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May Edginton.

Married Life The True Romance online

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"But you hated the domestic life; you were always up in arms at the
thought of marriage; you loathed even hearing of a wedding. You used
to talk of slavery ... don't you remember?"

"Ah, but - that was before I married."

"Then, what do you think now?"

"It's the only life," Julia stated with final conviction. "It's meant
for us all; we were made for it; and we're never truly happy
otherwise. Desmond and I have talked over all these things, and I
understand a lot which I didn't understand before."

Marie stroked the baby's curly head without replying; she held its
feet in her hand, and caressed them, and patted its small fat legs,
and coaxed a gurgle from it. But even while the baby ravished her
heart, the heart was busy with the bride before her and the bridal
raptures which she had known, only to lose upon the wayside where so
many bridal raptures lie dead and dying; outworn and weary. Tears to
which she had long been a stranger rose in her eyes, and formed one of
those big hurtful lumps in her throat, so that she would not trust her
voice to Julia's ears.

That dreadful softness of longing - she had thought she would never
know it again, never more be covered with it like a shore beneath the
inward flow of the sea.

"Desmond wants to meet Osborn," said Julia. "He rang him up on
Saturday morning, but he was engaged. Won't you and your husband come
to dinner with me and my husband one evening at Onslow Gardens?"


Julia uttered the words "my husband" with a pleasure which she could
not secrete from the eyes of Marie. Had she not known it, too? Had she
not once delighted in saying, "My husband thinks." ... "My husband
says." ... "My husband does...." simply for the crass joy of hearing
the sound?

Julia went on:

"When can it be? Let's fix a date early. Do, there's a dear! There'll
be a peculiar joy to Desmond and me in having in our own house Osborn
and you, the very two people who always told us the truth about
marriage, and urged us to go and do likewise!"

"The truth?" Marie echoed.

"How wonderful it was!" Julia said sublimely.

As Julia sat there, glowing and content, Marie recognised that she had
forgotten all the sad things she had been told and that only the glory
remained. Julia had harked back to that first year in which the young
Kerrs had chanted together:

"Marriage is the only life."

And separately:

"A woman can be an angel."

"A man a brute? A man's a god."

Julia continued: "To-day's Monday. We're still furnishing, of course,
as I told you, but that won't matter, will it? Can you both come to
dinner on Thursday and see the two happiest people in the world?"

"Edifying as the sight must be - " Marie began with smiling lips. But
then she put the baby down and, covering her face with her hands,
cried bitterly: "Would the two happiest people in the world like to
see the two miserablest people in it?"

While her face was still covered, she felt Julia's arms about her,
heard her disconcerted voice begging to be told. But when at last
Marie looked up, with tears salt and bitter on her cheeks, it was to
reply sombrely:

"There's nothing to tell."

"What has happened?" Julia begged.

Marie said slowly, twisting her hands: "I felt, when I came home,
after a joy-year which he didn't want to give me the remotest chance
of sharing, that - that I could never forgive him for all those years
of losing my health and looks, those years of work and worry and
child-bearing; those years of quarrelling and grudging; those dead,
drab, ugly, ordinary married years. And so...."

"And so, my dear?"

"And so I have not forgiven him. He killed the love in me. There is no
more for him."

"If there is no more," said Julia, with a sudden instinct, "why do you
cry, my dear? And why does this hurt you so?"

"To - to see you so happy," Marie whispered up to her, "to see you and
Desmond as Osborn and I once were."

"And as you want to be again, my dear, if you only knew it."

"It's too late for that."

"Marie, what do you mean?"

"I told him to make his own life. I'm not a dog-in-the-manger woman,
anyway. What I don't want I'll give away freely."

"What can you mean?"

"I've given him away." The knowledge that had come upon her in the car
that Saturday afternoon made her voice grim. "He's gone elsewhere,"
she said; "I feel it; I know it. A wife can sense these things as a
barometer senses rain."

"Oh, Marie!" Julia whispered, and for a while there was silence in the
room, broken only by the chuckles of the baby-girl. Both women looked
down, at the sound, upon the fluffy head and Julia asked, still in a
bated whisper:

"What do you think you'll do?"

"Nothing," said Marie, "above all, nothing. The children will keep us
under the same roof. We shall be like thousands of other married
people, privately free; publicly tied up tight together in the same
dear old knot."

Her brief laugh trembled.

"Marie, you know you think it _is_ a dear old knot."

Marie did not reply. After awhile she said:

"We're not coming to dinner with you for a very long while. This
morning I've come nearer hating you, Julia, than I've ever done in our
lives. I want to hate you because you're so happy; because you've got
the love which I want but can never have again."

"Are you sure of that?"

"Sure, my dear? Sure as the world. You can't have that kind of love
without giving a return, and I've none to give. It's dead; gone; dried
up. I don't know where it is. But perhaps there's a root of it left
somewhere - enough to make me envy you."

Ann the maid entered to fetch the baby to be dressed for outdoors, and
Julia received the hint sorrowfully.

"Isn't there anything Desmond and I could do?" she asked, as she stood
up and muffled her furs about her throat.

"There's nothing anyone can do."

"I wanted to talk about a lot of things - ask you about your fortunes,
and everything, darling; but this has driven it all clean out of my
head."

"Our fortunes are on the upgrade, thanks, Julia. Never again will I
spoil my hands and let my teeth and hair go; it's all over - that part
of it."

Julia kissed Marie very tenderly, as she used to do. "I shall come
again soon," she called with an anxious vivacity, as she waved her
muff in a good-bye signal from a bend in the cold grey stairs.

But Marie went in again very quickly and shut the door. She stood with
her hands clenched and her breast heaving, tears running unchecked
down her cheeks.

She stood on tiptoe to peer into the glass over the mantel, and the
storm in her face quickened the storm in her heart. Raging jealousy
entered and possessed her. It whirled about like a tornado, scattering
before it all that was orderly, that was lesser and weaker than
itself. Marie Kerr was taken up in the grip of it, and driven along
upon a headlong course which she could not pause to consider.

As she looked at herself in the glass, she cried aloud furiously: "No
one shall ever take what is mine!"

Little pulses began to hammer in her, which had not so hammered since
Osborn started upon his joy-year. No more could she bear contemplation
of Julia and her delight. She ran along the corridor to her room,
calling to the maid:

"You'll have to take baby out this morning; and do the shopping; and,
oh! _everything_. I've got to go out, and I don't know when I'll
be back."

With the door of the pink bedroom shut upon her, she dressed herself
with trembling speed. Her new black velvet suit, her furs, her
violets, her amethyst earrings, her silk stockings, and suede shoes
and white gloves! Thank God for clothes when a woman was out upon the
chase!

She whispered with an anger that was fiendish; that rose from its dust
right back from the age of barbarism, and came at her call:

"No one shall take what is mine!"

She swept money lavishly into her bag; no expenses of locomotion were
going to stand in her way. She flew down the cold grey stairs and out
into the street. Because the Tube would be quicker than a cab, she
travelled upon it; and people looked at her fevered cheeks, her
shining eyes, wondering what drove this lovely woman, and upon what
errand. Excitement beautified her and gave to her a transcendent
quality which drew all eyes.

Uplifted as she was, yet she noticed this homage, and her woman's soul
leapt, exulting. It was like applause; like a great voice encouraging,
cheering her on. It gave her pride and the supreme vanity to pursue
her way.

She left the Tube at Charing Cross, and drove in a taxicab to her
husband's place of business. One or two urbane men, strangers to her,
hurried forward as she alighted from the cab, inquiring her pleasure,
and she said, smiling: "I want my husband; I'm Mrs. Kerr."

As she said "My husband," delight took her, absurdly like Julia's. She
checked a laugh at it.

Osborn had gone out to lunch.

"Did they know where?"

"I heard him telephone, booking a table for two at the Royal Red," one
of the men said, and bit off his words suddenly as he caught the
humorous warning look of the other. The look said: "We're all the
same; don't get the poor fellow into trouble."

She understood it and again checked a laugh. She thanked them, jumped
into the taxicab, and as the two men hurried after her, vying with
each other as to which should do her the service of closing the door,
she leaned forward and said buoyantly:

"Yes, you've given my husband away badly! The table _wasn't_ for
me! Tell the driver to go to the Royal Red."

She could joke about the matter, so complete she felt her power to be.
She had in her, strong and vital, an irresistible feeling of
achievements to come, as if nothing in the world could defeat her
purpose, nor gainsay her will; it was like an inspiration which cannot
be wrong. And as she entered the restaurant, and swept her eyes over
the ground floor, she found at once those whom she looked for - her
husband and the other woman.

As she went forward slowly, calm now, confident and at ease, she
remembered, with a rising and fierce sense of satisfaction, the raven
hair, the high shoulders and white face, the attractive insolence of
her rival. They had been before upon the same battle-ground; but now
the battle was level; nay, it was more than level; it waxed in favour
of the wife, who, with every weapon to her hand, advanced leisurely to
employ them against the woman who had none save that of her stupid
beauty, allied to the strategy of her greed.

Marie came right up and stood by their table before Osborn perceived
her; then she smiled.

She stepped into the breach of silence promptly, with sweet speech.

"I hope," she said, "I'm not intruding? But I'm shopping, and I was
told you had come here, and I wanted lunch, so I followed. Do
introduce me to this lady and give me some."

He stammered, somehow:

"Miss Dates, my wife."

Marie sat down.

"Where are you?" she said, glancing at the menu. "The roast - I'll join
you there. Do tell me I'm not intruding, both of you. I am conscious
of this being a horrible thing to do and I want to be reassured."

"Delighted to see you," Roselle chimed glibly, sweeping the wife with
a look of comprehending fury to which even her slug nature could rouse
itself upon such an occasion.

"If you'd rung me up, dear," said Osborn to his wife, "I should have
been charmed to take you anywhere you liked."

"And broken your appointment with me!" Roselle supplied suddenly, and
the gage was down between the two women.

Roselle Dates eyed the wife warily and feared her. And the measure of
her hate matched that of her fear. Leaning forward, her white chin on
her white hands, she cooed across the table:

"But I'd have forgiven him, Mrs. Kerr, if it was only for the sake of
the jolly time he gave me yesterday."

"At Brighton?" Marie smiled across at Osborn.

He nodded. "I told you I was going."

"Do you like the car?" Marie asked Roselle sweetly.

"She's a duck," said the other woman, her eyes snapping, "but of
course yesterday wasn't my first acquaintance with her. I know her
every trick well. When we were in New York people were so struck by
her neatness in traffic."

Osborn started involuntarily, exclaiming as involuntarily:

"Roselle!"

"What?" she asked, turning a stare upon him.

He fidgeted uncomfortably. "Don't be an ass," he said. "Marie - "

"What, dear?" asked his wife.

Again he fidgeted. "When Miss Dates mentions being in New York - " he
began.

"And Chicago and all through Canada from Montreal to the West," said
Roselle, continuing upon the breakneck course she seemed to have
chosen in a moment.

"She means to tell you," said Osborn doggedly, "that she was doing a
concert tour which coincided almost, though not quite, with my
movements, and that having met her on board, we - we did some motoring
together."

Breathless, he awaited the working of the most amazing situation in
which he had ever found himself, and he had not long to wait. He did
not know how much his wife knew nor what might be her summing up; he
did not know that during the night Roselle had slept upon the problem
of himself and had concluded he was too good to lose; he did not
understand in the least what motives were actuating these two women;
the flaming and insolent resentment of Roselle at the other's mere
presence; the calm and pretty pose of his wife. He gazed at each in
embarrassed bewilderment, and Roselle, her chin still on her palms,
and her eyes bright and stony, commented on his explanation. She
drawled:

"Osborn, you're a liar. Your wife knows as well as I do that she could
divorce you to-morrow."

"But Miss Dates would be a fool, which I am sure she is not," said the
wife's pretty voice, "if she imagines I would do it."

Husband and wife looked at each other across the table, and the
question in the eyes of one, the answer in the eyes of the other, were
naked and unashamed. They could be read by the woman between them. And
regardless of her presence, they asked and answered each other in
eager words.

"Marie, do you want me?"

"Yes; I want you."

Osborn turned to Roselle Dates. He turned to her as to something
tiresome, hindering the true business of the hour. "Roselle," he said
crisply, "my wife wishes to lunch with me alone. Will you go; or shall
we?"

"I'll go," she replied very slowly, "but I shall expect some sort of
explanation."

He stood up and put on her coat and their eyes were almost level,
looking right into each other's.

"An explanation? You won't get it," he whispered back.

"It's due to me. You're a rotter."

"There's nothing due to you," he replied with a sudden air of relief
at the discovery.

An abounding idea of happiness to come filled him as he moved beside
Roselle down the crowded restaurant. As they went he said: "It's all
over; I'm a fool no longer. You understand there's only one woman in
the world for me and that's my wife. And since she has some use for me
again ... Good-bye!"

He held out his hand, but she refused it angrily. She stood, biting
her lip, tapping her foot, her head averted, upon the kerb; her
attitude of pique was amusingly familiar to him; often it had gained
for her the gratification of some petulant desire; but now all that he
wanted was to hurry back to the table they had left.

There were real things; and trash; well defined.

"Taxi!" he said in a ringing voice to the commissionaire.

"Where are you going, Roselle?"

"Home," she answered venomously.

He put her in, paid the driver and gave the direction. "I'm sorry you
had not quite finished your lunch," he said perfunctorily, looking in.

She bit her lip and averted her head; but she was aware, in spite of
her refusal to see, or hear, or speak to him, that before her cab had
started he was returning back with a swift step into the restaurant.

There sat the wife who held all the cards - as wives do if they will
only play them aright. She was not smiling, nor exultant, nor blatant
over it, but triumph was in every line of her as she waited there,
slender, lovely, and sartorially exquisite. From the tip of her shoe
to the crown of her hat she was conquest.

He sat down, thinking over words to say, and she looked at him
critically, yet eagerly, and waited for him to speak.

He cleared his throat.

"Marie," he said, "hang lunch - until you understand me. This has
been an extraordinary quarter of an hour. I didn't know you had it
in you. You women - you have me fairly beat. I just want - I hope - I
long for you to believe me, when I tell you that rot she talked
about divorce ... that is to say, I swear to you, that, except on
circumstantial evidence, you wouldn't have the ghost of a case. But,
Marie, on circumstantial evidence, I - I don't know that a judge and
jury wouldn't convict me."

His wife was still looking at him critically, eagerly; and he met her
eyes full, and saw, down in the depths wherein had been his delight, a
great faith.

She believed him.

He tingled with joy. "I've been a fool," he weighed out slowly. "We
are; and we - we want looking after, you know. We can't stand our wives
forsaking us. We ask a lot of you, I suppose. Yes, it's a lot."

"Well," she murmured, "we've always got it to give. We're made that
way."

"Not all of you," he denied, with a fleeting thought of Roselle.

"Tell me," Marie asked, "what were you and she talking of so earnestly
when I came in? It won't matter anyway - but I'm just curious to know."

"Shall I tell you?"

"I've asked."

He answered very slowly, as if still weighing his words: "We were
talking of a coming trip I have to make to Paris; I was asking her if
she wouldn't come, too."

A little colour rose in his wife's face.

"I'll come instead," she said clearly.

* * * * *

Osborn Kerr let himself into No. 30, Welham Mansions, laden with
packages. He knew not what thank-offerings to make to heaven, so he
made them to his family. Flowers and chocolate boxes hung about him.

He whistled gaily.

Only three hours ago he had parted from her after that memorable lunch
and, now, here he was again with her in the place called home.

At the sound of his key she came out of her bedroom, dressed for
dinner. The flat was quiet save for homely sounds from the kitchen.
Osborn took his wife in his arms and kissed her. He stated
exuberantly: "I came home early; I just had to."

They went into the sitting-room hand in hand, and she sat down on the
chesterfield before the fire. He did not want to sit down; he was too
happy and restless and urgent. Now and again he hung over the back of
the couch, to caress her, or whisper love words in her ear, and now
and again he walked about touching this or that familiar object and
finding new attractions in each. It was like the first coming to that
flat when the very taps over the sink had been superior to all other
taps under the rosy flicker of the new-kindled fire of love.

What an evening it was! He kept saying, breaking away from some other
thing, to say it: "I can't think this is all true. I can't think that
you are just you, and I am just I, all over again. And that we're
really going to be the two happiest souls on earth!"

He came to Grannie Amber's old rosewood piano and stood touching it
reverently. "There's a little thing I heard," he exclaimed suddenly,
"that I'd like to sing to you. It's called 'Please,' and it's just
what I'm saying to you all the time."

He sat down to vamp an odd accompaniment indifferently, but Marie was
not listening for the accompaniment. It was his voice which she
wanted, and gave her ears to hear; and he sang:

"Oh, Heart-of-all-the-World to me,
I love you more than best;
Then lie so gently in my arms
And droop your head and rest.
My kisses on your dark, dark hair
Nor Time nor tears shall grey;
_But the little wandering, laughing loves
They flower beside the way._

"Slender and straight you came to me,
And straight the path you trod;
Your faithfulness was more than faith,
Like the faithfulness of God.
I cannot pay you all I owe,
Though what I owe I pay:
_But the little wandering, laughing loves
They flower beside the way._

"So take my life, who gave me all,
Between your so small hands,
With the blind, untaught, unfaltering touch
A woman understands;
And save me, since I would be saved,
And do not let me stray
_With the little wandering, laughing loves
That flower beside the way._"

"That is the husband's 'Please,'" said Osborn, humbly.

She stood up erect, and cried out: "No one shall take what is mine!"

The door opened, and the maid stood there, saying quietly: "Dinner is
served, ma'am."

They went in hand in hand, regardless of her. They sat down and looked
at each other under pink candle-shades. The golden-brown curtains were
drawn evenly down the whole length of the much-windowed wall, and
splashed rich colour against the prevailing cream. The wedding-present
silver glittered upon the white cloth. What a dear room it was! How
happily appointed and magically ordered!

He adored, across the space, the most darling woman that heaven ever
spared to make joy for a mortal man. And she, returning his look with
the same verdant wonder at the beauty of all things, saw before her
husband and lover; he whom she had chosen to mate with; he who had
taught her the beginning of joy; the finest man in the world.



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