Mr. Waddington of Wyck

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MR. WADDINGTON OF WYCK

BY MAY SINCLAIR

1921

MR. WADDINGTON OF WYCK

I

1

Barbara wished she would come back. For the last hour Fanny Waddington
had kept on passing in and out of the room through the open door into
the garden, bringing in tulips, white, pink, and red tulips, for the
flowered Lowestoft bowls, hovering over them, caressing them with her
delicate butterfly fingers, humming some sort of song to herself.

The song mixes itself up with the Stores list Barbara was making: “Two
dozen glass towels. Twelve pounds of Spratt’s puppy biscuits. One dozen
gent.’s all-silk pyjamas, extra large size” … “A-hoom—hoom,
a-hoom—hoom” (that Impromptu of Schubert’s), and with the notes
Barbara was writing: “Mrs. Waddington has pleasure in enclosing….”
Fanny Waddington would always have pleasure in enclosing something….
“A ho-om—boom, hoom, hee.” A sound so light that it hardly stirred the
quiet of the room. If a butterfly could hum it would hum like Fanny
Waddington.

Barbara Madden had not been two days at Lower Wyck Manor, and already
she was at home there; she knew by heart Fanny’s drawing-room with the
low stretch of the Tudor windows at each end, their lattices panelled by
the heavy mullions, the back one looking out on to the green garden
bordered with wallflowers and tulips; the front one on to the round
grass-plot and the sundial, the drive and the shrubbery beyond, down the
broad walk that cut through it into the clear reaches of the park. She
liked the interior, the Persian carpet faded to patches of grey and fawn
and old rose, the port-wine mahogany furniture, the tables thrusting out
the brass claws of their legs, the latticed cabinets and bookcases, the
chintz curtains and chair-covers, all red dahlias and powder-blue
parrots on a cream-coloured ground. But when Fanny wasn’t there you
could feel the room ache with the emptiness she left.

Barbara ached. She caught herself listening for Fanny Waddington’s feet
on the flagged path and the sound of her humming. As she waited she
looked up at the picture over the bureau in the recess of the
fireplace, the portrait in oils of Horatio Bysshe Waddington, Fanny’s
husband.

He was seated, heavily seated with his spread width and folded height,
in one of the brown-leather chairs of his library, dressed in a tweed
coat, putty-coloured riding breeches, a buff waistcoat, and a grey-blue
tie. The handsome, florid face was lifted in a noble pose above the
stiff white collar; you could see the full, slightly drooping lower lip
under the shaggy black moustache. There was solemnity in the thick,
rounded salient of the Roman nose, in the slightly bulging eyes, and in
the almost imperceptible line that sagged from each nostril down the
long curve of the cheeks. This figure, one great thigh crossed on the
other, was extraordinarily solid against the smoky background where the
clipped black hair made a watery light. His eyes were not looking at
anything in particular. Horatio Bysshe Waddington seemed to be absorbed
in some solemn thought.

His wife’s portrait hung over the card-table in the other recess.

Barbara hoped he would be nice; she hoped he would be interesting, since
she had to be his secretary. But, of course, he would be. Anybody so
enchanting as Fanny could never have married him if he wasn’t. She
wondered how she, Barbara Madden, would play her double part of
secretary to him and companion to her. She had been secretary to other
men before; all through the war she had been secretary to somebody, but
she had never had to be companion to their wives. Perhaps it was a good
thing that Fanny, as she kept on reminding her, had “secured” her first.
She was glad he wasn’t there when she arrived and wouldn’t be till the
day after to-morrow (he had wired that morning to tell them); so that for
two days more she would have Fanny to herself.

2

“Well, what do you think of him?”

Fanny had come back into the room; she was hovering behind her.

“I—I think he’s jolly good-looking.”

“Well, you see, that was painted seventeen years ago. He was young
then.”

“Has he changed much since?”

“Dear me, no,” said Fanny. “He hasn’t changed at all.”

“No more have you, I think.”

“Oh, me—in seventeen years!”

She was still absurdly like her portrait, after seventeen years, with
her light, slender body, poised for one of her flights, her quick
movements of butterfly and bird, with her small white face, the terrier
nose lifted on the moth-wing shadows of her nostrils, her dark-blue
eyes, that gazed at you, close under the low black eyebrows, her brown
hair that sprang in two sickles from the peak on her forehead, raking up
to the backward curve of the chignon, a profile of cyclamen. And her
mouth, the fine lips drawn finer by her enchanting smile. All these
features set in such strange, sensitive unity that her mouth looked at
you and her eyes said things. No matter how long she lived she would
always be young.

“Oh, my dear child,” she said, “you are so like your mother.”

“Am I? Were you afraid I wouldn’t be?”

“A little, just a little afraid. I thought you’d be modern.”

“So I am. So was mother.”

“Not when I knew her.”

“Afterwards then.” A sudden thought came to Barbara. “Mrs. Waddington,
if mother was your dearest friend why haven’t you known me all this
time?”

“Your mother and I lost sight of each other before you were born.”

“Mother didn’t want to.”

“Nor I.”

“Mother would have hated you to think she did.”

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