May Edginton.

Married Life The True Romance online

. (page 12 of 20)
Online LibraryMay EdgintonMarried Life The True Romance → online text (page 12 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

light. Now they had dropped hands; and at the first chance he ran off
alone, a boy once more, hungry for thrills. A strong yearning rose in
her to run after him, catch his hand again, and set out with him. But
there was much in the way; the butcher and baker, speaking through her
mouth, had dulled his ears to her voice; he had forgotten how to hold
hands; they were out of tune. Nature had sent them, all those years
ago, converging together; and married life had sent them apart again.

Married life!

She traced the pattern of it, which she saw in her mind, upon the
table with her needle tip -

Osborn \ / Osborn
\ /
\/ [Symbol: Moon] Honeymoon
/ \
Marie / \ Marie]

It was like that.

She saw wet drops falling upon the table; they were her tears. Her
husband happened to look up at the moment, and, seeing them too,
looked hastily away again. He did not want to see them; there were too
many tears in marriage.

But soon he would be away from marriage for a whole year.

He did not want her to cry; it was terribly irritating, and she had
cried too much - not lately, but in the first years. Lately she had
disciplined herself better, become more cheerful, realised, no doubt,
that she was quite as well off as other men's wives, and really had
nothing to weep for. But, in case those tears which had fallen should
be precursors of one of the old storms, he knocked out his pipe, rose,
and said:

"Well, I'll be off to bed. I shall have a lot to do to-morrow."

She answered: "Very well, dear. I shan't be long."

The door shut upon him and she was alone. She listened for the closing
of the bedroom door upon him, knowing that then he would not come
back, knowing that he had seen and feared her tears. Then she dropped
her work, and ran over to the hearthplace, and, kneeling down by his
chair still warm from the impress of his body, laid her head upon it,
and cried terribly.

When she had married him she gave up her life and took his instead. If
he removed it, how should she live? She had become so much a part of
him that her suffering was devastating; it was physical. And now,
giving rein to herself, her sex side tugged at her pitilessly.
Jealousy tore through her like a hot wind. She had a dozen grey hairs,
a thin throat, a tired face, rough hands, two spoiled teeth in the
front upper row. That was not the worst; the gaiety of her wit had
been sapped. She could not have kept two men amused at a dinner table
as that raven woman in the Royal Red did had her life depended upon
it. Six years ago she could. She could have had them in her white,
pretty hands; but not now. Not now! Never any more!

Never had she wept as she wept now before Osborn's chair in the silent
dining-room, and when it seemed as if all founts of tears had run dry,
so that she was left merely sobbing without weeping, she collected
herself to pray.

She prayed:

"O God, teach men! Teach Osborn. Let them know. Let them think and
have pity. Make him admire me, God. Make him admire me for the
children I've suffered over, even if my face is spoiled. But, God,
don't let me be spoiled. Can't I recover? O God, why do You spoil
women? It's not fair. Help me! Keep him from the other women - the
women who are fresher and prettier than me. Help me to fight. Let me
win. Keep him loving me. Keep him thinking of me every day. For
Christ's sake."

And after that she prayed on in some formless way till the clock
struck half-past eleven, and a rapping came upon the other side of the
wall, and with it sounded Osborn's muffled voice.

He somehow guessed that she would cry a little; get things over
quietly by herself. It was the best way. But it was now half-past

She rose, rapped back, and tidied her hair quickly before the round
mirror over the mantelpiece. Her face was ravaged. But in the bedroom
she would have to undress by a very subdued light lest she awakened
the baby, so he would not see, even if he wished to see. She knew,
however, that he did not wish it. After making neat piles of the
scattered garments again, she raked out the fire, switched off the
lights, and went quietly into the bedroom.

His voice was a little testy to conceal his apprehensions.

"I must say you haven't hurried! You haven't been _making_ me
half a dozen new shirts, have you, old girl?"

She replied in a carefully-steadied tone: "There was a good deal to
do, and I wanted to finish it."

He pulled his bedclothes up higher around him. "Well, thanks awfully.
Afraid I rushed you. You won't be long now, will you? I want to get to
sleep, and I can't with someone moving about."

"I'll be quick. There's baby's bottle to do - it's long past time. She
hasn't waked, I suppose?"

"No; hasn't made a sound."

Marie lighted the spirit stove, and put the baby's food on while she
undressed. Osborn watched her apprehensively, not knowing that she
knew of what he did. But she wasn't going to make a fuss.

He was very thankful for that.

Every time she turned towards him he closed his eyes quickly, fearing
conversation which he need not have feared. She could not have talked
to him. When the food was ready and the bottle given, she was glad to
creep into her own bed, erect a similar barricade of sheet and
blankets, and sink into a sort of coma of grief and depression. In a
few minutes Osborn slept.

When Marie opened her eyes on the twilight of early winter morning it
seemed to her that she could scarcely have had time to close them, but
her bedside clock showed her, to her surprise, that she had been
sleeping all night. The greatness of the shock had passed, and she had
to concern herself imminently with all the bustle of Osborn's
departure. As he was not going to business to-day, not going out at
all, in fact, until he left gloriously, like a man of leisure, in a
taxicab at ten o'clock, he did no more than unclose a sleepy eye when
his wife sprang out of her bed and murmur:

"I say, old girl, you will do my packing, won't you?"

"Yes. I'm extra early, on purpose."

So in the grey dawn, Marie went about her business. She packed
suit-case and kit-bag and hat-box, and placed the labels ready for
Osborn to write; she dressed George and bade him help the
three-year-old to dress; she brushed the rooms and lighted the fires;
made the morning bottle for the baby; saw that boiling hot shaving
water was ready for Osborn; gave the children their breakfast; cooked
an unusually lavish one for the traveller; and had accomplished all
these things by the time he was dressed and ready at nine o'clock.

He glowed with health and cheer. The creases in his brow were smoothed
out; his smile was ready; his voice had its old boyish ring.

Because he was going away from them the metamorphosis occurred which
rived the wife's heart afresh. He was so glad to go.

He sat down with a great appetite to breakfast, while she faced him
behind the tea tray. The baby, being unable to help herself as yet,
was still imprisoned in her cot in the bedroom until such time as her
mother could attend to her, and on the dining-room floor George and
the three-year-old, ordered to keep extremely quiet and inoffensive,
played with their bricks. Now and again an erection of bricks toppled
down accidentally with a shattering noise, when Osborn exclaimed:
"Shut up, you kids!" and their mother implored: "Do try to keep quiet
while Daddy's here."

The parents made conversation at breakfast, but not much. It was kept
mainly to material things relevant to the moment, such as:

"You packed _all_ my thin shirts, didn't you?"

"Except the striped one, which has gone too far. I'll make it up for

"Have you written the labels?"

"No. I didn't know where to."

"All right. I'll do 'em. It's a jolly morning for a start, isn't it?"

"Yes. I'm so glad."

"I'll write and give you an address as soon as I can. I shall be able
to find out to-day about mails, I expect. Yesterday I really didn't
think of inquiring. 'Sides, I hadn't time. And I can tell you, I was
all up a tree with excitement."

"Of course you were. It'll be a lovely holiday for you."

"Wish you could come too. Look after yourselves, won't you?"

"Yes, thanks, dear."

"Did you tell the porter to get a taxi at ten?"

"No! George can run down and do it now. George, run down and tell the
porter Daddy wants a taxi at ten sharp."

Marie rose to unlatch the front door for George and returned.

The hour went past like a wheeled thing gathering velocity down an
ever steeper and steeper slope. It was extraordinary how quickly it
flew, and the moment came for the good-bye. She looked at him, and her
heart seemed to beat up in her throat. If only he would have thrown
his arms around her and been very sorry to go! She wanted a long
good-bye in the flat, where no one could see and pry upon her anguish.
But he had been married for six such long years that perhaps he had
forgotten the romance and passion of good-byes. He kissed George; he
kissed the three-year-old; he kissed her a kiss of mere every day
affection; then, taking a hand of each of the children, he said gaily:

"All come down to see Daddy start, won't you?"

The hall porter came up for the bags. Osborn helped the excited
children down the long flights of grey stone stairs, and she followed.
During the business of stowing the luggage on the cab, she took the
children from Osborn, and, heedless of the passers-by, put up her
longing face once more.

"Good-bye," she said tremulously.

He kissed her again quickly, turned away, jumped into the cab, and she
saw the shining of his eyes through the window. He pulled the strap
and let it down. "Be good kids," he exhorted. "Bye-bye, dear! Bye-bye,
all of you! Take care of yourselves!"

He was gone.

Marie stood bareheaded in the bleak wind, holding a hand of each of
her children, to watch his cab down the street. After it had
disappeared she still stood there, gazing blankly at the place of its
vanishing, till at last the younger child, shuddering, complained:
"Mummy, I's so told."

"Are you, darling?" she said tenderly, lifting the blue mite in her
arms. She carried her child up all the grey stone stairs, George
following, and they re-entered the flat.

It had an air of missing someone very desolately.

Her face puckered suddenly and she was afraid she was going to cry
again, before the children, but George stood in front of her,
examining her minutely, and she straightened her lips.

"Mummie," said George, "you hasn't barfed poor baby."

"You come and help Mummie do it," she answered.

The procession of three went together into the bedroom, where the
long-suffering baby had begun at last to protest. The rumpled beds
were as she and Osborn had left them, and the room looked soiled. She
inspected it for a moment before she turned to the business of bathing
and dressing the baby.

Osborn's late breakfast had made her late with the housework, but it
didn't matter. There was no one to work for, cook for, keep up the
standard for. For a few minutes she thought thus.

George and the three-year-old gave her a great deal of help with the
baby. Their little fat, loving faces turned to her in the utmost
worship and faith, and they trotted about, vying with each other in
bringing her this and that for the infantile toilet. And when it was
accomplished, George took charge of the baby in the dining-room while
his mother turned to the work which he was accustomed to seeing her
do. It was as if a great gift of sympathy for his mother in her hour
of need had descended into his small heart.

Marie's first task lay in the bedroom; when she had made her own bed,
she turned to Osborn's, and slowly and thoughtfully, one by one, she
folded up the blankets for storage in the cupboard, dropped the sheets
and pillow-case into the linen-basket without replacing them, and then
spread the pink quilt over the unmade bed.

It would be a year before Osborn wanted it again. _A year!_

A few things of his lay about the room; only a few, for all that were
good enough to pack she had packed. She suddenly advanced upon these
few trifles, swept them together, and pushed them out of sight in a
drawer. Again she looked around. The room seemed expressive now only
of her own entity; she was entirely alone in it.

She advanced to Osborn's bed again, ripped off the quilt and mattress,
and bent her strength to taking apart and folding the iron bedstead.
It was really a man's task, but she accomplished it, and carried it
into the dressing-room, where she put it against the wall, in a
corner. Again she returned to her own room and looked around. Her bed,
her toilet things, everything was hers. True, the baby's cot stood
there; otherwise it was a virgin room.

Anger had muffled the grief in her heart.

"Well," she said, "I have no husband."



She began to tidy the room automatically. Through the partitioning
wall she could hear George crooning like a guardian angel to his
charge, and she smiled tenderly. "The darling!" she thought. His
immature and uncomprehending sympathy warmed her chilled heart as
nothing else could have done. She had a great new sensation of
leisure; there was all day to potter about in and no one to prepare
for in the evening.

Life was now timeless, without the clock of man's habits. Nothing

She sat down idly before her dressing-table and met again her sallowed
face in the mirror. The sight stirred her anger vigorously once more.
Wrathfully she wanted to do something - anything - and, to keep her
fingers busy, pulled open one of the top drawers of the dressing-table.
Confusion met her, for it was the untidy drawer beloved of woman; the
drawer where ribbons and lace and scent sachets and waist-belts and
flowers and face powder lay pell-mell. For a long while the drawer had
not had the periodical setting straight which woman grants it, and its
contents were aged, dingy and undesirable - camisole-ribbons like
boot-strings, lace collars long out of fashion, a rose or two crumpled
into flat and withered blobs, shapeless and faded. She touched things

"My pretty things!" she thought with regret.

At what precise moment the idea came to her she did not know, but it
intruded by degrees. She began to think idly of money, to turn over in
her mind the exact allowance with which Osborn had left her, and she
knew herself rich. Till yesterday her domestic budget, for herself,
the children and Osborn, had been at the rate of about one hundred and
forty pounds a year. He had to have the rest. Now she had two hundred
and no man to keep. It would have taken a woman to understand why she
suddenly sprang up, why her sallowed face took on a hasty colour, and
with what an incredulously beating heart she hastened down the grey
stone stairs to the hall-porter's box.

"Porter," she said, controlling her voice with difficulty, "I want a
charwoman at once; and - and for two or three hours every morning. You
could find one for me?"

Like every other block of flats, the place was infested with ladies of
the charing profession, and he promised her one within half an hour.
Returning to her children, she sat down at ease in the dining-room to
await the woman's arrival.

When she came, it was joy to show her round; to say: "I want the
bedroom and hall and kitchen done; these things washed up; and these
vegetables prepared. And these things of the children's washed out,
please. I shall be back before you've finished."

Then she put on the children's outdoor things, established the baby
and the three-year-old at either end of the perambulator and, with
George walking manfully by her side, set out upon an errand.

She was going to tell her mother of what had befallen; she hardly knew
why, but the wisdom of matronly counsel and opinion, irritating as it
was, had impressed her forcibly during the past years. So she and
George trundled the shabby grey perambulator, Rokeby's gift, across
the Heath, and along the intervening streets to Grannie Amber's.

They left the perambulator in the courtyard and made a slow journey up
the stairs to her nice flat on the first floor. That flat, which had
seemed so small and old-fashioned to the girl Marie, appeared as a
haven of refuge and comfort to the woman. It was so warm, so quiet and
still. When they arrived there, Grannie Amber was comfortably sewing
by her cosy fire, while her charwoman got through the work there was
to do. She was surprised and somewhat uneasy to see her daughter so
early, but she bustled about to settle them comfortably, taking the
baby upon her lap, and bringing out queer old games from cunning
hiding-places for the others, as grannies do.

When George and the three-year-old were presumably absorbed, she
lifted an anxious, cautionary eyebrow at Marie, and waited to hear the

"Osborn's gone away for a year, mother," Marie announced quietly.

Mrs. Amber did not reply for a few moments, but her elderly face
flushed with red and her eyes with tears; she was so nonplussed that
she hardly knew what to say, but at length she asked:

"What does that mean, duck?"

"He has got a splendid appointment, owing to an accident to one of the
firm's travellers," said Marie steadily. "He only knew yesterday, and
had to start at ten this morning, so you may guess we've been very
busy. It will keep him away for a year and he's going to travel - oh!
over nearly half the world, selling the new Runaway two-seater; and
the salary is five hundred a year and a good commission and very
generous expenses."

She was glad to have got it all out almost at a breath, without a sign
of a breakdown; and the eyes of Grannie Amber, who was not meant to
understand and knew better than to show she did, kindled at her
daughter's courage.

"I am so sorry, duck," she murmured sympathetically. "You'll both have
felt the parting very much; but it'll be a splendid holiday for
Osborn; and - and I'm not sure whether it won't be a splendid holiday
for you, too."

Marie met her mother's eyes with a full look.

"I am not sure, either, mother," she said quietly.

Grannie Amber looked down at the baby's small, meek, round head.

"You need a rest," she murmured, "and this money will help you, won't
it, love?"

"I have two hundred a year, clear, for the children and myself."

"He might have halved it!" said Grannie, in a sudden, indignant cry.

Marie replied with a look of steel: "I don't think so at all, mother.
And men always think that women ought not to have the handling of too
much money, you know."

"_Don't_ I know!" said Grannie, with unabated venom.

"Osborn has left me plenty. It's far more than I managed on before."

"I'm glad of that, duck."

"Directly Osborn had gone I suddenly thought - and I got in a
charwoman. She's there now. It did seem queer."

"Oh, that's good, my love. I _am_ glad of that. Now you'll rest
yourself and get your looks back, and I shall be round a great deal to
help you with the children."

"I want to ask you to do something for me to-day, mother."

"Certainly, my love. Just name it."

"I - I want a free day. To go into town and lunch and walk about by
myself; no household shopping to do; no time to keep; no cooking to
hurry back for...."

"What a funny idea, duck!" replied Grannie, still carefully keeping up
the attitude of old dunderhead; "but I'm sure I'll be only too
delighted to go back home with you, and take the children out on the
Heath this afternoon. And I'll put them to bed, too. You'll help me
with these very little children, won't you, Georgie?"

"'Ess, G'annie," replied George importantly.

"Mummie needn't hurry back, need she, Georgie?"

"She tan 'tay out all night," replied George, showing a generous
breadth of mind.

Grannie and mother both laughed heartily.

"I'll run and put on my things at once," said Mrs. Amber, transferring
the baby to Marie's lap, "and I'll go back with you now. I'm an idle
old woman with nothing to do, and it will be a delight to me to take
the children out."

They trundled the grey baby-carriage back across the Heath, and toiled
up the stone staircase of Welham Mansions to Number Thirty. All the
windows of the flat were opened; it looked almost fresh and bright
once more; and a charwoman of stout build was dealing competently with
the few remaining jobs. Marie paid her; instructed her to return
to-morrow, and went to make herself ready for town.

She left home again at twelve-thirty, taking with her a replenished
purse, and a stock of tremluous emotions. One was of dreadful
solitude, a fear of loneliness, spineless and enervating; another of
defiance; another of excitement; another of bravado; another almost of

What should she, an old married woman with a family of three, want
with a purposeless jaunt to town? Since the birth of George she had
never done such a thing. She had never spent money on amusing herself,
on passing an agreeable time.

It was almost as if, directly her husband, the master of her life and
her children's lives, turned his back, she filled her purse from the
store he had left behind him, and went off frivolling.

"I do not care!" she said to herself fearsomely. "I do not care a
damn. I'm off!"

One o'clock found her in the West End, a shabby, thin-faced woman of
the suburbs, rubbing shoulders with scores of other women jostling
round the shop windows. All that she saw she longed for; but none of
it was she foolish enough to buy. Some cold prudence, an offshoot of
her curious anger of the morning which still lingered with her,
restrained. Unformed, but working in her mind, was the beginning of an
impression that during this coming year she had some definite course
to follow, plan to make; she felt, almost heroically, as if she were
going to salve herself from something she had not, till lately, before
her glass, dared to define. She saw that women, caught intricately in
the domestic toils, had a dreadful, hard, cunning battle to fight, and
she felt as if in some way she was just beginning to fight it, but
that it would tax her utmost resources. So she spent none of her money
on the fashionable trifles of a moment, which she saw behind the
plate-glass, but she gave herself a lunch.

Debating long where to go, she went to the Royal Red and had a little
table in an obscure corner behind a pillar, where she could see, but
was hardly seen, even if anyone had wanted to look at this woman,
apparently just one of a thousand suburban shoppers. She lingered long
at her table to get to the full the worth of her three-and-sixpence;
to watch the suave, gay women pass in and out, be fed and flattered
and entertained. The great furs laid across their slender shoulders,
the ephemeral corsages beneath, the hint of pearls on well-massaged
necks, the luring cock of a hat, the waft of a perfume that was yet
hardly so crude as definite perfume, all roused her hostility, her
fighting sense. Not a woman there knew what passed behind the pillar
in the breast and brain of the slim, shabby woman with the big eyes
and wan face; none knew how she hated and feared; none knew of her
prayers; none but would have smiled to hear that she even thought of
entering with them the arena of women. And had a man glanced once her
way he would not have glanced twice.

All this she knew; she was setting it down definitely in her mind,
like writing. When it was written she was willing to read it over and
over again till she had learned it by heart.

She had eaten an ice Néapolitaine with voluptuous pleasure and,
calling her waiter, ordered coffee and a cigarette.

She was not going yet.

It was a long while since she had smoked, or even thought of it; and
though she really did not care very much for smoking, she chose an
expensive Egyptian now with the utmost pleasure. What a sensation of
leisure it gave, this loitering at will, over a cup of coffee and a
cigarette! Besides, it gave her longer to watch her enemies, to learn
the modes and tricks of the day.

After lunch she sauntered back into Regent Street and stopped by an
American Beauty Parlour. She went in and inquired the price of a
manicure. It would be one-and-sixpence. So she entered a warm wee
cubicle full of beauty apparatus, sat down, and gave her right hand
for the manicurist's ministrations.

The manicurist was a lithe, tall girl, with a small young, wicked
face; and meekly demure. Her hair was sleeked down provocatively over
her ears, in which emerald drops dangled. She was an Enemy. As she
took her client's hand and dabbled the finger-tips in a tiny red bowl

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryMay EdgintonMarried Life The True Romance → online text (page 12 of 20)