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skirt to sway and swing in the present mode, and she would evolve
herself a hat. She folded a newspaper round, shaped it to her head,
covered it with black velvet, borrowed a great old cameo clasp of her
mother's, and had a turban, a saucy thing whose rake brought back for
a while the lamp to her eyes and the rose to her cheek. The
housemaid's gloves and the rubber gloves had never been renewed, and
the supply of Julia's wornout suèdes could not cope with the
destruction of them at No. 30, so that Marie's fine hands were fine no
longer. They were reddened and roughened and thickened like the hands
of other household women, but each afternoon in the slow fortnight she
sat down to careful manicuring. When the result of these pains was
fulfilled; when she stood before the glass in her pink bedroom gasping
at her reflection, she could have sung and danced and wept in this
glad renewal of her youth.

She had rendezvous with Osborn at the chosen restaurant at seven.
Never, it seemed to her, had she felt lighter-footed and
lighter-hearted. It was as if the old days were back, the old days
when an unlessoned girl met an unlessoned man to dream of heaven
together, in some restaurant room full of the lessons and sophistries
of love. Westwards she travelled by Tube, emerged at Leicester Square,
and walked on flying feet past the Haymarket, across the great stream
of traffic at the top, into Shaftesbury Avenue, and into the foyer of
a famous restaurant. She sat down on a velvet couch, snuggled her furs
around her, and felt a lady of luxury. Osborn kept her waiting some
ten minutes, but soon the damper which that put upon her spirits
evaporated, leaving her all pure bliss. It was entrancing to sit here
once more - where she had often kept Osborn sitting in the old days of
her imperiousness and his humility - and to watch the well-dressed
people come in and out, pass to and fro, and enact scenes which
suggested the gaudiest stories to her receptive mind. Light and
warmth, rich colour and abundant life flowed there like tides, and
many servants stood about the foyer to obey her behests.

The restaurant to Marie was revel and entertainment, and when the
slight blankness with which his lateness had oppressed her had been
overswayed by her enjoyment, she could have wished to sit here for
hours, doing nothing, saying nothing, eating nothing, but just
breathing in this atmosphere of wealth and ease.

But Osborn came, hurrying, between seven and seven-fifteen, apology on
his lips. A man had come in late to buy a car and they had talked ...
never was there such a long-winded customer. He took Marie's arm
lightly in his hand, hurried her in, and chose a table, the nearest
vacant one. He dropped into his seat and passed his hand over his brow
and eyes to brush away the daze of fatigue. He was tired and very,
very hungry, too hungry to watch with his old appreciation the dainty
movements of his wife, as she shrugged her furs from her shoulders,
and drew off her white gloves, and smiled at him radiantly, with the
sense of those dear, old, lost, spoiled-girl days returning
momentarily to her.

Osborn's brows were knitted over the wine-list and his hand moved
restlessly in his pocket. Very carefully he considered and weighed the
prices and at last gave his order quickly.

"Half a bottle of '93." Leaning slightly towards his wife, he added:
"I'm afraid it can't be a bottle of the one and only these days,
kiddie."

"Not now that we're family people!" she cried bravely.

While he leaned back quietly, awaiting the arrival of the first
course, and, could she have known it, craving the food with the keen
craving of the man who has lunched too lightly, she looked at her
hands, from which the white gloves were now removed. A pang, not
altogether new, but of renewed sharpness, shot through her, as she
looked down at the reddened, hardened fingers with the slight
vegetable stains upon them, clasped together on the table edge. Where
were the nails trained and kept to an exquisite filbert shape? The
oval of the cuticles? The slender softness and coolness of the
finger-tips? The backs of the hands were roughened and the palms
seamed; there was a tiny crack at a finger-joint; it seemed to her
that the spoiling of her beautiful hands had made so insidious a pace
through these years that she had, day by day, been almost unaware of
the havoc in progress. But looking down upon them in this place of
ease and grace, she saw, surprised and sorrowful, the whole of the sad
mischief. Her hands were as the hands of a scullery-maid taken out,
most unsuitably, to dinner. While Osborn still awaited the first
course, she drew her hands down and hid them on her lap. There was
time enough to display their effect when they must emerge for the use
of the table implements.

Surrounding her were women whose white hands, jewelled and unjewelled,
played about their business, lovely as pale and delicate flowers. She
cast her glances right and left, seeing them and envying. And she
looked at their clothes, their smart and slender shoes, the richness
of their cloaks hanging over chair backs, and she saw her own frock as
it was, dyed and mended and _démodé_.

She knew. "It looked nice when I tried it on at home because there
were no comparisons. Here, where there's competition, I - I'm hopeless.
I'd better have worn a suit."

Her turban, that thing which had paraded so saucily in the pink room
while the babies slept regardless, was an outsider - a _gamin_
among hats.

She was not the first woman who has decked herself at home to her own
gratification, to emerge into a wealthier world to her own despair.

While these things were borne in, with the flashlight speed of woman's
impressions, upon her brain, the first course arrived and they ate.
After it, Osborn roused himself to talk. He asked her several times if
she were enjoying herself, and she told him with smiling lips that she
was.

"It's not so often that we go out, is it?" he remarked. "We must make
the best of the times we get."

"This is _lovely_."

"Poor old girl!" said Osborn, "you don't get out on the loose very
much, do you? But I don't suppose you want to, though; women are
different from men. A woman's interest centres in her home, and you've
quite enough to do to keep your mind occupied, haven't you?"

"And my hands. Look at them!"

She spread them before him.

"Poor old girl!" said Osborn, looking.

A recollection stirred in him, too, of what those hands had been in
the days of their romance. "You used to have the prettiest hands I
ever saw," he said.

She snatched them petulantly under the table again.

"Don't!"

"Don't what?"

"Don't - say that! I can't bear to think how ugly I'm getting."

Her husband looked at her with a faint, bewildered smile. "Come!" he
adjured her, "you mustn't get morbid. You're not ugly, you silly girl.
You were one of the prettiest girls I ever saw."

"But _now_?"

"Now?" He looked at her quickly. "You're as pretty as ever you were,
of course."

"I'm not," she denied, reading the lie in his eyes.

"Women are bound to change, no doubt," he conceded. "I daresay having
the babies aged you a bit. But you needn't get anxious about your
looks _yet_."

"I'm not thirty, but I look it."

"No, no, you don't," he said constrainedly.

She smiled, and contented herself with watching him eat the next
course while she toyed with it. As a woman, food meant little to her;
she was concerned more with the prettiness of its serving; but Osborn
was avidly hungry and his enjoyment was palpable.

She thought: "Poor boy! How he likes the good things of life! And how
few of them he gets! He oughtn't to have married."

She looked around her again, and saw, a little way across the floor, a
gay woman in black. Her hair and eyes were black, her complexion was
white, her lips were red. She had with her two men who worshipped. Of
her Marie said to herself:

"She's older than I, but she's keeping her looks; her hands are not so
nice as mine used to be, but now they're far nicer. She's keeping
herself young and gay; she sees to it that she's pampered. But if she
had married a poor man, and had two babies, and had been obliged to do
all the chores, I wonder...."

"What interests you, my dear?" Osborn asked.

She told him in a fitful, inarticulate way. "I was looking at that
woman over there, the one in black, with the diamond comb in her hair.
And - and I was wondering - in a way - I can hardly explain - what is
really the best thing to do with one's life. She's older than I - a
good deal older - but see how smooth her face is. She looks as if she
could never do anything other than laugh. And her hands - see, she uses
them to show them off - aren't they lovely? But I was wondering, if she
was in my shoes, how would she look? What would she do if babies woke
her up half a dozen times every night, so that when the morning came
she was very tired?

"Tired, and yet she must get up and cook and sweep, and take the
children out, and everything. Would her face be smooth and would she
laugh then? I was wondering, too, whether she'd take the same trouble
over her hair at six o'clock of a cold morning. And, if she had my
life, would men admire her so much? Would they look at her as they are
looking now?"

Osborn stared at his wife, half-amazed, half-frowning.

"One would think," he said, "to hear you talk, that you weren't happy;
that you hadn't all - all - all a woman in your position of life can
have."

She flushed quickly. "Don't think that! I was just wondering about
her, that's all, as I used to wonder about the people we saw when you
took me out to dinner in our engaged days. Do you remember? You used
to laugh at me and call me the Eternal Question, and all kinds of
silly things."

"I don't remember that."

"No? Well, it was a very long while ago."

"It sounded as if you were envying her."

"I _was_ envying her."

"Haven't you all you want?" he said again in resentful surprise.

"I want to be awf'ly young again, and to have a smooth face and
manicured hands, and lots of admiration."

"I'll tell you what it is," said Osborn, regaining his good temper
with an effort, "this wine has gone to your head."

After he had presented this very satisfactory solution, both laughed;
but while he laughed with relief at dismissing the question, she
laughed only acquiescently and unconvinced, the laugh which should be
called the Laugh of the Wise Wives. It appeased him and it relieved
her, as a groan relieves a person in pain. She sipped her unaccustomed
wine and looked around her with her wide eyes, which were far, far
more widely opened now than in the days of her blind youth.

When a rather tired and preoccupied man takes his wife of four years'
standing out to dinner he knows that he need not exert himself to
talk, to shine, to please, as with a woman who holds the piquancy of a
stranger; so while Osborn spoke spasmodically, or drifted into
silence, Marie could look around her and think thoughts which chilled
the ardour of her soul. It seemed to her, that evening of her
twenty-ninth birthday, that a door was opened to her, revealing
nakedly the fears and the trepidations and the minute cares of
marriage which have creased many a woman's brow before her time. The
restaurant was to her the tide of life, upon which the black-haired
woman and her sisters sailed victoriously, but upon which she, and
wives like her, trained for the race only in the backwaters of their
homes, embarked timidly to their disgrace and peril. What wife of a
husband with two hundred a year could row against the black-haired
woman and keep pride of place?

As Marie wondered things which all her sisterhood have long ached
over, she saw Osborn looking at the black-haired woman too, and in his
eyes there was a light of admiration, a keenness, a speculation which
drew the tired lines from his face and left it eager once more. It was
the male look which once he had looked only for her. With a heart
beating sharply she recognised and wanted it again, but she felt
strangely impotent. She in her dyed gown, her _gamin_ of a hat,
with her spoiled hands and thin cheeks - and that tall, rounded beauty
with all her life and vivacity, undrained, throbbing in her from toes
to finger-tips! What a comparison!

Vain and profitless was the unequal competition. She felt one moment
as if, should it come to a struggle, she would relinquish it in sheer
despair; the next, as if she would fight, teeth and nails, body and
brains, for her inalienable rights over this man. All the while these
emotions surged up in her, and ebbed and flowed in again, her
intelligence told her the wild absurdity of such supposition. The
raven woman was a stranger; and socially, to all appearance, she must
always remain so. Yet Marie could not still the passionate unrest of
her heart without taking her husband's eyes from the table where two
obsequious men adored a goddess.

She drummed her hard finger-tips sharply on the table.

"Osborn, do you know her?"

"Know her? No." He added carelessly: "I wish I did."

Marie said in a voice which she tried hard to keep detached: "Why? Oh,
yes.... I - I suppose she's the type men would admire very much."

"Well, _you_ were admiring her a few minutes ago."

"In - in a way I was. I mean, she's so smooth, so - so well-kept, and
her frock is lovely, with those diamond shoulder-straps and all that
black tulle. I thought - you stared as if you knew her."

"I hope I shouldn't stare at any woman because I knew her. As a matter
of fact, I believe I know who she is; she's an actress; bound to
succeed if she takes the right line, I should think. Just now she's
got six lines to speak in that new piece of Mutro's. You know - what's
it called?"

"What's her name?"

"Roselle Dates, I think."

Osborn looked at his wife solicitously.

"I'm afraid you're a bit tired, dear; you're getting pale. You had a
jolly colour when I met you."

She touched her cheeks mechanically with her fingertips.

"Had I? That was because I was so excited at the prospect of our
lovely evening."

"Dear old girl! So it's been a lovely evening?"

"Perfect. I wish it was beginning all over again," she answered
hollowly, wishing that she meant what she said.

What was the matter with her? Why did she feel so grey, so plain, so
sparkless?

"I ought to rouge a little," she said. "Everyone else does."

He protested quickly and strongly.

"But," she said, "if I'm tired? If I'm a fright? What then?"

"I shouldn't like my wife to make up."

"But, Osborn, I want you to think I'm pretty, well turned out, smart,
like all the other women here."

She waved a hand vaguely around, but her look was on the raven woman,
on whose face the white cosmetic, exquisitely applied, was like pale
rose petals.

"I do think you're pretty. As for your turn-out - " he glanced over it
quickly - "it's all right, isn't it? It's what we can afford, anyway.
We can't help it, can we?"

She shook her head. "I've had no new clothes since we were married,"
she murmured suddenly in a voice of yearning.

"Well," said Osborn after a pause, "you had such lots; such a big
trousseau, hadn't you? It's supposed to last some while."

"It's lasted!" Her laugh rang out with a curious merriment; her eyes
were downcast so that he could not see the tears in them, but
something about his wife touched him profoundly.

He exclaimed, with rejuvenated sentiment: "You know I'd always give
you everything I could! You know it isn't because I _won't_ that
I don't give you the most wonderful clothes in town, so that you could
beat every other woman hollow."

His sentiment flushed her cheeks and cleared the mist from her eyes.
She asked, half shyly and coquettishly:

"Do you think I should?"

"Of course you would, little girl. You're charming; anything more
unlike the mother of two great kids I never saw."

"Ah," she said slowly, "but you forget to tell me."

"What?"

"All those - dear little - things."

"Women are rum," he declared. "I believe they're always wanting their
husbands to propose to them."

"It would be nice," she said seriously.

Osborn laughed a good deal. "A woman's never tired of love-making."

"A married woman doesn't often get the chance."

"A married man doesn't often get the time."

She looked yet again at the actress across the room, and strange
echoes of questions stirred in her. Such a woman, she thought, would
always make a man find time. How did they do it? What was the real
secret of feminine victory, triumphant and deathless? Was it not to
keep burning always, night and day, winter and summer, autumn and
spring, throughout the seasons, the clear-flamed lamp of romance?

Behind the wife there stood shades, sturdy, greedy, disagreeable
shades, and the two-hundred-pound husband always saw them; they were
the butcher, the grocer, the milkman, the doctor, the landlord and the
tax-collector.

How could she trim her lamp brightly to burn?

In the restaurant many diners had gone; many, lingering, thought of
going; waiters hovered near ready to hand bills, and empty liqueur
glasses and coffee cups, and ash trays, and the dead ends of
cigarettes lay under the rose lights on all the tables. Osborn had
drunk a benedictine and smoked a cigar appreciatively; Marie had begun
to think, reluctantly, yet clingingly, maternally, of her babies in
the pink room at home. She lifted her furs from the chair back, and a
waiter hurried to adjust the stole over her shoulders.

"Sorry," said Osborn, going through the slight motion of attempting to
rise from his chair; "I should have done that."

"Never mind, dear," she answered.

Then he paid the bill, got into his own coat, and they walked out. As
they went, he asked: "Well, old girl, have you really enjoyed it?"

"It was lovely. Thank you so much!"

"Sure it was the sort of birthday present you wanted?"

"Absolutely the one and only thing, Osborn."

"Happy young woman!" He took her arm and squeezed it.

"Cab, sir?" the commissionaire asked.

"We're walking, thanks."

They walked to the nearest Tube station, took train to Hampstead, and
arrived home at eleven, to release the sleepy grandmother on duty.

"Had a lovely time, duck?" asked Mrs. Amber, trotting out into the
hall.

"Tophole, Grannie," said Osborn. "Marie's thoroughly enjoyed herself."

"Simply lovely, mother," said Marie. "We went to the Royal Red, and
Osborn gave me a scrumptious dinner. Babies been good?"

"Not a sound - the little angels."

Marie kissed her mother good night, waved her out, and went quietly
along the corridor to the bedroom; she switched up the light, bent
over the cots of the sleeping children, and assured herself of their
well-being. They slumbered on, placid and dreamless. Then she went to
her dressing-table, and planting her palms flat upon it, leaned
forward upon them, and gazed at herself mercilessly. She tore off her
hat, rumpled her hair, rubbed her cheeks and gazed again. There were
some little fine lines at the corners of her eyes, and as she looked
and looked under the strong light, there stood out, silvery around her
temples, amid the fairness, the first half-dozen grey hairs. The sight
of them petrified her; she had not known she had so many.

"_Oh!_" she breathed.

Her fingers travelled down her neck. It had lost its roundness and, as
she turned it this way and that, examining, two muscles stood out; her
collar-bones showed faintly. The crude abundance of colour of the dyed
dress enhanced her lack of colour.

"Well ..." she began to judge slowly. Then "I suppose there's no help
for it."

Two tears dropped down her face. She sobbed and checked herself. She
heard her husband moving about quickly in his dressing-room, and she
hurried off her own garments, let down her hair, and brushed and
plaited it hastily. He came in and kissed her.

"She's had a good time!" he exclaimed, well pleased.




CHAPTER XVI

ISOLATION


Julia was waiting for a guest in that weird institution which she
called her club. The weird institution, however, had lost some of its
weirdness and gained in comfort and _cachet_. It now boasted many
members of distinction, new decorations and enlarged subscriptions.
Miss Julia Winter sat in the mauve drawing-room under soft light, in
the delicate glow of which her face took on suave and gentle lines,
and her eyes held hints of womanly mystery. Before her, one of the
many tables of the club drawing-room stood furnished with
blue-and-white tea equipage. Behind her back, as she sat settled in
the corner of a chesterfield, a fat silk pillow was crushed. For a
picture of modern bachelor-womanhood which knew how to do itself
thoroughly well, Julia could not, in these moments, have been
excelled.

The door opened and a page, after assuring himself of Miss Winter's
presence, announced: "Mrs. Kerr!"

A quiet and slender woman, in a shabby suit dated some six years ago,
came to meet Julia listlessly. Her listlessness, however, was only
bodily, for into her eyes some eager spirit had leapt and her hands
went out involuntarily. They were engulfed in Julia's well-shaped
large ones, and Marie was drawn down upon the mauve couch and the fat
pillow made to transfer its amenities.

Each woman looked at the other with a long, careful look.

"How comfortable this is!" Marie observed.

"Is it, dear?" said Julia. "Lean back and rest. You look tired. Been
shopping?"

"Just a few things for the children; I take the opportunity of being
in town, you know."

"Did you come up this morning?"

"Yes, before lunch. Mother's staying in the flat with the children."

"How are they all - your big family of three?"

"Awf'ly well, thank you. Baby's got a tooth."

"How splendid! I just must come and see her again. And Georgie?"

"George has grown a lot since you saw him last. I've been hunting
about for a little jersey suit for him; they're all so expensive; I'll
have to knit one myself."

"My dear girl! When do you get time to knit jersey suits?"

"In the evenings, when dinner is over. There's always an hour or so
before bedtime, you know."

After a short silence, Julia asked: "I suppose you _have_
lunched, dear? Otherwise I'll order sandwiches."

"I've lunched, thank you."

"Met your husband, I suppose?"

"N - no. I had something, quickly, at Swan and Edgar's. I was in a
hurry."

Julia signalled a waitress serving tea at the other end of the vast
room. "The usual tea," she ordered, "_and_ sandwiches."

Marie leaned back against her cushion restfully. She had the slow
glance of a woman much preoccupied, whose mind comes very heavily back
to matters not of her immediate concern. She went on for a little
while talking of the topics which filled her brain to the exclusion of
all else.

"We're thinking of sending George to a day school soon - at least, I
am. I've not spoken of it to Osborn yet; there hasn't been a chance."

"How do you mean - no chance? I thought married people lived together."

"Oh, well ... you don't understand. One has to make an opportunity;
get a man into the right mood. He won't like the expense, of course,
though it's only a guinea and a half a term, if you send them till
mid-day only. That would do at first, don't you think? I don't believe
in pushing children. Still, a guinea and a half a term is four and a
half guineas a year. Well, I can't help it, can I? He'll _have_
to go to school soon, there's no doubt of that. He's getting too much
for me, and it would be a great help, having him out of the way in the
mornings, while I'm doing my work."

"I think it would be a very good plan, darling," Julia replied.

"I know you'd agree with me about it. I shall tell Osborn you think
it's a good plan, and I shall get mother to tell him too. We shall
persuade him."

"How is your husband?" Julia asked punctiliously.

"Very well, thank you."

"Still delighted with domestic life?"

"Oh, that doesn't last, of course," said Marie, looking away and
sighing. "A man always gets to think of his home as just the place
where bills are sent. Osborn's out a good deal in the evenings, like
other men, of course. There's one thing - it leaves me very free.
There's always something to be done, you see, and I can get through a
great deal in the evenings if he's out."

"And if he's in?"

"Oh well, a man likes one to sit down and talk to him, naturally."

"How awf'ly obliging wives are!"

"My dear, if you were married, you'd know that the only way is to
humour them."

The waitress came in with the tea tray and set the table daintily. To


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