Copyright
May Edginton.

Married Life The True Romance online

. (page 19 of 20)
Online LibraryMay EdgintonMarried Life The True Romance → online text (page 19 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Brighton?"

"That's a nice run," she agreed. "Yes!"

"We could get back for dinner. Where shall we dine - Pagani's?"

She suggested, also, a supper club to which she belonged. "You'll have
to belong, too," she said with enthusiasm. "It's the brightest thing
in town. Will you, if I get someone to propose you?"

"Rather!"

He had felt dreadfully at a loose end before that evening, but now,
this old intimacy again established, he was, in a restless sort of
way, happier. As they drove home, she slid her hand into his pocket
like a cunning child and said: "Osborn, I want a fiver awf'ly badly;
lend me one." And it was pleasure to him to pull out a handful of
money and let her pick out the gold.

"I'll pay you back quite soon," she said, lying; and he replied: "You
know you won't, you naughty girl; and you know I don't want you to,
either."

She kissed him good night with the facility of her type, in the
taxicab as they crossed a dark corner.

"Less lonely now?" she queried.

"I don't care who denies it," said Osborn, "a man's got to have a
woman in his life; he's just got to. If one drives him...."

"Poor boy!" she said in her murmurous way.

He left her at her door and kept the cab to drive him to the nearest
Tube station. A strange excitement filled him as he looked ahead to
the direction in which he was drifting. What did it matter, anyway? He
was almost in the position of a man without ties.

"'Make your own life,'" his wife had said, "'I have all I want in
mine.'"

"Well, I'll make it," said Osborn as he journeyed homewards.

The flat was alight, expecting his coming, though everyone was in bed.
The fire had been made up, and his whisky decanter and soda siphon
stood by a plate of sandwiches on the dining-room table. Marie was
looking after him infernally, defiantly well, he thought, as he
splashed whisky irritably into a tumbler. It was almost as though she
were making all she did utter for her: "See how perfectly I fulfil my
duties! See how comfortable you are! You've nothing whatever to
grumble about. Make your own life and I'll make mine."

He drank his whisky, thinking of Roselle. "Here's to Sunday!" was his
silent toast. Yet it was not she who tugged tormentingly at his heart.

But he was like a child who has been put into the corner, revengefully
tearing the wallpaper.

He wanted someone to be sorry; very, very sorry.

There was dead silence in the flat. What a lonely place!

How queer life was!

He went sullenly to his room, where his son was sleeping peacefully.




CHAPTER XXV

RECOMPENSE


Osborn did not tell his wife that he was going to be away from home
all Sunday. What did it matter to her? How could his plans, in any
degree, be her plans, which he understood were, for the future, to be
made independently of him? But though he asked himself this, he was
wishing violently that she should care; he was hoarding up the
announcement of his Sunday absence to spring upon her and make her
blench. He hardly understood his purpose himself, so vague and racked,
so resentful and remorseful were his thoughts. But that was in his
heart - to surprise, alarm and worry her. If only, when he observed
casually: "I shall not be in at all to-day," he could see her colour
quicken and the jealous curiosity in her eyes! If only he could set
her longing to cry:

"Why?"

And then he could reply: "I'm motoring," and she might ask further:
"Where?"

And then he could drop out casually: "I'm running down to Brighton."

Would she inquire: "With whom?"

He rehearsed these things in spite of himself.

On Saturday he returned to lunch. It was his old way on Saturdays, and
the afternoon was free. A soft November day breathed beneficently over
London. In the morning, he hardly knew why, he asked the senior
partner whether he could take out a car to-day as well as Sunday. He
drove home to Hampstead in the blue Runaway, with its silver fittings
winking in the sun, and garaged it near by.

He came in rather morosely, and was thoughtful over lunch, saying
little, till at the end of the meal he lifted his eyes to his wife's
tranquil face and said suddenly:

"I brought a car home. I want to take you for a run."

"And me, Daddy!" George shouted, but his father shook his head.

"No," he said doggedly, "not to-day. I just want mother."

"I'd love to come," said Marie readily.

Osborn was in a strange humour, like a fractious child, and she did
more than bear with it. She ignored it altogether. As they drove out
of London, the business of threading the maze of traffic kept him from
talking even if he would, but when they had run into silence and the
peace of the country, he was still quiet, gazing straight in front of
him, his hat jammed down over his eyes and his jaw set rigid. At last
he heard her voice saying:

"Isn't it lovely? I wish we had a car."

"We can have one if you like."

He drove on fast. Sometime this afternoon, when she had tasted the joy
of the day and the comfort of the car, he would tell her about
Sunday - no details, only the bleak blank fact:

"I shall be away all to-morrow; I'm motoring down to Brighton."

They went through Epsom and Leatherhead to more rustic villages
beyond, and he pulled up at last on the summit of a great hill,
fringed on either side with trees.

"This is a jolly place to stop for tea," he said, breaking his long
silence. "I've got everything here."

As he pulled out a tea basket from the back of the car she watched him
calmly. She still thought him excessively good-looking. In their
engaged days they had often escaped into the country - but on foot - and
picnicked together; each had known the other to be the most wonderful
person in the world. Now that love had passed the memory was well
worth keeping, and she enjoyed it quietly as she sat in the car,
looking down upon the back of his head bent over his task. He sat down
again, opening the basket between them, and set up the spirit stove
and lighted it for her to boil the minute kettle upon it. While she
did this, it was his turn to watch her; and presently from his
moroseness he said in a very soft voice:

"It's like old days, isn't it?"

"Only we're more gorgeous."

"You're enjoying it?"

"Immensely. Why wouldn't you take George?"

"I didn't want him. Did you?"

"I always want him."

"We're going to stay out till long past his bedtime."

"Are we?"

"There's a moon. It's tophole for motoring. I'm - taking this car out
again to-morrow."

"Are you?"

He shot a glance at her and postponed the matter. They drove on fast
and far, only turning when the moon was up and stars were in the sky.
They arrived again upon the summit of the great hill, the fringing
trees now black in the light of fairy whiteness, before he spoke again
of what filled his brain.

He drew up the car and, turning a look of inquiry upon him, she saw
him bending towards her, his eyes fixed upon her face. He flung out an
arm along the back of the seat, behind her.

"Marie," he said, "I want to ask you something which you can't
answer."

"Why ask it, then?"

"Because I'm going to. It's this: where are we two going?"

"You're right," she said slowly, "I can't answer that."

"What's the meaning of this dreadful indifference? This extraordinary
indifference?"

"It's not extraordinary; if you'd only believe me it's the
indifference thousands of women feel for their husbands; only in our
case special circumstances - your absence, mother's money - have made me
able to realise it."

"Well, if thousands of women have this indifference, which you say
isn't so very extraordinary, for their husbands, what - what's the way
all these chaps win these thousands of wives back?"

"They don't."

"But I want to win you back. Here and now, humiliating as it sounds, I
declare I'd follow you around on my knees if - if it meant getting
you."

"It wouldn't. I'm very sorry. Do you think you love me?"

His hand dropped down heavily on her shoulder.

"Yes!"

"I wish I loved you, but I don't. You - you've tired me out. I suppose
that's it."

"Very well, I'll take what you say. But I've another question. Don't
you guess where all this is driving me?"

"Don't hold me like that, Osborn."

"I'll only do it a few minutes. Answer my question. What do you expect
of me?"

"Absolutely nothing," she owned.

"And you don't care what I do; where I go; what happens?"

"It's curious; I don't. Once if I thought you met, looked at, spoke
to, any other woman prettier or better dressed than I could be, I
suffered torture. But now, I'm through with it. I'm sorry it should be
so."

"But that's that," said Osborn roughly, with a brief laugh.

He pulled her to him strongly, kissing her.

"I love you, you know. But if you've no more use for me - "

"Well?"

"Don't expect too much of me, that's all."

"I have told you that I expect nothing."

"Then you ought to!" he broke out angrily.

"I thought men appreciated complaisant wives."

"Complaisant? It's callousness; don't-careness. You mean me to
understand, then, that you've reckoned with everything?"

"No, I don't. I mean you to understand that I don't trouble to do any
reckoning about you at all."

As she uttered the words she was conscious of the brutality of them;
but she was speaking truth, representing those feelings which had
taken the place of love-emotions in her heart; and what else was there
to say?

"I must say," he said, "you're candid."

"I want to be. If we once thoroughly understood each other we'd shake
down better and go our ways in peace. I don't want formal separation,
for the children's sake."

"Formal separation? If we had that, because you refused to live with
me, desertion would be constituted and _I'd_ get the children,
you know."

"I wonder," she said, starting. "I should fight."

He saw the set meditation on her face under the moonlight.

"Would there be nothing I could say?" she asked, lifting her eyes to
his. "I wonder if there'd be no countercharge ingenuity could bring?"

She did not mean what occurred to him; the things in her mind were of
too untechnical a nature to find a hearing in the divorce courts; but
as she asked her question suddenly his heart seemed to rock and to
stand still for a space, while he shifted his eyes rapidly from hers
and gazed straight out over the steering-wheel, down the hill, into
the blue-white moonlit distance.

Roselle!

Who would believe his innocent tale if he stood up in that sad court
which recorded the most human of all frailties, and said: "We
travelled together here and we travelled together there; and I
defrayed these expenses and those expenses; and I've kissed her; and
yes, we've certainly been alone in very compromising circumstances,
but I ask you to believe that technically my marital honour is intact,
and that I've been true and faithful to my wife"?

The fun and the folly which had been so worth while, so like a draught
of wine on the cold journey through middle-class pauperism, now
appeared stripped of their carnival trappings. It was only folly which
stared back at him now, and she had become ugly; sickening and wholly
undesirable. Folly was utter trash. He replied to Marie in a voice so
studied as to rivet her attention, asking:

"What do you mean?"

She looked at him, and knowledge came to her, born of a swift
intuition raised by his obvious difficulties. In a flash she knew; but
even while she knew, she didn't care; it was lamentable, how dead she
was.

"Oh," she hesitated, a faint smile crossing her lips, "I mean nothing.
Please don't suppose I wish to make your private affairs mine."

So great was his want that she should feel, should ask and demand him
to give up his secrets, that he was impelled to declare:

"Marie, if you were to ask me, I'd tell you everything about this last
year. Every little thing. There should be nothing kept back from you."

"I don't ask, Osborn," she replied very gently.

Silence settled down upon them. They remained at the top of the great
hill, each staring down it into the long space of unearthly clearness
and light. Automatically he withdrew his arm from her shoulders where
it had been resting heavily and dropped his hand on the
steering-wheel. After awhile he said:

"By the way, I'm going out with this car to-morrow."

"So you told me," she answered.

"Had I mentioned it before?" he said thickly. "Well ... I shall be out
all day."

"Thank you for telling me. It's considerate of you. We make a little
difference in the catering if you're out."

He clenched his hand round the wheel.

"I'm running down to Brighton; but I shall get back to town for
dinner; late motoring's pretty cold in November. I shall be dining at
Pagani's - where we used to go so much, you remember."

"I remember. I hope you'll have a fine day."

He gave a savage twitch to the hand-brake, let in his clutch, and in a
moment or two the car ran forward.

"It beats me," he whispered to himself. "It - just - beats - me."

His whisper was lost in the rush of the car down the hill. His wife
had leaned back snugly under the fur rug and her profile in the
moonlight was serene, neither happy nor unhappy, but absolutely
complacent. He seemed to get a glimpse of their future, with her
figure travelling away into a far distance, divergent from his.

[Illustration:
Osborn \ / Osborn
\ /
\/ [Symbol: Crescent moon] Honeymoon
/\
/ \
Marie / \ Marie]

That was marriage.

Two strangers met each other; fused, became of one flesh and one
spirit, kindled a big hearth fire called home; travelled away from
each other; and two strangers died. Marriage!

The next day, Sunday, he took the Runaway out of her garage early, and
drove, earlier than the hour Roselle had mentioned, to the flat which
she shared with another woman swimming down the same stream as herself
and catching at the same straws.

She was not dressed; when a charwoman let him in upon the Sunday
morning debris of the place, Roselle's voice rang shrill and
ill-tempered down the corridor.

"Osborn, that you already? I'm not dressed; I've not breakfasted; I'm
not even awake. Just put your head in here and see."

Following the direction of the voice, he opened a door a few inches,
and put his head round. An array of women's litter confronted him
strewn on every available chair, on dressing-table and floor. The
windows must have been closed, or nearly so; the blinds were down;
there was a faint reek of perfume and spirits and stale cigarette
smoke in the room; and in two narrow tumbled beds were two women, one
whose head was still drowsy on her pillow, and Roselle, who sat up in
a pale blue nightgown with a black ribbon girdled high about the
waist, and her raven hair in a mop over her eyes.

"What a fug!" said Osborn.

"All right," said Roselle, "go away, then! I shall be an hour
dressing. You'd better wait in the sitting-room; there's a Sunday
paper there, and a fire if the woman's lighted it."

The woman was kindling the fire hastily and grumbling when he went
into the sitting-room, still in its state of early morning frowsiness.
The curtains had been pulled aside to let in the morning, but the
windows were not yet open, and empty liqueur glasses had not been
removed from the table.

"It's early for visitors," grumbled the charwoman. "I don't reckon to
come till nine on a Sunday morning, and I start with the washing-up,
and none of the rooms ain't done."

"I don't care a straw," said Osborn irritably, walking to a window. He
flung it up and heard the drab creature behind him shudder resentfully
at the inrush of raw air. He put his hands in his pockets, staring out
and emitting a tuneless whistle. All was awry, unprofitable and stale
as the cigarette smoke of which the place reeked.

Roselle was not an hour dressing, in spite of her threat. By eleven
they were away.

* * * * *

It happened that the only woman Osborn had taken down to Brighton for
the day, before he took Roselle, was Marie; and harmless as the
proceeding was, it affected him for a while as any first plunge
affects a man. It was like taking a first step which signified
something. As they sat at lunch, he looked around him and recognised
easily the types which he saw. Everybody was doing what he was doing;
everybody was out for pleasure with a flavouring of risk in it. Powder
and rouge and fur coats were like a uniform, so universal they were;
and as he looked around and saw the army of pleasure-women whose
company men purchased upon the basis on which you could purchase
things at the Stores, his would-be gaiety failed him somewhat and he
was a little weary.

Roselle found him dull.

They lunched, and talked, and the talk had to have a silly
meretricious flavour in it which tired him further; in the afternoon
they walked on the front; and they went to another hotel for tea.
There was a blaring band and much noise and laughter from all the
pleasure-people. The air was the air of a hothouse where strange,
forced and unnatural exotics bloom to please strange, forced and
unnatural tastes.

Osborn did not know why he found himself so sick, and so soon, of
what, to the woman at his side, was the breath of her life; he was
vexed and disappointed that to him the day was so stupid and so
savourless.

If the pleasures of men failed him, what was left?

He was thinking definitely while they drove on the much-trafficked
road back to more gaudy lights and noise, the lights and noise of
town; and he wondered how to fill the emptiness of his heart, how to
appease the restless burning of his brain, and stifle before they
could cry out all the dear things his soul wanted. He looked at the
woman by his side, insatiable, greedy, stupid, nothing to all
appearances but a beautiful body, and he asked himself if she could do
it, or if she could not. And while he knew, right down in him, that
she could not fulfil a fraction of his needs, he desired so much to
believe that she could, that, in spite of his weariness with this
miscalled business of pleasure, he made hot love to her all the way
back.

Over the dinner-table at Pagani's he advanced a farther step upon the
road which he was resolved to walk with her, failing other
companionship.

"Roselle," he said, deliberately, "this isn't enough. How long are you
going to play about with me like a beautiful pussy cat? I've been very
good, haven't I? When I think of what a good boy I've been I could
laugh." He laughed deeply. "You know, I could love you a lot. Why
don't you give me a trial? There isn't anyone else, is there?"

He was amazed at himself to feel jealousy hot in him as he put the
question.

There was no one else at the moment; but she sat thinking and playing
with the stem of her wineglass, and keeping a half-cynical,
half-simpering silence. It was the veil with which she shrouded her
stupidity while she debated the _pros_ and _cons_ with herself as
deliberately as she had spoken.

"No," she said at last, with a long, meaning look which meant nothing.
"No, there is no one else, Osborn." Her sigh ruffled the chiffons on
her breast.

"I'm going to Paris for the firm next month; it'll only be a week-end.
Come, too? I'll give you a good time."

"I'll see," she murmured, her stupidity not dense enough to give a
promise thus early. A month? A long, long while, an age, in which
other things might turn up.

"So'll I," he said, looking into her eyes. "I'll see that you come."

"I haven't a rag to wear."

"You'll have all Paris to choose from."

"I do want a couple of hats," she said, with the worldly yet childish
_naïveté_ of her class; "I'm going to Bristol in panto - at
Christmas, you know."

"I'll come down."

She was conscienceless, like the rest of her type. She knew, her
observation had told her long ago, that this man had ties, domestic
relations, duties; all of which mattered nothing to her. Before her
wants and desires, momentary though they might be, all considerations
flew like thistledown before strong wind.

A Nero among women, like the rest of her pleasure-sisters, she was
planned for destruction and she went upon her way destroying. The
loudest cry could not reach her, nor the greatest sorrow touch her;
nor could broken hearts block the path to the most fleeting of her
desires.

She cared not who wept; as she had no faith, nor power for pity, so
she had no tears.

She took Osborn Kerr into her hands.

She said idly, to pass the time, but softly, just as if there was some
meaning behind the question: "What made you think there was anyone
else, dear?"

He looked at her and spoke rather hoarsely, under the influence of the
matter in hand: "Oh well; there might have been. Roselle, do you think
you can love me?"

"I could," she answered. She assimilated the details of a near-by
toilette. "But - "

"Don't let's have any 'buts.'"

She had no subtlety, only the power of making what she said subtle;
and she said:

"I don't know that loving is wise."

Osborn was in her hands; thrown upon her mercy; a beggar for just so
much as she cared to give. He answered:

"Who cares about wisdom? It's the only thing worth doing, anyway."

Roselle began pulling her fur coat up over her arms; it was past ten
o'clock; and on Sundays she went to bed early, to counteract as far as
might be the results of all the late nights during the week.

"Take me home," she demanded.

In the taxicab Osborn took her into his arms and began whispering to
her things to which she did not listen; had he only known it, she was
extremely sleepy from the effects of all the fresh air during the day,
but triumphantly he took her inertia for the surrender for which he
had, so suddenly, craved.

He was begging for that promise about Paris, but she would not give
it. A month? What an age it was - any good thing might happen.

She would not let him come into the flat. "I'm too sleepy," she
declared. She stood before him on the inner side of her threshold,
with a faint smile on her face that was as pale as magnolia flowers,
and her eyelids drooping heavily; she put out a lazy hand against his
chest and warded off his entry. When she sent him away, he felt on
fire, from the last look of her, thus.




CHAPTER XXVI

COMPREHENSION


When Marie had waved to her husband a stereotyped good-bye, and had
kissed schoolboy George a warm one, on Monday morning, when leisurely
quiet had come again to the flat, and as she still lingered over her
newspaper, the door bell rang and Mrs. Desmond Rokeby was admitted.

Julia - fresh, heavenly, without a frown, without a care, without a
regret - blew into Number Thirty like a Christmas rose and clasped
Marie in a glad embrace.

"It's early; it's shockingly early, but I came up with Desmond this
morning and knowing your habits - you _do_ still wheel your own
perambulator on the Heath, don't you, at eleven-thirty? - I rushed here
first."

"How splendid you look!"

"I feel splendid!" The two women stood at arm's length, eyeing each
other inquisitively and frankly, and Julia's ingenuous blush was the
reflection of a divine dawn.

She sat down, put her feet on the fender, loosened her furs.

"I may stay and talk?"

"May you _not_! Oh! I'm glad to see you - it seemed as if your
honeymoon was going to last for ever."

"It's not over."

"That's what we all say."

"Don't be cynical, dear," said the new Julia.

Marie waved this away with a brief laugh. "I want all your news," she
demanded. "Where are you living? What are your plans? What's the house
like, and where did you get your furniture?"

"We've got a wee house, the dearest thing, near Onslow Gardens, and
we've not finished furnishing yet; we're proceeding with it this
afternoon. I'm lunching with Desmond, and then we're going furnishing
together. Desmond loves it."

"And you - you're happy?"

"Oh, Marie! I was never so happy in my life."

The baby rose from its play at the other side of the dining-room, and,
tottering to her mother, begged to be lifted upon her lap.

"I only want one of _those_," said Julia, regarding the mite.

"That will come," Marie replied with a forced gaiety.

"Desmond took me for a motoring honeymoon," said Julia. "As you know,
we had made no plans. There wasn't time. At least, _I_ hadn't,
but it seemed he'd got them all mapped out in his head, the wicked
thing! We had a simply lovely time, and coming home is lovelier. I
adore pottering round a house, arranging this and that, and ordering
the dinner."

"_You_ enjoy it?"

"Why shouldn't I?"


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19

Online LibraryMay EdgintonMarried Life The True Romance → online text (page 19 of 20)