Gentle Reader, this short story was published in The Happy Magazine, September, 1922, pp. 341-46. I will be tweeting it in its entirety during August, 2009. Click here to see the tweets, or read the developing story below.
Cicely hurled a cushion across the room. “Thats how I feel!” she said, & glared at her first cousin once removed, Richard Spalding.
“Good lord”, he remarked, with a proper amount of sympathy in his lazy voice.
“And you sit there – idling about in my room – laughing at me! I quite hate you, Richard!
“Oh, I say!” he expostulated, “I wasn’t laughing – honour bright!”
Cicely looked scornful. “I’m absolutely sick of it all. Dead sick of it.” Cecily nodded so vigorously that her brown, bobbed curls seemed to jump. “I never want to go to another dance as long as I live.”
“That’s bad,” said Spalding respectfully. “What’s brought on this sense of repletion?”
“Everything. I’ve been trotted round till I want to scream! I feel like doing something desperate!”
At that Spalding dragged himself upright and threw away his half-smoked cigarette.
“Oh, splendid, Cis! I hoped that if I waited long enough you’d melt. When shall it be? Be a sport, now, and -“
Cicely covered her ears with her hands.
“No, no, no! I don’t want to do anything as desperate as that!”
Richard sank back again.
“Thought it was too good to be true”. He pulled a leather diary from his waistcoat pocket and proceeded, gloomily, to make an entry.
“What’s that?” asked Cicely.
“But what are you writing?”
“‘Friday. Proposed to Cicely. Refused.'”
In spite of herself Cicely giggled.
“Dicky, you are idiotic! When will you give it up?”
“When we’re married.”
“We’re not going to be!” Cicely’s chin went up defiantly.
“You can’t possibly tell. You never know what you may come to,” said Spalding cheerfully.
“I’ll never come to that! And now we’ve got on to that subject I may as well tell you, Richard, that that’s another of the things I’m fed up with. You ask me to marry you every day of the week, and I’m -“
“No, I don’t!” Spalding was righteously indignant. “I’ve only asked you three times this week …and three and a half last week. It’s down in the book, if you want to verify it.”
“Can’t you be serious for one moment? That’s one of the things I hate about you. You’re too beastly flippant!”
“You don’t do anything. My husband’ll have to be a worker!”
“He will be,” murmured Richard.
Cicely disregarded him.
“I know you think you do a lot – standing for Parliament, and – and all that sort of thing – but you’re just – flabby!”
Richard, an athlete and an amateur boxer, blew another cloud of smoke.
“Have you ever done a day’s work – hard, manual work – in your life?” demanded Cicely.
“The complete park-orator. Four years in the trenches, that’s all.”
Cicely was slightly mollified.
“I don’t count that,” she said.
“No, I didn’t think you would. What next?”
“You’re too civilised. Too drawing-roomified, I’d want to feel that I could rely on my husband -not just that he’d be a great success at any party I took him to. All you think about is clothes and racing and whether your tie’s on straight. It’s not good enough for me.”
“In five minutes’ time I think I shall propose to you again,” he said.
“I’m sorry you’re so sick of everything.”
“I’ve found a remedy, ” said Cicely. “I am going into seclusion.”
“What? Into a convent?”
“No, silly. I am going into the country. I’ve taken a cottage.”
“Cottage? You? d’you mean to say Uncle Jim’s mad enough to let you go off on your own?”
“Where is he?” demanded Richard, preparing to get up.
“He’s out. Besides, it’s nothing to do with you. As a matter of fact, I’m not going by myself.”
Spalding looked slightly relieved.
“I’m going with a friend of mine, Maisie Duncannon.”
“What, that stolid girl who’s been hanging around here lately?”
“Y-es. That’s one way of describing her. Are you satisfied?”
“No, I’m not.”
Cicely reached out her hand to stroke her diminutive Pekinese. “Chu-Chu-San is going, of course.”
“That puts quite a different complexion on it,” he said. “He’ll look nice in the country. Stir the villagers up a bit.”
“He’s a lot pluckier than your rotten bull-terrier!” said Cicely fiercely.
“I say, will you take Bill? Do, Cis! I’d feel a lot happier about you if you’d get a decent sort of guard!”
“Chu-Chu is a good guard!”
“Oh, rather!” said Richard hastily. “But you must admit, he’s a bit small, what?”
“Take old Bill – please! I’ve been wanting to get him out of town for some time.” Cicely hesitated.
She knew that the last statement was entirely without truth, but she reflected that Bill would bring with him a certain sense of security.
He’d miss you,” she said uncertainly.
“Not a bit of it. Besides -” Richard checked himself. “Do take him, old girl!”
“It’s awfully nice of you,” Cicely thanked him. “If you think it ‘ud do him good -”
“I do most decidedly. By the way, where is this cottage?”
“Bly–I’m not going to tell you! No one’s going to know ‘cept Daddy, and he’s promised not to tell a soul.”
“Bly, I’ll remember that.”
“You’ll never find it!”
Richard recognized the challenging note.
“Like to have a bet on it? An even bob?”
“I don’t mind. My money’s safe.”
Richard smiled, and made a note in his pocket-book.
“Don’t you count your chickens before they’re hatched,” he said.
The pony trotted down the village street in a leisurely, abstracted way, paying no heed to his mistress’s voice. The excited barking of Chu-Chu-San he took to be an encouragement to him to proceed.
He ambled on.
“Whoa!” said Cicely, sharply. She tugged at the reins. “Whoa!” she repeated more as a request.
The pony still ambled on.
“Oh, please, whoa!” begged Cicely. “Timothy, dear!” Timothy waggled one ear to show that he was attending to her. Chu-Chus-San yapped again and he waggled the other, accelerating his pace. “Shut up, Chu-Chu! Whoa, you! Stop!”
Farther down the street a man stood, watching the pony advance. He was dressed in rough tweeds and riding-breeches with stout leather gaiters, and he carried a short riding-crop. He observed Cicely’s struggles without a smile. When the trap drew alongside he stepped forward and caught the rein. Timothy halted obediently and looked round.
“Oh, thank you!” sighed Cicely. “I don’t know what I should have done if you hadn’t stopped him He’s frightfully pig-headed. It takes ages to make him start, and when once he’s got going he simple won;t stop – oh, no, Bill, don’t go and fight that dog, please!”
She dropped the reins and hauled he departing bull-terrier back into the seat. Her rescuer half-raised his cap.
“Glad to be of use. Dan Brown’s pony, I think?” “Yes,” nodded Cicely
“But I’d no idea how tiresome he was, or I’d never have hired him.” She smiled, and ran her eyes over him appraisingly.
He was fairly tall, and thick-set, with very broad shoulders and a tanned face. Quite good-looking, she decided. And with a wonderfully square chin. Dogged and purposeful. And a grim mouth, too. Blue eyes that looked straight at you-almost steely. Cicely felt quite thrilled. Under her frank scrutiny the man had flushed a little, but his eyes held hers unwaveringly Cicely was unabashed.
“Well, thanks very much,” she said.
“And of you wouldn’t mind turning us round I might get Timothy to walk back to the butcher’s.”
For the first time a hint of a smile crossed his face
“I’ll lead him to the butcher’s if you like.”
“Thanks awfuly,” she said.
For a few minutes they proceeded in silence, while Cicely studied the back of the man’s head. Then he looked over his shoulder.
“I reckon you’re the girl who’s taken Miss Fletcher’s cottage?” he said.
Cicely nodded. “Yes. Do you live near?”
“Do you really? Why, that’s just at the back of our cottage! Do come in and see us some time! And, oh, I should like to go over your farm. George – that’s the gardener, you know-says you’ve got the sweetest little pigs. Are you Mr. Talbot?”
“Fred Talbot. You’re Miss Duncannon, I daresay?”
“No, that’s my friend. I’m Cicely Carruthers.”
“Oh!” said Talbot, and relapsed into silence. He spoke no more until they came to the butcher’s shop. Then he released the pony’s rein, and again touched his cap.
“You’ll be all right now. Mean what I say about my coming in to see you?”
“Oh, rather!” said Cicley. She descended gingerly from the trap. Talbot made no effort to help her, but watched her with a bemused air.
“Come in to tea this afternoon. We’re fearfully bored. An’ then you can take us over your farm.”
She received a shock.
“Can’t manage it this afternoon, I’m afraid. I’m busy. Can I drop in tomorrow if I have time?’
“Oh, certainly,” said Cicely, not too pleased at this cavalier treatment.
“Whenever you like. And thanks so much for helping me with Timothy Good-bye!”
She extended a slim, gauntleted hand.
It was crushed in a grip that made her wince. “Not at all,” said Talbot. “Pleasure. Good-bye.”
Half-an-hour later Cicely walked into the living-room of her cottage and nodded briskly at Maisie Duncannon who was flipping over the pages of a novel.
“You missed something by not coming with me, Maisie,” she announced.
“Mr. Spalding hasn’t turned up, has he?” inquired Maisie, a sudden gleam of interest in her eye.
Cicely blushed ever so faintly.
“Course not. He won’t either, thank goodness! I’ve been talking to an aborigine.”
“Oh!” yawned Maisie, and returned to her book.
Cicely rather wondered whether Talbot would come at all, but he did, and stayed for over an hour.
Maisie objected strongly to him, but then, Cicely reflected, Maisie was in the mood to object to anything. She was already “bored stiff” with the country. So was Cicely, but she would not admit it.
For a fortnight it had been glorious. They had gloated over the quaint old village & told one another that they could live here content for months. At the end of the next week the simple life had begun to pall on them.
There was no tennis and no society. The atmosphere began to be rather tense between the two girls.
So Cicely welcomed the diversion in the shape of Fred Talbot. Maisie complained that he brought mud into the house.
Cicely told her that she needn’t speak of Talbot as though he were a dog.
Maisie retorted that that was just what he was a shaggy, uncouth, sheepdog. As Talbot came more and more frequently to Rose Cottage, Maisie, to show her disgust, retired either to her room or to the neighbouring woods.
So engrossed was Cicely in Talbot’s farm that it never occurred to her that she was encouraging Talbot to fall in love with her.
She was not at all flirtatious, and not one of her numerous adorers would have taken her frank, unaffected friendliness for anything other than it was meant to be. But Talbot was not a society man; neither was he used to the ways of a Cicely Carruthers. The girls he knew belonged to the village of Blythe or its environs and were fifty years or so behind the times. This was his first experience of the modern girl. At first he was a little shocked at the free and easy way in which she wandered into his place, or invited him into hers, then he was no longer shocked, but thought he understood. He came still more frequently to Rose Cottage.
Another fortnight slipped by. Maisie had sunk into a sullen apathy, but Cicely, tanned by the sun, and pulsing with energy was on the road to becoming a complete farmer. She had come to associate Talbot merely with his farm.
Had he but known it, she was treating him as her inferior in that she still called him Mr. Talbot and confined her conversation to farming. She had a rude awakening. She came into the cottage one afternoon, her hair dishevelled by the wind and her shoes caked in mud, and collapsed into a chair.
“Oo, I am tired!” she remarked.
Maisie raised her eyes from the inevitable novel. “I don’t wonder at it if you will go mucking about a dirty farm,”she said.
Cicely was roused to wrath. “It is not a dirty farm! It’s a beautiful farm! You don’t know what you are talking about!”
“All right.” Maisie shrugged her shoulders and went on reading.
After a short pause Cicely continued.
“The last incubator lot are hatching themselves. Isn’t it wonderful? And afterwards he’s going to take me to see the chicks coming out of the eggs.”
“You’ve no idea how interesting it is, Maisie! It’s simply __”
“Is that man coming here to tea? demanded Maisie.
“Yes, he is. And I do think you might be civil. He’s not at all a bad sort–underneath his extraordinary manners.”
“Then I’m going over to see the Frasers,” said Maisiem disregarding her. The Frasers were friends of hers,,living some three miles away.
“All right, you can,” answered Cicely. “I don’t care.”
She waited until Maisie had left the room and then added: “And I hope Timothy runs away with you.”
Talbot tramped in at a few minutes past four.
“Hullo!” Said Cicely. “Sit down and I’ll make the tea.”
Talbot lowered himself into a chair. It did not occur to him that he might help his hostess.
It did occur to Cicely, and she sighed. With all his faults, Richard – She set the kettle down smartly, and came to the tea table.
Talbot seemed rather thoughtful.
Tea over, she lit a cigarette and saw that he was frowning.
“I don’t like to see a girl smoking,” he said heavily.
“I’d not allow my wife to smoke.”
“Really?” said Cicely again. “But I am not your wife.”
He looked full into her eyes in that bold, dogged way that had first intrigued her.
“Seems to me my girl, we’d best come to an understanding,” he said.
Indignation robbed Cicely of words. Fred Talbot to address her as “my girl!” With an effort she controlled herself.
“I don’t know what you mean,” she said icily. “Will you have a cigarette?”
“No.” He brushed it aside. “Reckon you know all right. I want you to marry me.”
“What?” Cicely gasped. “To-” Again she controlled herself. “Thanks very much,” she said lightly, “I’m afraid not. I’m sorry you should think-think-“
“Reckon I think what I’m meant to. I don’t pretend to understand you town-girls, but I know what I want, and I get what I want.”
Cicely drew herself up. “Mr. Talbot, you forget yourself.”
“Please don’t say any more! I had no idea you were-you had-you wanted to marry me, or I shouldn’t have-well, anyhow, don’t let’s talk about it. It’s a pity to spoil a very pleasant friendship, isn’t it?”
He smiled rather grimly.
“Suppose you cut out the fine talk, my girl, and come to grips? I don’t know why you should pretend you’d no idea I wanted to marry you. You’ve been in and out of my place for weeks. I’m not a fool, my girl, and I know what to make of that.”
“Don’t call me that!” exploded Cicely. “I’m not your girl, and I won’t have such an – such an impertinence! I came to your farm because I was interested! We were just friends, as you very well know! I’ve never given you the right to talk to me like this!”
“Think so?” He rose and stood over her. “You were just playing, were you?-leading me on?”
Cicely pushed back her chair and sprang up. “How dare you?” she cried. “How dare you say such a thing to me?
“I am exceedingly sorry you should have made such a dreadful mistake-but to blame me? Why, I’ve never been anything but friends with you!”
He came nearer.
“Reckon a girl’s not friends with a man unless there is something more,” he drawled.
“If I were not alone here, you would not dare to speak to me in this way. I tell you once and for all, I am not going to marry you! If you really care for me, you’ll go now.” “I’m not going. You’ve had your fun with me and now you’ll pay for it.”
He strode foward as he spoke and gripped her by the shoulders.
Panic seized Cicely, at the mercy of this dreadful person.
“Bill!” she shrieked. “Bill, Bill, Bill!”
From the garden came the sound of yelping barks. Bill showed no signs of coming to the rescue. Only he barked and barked in wild excitement.
Talbot crushed Cicely against him.
She could not even struggle under his iron hold. She was kissed roughly on her panting mouth, and then -
Someone pushed open the cottage door
“Richard!” sobbed Cicely. “Oh, Richard!”
“You owe me a bob, said a lazy, pleasant voice. “Get down, Bill!” And Richard’s voice, dangerously sweet, was inviting Talbot to come outside
Still holding her with one arm, Talbot wheeled about. Cicely never quite knew what happened next. All that she remembered was that she was suddenly whisked from the farmer’s hold and deposited on the sofa.
Cicely crouched on the sofa, shivering still, and Bill snuffed and whined at the door with suppressed excitement. Then the two men seemed to disappear, shutting Bill into the cottage.
Then, after what seemed to Cicely countless ages, the door opened and Richard strolled in, calm and imperturbed.
He passed the palm of his left hand across his knuckles and looked at his flushed cousin.
“Has – has he- gone?” asked Cicely in a very small voice.
“Oh, yes!” said Richard.
“Did-you-hurt him much?”
“I hope so,” said Richard, and there was a short, uncomfortable paues.
“How-how did you-find me?” she inquired with would-be carelessness.
“Process of deduction. What was that poisonous blighter doing in your cottage?”
“Ha-having-tea,” said Cicely, nervously.
“Where’s that fat fool-Maisie?”
“Gone to see some friends.”
“What does she mean by leaving you with a man like that?”
“She-she doesn’t like him.”
“Shows her good taste. Don’t you know better than to ask a brute like that to tea with you alone?”
Cicely blinked away a tear. “I-I didn’t kn-know-he-he’d-I always d-do ask my friends to tea!”
“Your father’s house is rather different, isn’t it?”
A muffled sob came from the sofa.
Cicely was staring down at her hands, biting her lips. Richard went to her and sat down with his arms about her shoulders.
“Poor little kid! I won’t rag you any more. Don’t cry, Cis.”
Cicely shed a few tears into his coat pocket, and sat up.
She mopped her eyes with a diminutive handkerchief. “I-I am glad you came,” she sighed. “I n-never though you would.”
There was another pause. “Are-are you staying at the inn?”
“Are-are you going to stay for long?”
“Looks as though I’d better,” said Richard drily.
“Oh!” Cicely digested this. Then she spoke again. “P’raps you’ll be able to manage Timothy,” she said hopefully.
There was no answer.
Cicely looked at him sideways. She sat for a moment, twisting a cushion-tassel.
Richard said nothing at all, but watched her with that curious look in his eyes.
A tiny smile came, shyly. And Cicely came to him and dived her hand into his waistcoat pocket.
“What do you want, Cis?”
“Diary,” said Cicely briefly.
It was handed to her
She hesitated for a moment, not looking at him. Then she opened the book, and sucked the pencil. She scribbled diligently, and shut the book with a snap.
Richard was watching her half-smiling, half-anxious.
Cicely held out the book. “There you are! I’ve finished with it.”
Richard took it. He slipped his arm round her once more.
Cicely subsides meekly, and buried her face in his coat.
Richard dropped a kiss on to the fluffy head. “Am I allowed to read what’s written here?” he asked.
“If you-like,” said a muffled voice.
He opened the book.
The last entry was written in a round, sprawling hand. It was quite short.
“Tuesday. Proposed to Cicely. Accepted.”