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the sweet, chill spring night. She drank it and loved it, and all her
being cried out for love.

But she did not want love grown old, which came in and put on its
slippers, and grumped: "Can't those kids keep quiet?" if it heard the
voice of the children of love, and which hid itself behind a hedge of
daily paper, or flung out again from home, in the ill-tempered
senility of its second childhood.

She wanted love new-grown; with a bloom upon it, fresh and young; love
at its beginning, before it was ripe and over-ripe, and spoiling and
falling from its tree; such a love as she imagined Julia and Desmond
even then to be driving towards.

In a taxicab - for where else in all London could he be alone with
her? - Rokeby was taking Julia home. She allowed it in spite of
herself; yet was angry with them both for the circumstance which
brought them together close, which enclosed them in a privacy which
made her remember, with a vividness which disturbed her, the
sensations of that first and only kiss. He was asking her again:

"Haven't you changed your mind, Julia? Can't you relent?"

"You know what I think about marrying."

"I thought I did. But to-night when I looked at you looking at those
kids, I knew differently. You want to be married and have children of
your own. I don't know as much about me - don't know," he said in a
slight break of despair, "that I come into the picture much."

It was dark enough to hide her flush.

"When I ask 'Can't you relent'?" said Rokeby, "I ought to say instead
'Can't you confess?' That's what you don't want to do."

"If - " she began.

"Yes, dear. If?"

"If I married you - "

She paused a long while and he declared passionately: "You're afraid
to risk marriage and yet you want to. You don't know what to do. You
like being loved; you pretend you don't, but you do. You're feeling
how sweet it all is. But you will not own it even to yourself."

And she answered: "I am afraid."

"I know you are," said Rokeby; "and so am I. Haven't you thought of
that?"

"What do you mean?"

"Why, look around and see the muddle and mess most people make of the
contract."

"That's what I mean."

"So do I. Why shouldn't I be afraid as much as you are? If we got
married and muddled and messed things up, wouldn't it hurt me as much
as you?"

"Not according to what I've seen. Most men - "

"I'm not most men. I'm just me. You're you. We're different. Besides,
we've seen and thought and argued it out to ourselves as well as
together. Couldn't you risk it?"

"You know what I want; complete freedom."

"Well, you should have it. And you know what I want?"

"Yes?"

"Complete freedom, too."

"Oh?" she said uncertainly, with a jealous note in her voice.

He laughed. "Couldn't I have it, then? Well, to tell you a secret, you
couldn't either. But another secret is that, probably, neither of us
would really want it."

"That's true. It's dreadful the way married people learn to cling to
each other."

"Well, what else would you cling to?"

"I don't know."

"Well; won't you risk it?"

"I think, perhaps, I dare if you dare."

The biggest moment of Rokeby's life was when he took her, for the
second time, into his arms, and felt her lips respond to his. She shut
her eyes and saw again the vision of the three cots side by side in a
dim room; and his eyes, on her face, saw the mother-ecstasy there.
"You wonder!" he exclaimed.

"Why?"

"To give me such a fright when all the while you've been feeling
this!"

It was a long drive from Hampstead, and all the time she was within
his arms, and all the time he told her of all they would be to each
other; of how he loved her. And at last she stood alone in her flat,
with her bedroom lights switched on, looking at a radiant creature in
the glass, and crying within herself:

"Is this really Julia Winter?"

Already the homelike quality of her home had vanished; the dear
possession of her things had become less dear. She could think of
another home, a bigger one, and a hearthplace with her husband's face
opposite her own. She sat down by the dressing-table, and laid her
hands idly in her lap, and thought all the rosy things that women in
love do think.

She lunched the next day with Desmond as a matter of course. He called
for her at her office, and drove her away possessively. There was no
more solitude for her, no more proud loneliness, no more boastful
independence. Already she clung and already she enjoyed it. When, over
the table, he asked: "Isn't it nice being engaged?" she nodded,
smiling, and answered: "I'm wondering why I haven't done it before."




CHAPTER XX

SEPARATION


In November Marie had the letter which announced Osborn's imminent
return.

"... In another week," he wrote, "I shall be with you all again. It
will be good to see you. Of course, this has been rather a rag, and I
think I shall hold down the job for ever and evermore; but a year is a
long time, isn't it? I look forward to coming home. I shall have a lot
to tell you, but I expect I shall want to hear your news first, and
how George has got on at school, and so on."

The letter had an unwonted postscript: "I wonder if you've missed me,
old girl."

It was waiting for Marie on a grey afternoon when she returned from a
lecture, for which, a year ago, she would have needed a dictionary,
but which now entered her brain glibly and was at home there. All that
afternoon she had been listening to an exotic discourse on "Woman and
her Current Philosophy"; and now - here was Osborn's letter, suggesting
calmly, proprietorially almost, his re-entry into her life. Was it
possible that he had been away for a whole year? Or possible that he
had been away for only a year? Rapid as the stride of Time had been,
he was already a stranger, someone dimly perceived, arriving from
another life, and hardly making his presence felt.

She stood reading the letter attentively, noting its points and
phrases with even detachment; its arrival arrested her thoughts,
although she had known it must come soon. Its sender was already on
his way to her, expecting the eager welcome of home; and home had
nothing but stereotyped compliments to offer. Who was he, anyway?

Just the man who had made the domestic laws in No. 30, had made them
disagreeably and could make them no longer, whose power was broken.
The keeper of the purse; the winder of the clocks of life; the hostile
element in a peaceful day; the shade of a dead lover long since
trampled under the domestic battle-ground.

It was almost curious that he had ever existed.

She came for the second time to the postscript and smiled vaguely and
faintly. He wondered if she had missed him.

Yes. She had certainly missed him.

As Marie Kerr stood by the fire in her sitting-room with Osborn's
letter in her hand, she awoke fully, as from a dream, to the
understanding of what was about to befall her.

She was once more, after this year of miraculous growth and power and
recovery, to take unto herself her husband.

The door opened and the maid came in quietly, a teacloth over her arm,
the tray in her hand. She arranged all to please the taste of the
mistress who stood watching as if she watched something unusual.

For a whole year, in that flat, she had been the person whose will was
government, who had to be pleased and obeyed. She had made the laws,
kept the purse, and set the clock.

It had been a wonderful year.

She laid aside her furs, sat down and poured out her tea. Presently
she heard George come in - he now went to school for the whole, instead
of the half day - and the happy clatter of the children in the
dining-room. There was no one to cry testily: "For God's sake keep
those children quiet!" as if the children were aliens - crimes of the
mother.

When she had finished her tea, and had heard the maid come out of the
dining-room, she went in, to romp with her children. It was an hour
she loved and for which she now had zest; she could enjoy it to the
full. They played Blind Man's Buff, in which even the baby joined
staggeringly, and Hunt the Slipper - the baby's little one, which she
wanted to keep whenever it was smuggled under the edge of her little
flannel petticoat; and for the last ten minutes Marie went back to the
sitting-room to tinkle on the piano, while the maid was requisitioned
once more to make a fourth to play Musical Chairs. Then the children
came into the sitting-room, hand in hand, and stood by the piano and
sang the lullaby their mother had taught them. She joined her voice to
theirs with all its old strength and sweetness. And she heard their
prayers and tucked them up in their beds.

Then she went into the room which for a year had been hers and, while
she changed into her soft black frock, the realisation came that she
was again to share it. Her lips curled.

"I won't!" she said to herself.

Why couldn't they go on for ever in this flat as they were now,
sufficient unto themselves, she and the children?

She returned to her book by the fire. And while she read on deeper
into the love-story, absorbed and credulous in spite of herself, the
front door bell rang.

Julia and Desmond Rokeby came in with a great air of mystery and
jubilation. They walked with the rich expectancy of people treading
golden streets, and though they came up to Marie, captured and
embraced her, laughed, and began relevant explanations both together,
their eyes looked through her, away and beyond her, and she had a
sense of being right outside their scheme for ever and evermore.

Loneliness assailed her rather bleakly as she stood with a smiling
mouth, gazing from one to the other and trying to gather the gist of
their news.

"We know you'll be awfully surprised," Julia cried, treating her to
squeezes of nervous rapture, "but - "

"Now, darling," said Rokeby, "let me. You see, Marie, we've gone and
done for ourselves. May we sit down with you just a moment while I
tell you? I knew that Julia - "

"He was so stupid about it," said Julia, glowing.

"Don't cut in and spoil the story, dearest," he urged. "I knew she'd
never make up her mind really to get married, you know, Marie, so this
afternoon I met her coming out of the office, drove her to a church
where all arrangements had been made, took one of those handy permits
out of my pocket - a special licence, you know - and - "

"You're married," said Marie Kerr in rather a dull way which
disappointed them both.

"We are."

"After all, Marie," said Julia breathlessly, "don't you think it's the
nicest way; without any fuss and premeditation, and bridesmaids, and
cake and things? Just our two selves."

"It was splendid," said Rokeby. "I'm the first man I know who ever
really enjoyed his wedding."

Marie sat between them and held a hand of each; after a while she
answered:

"I do congratulate you both; it's all so exciting and romantic. Oh! I
do hope you'll always be very happy."

"Thank you, dear," Julia beamed.

"We know we shall always be very happy," said Rokeby.

"And now?" Marie asked with an effort.

"We're going honeymooning," said the bridegroom.

Again she sat silent, keeping the smile upon her lips.

"Where are you going?" she asked by and by. "We went to Bournemouth.
We had such a delightful time..."

"Our plans are uncertain," said Rokeby.

"That means you are going to hide."

"For a while we are; no letters; no telegrams; no intrusions of any
kind. Just us. See how marriage takes a hardened bachelor!"

"And a hardened spinster!" Julia chimed.

"I do hope," Marie repeated, "that you'll be very happy. When will you
come back?"

"Early next month," said Julia.

"Perhaps," Rokeby qualified.

"And the first thing we do," said Julia affectionately, "will be to
come and see how our Marie is, left all alone without us."

"Don't!" Marie begged. "You're making me gulpy. For two pins I'd cry.
You two - you've just been everything to me this year, after the
children. You don't know how lonely you're making me feel."

"But soon Osborn - "

"Osborn's coming home next week."

"Oh, great!" Rokeby cried; and Mrs. Rokeby added: "I _am_ glad.
Now you won't be lonely any more."

"I don't know," Marie said quietly.

She took Julia's bare left hand from her muff and looked at the rings
and stroked it.

"I love a new wedding ring," she said.

"Our train, darling," Rokeby reminded his wife.

"We must fly," said Julia, rising. "Our taxi's outside, with all the
clothes I've had time to pack, upon it. Desmond had packed in
anticipation, the wretch! And we've only got an hour - but we just had
to come in and tell you before we went."

"I hope you and Osborn will have another honeymoon like ours is going
to be," Rokeby cried as they hurried through the hall.

She shook her head, vaguely smiling, but her lips would frame nothing.
She was glad to shut the door upon their happiness. It seemed as if
everything young and fierce in her were pulling at her heart. How she
wanted it again, that amazing rapture and discovery! As she sat down
again by her fire in the quiet flat, she would have bartered half the
remaining years of her life for just that first year over again.

She went across to the window, pulled aside a curtain, and beheld rows
and darts of lights like stars; street lights and house lights
beckoned to her; she opened the window slightly and the distant sound
of traffic, the drums of London rolling, excited and affrayed her.

She felt too young for the sedateness into which her life was
settling.

Restless as she was, she had trained herself too well in the ruthless
habits of method and industry not to begin automatically to set all in
order against the coming of the master of the home. Feeling the need
of doing rather than of thinking, she went to the bureau, and picked
her account-books from their pigeonholes. Accurate and businesslike,
they should be presented. They were ruled with neat margins, the
columns headed precisely; each quarter of the year showing a
favourable balance in hand. There was no doubt but that she was a
creditable housekeeper. She opened them one by one memorising with a
certain pleasure their tributes to her capacity. One big item had been
wiped off altogether last spring, after her mother's death: the rest
of the furniture instalments, which, on the extended system for which
Osborn had been obliged to arrange after George's birth, would have
dragged on for two years more. Grannie Amber's sale had more than paid
for all.

"He can't say I haven't been careful," she thought. Besides, she was
now a woman with an income of her own; with two hundred and twenty
pounds a year in her pocket, the right to which no man could question.
If he demurred at the maid, and at George's school bills, she could
point to her ability to pay.

She knew how greatly she had changed during their separation; to the
change that might have been wrought in Osborn she gave little,
thought, not caring much. She supposed that he would come home much as
he left it, refreshed doubtless, better-tempered, and full of his
holiday, to the stories of which she would give a dutifully interested
hearing. But that he could ever rouse again in her the passion and
pain which had prostrated her on the night when she knew he was to
leave her was ironically impossible. As she sat over her
account-books, her memory cast back to that evening, how she had
stood, in silent agony, beside the table, sorting over his stock of
clothes; how feverishly and blindly she had sewed, trying to hide from
him all that to-morrow meant to her; how, when he had gone to bed, she
had kneeled by his chair and sobbed, and prayed that no other woman
should ever wean him from her....

What an extraordinary exhibition! What weakness of temper and nerve!

She knew it was more. It had been the terribleness of love.

"And now?" she mused.

It made her smile a little, lazily and serenely.

But now and again she sighed with a sharp envy, thinking of Julia and
Desmond.

She waked often in the solitude of the night, imaging the bride and
bridegroom on the track of rapture, following the unwaning star.

In the morning there was a cablegram for her, reading: "Home on
Thursday. - OSBORN."

To-day was Monday. She stood with tight lips for a moment wondering
just how to set this scene of reunion; the flat was not large,
comprising as it did the tiny slip of a room in which the maid slept,
the children's room, her own, and the two sitting-rooms and kitchen.
All the day she arranged and rearranged the accommodation in her head.

She was not only reluctant for Osborn, but almost shy of him; he had
left her thoughts so that it seemed impossible that he had ever had
the right to intrude, at all hours, on her privacy; impossible that it
should ever be so again. After all, there were many husbands and wives
who went their own way, led their own lives, and the outside world
never knew. To such a confraternity would she and Osborn now belong,
living under one roof, but separated, separated not only by walls, but
will.

For she did not want him any more; she could not contemplate his
assumption of the husbandly role. It sounded strange as she uttered it
aloud to herself, but there it was.

"I do not want him any more."

She thought: "Had he never gone away, had we gone on living as we
lived then, year in, year out, this would never have happened. People
don't get out of a deep rut like that unless they're helped out. But
now I've had a year to get my looks back; to sit down and think, and I
know things that I should never have guessed before."

After she had taken the baby for her morning airing on the Heath,
she left the two younger children with the maid, and went into town
to lunch. She chose again the Royal Red, but not the table behind
the pillar from which she had peered, glad of its shelter for her
shabbiness, a year ago. She took a table at the side of the room where
she could see and be seen, and she looked at the other women without
envy or hatred, with no more than a level sense of rivalry which was
almost pleasant. If she had not known how well she looked, the glances
of men would have told her. She lingered long over her coffee, enjoying
her opportunity and her freedom, and telling herself - resolved as she
was that it should not be so - "Well, it's probably my last time like
this."

She was in Regent Street after lunch, looking into a blouse shop,
when she saw close at hand the Beauty Parlour sign which brought to
her memory at once the sleek pale girl with the emerald earrings.
Something made her curious to see the girl again, and she went in, to
find her still there, the emeralds still in her beautiful close ears,
but sharper set, a year wearier.

She uttered charming things of madame's white hands. And, surely, she
had never had the pleasure of seeing madame there before?

Madame replied: "No; you have never seen me here before."

She reflected: "It's very true, that. No one had ever seen me, this
me, a year ago."

Just as she had felt no hate for the women in the Royal Red, so her
sense of hostility to the girl bending over her hand had vanished. She
was a friendly rival, not to be feared. And she was not so peerless,
after all; there were flaws under the powder with which she coated her
pale skin.

"I have never seen prettier nails, madame," said the manicurist, as
she smeared on cream.

After she left the Beauty Parlour Marie had nowhere to go. There was
no Rokeby to give her tea in his comfortable office while he offered
her business advice; he had been very good with his advice over the
question of Marie's inheritance. Neither was there a Julia to ring up
and invite to tea at one of the numberless cosy teashops of the West
End. Marie turned in, at three o'clock, to a matinée and bought an
upper circle seat, a few minutes late for the rise of the curtain on
the first act of an ultra-modern play.

The play was all about marriage. It dissected marriage into a thousand
pieces, and held every piece which was not turned into tragedy up to
ridicule. It fostered all the nonsense which fretted in idle women's
hearts, and touched many sore spots in others; and made men smile
cynically as if saying, "That's got it to the life." This play kept
Marie Kerr enchained; it set her wondering why the Marriage Service
had ever been written and consecrated; it blew to and fro the winds of
the storm in her soul until a tempest rocked her mind; she drew a
black comparison between the tragedy of the hero and heroine, and the
situation between Osborn and herself. But at last, when the playwright
had ridiculed and denounced what he called the oldest and tiredest
convention in the world for long enough, the play seemed to turn on a
pivot, and the pivot was the cradle. The playwright gave the playgoers
the happy ending for which the world craves and sent them home
relieved.

He sent Marie Kerr home relieved, too; but the day had not changed her
mind. She was fixed and, she felt, irrevocably. Over her solitary
dinner she thought of the play; and she thought of the fight to be
fought in her own home, and she slept upon it, to awake unmoved in the
morning.

She did not want Osborn.




CHAPTER XXI

HOME-COMING


Osborn Kerr was coming home with the happy sense of expectancy which
is common to the wanderer. He had prepared for departure with a high
heart and a holiday feeling running through everything, like
champagne, but he packed for his return with a very warm pleasure in
looking forward to the welcome waiting for him, right across all that
space, in the flat an which he had established home.

Looking back as well as forward, only the pleasant and sweet things of
his marriage remained impressed on his mind. The cosiness of the home
and not the worry of paying for it instalment by instalment; the good
dinners Marie cooked, not the grudge of giving out that housekeeping
allowance which paid for them; the prettiness and sunniness of his
wife rather than the faded looks and uncertain temper of the last few
years; the three fine kids he'd got, not the nuisance and noise and
expense which he had so often declared them.

The rosy cloud of time and distance had rolled between Osborn and all
that was his at No. 30 Welham Mansions. Before his year of adventure
was up he found himself thinking of them sentimentally; he found that
they were embedded pretty deep in his heart. They were real; other
things were -

Looking about for a definition, he stigmatised other things: "They're
trash."

He added therefore a postscript to his letter to his wife, an addition
written in a sudden thrust of pathos, a want of her almost like the
old want:

"I wonder if you've missed me, old girl."

In the trash he felt, though he had not given the idea the form of a
thought, that Roselle Dates was included. She had never bored, being
too clever in her stupid, instinctive way for that; but sometimes she
had sickened him. She had wanted so much. She seemed always wanting
something. At first her pallid and raven beauty and her clever
silliness had been sheer stimulation, but when you grew used to
her....

She had nothing behind. And she was mean with the sex meanness, the
cold prudence of the sex-trafficker. She would never have given; she
would only have sold, and that at a price far beyond Osborn Kerr's
pocket-book even at its recent splendour. But she did not want to sell
either; she wanted to take and take, to squeeze and squeeze.
Once - that was in San Francisco, where she had beaten together a
concert party and shone as its brightest star - when he had been
disappointed of a big deal and had come to her with the story....

_She had refused to listen_.

She had said: "Look here, boy! What do you mean by asking me out to
lunch and moping? I don't want to hear your troubles. There are plenty
of people here who'll amuse me without pulling long faces over
dropping a little cash."

She looked at him very coldly. In that moment he had suddenly thought
of another woman, a young bride, who, with tears of consternation and
sympathy in her eyes, had brought out an account-book and pencil and
said: "I'll get the gas out of the thirty shillings, too."

That was the kind of reception a man expected for his troubles. But
after Roselle had let him pay for their expensive lunch, she had
needed other things - perfume and candy. And she "borrowed" the rent of
her rooms from him for several weeks.

She went back to London two months ahead of him, having written for
and secured a moderately good engagement.

During the two months he missed her a little in the Runaway, where her


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