Ultima Thule, by Henry Handel Richardson

Chapter IV

In spite, however, of this reassurance Mary could not rest. And one fine morning not long after, the trunks were brought out again, and she and Tilly fell to packing in earnest.

Cuffy’s resentment at being torn from the sea a whole fortnight too soon did not stand before the excitements of a journey: first in a coach and then in a train. Besides, Mamma had given him a little box to himself, to pack his shells in. Importantly he carried this, while she and Aunt Tilly ran about counting the other luggage. There was so much — portmanteaux and bundles, and baskets and bonnet-boxes, and beds and mattresses, and buckets and spades and the perambulator — that they were afraid there wouldn’t be room for it in the coach. But there was: they had it all to themselves. And diRECKLY the door was shut the lunch-basket was opened; for one of the most ‘squisite things about a journey was that you could eat as much as you liked and whenever you liked. Mamma was so nice, too, and didn’t scold when you and Luce rushed to look first out of one window and then the other. But Aunt Tilly said you trod on her feet and knocked against Baby, and you were a perfect nuisance; in all her born days she’d never known such fidgets. But Mamma said it was only high spirits, and you couldn’t be always carping at children, wait till Baby got big and she’d see! And Aunt Tilly said she’d take care he wasn’t brought up to be a nuisance to his elders. Cuffy was afraid they were going to get cross, so he sat down again, and only waggled his legs. He didn’t like Aunt Tilly much. He didn’t like fat people. Besides, when Baby squawked she thought it was lovely, and gave him everything he wanted to put in his mouth. They were in the train now, and WOULDN’T it be fun to pinch his leg! But he couldn’t, ‘cos he wasn’t sitting next him. But he stuck his boot out and pressed it as hard as ever he could against Baby’s foot, and Aunt Tilly didn’t see but Baby did, and opened his eyes and looked at him . . . just horrid!

Then came Melbourne and a fat old lady in a carriage and two horses, who called Mamma my dearie. She lived in a very big house with a nice old gentleman with a white beard, who took his hand and walked him round “to see the grounds” (just as if he was grown up). He was a very funny man, and said he owed (only he said it “h’owed”) everything to Papa, which made Cuffy wonder why, if so, he didn’t pay him back. For Papa was always saying he hadn’t enough money. But Mamma had told them they must be specially good here, and not pass remarks about ANYTHING. So he didn’t. One night they went to a Pantomime called GOODY TWO-SHOES— not Mamma, she was still too sorry about Lallie being dead — and once to hear music and singing in a theatre. The old Sir and Lady took them both times, and at the music Luce was a donkey and went to sleep, and had to be laid down on a coat on the floor. He didn’t! He sat on a chair in the front of a little room like a balcony, and listened and listened to a gipsy singing in a voice that went up and up, and made you feel first hot and then cold all over. Afterwards people made a great noise clapping their hands, and he did it, too, and made more noise than anybody. And the gipsy came by herself and bowed her head to every one, and then she looked at him, and smiled and blew him a kiss. He didn’t much care for that, because it made people laugh; and he didn’t know her. They all laughed again when they got home, till he went red and felt more like crying. He didn’t, though; he was too big to cry now; everybody said so. The funny thing was, lots of big people did cry here; there seemed always to be some one crying. Aunt Zara came to see them all dressed in black, with black cloths hanging from her bonnet and a prickly dress that scratched — like Papa’s chin when he hadn’t shaved. This was because she was a widder. She had a black streak on her handkerchief, too, to cry on, and felt most awfly sorry about writing to Mamma on paper that hadn’t a “morning border,” but what with one thing and another . . . Cuffy hoped Mamma wouldn’t mind, and asked what a morning border was, but was only told to run away and play. He didn’t. He stopped at the window and pretended to catch flies, he wanted so much to hear. Aunt Zara said she lit’rally didn’t know where to turn, and Mamma looked sorry but said if you made beds you must lie on them. (That WAS rummy!) And Aunt Zara said she thought she had been punished enough. Mamma said as long as she had a roof over her head she wouldn’t see any one belonging to her come to want, and there WERE the children, of course, and she was at her wits’ end what to do about them, but of course she’d have to consult Richard first, and Aunt Zara knew what he was, and Aunt Zara said, only too well, but there was nothing she wouldn’t do, she’d even scrub floors and wash dishes.

“Maria always scrubs our floors!”

It just jumped out of him; he did so want her to know she wouldn’t have to. But then she said the thing about little pitchers and Mamma got cross as well, and told him to go out of the room at ONCE, so he didn’t hear any more.

Then Cousin Emmy came, and she cried too — like anything. He felt much sorrier for her than Aunt Zara. He had to sniffle himself. She was so nice and pretty, but when she cried her face got red and fat, and Mamma said if she went on like this she’d soon lose her good looks. But she said who’d she got to be good-looking for, only a pack of kids, which made him feel rather uncomfortable and he thought she needn’t have said that. But it was very int’resting. She told about somebody who spent all her time dressing in “averdipoy,” and was possessed by a devil (like the pigs in the Bible). He longed to ask what she meant, but this time was careful and didn’t let anything hop out of him, for he was going to hear just EVERYTHING. Mamma seemed cross with Cousin Emmy, and said she was only a very young girl and must put up with things, and one day Mister Right would come along and it would be time enough, when that happened, to see what could be done. And Cousin Emmy got very fierce and said there’d never be any Mister Right for her, for a man was never allowed to show so much as his nose in the house. (Huh! THAT was funny. Why not his nose?) Mamma said she’d try and make HER see reason, and Cousin Emmy said it’d be like talking to a stone statue, and it would always be herself first and the rest nowhere, and the plain truth was, she was simply crazy to get married again and there’d never be any peace till she had found a husband. And Mamma said, then she’d have to look out for some one with lots of money, your Papa’s will being what it was. And Cousin Emmy said she was so sick and tired of everything that sometimes she thought she’d go away and drown herself. And then she cried again, and Mamma said she was a very wicked girl, even to THINK of such a thing. He had to wink his own eyes hard when she said that, and went on getting sorrier. And when she was putting on her hat to say good-bye he ran and got his shells, and when he was allowed to go to the gate with her he showed her them, and asked if she’d like to have them “for keeps.” And Cousin Emmy thanked him most awfly but couldn’t think of robbing him of his beautiful shells . . . oh well then, if he wanted it SO much, she would, but only one, and he should keep the other and it would be like a philippine, and they wouldn’t tell anybody; it would just be their secret. Which it was.

Next day they went to see Aunt Lizzie, where Cousin Emmy lived with “John’s cousins” . . . no, he meant “John’s children.” They couldn’t see John, for he was dead. In the wagonette Mamma told him all about the ‘squisite songs Aunt Lizzie used to sing him when he was quite a young child, and he hoped she would again; but when he asked her, when she had finished kissing, she clapped her hands and said law child, her singing days were over. It was Aunt Lizzie who was averdipoy — he knew now it meant fat, and not putting on something, for he had asked Mamma at dinner and Mamma had told him; but she had been cross, too, and said it was a nasty habit and he must get out of it, to listen to what his elders said, especially if you repeated it afterwards. He didn’t like Aunt Lizzie much. She had a great big mouth to sing with, and she opened it so wide when she talked you could have put a whole mandarin in at once; and she had rings on her fingers that cut you when she squeezed.

And then Mamma and her wanted to talk secrets, and they were told to go and play with their cousins. Cousin Emmy took them. Two of them were nearly grown-up, with their hairs in plaits, and they didn’t take much notice of them but just said, what a funny little pair of kids to be sure, and whatever was their Mamma thinking of not to put them in “morning” for their sister. They all had great big staring black eyes and it made him sorry he had. Cousin Josey was as horrid as ever. She said she guessed he was going to be a dwarf and would have to be shown at an Easter Fair, and Luce looked a reg’lar cry-baby. Cousin Emmy told her not to be so nasty, and she said her tongue was her own. Cousin Josey was only ten, but ever so big, with long thin legs in white stockings and black garters which she kept pulling up; and when she took off her round comb and put it between her teeth, her hair came over her face till she looked like a gorilla. When she said that about the cry-baby he took hold of Luce’s hand to pertect her, and squeezed it hard so’s she shouldn’t cry. But then Cousin Josey came and pinched Luce’s nose off between her fingers and showed it to her, and she pinched so hard that Luce got all red and screwed up her eyes like she really was going to cry. Cousin Emmy said she was not to take any notice what such a rude girl did, and then Cousin Josey stuck out her tongue, and Cousin Emmy said she’d box her ears for her if she didn’t take care. And then Cousin Josey put her fingers to her nose and waggled them — which was most awfly wicked — and Cousin Emmy said no it was too much and tried to catch her, and she ran away and Cousin Emmy ran too, and they chased and chased like mad round the table, and the big girls said, go it Jo, don’t let her touch you, and first a chair fell over and then the tablecloth with the books on it and the inkstand, and it upset on the carpet and there was an awful noise and Aunt Lizzie and Mamma came running to see what was the matter. And Aunt Lizzie was furious and screamed and stamped her foot, and Cousin Josey had to come here, and then she boxed her ears on both sides fit to kill her. And Mamma said oh Lizzie don’t and something about drums, and Aunt Lizzie said she was all of a shake, so she hardly knew what she was doing, but this was just a specimen, Mary, of what she had to put up with, they fought like turkey-cocks, and Cousin Emmy wasn’t a bit of good at managing them but just as bad as any of them, and there was never a moment’s peace, and she wished she’d seen their father at Jericho before she’d had anything to do with him or his spoilt brats. And the other two winked at each other, but Cousin Emmy got wild and said she couldn’t wish it more than she did, and she wouldn’t stand there and hear her father ubbused, and Aunt Lizzie said for two pins and if she’d any more of her sauce she’d box HER ears as well though she DID think herself so grand. And Cousin Emmy said she dared her to touch her, and it was DREADFUL. He was ever so glad when Mamma said it was time to go home, and he put on his gloves in a hurry. And when they got home Mamma told the Lady about it and said it was a “tragedy” for everybody concerned. He didn’t like Cousin Emmy quite so well after this. And that night in bed he told Luce all about the shells and the philippine, and Luce said if he’d given it her she’d have given it him back and then he’d still have had two. And he was sorry he hadn’t.

Uncle Jerry was a nice man . . . though he didn’t have any whiskers. Mamma said he looked a perfect sketch, and he’d only cut them off to please Aunt Fanny who must always be ahlamode. Mamma said he had to work like a nigger to make money, she spent such a lot, but he gave him and Luce each a shilling. At first it was only a penny, and first in one hand, then in the other, but at the end it was a shilling, to spend EXACTLY as they liked.

And then they had to go home, and got up ever so early to catch the train. This time it wasn’t so jolly. It was too hot: you could only lie on the seat and watch the sky run past. Mamma took off their shoes and said, well, chicks, we shall soon be seeing dear Papa again now, won’t that be lovely? And he said, oh yes, won’t it. But inside him he didn’t feel it a bit. Mamma had been so nice all the time at the seaside and now she’d soon be cross and sorry again . . . about Lallie and Papa. She looked out of the window, and wasn’t thinking about them any more . . . thinking about Papa. — Well, he WAS glad he hadn’t spent his shilling. He nearly had. Mamma said what fun it would be if he bought something for Papa with it. But he hadn’t. For Papa wrote a letter and said for God’s sake don’t buy me anything, but Mamma did . . . a most beautiful silver fruit knife. Luce had bought her doll new shoes . . . perhaps some day he’d buy a kite that ‘ud fly up and up to the sky till you couldn’t see a speck of it . . . much higher than a swing . . . high like a . . .

Good gracious! he must have gone to sleep, for Mamma was shaking his arm saying come children, wake up. And they put on their shoes again and their hats and gloves and stood at the window to watch for Papa, but it was a long, long time till they came to Barambogie. Papa was on the platform, and when he saw them he waved like anything and ran along with the train. And then he suddenly felt most awfly glad, and got out by himself diRECKly the door was open, and Mamma got out too, but as soon as she did she said oh Richard, what HAVE you been doing to yourself? And Papa didn’t say anything, but only kissed and kissed them, and said how well they looked, and he was too tired to jump them high, and while he was saying this he suddenly began to cry. And the luggage-man stared like anything and so did the stationmaster, and Mamma said, oh dear whatever is it, and not before everybody Richard, and please just send the luggage after us, and then she took Papa’s arm and walked him away. And Luce and him had to go on in front . . . so’s not to see. But he did, and went all hot inside, and felt most awfly ashamed.

And Papa cried and cried . . . he could hear him through the surgery door.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59