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"Osborn, I mean to help you. We'll get on splendidly. You do love me,
don't you?"

"My darling, I adore you; and I know you're the finest, bravest girl
in the world. I would like to load you with everything beautiful under
the sun, and some day I will. When I get a rise, you'll be the first
to benefit. I'll make you a real pin-money allowance. Don't I long to
do it?"

"Osborn, meanwhile, can I have this week's money?"

Osborn wrote out a cheque for two pounds ten very bravely. The
discussion had been a weighty one. As he handed it to her, he drew her
down on his knee, and, holding her tight, impressed her: "You won't
let this happen again, in any circumstances, will you, dear girl?"

"Never!" she promised fervently.

So Marie began housekeeping in the way her mother began, and her
grandmother, and those jealous tired women in the Tube; the old way of
the labouring souls, the old way scarred with crow's feet and
wrinkles, and rained on by tears.




CHAPTER VI

DISCIPLINE


Marie meant always to be trim and neat and lovely, a feast for the eye
of man. But when winter had settled upon town in a crescendo of cold,
and when you thought twice before lighting that gas-fire which you had
meant to dress by every morning, and when, too, Osborn began to resume
his normal habit of sleeping till the very last moment, why, you no
longer gave yourself - or rather, Osborn no longer gave himself - the
trouble of rising to make tea. Marie had much more to do than merely
dress, and as soon as she had opened her sleepy eyes she sprang
resolutely out into the grim cold that seemed so closely to surround
her snug bed, and fell to work. She felt as if the toil of a lifetime
lay behind her, by the time she and Osborn sat opposite to one another
at their breakfast table, and yet, too, as if the toil of a lifetime
lay before her.

Marie took upon her shoulders most of the laundering. Osborn said
"Clever kid" when he knew, but it did not impress him much; his
feeling about it was vague. Did he not work all day himself? All this
fiddling donkey-work with which women occupied themselves at home - he
dismissed it. Always, when he returned, by the dining-room fire, in an
easy chair and a decent frock, sat Marie, sweet and leisured. It was
evident that her household duties did not overcome her.

And all day the flat was desolately quiet. How queer women's lives
were! They grew up, looking infantilely upon men, and reading about
them in fairy tales. One day a pretty girl became engaged to one of
them. What congratulations! What importance, delight! What prospects!
What planning! What roses! The pretty girl then married one of them,
the dearest and best of them, and began to wash dishes. Her heart,
which had never been perplexed before, grew very perplexed. Her little
purse, which had never been so very hungry before, now hungered for
things, simple things, matinées, and sweets and blouses. She stayed
all day in a flat, desolately quiet, waiting for one moment when the
dearest and best came home.

How queer women's lives were!

* * * * *

When Osborn was going to dine with Rokeby at his club he told Marie
about it just as she was stretching a reluctant foot out of her bed
into the cold of a grey December morning, and an extraordinary
rebellion rose in her with sirocco-like fierceness. She got out of bed
without replying, clutched at her dressing-gown and dragged it on,
while Osborn's drowsy voice continued, "Desmond asked me, and I
thought I would; he wasn't sure if you'd mind - if you'd think it
rather often. But I told him you weren't that sort; I told him you
were a sport. You'll do something nice this evening, won't you,
darling? What'll you do?"

"What is something 'nice'?" said Marie, staring at her face, which
looked wan and cold, in the glass.

"I don't know," said Osborn.

"Nor do I!" she cried angrily. "Life's just one slow, beastly grind."
She ran out of the room to light the geyser, and tears were streaming
down her face, and sobs rising one upon the other in her heart. She
sank upon the one bathroom chair, leaned her head against the wall and
wept helplessly. Her body was shaken with her crying; never in her
life had she so cried before. She felt as if she must collapse under
its violence.

She thought: "Osborn's going out to dinner, and I can mope and starve
at home."

With the sub-conscious dutifulness of woman she realised that her bath
was ready; that she must hurry, that there was breakfast to make, and
the dining-room to sweep, and ... and ... what a string of tragic
drabnesses! Obeying this instinct of duty in her, she got, still
sobbing, into the bath, and her tears fell like rain into the hot
water. A man would have cried, "Damn the bath! Damn the breakfast!
Damn the brooms and dusters! Scrap 'em all!" And for the while he
would straightway have scrapped them and felt better. But Marie went
miserably on, as her mother and her grandmother and all those tired
women in the Tube had done times out of number, for the sisterhood of
woman is a strange thing.

Osborn met her as she was coming from her bath, quiet, subdued and
pale. Rather, he had been standing outside the door, waiting and
anxious. "Darling," he said scared, "what is it? Tell me! Aren't you
well? Has anything upset you? What can I do?"

Marie left her dressing-gown in his detaining hands and, sobbing
again, ran along the corridor to her bedroom. She began to put her
hair up feverishly with shaking hands.

Osborn followed her quickly with the dressing-gown, beseeching: "Do
put it on! Do, Marie, do! You'll get cold. It's freezing."

"M-m-much you'd c-c-care," she sobbed.

"Oh, darling," said Osborn, wrapping the dressing-gown and his arms
tightly round her, "tell me! What is the matter? What have I done?
Aren't you happy, dearest?"

"Happy!" she gasped. "Why should I be happy?"

"I-I - love you, dearest," said Osborn in a tremulous voice.

"You g-go out, and every d-day it's the same for me. All day I'm
alone; and I loathe the work. Everything's always the same."

"I wish I could give you a change, sweetheart," said Osborn, terribly
harassed.

She hated herself because she could not be generous, but somehow she
could find no generous words to speak.

"Shall I stay with you this evening, Marie?"

"No. You've p-promised. And I'm not that sort; you t-t-told him so!"

"Is that all that's the matter, Marie? Because everything's always the
same?"

"I'm so tired. And ragged, somehow."

"Oh, Marie, I wish I could stay at home to-day and look after you.
You'll lie down and rest, won't you?"

"When I've finished all my charwoman's work."

Osborn was silent, biting his lips; and presently Marie looked up, and
seeing his face, drew it down and kissed him, crying: "Oh, I'm a
beast; forgive me! But I'm so tired, and somehow so - so ragged."

"Poor darling!"

"You'd better go and bathe, Osborn. We're late as it is."

"So we are, by Jove! Look, I'll be awf'ly quick this morning, and come
and help you. That'll be some good, won't it?"

She assented with sorrowful little sniffs, and he took his
perplexities away into the bathroom. He was terribly troubled, not
seeing what was to be done. What could a man do? Women's work, women's
lives, were the same all the world over - married women's, that is. One
couldn't do more than give them the best home one could, and come back
to it like a good boy early every evening, and love them very much. If
one were only rich! How money helped everything! Osborn cursed his
meagre pockets as heartily as Marie had cried over them.

Osborn hastened into his clothes and went to the kitchen. Bacon was
sizzling gently over a low flame, coffee and toast were made; nothing
remained for him to do, but, very wishful to show his good intentions,
he stood over the bacon as if controlling its destinies. Marie found
him there, quiet and thoughtful, when she came in.

"It's all ready," she observed in a subdued voice.

"Bravo, kiddie!" said Osborn, "I see it is. You're magnificent."

A little while ago this praise would have made her glow sweetly, but
now it tasted sour in her mouth; she did not particularly wish to be a
magnificent cook-general, a magnificent charwoman. All her nerves felt
stretched as if they must snap and she must scream. Tremblingly she
set a tray on the table.

"Don't give me any, please."

"Darling! No breakfast!"

"I'll have some toast. Oh, don't, don't worry me! I've told you I feel
simply on edge."

Osborn ate his bacon with a feeling that somehow he ought not; but he
was hungry. He ate Marie's portion, too, half apologetically. There
was one thing, however, which, very sensibly, he omitted to do; he had
the tact not to open the morning paper. There are some things which a
woman will not stand, and one is the sight of an abstracted man behind
a paper, letting his crumbs fall down his waistcoat, when she feels
nervy.

"Lovely morning, dearest," said Osborn; "you ought to go for a brisk
walk."

"Perhaps I will."

"You do look awf'ly seedy."

"I feel it."

"I hope your mother will come round this morning. She'd do the
marketing for you, or something, wouldn't she?"

"Yes, Osborn, I'm sure she would."

Osborn helped himself to toast and tried to eat it quietly; he had
some dumb, blind instinct which comes to men, that crunching would be
vexatious. He handed butter and marmalade tenderly to his wife and
carried his cup round to her for replenishment, instead of passing it.
He did all he knew.

The anticipation of Rokeby and that sanctuary, his club, invaded his
mind agreeably. A club was a great institution. If he touched a good
commission this year - but no. Certainly not! He put the idea from him.

He put a hand in his trousers pocket and jingled there. A thought had
come to him, which comes to all men in moments of trial concerning
women, moments calling for prompt treatment and nice judgment.

A present!

He could not afford it, but it must be done. What else could he do? He
felt remarkably helpless. He felt about cautiously and intimately in
his pocket, knowing with exactitude all that was there. It was not
much. On Fridays he now banked half his weekly salary against such
demands as rent, furniture instalments and so on. Thirty shillings he
gave to Marie; ten he kept. This was Tuesday.

He withdrew his hand with something in it - two half-crowns. He would
lunch light for the next three days.

"Darling," he said, with a slight break in his voice, so anxious he
was to propitiate the pale, pretty girl who brooded at him from the
head of the table, "look here! Do something to please me. When I'm out
on the spree to-night let me think of your having a good time too. Why
not ring up Miss Winter and get her to go to the theatre with you?
Here's two seats."

A slight flush stole into Marie's cheeks.

"Oh, Osborn," she said, "but - "

"What?"

"Can you afford it?"

"Blow 'afford'!" said Osborn largely, placing the half-crowns before
her, "we must do absolutely anything to prevent you from getting
wretched."

She took the money up, half hesitating. She read the wistfulness in
his face, but she felt rather wistful too.

"Thank you, Osborn," she murmured; "it'll be lovely. Julia's sure to
come. But, Osborn - "

"What?"

"Some evening you'll take me yourself, won't you?"

"Rather!"

"Shall I save this till to-morrow?"

"No, no!" he cried. "To-day's when you want a tonic, not to-morrow. Go
and get your tonic, Mrs. Osborn. Go and enjoy yourself!"

He was restored to content.

"I must go," he said, jumping up. "Let me kiss you. We're friends,
aren't we, darling? You'll try not to hate the work so very much? When
I get my rise it will make a lot of difference."

Then they clung together, kissing and whispering, and the cream walls
and the golden-brown curtains were as beautiful to them as ever.

"Be a happy girl!" he cried, before he shut the front door.

"I am!" she called back, and he was gone.

She went down gaily, in spite of her weariness, and used the
hall-porter's telephone to ring up Julia. Miss Winter would come and
was very pleased, thank you. Marie went upstairs again, the ascent
making her breathless.

The stairs and the landings were grey stone, uncarpeted, for this was
the cheapest block of flats in the road. Oh, money, money! Accursed,
lovable stuff!

Marie sat down, panting, in her kitchen. A mist rose before her eyes;
she shut them and took a long breath; her head was light and dizzy.
She began to be afraid.

An angel, in the guise of Mrs. Amber, knocked upon the front door.
Marie dragged along the corridor, and could have wept once more for
sheer relief at seeing so irreplaceable, so peculiarly comforting a
person as her own mother upon the threshold. But she restrained
herself with a great effort from the relief.

"Well, duck," said Mrs. Amber cheerfully, with that wise eye upon her
girl's face, "I was out and I just thought I'd run in and see how you
were. You're not too busy for me, love? Ah, you've overdone it and you
look very pale."

She sat in Osborn's easychair in the dining-room. She was stout and
solid, a comforting rock upon which the waves of trouble might fret
and break in vain, for she had weathered her storms long ago. But
Marie refrained from going to her and laying her head in her lap and
crying like a little girl. She was twenty-five, married and worldly,
with great things upon her shoulders. Instead of going to that true
rock of ages, the mother, for shelter she sat down opposite,
composedly, in the companion chair, and answered:

"There's a good deal to do in a home."

"Ah, you've found that out?" said Mrs. Amber regretfully. "We all find
it out sooner or later. But a little domestic work shouldn't make a
girl of your age look so pale and tired as you do. How do you feel,
love?"

"Ragged," said Marie, "and - and awf'ly limp."

A great question was crying in Mrs. Amber's heart, but she was too
tactful to pursue it. Modern girls were not lightly to be
comprehended; she knew well that she did not understand her own
daughter, and young people kept their secrets just as long as they
thought they would.

"You ought to rest, my dear," she said hesitatingly. "I should lie
down on that nice couch of yours every day after lunch, if I were you.
A few minutes make all the difference, I assure you."

"I never used to rest," said Marie.

Mrs. Amber continued her matronly diplomacy:

"No, duck; but that was different. It's so different - "

"What is, mother?"

"When you're married, dear. You should rest a bit."

"I don't know what you mean, mother," said Marie.

"Just that, love," Mrs. Amber replied soothingly, "only that you
should rest. It's wiser and it will make a great difference to you."

"I can't think what you mean, mother. I don't see why being married
should alter one."

Mrs. Amber looked into the fire and said slowly: "Well, duck, it does.
Doesn't it?"

Now Marie was conscious of an overpowering irritation. These old
wives' tales! These matronly saws! How stupid they were! How
meaningless, foundationless and sickening! She did not reply to Mrs.
Amber's question, but stirred restlessly in her chair, swinging her
foot, and said:

"Well, it's after twelve, and we may as well have some lunch. I'll
just run - "

"No, love, you _won't_!" Mrs. Amber exclaimed, showing
considerable vivacity. "I'm going to take you straight away to lie
down on that nice couch, and I'll find the lunch myself, and we'll
have it on a tray together. Now!"

"There isn't a fire in the drawing-room."

"I'll soon put a match to it, dear."

"Then we'll let this fire out," said Marie, after a pause.

Mrs. Amber hesitated, too.

"It's quite right to be careful," she replied.

"After all," said Marie, her irritation breaking out, too rebellious
for all bonds, "I don't want it, mother. I'll only have to do the
grate to-morrow; two grates instead of one. That's all. Such is life!"

Mrs. Amber looked into the fire.

"I'll tell you what," said she slowly. "You lie down on your bed. I
don't know why I didn't think of it before. There's a gas fire there,
and we'll have that."

"There are such things as gas bills, too."

"And a time to worry over them," said Mrs. Amber tartly; "but this
isn't the time. You're going to be comfortable, and I'm going to make
you so. You'll come along with me right now, my duck, and in five
minutes you'll say what a wise old woman you've got for a mother."

Suddenly Marie leaned upon her mother and obeyed. She was lying on her
bed under the pink quilt, and Mrs. Amber had her hat and coat and
walking-shoes off, and the gas fire began to purr, and a heavenly
comfort visited her. She knew reluctantly that these matrons were
horribly wise women, after all. She looked into her mother's eyes, and
saw there the question which cried in her heart, but she could not
read it. It was too old for her.

Mrs. Amber said equably:

"Now I'll run into the kitchen and find what I shall find, my dear.
You're not to trouble yourself to think and tell me what; I was
housekeeping before you were born. And meanwhile, if I were you, I'd
undo my frock and take off my corsets and be really comfortable. You
be a good girl, dear, and do as you're told just this once, to please
your silly old mother."

Docilely Marie sat up, unhooked her trim skirt-band, and unfastened
her corsets. At once she felt lightened. _How_ wise these
dreadful matrons were! She did more; she cast her skirt and blouse
aside with the corsets, and when Mrs. Amber returned she found her
lying rest fully under the eiderdown, untrammelled, in thin petticoat
and camisole.

"Eggs?" said Marie, craning her neck to look. "They were for Osborn's
breakfast - two boiled eggs, mother."

"Well, they're poached now, duck," said Mrs. Amber; "they've gone to
glory. Let Osborn have bacon; there's half a dozen rashers in your
larder."

"He had bacon this morning."

"Let him have it again," said the comfortable lady.

"Julia's coming to dinner to-night," Marie confided to her mother.
"Osborn's dining with Mr. Rokeby, but he's sending us both to the
theatre. Isn't it kind of him?"

Mrs. Amber nodded smilingly.

"He hates me to be dull," said Marie.

Again Mrs. Amber nodded smilingly; she thought what a make-believe
world these young brides lived in, and then she sighed.

All that afternoon she tended Marie, and gave her tea, and fulfilled
her offer of setting the dinner forward before she went away, with the
inquiry still in her heart.

Marie was better.

She rose from her bed about six o'clock, pleased as a cat with the
warm room, and set about the business of her toilet. Sitting down to
the dressing-table, she looked long and earnestly at her face; the
rest she had taken had plumped and coloured it again, but there was a
something, a kind of frailty, a blue darkness under the eyes. Perhaps
it made her look less pretty? She was inclined to fret over it a
trifle. To counteract it she dressed her hair with a fluffy softness
unusual to her trim style; she took immense pains over her
finger-nails and put on her best high frock. She hurried over her
preparations, having been reluctant to leave her bed till the last
possible moment. Mrs. Amber had laid the dinner-table, but there were
still things to do.

"Some day I shall keep an awf'ly good parlour-maid," Marie promised
herself.

She went in to criticise and retouch her mother's painstaking
arrangements. She grew flushed and irritated over the cooking.

"_And_ a good cook," she added. "What dreams!"

Julia looked a good deal at Marie during dinner in the delusive light
of the shaded candles, and at last she said:

"You're thinner. And there's something about you - I don't know what it
is. You are almost fragile."

"I manage this flat entirely without help, you know," said Marie,
looking round the speckless dining-room proudly.

"_That_ ought not to do it," replied Julia, dismissing domestic
work with a contemptuous wave of the hand. "Are you worrying?"

"Worrying?" Marie repeated. "What about?"

"Oh, anything."

"I have nothing to worry over."

"Blessed woman!" replied Julia, diving into the freak pocket of an
expensive garment bought with her own money. "May I begin to smoke?"

"Let me get cigarettes," said Marie, springing up for Osborn's box,
which lay on the mantelpiece behind her.

"Always carry my own, thanks," said Julia, brandishing the
cigarette-case she had produced.

The sudden movement she had made gave Marie a curious sensation; Julia
and the room and the red fire swam around her; her brain was numb and
dizzy; she staggered and caught at her chair-back.

"Oh!" she gasped. "I feel so - so - "

"What?" exclaimed the other girl, springing up.

Marie sank into her chair.

"I was so giddy - and faint, Julia."

Julia drew her chair close to Marie's, put down her yet unlighted
cigarette, and looked at her friend shrewdly.

"Look here, kiddy," she began, with a softness Marie had never heard
in her voice before. Then she stopped and asked: "Where's the brandy?"

"There isn't any," said Marie in a far-away voice; "there's only
Osborn's whisky, and that's horrid. I'll be all right soon. Make the
coffee, dear, will you? And make it strong."

Julia not only made the coffee strong, but she made it very quickly;
she had a wonderfully quiet, efficient way of accomplishing things.
The coffee stimulated Marie and steadied the erratic beating of her
heart.

"That's better," she said.

Then Julia was modern enough to ask without preliminary that question
which had asked in Mrs. Amber's elderly heart all day.

"Marie, are you going to have a baby?"

Marie could not have been more confused and confounded.

"I!" she stammered. "Have a baby! I never thought of such a thing!"

"It's not an unknown event," said Julia; "it has been done before.
Think!"

Marie thought.

"Julia," she whispered, hushed, "perhaps - "

"You must know - or you can make a good guess."

Marie began to tremble. "I've been feeling so simply awful; I couldn't
think what was the matter with me, but I - I believe you may be right.
I shouldn't be surprised - "

Julia drew at her cigarette savagely; tears were in her eyes;
something hurt her and she resented it.

"Shall you be pleased?" she asked.

"Pleased? I - don't - know."

"Will your husband be pleased?"

"I don't know."

"People seem to run about anyhow in the dark," said Julia
thoughtfully.

Marie blushed. "Well, we'd never made any sort of plan."

"I think it would be lovely to have a baby," said Julia defiantly.

The challenge called forth an answering thrill in Marie; a force which
she had not known she possessed leapt to meet it; she felt warm and
glowing, tremulously excited and happy.

"So do I!" she breathed. "Oh, Julia, I wish I knew for certain. I
_must_ know."

"Go and see a doctor," said Julia; "he'd tell you."

"When?"

"When you like. I know one whose surgery hours are eight till
nine-thirty."

"Oh, if I could only know before Osborn comes home to-night!"

"Let's go."

"Now?"

"Now."

Marie's mind flitted to its former anxieties of the purse, which she
did not wish to reveal to Julia sitting there so well-dressed in the
gown that she so easily had paid for. Theatre or doctor? Doctor or
theatre? Which should it be?

She glanced dissemblingly at the clock.

"I don't know if I've time. We ought to be starting to _The Scarlet
Pimpernel_."

"Chuck the theatre," said Julia. "I don't mind. This is a far greater
business. Come along; I'll take you."

Light and glory flamed in Marie's heart.

"Don't you really mind?"

"My dear kid, I wouldn't let you go to the theatre tonight. You'll
come and see that doctor, and then sit here in your easychair and rest
quietly."

Marie's feet were no longer leaden as they carried her into her
bedroom to fling on coat and hat. She was consumed by a great wonder.
Could it be?

She counted all her money hastily into her bag and rejoined Julia.
They went out, walked to the end of the road and boarded a car, but it
was Julia who paid the fares while Marie sat dreaming beside her. It
was not far to the doctor's door.

Marie did not know how to begin, but found the way in which doctors
helped one was wonderful. In three minutes he had the story, and was
twinkling at her with cheery interest, though as far as he was
concerned it was the oldest, ordinariest story in the world, which
invariably ended by calling him out of bed in the middle of some wet
night, after a day of particular worry.

He asked her all about herself, where she lived, if she got up early,


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