The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim


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Page 1

Looking out of the club window into Shaftesbury Avenue--hers was
an economical club, but convenient for Hampstead, where she lived, and
for Shoolbred's, where she shopped--Mrs. Wilkins, having stood there
some time very drearily, her mind's eye on the Mediterranean in April,
and the wisteria, and the enviable opportunities of the rich, while her
bodily eye watched the really extremely horrible sooty rain falling
steadily on the hurrying umbrellas and splashing omnibuses, suddenly
wondered whether perhaps this was not the rainy day Mellersh--Mellersh
was Mr. Wilkins--had so often encouraged her to prepare for, and
whether to get out of such a climate and into the small mediaeval
castle wasn't perhaps what Providence had all along intended her to do
with her savings. Part of her savings, of course; perhaps quite a
small part. The castle, being mediaeval, might also be dilapidated,
and dilapidations were surely cheap. She wouldn't in the lest mind a
few of them, because you didn't pay for dilapidations which were
already there, on the contrary--by reducing the price you had to pay
they really paid you. But what nonsense to think of it . . .

She turned away from the window with the same gesture of mingled
irritation and resignation with which she had laid down The Times, and
crossed the room towards the door with the intention of getting her
mackintosh and umbrella and fighting her way into one of the
overcrowded omnibuses and going to Shoolbred's on her way home and
buying some soles for Mellersh's dinner--Mellersh was difficult with
fish and liked only soles, except salmon--when she beheld Mrs.
Arbuthnot, a woman she knew by sight as also living in Hampstead and
belonging to the club, sitting at the table in the middle of the room
on which the newspapers and magazines were kept, absorbed, in her turn,
in the first page of The Times.

Mrs. Wilkins had never yet spoken to Mrs. Arbuthnot, who belonged
to one of the various church sets, and who analysed, classified,
divided and registered the poor; whereas she and Mellersh, when they
did go out, went to the parties of impressionist painters, of whom in
Hampstead there were many. Mellersh had a sister who had married one
of them and lived up on the Heath, and because of this alliance Mrs.
Wilkins was drawn into a circle which was highly unnatural to her, and
she had learned to dread pictures. She had to say things about them,
and she didn't know what to say. She used to murmur, "marvelous," and
feel that it was not enough. But nobody minded. Nobody listened.
Nobody took any notice of Mrs. Wilkins. She was the kind of person who
is not noticed at parties. Her clothes, infested by thrift, made her
practically invisible; her face was non-arresting; her conversation was
reluctant; she was shy. And if one's clothes and face and conversation
are all negligible, thought Mrs. Wilkins, who recognized her
disabilities, what, at parties, is there left of one?

Also she was always with Wilkins, that clean-shaven, fine-looking
man, who gave a party, merely by coming to it, a great air. Wilkins
was very respectable. He was known to be highly thought of by his
senior partners. His sister's circle admired him. He pronounced
adequately intelligent judgments on art and artists. He was pithy; he
was prudent; he never said a word too much, nor, on the other had, did
he ever say a word too little. He produced the impression of keeping
copies of everything he said; and he was so obviously reliable that it
often happened that people who met him at these parties became
discontented with their own solicitors, and after a period of
restlessness extricated themselves and went to Wilkins.

Naturally Mrs. Wilkins was blotted out. "She," said his sister, with
something herself of the judicial, the digested, and the final in her
manner, "should stay at home." But Wilkins could not leave his wife
at home. He was a family solicitor, and all such have wives and show
them. With his in the week he went to parties, and with his on Sundays
he went to church. Being still fairly young--he was thirty-nine--and
ambitious of old ladies, of whom he had not yet acquired in his
practice a sufficient number, he could not afford to miss church,
and it was there that Mrs. Wilkins became familiar, though never
through words, with Mrs. Arbuthnot.

She saw her marshalling the children of the poor into pews. She
would come in at the head of the procession from the Sunday School
exactly five minutes before the choir, and get her boys and girls
neatly fitted into their allotted seats, and down on their little knees
in their preliminary prayer, and up again on their feet just as, to the
swelling organ, the vestry door opened, and the choir and clergy, big
with the litanies and commandments they were presently to roll out,
emerged. She had a sad face, yet she was evidently efficient. The
combination used to make Mrs. Wilkins wonder, for she had been told my
Mellersh, on days when she had only been able to get plaice, that if
one were efficient one wouldn't be depressed, and that if one does
one's job well one becomes automatically bright and brisk.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Fri 5th Jun 2020, 21:24