The Stars in Their Courses

Mary Cholmondeley

First published in The Romance of His Life: and other romances, John Murray, 1921.

This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.

Last updated Tuesday, September 15, 2015 at 12:32.

To the best of our knowledge, the text of this
work is in the “Public Domain” in Australia.
HOWEVER, copyright law varies in other countries, and the work may still be under copyright in the country from which you are accessing this website. It is your responsibility to check the applicable copyright laws in your country before downloading this work.

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

The Stars in Their Courses

I was always somewhat amazed when I came to think of it, but I hardly ever did think of it, that my cousin, Jimmy Cross, should have married Gertrude Bingham. There seemed no reason for such a desperate step on his part. But if one is going to be taken aback by the alliances of one’s friends and relations one would journey through life in a continual state of astonishment, and the marriage service especially exhorts the married “not to be afraid with any amazement,” which shows that that is the natural emotion evoked by contemplation of the holy estate, and that it is our duty not to give way to it.

I said there seemed no reason for the lethargic Jimmy to take this step, especially as he had been married before, and had enjoyed a serene widowhood for some years. But what I forgot was that he never did take any step at all in either marriage. He just sat still.

The first time his Mother arranged everything, and the result, if dull, was not actually unpleasant.

The second time Gertrude Bingham took all the necessary steps with precision and determination. Now and then it certainly seemed as if he would take alarm and run away, but he did not. He remained seated.

It is as impossible for a man rooted in inertia to achieve a marriage which implies an effort, as it is for him to evade a marriage, the avoidance of which requires an effort. He remains recumbent both when he ought to pursue and when he ought to fly. He is the prey of energetic kidnappers.

Gertrude was a great astrologer and conversed in astrological terms, which I repeat, but which I don’t pretend to understand. She told me (after the wedding) that when she discovered that Jimmy’s moon in the house of marriage was semi-sextile to her Venus she had known from the first that their union was inevitable. I think Jimmy felt it so too, and that it was no use struggling. To put it mildly, she placed no obstacles in the way of this inevitable union, and it took place amid a general chorus of rather sarcastic approval from both families.

What a mother Gertrude would make to Joan, Jimmy’s rather spoilt girl of twelve, what a wife to Jimmy himself, what an excellent influence in the parish, what an energetic addition to our sleepy neighbourhood. We were told we were going to be stirred up. I never met the second Mrs. Cross till Jimmy brought her down as a bride to call on me in my cottage near his park gates. She at once inspired me with all the terror which very well-dressed people with exactly the right hair and earrings always arouse in me. She was good-looking, upright, had perfect health and teeth and circulation, did breathing exercises, had always just finished the book of the moment, and was ready with an opinion on it, not a considered opinion—but an opinion. During her first call I discovered that she had, for many years, held strong views about the necessity of school life for only children, and was already on the look-out for a seminary for Joan.

“It is in her horoscope,” she said to me, as we walked in my orchard garden, too much engrossed with Joan’s future to notice my wonderful yellow lupins. “Her Mercury and ruling planet are in Aquarius, and that means the companionship of her own age. I shall not delay a day in finding the best school that England can produce.”

I need hardly say that such an establishment protruded itself on to Mrs. Cross’s notice, with the greatest celerity, and thither the long-legged nail-biting, pimply, round-shouldered Joan repaired, and became a reformed character, with a clear complexion and a back almost as flat as her step-mother’s.

“Wonderful woman,” Jimmy used to say somewhat ruefully to me, sitting on the low stone wall which divides my little velvet lawn from my bit of woodland. “Gertrude has been the making of Joan.”

“And of you, too, my dear Jimmy,” I remarked.

He sighed.

It was perfectly true. She had been the making of him, just as she had been the making of the Manor garden, of the boot and shoe club, the boys’ carving class, the Confirmation candidates’ reading class, the mothers’ working parties, the coal club, the Church members’ lending library. The only misgiving that remained in one’s mind after she had been the making of all these things was that it seemed a pity that they were all so obviously machine-made, turned out to pattern.

Personally, I should have preferred that they should have been treated less conventionally, or let alone. My own course and Jimmy’s would, of course, have been to have left them alone. We left everything alone. But Gertrude always had a ready-made scheme for everything and everybody. She even had a scheme of salvation into which the Deity was believed to be compressed. I did not mind much the industrious efforts she expended on Jimmy, who was now an inattentive Magistrate and member of the County Council, and wobbly chairman of his own Parish Council, writing an entirely illegible hand, which perhaps did not matter much as he never answered letters. But I felt acutely distressed when she reconstructed the rambling old Manor garden entirely. All its former pleasant characteristics were wrenched out of it. It was drawn and quartered, and then put together anew in compartments. It contained everything; a Japanese garden, a rock garden, a herb garden, a sunk garden, a wilderness, a rose garden, a pergola, three pergolas, just as the village now contained, a boot club, a coal club, a—but I think I have said that before.

In the course of time she presented Jimmy with two most remarkable children, at least she said they were remarkable: and from their horoscopes I gathered the boy would probably become a prime minister, and the girl a musical genius. We don’t actually know yet what form their greatness will take, for as I write this they are still greedy, healthy children, who come out in plum-pudding rash regularly at Christmas.

I knew her well by the time the garden had been given its coup de grâce, and I told her after I had been dragged all over it that she had a constructive mind. (I have never been a particularly truthful person, but my career as a liar dates from Jimmy’s marriage with Gertrude.)

My remark pleased her. She smiled graciously and said, “Ah, I had not got Mars rising in Capricorn for nothing when I was born.”

As we became more intimate she insisted on drawing out my horoscope, and after a week of intense mental activity produced a sort of cart wheel on paper at which I looked with respectful misgiving.

“I hope it does not say anything about my living anywhere except here,” I said anxiously.

I had long had a fear at the back of my mind that she might need my cottage for some benevolent scheme. Jimmy, who had always been fond of me, had let it to me at a nominal rent in his easygoing widower days, because the mild climate suited my rheumatism, and my society suited him. Round the cottage had gradually sprung up what many, though not Gertrude, considered a beautiful garden.

“No travelling at all,” she said, “no movement of any kind. And I am afraid, Anne, I can’t hold out the slightest hope of a marriage for you.”

“Since I turned forty I had begun to fear I might remain unwedded,” I remarked.

“No sign of marriage,” she said, exploring the cart wheel, “and there must have been considerable lethargy in the past when openings of this kind did occur. Your Venus seems for many years to have been in square to Neptune, and that would tend to make these chances slip away from you.”

“I endeavoured to pounce on them,” I said humbly. “My dear mother’s advice to me as to matrimony was ‘clutch while you can’—I assure you I left no stone unturned.”

“In that case you probably turned the wrong ones,” she said judicially. “And I am sorry to tell you that I don’t see any good fortune coming to you either, and rather bad health. In short, you will have a severe illness next spring. March especially will be a bad month for you. Your Moon will be going through Virgo, the sign of sickness.”

It generally was. I don’t mean my moon, but March. I rarely got through the winter without an attack of rheumatism at the end of it.

All in a moment, as it seemed to me, after a few springs and autumns and attacks of rheumatism, Gertrude’s two children were leaving the nursery, and Joan was returning home from school to be introduced into society. Gertrude began to look round for a governess who would also be a companion for Joan. I helped her to find one. It was a case of nepotism. I recommended my own niece, Dulcibella, who had just returned from the completion of her education at Dresden. Dulcibella’s impecunious parents had, of course, both died and left her to battle with life—and me, alone, her only heritage being a wild rose prettiness and dark eyes like an Alderney calf’s.

She was well educated. I had been able to achieve that owing to the cheap rate at which I lived, thanks to Jimmy. But I had thoroughly made up my mind that I was not going to have her twirling her thumbs under my roof. She was close on eighteen, and must now earn her own living.

She was staying with me on a visit when Gertrude told me of her requirements. Gertrude’s two stout children were at that moment sitting on the lawn blowing soap bubbles with Dulcibella. Jimmy had been engaged in the same pursuit as his offspring five minutes earlier, but had departed. Gertrude looked at the group critically.

“Your niece does not look strong,” she said dubiously.

“She isn’t.”

“Or energetic.”

“She’s not.”

“Is she really firm with children?”

“I should not think so, but you are a better judge of character than I am.”

Conscience pricked as I said the words, but I had become inured to its prickings.

“I have, of course, studied human nature,” she said slowly, still looking at the pretty group on the lawn.

I have not yet met a fellow creature who does not think he has studied human nature. Yet how few turn the pages of that open book. And out of that few the greatest number scan it upside down.

“I could make a truer estimate,” she continued, “if I drew out her horoscope. I go by that more than by my own fallible judgment. I may err, but I have never known astrology to fail.”

Dulcie was duly engaged as governess on approval for three months, on the strength of her horoscope. Before she went to the Manor House I made a few remarks to her to which she listened decorously, her eyes reverently fixed on my face.

“You will leave with me that remarkably pretty lilac muslin you appeared in yesterday—and the sun-bonnet. You will make yourself look as like a district visitor as possible, thick where you ought to be thin, and thin where you ought to be thick. Don’t cry, Dulcie. I am endeavouring to help you. Be thankful you have an aunt like me. Who educated you?”

“You did.” Sob. Sob.

“Well, now I am finishing your education. You want to earn your living, I suppose. You know that I only have a small annuity, that I have not a farthing to leave you.”

“Yes, yes, Aunt Anne.”

“Well, then, don’t look prettier than that square Joan, and don’t let the wave in your hair show.”

The Alderney calf eyes brimmed anew with tears. Dulcie drooped her pin of a head. Like that defunct noodle, her mother, she lived solely for clothes and poetry and the admiration of the uncorseted sex. She had come into the world a little late. She conformed to the best Victorian ideals, but there are men still lurking in secluded rural districts if one could but find them, to whom her cheap appeal might be irresistible. I had hopes she might secure a husband if she took a country engagement. I proceeded with my discourse. It spread over Jimmy as well. I did not bid her pure eyes look into depths of depravity but I did make her understand that Mrs. Cross was becoming rather stout and middle-aged, and that if Mr. Cross blew soap bubbles in the schoolroom too frequently, she, Dulcie, might find that her French accent was not good enough for her young charges.

Dulcie has not the faintest gleam of humour, but she is docility itself.

She appeared next day staid, flat-figured, almost unpretty, her wonderful hair smoothed closely over her small ears.

I blessed her, and said as a parting word:

“Take an interest in astrology.”

And then the gardener wheeled her luggage on the barrow to the Manor, and Dulcie crept timidly behind it to her first situation.

In order that this tragic story, for it is a tragedy, should not expand into a novel, I will say at once that she was a complete success. That was because she did exactly as I told her. As a rule, very silly people never will do what they are told. But in that one point Dulcie was no fool.

She was lamentably weak with the children. She had no art of teaching. She did not encourage Joan to preserve a burnished mind, but she took to astrology like a duck to water. From the first she was deeply interested in it, and believed in it with flawless credulity.

“Dulcie,” said Gertrude with approval, “has a very alert mind for one so young. Joan has never taken the faintest interest in astrology, but Dulcie shows an intelligent grasp of the subject. She studies it while the children are preparing their syntax. You, yourself, Anne, have never in all these years mastered even the elements of the science. I don’t believe you know what an aspect means.”

“I don’t pretend to a powerful mind.”

“Your difficulty is the inertia that belongs to a low vitality,” said Gertrude, “and I rather think that is what is the matter with Joan. She hardly opens a book. She has not an idea beyond her chickens. She spends hours among her coops.”

“Dulcie’s horoscope,” continued Gertrude after a pause, “shows a marked expansion in her immediate future. The wider life which she has entered upon under our roof is no doubt the beginning of it. I feel it my duty to help her in every way I can.”

“Dear Gertrude,” I said. “Thank you. My poor motherless child, for whom I can do but little has found a powerful friend in you.”

Conscience jabbed me as with a knitting needle, but I paid no more attention to it than the Spartan boy to his fox.

“There is certainly a love affair in her near future,” continued Gertrude affably. “She says that astrologically she can’t see any such thing for several years to come, but I know better. I found him under Uranus, transiting her Venus. She is an extremely intelligent pupil, but she is certainly obstinate. She won’t see it. But she can see Joan’s engagement and marriage quite clearly. We both see that. But I am convinced Dulcie has an opportunity of marrying as well as Joan. Her moon will shortly be going through the fifth house, the house of lovers which speaks for itself. I wondered whether it might possibly be Mr. Wilson. Most respectable—you know—Mr. Benson’s pupil. He’s always coming over on one pretext or another, to play tennis or see Joan’s chickens. I saw him walking back through the park with Dulcie and the children the other day.”

I pretended to be horrified.

“I will speak to her,” I mumbled, “most reprehensible.”

“I beg you will do nothing of the kind,” said Gertrude with asperity. “The world moves on, my dear Anne, while you sit dreaming in your cottage; and if you can’t raise a finger to help your own niece then don’t try to nullify the benevolent activities of those who can.”

“Of course, Gertrude, if you look at it in that way. But a governess!”

“I do look at it in that way; and allow me to tell you, Anne, that you dress her abominably, and I have advised her to revolt. And her hair! I spoke to her about it yesterday, and she said you liked her to plaster it down like that. The child has beautiful hair, very like mine at her age. It needs releasing. It is not necessary that she should imitate your severe coiffure.”

“Oh! Gertrude, I always brush my own hair back, and surely it is not too much to ask of my brother’s only child who owes everything to me to—” I became tearful.

“It is too much to ask. You are an egoist, Anne. The poor child looked quite frightened when I spoke to her yesterday. You mean well, but you have repressed her. I intend, on the contrary, to draw her out, to widen her narrowed, pinched existence.” Gertrude had said the same of Jimmy when she married him. Everyone had a pinched existence till she dawned on them, though it would have been difficult to say who had dared to pinch Jimmy.

Next day Dulcie came down half frightened, wholly delighted, to confer with me.

“My dear,” I said. “Do exactly what kind Mrs. Cross wishes about your hair and dress and general deportment. I can’t explain, it would take too long, and when I had explained you would not understand. You may now take back with you the lilac gown and the sun-bonnet. And, by the way, what is this Mr. Wilson like who is always coming over?”

“Very, very nice”—with fervour.

“And handsome?”

“Very, very handsome.”

“H’m! Now, Dulcie, no nonsense such as you ladled out to me about Herr Müller, the music master at Dresden. You needn’t cry. That is all past and forgotten. But I want a plain answer. Does this very handsome man care about chickens?”

“Yes, yes, Aunt Anne. He has taken several prizes.”

“Does he come to see you, or Joan?”

Dulcie cogitated.

“At first it was Joan,” she said.

Light broke in on me. That serpent Gertrude! She did not think the poultry fancier good enough for the stolid Joan, but quite good enough for my exquisite Dulcibella.

“I must go back now,” said Dulcie. “I’m dining down because Mr. Cross likes a game of patience in the evening. It keeps him from falling asleep. Mr. Wilson is staying to dinner. I’m going to wear my amber muslin, and Mr. Vavasour is coming to stay. We’ve seen a good deal of him lately. Mrs. Cross says he has had a very overshadowed life with his old mother, and she wants to help him to a wider sphere.”

I pricked up my ears.

“Is he Vavasour, of Harlington?”

“Yes, that’s his home, near Lee on the Solent.”

“But surely he is quite an infant.”

“I don’t know what you mean by an infant, Aunt Anne. He is two years older than me, and he simply loves poetry.”

“And is he as nice as Mr. Wilson?”

“Very, very nice.”

Further lights were bursting in. The illumination momentarily staggered me.

“H’m. Dulcie, you will now attend to what I tell you.”

“Yes, yes, Aunt Anne. I always do.”

“Now, mind you don’t make eyes at Mr. Wilson, who is Joan’s friend. That is what horrid little cats of girls do, not what I expect of you. Chickens draw people together in a way, ahem! you don’t understand, but—you will later on.”

“Like poetry does?” Dulcie hazarded.

“Just like poetry. And one thing more. Don’t speak to Mr. Vavasour unless he speaks to you.”

“No, no, Aunt Anne. I never do.”

Once again I must compress. As the summer advanced, Gertrude, nose down in full cry on the track, unfolded to me a project which only needed my cooperation.

I reminded her that I never cooperated, but she paid no attention, and said she wished to send the children with Joan and Dulcie to the seaside for a month, while she watched over Jimmy during his annual visit to Harrogate. The children required a change.

I agreed.

She had thought of Lee on the Solent. (You will remember, reader, that Mr. Vavasour’s place was near Lee.)

“Why Lee?” I said, pretending surprise. “Expensive and only ten miles away. No real change of climate. Send them to Felixstowe or Scarborough.”

But Gertrude’s mind was made up. She poured forth batches of adequate reasons. It must be Lee. Would I accompany the party as their guest? Joan and Dulcie were rather too young to go into lodgings alone.

I saw at once that, under the circumstances, Lee was no place for me. I might get into hot water. I, so free now, might become entangled in the affairs of others, and might be blamed later on. I might find myself acting with duplicity or, to be more exact, I might be found out to be doing so.

I declined with regretful gratitude. If it had been Felixstowe or Scarborough I would have taken charge with pleasure, but I always had rheumatism at Lee. Rheumatism was a very capricious ailment.

“It is, indeed,” said Gertrude coldly.

“Send your old governess,” I suggested, “the ancient Miss Jones who lives at Banff. You have her here every summer for a month. Kill two birds with one stone. Let her have her annual outing at Lee instead of here.”

Gertrude was undeniably struck by my suggestion, though she found fault with it. As she began to come round to it I then raised objections to it. I reminded her that Miss Jones was as blind as a bat: that when she accompanied them to Scotland the year before she had mistaken the footman bathing for a salmon leaping. But Gertrude was of the opinion that Miss Jones’s shortsightedness was no real drawback.

The expedition started, and I actually produced five pounds for Dulcie to spend on seaside attire. I considered it a good investment.

Before Gertrude departed with Jimmy for Harrogate she volunteered with a meaning smile that she understood Mr. Wilson bicycled over frequently to Lee.

“Ten miles is nothing,” I said, “to a high principled poultry fancier.”

“Now you know,” she said archly, “why I did not wish to remove Dulcie to a great distance at this critical moment in her young life. I hear from Miss Jones, who writes daily, that there are shrimping expeditions and picnics with the children, strolls by moonlight without them.”

Reader, I did not oblige that serpent to disgorge the fact that moonlight strolls are not taken by two women and one man. I knew as well as possible that Miss Jones had received a hint to give these two young men every opportunity. I thanked Providence that I had not got into that galère. I had been saved by the fixed principle of a life time to avoid action of any kind.

I had hardly begun to enjoy the month of solitude when it was over, and Gertrude and Jimmy returned from Harrogate, he very limp and depressed, as always after his cure, and sure that it had done him more harm than good.

The two girls came back from the Solent looking the picture of health; even Joan was almost pretty, beaming under her tan. Dulcibella, who did not tan, was ravishing. The children were a rich brown pink apparently all over, and the ancient Miss Jones was a jet-beaded mass of bridling gratitude and self-importance.

Then, of course, the storm burst.

You and I, reader, know exactly what had happened. Dulcie had got engaged to Mr. Vavasour, and Joan to Mr. Wilson.

Dulcie came skimming down in the dusk the first evening to announce the event to me, her soft cheek pressed to mine. She said she wanted me to be the first to know.

And Gertrude had said I could do nothing for her!

She told me that at that very moment the blissful Joan was announcing her own betrothal to her parents.

Next morning Jimmy came down to see me. He generally gravitated to me if anything went wrong.

“We are in a hat up at the house,” he said. “Joan has actually engaged herself to that oaf, Wilson. Infernal cheek on his part, I call it.”

“You have had him hanging about for months,” I said, “I expect he and Joan thought you approved.”

“They did. They do. But that doesn’t make it any better. Of course I said I would not allow it, and Joan was amazed and cried all night, and Gertrude is in a state of such nervous tension you can’t go near her, and poor old Jones, who came back preening herself, is bathed in tears—and Gertrude says I have got to speak to Wilson at once. She always says things have got to be done at once.”

He groaned, and sat down heavily on my low wall, crushing a branch of verbena.

“It’s not as if I hadn’t warned Gertrude,” he went on. “I said to her several times ‘I’m always catching my foot against Wilson,’ and yet she would have him about the place. She as good as told me she thought he and Dulcie might make a match of it. But it’s my opinion Dulcie never so much as looked at him. I told Gertrude so, but she only smiled, and said I was to leave it to her, and that it was in those confounded stars that Dulcie would marry almost at once. This is what her beastly stars have brought us to.”

“She did tell me there was an early marriage for Joan, too, in her horoscope,” I hazarded.

“Well, we had had thoughts, I mean Gertrude had, that young Vavasour came over oftener than he need. He’s rather a bent lily, but of course he’s an uncommonly good match. I should not have thought there was anything in it, myself, but Gertrude kept rubbing it in. That is why they went to Lee.”

“You don’t say so!”

“Yes, I do say so. But look how it has turned out.”

“I think I ought to tell you—I’m so astonished that even now I don’t know how to believe it—I only heard of it last night,—that Dulcie has accepted Mr. Vavasour.”

For a moment Jimmy stared at me, and then he burst into shouts of laughter.

“Well done, Anne!” he said, rolling on my poor verbena. “Well done, Dulcie. That little slyboots. Thirty thousand a year. What a score. Who would have thought it, Anne! You look so remote and unworldly in your grey hair, stitching away at your woolwork picture. But you’ve outwitted Gertrude. Well, I don’t care what she says. I’m glad of any luck happening to Dulcie. She is not fit to struggle for herself in this hard world. But Gertrude will never forgive you, Anne. You may make up your mind to that.”

“But what have I done?” I bleated. “Nothing. I’m as innocent as an unlaid egg.”

“You may be, but she will never forgive you all the same,” said Jimmy slowly rising, and brushing traces of verbena from his person. “Stupid people never forgive, and they always avenge themselves by brute force.”

Old Miss Jones, bewildered and tearful, toddled down to see me, boring me to death with plans for leaving Banff and settling in Bournemouth with a married niece. Joan rushed down, boisterously happy, and confident that her father would give in; Jimmy, weakening daily, came down. Mr. Wilson called, modest and hopeful; Dulcie, and the children came down, Mr. Vavasour, a stooping youth, with starling eyes, and an intense manner, motored over.

But Gertrude never came.

I consoled myself with Mr. Vavasour. There was no doubt he was in love with Dulcie, and I surmised that in the future, if she could not dominate him, his aunt by marriage might be able to do so. I can’t say whether Dulcie cared much about him, but I told her firmly that she was very much in love, and she said, “Yes, yes, Aunt Anne.”

That was what was so endearing about Dulcie.

She was so obliging; always ready to run upstairs for my spectacles, or to marry anybody.

One evening, when she was dining with me, she proceeded to draw out her Ronald’s horoscope.

She was evidently extraordinarily well up in the subject.

“I will ask, Mrs. Cross,” she said at last, after much knitting of white brows, “but I should say Ronald was certainly not going to marry at all at this moment with Mercury and Jupiter in opposition. But then I said the same about myself, and about your going on a long journey. I should have thought some great change was inevitable with your sun now sesquiquadrate to Uranus in Cancer. But Mrs. Cross said I was absolutely mistaken about both. She was very emphatic.”

“You don’t mean to say you believe a single word of it,” I said, amazed.

“Oh, yes, Aunt Anne, of course I do. Why, don’t you remember you yourself advised me to study it. I’m sure it’s all true, only it’s difficult to disentangle.”

Jimmy came down next day, and a more crestfallen man I have never seen. I was dividing my white pinks, and he collapsed on a bench, and looked at me.

“You’ve given in about Mr. Wilson,” I said drily.

“I have. Gertrude came round to it quite suddenly last night.”

“Bear up,” I said “They will probably be very happy.”

“I don’t find I mind much now it’s decided on. And between ourselves Gertrude and Joan did not hit it off too well. I used to get a bit rattled between the two of them. It will be more peaceful when Joan is married.”

“Then I don’t see why you look so woe-begone.”

Jimmy shifted on his bench.

“Anne,” he said solemnly, “you made the great mistake of your life when you refused me.”

“You could not expect me to leave a brand new kitchen boiler for you. I told you that at the time.”

“We should have suited each other,” went on Jimmy, drearily, ignoring manlike, my reasons for celibacy. “We are both,” he paused and then added with dignity, “contemplatives by nature. We should have sat down in two armchairs for life. I should never have been a magistrate, and a chairman of a cursed Parish Council. I should just have been happy.”

“I have been happy,” I said, “I am happy.”

“You have had a beautiful life: one long siesta. That is so like you. You have fetched it off and I’ve missed it. Just as Gertrude has missed this match for Joan, and you have fetched it off for Dulcie. If I had married you you would never have wanted me to exert myself. That was why my higher nature turned to you like a sunflower to the sun. You ought to have taken me. After all, you are the only woman I have ever proposed to,” said the twice married man.

“I thought as much,” I said, pulling my white pinks apart.

“You might have known,” he said darkly, and a glint of malice momentarily shone in his kindly eyes, “that trouble would some day overtake you for your wicked selfishness in refusing me.”

I did not notice what he was saying so much as that alien expression in my old friend’s face. I stared at him.

“I’m putty in Gertrude’s hands,” he continued solemnly, “as I should have been in yours. It’s no kind of use saying I ought not to be putty. I know I ought not, but putty I am. You don’t know what marriage is like. No peace unless you give in entirely—no terms—no half-way house, no nothing except unconditional surrender.”

I had never heard Jimmy speak like this before. I put in a layer of pinks, and then looked at him again.

There were tears in his eyes.

“My dear old soul,” he burst out, “I can’t help it, I cannot help it. She insisted on my coming down and telling you myself. She said it must come from me, as my own idea, and I’m not to mention her at all. The truth is—she has decided—and nothing will move her—that it will be best if Joan and Bobby Wilson lived quite near us for a time as they are both so young—in fact—” his voice became hoarse—“in this cottage.”

My cottage!” I said. “Here!

He nodded.

For a moment I could neither see nor hear. My brain reeled. I clutched at something which turned out to be Jimmy’s hand.

“My own little house,” I gasped. “My garden, made with my own hands. The only place my rheumatism—” I choked.

“Don’t take on so, Anne,” but it was Jimmy who was crying, not I, “I’ll find something else for you. Miss Jones is leaving Banff. You shall have her house rent free. I hate it all just as much as you. It makes me sick to think of chicken hutches on your lawn; but, but—you shouldn’t have outwitted Gertrude.”

“She told me there was no movement, no journey of any kind in my horoscope,” I groaned.

“She says she made a mistake, and that she sees now there is a long journey. Dulcie told her so some time ago, but she would not hear of it. But now she has worked it out again, and she says Dulcie was right after all. You are plum in the thick of Uranian upheavals.”

“And is Dulcie’s marriage a mistake, too?”

“She said nothing about that. But, between ourselves, Anne, though I’m not an astrologer, I should not count on it too much, for I’ve been making a few enquiries about Vavasour, and I find he has been engaged four times already. It’s a sort of habit with him to get engaged, and his mother never opposes him, but she has a sort of habit of gently getting him out of it—every time.”

All this took place several years ago. I live in the suburbs of Banff now in Miss Jones’s old house. As there is no garden that kind Jimmy has built me a little conservatory sticking like a blister to the unattached wall of my semi-detached villa. He sends me a hamper of vegetables every week, and Joan presents me with a couple of chickens now and then, reared on my lawn.

They come in handy when Dulcie and her Wilhelm are staying with me. Herr Müller has an appointment in Aberdeen now. They are dreadfully poor, and a little Müller arrives every year, but Dulcie is as happy as she is incompetent and impecunious. She adds to their small muddled away income by giving lessons in astrology. I have learned the rudiments of the science, in order when I stay with her to help her with her pupils. But I never stay long as I have rheumatism as severely in Aberdeen as in Banff.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005