The True Romance
Boston Small, Maynard & Company Publishers
IN ADMIRATION TO A COMPLETELY SUCCESSFUL HUSBAND
XI THE BANGED DOOR
XII BEHIND THE VEIL
XIII "THE VERY DEVIL"
XIX ANOTHER WOOING
XXII PLAIN DEALING
XXIV FOOL'S CAP
"I've been round all the sales," said Marie, "hunting and hunting. My feet are tired! But I've got a lovely lot of things. Look! All this washing ribbon, a penny a yard. And these caps—aren't they the last word? Julia, aren't they ducks? I thought I'd have my little caps all alike, flesh-pink tulle."
"When'll you wear them?" asked Julia hardily.
"When do other people wear them?" retorted Marie, rather confused.
"Have you ever worn things like this?"
"Well," said Marie, "perhaps not. But I've been saving up two years for it, haven't I? And if a girl can't have pretty things in her trousseau, when can she have them?"
Julia sighed and looked. There was a little clutch at her heart, but she went on sturdily:
"All you girls going to be married! I don't know what you expect! I know what you'll get. You seem to think a husband's a cross between Romeo and a fairy godmother. Well, you'll find it's different. You all imagine, when you say good-bye to your typewriter, or the showroom, or whatever line you're in, to marry on an income not so very much bigger than your own, that you're going to live in a palace and be waited upon ever afterwards. You'll have to get up early and cook Osborn's breakfast, shan't you, before he goes out? And make the beds and sweep and dust? And you're buying pink tulle caps as if you were going to breakfast in bed every day!"
"A little housework's nothing! A girl can wear pretty things when she's married, I suppose?"
"Oh, she can."
"She ought to. A man has a right to expect—"
"You'll find a man expects everything he has a right to, and a hundred per cent. more."
"Osborn is very different from most men."
Julia smiled, stood up, and pressed her hands over her hips to settle her skirt smoothly; she had an air of abandoning the talk as useless. Her eyes were tired and her mouth drooped.
"It isn't as though you knew such a great deal about men, dear," Marie added.
"I don't want to," said Julia.
"Surely, you must like Osborn?"
"What does it matter whether I do or don't, since you do?"
"I can't think how anyone can fail to like Osborn."
"Of course you can't."
"Even you must own he's the best-tempered boy living."
"I shan't own anything of the kind till you've been married three months, and he's had some bad dinners, and late breakfasts, and has got a bit sick of the butcher's bill. Then we'll see."
"Little things like these can't matter between people who really love each other. You don't understand."
"It's just these little things that take the edge off."
Marie's mother looked in and smiled to see her girl fingering her pretty things.
"Aren't you two nearly ready to leave the inspection and come to tea?"
"Julia doesn't like my caps, mum."
"Yes, I do," said Julia; "all I'm asking, Mrs. Amber, is, when is she going to wear them?"
Marie's mother came in and sat down and thought.
"Ah," she said, shaking her head and looking pinched about the lips, "I don't know. You modern girls buy all these extraordinary things. You ape rich women; but you'll never be able to pay the everlasting cleaners' bills for those caps."
"She'll soon give up wearing them, Mrs. Amber."
"I'm sure I shan't," Marie denied.
"When I was a girl," said Mrs. Amber, smoothing her lap reminiscently, "I remember I wanted a grand trousseau. But girls lived at home more in those days; they didn't go out typing and what not, earning money for themselves. So I couldn't buy what I wanted and my dear mother had too much sense to buy it for me. I had strong, useful things, twelve of everything, and they've lasted to this day. However, Marie thinks differently and she has earned the money to act differently, so let her be happy in her own way while she can."
"Won't she be happy when she's married?" Julia asked, while Marie angrily hid her treasures away in tissue paper.
"I hope so," said Mrs. Amber; "I'm sure I hope so. But things are all so different when you're married. You girls had better come to tea."
Julia linked her arm strongly in Marie's as they followed the elderly woman out. "Marie, love," she whispered, "I'm a grouser. You know I wish you all the luck in the world and more. You know I do?"
"I have it," said Marie, smiling. "And I hope you'll have it, too, before long."
On the sitting-room table tea was spread; the room was red in the firelight; and the flat was so high up in the block that the street noises scarcely ascended to it. The girls sat down on the hearthrug, and Mrs. Amber seated herself before her tea tray and flicked away a tear.
"A week to-day," she said, "I shall be the loneliest old thing in London. I shall be all by myself in this flat when Marie's gone."
There were five cups and saucers on the tray, and in a moment the door-bell rang, and Marie sprang up to answer it. "That's Osborn!" she cried in a flutter.
She returned demurely between two young men, one of them holding her hand captive.
Osborn had brought his friend Desmond Rokeby to talk over details of the great event next week. He kissed Mrs. Amber on the cheek, and turned to Julia with a certain diffidence. "Miss Winter," he said, with a nervous laugh, "I've brought Rokeby. You've met him? Rokeby, Miss Winter's going to be Marie's bridesmaid, you know, and you're going to be mine, so...."
The little joke was received with laughter by Mrs. Amber, Marie and Desmond; Julia only smiled and Rokeby thought, "What a dour young female! What a cold douche! What a perishing mistake!"
He sat down beside her on the chesterfield; the couch was small and Julia, close beside him, cold and hard as a rock. He turned from a glance at her profile to contemplate the bride-elect, and saw in her all that the modern young man wishes to find in a girl, the sparkle of spirit, yet the feminine softness; a frou-frou of temperament as well as of frills; a face of childlike clarity set with two gay eyes; hair dressed to tempt and cajole; a little figure of thin frailty that gave her a beautiful delicacy of appearance; little, modish, manicured hands.
She had such pretty arts; she fluttered about small domestic duties with a delight dainty to see. She set a man imagining how desirable it would be to build a nest for this delicate dear bird, and take her to it, and live deliciously ever afterwards. This is what Osborn Kerr imagined while—like Rokeby—he watched her. He had never seen her other than pretty and dainty, than happy and gay; he could not conceive of her otherwise. He had not the faintest doubt of being able to keep her so, in that nest which he had built for two on the other side of town. Whenever it was possible, in the teacup passing, he tried to touch her hand; he longed for her to look at him; he wanted her all to himself.
A week seemed over-long to wait.
Mrs. Amber watched him with a resigned and kindly eye. She was sighing a little, kindly and resignedly, in her mind, and thinking how alike men were in their courting. And presently, while Julia and Desmond conversed with a formal hostility on the chesterfield, and the lovers snatched brief moments for communication in lovers' code, she said:
"Osborn, another present came to-day; it's in the dining-room; Marie ought to show it to you."
"Will you, Marie?" asked the young man, while his heart leapt, and the pulses in his head seemed singing like larks on a summer morning.
"Would you care to see it?" she replied, with a studied sedateness which Osborn found unutterably sweet, and which did not in the least deceive the watching mother.
And in a moment the two were alone, it seemed in another world. This new world was compassed by the walls of the slip of an apartment called the dining-room, but which was kitchen as well, for there were no maids in the flat. The top of the oak dresser had been cleared of its bits of blue china and pewter to make way for the array of wedding gifts, and they were presented bravely. Perhaps among the display was the last received of which Mrs. Amber spoke, but whether it was, or was not, neither Marie nor Osborn cared.
They were alone.
There had pressed upon them, hard and perpetually, during the eighteen months of their engagement, the many difficulties with which opportunity is cautiously guarded by its custodians. They met in restaurants, in parks, and in the homes of either, and seldom could they be alone; and because they were superior people, not of the class which loves unashamedly in the public places if it has nowhere else to love, they restrained themselves. It was a long and hard probation, lightened sometimes, some rare and precious times, by such moments as now occurred. As soon as the kitchen-dining-room door closed behind them like the portals of sanctuary, Osborn held out his arms and Marie went to them. She rested there while Osborn kissed her with hard, devouring kisses which made her murmur little pleased protests.
All the while she was thinking, "A week to-day!" Her eyes travelled to the clock. "At six o'clock, a week this afternoon, I shall be Mrs. Kerr. We shall be at the hotel, unpacking."
"Not very long now," said Osborn between his kisses. "Soon we'll be alone as much as we like. We'll be able to shut our own door on everybody. Won't it be priceless?"
Marie thought it would. She fingered his coat lapels with her modish hands, and smiled with downcast eyelashes. In happy procession her dreams paraded by. She flitted a glance up at Osborn's face for a moment and looked down again. He was good-looking; he was the best-looking man she knew; his clothes were so good; his voice was so charming; he had no mean streak like some men; he was all gold. He was generous. Even while he had been spending all his bank balance, and more, on that nest for her at the other side of town, it had been delightful to be taken out by him to the nicest restaurants, hear chic dinners and good wines ordered with a thrilling lavishness. Many girls must envy her.
"A lot of fellows will envy me," Osborn murmured even while Marie thought her thoughts.
She protested again with soft words and the procession of dreams went by. The little home—how charming it would be! The chintz that matched her two best trousseau frocks, the solidity and polish of her dining-room chairs, the white paint and pale spring colours of her sitting-room, how ravishing it all was! The conveniences of the kitchen, the latest household apparatus, would they not make the keeping of the perfect flat a sort of toy occupation for a pretty girl's few serious moments? In spite of Julia, all would be easy and sweet. In a kimono and one of those pink caps one could cook a breakfast without soiling one's fingers. Osborn would like to see his wife look beautiful behind the coffeepot. She would manage splendidly. The income, of course, would seem small to some women, muddleheads, but she could manage. She could make the most darling clothes, bake cakes like a confectioner's. Osborn would be surprised.
She must have a pink pinafore, a smocked one.
What would it be like, the first few days together?
"Come and sit down," Osborn begged, and he drew her to the one big chair, into which they both squeezed. "I love you," he said, "oh, I do love you! And we can trust old Rokeby to look after your mother and Julia. What a terror the girl is!"
"She hates men," said Marie, with a pouting mouth.
"Then they will hate her and I don't wonder," the young man replied scornfully.
"Don't let us talk about Julia."
"No, let's talk about us. I bought the clock, darling."
"The clock! Did they knock down the price?"
"No, they didn't," said Osborn, "but you wanted it and that was good enough for me."
Her eyes sparkled. "You shouldn't be extravagant on my account."
"Let me kiss you," said Osborn, "that's all I want. You liked the old clock, and it will look ripping in the hall, won't it?"
"We shall be all oak now."
"Say you're pleased, then, you beautiful."
"I am. I did want that clock. A grandfather clock—I don't know—there's something about it."
"As for the price, sweetheart, why bother? It'll only add a few more instalments to the whole bally lump. It will be all right. I'll get a rise soon—married man, you know! Responsibilities, you know! Expenses!"
"Mother's starting us with every kind of saucepan and broom and brush you can think of."
"Osborn, it will be an awf'ly smart flat."
"It will, with you in it."
"No, but really. Everyone will admire it. I mean everyone to admire. We'll have some little dinner-parties, won't we?"
"Will we, Cook?"
"I shall make the sweets beforehand, and we'll have chafing-dish or casserole things. That sort of dinner. It's quite smart, Osborn. And dessert's easy. Julia's giving us finger bowls, tip-top ones—real cut-glass."
"We're starting awf'ly well, Osborn."
"Do you think I don't know that? We love each other; nothing ever goes wrong when people love each other. You'll be glad enough to give up the office, too, won't you?"
"I know you will. I hate to have you in a City office, with any bounder staring at you. When you're Mrs. Kerr only I can stare."
"I like your confidence!"
"But I shall make up for everyone. I shall stare all the time."
"Shall you want to go to the club every evening?"
"I shan't ever want to go to the club."
Although Marie had known what the answer would be—or she would not have asked the question—it made her very happy. It was delightful to hear only what one wanted to hear; to see only what one wanted to see. Life appeared as a graceful spectacle, a sort of orderly carnival refined to taste. There would, of course, be the big thrill in it—Osborn. It would be wonderful to have him coming home to her successful little dinners every evening. People didn't want a great deal, after all; all the discontented, puling, peevish, wanting people one met must be great fools; they had made their beds and made them wrong; the great thing, the simple secret, was to make them right. A husband and wife must pull together, in everything. Pulling together would be sheer joy.
"Osborn," she said, "how well we understand each other, don't we?"
"I should think we do," whispered the young man.
"Few married people seem really happy."
"They must manage life badly, mustn't they?"
"I remember mother and father; mother likes the idea of my getting married, but they used often to be nagging about something. Expenses, I think."
"All that I have will be yours, you love," said Osborn, with profound tenderness.
"But I shan't ask for it," said Marie, with a flash of intuition. "You don't know how careful I can be. It won't cost you much more than it does now; less, perhaps, because you won't always be dining at the club."
"But you'll come into town and lunch with me very often, shan't you, dearest?"
"Nearly every day."
Osborn got out of the chair and sat on its arm; Marie remained alone in the cushioned depths, looking flushed and brilliant; and Mrs. Amber came in slowly.
"Marie, I want to show Julia your dress; or would you like to show it yourself?"
"Is it the dress?" Osborn asked, looking down on the top of Marie's shining head.
Mrs. Amber sighed and smiled and the bride-elect sat up, sparkling.
"I'll come, mother."
"Let me come, too," said Osborn.
"I'll bring it into the sitting-room and let everyone see it, shall I, Marie?" her mother asked hastily.
She hurried away and Marie followed her to the bedroom, while Osborn stood in the doorway, looking in at the two eager women about their joyous errand. He put his hands in his pockets and smiled. It was pleasant to be involved in the bustle about the precious thing they were unwrapping from swathes of tissue paper. "Be careful, dear," the elder woman kept saying, "there's a pin here." Or "Don't hurry, or you'll have the pleats out of place." And Marie's hands trembled over their task. When all the paper was removed, Mrs. Amber said importantly, "Now just lift it up; give it to me like that; I'll carry it in," but Marie cried: "No, I will," and she threw the gown over her shoulder till her head emerged as from the froth of sea waves, and ran into the sitting-room with it.
Mrs. Amber's eyes were moist with pride. "It's a beautiful dress," she said to Osborn, who had turned eagerly after his girl; "I want her to look sweet. Here, wouldn't you like to take something? Here's the shoes; I've got the stockings. Wouldn't you like to carry the shoes?"
Marie was spreading out the gown on the chesterfield from which Julia and Desmond had risen to make room for it. Mrs. Amber laid the silk stockings reverently near and Osborn dangled his burden, saying gaily: "And here are Mrs. Kerr's slippers."
Rokeby stood back, observing. "It's all out of my line," he said, "but don't think I'm not respectful; I am. What's more, I'm fairly dazzled. I think I'll have to get married."
"You might do worse, old man," replied Osborn joyfully.
Rokeby lighted another cigarette. He looked around the room and at the people in it. He had been familiar with many such interiors and situations, being the kind of man who officiated at weddings but never in the principal part. "Poor old Osborn!" he thought. "Another good man down and out!" He looked at the girl, decked by Art and Nature for her natural conquest. He did not wonder how long her radiance would endure; he thought he knew. He entertained himself by tracing the likeness to her mother, and the mother's slimness had thickened, and her shoulders rounded; her eyes were tired, a little dour; they looked out without enthusiasm at the world, except when they rested upon her daughter. Then they became rather like the eyes of Marie looking at her wedding gown.
* * * * *
Osborn took Marie's head between his hands, and kissed her eyes and mouth. "That's for good night," he whispered; "Rokeby and I are going home. You are the sweetest thing, and I shall dream of you all night. Promise to dream of me."
"It's a certainty."
"It is?" said the young man rapturously. "I am simply too happy, then."
"Let's go and look at the flat to-morrow."
"Have tea with me in town, darling, and I'll take you."
Mrs. Amber and Rokeby came out into the hall. Rokeby wore a very patient air, and Marie's mother beamed with that soft and sorrowful pleasure which women have for such circumstances.
"Now say good night," said she softly, "say good night. Good-bye, Mr. Rokeby, and we shall see you again a week to-day?"
"A week to-day."
The two men went out and down the stairs into the street. Rokeby had his air of good-humoured and invincible patience and Osborn dreamed.
"I'll see you right home," said Rokeby.
"And you'll come in, and have a drink."
"Thanks. Perhaps I will. Haven't you got a trousseau to show me?"
"Get out, you fool!"
"What do chaps feel like, I wonder," said Rokeby, "when the day of judgment is so near?"
"I shan't tell you, you damned scoffer!"
"Well, well," said Rokeby, "I've seen lots of nice fellows go under this same way. It always makes me very sorry. I do all I can in the way of preventive measures, but it's never any good, and there's no cure. Ab-so-lutely none. There's no real luck in the business, either, as far as I've seen, though of course some are luckier than others."
"Did you mention luck?" Osborn exclaimed, from his dream. "Don't you think I'm lucky? I say, Desmond, old thing, don't you think I'm one of the most astonishingly lucky fellows on God's earth?"
"You ought to know."
"Oh, come off that silly pedestal of pretence. Cynicism's rotten. Marriage is the only life."
"'Never for me!'" Rokeby quoted Julia.
"Awful girl!" said Osborn, referring to her briefly. "'Orrid female. What?"
"Very handsome," said Rokeby.
"Handsome! I've never seen it. She's not to be compared to Marie, anyway. You haven't answered my question. Don't you think I'm lucky?"
"Yes, you are," replied Rokeby sincerely, turning to look at him, "for any man to be as happy as you seem to be even for five minutes is a great big slice of luck to be remembered."
"Marie's a wonderful girl. She can do absolutely anything, I believe. It seems incredible that a girl with hands like hers can cook and sew, but she can. Isn't it a wonder?"
"It sounds ripping."
They walked on in silence, Osborn back up in his clouds. At last he awaked to say:
"Well, here we are. You'll come in?"
"Do. I shan't have so many more evenings of—"
"—Of loneliness, confound you! Come in!"
Rokeby followed him into his rooms, on the second floor. A good fire was burning, but they were just bachelor rooms full of hired—and cheap—furniture. As Osborn cast off his overcoat and took Rokeby's, he glanced around expressively.
"You should see the flat. You will see it soon. All Marie's arrangement, and absolutely charming."
"Thanks awfully. I'll be your first caller."
"Well, don't forget it. What'll you have?"
Osborn gave Desmond one of the two armchairs by the fire, and took the other himself. Another silence fell, during which Rokeby saw Osborn smiling secretly and involuntarily to himself as he had seen other men smile. The man was uplifted; his mind soared in heaven, while his body dwelt in a hired plush chair in the sitting-room of furnished lodgings. Rokeby took his drink, contented not to interrupt; he watched Osborn, and saw the light play over his face, and the thoughts full of beauty come and go. At length, following the direction of some thought, again it was Osborn who broke the mutual quiet, exclaiming:
"I've never shown you her latest portrait!"
"Let's look. I'd love to."
The lover rose, opened the drawer of a writing-table, and took out a photograph, a very modern affair, of most artistic mounting. He handed it jealously to Desmond and was silent while the other man looked. The girl's face, wondrously young and untroubled, frail, angelic, rose from a slender neck and shoulders swathed in a light gauze cloud. Her gay eyes gazed straight out. Rokeby looked longer than he knew, very thoughtfully, and Osborn put his hand upon the portrait, pulled it away as jealously as he had given it, and said:
"They've almost done her justice for once."
"Top-hole, old man," Rokeby replied sympathetically.
When Osborn dressed for his wedding he felt in what he called first-class form. He thought great things of life; life had been amazingly decent to him throughout. It had never struck him any untoward blow. The death of his parents had been sadness, certainly, but it was a natural calamity, the kind every sane man expected sooner or later and braced himself for. His mother had left him a very little money, and his father had left him a very little money; small as the sum total was, it gave a man the comfortable impression of having private means. He paid the first instalments on the dream-flat's furniture with it, and there was some left still, to take Marie and him away on a fine honey-moon, and to brighten their first year with many jollities. His salary was all right for a fellow of his age. Marie was not far wrong when she said that they were starting "awfully well."
"And—when—I—tell—them, And I'm certainly going to tell them, That I'm the man whose wife you're one day going to be, They'll never believe me—"
That latest thing in revue songs fitted the case to a fraction. He was the luckiest man in the whole great round world.
Osborn was pleased with his reflection in the glass. For his wedding he had bought his first morning-coat and silk hat. He had been as excited as a girl. He had a new dress-suit, too, and a dinner-jacket from the best tailor in town, ready packed for travelling. He had been finicking over his coloured shirts, handkerchiefs, and socks; a set of mauve, a set of blue, a set of grey; the brown set with the striped shirt; they were all awf'ly smart. Marie was so dainty, she liked a man to be smart, too. All he wanted was to please her.
Rokeby came early, as quiet and lacklustre as ever. He sat down in the obvious lodging-house bedroom, lighted a cigarette and looked at Osborn without a smile. He prepared himself to be bored and amazed; weddings, tiresome as they were, always amazed him. And he was prepared, too, for a settled insanity in Osborn until—
"I wonder how long he'll be?" Rokeby thought.
"I've finished packing," said Osborn, clapping his old brushes together; the new ones lay among the new suits. "It's time we started, almost, isn't it?"
"Not by an hour," Rokeby answered, consulting a wrist watch. "Have you breakfasted?"
"You'd better, hadn't you?"
Osborn was concerned with the set of the new coat over his fine shoulders.
"Breakfast was on the table when I came through," added Rokeby.
"Was it?" replied Osborn absently.
Rokeby took his friend's arm, piloted him with patient firmness into the sitting-room, and pulled out a chair.
Osborn ate and drank spasmodically. Between the spasms he hummed under his breath:
"And—when—I—tell—them, And I'm certainly going to tell them, That I'm the man whose wife you're one day going to be, They'll never believe me—"
Rokeby smoked several cigarettes.
"How long'll it take us to get to the church?" Osborn asked presently, with his eye on the clock.
"Ten minutes, about. We'll walk."
"Desmond, I say, I wouldn't like to be late."
"I'll look after that. I've escorted a good many fellows to the tumbril."
"Desmond, that nonsense of yours gets boring."
"All right! Sorry."
"Let's start," said Osborn.
So they started on their short walk. The pale gold sun of a splendid crisp morning hailed them and the streets were bright. Already, though they arrived early at the church, several pews were full of whispering guests who turned and looked and smiled, with nods that beckoned, at the two young men.
"What'll we do?" Osborn whispered.
"Hide," said Rokeby.
They hid in a cold, stony little place which Rokeby said was a vestry, and there they waited while interminable minutes drifted by. Osborn fell into a dream from which he was only fully roused by finding himself paraded side by side at the chancel steps with a dazzling apparition, robed in white clouds, veiled and wreathed. She carried a great bouquet. He stole a look at her entrancing profile and thought that never had she looked so lovely. She had a flush on her cheeks, her gay eyes were serious, and her little bare left hand, when, under whispered instructions, he took it, startled him by being tremulous and cold as ice. He pressed it and felt tremendously protective.
An irrevocable Act had taken place without fuss or difficulty, or any abnormal signs and wonders; the gold circle was on Marie's finger and they were married. For a moment or two, while they knelt and a strange clergyman was addressing them, Osborn was surprised at the ease, the speed and simplicity with which two people gave each other their lives. He did not know what else he had expected, but how simple it all was! This was their day of days; their wedding. He stole another look at Marie and found her rapt, calm.
He began to be annoyed with the presence of the clergyman, of Desmond, and Julia, who waited disapprovingly upon the bride, of Marie's mother and the small horde of friends and relations; he began to think, "If only it was over and I had her to myself! In another hour, surely, we'll be away."
* * * * *
They had chosen one of the most fashionable seaside resorts as an idyllic honeymoon setting. The journey was not long, only long enough to enjoy the amenities of luxurious travelling. Rokeby had seen to the tea-basket and the foot-warmers, as he had to the magazines. Marie repeated what she had said to Julia:
"Oh, isn't it nice, getting married!"
"Being married is nicer," said Osborn ardently. "I'll come and sit beside you. Let's take off your hat. Now, put your head on my shoulder. Isn't it jolly? I want to tell you how beautiful you looked in church. I was half scared."
"So was I at first."
"But you're not now? You're not scared with me?"
"No—no," said Marie with bated breath.
Osborn smiled. "I'm going to make you very happy. You shall be the happiest girl in town. You're going to have absolutely all you want. But first, before we go back to town, there's our honeymoon, the best holiday of our lives. That's joyful to think of, isn't it, darling?"
"Glad you think so, too, Mrs. Kerr."
"Osborn, now tell me how my frock looked."
"I couldn't!" he cried in some awe. He sighed as if at a beautiful memory.
"Ah!" said Marie, satisfied, "you liked it?"
She lay against his shoulder supremely content. The winter landscape, which had lost its morning sun, was rushing by them and it looked cold. But inside the honeymoon carriage all was warm, love-lit and glowing. There was no dusk. Marie reviewed the day in her light, clear mind, and it had been very good. Hers had been a wedding such as she had always wanted. Osborn had looked so fine. She reviewed the details so carefully thought out and arranged for by herself and her mother. With the unthinking selfishness of a young gay girl, she discounted the strain on the mother's purse and heart. The favours had been exactly the right thing; the cake was good; the little rooms hadn't seemed at all bad; Aunt Toppy's new gown was an unexpected concession to the occasion; Mrs. Amber had been really almost distinguished; the country cousins hadn't looked too dreadfully rural. People hadn't been stiff, or awkward, or dull. As for Mr. Rokeby—that was a very graceful speech he made. He was rather a gifted man; worth knowing.
But Osborn had very nice friends.
With the agility of woman, her mind jumped ahead to those little dinner-parties. Soup one prepared well beforehand; a chicken, en casserole....
Perhaps Osborn saw the abstraction of her mind and was jealous of it; at the moment she must think of nothing save him, as he could think of nothing but her. He put his hand under her chin, to lift her dreamy face, and he kissed her lips possessively.
"Here," he demanded, against them, "what are you thinking about? We're not going to think of anything or anyone but just ourselves. We're going to live entirely in the next glorious fortnight, for a whole fortnight. Have you any objection to that programme, Mrs. Kerr?"
"No, no," said Marie sighing, "no, no! It's beautiful."
The young Kerrs gave themselves a fine time; an amazing time. A dozen times a day they used to tell each other with a solemn delight how amazing it all was. When they awoke in the mornings, in a sleeping apartment far more splendid than any they could ever sanely hope—not that they were sane—to rent for themselves, when an interested if blasee chambermaid entered with early tea, finding Marie in one of the pink caps and a pink matinee over a miraculously frail nightdress, with Osborn hopelessly surprised and admiring, they used to say to each other, while the bride dispensed the tea:
"Isn't it all nice? Did you ever imagine anything could be so nice?"
When they descended to breakfast, very fresh and spruce, under the eyes of such servants as they could never expect to hire themselves, they looked at each other across the table for two, and touched each other's foot under it and asked: "Doesn't it seem extraordinary to be breakfasting together like this?"
And when one of the cars from the hotel garage was ordered round to take them for a run, and they snuggled side by side on well-sprung cushions such as they would probably never ride upon again, they held hands and exclaimed under their breath: "This is fine, isn't it? I wish this could last for ever! Some day, when our ship comes in, we'll have this make of car."
And when they walked the length of the pier together, two well-clad and well-looking young people, they would gaze out to sea with the same vision, see the infinite prospects of the horizon and say profoundly: "We're out at last on the big voyage. Didn't our engagement seem endless? But now—we're off!"
For dinner, in the great dining-room, with the orchestra playing dimly in the adjacent Palm Court, Mrs. Osborn Kerr would put on the ineffable wedding gown, and all the other guests and the servants, with experienced eyes, would know it for what it was; and Mr. Osborn Kerr wore the dinner jacket from the best tailor in town, and after they had progressed a little with their wine—they had a half-bottle every night; what would the bill be?—they would look into each other's eyes of wonder and murmur: "I always knew we'd have a beautiful honeymoon; but I never imagined it could be so beautiful as this."
Later, much later, when the evening's delights had gone by in soft procession, they went to other delights. Osborn brushed Marie's hair with the tortoise shell-back brushes he had given her for a wedding gift, and compared it with the Golden Fleece, the wealth of Sheba, the dust of stars, till she was arrogant with the homage of man and he was drunk with love of her.
They had their great wild happy moment to which every human being has the right, and no one and nothing robbed them of it. It flowed to its close like a summer's day, and the sun set upon it with great promise of a like to-morrow.
But although the most darling dolly home waited for them in a suburb of the great city where Osborn was to work away his young life like other men, although each saw and recognised the promise of the sunset, they were sad at leaving the palace which, for so short a time, they had made-believe was theirs. A reason was present in the mind of each, though, an irrefutable, hard-and-fast reason, why the stay could not be prolonged, even though Osborn might beg, with success, for another week's holiday. Each knew what the now mutual purse held; each, day by day, had privately been adding the price of the half-bottle, and the hire of the car, to the sum of "everything inclusive." Each had, of necessity, a hard young head.
So they went home very punctually.
The hall-porter at the flats knew how newly married they were. So there was a smile upon the face of the tiger and fires burning in Number Thirty; and he carried up the luggage with a kind alacrity; for newly married people were his prey. They thanked him profusely, touched by his native charm, and they gave him five shillings.
They sat down and looked at each other.
"I think it is lovely to be at home," said Marie.
"There's a comfort about one's own place," Osborn answered, "that you don't get anywhere else."
The hall-porter had even wound up the clocks, which Mrs. Amber and Julia had brought, among other wedding presents, a day or two before, and now four strokes sounded from a silvery-voiced pet of a timepiece on the mantelshelf. The owners looked at it, arrested and pleased.
"It is really the prettiest clock I have ever seen," said Marie.
"I like the tone," said Osborn, "I can't bear a harsh clock. Darling, that's four. You want tea. I'll get it."
"We'll both get it."
"But you're tired with travelling, pretty cat. You'll just sit there and I'll take your boots off and unpack your slippers; and I'll make your tea."
Marie let Osborn do all this, and he enjoyed his activity for her sake as much as she enjoyed her inactivity. He unpinned her hat, took off her coat as a nurse removes a child's coat, kneeled down to unlace her boots, kissed each slim instep, and carried all the things neatly away to their bedroom. Joyfully he unlocked the suit-case where he knew her slippers reposed, for had he not packed them himself, for her, that morning? He returned to the sitting-room and put them on.
"Mrs. Osborn Kerr at home!" he cried, standing to look down upon her.
"I do want my tea!" said Marie.
"I'll get it now, darling. You sit still. I adore waiting upon you," said Osborn, hurrying away.
It was fine to be in his own place, with his own wife, with the world shut out and snubbed. As Osborn strode along the short and narrow corridor to the kitchen he admired everything he saw. He confirmed his own good taste and Marie's. The cream walls with black and white etchings—more wedding presents—upon them, and the strip of plain rose felt along the floor, could not be bettered. The kitchen was a spotless little place, up-to-date in the matter of cupboards. Everything was as up-to-date as he and Marie were. There was nothing equal to this fresh and modern comfort.
Osborn looked in a cupboard and there he saw foods, enough to begin on, placed there by the thoughtful Mrs. Amber. Upon the kitchen table was a furnished tea-tray, the one woman knowing by instinct what the other woman would first require after her day's journey. Osborn lighted one of the jets of the gas-stove. What a neat stove! A kettle was handy. What a 'cute kettle! Aluminium, wasn't it? None of those common tin things. He filled the kettle from a tap which was a great improvement on any tap which he had ever seen.
They were all his own.
He cut bread-and-butter.
He lighted the grill of the gas-stove and made toast. They had a handsome hot-toast dish.
He hunted for sugary dainties such as Marie loved. Mrs. Amber had provided them in a tin. He arranged them with thought and care.
Wasn't there any cream for his love? There was a tin of it. He emptied the cream out lavishly.
All the while the petted bride rested by the fire in her little chintz room. Life had petted her, her employers had wanted to, and her mother had petted her, but never had she revelled in such supreme petting as the last fortnight's.
Where did all these fierce, man-hating young women whom one met quite often get their ideas from? If only they knew, if only they could be told, could be forced to open their eyes and see, how perfect the right sort of marriage really was!
Why, a man, poor dear, was abject! A girl had things all her own way. Secretly and sweetly Marie smiled over Osborn's devotion.
As she smiled, looking tender and lovely, in the firelight, the door opened, and Osborn came in, perilously balancing his tray on one hand like a waiter. He meant her to laugh at his dexterity; he felt a first-class drawing-room comedian with his domestic attainments. Over one arm he had slung a brand-new teacloth. He intoned unctuously:
"I think I have all you want, madam."
Marie laughed as Osborn wanted her to do.
"Sit still," he urged, "I'll arrange it all. The toast in the fender; the cloth on the table; the tray on the cloth. I understand everything. See, Mrs. Kerr? You won't be the only know-all in this establishment."
Then he waited upon her; but he let her pour out the tea, because he wanted to see her do it, in her own home, for the first time. The situation thrilled both, after a fortnight of thrills.
"I wish Desmond could see us now!" said Osborn.
"I wish Julia could."
"I think we should convert 'em."
Osborn sat on the hearthrug with shoulders against Marie's knees. One of her hands stole round his neck and he held it there; he knew it was the softest small hand in the world; he had no misgivings about it and its tasks. The hour seemed ineffably rosy.
"And to-morrow," he stated, "I go back to work."
"My poor boy," said Marie, "and I shan't work any more."
"Thank heaven, no." Osborn kissed the hand he held.
"This must always stay as soft as rose-leaves," he said fondly.
"You may count on my doing my best for it," said Marie laughing, "I like nice hands. No woman can look well-dressed without nicely-kept hands. And that reminds me, Osborn, I want some more cream for my nails—cuticle-cream it's called. Any good cuticle-cream will do."
He hastened to jot it down in a notebook. His first little commission for his wife! For Miss Amber there had been many, but this was almost epoch-making as being for Mrs. Osborn Kerr. "I'll get it in the dinner-hour, or on my way home. Can't you think of anything else you want?"
"I have everything else."
"You always shall have."
"What was the kitchen like?" Marie asked. "Was it tidy?"
"It's the smartest little place."
"I'll see it presently, when we wash-up."
"You're not going to wash-up."
"But, Osborn, I shall have to, often. Every day, you know."
He looked a trifle unhappy over this, knitting his brows. Of course, they had both known that the moment would come when Marie would handle a dishcloth in the best interests of Number Thirty, but it had seemed somewhat remote in those queer, forgotten unmarried days more than a fortnight ago; more than ever remote during the stay in an hotel palace.
"Yes, yes," he said, "I suppose so. I wish you needn't, though."
"I shan't mind. A little housework is very simple; people make such a fuss about it; mother makes a horrible fuss. I shall always wear gloves."
"That partly solves it," said Osborn nodding eagerly, "rubber gloves for wet work, and housemaid's gloves for dry, eh, dearest? You will always, won't you? You must let me buy you all the gloves you want."
"I have enough to begin with."
"You are a thoughtful little genius."
"We'll have to cook dinner to-night."
"Oh, great work!" cried Osborn.
"I intend to run this flat in a thoroughly up-to-date way," Marie explained; "that's the secret of a comfortable household without help, you know—to be entirely up-to-date."
The husband looked immensely impressed.
"I believe you," he said.
The clock struck five, and six, before they rose reluctantly. It would have been rather nice, of course, just to press a bell and give one's orders, but....
On her way to the kitchen, Marie peeped into the bedroom. She switched up the light and looked it over, well pleased. Soon, when she had unpacked, her dressing-table would be furnished with all her pretty things, tortoiseshell and silver, big glass powder-puff bowl, big glass bowl and spoon with scented salts for her bath, and the manicure set of super-luxury which a girl friend had given her on her marriage. She was really adorably equipped; she was starting so very, very well. Her glance fell upon the two beds, side by side, much-pillowed, pink-quilted.
It would be rather nice if there was a housemaid to whip in every evening and turn down the sheets and lay out the night wear; but....
One can't have everything.
"I think we're quite all right here?" said Osborn over her shoulder, with pride in his voice.
"Isn't it all adorable?" she exclaimed.
"You aren't going to put on The Frock, are you, dear girl, to do the cooking?"
"I'll put it on afterwards, just before we dish up."
"I'll dress, too," said Osborn.
They proceeded to the kitchen and played with all their new toys there. There was not so much to do, after all, because Mrs. Amber, wise woman, had provided one of those ready-made but expensive little meals from the Stores. You just added this to the soup and heated it; you put that in a casserole dish and shoved it in the oven; you whipped some cream; and you made a savoury out of tinned things. You got out the plated vegetable dish which wasn't to be used except on great occasions—but this was one—and put the potatoes in it. You laid the table with every blessed silver thing you had, till it looked like a wedding-present show, as indeed it was. You lighted four candles and put rose shades over them, almost like those at the hotel palace. You ranged the dessert on the sideboard, for you must have dessert, to use those tiptop finger-bowls. In each finger-bowl you floated a flower to match the table decorations. You placed the coffee apparatus—quite smart to make your own, you know—on the sideboard, too.
Thus you had a swagger little dinner; most delectable.
Then you put on the frock of frocks, and cooled your rather sorched hands with somebody else's gentlest kisses, the healing brand, and with some pinkish powder as smooth as silk. Then somebody else put on his dinner-clothes and looked the finest man in the world. Then you dished up the hot part of the dinner, and the creamy sweet was all ready at the other end of the table—so easy to arrange these things gracefully without a parlourmaid, you know—and absolutely everything was accomplished.
You sat down.
Love was about and around you.
What delicious soup by a clever wee cook!
Was there happiness at table? There was not greater happiness in heaven.
"You'll lie still, Mrs. Kerr," said Osborn, when they awoke for the first time in their own flat, "and I shall bring you a cup of tea."
"But," said the drowsy Marie, raising herself on an elbow, with all her shining hair—far prettier than any one of the pinky caps with which she loved to cover it—falling over her childish white shoulders, "I must get up; Osborn, really I must; there's breakfast to cook—and you mustn't be late."
"Lie still, Mrs. Kerr," cried the young husband from the doorway.
It was cold in the kitchen, very cold, when a fellow went out clad only in pyjamas, but Osborn briskly lighted that very superior gas-stove and put the super-kettle on. It was extraordinary how completely they were equipped; there was even an extra little set for morning tea for two. He made toast under the grill, with whose abilities he now felt really familiar, and furnished the tray. He was glad he could have everything so pretty and cosy for Marie. He would never be like some men he knew, utterly careless—to all appearance at least—as to how their wives fared.
He had his cold tub quickly, while the kettle boiled, and lighted the geyser in the bathroom for Marie. What an awfully decent bathroom it was!
It was jolly sitting on the edge of Marie's bed, drinking tea, and admiring her. Fellows who weren't married never really knew how pretty a girl could look. Or at least they ought not. Her nightdress beat any mere suit or frock simply hollow.
"Your bath'll be ready when you are, pretty cat," said Osborn, "and I've left the kettle on and made enough toast for breakfast."
And Julia inferred that husbands were mere brutes!
Before Marie stepped out of bed, Osborn lighted the gas-fire in the bedroom; she mustn't get cold. She went into the bathroom, and he began to shave, in cold water. As he shaved, he remembered—Great Scott!
The dining-room fire. The dining-room grate in ashes.
Wiping the lather hastily from his face, Osborn hastened out once more. It was all right for her to put a match to a gas-fire, but ashes and coals ... he hadn't thought of it.
He did the dining-room grate almost as successfully as a housemaid, cleared the debris, wondering where one put it, coaxed the fire to blaze and hurried back to dress.
Marie dressed, too.
"I'm not going to be a breakfast-wrapper woman," she said, as she slid into her garments. "They're sluts, aren't they? I'm going to look as nice in the mornings as at any other part of the day."
"Bravo, kiddie!" he cried admiringly.
There was still time in hand when both were dressed for the cooking of breakfast, but there seemed quite a lot of things to do yet; and they made rather a rush of them. One couldn't sit down to a meal in a dusty room, so one had to sweep and dust it. And there was, undoubtedly, some trick about eggs and bacon which one had yet to learn.
How easily and quickly one would learn everything, though. Method was the thing.
He asked her many times if she wouldn't come into town and lunch, or have tea, and they would go home together; but she explained convincingly if mysteriously:
"You see, dear, this first day, I'll have to get straight," and he went off alone.
Marie fell to work in the greatest spirits. She was armoured with the rubber gloves and the housemaid's gloves and a chic pinafore. As she worked she sang. Of course, a woman must have something to occupy a little of her day. Marie hastened about these tasks cheerfully, and before she was through them her mother came.
Her anxious look at her girl was dispelled by the brightness in the bride's face. The small home was very snug; it maintained a high tone of comfort and elegance. Mrs. Amber sat down by the dining-room fire and drew off her gloves and said:
"Now tell me all about it, duck."
"All about what?" said Marie.
"The honeymoon," said Mrs. Amber.
Marie looked at her mother as if she were mad. She smiled at the fire. "We had a lovely time," she replied evasively.
"And had that man lighted the fires yesterday? I couldn't get round—"
"It was all absolutely ready, thank you, mother."
"I brought the things the day before, except the cream. That I told him to get. And the flowers. I don't see the flowers, love."
"They are mostly in the drawing-room," said Marie.
"I should like to see the drawing-room now it's finished," said Mrs. Amber, rising eagerly.
In the small room of pale hues she stood satisfied, almost entranced. But she had those sad things to say which occur inevitably to elderly women of domestic avocations.
"This white paint! You'll have something to do, my child, keeping it clean. It marks so. I know that. Yes, it's pretty, but this time next year I hope you won't be sorry you had it. But of course, just for the two of you—well, you'll both have to be careful. You'll have to warn Osborn, my dear. Men need reminding so often."
"Osborn is rather different from most men," said Marie. "He is so very thoughtful; he made me some tea early this morning, and did the dining-room grate, and lighted the geyser, and everything."
"That won't last, my dear," replied Mrs. Amber, in a tone of quiet authority, but not lamenting.
"Osborn is not a man who changes, mother," said Marie.
"The chintz is a little light; it will show marks almost as much as the paint, I'm afraid, duck," Mrs. Amber continued. "I don't know if it wouldn't have been better to choose a darker ground. However, you can wash these covers at home. The frills are the only parts which you need to iron. I dare say you know that, dear?"
"Oh, well, I shan't have to think of those things yet, mother. I dare say Osborn would prefer me to send them to the cleaner's, anyway."
"People live more extravagantly now," said Mrs. Amber. "I should have done them at home."
Mrs. Amber thought. "In marriage," she stated presently, "someone has to make sacrifices."
"Why should it be the woman?"
"Because the woman," answered Mrs. Amber quoting someone she had once heard, "is naturally selected for it."
"Mother," said Marie, "don't be tiresome."
Mrs. Amber went away reluctantly at three o'clock. She was a wise woman, and did not want to appear ubiquitous. At four, while Marie was unpacking the trunks they had brought yesterday, Julia came in.
"I begged off an hour earlier," she stated.
She looked quite moved, for Julia; she held Marie at arm's length, stood off and surveyed her. "Well," she asked, "how are you?"
"Very well, and awf'ly happy."
Once more the kettle boiled on the gas-stove; once more toast baked under the grill; and the girls, one eager to tell, the other eager to listen, sat down on the hearthrug in the little dining-room to talk.
"What is marriage really like?" said Julia incredulously. "Haven't you any fault to find? Any fly in your ointment?"
And Marie replied: "Absolutely none."
"It seems wonderful," said Julia thoughtfully.
"It is wonderful," cried Marie fervently; "it is so wonderful that a girl can hardly believe it, Julia. But there it is. Marriage is the only life. I wish you'd believe me. All the old life seems so little and light and trivial and silly—that is, all of it which I can remember, for it seems nearly swept away. Mother came in this morning—if it hadn't been for her I don't think I'd have remembered anything at all of what ever happened to me before I was Osborn's wife. It's beginning all new, you see. It's like starting on the best holiday you ever had in your life, which is going to last for ever. Try to imagine it."
"Ah," said Julia sourly, "a holiday! Holidays don't last for ever. You always come back to the day's work and the old round."
"You need a holiday yourself," said Marie severely. "You're so bitter. You want something to sweeten you."
Julia looked at Marie with a yearning softness unexpected in her. "Well, haven't I come to see you? You're the sweetest thing I know. And it's fine to see you so happy. As for your toast, it's scrumptious."
"Eat it quickly. I want to show you round before I begin to cook dinner."
"Fancy you cooking dinner!" said Julia, looking at Marie's little, pampered hands.
Marie had the first faint thrill of the heroine.
"I have to. We can't afford a servant, you know, yet, though, when Osborn gets his rise, perhaps we shall."
"When will that be?"
"Oh, I don't know. This year—next year—"
"Sometime—never," said Julia.
"Osborn is very clever. He is so valuable to his firm; they wouldn't lose him for anything, so they'll have to give him a bigger salary. Brains like Osborn's don't go cheap."
"That's awf'ly nice," Julia replied. She looked down, and stroked the furs which she had bought for herself, and thought for a while.
"Show me the flat, there's a dear."
Julia professed raptures over all she saw; kissed Marie, and was gone. Once more the bride, but alone this time, turned earnestly to work.
The work seemed long and arduous and hot and nerve-racking, in spite of the amenities of the gas stove. She was so anxious to have all perfect. Once more the table was decked, the rose shades were placed over the candles, the sitting-room fire was lighted, the coffee apparatus was made ready.
Marie rushed into The Frock, determined to keep up the standard they had set themselves, just two minutes before Osborn arrived home.
He kneeled to kiss her; they embraced rapturously.
"You've had a nice day?" he was anxious to know.
"Lovely. Mother came, and Julia, and I unpacked, and went to market, and did everything by myself—"
"I'm glad you had plenty to amuse you, dear one."
"'Amuse'?" said Marie a trifle blankly. "I've been working ever so hard all day, really, Osborn."
"Work?" he teased, smiling. "You 'working'!" He kissed one little hand after the other. "They couldn't," he mumbled over them. He seemed to take woman's great tasks lightly, as if he did not realise how serious, how enervating they were.
"They're too pretty," he said.
He began to talk, while he carved the chicken.
"It seemed a bit beastly to go back to work to-day after our good time. However, I've all the more reason for going back to work now, haven't I, Mrs. Kerr? You'll keep me up to the scratch, won't you? Look! I'm carving this bird like an old family man already. They were all asking me, down there, how I liked my honeymoon, and where we went and what we saw. A lot of them began talking of the time they'd had. They all said it never lasts. People are fools, aren't they?"
"Not to make it last?" said Marie. "Yes, dear."
"The attitude of the average man towards married life is sickening," said Osborn, "but I'm glad to think you'll never know anything about that, little girl."
Marie had a great feeling, as she looked under the candle-shades, at Osborn, that she had found the king of men: lover, protector and knight.
"The attitude of the average woman towards married life is perfectly mean, Osborn. But you'll never know anything about that, either."
He knew, as he returned her look across the flowers, that he alone had achieved every man's desire; he had found the perfect mate; she who would never soil, nor age, nor weep, nor wound; the jewel-girl.
Marie had not thought of money in relation to herself and Osborn. He was known, in the set among which they both moved, and had met and loved and married, as a promising young fellow doing very well indeed, in a steady fashion, for his age. He had a salary, when they set up housekeeping in No. 30, of two hundred a year, with a very good rise indeed, a 25 per cent, rise, at the end of every five years. And he earned this and that now and again in odd channels, vaguely dubbed commission, or expenses. So, as a bachelor, Osborn could be almost splendid in their set, and as a husband he was resolved to be conscientious and careful. He had decided to give up his inexpensive club, and presently he meant to go into the matter of conscience and care, to give it a figure, but not so soon after the honeymoon as Marie drew him into it. It was all very comfortable saying to oneself: "I must make some arrangement; all in good time," but the making of it left one a little cold, a little surprised, inclined to thought.
When the Kerrs had been housekeeping for a week, the butcher and baker and the rest of the clan each dropped through the letter-slit in the front door of No. 30 a very clean, spruce, new book, and the young wife gathered them up with eager trepidation. She had been washing up, when the books arrived, all the dinner things left over from the night before, and the breakfast things of this morning, and from the kitchen she heard and recognised the blunt thump as each record of her housekeeping talents or failings dropped upon the hall floor. She rushed out, collected them, and retired to the dining-room hearthrug to meet her responsibilities.
She knew the sum total was all wrong; her mother's tradesmen's books never reached this figure. Yet people must eat, mustn't they? And wash with soap? And have boot polish, and cleaning things, and candles for their dinner-table?
She asked herself, as so many young wives have done, half-sorrowing, half-injured: "But what have we had? I've been awf'ly careful. I couldn't have managed with less. I shall tell Osborn that it simply can't be done for less—"
She shut the books one by one. "But it must," she said to herself. "Our income is—"
She figured out, with pencil and paper and much distaste, their weekly income; she compared it with the sum total of the tradesmen's books, and to that one must add rent, and travel, and holidays and doctor's expenses.
Doctor's expenses? Cut that item out. One must never be ill, that's all.
She was glad she was going to meet Osborn that afternoon, and have tea with him in the West End; he was to beg off early specially for it.
The flat seemed very silent. What a deserted place! It would be nice to go out and see someone, speak to someone.
She went to lie down.
She lay on her pink quilt, and began on that castle again. It was a fine place, a real family seat. While she built, she manicured her finger nails, looking at them critically. She had not begun to spoil them yet, thanks to the rubber gloves and the housemaid's gloves with which Osborn had declared his eternal readiness to provide her. No one would feel it more deeply than Osborn if one of those slim fingers were burned or soiled or roughened ever so little.
She had a few coppers only in her private purse, but they would carry her to Osborn, the legal fount of supply. Out into a fine afternoon she stepped lightly, and the admiring hall porter watched her go. He was not so certain of her, though, for he had seen many young brides pass through his portals, in and out every day, ridden always by some small fretting care till they trembled at the sight of someone who was always looking, through their ageing clothes, at the ill-kept secrets of their pockets. He had entered in his memoranda that the Kerrs rented only a forty-pound flat.
Heedless of the hall porter, Marie was away upon her joyous errand. She was very young, very healthy, and she looked ravishing. These things she knew, and they were enough. She went upon the top of an omnibus to the City street where was her rendezvous, but in her gala suit, her gala hat, and the furs which had nearly broken Mrs. Amber, she felt immensely superior to such humble mode of travel.
Before she alighted from the omnibus she saw, from her altitude, Osborn striding along the street. He was not alone; Desmond Rokeby was with him, listening to something which Osborn was telling him eagerly. Although Marie could not hear the words, she leaned over and looked down with delight upon her man whom she had chosen, so tall and smart, and fine, and young. She loved the turn of his head, the swing of his shoulders, his quick tread and eager look, as if all life were unrolling before him like a map, and he could choose at his lordly will any one of the thousand roads upon it. Osborn was speaking of his wife; he was telling Rokeby about the splendour of the game he had learned to play. He was trying to tell Rokeby something of the wonders and beauties of one woman's mind and heart; and he was telling him, too, of smaller things, of the comforts and attractions of home, of the little kingdom behind a shut front door, of the angel's food an angel cooked, and all her benevolences and graces and mercies.
As he spoke, diffidently but glowingly, of these things, with his words rushing out, or halting over something that was not to be told, his attention was called to the omnibus top on which Marie sat; he did not know what called him, only that he was called, and there she was, leaning over, smiling between the soft rim of her furs and the down-drawn brim of her hat, with her big muff held up against her breast, cuddlingly. Osborn gasped and stood hat in hand, with his face turned upwards.
"Have you seen a vision, man?" asked Rokeby.
"There's Marie," Osborn answered.
Marie descended daintily and crossed the street to the two men. Her hair gleamed and her feet were so light that she seemed to dance like a shaft of sunshine. At the moment she was a queen, as every pretty girl is at moments, with two subjects ready to obey.
Rokeby greeted her smilingly with admiration. "Mrs. Kerr, Osborn talks of no one but you all day. He was in the midst of a song like Solomon's, only modernised, when that chariot of yours bore down upon him and cut it short. How are you? But I needn't ask. And when may I call?"
"Oh, sometime, old man! We'll fix a day," said Osborn, signalling to a taxicab. He jumped in after his wife, and Rokeby went on his way good humouredly. "The perfect deluded ass!" he thought, "and may the dear chap ever remain so!"
Osborn explained to Marie. "He needn't call yet. I'm hanged if he's going to come around the loveliest girl in town in the afternoons, when her lawful husband isn't in; and I'm equally hanged if he's going to break in upon one of our very own evenings. So as all the evenings are our very own, there's nothing to be done about it, is there? What do you say, Mrs. Osborn Kerr?"
"We don't want anyone else," said Marie.
"You do look sweet," Osborn cried, "I want all the world to see me with you. So where'll we go? Where's the place where all the world goes?"
They knew it already very well. They drove there. Tea was half a crown a head and one tipped well. What matter? There were soft music, soft lights, pretty women, attentive men. Everyone looked rich, but perhaps everyone was not, any more than were Marie and Osborn. Perhaps everyone was only spending his pockets empty. The stage was well represented. The place had a know-all air blended with a chaste exclusiveness. It was a place where the best people were seen and others wanted and hoped to be seen. Here sat Marie and Osborn, shaded by a great palm group, drinking the choicest blend of tea, eating vague fragments, and looking into each other's eyes. The worries of the morning slipped by; Marie forgot her tradesmen's books, and Osborn the monotony of his daily toil. Life was soft, gracious, easy and elegant. They bought a piece of it, a crumbly piece, with five shillings before they went away.
"Taxi, sir?" asked the commissionaire.
"We'll walk, thanks," said Osborn. Walking was a sort of recreation not too dowdy. They went a little way on foot, then turned into a Tube station and travelled home. When they wormed their way down a crowded tube train compartment to two seats they were faced with the everyday aspect of life again. Tired people were going home; business men had not yet shaken off the pressure of their affairs; business women looked rather driven; here and there women with children worried themselves with their responsibilities. One or two children were cross, and one or two babies cried.
More than one woman looked at Marie jealously.
They read the popular story; the new-married girl, careless in her health and beauty; untouched by time or trouble; the worshipful young man, whose fervour was unworn by toil or fret. Every woman who looked at Marie and Osborn sitting side by side, with shoulders leaning slightly, unconsciously, towards each other, found in her heart some memory, or some empty ache for such fond glory.
The Kerrs alighted at Hampstead and walked briskly, Osborn's hand tucked under Marie's arm, for it was dark, up the road to the flats. On their way they passed rows and tiers of flats, all similar, save that one represented more money, maybe, than another, all holding or remembering sweet stories like theirs. But they did not think of that; they were in haste to reach No. 30 Welham Mansions, the little heaven behind the closed front door.
"We had a jolly old afternoon, hadn't we?" said Osborn after dinner. "I'll take you there again."
"Can we afford it?" said Marie, with a droop to her mouth.
"We will afford it. I'll make lots of money for my Marie. We'll have a dear old time!"
"I've been thinking, Osborn."
"A wretched exercise," he said gaily. "Don't you worry yourself, chicken. Just be happy. That's all I ask." He grew the least degree pathetic. "I can't be here all day to look after you, and see that you're happy; you'll have to see to it yourself. Do that for me, will you? Make my girl awf'ly happy."
"I am happy, Osborn."
"We do ourselves pretty well, don't we, dear?" he said appreciatively. "This is jolly snug. Now I'll make the coffee. You sit still."
Marie watched Osborn. She took her cup from him, and stirred her coffee into a whirlpool, and at last said:
"You see, Osborn, I want some money, please."
"All right, darling," he replied. "I'll give you a bit to go on with any time."
His ready hand jingled in his trousers pocket.
"It's for the tradesmen," said Marie; "I thought we'd pay every week."
"That's it," he enjoined, "be methodical. That's splendid of you."
"And this week it comes to two pounds ten."
Osborn's hand ceased its jingling; he withdrew it and sat still.
"Oh!..." he said in an altered voice, "does it? Well, all right."
"That doesn't include the coal, or—or allow for gas," murmured Marie. "I expect the meter is ready for another half-crown."
Osborn looked at the sitting-room fire.
"Marie love," he said, clearing his throat, "I'm sorry, but—but will it always come to as much?"
"I hope not. No, I'll keep it down as much as I can, Osborn. But this week—"
"Was just a trial trip," said Osborn.
"You see, I told the tradespeople to send in weekly books and—and if I don't pay, they'll wonder."
"Don't fret yourself, kitten. I'll give it to you. But—"
Osborn put down his coffee cup in a final way.
"The fact is, Marie, you see—I don't want you to think me mean—"
"No, but the fact is, it just happens I'm able to give it to you to-day, because I've got a little in the bank. But our honeymoon and the first instalments on the furniture and your engagement ring ran through most of it, and—and so there's only a little left—about twenty pounds or so. My people lived on an annuity, you know; they only left me savings. Well, I thought it seemed snug to keep a balance of twenty pounds or so for emergencies, you know. But I'll draw a cheque on it for you with pleasure. Two pounds ten? All right."
"But, Osborn," said Marie, wide-eyed, "can't you give it to me out of your—"
"My screw doesn't come in till the end of the week," Osborn explained. He flushed and for the first time looked at her a little haughtily.
"I'm sorry," she murmured; "perhaps we ought to make some arrangement and I'll keep to it."
"That's it," he said, still slightly uncomfortable; "now look here, dearie—"
"I'll get my account book and put it down."
"Does she have an account book?" said Osborn more lightly. "How knowing!"
Marie brought a book, and opened it upon her knee, and sat, pencil poised. She was very earnest. "How much ought we to spend?"
"You know what my screw is," said Osborn, as if unwilling to particularise.
Marie wrote at the top of her page, "Two hundred pounds."
"Forty pounds rent," she wrote next.
"And my odd expenses, lunch and clothes, and so on," said Osborn, "have never been less than sixty or seventy pounds, you know."
She wrote slowly. "Sixty to seventy pounds, expenses," when he stopped her.
"I'll have to curtail that!" he exclaimed.
In the ensuing silence both man and wife thought along the same track. It suddenly gave him a nasty jar, to hit up against the necessity of stopping those pleasant little spendings, those odd drinks, those superior smokes, the last word in colourings for shirts and ties. Of course, such stoppage was well worth while. Oh, immensely so!
And she had a lump in her throat. She thought: "He'll find all this a burden. He's had all he wants; and so've I. I wish we were rich."
"Look here, darling," said Osborn. "How much'll food cost us? I don't know a great deal about these things, but if it's any standard to take—well, my old landlady used to give me rooms and breakfasts and dinners for thirty bob a week. Jolly good breakfasts and dinners they were, too!"
Marie murmured very slowly: "I'm not your old landlady." She imaged her, a working drab, saving, pinching, and making the best of all things. Compare Marie with Osborn's old landlady! "Besides," she murmured on, "there's me, too, now."
Osborn nodded. "Well," he said, "how much do you think?"
"Thirty shillings for both of us per week," said Marie, inclined to cry. "That's better than your old landlady."
Osborn hastened to soothe her. "Look here," he protested, "don't fuss over it, there's a love. Very well, I'll give you thirty bob a week, but that's seventy-eight pounds a year. My hat! I say, can't you squeeze the gas out of it?"
"I will get the gas out of it!" said Marie, with tightened lips.
"Great business!" said Osborn cheering; "put it down, darling."
So under the "Rent, forty pounds," she wrote, "Housekeeping, including gas, seventy-eight pounds."
"That's one hundred and eighteen pounds out of my two hundred," said Osborn, knitting his brows and staring into the fire.
"Coal?" whispered Marie, her pencil poised.
Osborn's stare at the fire took on a belligerent nature.
"I say!" he exclaimed, "we can't have two fires every day. It's simply not to be thought of."
"We'll sit in the dining-room in the evenings."
"Put down 'Coal, ten pounds,'" said Osborn grudgingly.
When Marie had put it down, she cast a sorrowing look round her dear little room. She would hardly ever use it, except in summer.
"That's close on a hundred and thirty pounds," said Osborn. "We'll make allowance for that, but you'll try to do on less, won't you, darling?"
"That leaves seventy pounds for my life insurance, and for my expenses and yours, Marie. A man ought to insure his life when he's married; it'll cost me fifteen pounds a year."
"Oh, what a greedy world!" cried Marie, despairing tears running down her face.
Osborn kissed them away, but remained much preoccupied.
"It leaves fifty-five pounds between us for my clothes and lunches, and travelling, and your pocket money."
"How about your commission, Osborn? Your 'extras'?"
"With luck they'll pay for a decent holiday once a year or so."
Marie suddenly readjusted her scheme of life while she sat blindly gazing before her into that too-costly fire. "Osborn," she said quietly, "I—I shouldn't think of wanting any of your fifty-five pounds. You'll need it all; you must keep up appearances. I'll squeeze some pocket money out of the housekeeping."
"Oh, my darling!" said Osborn gratefully, "do you really think you could? I expect, though, there'll be a nice bit over, if you're careful, don't you? You won't want to spend ten pounds on coal, for example."
"I intend to manage," Marie replied vigorously.
"And I'll often be able to give you a decent present out of my commission. I shan't let you go short."
"Osborn, I mean to help you. We'll get on splendidly. You do love me, don't you?"
"My darling, I adore you; and I know you're the finest, bravest girl in the world. I would like to load you with everything beautiful under the sun, and some day I will. When I get a rise, you'll be the first to benefit. I'll make you a real pin-money allowance. Don't I long to do it?"
"Osborn, meanwhile, can I have this week's money?"
Osborn wrote out a cheque for two pounds ten very bravely. The discussion had been a weighty one. As he handed it to her, he drew her down on his knee, and, holding her tight, impressed her: "You won't let this happen again, in any circumstances, will you, dear girl?"
"Never!" she promised fervently.
So Marie began housekeeping in the way her mother began, and her grandmother, and those jealous tired women in the Tube; the old way of the labouring souls, the old way scarred with crow's feet and wrinkles, and rained on by tears.
Marie meant always to be trim and neat and lovely, a feast for the eye of man. But when winter had settled upon town in a crescendo of cold, and when you thought twice before lighting that gas-fire which you had meant to dress by every morning, and when, too, Osborn began to resume his normal habit of sleeping till the very last moment, why, you no longer gave yourself—or rather, Osborn no longer gave himself—the trouble of rising to make tea. Marie had much more to do than merely dress, and as soon as she had opened her sleepy eyes she sprang resolutely out into the grim cold that seemed so closely to surround her snug bed, and fell to work. She felt as if the toil of a lifetime lay behind her, by the time she and Osborn sat opposite to one another at their breakfast table, and yet, too, as if the toil of a lifetime lay before her.
Marie took upon her shoulders most of the laundering. Osborn said "Clever kid" when he knew, but it did not impress him much; his feeling about it was vague. Did he not work all day himself? All this fiddling donkey-work with which women occupied themselves at home—he dismissed it. Always, when he returned, by the dining-room fire, in an easy chair and a decent frock, sat Marie, sweet and leisured. It was evident that her household duties did not overcome her.
And all day the flat was desolately quiet. How queer women's lives were! They grew up, looking infantilely upon men, and reading about them in fairy tales. One day a pretty girl became engaged to one of them. What congratulations! What importance, delight! What prospects! What planning! What roses! The pretty girl then married one of them, the dearest and best of them, and began to wash dishes. Her heart, which had never been perplexed before, grew very perplexed. Her little purse, which had never been so very hungry before, now hungered for things, simple things, matinees, and sweets and blouses. She stayed all day in a flat, desolately quiet, waiting for one moment when the dearest and best came home.
How queer women's lives were!
* * * * *
When Osborn was going to dine with Rokeby at his club he told Marie about it just as she was stretching a reluctant foot out of her bed into the cold of a grey December morning, and an extraordinary rebellion rose in her with sirocco-like fierceness. She got out of bed without replying, clutched at her dressing-gown and dragged it on, while Osborn's drowsy voice continued, "Desmond asked me, and I thought I would; he wasn't sure if you'd mind—if you'd think it rather often. But I told him you weren't that sort; I told him you were a sport. You'll do something nice this evening, won't you, darling? What'll you do?"
"What is something 'nice'?" said Marie, staring at her face, which looked wan and cold, in the glass.
"I don't know," said Osborn.
"Nor do I!" she cried angrily. "Life's just one slow, beastly grind." She ran out of the room to light the geyser, and tears were streaming down her face, and sobs rising one upon the other in her heart. She sank upon the one bathroom chair, leaned her head against the wall and wept helplessly. Her body was shaken with her crying; never in her life had she so cried before. She felt as if she must collapse under its violence.
She thought: "Osborn's going out to dinner, and I can mope and starve at home."
With the sub-conscious dutifulness of woman she realised that her bath was ready; that she must hurry, that there was breakfast to make, and the dining-room to sweep, and ... and ... what a string of tragic drabnesses! Obeying this instinct of duty in her, she got, still sobbing, into the bath, and her tears fell like rain into the hot water. A man would have cried, "Damn the bath! Damn the breakfast! Damn the brooms and dusters! Scrap 'em all!" And for the while he would straightway have scrapped them and felt better. But Marie went miserably on, as her mother and her grandmother and all those tired women in the Tube had done times out of number, for the sisterhood of woman is a strange thing.
Osborn met her as she was coming from her bath, quiet, subdued and pale. Rather, he had been standing outside the door, waiting and anxious. "Darling," he said scared, "what is it? Tell me! Aren't you well? Has anything upset you? What can I do?"
Marie left her dressing-gown in his detaining hands and, sobbing again, ran along the corridor to her bedroom. She began to put her hair up feverishly with shaking hands.
Osborn followed her quickly with the dressing-gown, beseeching: "Do put it on! Do, Marie, do! You'll get cold. It's freezing."
"M-m-much you'd c-c-care," she sobbed.
"Oh, darling," said Osborn, wrapping the dressing-gown and his arms tightly round her, "tell me! What is the matter? What have I done? Aren't you happy, dearest?"
"Happy!" she gasped. "Why should I be happy?"
"I-I—love you, dearest," said Osborn in a tremulous voice.
"You g-go out, and every d-day it's the same for me. All day I'm alone; and I loathe the work. Everything's always the same."
"I wish I could give you a change, sweetheart," said Osborn, terribly harassed.
She hated herself because she could not be generous, but somehow she could find no generous words to speak.
"Shall I stay with you this evening, Marie?"
"No. You've p-promised. And I'm not that sort; you t-t-told him so!"
"Is that all that's the matter, Marie? Because everything's always the same?"
"I'm so tired. And ragged, somehow."
"Oh, Marie, I wish I could stay at home to-day and look after you. You'll lie down and rest, won't you?"
"When I've finished all my charwoman's work."
Osborn was silent, biting his lips; and presently Marie looked up, and seeing his face, drew it down and kissed him, crying: "Oh, I'm a beast; forgive me! But I'm so tired, and somehow so—so ragged."
"You'd better go and bathe, Osborn. We're late as it is."
"So we are, by Jove! Look, I'll be awf'ly quick this morning, and come and help you. That'll be some good, won't it?"
She assented with sorrowful little sniffs, and he took his perplexities away into the bathroom. He was terribly troubled, not seeing what was to be done. What could a man do? Women's work, women's lives, were the same all the world over—married women's, that is. One couldn't do more than give them the best home one could, and come back to it like a good boy early every evening, and love them very much. If one were only rich! How money helped everything! Osborn cursed his meagre pockets as heartily as Marie had cried over them.
Osborn hastened into his clothes and went to the kitchen. Bacon was sizzling gently over a low flame, coffee and toast were made; nothing remained for him to do, but, very wishful to show his good intentions, he stood over the bacon as if controlling its destinies. Marie found him there, quiet and thoughtful, when she came in.
"It's all ready," she observed in a subdued voice.
"Bravo, kiddie!" said Osborn, "I see it is. You're magnificent."
A little while ago this praise would have made her glow sweetly, but now it tasted sour in her mouth; she did not particularly wish to be a magnificent cook-general, a magnificent charwoman. All her nerves felt stretched as if they must snap and she must scream. Tremblingly she set a tray on the table.
"Don't give me any, please."
"Darling! No breakfast!"
"I'll have some toast. Oh, don't, don't worry me! I've told you I feel simply on edge."
Osborn ate his bacon with a feeling that somehow he ought not; but he was hungry. He ate Marie's portion, too, half apologetically. There was one thing, however, which, very sensibly, he omitted to do; he had the tact not to open the morning paper. There are some things which a woman will not stand, and one is the sight of an abstracted man behind a paper, letting his crumbs fall down his waistcoat, when she feels nervy.
"Lovely morning, dearest," said Osborn; "you ought to go for a brisk walk."
"Perhaps I will."
"You do look awf'ly seedy."
"I feel it."
"I hope your mother will come round this morning. She'd do the marketing for you, or something, wouldn't she?"
"Yes, Osborn, I'm sure she would."
Osborn helped himself to toast and tried to eat it quietly; he had some dumb, blind instinct which comes to men, that crunching would be vexatious. He handed butter and marmalade tenderly to his wife and carried his cup round to her for replenishment, instead of passing it. He did all he knew.
The anticipation of Rokeby and that sanctuary, his club, invaded his mind agreeably. A club was a great institution. If he touched a good commission this year—but no. Certainly not! He put the idea from him.
He put a hand in his trousers pocket and jingled there. A thought had come to him, which comes to all men in moments of trial concerning women, moments calling for prompt treatment and nice judgment.