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Osborn was a free man; he had broken routine and was out adventuring;
and he was goodlooking, he looked worth while. She was a rather stupid
actress, with no magnetism but her looks, and no possible chance of
ever in this world obtaining a bigger part than the minor one she at
present had inveigled from the manager; and she liked well-set-up
smart men, men who appeared as if they had money to burn. There were
no obstacles placed in Osborn's way.

He was highly elated when the end of a week found him calling her
familiarly "Roselle," when he could walk the deck with her after
breakfast, and join her party for bridge in the afternoons, and
withdraw to a warm corner of the saloon with her after dinner, there
to become better acquainted. He was at last, he said to himself,
loosening those domestic chains which had hobbled him, and was doing
more as other men did.

She gulled him into thinking her clever; all she said and did and
looked excited him; she was so different from the women whom men of
his class married and with whom only they became intimate; a fellow on
two hundred a year with a wife and family could not afford the society
of the stage. But a fellow with three hundred a year and any
commission his smartness could make, all just for mere pocket-money,
was in a different boat altogether. The sums he staked at bridge with
Roselle and her party on those winter afternoons in mid-Atlantic used
to keep the household at No. 30, Welham Mansions for a week. Sometimes
he won and sometimes he lost; but either seemed to him immaterial in
this new lightness of his heart.

He was to be in New York two months, and she was to be there three

She used to say reckless things to him which stirred the blood. Thus:
"You and I, Osborn" - he knew, of course, that familiarity with
Christian names was a trait of the stage - "have met, and presently we
shall part; and what was the good of meeting if this dear little
friendship is just to be packed up with our luggage?"

"You can pack up mine, and I'll pack up yours," he said softly.

"That's a sweet way of putting it; you're one of those light-hearted
people who don't mind saying goodbyes."

"I say, Roselle, do you?"

"Saying good-bye to fellow-souls is always sad."

On the windy deck she used to wear a dark purple velvet hat slouched
down and pinned close against her darker hair. It showed up the
whiteness of her face, which even the saltwinds could not whip into
colour, under the coating of white cosmetic almost imperceptibly laid
on. Osborn loved that hat, as he loved the graceful tilt of her skirt
and the fragility of her blouses; and sometimes it occurred to him to
question why men's wives couldn't wear things like that. One sunny
afternoon they had, when, instead of playing bridge, they sat in a
sheltered corner on deck and talked.

"Where are you putting up in New York?" she asked that afternoon.

"At the Waldorf Astoria."

"Are you really?" she said, and she thought in her shallow mind that
he must be very well off indeed.

Osborn did not tell her that his firm sent him to an expensive hotel
for their own ends; it was pleasant to have her thinking what she did.
He asked if he might call upon her in New York; if she'd have supper
with him sometimes; come for a run in his two-seater which he was
taking over with him. They made a dozen plans which, after all, could
not hurt Marie, and the prospects of which were charming to a degree.

They landed just before Christmas.

Osborn had written his Christmas letters to his wife and children on
board, and his first errand on landing was to mail hastily-chosen
gifts to them. A box of sweets for the kids, a bottle of scent for
Marie, these seemed to suit the occasion quite well. He even
remembered a picture-postcard view of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to
bear seasonable wishes to Grannie Amber. Then Roselle claimed him.

Osborn had a good deal of odd time to put at her disposal, and she
disposed of it with no uncertain hand. His way was not so uphill as he
had expected; within a week he was touching big commission, bigger
than he had dreamed of, with the prospects of plenty to follow. And
driving his electric-blue, silver-fitted Runaway two-seater about New
York, or over to Brooklyn, he placed Roselle in her inevitable fur
coat and slouched down purple velvet hat, as a splendid business
asset, beside him. At least he told his conscience that a smart woman
in a car is unparalleled advertisement for it and perhaps he was
right; but that was not the reason for her presence there.

When they said good-bye, under the wintry trees of the remotest part
of a great park, it hurt him. He set his hands suddenly on her
shoulders, and looked into her eyes; and then, it being almost dusk,
and no one very near, he slid an arm round her, and held her to him
for one swift instant. When she let him kiss her, with a yielding as
passionate as response, he was surprised at his own stupidity in not
tasting such sweets before.

"I've got to go," he said. "You've been a darling, to me. I'm crazy
about you; I suppose you know that?"

Her slow smile drove deep dimples into her white cheeks; she looked at
him warmly; and yet, had he not been too excited to note it, with an
acute appraisement. "We're to be here another month," she said, not
answering his query, "leave me your address; you have mine."

"Will you write?"

"Reams. And who knows? We may meet again some day."

"That's what I feel; that we haven't met just to part. You're
wonderful. You're the most wonderful woman I've ever met."

"And you - you've never told me anything about yourself, Osborn."

"There's nothing to tell."

He had Marie's last letter in his breast-pocket at that moment, and as
Roselle stirred against him he heard the slight crackling of the
paper. It dropped like a trickle of cold water into his excitement and
desire. He took Roselle's arm lightly in his hand, and turned about.

"I must take you to tea somewhere," he said; "where shall we go?"

In a shaded tea room, full of screens, rose-lights and china tinkling,
he sat looking at her. She _was_ wonderful; with the rather high
set of her shoulders, her white, full neck, the depth of her hair and
eyes, her short and tenderly kept hands, she was romance. You couldn't
imagine such a woman sinking into the household drudge whatever her
circumstances; she stood for all that was easy and pleasant, scented
and soft, in woman. Osborn felt, as many a man has done and will do
again, all memories, all fidelity slipping from him, in the lure of
the hour. Leaning forward, he said imperatively:

"I'll have to write every day. You'll answer me, won't you?"

"Of course I will, you exacting boy."

In a very low voice he went on:

"I want to have you all to myself till to-morrow - till I've got to
leave you. It would be heaven; but - "

Roselle Dates was of that talented community of stupid women who
understand and manipulate life through their super-instinct of sex
merely; who know how to take all and give nothing; suckers of life and
never feeders. She looked at him and sighed and smiled, and shook her
head, and touching his hand, whispered:

"But that's impossible. It isn't often a woman makes a friend like
you. Let it last a little longer, there's a dear boy."

"I'm sorry," said Osborn. "I suppose we're all beasts."

She sighed again. "Every inch of life is snared, for women. In a
profession like mine you watch each step. My goodness, you do! Or
you'd fall into one of the traps."

"Isn't it ever worth while falling in?"

She refused to answer. Becoming suddenly capricious with the caprice
that is the armour of her kind, she wished to be taken home. After he
had left her, he walked the streets moodily for an hour before going
in himself.

He had to pack for an early start next morning. In a bedroom where a
prince might have slept, he threw himself into an easychair and
brooded. Roselle became more than ever desirable, as he imagined her,
sitting in that shaded tea room, her fur coat opened and thrown back
to show the fragile corsage underneath. She was romance; the fairy
tale, which he had read and mislaid, found again. Putting his hand up,
he pulled out his wife's letter, and read it again cursorily before
casting it into the wastepaper basket.

How dull it was! What a lack of sparkle and spontaneity it showed!
Something seemed to happen to women after marriage, making them
prosaic; growing little nagging consciences in them; egging them on to
a perpetual striving with things that were damned tiresome. And the
letter that he would write back would be just as constrained; there
would be no joy in the writing of it as there would be writing the
letters that would be sent to Roselle.

* * * * *

"MY DEAR OSBORN" (Marie wrote), "Thank you for your letter. You are
very good to write so regularly every mail. We are so glad to know
what a successful trip you are having. We are all very well; and
mother gave the children a tree for Christmas, and we hung your box
of sweets and my scent on it. They couldn't think how you had
managed to put them there! Thank you so much for the scent. I am
having the dining-room carpet cleaned. The children send their love
and so do I. - Your affectionate wife,


"P.S. - Baby has cut another tooth."

"My God!" said Osborn resignedly, as he tore the letter across.
"Marriage is a big mistake. To tie oneself up for life at

* * * * *

Osborn was in Chicago, prospering exceedingly, when Roselle's second
letter came.

She was in the same city!

He hurried to her without a moment's loss. She was staying at a
boarding-house full of noisy young business people, among whom she was
a sensation. She received Osborn in a great smudged parlour decorated
with much gilt and lace curtains.

"Aren't you surprised?"

"I was never so glad."

"I expect you were. I expect you've been as glad ever so many times."
She looked at him shrewdly. "I didn't tell you in New York," she said,
letting her hand remain in his. They were alone in the horrible room.
"But my contract was for the passage out and three months playing with
Sautree; not for the passage home. You see, I wanted to get out here
somehow and see what I could do. It does one good to have been in the

"And now - "

"I'm at a loose end."

She saw the quick flush on his face and the light in his eyes, and
playfully put against his lips two fingers, which he kissed.

"Only temporarily of course. I'm going round the hotels to-day - I
shall get plenty of entertaining to do. When I'm tired of this, I
shall move on."

"Why not let our moving on coincide?"

It was what, vaguely, in her mind, Roselle meant to do. She wanted
experience; but to gain it comfortably would need a certain amount of
financing; and she thought she had tested the fairly satisfactory
depth of his pockets, although he had told her nothing.

"I don't know," she reserved. "What are your movements and dates?"

He told her eagerly.

"I've always longed to tour Canada," she cried.

"Then tour it on your own. Only can't we be travelling companions?
I'll see to your tickets and luggage and so on."

"And I shan't have any hotel expenses," she added, lighting a
cigarette; "I shall work them off and see a profit."

Osborn's year now took on for him the aspect of the most magnificent
adventure sated married man ever had.

"Fancy us two trotting about the good old earth together!"

"Don't tell your friends," she laughed.

"Trust me."

"But I don't. I don't trust any of you."

"You are a tease. Roselle, it's so tophole to see you again; let me
kiss you good morning."

She took the cigarette from her mouth to return his kiss; she was
bright-eyed and hilarious. She knew that he was a fool as men were,
unless they were brutes; and you had to make the fools whipping-boys
for the brutes. As he kissed her, she knew that she was going to use
him; to take all and give nothing.

"You're the dearest boy. And how's the car?"

"She's first-rate. Want her this morning?"

"You might run me around in her; job-hunting."

Into the spring sun they drove; she had the inevitable fur coat and
the hat he loved, and she looked beautiful. By the time he ranked the
car outside one of Chicago's best restaurants for lunch, she had what
she called a pocketful of contracts, to sing at this restaurant and
that; to dance for her supper and half a guinea at a ruinous night
club, for she could do everything a little. But her greatest asset was
her beauty.



Osborn's letters told Marie very little of his doings; they almost
conveyed the impression, though he would have been uneasy to know it,
of careful epistles penned by a bad schoolboy. His letters from
Chicago might have been replicas of those from New York; from Montreal
he began on the same old note, though, in answer to her request to
teach a stay-at-home woman descriptive geography, he once launched
forth into an elaborate account of his rail journey on the Canadian
Pacific, from Montreal westwards. Marie was not disappointed in the
letters; they were what she would have expected. But sometimes, as she
read their terse and uninteresting sentences, their stodgy bits of
information, she smiled to think how marriage changed a man.

How dull it made him!

How irritating and constrained it made him! How prosaic! How it
walled-up passion, as one read how a nun who had loved too much was
walled-up, in the old fierce days, with bricks and mortar!

"MY DEAR MARIE," (or sometimes "Dear Wifie"), -

"How are you all getting along? I'm in - - now, as you will see by
my changed address. Business has been fairly good.... It was rather
a pretty journey here; I must send George a book about the wild
flowers on the prairies.... I am glad to hear you are all so
comfortable. Are you going earlier to Littlehampton this year, or
shall you wait till the summer as usual? Of course, when I went
with you, we had to go in the summer because my turn for holidays
came then; but I should think the rooms would be cheaper earlier in
the year. I am rather glad you are having the carpet cleaned....

"With love to you and the children,


In the spring a sorrow came with a shock into Marie's even life.
Grannie Amber died suddenly. In the evening she had played with the
children at No. 30, and in the morning she was found in the little
old-fashioned flat on the other side of the Heath, sitting in her
easychair by a dead fire, with her bonnet and cloak on, just as she
had sat down to rest for awhile on her return.

She left her daughter a good deal of old furniture which sold for a
fair sum to dealers; and an income of two hundred and twenty pounds a

For a while sorrow kept Marie much to the rut in which she had moved
since Osborn's departure; but the grief for a parent is so natural and
inevitable a grief; it is not as the grief for a husband or a child;
and when the first warm days of April came Marie took some very
definite steps forward on that road where she had, last December, set
her feet. It was Julia who roused her finally to the course.

Julia came and said: "Do you know, my dear, you're years younger?
You're your pretty self again. And what are you going to do now that
you are such a rich young woman?"

It was a week later that the capable maid was installed in the flat.
She slept in a tiny room which had hitherto been relegated to boxes,
but which now was furnished with one or two left-over pieces from Mrs.
Amber's sale, and the hall-porter, who realised that Mrs. Osborn Kerr
had inherited money, was pleased to care for the boxes. The servant
brought rest and charm into that flat; and George went half-daily to a
near-by school, taking himself to and fro with the utmost manfulness.

Marie paid at last those longed-for visits to the dentist.

* * * * *

Marie was having the first dinner-party for which she had not to cook
herself, and the party consisted of Julia and Desmond Rokeby.

Rokeby had leapt at the invitation flatteringly; but Julia had been
inscrutable in her demur, until begged in such terms as were hard to

"You're the only two people I really know intimately," Marie said; "if
you refuse, you'll spoil it all. In fact I don't believe I can have a
man to dinner alone without exciting Mr. and Mrs. Hall Porter."

When she uttered this little vain thing, she laughed and looked in the
glass and patted her hair.

"I'll come," Julia promised.

As Marie Kerr came out of her bedroom and proceeded down the corridor
to inspect the table arrangements, she was a pretty picture of all
that a well-dressed, happy, healthy young woman should be. She paused
by the door of the erstwhile dressing-room to look in on the two elder
children, then entered the dining-room. Spotless napery and most of
the wedding-present silver equipped the table, as it used to do in the
early days of her marriage. Between the candlesticks were clusters of
violets. A bright wood fire burned upon the hearth, but the
golden-brown curtains were not yet drawn upon the evening. The
golden-brown carpet, newly cleaned, was speckless again. Marie moved
about, improving on the table arrangements, and the hands which
touched this or that into better design were little, slim and white.
The finger nails had regained their tapering prettiness. And as she
smiled with pleasure, between her lips an unblemished row of teeth
showed. She wore black, to her mother's memory, but her gown was the
last word in cut and contour; it opened in a long V to show her plump
white neck; underneath the filmy bodice a hint of mauve ribbons
gleamed. In her ears slender earrings twinkled. They were amethyst,
and had been her mother's. She had put them on for the first time that
evening as she dressed, because, regarding herself earnestly in the
glass, there had risen up over her shoulder, for no reason whatever,
the sleek pale face of the manicure girl, who wore emeralds in her
ears. And when she had clipped them on she was thrilled; they gave her
a distinctive, a resolute charm. She could smile at herself again in
that glass, at the colour and light and verve which had come back to
her. The face pictured there had all the roundness, the softness and
pinkiness of the face of the bride Marie, who had waked and looked
therein on wonderful mornings, but it held more than the face of Marie
the bride. It was strong; it had firmness and judgment and humour. It
was no fool of a face. Yet, as the wisest and strongest of women can
delight in vanities, so Marie delighted in the earrings which she wore
to-night, as an inspiration, for the first time.

From her dining-room Marie went to the sitting-room, rosy in the light
of another wood fire. Every day now she used her sitting-room. Tea was
brought to her there, placed at her elbow as she sat in a cosy chair
before the fire, and she drank it at leisure - while the maid gave the
children their meal in the dining-room. In that chair by the fire, all
the spring, Marie had read the new books, for she could afford to pay
a library subscription. In that chair, as she rested, the lines had
smoothed from her face, her neck had grown plump again, and the
stories of modern thought, of modern love and its ways, had stimulated
her brain once more to thoughts of its own. She loved the sitting-room
better than she had loved it even when it was first furnished; it was
now peculiarly her own. When she thought of Osborn's return, as she
did now and then with a curious mixture of feelings, she knew,
half-guiltily, that somehow she would grudge him a share in those
pleasant evenings by the fire.

Marie sat down to wait for Julia and Desmond, and, taking up her
half-finished novel, put her silk-stockinged feet on the fender,
leaned back, and opened the book at the place where she had left the
story. It was a love story, and as she read she thought: "How well I
know this phase! and that phase!... but we will just see what happens
after they're married." Her thought was not bitter, only interested
and curious, because her own hurt was over, and a wisdom, a
contentment, had come.

Julia and Desmond arrived together, much against Julia's will; and
they all sat down in the pretty pale room, while the maid drew the
curtains upon the gathering dusk and switched on the light.

They sat and talked of trivial things, waiting for the serving of
dinner to be announced; and Marie remembered how often, in the past
years, she had longed to sit there comfortably, thus till a
well-trained servant should open the door noiselessly and say: "Dinner
is served, ma'am."

Now it happened every night.

They went in to a well-ordered dinner; there was a pleasant peace and
harmony in the flat; and as Rokeby looked at Marie's face, which had
won back all its old prettiness, as well as attaining the strength of
the woman who has suffered, he did not marvel, but he was a little
sad. And he wondered slightly just what was going to happen to Osborn
when he came home. But Julia, as she looked at Marie, was triumphant;
she did not wonder what was going to happen to Osborn; she thought she
knew. And all dinner she tried to hurl tiny defiances into Rokeby's
teeth, asking with sparkling malice:

"Isn't Marie looking her own self again? Isn't it lovely to see her?
Doesn't grass-widowhood suit her? Isn't it a screaming success?"

Rokeby knew what Julia meant, but his patience was invincible.

There was a piano in the flat now; it had been Grannie Amber's, and
was old, but still it fulfilled its purpose of a musical instrument.
It stood in the sitting-room, across one of the corners by the fire,
and after dinner Marie played and Julia sang; and when she refused to
sing more, it was Desmond's turn. He looked through Marie's pile of
music, selected a song, and sat down to play his own accompaniment
with a light and beautiful touch which came as a surprise to the
listening women, who knew nothing of his drawing-room talents. He went
from song to song, and all at once Marie, transferring her gaze from
contemplative dreams, saw Julia's face. Julia leaned forward with her
elbows on her knees, her chin in her palms, looking at the man at the
piano, and in her eyes ran the old tale, and her red lips smiled and
her breast heaved. But she became conscious of Marie's look, and
sitting up sharply, drew, as it were, a blind down over the light.

"Julia?" Marie said to herself, all wonder, _"Julia!"_

She looked at Rokeby's creaseless back, at his fingers wandering over
the keys, and for the first time she noticed how sensitive, how
caressing the fingers were. Yet that two people in her intimate circle
could contemplate that through which she herself had passed painfully,
as through ordeal by fire....

It made her very kind to them both, though a small stir of queer
jealousy was in her. Before hell they would know heaven. Love and
marriage began with the celestial tour....

When they came out into the hall presently, to put on their outdoor
wraps, she beckoned them to the door of the children's room. The baby
had joined the two elder ones, and three small cots now stood in a
row, closely packed. A night-light gave enough glimmer to see the warm
faces lying peacefully on the three pillows. The women crept in and
looked down upon a scene which will always make women's hearts sing,
or ache; and Rokeby followed. To his lover's mind, never had Julia
Winter appeared so adorable as when she bent low over the fat baby,
and murmured to it the small feckless loving things that all women
always have murmured to all the babies in the world. She touched its
outflung hand delicately with a finger, and lingered there, filled
with woman's world-old want. And out of the twilight Marie sent a
whisper which reached them both.

"Of course, you're never going to marry, either of you. But if you
ever want to, and you're hanging back, wondering, just don't wonder.
Remember that the children are worth - everything."

"Thank you," Rokeby whispered fervently in her ear.

Julia said nothing, but straightened herself and passed out.

Rokeby was after her in a second to hold her coat. The way in which
she turned her back on him so that he might lift it on was peculiarly

Marie was in the background, wanting a lover again. When they had gone
she drew back the curtains, threw up the windows, and leaned out into

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Online LibraryMay EdgintonMarried Life The True Romance → online text (page 14 of 20)