Enjoying Life and Other Literary Remains

How Tom Snored on His Bridal Night

They were married at Bristol where Mabel was a laundress and Tom the boxing instructor at the camp.

After the ceremony they went straight home to her mother’s little cottage in Devon, where a small group stood at the door, threw confetti, and gave a short self-conscious cheer. A loud self-assertive whoop from Bert Vowles was received with a stern glance from Tom as he stepped nimbly out of the cab before greeting his new relatives. He bestowed a specially friendly smile and a brotherly kiss on Lucy, Mabel’s youngest sister, a pretty girl in delicate health, whose tragedy was to carry her head permanently drawn down on one side towards the shoulder like a kink in the stalk of a flower.

Now Lucy admired Tom, but simply loathed Bert, and Tom’s glance of disapproval at the latter was by no means lost on her. It was just like Bert to shout louder than any one else: she did not know why he had turned up at all — after all, he had only just begun to walk out with Madge — wretched little tailor chap with pimples on his face (Madge gave him ointment to put on them, and in return he was often busy tailoring her skirts). Whereas Tom was a soldier with two wound stripes, a boxer, and runner-up for the champion featherweight.

They were quickly hurried in to view the “breakfast” spread — “Mum’s sponges and jellies” and a three-decker cake (the food-controller was easily circumvented) laid out in the kitchen on a big trestle table by Madge, who had been parlourmaid at the Hall and knew how to fold the serviettes in a wonderful manner, unknown outside high circles. Through the open window came the sound of Madge’s excited giggle — “Oh, do let go of me, I shall scream.” On the garden seat Bert was tickling, squeezing, and giggling in a gross indulgence in all the delights of rural courtship. Lucy glanced in annoyance towards Tom who looked back sympathetically. They understood one another fine she thought — yes, it really was a shame that Mum could allow that sort of thing to go on.

After the ceremony of cutting the cake, and when Gaffer Laramy’s appetite had eased off, ruminating, he remarked to the bride : “Well, my dear, I suppose you found the ceremony a little awkward, never ‘aving been in a Catholic place of worship before.” “Oh, I got on alright, Mr. Laramy; you see I am only learning the religion. ‘Tiz a difficult religion to learn however,” replied Mabel with phlegm. “You’ll get into the way of it,” said Tom encouragingly. Gaffer pursued: “Well, Mrs. Cox, I suppose all your daughters be fixed up now, eh?”

He had forgotten Lucy, but Lucy did not mind — she was used to being forgotten, and thought out of the running in everything. No one ever thought of her as like other girls, but only as — “poor Lucy.”

Tom looked up brightly and said to Mrs. Cox: “Oh, I don’t know, there’s Lucy, you’ll lose her yet.” Mrs. Cox sighed heavily and whispered to the Best Man, a stranger, “Afflicted from birth.” “So?” said he quietly, “a pretty lass for all that, Mrs. Cox.”

Lucy knew what her mother was saying, she always said it, and she always sighed as if it were her own affliction much more than Lucy’s. With no other intention than to appear amiable and knowing Bert winked and said: “I rather think Alfred West is sweet on Lucy.” Lucy flushed, and there was a dead silence for a moment or two, even Bert ceasing to frolic with Madge’s hands under the table in a genuine puzzlement at the effect he had produced. Alfred West was the village hunchback.

Presently Tom, indignant: “Why aren’t you in the army?” almost as much as to say, “Why aren’t you dead?” “They won’t have me,” Bert replied. “I’m not surprised.” snapped Lucy. “Tut, tut,” murmured Gaffer.

“Do you think you could make a boxer of him, Tom?” Lucy inquired. Tom shrugged his shoulders. “I expect you’d knock some stuffing out of him,” pursued Lucy. “Oh, some stuffing would have to be knocked into him first,” muttered Tom sotto voce.

Mabel remonstrated : “Oh, Tom.” Madge pouted, and Mrs. Cox, to clear the air a little, got up and asked brightly : “Now, who is going to help me shift out the furniture for the dancing?”

They danced till after midnight, Mabel and Tom leading off and receiving, especially from Gaffer, all the admiration they deserved as a handsome young couple.

Then came singing. Gaffer Laramy presented his small repertoire, reserved for high days and holidays and jollifications at the Green Dragon — “Won’t you come and veed the vowls?”

“Garn! No wonder Gaffer is always singing that toon,” cried Bert. “I counted twenty chicken when I was down by his fence yesterday — they must cost summat in corn.”

The company laughed and cunning Gaffer chuckled: “Well, I reckon you’ll be glad to sing that toon when you’re married and got a brood.” Loud laughter greeted this sally, and Bert had to subside.

Lucy could not dance because of her “affliction,” but she sang very well, and so did Tom, and Lucy accompanied him. Tom behaved, she thought, in a most genteel manner, carefully turning ovsr the leaves, and Tom, looking down at her delicate hands and nimble fingers, thought to himself more than once — “What a pearl of a girl! What a pity. . . .”

She was a year younger and Mabel three years older than he was.

They so enjoyed their music together that they went on long after the appreciation of their audience was exhausted and general conversation had been resumed. Mabel sat by the piano and fidgetted. Then Lucy suddenly got up, walked to the door, called and beckoned to Tom, and took him outside into the parlour. She had been dying to tell him all the evening, and now was the chance. Mysteriously drawing from her pocket a little package — a silver matchbox, she said: “I wanted to give you a little something for yourself.”

Tom was delighted; in high spirits he seized his sister-in-law round the waist, and was kissing her on the lips, when the kitchen door opened, and Mabel appeared. “What are you two doing out here, kissing in the moonlight?” Tom sprang from Lucy to his bride, exclaiming: “Look, isn’t this a lovely present from Lucy.” “How lovely,” Mabel agreed, and then added at once: “I’ll give you a cigarette-box to match it — but I say Tom, come on, they want us to do that dance together again.” And they went off up the passage doing a two-step, what time Lucy walked slowly behind.

“I thought the little lass had ‘urned off with your man altogether,” said Gaffer on their re-entry. “I dessay she’d like to,” Mabel answered, smiling proudly.

Later on, when it was past three o’clock in the morning, Lucy found herself sitting beside Mabel. “Did Tom really like the matchbox?” she asked eagerly. “Oh, my dear, he’s been talking of nothing else ever since.” There was a flavour of sarcasm in the exaggeration, but Lucy did not notice it.

Mrs. Cox brought the festivities to an end by producing her famous elder-berry wine, and while Gaffer freely toasted bride, bridegroom, and their future offspring in little speeches of a vinous streak and flecked with harmless Rabelaisian pleasantries, the bride herself slipped quietly up to the bridal chamber, which Lucy had lavishly decorated with primroses and violets.

Gaffer patted Tom on the shoulder as he thumped out to the door with his ash stick:

“Well, Sonny, I reckon you be eager to climb timbern ‘eel to the Blanket Vair as the zaying is.” (Everyone laughed nervously). “Do your dooty” (more nervous laughter and Tom thought, “I wish the old blighter would buck up and clear out"), “and remember Noove Chappel” (no one knew what he meant, but everyone laughed to relieve the tension, at this dramatic juncture). In the room above, Mabel awaited her lover.

Gaffer went stumping off up the road, and then a strange thing happened — a portent. Up to then no one in the village had ever heard him give utterance to anything but the invitation to feed his fowls, but now he burst into a new song with the refrain:

“I don’t care
Whether it’s snowing or blowing
I’m going —
For I only got married this morning
And I must be home to-night.”

To the tune of which Epithalamion Tom, without saying good-night to anyone, not even to Lucy, slowly climbed the stairs, accidentally springing a mousetrap in a corner of the landing as he did so. He jumped. Bert, below, sniggered.

Lucy, not being at all disposed to witness any more of Bert’s horseplay (he had blacked his face and dressed up as a girl, and was trying to detain the sleepy company by a continuation of his gambols), presently in an abstracted air followed Tom’s footsteps upstairs and absentmindedly walked straight into the room the couple were occupying, where she saw Mabel sitting up in bed with her arms around her knees; Tom had fastened a bunch of violets (Lucy’s violets) in her nightie and was sitting on the bed taking off his Army boots.

“Oh! I forgot,” said Lucy, retiring in confusion just as Mum called up the stairs in horror-stricken tones, “Lucy, Lucy, remember you’re sleeping in the spare room to-night.”

“How stupid of me,” she reflected, while undressing and getting into bed. But that night her life was turning, turning so fast amid a crowd of strange emotions she scarcely knew what she did. She was barely aware that she had pulled the bed round so that the tragic blemish on her neck was turned towards the wall away from the door, and she was certainly unconscious why she had carefully placed a bunch of violets in her nightie and was sitting up in bed with her arms round her knees, just like Mabel. Certainly it was in no spirit of deliberate rivalry. She wanted to convince herself and she succeeded. . . . Self-confidence was a new and very welcome experience to her, thanks to Tom’s attentions. But why didn’t he say good-night? There were such a lot of things she wanted to say to him and they understood each other fine. . . . She wanted to thank him for siding with her against that Bert. She did so want to kiss him good-night. Lucy’s warm heart often tempted her to kiss people if they were kind to her, because it was so difficult to express in words all she felt. Had he really been talking about her matchbox all the evening? Perhaps he really meant her to stay awhile just now when he said, “Oh come in, come in.” How stupid she was to come out in such a hurry!

On the impulse she suddenly thumped on the dividing wall between the two rooms and a moment later Mabel appeared, candle in hand, and beheld her similacrum sitting up in the bed before her. At once she was furious. “Whatever is the matter?” she cried. “Are you ill?” Somehow, in her mental preoccupation with Tom, Lucy had anticipated no one but the chivalrous Thomas by her bedside. Confused, she mumbled that she only wanted to ask Tom a question. “My dear child,” said Mabel, “you are making yourself quite ridiculous! You don’t think Tom cares anything about you. He only pities you. For goodness’ sake don’t be a silly little fool,” and she flung out of the room. For ten minutes afterwards, Lucy could hear a geyser of chatter from Mabel who was one of those girls silent in company but astonishingly garrulous in a tête-à-tête. Tom’s low chuckles were Lucy’s coup de grâce. The storm in her breast was so loud she never heard her mother till she was standing at the bedside, embrocation bottle in hand, and saying: “You shouldn’t disturb them, my dear, they don’t want to be disturbed, call me if you want anything.”

Lucy submitted to her mother’s ministrations with- out protest, hoping thereby she would leave the room the sooner. Mrs. Cox bade her good-night and be a good girl and if she wanted anything to call her. She did not notice that Lucy was in tears. That was always the case — she never noticed anything — she had never noticed that Lucy was now a woman. She never noticed this frail bark with hatches open labouring on towards her predestined storms in those wild Biscayan latitudes between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. “Poor Mrs. Cox,” as she was known in the village on Lucy’s account, was a pitiless old woman simply from absence of imagination. She was cruel because she lacked understanding, for the most part her heart was quite discounted by her head.

That night Lucy’s heart knew its own bitterness and she swallowed her cupful to the lees. M. Duhamel writes that the human being suffers in his flesh solitarily. How much more solitary and inaccessible is the human being in mental anguish! How was it possible, short of a miracle, for one to be found in that Devon village with the imagination capable of even distantly approaching Lucy in her pain? No one had ever come near her. She was alone. A black eagle had pounced on her when a child and carried her off to an inaccessible ledge in the mountains. There she remained listening to friends below, faintly murmuring as they passed on with automatic precision: “Poor Lucy.”

No one, she reflected bitterly, took the trouble to understand. She was quite unconscious of it, but she really hated her mother who never seemed to realize that Lucy ever wanted anything but the embrocation. Tom was the first person she had fancied who perfectly understood her, but now. . . ah yes, they had all got used to her and her trouble, but she was far from getting used to herself.

The dawn was stealing in through the lattice, but still she did not sleep. Down in the “Bottom “there was a pond by which she often lingered under the firm impression that there on its bottom would be her ultimate resting-place. The water was so clear and clean and sweet, and blue forget-me-nots grew round the edge. She thought about it now. . . . Why not? Nobody would care. … On the instant, the long period of sad reverie was brought to an end by a loud snore, and then another and another. It was Tom in the next room.

Life is a queer mixture — grave and gay, serious and ridiculous — all woven together in a piece — so Lucy used to reflect when, in later years, she recalled how once Tom’s chuckles almost drove her to suicide and how once Tom’s snores saved her from that tragic end. But the fact of the matter is, that snoring is ridiculous, especially when overheard through the walls of a bedroom, and the vision of a lethargic sprawling figure with mouth open and dead to the world never fails to produce a contemptuous if indulgent grin. Even Lucy smiled. And her eager heart felt there must be something a little chilling in the complete detachment and indifference of a beloved figure unconscious and snoring. It made her question whether all folk, married and single alike, are not in the last analysis alone — sea-girt isles, often storm-swept and inaccessible.

Anyhow, Tom’s snores were prose not poetry; in her mind now, he had doffed his shining armour for a nightshirt: she was inclined to think that after all there was nothing so very romantic and mysterious about married life. For herself, she certainly could not sleep in the same room with someone who snored. Madge snored, so she had to sleep with her mother.

It was now a beautifully cool, fresh spring morning, and several Great Tits were calling “Beeju, beeju” from the apple-tree. Although she had not slept a wink all night Lucy jumped out of bed, went down, and before getting the breakfast rambled through the orchard, yellow with daffodils, down to the stile in the meadow and back. Then she took two new-laid eggs, toast, and butter on a tray up to Tom and Mabel — greeting their sleepy countenances with a cheerful “Good-morning, Mr. and Mrs. Stamper. Remember Noove Chappel, you know.” Mabel was not a little puzzled at her happy contented face. Lucy surprised herself a little, but the glamour of the night being over she felt in her heart no envy of those two on that bright spring morning.

HTML edition by Ray Davis, free for any use.