The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 8 (December 1, 1933)
Johnny in Doubt
It must be true. Only this morning, in the garden, I said to Lucille (hoping to find out something): “Well, my dear, I'll soon have to be moving along to the Home at Sunnybank, among the old fogies; your poor old father is not much use for anything any more.” My sigh was prodigious, and I tried to look sad, but she only smiled (yes, smiled, the minx!) and, turning from me, leaned over the roses. Snip! Snip! went the scissors, and I saw two red beauties fall into her basket.
“Now, John, that is nonsense, and well you know it,” she replied, quite sharply for Lucille. “When I'm not here will be ample time to think of that.”
Just then her curls were blowing and I saw one little ear nearly as red as the roses she had gathered. Now, why did she blush?
Lucille is attractive, and I say it without fear of contradiction. To be sure her curls have wisps of grey and her mother's cornflower eyes show tiny crinkles about the corners when she smiles, but somehow I never think of Lucille as growing old—only as more and more dear to me and the more capable of bringing peace and sweetness into the life of an old buffer of sixtysix—no, bless me! it was sixty-seven last June—–.
And I am so useless to her—a helpless log— a burden—but, never fear, I will shift myself when the time comes—she will never need to pretend. I am cute enough, and will know when I am in the way. There is always Sunnybank. I must grow used to the idea—think of it often—dream of it—live with it.
I have quite convinced myself it is true; else why does he come here? Not to see me, surely, nor yet to discuss our new lemon sweet-peas, although thev do spend an unconscionable time down by the fence where they grow. The taupatas hid them from me to-day, but to-morrow I will struggle down the verandah steps and spy on them. That is the idea—spy on them—then I will know. Johnny Wharton, you will not do any such thing! Spy on Lucille! Shame on you, you old reprobate! After all, it may not be true. I remember her once saying: “What! I marry—now Johnny, forget it, do. I've the garden—and Toby—and Dobin—and Chummy-cat—and the fowls—and—and—you. What do I want with anyone else, even a husband?” But that was long ago, and now everything is changed—and suspicious. The deuce take it, why the devil did he need to come just yet.
To-day I sat beneath the ngaios. The sun was hot—I fanned my face with my book until I threw it at Chummy-cat who had decided my best brown pansy was an unnecessary part of the landscape. With the book beyond my reach I sipped my lemon drink and planned Christmas presents. We go in to Moere the day after tomorrow, Lucille tells me. Ted Simpson will come with his ancient taxi and they will heave me in, with much puffing and blowing from all of us. From my cushions, I will order Simpson to “step on it,” to “let ‘er go,” and jeeringly taunt him “to bring her up to fifty, man.”
I do this every time we go to town, and Ted always plays up to me, but ruefully shakes his head at the idea of “doing fifty.” I love to see the sparkle in Lucille's eyes as she fusses over my cushions, and I—well, I almost forget my helplessness in the unaccustomed exhilaration of glorious swift movement.
On Friday we will buy our Christmas presents—Lucille and I—and how we will laugh at the queer odd-shaped bundles as we stow them on the seat beside our driver, who will “Haw! Haw!” obligingly at our merry quips and sallies. How Lucille and I love it—and the tea, brought out to the car on a tray, with sugar buns and curls of butter, little cakes and the inevitable pastry which we always feed to the pigeons who strut, friendly-like (and greedy) about us in the quiet side street. And the drive home—silent now; we do not speak—and wafted beer fumes—and snatches of song—and racing wheels—–. Ted Simpson enjoys his day in his own way.
Can it be the same this time—can it? Lucille seems so preoccupied now; I hardly ever know where she is or what she is doing. Sometimes I hear her voice—and his voice—somewhere out of my sight, and I feel I must shout to them, “How dare you forget me. You sha'nt! you shan't!” But I really keep very still, grip my chair arm tightly, and think hard of Sunnybank—–.
I had closed my eyes, the better to plan commissions for Ted Simpson—some purchases Lucille must not know about until Christmas morning. It was very quiet under the ngaios (the bees must have forgotten the verbenas), and except for the pop! pop! of bursting broom pods from the other side of the macrocarpa hedge, the world was drowsing in the heat. I must have drowsed, too. Then the gravel crunched and I heard voices—their voices. I listened—deliberately—how wily I have become.page 54 page 55
“You haven't told him then?” Mister James Cass was asking. I am not exactly in my dotage, nor am I quite an imbecile, so I knew who he meant and what he meant.
“Not yet,” answered my scheming daughter. “You see I want it to be a complete surprise.”
“You will arrange everything,” you say? “There is one thing, I am now satisfied you are top-hole,” spoke the galiant gentleman. The deuce she is, young sir—–.
“On Friday then,” he went on, and they passed down the path to the lemon sweet-peas.
All right, Lucille, my love! A surprise! Not for me, my dear, but for you. I will write the Home at Sunnybank now — to-night — this minute—and yet—maybe I had better not be too hasty. I simply refuse to remain in the way of their happiness—absolutely—but maybe it would be wiser to wait a little before writing. Tomorrow, anyway.
The day in Moere was a failure—for me, at any rate—because—well, mostly because Lucille left me for over an hour and a half—I timed her by the Town Hall clock—and she had the audacity to come back with that Cass fellow, who joked with me, “sir-ed” me, and wished me the compliments of the season. I could hardly keep my hands off his collar, the presuming bounder; but Lucille's cheeks were so pink, her curls so awry, and her dear eyes so full of love and happiness, my old heart fluttered ridiculously, and before I knew it we were laughing together.
Even our lunch hour was spoilt. The Cass chap asked “if we would honour him,” and Lucille looked appealing and said: “Won't you try, dear?” so what could an old buffer do? They hauled and they heaved, and out I fell, shaky and dizzy, and with my sticks not to be found. Then I dropped one in the gutter and Lucille looked distressed and muttered “Tch! Tch!” just like that. Between them they bustled me into a hot, steamy place, where we ate beastly pink ham and tinned fruit salad, and listened to a loud—very loud—speaker tell us “He Played His Ukelele as the Ship Went Down.” Not a pigeon did we see all day—and Ted Simpson is in disgrace—he came home drunk.
What a week! The heat is terrific. I lie out under the ngaios in the morning and on the verandah in the afternoon, and pretend to be happy. Lucille is mostly away somewhere, but at times she comes with a radiant face and cool hands and smiles, leaving me with a lemon drink and an achy loneliness. I suppose I will get used to being without her. I must.
Rain to-day, and it is cooler. Lucille has been with me most of the day. I was content to lie in the drawing-room, supposed to be reading, but watching her as she sorted out the corner cup-board.
I have decided I will write Sunnybank immediately after the holidays.
What a fool! And how we have laughed and cried and called ourselves hard names.
This morning, under the ngaios, the air was sweet and cool. If I could, I would have stopped my ears to the bird songs of thanksgiving for a rain-drenched world, for my heart was sore. “Unwanted—no use to anyone,” chanted dismal Despair, and although Hope was more cheerful and whispered, “Nice place, Sunnybank,” I was not comforted.
I heard Lucille run down the path to the gate as a car drew up outside. “She's off again—won't even come to say goodbye—–” I let myself think bitterly. I heard whisperings.
“Johnny! Johnny!” I started guiltily as she came from behind the taupatas. “You're going to take a walk. Here are your sticks. Come along.”
Never do I disobey that tone, and we hobbled slowly from my retreat.
“Close your eyes,” she next demanded, and blindly I let her lead me.
“Now!” she cried, triumphantly, after a journey which might have been six miles instead of as many yards.
I saw the wide-open white picket gate, and at the kerb-side a dark blue three-seater car.
“Very nice,” I said, without enthusiasm. “His Christmas present, of course.”
“Whose?” she asked.
“Yours—from him. I knew, of course,” I said softly, busying myself with my sticks.
“I don't know what you mean, Johnny. You're awfully dense. It seems my surprise has fallen flat—.” She laughed ruefully, and tucking her hand in my arm, kissed my cheek.
“Get in?” she suggested playfully, as if I could scramble with the best of them.
“Not with him,” I answered testily, not budging an inch.
“No, with me. Silly old Johnny—it's Christmas Eve—can't you guess. It's yours—and mine. Aren't you glad?”
I rather disgraced myself then, mumbling, “my dear, my dear,” over and over; but Lucille showed no mercy, and sternly rebuked me. “Johnny, don't be a baby! I don't know what you've been concocting in that silly brain of yours, but whatever it is, it isn't true. Come on, hop in!”
So after all, I had misunderstood. Lucille says the letter to Sunnybank need never be written—ever—and how did I dare to believe I was “unwanted,” and “what a dear silly goose” I am, and lots more that was very comforting.
It is past midnight—Christmas Day—and the night is clear and full of stars. My thoughts are of Lucille—tender, loving thoughts—dear child!
To-morrow we go driving, she says. We will boil the billy and take ham sandwiches and tinned fruit salad. How we will love it.page 56