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Her anxious look at her girl was dispelled by the brightness in the
bride's face. The small home was very snug; it maintained a high tone
of comfort and elegance. Mrs. Amber sat down by the dining-room fire
and drew off her gloves and said:

"Now tell me all about it, duck."

"All about what?" said Marie.

"The honeymoon," said Mrs. Amber.

Marie looked at her mother as if she were mad. She smiled at the fire.
"We had a lovely time," she replied evasively.

"And had that man lighted the fires yesterday? I couldn't get
round - "

"It was all absolutely ready, thank you, mother."

"I brought the things the day before, except the cream. That I told
him to get. And the flowers. I don't see the flowers, love."

"They are mostly in the drawing-room," said Marie.

"I should like to see the drawing-room now it's finished," said Mrs.
Amber, rising eagerly.

In the small room of pale hues she stood satisfied, almost entranced.
But she had those sad things to say which occur inevitably to elderly
women of domestic avocations.

"This white paint! You'll have something to do, my child, keeping it
clean. It marks so. I know that. Yes, it's pretty, but this time next
year I hope you won't be sorry you had it. But of course, just for the
two of you - well, you'll both have to be careful. You'll have to warn
Osborn, my dear. Men need reminding so often."

"Osborn is rather different from most men," said Marie. "He is so very
thoughtful; he made me some tea early this morning, and did the
dining-room grate, and lighted the geyser, and everything."

"That won't last, my dear," replied Mrs. Amber, in a tone of quiet
authority, but not lamenting.

"Osborn is not a man who changes, mother," said Marie.

"The chintz is a little light; it will show marks almost as much as
the paint, I'm afraid, duck," Mrs. Amber continued. "I don't know if
it wouldn't have been better to choose a darker ground. However, you
can wash these covers at home. The frills are the only parts which you
need to iron. I dare say you know that, dear?"

"Oh, well, I shan't have to think of those things yet, mother. I dare
say Osborn would prefer me to send them to the cleaner's, anyway."

"People live more extravagantly now," said Mrs. Amber. "I should have
done them at home."

"Things change."

Mrs. Amber thought. "In marriage," she stated presently, "someone has
to make sacrifices."

"Why should it be the woman?"

"Because the woman," answered Mrs. Amber quoting someone she had once
heard, "is naturally selected for it."

"Mother," said Marie, "don't be tiresome."

Mrs. Amber went away reluctantly at three o'clock. She was a wise
woman, and did not want to appear ubiquitous. At four, while Marie was
unpacking the trunks they had brought yesterday, Julia came in.

"I begged off an hour earlier," she stated.

She looked quite moved, for Julia; she held Marie at arm's length,
stood off and surveyed her. "Well," she asked, "how are you?"

"Very well, and awf'ly happy."

Once more the kettle boiled on the gas-stove; once more toast baked
under the grill; and the girls, one eager to tell, the other eager to
listen, sat down on the hearthrug in the little dining-room to talk.

"What is marriage really like?" said Julia incredulously. "Haven't you
any fault to find? Any fly in your ointment?"

And Marie replied: "Absolutely none."

"It seems wonderful," said Julia thoughtfully.

"It is wonderful," cried Marie fervently; "it is so wonderful that a
girl can hardly believe it, Julia. But there it is. Marriage is the
only life. I wish you'd believe me. All the old life seems so little
and light and trivial and silly - that is, all of it which I can
remember, for it seems nearly swept away. Mother came in this
morning - if it hadn't been for her I don't think I'd have remembered
anything at all of what ever happened to me before I was Osborn's
wife. It's beginning all new, you see. It's like starting on the best
holiday you ever had in your life, which is going to last for ever.
Try to imagine it."

"Ah," said Julia sourly, "a holiday! Holidays _don't_ last for
ever. You always come back to the day's work and the old round."

"You need a holiday yourself," said Marie severely. "You're so bitter.
You want something to sweeten you."

Julia looked at Marie with a yearning softness unexpected in her.
"Well, haven't I come to see _you_? You're the sweetest thing I
know. And it's fine to see you so happy. As for your toast, it's
scrumptious."

"Eat it quickly. I want to show you round before I begin to cook
dinner."

"Fancy you cooking dinner!" said Julia, looking at Marie's little,
pampered hands.

Marie had the first faint thrill of the heroine.

"I have to. We can't afford a servant, you know, yet, though, when
Osborn gets his rise, perhaps we shall."

"When will that be?"

"Oh, I don't know. This year - next year - "

"Sometime - never," said Julia.

"Osborn is very clever. He is so valuable to his firm; they wouldn't
lose him for anything, so they'll have to give him a bigger salary.
Brains like Osborn's don't go cheap."

"That's awf'ly nice," Julia replied. She looked down, and stroked the
furs which she had bought for herself, and thought for a while.

"Show me the flat, there's a dear."

Julia professed raptures over all she saw; kissed Marie, and was gone.
Once more the bride, but alone this time, turned earnestly to work.

The work seemed long and arduous and hot and nerve-racking, in spite
of the amenities of the gas stove. She was so anxious to have all
perfect. Once more the table was decked, the rose shades were placed
over the candles, the sitting-room fire was lighted, the coffee
apparatus was made ready.

Marie rushed into The Frock, determined to keep up the standard they
had set themselves, just two minutes before Osborn arrived home.

He kneeled to kiss her; they embraced rapturously.

"You've had a nice day?" he was anxious to know.

"Lovely. Mother came, and Julia, and I unpacked, and went to market,
and did everything by myself - "

"I'm glad you had plenty to amuse you, dear one."

"'Amuse'?" said Marie a trifle blankly. "I've been working ever so
hard all day, really, Osborn."

"Work?" he teased, smiling. "You 'working'!" He kissed one little hand
after the other. "They couldn't," he mumbled over them. He seemed to
take woman's great tasks lightly, as if he did not realise how
serious, how enervating they were.

"They're too pretty," he said.

He began to talk, while he carved the chicken.

"It seemed a bit beastly to go back to work to-day after our good
time. However, I've all the more reason for going back to work now,
haven't I, Mrs. Kerr? You'll keep me up to the scratch, won't you?
Look! I'm carving this bird like an old family man already. They were
all asking me, down there, how I liked my honeymoon, and where we went
and what we saw. A lot of them began talking of the time they'd had.
They all said it never lasts. People are fools, aren't they?"

"Not to make it last?" said Marie. "Yes, dear."

"The attitude of the average man towards married life is sickening,"
said Osborn, "but I'm glad to think _you'll_ never know anything
about that, little girl."

Marie had a great feeling, as she looked under the candle-shades, at
Osborn, that she had found the king of men: lover, protector and
knight.

"The attitude of the average woman towards married life is perfectly
mean, Osborn. But _you'll_ never know anything about that,
either."

He knew, as he returned her look across the flowers, that he alone had
achieved every man's desire; he had found the perfect mate; she who
would never soil, nor age, nor weep, nor wound; the jewel-girl.




CHAPTER V

HOUSEKEEPING


Marie had not thought of money in relation to herself and Osborn. He
was known, in the set among which they both moved, and had met and
loved and married, as a promising young fellow doing very well indeed,
in a steady fashion, for his age. He had a salary, when they set up
housekeeping in No. 30, of two hundred a year, with a very good rise
indeed, a 25 per cent, rise, at the end of every five years. And he
earned this and that now and again in odd channels, vaguely dubbed
commission, or expenses. So, as a bachelor, Osborn could be almost
splendid in their set, and as a husband he was resolved to be
conscientious and careful. He had decided to give up his inexpensive
club, and presently he meant to go into the matter of conscience and
care, to give it a figure, but not so soon after the honeymoon as
Marie drew him into it. It was all very comfortable saying to oneself:
"I must make some arrangement; all in good time," but the making of it
left one a little cold, a little surprised, inclined to thought.

When the Kerrs had been housekeeping for a week, the butcher and baker
and the rest of the clan each dropped through the letter-slit in the
front door of No. 30 a very clean, spruce, new book, and the young
wife gathered them up with eager trepidation. She had been washing up,
when the books arrived, all the dinner things left over from the night
before, and the breakfast things of this morning, and from the kitchen
she heard and recognised the blunt thump as each record of her
housekeeping talents or failings dropped upon the hall floor. She
rushed out, collected them, and retired to the dining-room hearthrug
to meet her responsibilities.

She knew the sum total was all wrong; her mother's tradesmen's books
never reached this figure. Yet people must eat, mustn't they? And wash
with soap? And have boot polish, and cleaning things, and candles for
their dinner-table?

She asked herself, as so many young wives have done, half-sorrowing,
half-injured: "But what have we _had_? I've been awf'ly careful.
I couldn't have managed with less. I shall tell Osborn that it simply
can't be done for less - "

She shut the books one by one. "But it must," she said to herself.
"Our income is - "

She figured out, with pencil and paper and much distaste, their weekly
income; she compared it with the sum total of the tradesmen's books,
and to that one must add rent, and travel, and holidays and doctor's
expenses.

Doctor's expenses? Cut that item out. One must never be ill, that's
all.

She was glad she was going to meet Osborn that afternoon, and have tea
with him in the West End; he was to beg off early specially for it.

The flat seemed very silent. What a deserted place! It would be nice
to go out and see someone, speak to someone.

She went to lie down.

She lay on her pink quilt, and began on that castle again. It was a
fine place, a real family seat. While she built, she manicured her
finger nails, looking at them critically. She had not begun to spoil
them yet, thanks to the rubber gloves and the housemaid's gloves with
which Osborn had declared his eternal readiness to provide her. No one
would feel it more deeply than Osborn if one of those slim fingers
were burned or soiled or roughened ever so little.

She had a few coppers only in her private purse, but they would carry
her to Osborn, the legal fount of supply. Out into a fine afternoon
she stepped lightly, and the admiring hall porter watched her go. He
was not so certain of her, though, for he had seen many young brides
pass through his portals, in and out every day, ridden always by some
small fretting care till they trembled at the sight of someone who was
always looking, through their ageing clothes, at the ill-kept secrets
of their pockets. He had entered in his memoranda that the Kerrs
rented only a forty-pound flat.

Heedless of the hall porter, Marie was away upon her joyous errand.
She was very young, very healthy, and she looked ravishing. These
things she knew, and they were enough. She went upon the top of an
omnibus to the City street where was her rendezvous, but in her gala
suit, her gala hat, and the furs which had nearly broken Mrs. Amber,
she felt immensely superior to such humble mode of travel.

Before she alighted from the omnibus she saw, from her altitude,
Osborn striding along the street. He was not alone; Desmond Rokeby was
with him, listening to something which Osborn was telling him eagerly.
Although Marie could not hear the words, she leaned over and looked
down with delight upon her man whom she had chosen, so tall and smart,
and fine, and young. She loved the turn of his head, the swing of his
shoulders, his quick tread and eager look, as if all life were
unrolling before him like a map, and he could choose at his lordly
will any one of the thousand roads upon it. Osborn was speaking of his
wife; he was telling Rokeby about the splendour of the game he had
learned to play. He was trying to tell Rokeby something of the wonders
and beauties of one woman's mind and heart; and he was telling him,
too, of smaller things, of the comforts and attractions of home, of
the little kingdom behind a shut front door, of the angel's food an
angel cooked, and all her benevolences and graces and mercies.

As he spoke, diffidently but glowingly, of these things, with his
words rushing out, or halting over something that was not to be told,
his attention was called to the omnibus top on which Marie sat; he did
not know what called him, only that he was called, and there she was,
leaning over, smiling between the soft rim of her furs and the
down-drawn brim of her hat, with her big muff held up against her
breast, cuddlingly. Osborn gasped and stood hat in hand, with his face
turned upwards.

"Have you seen a vision, man?" asked Rokeby.

"There's Marie," Osborn answered.

Marie descended daintily and crossed the street to the two men. Her
hair gleamed and her feet were so light that she seemed to dance like
a shaft of sunshine. At the moment she was a queen, as every pretty
girl is at moments, with two subjects ready to obey.

Rokeby greeted her smilingly with admiration. "Mrs. Kerr, Osborn talks
of no one but you all day. He was in the midst of a song like
Solomon's, only modernised, when that chariot of yours bore down upon
him and cut it short. How are you? But I needn't ask. And when may I
call?"

"Oh, sometime, old man! We'll fix a day," said Osborn, signalling to a
taxicab. He jumped in after his wife, and Rokeby went on his way good
humouredly. "The perfect deluded ass!" he thought, "and may the dear
chap ever remain so!"

Osborn explained to Marie. "He needn't call _yet_. I'm hanged if
he's going to come around the loveliest girl in town in the
afternoons, when her lawful husband isn't in; and I'm equally hanged
if he's going to break in upon one of our very own evenings. So as all
the evenings are our very own, there's nothing to be done about it, is
there? What do you say, Mrs. Osborn Kerr?"

"We don't want anyone else," said Marie.

"You do look sweet," Osborn cried, "I want all the world to see me
with you. So where'll we go? Where's the place where all the world
goes?"

They knew it already very well. They drove there. Tea was half a crown
a head and one tipped well. What matter? There were soft music, soft
lights, pretty women, attentive men. Everyone looked rich, but perhaps
everyone was not, any more than were Marie and Osborn. Perhaps
everyone was only spending his pockets empty. The stage was well
represented. The place had a know-all air blended with a chaste
exclusiveness. It was a place where the best people were seen and
others wanted and hoped to be seen. Here sat Marie and Osborn, shaded
by a great palm group, drinking the choicest blend of tea, eating
vague fragments, and looking into each other's eyes. The worries of
the morning slipped by; Marie forgot her tradesmen's books, and Osborn
the monotony of his daily toil. Life was soft, gracious, easy and
elegant. They bought a piece of it, a crumbly piece, with five
shillings before they went away.

"Taxi, sir?" asked the commissionaire.

"We'll walk, thanks," said Osborn. Walking was a sort of recreation
not too dowdy. They went a little way on foot, then turned into a Tube
station and travelled home. When they wormed their way down a crowded
tube train compartment to two seats they were faced with the everyday
aspect of life again. Tired people were going home; business men had
not yet shaken off the pressure of their affairs; business women
looked rather driven; here and there women with children worried
themselves with their responsibilities. One or two children were
cross, and one or two babies cried.

More than one woman looked at Marie jealously.

They read the popular story; the new-married girl, careless in her
health and beauty; untouched by time or trouble; the worshipful young
man, whose fervour was unworn by toil or fret. Every woman who looked
at Marie and Osborn sitting side by side, with shoulders leaning
slightly, unconsciously, towards each other, found in her heart some
memory, or some empty ache for such fond glory.

The Kerrs alighted at Hampstead and walked briskly, Osborn's hand
tucked under Marie's arm, for it was dark, up the road to the flats.
On their way they passed rows and tiers of flats, all similar, save
that one represented more money, maybe, than another, all holding or
remembering sweet stories like theirs. But they did not think of that;
they were in haste to reach No. 30 Welham Mansions, the little heaven
behind the closed front door.

"We had a jolly old afternoon, hadn't we?" said Osborn after dinner.
"I'll take you there again."

"Can we afford it?" said Marie, with a droop to her mouth.

"We will afford it. I'll make lots of money for my Marie. We'll have a
dear old time!"

"I've been thinking, Osborn."

"A wretched exercise," he said gaily. "Don't you worry yourself,
chicken. Just be happy. That's all I ask." He grew the least degree
pathetic. "I can't be here all day to look after you, and see that
you're happy; you'll have to see to it yourself. Do that for me, will
you? Make my girl awf'ly happy."

"I am happy, Osborn."

"We do ourselves pretty well, don't we, dear?" he said appreciatively.
"This is jolly snug. Now I'll make the coffee. You sit still."

Marie watched Osborn. She took her cup from him, and stirred her
coffee into a whirlpool, and at last said:

"You see, Osborn, I want some money, please."

"All right, darling," he replied. "I'll give you a bit to go on with
any time."

His ready hand jingled in his trousers pocket.

"It's for the tradesmen," said Marie; "I thought we'd pay every week."

"That's it," he enjoined, "be methodical. That's splendid of you."

"And this week it comes to two pounds ten."

Osborn's hand ceased its jingling; he withdrew it and sat still.

"Oh!..." he said in an altered voice, "does it? Well, all right."

"That doesn't include the coal, or - or allow for gas," murmured Marie.
"I expect the meter is ready for another half-crown."

Osborn looked at the sitting-room fire.

"Marie love," he said, clearing his throat, "I'm sorry, but - but will
it always come to as much?"

"I hope not. No, I'll keep it down as much as I can, Osborn. But this
week - "

"Was just a trial trip," said Osborn.

"You see, I told the tradespeople to send in weekly books and - and if
I don't pay, they'll wonder."

"Don't fret yourself, kitten. I'll give it to you. But - "

Osborn put down his coffee cup in a final way.

"The fact is, Marie, you see - I don't want you to think me mean - "

"Oh, Osborn!"

"No, but the fact is, it just happens I'm able to give it to you
to-day, because I've got a little in the bank. But our honeymoon and
the first instalments on the furniture and your engagement ring ran
through most of it, and - and so there's only a little left - about
twenty pounds or so. My people lived on an annuity, you know; they
only left me savings. Well, I thought it seemed snug to keep a balance
of twenty pounds or so for emergencies, you know. But I'll draw a
cheque on it for you with pleasure. Two pounds ten? All right."

"But, Osborn," said Marie, wide-eyed, "can't you give it to me out of
your - "

"My screw doesn't come in till the end of the week," Osborn explained.
He flushed and for the first time looked at her a little haughtily.

"I'm sorry," she murmured; "perhaps we ought to make some arrangement
and I'll keep to it."

"That's it," he said, still slightly uncomfortable; "now look here,
dearie - "

"I'll get my account book and put it down."

"Does she have an account book?" said Osborn more lightly. "How
knowing!"

Marie brought a book, and opened it upon her knee, and sat, pencil
poised. She was very earnest. "How much ought we to spend?"

"You know what my screw is," said Osborn, as if unwilling to
particularise.

Marie wrote at the top of her page, "Two hundred pounds."

"Forty pounds rent," she wrote next.

"And my odd expenses, lunch and clothes, and so on," said Osborn,
"have never been less than sixty or seventy pounds, you know."

She wrote slowly. "Sixty to seventy pounds, expenses," when he stopped
her.

"I'll have to curtail that!" he exclaimed.

In the ensuing silence both man and wife thought along the same track.
It suddenly gave him a nasty jar, to hit up against the necessity of
stopping those pleasant little spendings, those odd drinks, those
superior smokes, the last word in colourings for shirts and ties. Of
course, such stoppage was well worth while. Oh, immensely so!

And she had a lump in her throat. She thought: "He'll find all this a
burden. He's had all he wants; and so've I. I wish we were rich."

"Look here, darling," said Osborn. "How much'll food cost us? I don't
know a great deal about these things, but if it's any standard to
take - well, my old landlady used to give me rooms and breakfasts and
dinners for thirty bob a week. Jolly good breakfasts and dinners they
were, too!"

Marie murmured very slowly: "I'm not your old landlady." She imaged
her, a working drab, saving, pinching, and making the best of all
things. Compare Marie with Osborn's old landlady! "Besides," she
murmured on, "there's me, too, now."

Osborn nodded. "Well," he said, "how much do you think?"

"Thirty shillings for _both_ of us per week," said Marie,
inclined to cry. "That's better than your old landlady."

Osborn hastened to soothe her. "Look here," he protested, "don't fuss
over it, there's a love. Very well, I'll give you thirty bob a week,
but that's seventy-eight pounds a year. My hat! I say, can't you
squeeze the gas out of it?"

"I _will_ get the gas out of it!" said Marie, with tightened
lips.

"Great business!" said Osborn cheering; "put it down, darling."

So under the "Rent, forty pounds," she wrote, "Housekeeping, including
gas, seventy-eight pounds."

"That's one hundred and eighteen pounds out of my two hundred," said
Osborn, knitting his brows and staring into the fire.

"Coal?" whispered Marie, her pencil poised.

Osborn's stare at the fire took on a belligerent nature.

"I say!" he exclaimed, "we can't have two fires every day. It's simply
not to be thought of."

"We'll sit in the dining-room in the evenings."

"Put down 'Coal, ten pounds,'" said Osborn grudgingly.

When Marie had put it down, she cast a sorrowing look round her dear
little room. She would hardly ever use it, except in summer.

"That's close on a hundred and thirty pounds," said Osborn. "We'll
make allowance for that, but you'll try to do on less, won't you,
darling?"

"I'll try."

"That leaves seventy pounds for my life insurance, and for my expenses
and yours, Marie. A man ought to insure his life when he's married;
it'll cost me fifteen pounds a year."

"Oh, what a greedy world!" cried Marie, despairing tears running down
her face.

Osborn kissed them away, but remained much preoccupied.

"It leaves fifty-five pounds between us for my clothes and lunches,
and travelling, and your pocket money."

"How about your commission, Osborn? Your 'extras'?"

"With luck they'll pay for a decent holiday once a year or so."

Marie suddenly readjusted her scheme of life while she sat blindly
gazing before her into that too-costly fire. "Osborn," she said
quietly, "I - I shouldn't think of wanting any of your fifty-five
pounds. You'll need it all; you must keep up appearances. I'll squeeze
some pocket money out of the housekeeping."

"Oh, my darling!" said Osborn gratefully, "do you really think you
could? I expect, though, there'll be a nice bit over, if you're
careful, don't you? You won't want to spend ten pounds on coal, for
example."

"I intend to manage," Marie replied vigorously.

"And I'll often be able to give you a decent present out of my
commission. I shan't let you go short."


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