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AUNT MARTHA.

By BARRY PAIN.


GEORGE, who knew his duty and did it, was particularly careful to ask Aunt Martha if she was not coming too. She said she was not. She said that George's ideas of amusement were not hers. She referred to her time of life. George's wife, Jane, then tackled Aunt Martha herself, and said that it was the fresh air she ought to think about. Aunt Martha said that, not being in the habit of sucking sweets all day herself, she was not in want of any change of air or doctor's prescriptions. George went a step further. He took his daughter Gladys aside and told her that she really ought to ask Aunt Martha to come up to the Heath with them.

"What?" said Gladys, a child of sound sense. "Me ask her? Come off it!"

This ended the matter as far as Gladys was concerned. Privately George and Jane congratulated themselves. "She is a good woman," said George, "but she's not one to enjoy herself."

"No," said Jane, "nor let others, neither."

Therefore it was a bit of a shock when Aunt Martha appeared on the Monday morning with her loins girt, so to speak, and ready for the expedition.

"I have given in to you this once," she said, "and hope I shan't be sorry for it. It looks to me like rain. Anyhow, I shall be there to stop any waste of money and lolloping about in public-houses."

Aunt Martha preferred the inside of the tram. The rest of the party preferred the outside.

"Then you go in, aunt, and we'll go out," said Jane.

"Then how am I to know where I am to get out? I wonder you can be so selfish."

George, a noble-hearted fellow, went inside with Aunt Martha. He had a very fair twopenny smoke in one pocket, and his pipe and pouch in another. He was also well provided with matches. As the train rumbled along he had leisure to think about these things.

"You needn't have told me," said Aunt Martha at the journey's end, "that the trams went right upto the Heath, because they don't."

"Well, it's only a step," said George apologetically.

"It's long enough for Gladys to get lost, such a crowd as there is. You give me your hand, Gladys. Now, then, George, don't stop about trying to light that cigar of yours."

Gladys suggested the purchase of a tin rattle, of a blue turquoise bracelet—more or less turquoise, that is—of some peacocks' feathers, of a bag of lavender, and of a paper hat made on a concertina principle. These propositions were successively negatived by Aunt Martha, who observed that little girls were made to be seen and not heard, and if she asked for anything else, she would be sent home immediately. By a clever piece of strategy Gladys managed to transfer herself from her aunt to her father. She tied the coppers up in a corner of her handkerchief, and quite understood that she need not say anything to Aunt Martha about them. The question of when and where they should feed arose for discussion.

"It's all one to me," said Aunt Martha. "Settle it for yourselves. Apparently anything I like is what everybody else dislikes. It was so in the tram coming here, and it'll go on being so till the end of the day. The very moment we got out, George started on his cigar, which was just the same as if he'd told me to my face that I'd been keeping him from it. Perhaps it would be a better thing for his health if I could keep him from it."

The family decided that half-past one would be an excellent hour for lunch, and that a shady spot should be found in some remote part of the Heath.

"Well," said Aunt Martha, "I had little or no breakfast, and I feel faint now. What I shall be like at half-past one I can't say. I shan't be able to eat anything, because I shall have gone past it. I thought we'd come here to see things, too, so what's the sense of sitting down where you can't see anything? As for the shade, where there's shade there's damp. That's a well-known fact. Perhaps you'd better just give me a sandwich and let me go off by myself. I dare say you'll all be glad to get rid of me."

George and Jane told the requisite lie. Gladys maintained a contemptuous silence. So they sat down in the sun in a spot from which a fine view of the cocoanut-shies and swings was to be obtained. They ate sandwiches and cake, and Gladys and Aunt Martha drank milk. George and Jane were not thirsty. At any rate, they were not thirsty until a little later, when they arrived at Jack Straw's Castle. George said it was a historic old place, and Jane ought to see it. Perhaps Aunt Martha would catch hold of Gladys for a moment.

George and Jane went to see the historic old place, and came out wiping their mouths. George looked as if he felt better.

"Booze, booze, booze, from morning till night," said Aunt Martha. "I knew how it would be when we started."

Jane observed that she thought a man wanted his pint in the middle of the day, and that he ought to have it.

Aunt Martha said that if she was to be contradicted every time she opened her mouth, perhaps it would be just as well if she said nothing at all for the rest of the afternoon. In fact, she would start off home at once if only she knew the way.

Then they went round the different shows—boxing-shows and cinematograph-shows, peep-shows and waxworks. Aunt Martha gave moral and conclusive reasons why she would not go into any one of them. George shied at the cocoanuts, and Aunt Martha said she should be sorry to see any man make such an exhibition of himself in a public place. George tried one of the cocoanuts that he had won as a peace-offering. Aunt Martha rejected it. She added more information about her digestion and her internal organs than any woman ought to give any man except her doctor. A great friend of Aunt Martha's had died from eating cocoanut, as George might have remembered.

So George gave the cocoanut to Gladys. She made the man with the Try-your-Strength machine break it open for her. By this time she possessed a tin rattle, a bracelet of a turquoise appearance, and a paper hat.

Aunt Martha noticed these things. If George and Jane thought it a good thing to bring up children to disobey their elders and betters, she supposed she could n't help it. It looked as if she had only been brought out to be insulted. A cup of tea was what she wanted, and had been wanting for the last hour; but she supposed that that didn't matter.

She was given tea, and shortly afterwards the party left for home.

"And I suppose you call that a day's enjoyment," said Aunt Martha bitterly.

*****

On the following Bank Holiday, George and Jane found that they bad promised to take Gladys to the Zoo. This was most unfortunate, because the very sight of a wild beast caused Aunt Martha to come over faint and gave her internal cramp. So she could not accompany them. Perhaps they took the wrong tram. They turned up to Hampstead Heath, anyhow.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1928, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.