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aloft.

"Is that a bonnie baby?" said Osborn sourly.

"Osborn," whispered Marie from the bed, "he's a beautiful baby!"

Osborn looked down, startled, and saw in her wan face some glimmer of
an unknown thing. She - _she_ - was pleased with the baby! _She_ admired
and loved it!

He went out astonished.

The next morning, still flat on her pillows, she was nursing the baby
with a smile on her mouth. Under her pink cap the faintest colour
bloomed in her cheek; she asked for a fresh pink ribbon for her
nightgown; she had slept peacefully. Some flowers were sent very
early, with congratulations. They were from Rokeby and from Julia, and
were arranged near her bed as she lay with this wonderful toy, this
little new pet, Osborn's son, beside her. She had emerged out of her
black darkness into light.




CHAPTER IX

PROBLEMS


Throughout Marie's convalescence there were things to buy; little
things, but endless; to a woman who has suffered so greatly for their
mutual joy can a man deny anything? The husband of a year cannot.
Every day, before he went to his work - he was third salesman to one of
the best Light Car Companies in town - Osborn held consultation, over
the breakfast table, with the nurse. He used to say, as bravely and
carelessly as if he felt no pinch at his pocket, "Is there anything
you want to-day, Nurse?" And there was always something, a lotion, or
a powder, or a new sponge, or a cake of a particular soap. The nurse
had no compunction in adding: "If you _do_ see a few nice grapes,
or a really tender chicken, Mr. Kerr, I believe she might fancy them."

Osborn's lunches, during that month, grew lighter and lighter; they
almost ceased.

Mrs. Ambler proved expensive in the kitchen, breaking for the while
through her economical rule, feeling nothing too good for her poor
child. She used to remind Osborn every time they met, by word, or
look, or expressive sigh, how Marie had suffered. He felt oppressed,
overridden and tired; but he was very obedient beneath the rule of the
women.

He had to wait upon himself a good deal; sometimes he brought a chop
for dinner home in his pocket and grilled it himself.

He slept in the room relegated to him as dressing-room or to a chance
visitor, as occasion might arise; it looked forlorn and dusty, and the
toilet covers wanted changing.

He longed to have Marie about again, blithe and pretty; and to be rid
of this pack. He thought of his mother-in-law and the nurse as a pack.

Several times he succumbed to dining with Rokeby at his club, but he
always hurried home in time to say good night to Marie _before_
she fell asleep.

When the baby was nearly three weeks old, he was called upon to lift
his wife out of bed for the first time, and to put her in an armchair,
which had been prepared with pillows and a rug, by the purring
gas-fire. She was so eager to be moved, and he so eager to have her to
himself for just a little, that he begged permission to take her into
another room for awhile, but the nurse would have none of it, and she
was right, for Marie was white and tired when she had sat in the chair
for only ten minutes. That staggered Osborn afresh. He was
speechlessly sorry for her, and sat by her holding her hand, watching
her concernedly, until she asked to be put back into bed again. That
was on a Sunday.

The Sunday marked his memory. It disappointed him so bitterly to find
that Marie was not stronger. After all the chickens and grapes, and
doctors' and nurses' fees, she was not strong; and what could he do
more for her? He was not a rich man. After the drain of all this they
must live more steadily even than before; he could not waft her
_and_ the baby away to some warm south-coast resort to finish her
convalescence; he could not take her for long motoring week-ends.

In a week the nurse would go. Would Marie be ready for her to go? If
not, could Osborn keep her longer?

He knew he could not. There was only a sum of twelve or thirteen
pounds left from the twenty which had represented the nest-egg which
he had when he married; five of those pounds the doctor would take;
six of them the nurse would take. He tried to arrange the disposal of
his salary afresh, and could do no more than cut down his weekly
expenditure of ten shillings to five.

But Marie and the baby were worth it all - if only he could get them
alone again.

A week after that the nurse left and Osborn came back to Marie's room.

He looked forward to it; part of the dreadfulness of the past month
had been their separation; now they were to be alone again, without
that anarchic and despotic pack. On the morning, before he left, he
wished the nurse good-bye with a false heartiness and handed her,
breezily, a cheque. He would see her no more, God be thanked! When he
came home that evening his place would be his own, his wife his own,
the baby their own; there would be no stranger intruding upon their
snug intimacy.

Osborn's heart was light when, at six o'clock, he put his latchkey
into the keyhole and entered; he gave the long, low coo-ee which
recalled old glad days, and Marie emerged from the kitchen, finger on
mouth.

"Hush, don't wake him!"

"Is he in bed?"

"Nurse stayed to put him to bed before she left."

Osborn embraced her. "We're alone at last, hurrah!"

"Will you help me?" said Marie. "I'm so tired."

"Course I'll help you, little dear," he replied tenderly. "We'll do
everything together, just as we used to."

"Osborn," said Marie suddenly, "that's the whole secret of married
life, to do everything together, nice things and nasty things."

"Of course, darling. We do, don't we?"

"I suppose we do," she answered doubtfully; "at least there are some
things a man doesn't share because he can't."

Her eyes dilated, and he guessed what she was thinking of. "I know,
sweetest, I know," he said hastily, "but try not to remember it; it's
all over and done with; and, Marie, I suffered, too."

She remembered, then, the tears they had shed together on the night of
the baby's birth, and her heart was soft.

The night seemed punctuated to Osborn by the crying of the baby. It
woke at regular hours, as if it could read some clock in the darkness;
and quickly as, it seemed to him, he must have roused, Marie had
wakened quicker, and was hushing the child. He could hear her soft
whispers through the darkness, in the subsequent silences during which
he guessed, with a thrill of anxious awe, that she was feeding it;
frail as she was, she gave of what strength she had to the baby. Never
had Marie seemed more wonderful to Osborn.

Very early in the morning she was tending the baby; he wished that he
had been able to keep the nurse longer. He left her reluctantly after
breakfast, to get through the baby's bath and toilet unaided, before
the heavier work of the flat. Women who knew would have understood why
Marie trembled and despaired at the tasks before her. When the baby
cried as, with hands still weakened, she tried to hold up its slipping
little body in the bath, she cried, too. As she cried, she thought how
tears seemed to be always near her eyes during these married days. Was
something wrong with marriage? Before, in her careless girl-days, she
had never wept; she had never so suffered, so wearied and despaired.
While she questioned, she dressed the baby in the flannel and lawn
things she had made for it a long while ago, and when she had dressed
it, she fed it again, and again it slept.

It was astonishing how much heavier a month-old infant could grow
during an hour's marketing.

That reminded her that they had something else to buy, a big thing
that would swallow up nearly, or quite, a week of Osborn's pay, a
perambulator. The baby had luxuries; his toilet set from Rokeby, his
christening robe from Julia, his puffed and frilly baby-basket from
Grannie Amber, were dreams to delight a mother's heart; but he had no
carriage. For a little while she might carry him when she was not too
tired; and when she was, he might sleep out on the balcony that jutted
from the sitting-room window, and she could stay beside him; but
ultimately the question of the perambulator must arise.

As Marie walked home with her baby and her basket, she said to
herself: "I won't ask poor Osborn now; not when he's just paid that
woman a whole six pounds; not till he's settled the doctor; and
there'll be an extra bill for the baby's vaccination soon, and the
next furniture instalment's due; but when all that's cleared off, I'll
choose the right time and ask him. I shall give him an extra nice
dinner, and tell him we'll have to buy one."

In a week, when the doctor called to vaccinate the baby, he ordered
the mother to leave off nursing it herself; he put it upon a patent
food, not a cheap food; and it formed a pertinacious habit of wearing
out best rubber bottle teats quicker than any baby ever known. In the
nights Marie did not now reach out in the darkness to her baby and,
gathering it to herself, nourish it quietly, without the certainty of
waking Osborn; but there had to be a nightlight, there had to be
business with a little spirit stove and saucepan, the unlucky jingle
of a spoon against the bottle, so that Osborn began to mutter
drowsily: "Hang that row!" and she longed to scream at him, "It's
_your_ baby, isn't it, as well as mine?"

Osborn was unused to and intolerant of domestic discomforts such as
these; in the nights his nerves were frayed; at the breakfast-table he
showed it: "You look tired to death, and I'm sure I am," he grumbled.
"If this is marriage, give me single blessedness every time. Worry and
expense! Expense and worry! Such is life!"

In the evenings she was very subdued; she was losing her life and
light; he did not know that during the day, after such display of his
irritation, she cried herself sick. He asked her to come out to dinner
one evening; he said:

"You and I are getting two old mopes. Look here, girlie, put on your
best frock, and come and dine at Pagani's; I can't afford it, but
we'll do it."

But she could not.

"Baby," she said, hesitating.

Osborn looked at her in silence. "Good heavens!" he exclaimed, after a
while, "aren't we ever to have our evenings out, then? Shall you
always be tied here now?"

"A baby ties one," she replied.

"So it does, doesn't it?" said Osborn despondently.

Marie looked at him steadily. Just as she wanted to scream at him in
the night, so she now longed to cry: "It's harder on me than you! Do
you think I don't _want_ ever to go out? Do you think I don't
often long to go into the West End and look at the shops, or do a
matinée with mother or Julia, and come back refreshed?"

But with the prudence of her mother's daughter she restrained herself.

"Day in, day out, are we always to live the life domestic pure and
simple?" Osborn demanded.

For answer she shrugged her shoulders. Osborn thought her strangely
nonchalant, almost contemptuous.

"Well, I, for one, damned well won't do it," he said, rising from the
table.

"But I must," Marie replied in a level voice.

It was Osborn's turn to look at her; he wondered just what she meant
by it.

"Well," he asked, "I can't help it, can I?"

"Neither can I," said Marie.

Osborn put on his coat and hat and went out. It was the first time he
had ever gone out after dinner at home. For some while after he had
left Marie remained alone at the table, staring before her. The small
dining-room was still charming in the candlelight, but it took on a
new aspect for her. The cream walls and golden-brown curtains enclosed
her irrevocably. She would never get away from this place, the prison
of home. Day in, day out, as Osborn said, it would be the same. The
man might come and go at will, the woman had forged her fetters.

Didn't men ever understand anything? What crass vanity, what
selfishness, what intolerance, kept them blind?

Marie was hardening. She did not cry. After a while she rose and
cleared the table. As Osborn was not there, wishing for her company,
she washed up. That would make it so much easier in the morning.

It left her, though, with an hour now in which to sit down and resume
her thinking.

The flat was very quiet, very desolate. The man had gone out to seek
amusement. How queer women's lives were!

She knew women whose husbands invariably went out at night, as soon as
they had fed. What did these women really think of their men? What did
these men really think of their women? How much did each know of the
other? At what stage in these varied married lives did the wife become
merely a servitor, to serve or order the serving of her husband's
dinner, for which he came home before, again, he left her?

Married life!

At nine-thirty Marie prepared the baby's bottle and went to bed. She
schooled herself to sleep, knowing that during the night the baby
would make his demands, and she fell asleep quickly. She did not hear
Osborn come in. He looked about the flat for her before going to his
dressing-room, and, not finding her, said to himself wilfully:
"Marie's sulking; she wouldn't wait up. Does she always expect a
fellow to stay at home?"

By the glim of the nightlight, when he went into their room he saw her
sleeping. The child slept, too. Osborn got resentfully into his bed,
and thought of Rokeby, with whom he had just parted, and the end of a
conversation they had had.

"You could afford to marry, Desmond."

"What's the standard?"

"Being able to keep servants," said Osborn harshly. "You marry the
girl you love, a pretty girl you're proud to take about, and she can't
come out to dine with you; she can't move from home; babies, they cry
all night, burn 'em! And she gets ready to hate you. It's hell!"




CHAPTER X

RECRIMINATION


On a day of January, like spring, Julia went upon a sentimental
errand, influenced by she did not know what; but she guessed it was
the youth in the air. It made her think of the youngest thing she
knew, and that was Marie's baby, and of what she could do for it; and
all that she could do, as far as she saw, was to buy it a superfluous
woolly lamb. So after her day's work was over, at half-past five,
Julia put on her hat and coat with a purpose, and stepped into the toy
department of her favourite stores.

Julia was not mean; from out the whole flock of lambs which she found
awaiting her selection she chose a beauty. Its white fluffiness and
its beady eyes affected her softly; her handsome face grew motherly as
she insinuated the stranger into her muff, where her hands stroked it
unconsciously. Julia was far more pleased with the lamb than the baby
would be, as she boarded an omnibus and rode towards Hampstead.

It was six when she arrived at the door of No. 30 Welham Mansions, and
Marie opened it to her with the baby in her arms, huddled up in a
rather soiled shawl from which only his incredibly downy head emerged.
He looked solemnly at Julia and emitted an inquiring croak.

"You aren't still carrying that baby out, are you?" Julia asked
suddenly.

They entered the sitting-room together.

"What else can I do? If I go out, he's got to go, too."

"You'll get a perambulator?"

"I'm going to ask Osborn soon."

"Why not ask him now?"

"He's had such a lot of expense, poor boy."

"Still," Julia argued, "it's got to be bought, and you ought to be
saved. Ask him to-night, after dinner."

"I believe I will," said Marie. "My back ached so."

Julia was more bewildered than angry.

"My goodness!" she said sharply. "What's the matter with life? Why
can't a young man and woman have a baby and look healthy over it? I've
got to ask someone that, and get an answer."

Julia followed Marie back to the kitchen.

"I'll whip the cream, if he's got to have it," she said grudgingly.

"And I'll go and look nice for once. Then I'll ask him for the
perambulator."

Marie came out again in the wedding-frock of chiffons, very tumbled
now, looking sweet but with the hectic flush of her exertions still on
her cheeks.

"All my clothes are going to glory!" she lamented.

"Tell you what," said Julia, producing frothy mounds of cream round
her energetic whisk, "do have my bridesmaid dress. I've never worn it
since your wedding - too picturesque for my style, that frock is. But
if you - "

"No, I won't!" Marie protested, tears in her eyes. "I'm not going to
take anything from you except your old gloves for the housework. It
would be scandalous; you, a girl working for her living, and me, a
married woman with a husband to work for me - "

"I know which I'd rather be," Julia remarked.

"So do I," said Marie, with a quick intake of breath.

They looked at each other a little defiantly, but did not proceed to
any enlightenment. Then Julia went up to Marie and laid her arms about
her neck and her cool lips upon her hot cheek.

"Well, leave it at that," she said. "Good-bye, kiddie; take care of
yourself. I can't stay. Send for me any time. I must fly!" And was
gone.

Osborn came in hungry before seven, sniffed the dinner cooking, and
turned into the dining-room. He took off his boots, fished his carpet
slippers from behind the coal-scuttle, and put them on with a sigh of
relief. The smell which pervaded the flat was savoury and good; the
dinner-table was ready to the last saltspoon; the baby was quiet; all
seemed to promise one of those smooth domestic evenings sometimes
granted to a man.

He settled down by the fire after dinner to read so much of his
evening paper as the Tube journey had not given him time for, while
Marie made coffee and handed him his cup.


"Osborn," she said.

"Yes, dear."

"I wanted to ask you about something."

Into Osborn's eyes crept a harassed look, almost of fear; it was a
very reluctant look, with repugnance in it and resignation and
suspicion.

"About something?" he asked cautiously, "or for something?"

Marie had seen the look and had quite an old acquaintance with it.
That ever-ready lump rose to her throat, and she had that passing
wonder which she had often felt before - why she should cry so easily
now.

"For something," she answered hesitatingly.

There was a silence.

Osborn lifted his paper as if to resume reading. His face flushed and
his forehead lined.

"What do you want now?" he asked at last.

Marie flushed, too, till her face burned and tears glittered in her
eyes.

"I'm afraid," she said, "that - that we'll have to buy a pram, shan't
we?"

"A 'pram'?" said Osborn, as if she had asked for a motor-car.

"All babies have to have one. It's time - he ought to have had after
the first month. He's getting so heavy, I can't carry him about much
longer."

"Then don't carry him about."

"I've got to, unless I stay in altogether."

Osborn became silent. Because he felt desperately poor he also felt
desperately angry; because he felt desperately angry he was angry with
the most convenient person - his wife.

"Couldn't we buy one," said Marie, after he had remained mute for some
while, "from the furniture people on the instalment plan?"

"Instalment plan!" he barked. "I'm sick of instalments! When am I ever
going to be free? When's my money ever going to be my own again? Tell
me that!"

"I can't tell you anything," said Marie, beginning to cry.

"Tears again!" he groaned. "Always this blasted tap-turning if you ask
a woman a lucid question! Don't you see what you're making life for
me? Don't you see the eternal drag you're putting on my wheel? I never
drink, I never play cards, I don't do what any other fellow under the
sun would expect to do; I give you all I can - every penny's gone in
this awful domesticity. Domesticity? Slavery, I call it! What more can
I do? What more do you expect? You ask for a perambulator as if it
were a sixpenny-ha'penny toy! What would a perambulator cost?"

She retained control enough to reply:

"I - I have a catalogue. The one I've marked - I'd thought of - is - is
three pounds ten."

Osborn threw away restraint.

"Three pounds ten!" he cried. "Within ten bob of a week's salary! Do
you realise what you're asking? My God, women have a cheek. You bleed
a man and bleed him until - until he don't know where to turn. It's
ask, ask, ask - "

Then Marie also flung off restraint and gave all her pent-up nerves
play. They faced each other like furies, he red and grim, she shaken
and shrill.

"Ask, ask, ask! And what has marriage ever given me? Look at me! I was
happy till I married you! I never knew what it was to be so poor
and - and grudged till I'd married you! I didn't know what marriage
was. I didn't know I'd be hungry and worried - yes, hungry! - and made
ashamed to ask for every penny that I couldn't get without asking. Why
can't I get it? Why, because you took me away from my job and married
me! I cook for you, and sew and sweep and dust for you, and you take
it all as a matter of course. All I've given up for you you take as a
matter of course!

"All I've suffered for you you take as a matter of course ... you
_men!_"

"I didn't know what it'd be like to have a baby, or, God knows, I'd
never have had one - "

"Be quiet!" shouted Osborn. "Be quiet!"

But she raved on:

"No, I wouldn't! I wouldn't, I tell you! What do you expect of women?
You expect us to want babies and bear them in all that - hell, and be
pleased to have them; and - and to put up with begging from you for
them! And you don't care how weak we are - how our backs ache; you
don't care if the baby goes out or stays in - if _I_ go out or
stay in. It's your child, isn't it? It's not all _my_ fault we
had it, is it? There's a lucid question for _you_! Answer it!"

"I will do no such thing!" he cried angrily. "You ought to be ashamed
of yourself - a woman - a _woman_ suggesting she doesn't want a
baby!"

"I didn't say it! I suggest I don't want one of yours!"

"My God!" said Osborn, recoiling.

Marie grew ice-cold when she had said a thing that she would have
thought impossible to say; but there was a keen triumph in the
ice-coldness. She had silenced him.

"Isn't married life ugly?" she asked. "Isn't it little and mean and
sordid and stingy and unjust? You create a condition which will tie me
to the house; you are angry with the condition because it's expensive;
you're angry with me for being house-tied. Can I help it? Can I help
anything? Do you think I don't _want_ theatres and to go out to
dinner with you as I used to? The baby's yours, isn't he, as well as
mine?"

"Marie," said Osborn, "Marie - "

He searched for things to say.

"I wish I had never married you - I wish I had never married at all,"
said Marie. "Men won't understand; they're impatient, they're brutes!
And you haven't answered my question yet."

Osborn went out of the flat.

The inevitable answer of the goaded man - anger, silence and
retreat - cried aloud to her.

She was afraid of herself.

What terrible things she had said - she, a little, new, young wife and
mother!

She spoke out into the stillness, shocked, appealing, still trembling
with her rage.

"Oh, God! Oh, God!... Oh, God, help me!"




CHAPTER XI

THE BANGED DOOR


When Julia had left the Kerrs' flat and was turning out of the
building into the windy street, she met Desmond Rokeby about to enter.
Her handsome face was grim beneath her veil and her eyes snapped. As
she pulled up short and stood in Rokeby's path, she expressed to him
the idea of a very determined obstacle.

"How nice to meet you!" he cried goodhumouredly.

"I'm glad I've met you," she replied.

Rokeby surveyed her quizzically. "What an admission," he said, "from
an arch-enemy! You _are_ the enemy of us all, aren't you? Is
there anything I can do for you?"

"Where were you going?" Julia countered.

"To No. 30."

"Then - yes - you can do something for me. You can go away again."

"Are they out?" said Rokeby; "are they ill? What's the mystery?"

She looked up and down the road; she gave him the impression that she
stamped her feet and frowned, though to appearances she did neither.
She ordered:

"Don't loiter here. Osborn - Mr. Kerr'll be home directly, and if he
sees you he'll take you in, won't he?"

"Probably, I should say."

"Then come away."

"If I may walk a little way with you."

"I don't care where you walk with me," Julia replied vigorously, "if
it isn't into Marie's flat."

She set a brisk pace down the opposite side of the road, as if
assuming that Osborn might pass them unnoticing on the other, and
Rokeby kept step unprotestingly. "It must be after six o'clock," he
said presently.

"It is," she replied.

"Which is your way home?"

Julia described her route with a brevity characteristic of her.


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