn’t it queer you don’t know anything about my people yet? Not a thing. You never even asked. I’ve got a father and a godfather and cousins galore.”

“I aren’t going to marry all them,” said the bridegroom.

“I’ll protect you, Teddy. But there they are. We’ve got to humour them. My father he’s a policeman — oh, not an ordinary policeman. He’s at Scotland Yard. He’s a C.I.D. Inspector Birkenhead. He’s never had a big case yet, but some day he’ll get his chance, he says. Very, very exact. Nothing escapes him. He’s a bit stiff in his way — very proper — minded. You see my mother left him and he never quite got over it. If he knew — If he thought we were going to anticipate —!”

“Nobody need know, need they?”

“Heaven help us if he does. So you see it’s got to be as I say, A proper wedding and someone to give me away.”

“Oo’s going to give you away? Oo’s got the right to give you away?”

“Darling, I think we ought to go and see a proper wedding somewhere. Then you’ll see how it’s done. We’ve jurst got to have a best man to hop about and do everything for us. Rice and orange blossom and everything de rigor. I’ve thought of all that. There’s my cousins the Chasers. There’s Millie, who used to go to school with me. She married young Chaser. Pip Chaser. He’s a Card, as Arnold Bennett would say — a regular Card. Smart! He’s manager to a big West End undertaker and he can get carriages and horses for nothing from the stables. Carriages, Teddy! But no black gloves and funeral baked meats for us! Old Mr Chaser is my godfather; he sells champagne — special non-vintage champagne for balls and night-clubs and weddings and things like that, a sort of champagne he gets made for him. It doesn’t fizz so much but it’s just as good. Better, he thinks. And he’s always promised that he would stand me my wedding breakfast when the great day came.”

She reflected. “I won’t have any of the people from the business. No. I’ve done with that. They liked me of course, as soon as I get clear of it all, it’s good-bye for good. I don’t want anyone hurt. . . . ”

“Some things are better ended for good and all. . . . ”

She reflected. “No,” she said, as if she closed a door, “I told about Doober’s. Mrs Doober? Dear old Gawpy. that’s all. That half-wit niece might come to the arch. . . . ”

Edward Albert contemplated his future in a mood of triumphant assertion. Somehow he wanted Bert and Nuts to be there, astonished, and some of the chaps and girls in North London Leaseholds — overwhelmed. And somehow, somewhere, he imagined a triumphant whisper to Bert, I’ve ‘ad ‘er already. She’s all right, my boy.”

Hubris, I suppose the classical gentlemen would call it. The wedding dream unfolded. He learnt how the bride would slip away and put on her going-away dress. And he’d change too. They’d throw old slippers for luck.

“Then off we go. Shall it be gay Paree? I’ve always had a yearn. Someday, when you have learnt French too, we might have a teeny, weeny, little venire it terre in Paris. . . . ”

Edward Albert suddenly put his foot down.

“Not to Paris we don’t go. You’d start flirting again with that faux pa of yours. No fear.”

“Jealous! I like you to be jealous,” said Evadne Evangeline. “If you saw him. So old. Debonair, I admit, but in the last stage. . . . ”

“Anyhow if you don’t like that, there’s all the world to choose from. Let’s go to Boulogne perhaps or down to Torquay or Bournemouth to a room, our room with the sun shining in on us! Think of it.”

He thought of it.

They went about to shops. Evadne was the most discriminating of shoppers. The gentlemen in black coats bowed obsequiously and rubbed their hands together. And she would turn to Edward Albert and consult him. They bought furniture. They bought a lovely soft fur rug “for our little pink toes”, she whispered, “a sauté lit.” And pictures, for the artist gentleman had taken away all his pictures.

She recognised one she was, looking for with a cry of, “Enfant saoul!” It was a beautiful steel engraving of a tall lover, holding his new-won lady to him and pressing her fingers to his lips in the serene first moment of complete possession.

“I think it serch a lovely picture!” said Evadne Evangeline.

She feasted her eyes on it adoringly. “Darling,” she whispered, when the salesman was out of earshot, “I’m counting the days. I’m counting the hours. To that.”

In this fashion was our Edward Albert installed in his new home, and, at the propitious moment, Evangeline came, as she had promised him and herself, to give herself to him.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30