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He slackened pace, so that she looked round at him, impatiently
questioning.

"Look here, Miss Winter," he coaxed, "don't go home. Stay out and dine
with me. Of course we're mere strangers, but we're both so
emancipated, aren't we? No, emancipated's an out-of-date word. We've
passed that, haven't we, long ago? We're - I dunno what we are; there's
no limit to us. Isn't it jolly? So do come into town and dine with
me."

"I think I'd like to, thanks," said Julia; "I'm not quite sure."

"Why aren't you quite sure?"

"I might be bored with you. How do I know?"

Rokeby looked at her with an astonished respect and a glim of his
saving humour. "So you might; er - I hadn't thought of it; but 'pon my
word, I'll do my best. Won't you come if I guarantee that?"

And he wanted her to come, oddly.

"Thanks," said Julia, "I will."

"Queer thing," Rokeby thought in his surprised soul, "when a girl all
on her own in this hard world hesitates to come out to a good dinner
with not a bad fellow in case she might be bored."

"I know what you're thinking," said Julia calmly; "you're thinking - or
you are _almost_ - that it was nearly a bit of cheek on my part. I
don't blame you. You're spoilt, all of you. The girls you take out
earn their dinners and stalls too conscientiously; no matter how dull
you are, they take pains to shine. Frankly, if _you_ take
_me_ out, _you've_ got to shine. I demand it. And you'd be
surprised at the number of invitations an exacting thing like me
gets."

"No, I shouldn't," said Rokeby softly, bending his head to look with a
new interest at her face. "That's sheer cleverness, that is; that's
brilliance. You've seized it. A woman should have confidence to demand
and get."

"Women are too humble."

"I never found them so," Rokeby denied respectfully.

"Well, half of them are too humble, and the other half are
slave-drivers. If a girl's got to choose one or the other, she'd
better drive."

"That's awf'ly sound," said Rokeby.

They neared a taxicab rank, and the first driver watched their
approach with inquiring signal. "Cab!" Rokeby sang out, and the man
started his engine.

"Where are we going?" Julia asked.

"Where you like," Desmond answered, "only let's start there."

He opened the door, she passed in, and he directed, "Piccadilly; and
I'll tell you just where, presently."

He followed Julia in, and they were away, over suburban roads darker
than the streets of the West.

Rokeby felt a certain triumph in capturing Julia. Besides her modern
fighting quality, to which he was not entirely antagonistic, he
realised that she was a pleasure to the eye, a well-tailored, handsome
girl, town-bred, town-poised, of the neat, trim type so approved by
the male eye. She knew her value too. She made a man think. Cheap
attentions she would have handed back as trash, without thanks, to the
donor. She conferred a favour, but would never receive one. Her
self-assurance was no less than royal, and a word or touch in
violation would have been stamped a rank impertinence. Rokeby, who had
made the same pleasant uses of taxicabs as most men about town, knew
all this with a half-sigh.

"Where would you like to dine?" he asked. "What kind of a place do you
like?"

"A quiet place, to-night," said Julia; "it's better for talking, and
this evening I've got to talk to someone."

Whereby she flattered Rokeby more than by any degree of easy
flirtation which other women might have permitted, as they sped along
the ever-brightening streets.

"We'll go to the Pall Mall, if you like, Miss Winter; it's little,
it's good, it's quiet; interesting people go there; we'll make two
more. How about that?"

"It'll do excellently."

"We shall probably get a balcony table if all those downstairs are
booked."

As Rokeby said, they were in time for a balcony table, and he ordered
dinner and wine before recurring to his former question.

"What was all the mystery about No. 30?"

"I don't call it a mystery; it was just a very ordinary domestic
proposition; I didn't want them to be interrupted this evening,
because, you see - you will laugh - "

"No, I swear I won't; do tell me."

"Marie wants to ask for a perambulator."

"'Him'?"

"Yes, him. Who's always 'him' to the household - the husband, the
tyrant, the terror. Ugh!"

"Oh, come, Miss Winter. Osborn Kerr - I've known him for years; there's
nothing of the tyrant and the terror about him. Why this embroidery of
the sad tale?"

"Well, why was Marie afraid to ask him, then?"

"I don't know anything about it. I'm at a disadvantage with you, it
seems."

"I'm quite willing to tell you; that's what I'm dining with you for,
isn't it?"

"Is it?" said Rokeby, with a very charming smile which but few women
knew.

She hurried on: "Yes, it is. You see, I didn't want you to come in and
spoil it all, prevent Marie from asking her husband for the
perambulator."

"You were awf'ly thoughtful, and I'm sure I didn't want to chip in at
the wrong moment; but, I say, would it have mattered so much? Because
I'd love to know why; you're interesting me, you know. She could have
asked him another time, couldn't she?"

"You see, she was all ready to-night."

"'All ready'?"

"She put on the frock she was married in; and there was the whipped
cream he's so fond of, with a cherry pie; and it all seemed so
propitious that I thought it would be a pity if you spoilt it."

"You're right. I wouldn't have cut in for the world. But, I say," he
cried gleefully, "what guile! What plotfulness! There's no getting
even with a woman, is there? Little Mrs. Osborn and you lay your heads
together, and she puts on her wedding frock - "

Julia eyed him with a steely disdain.

"Kindly tell me why a woman should trouble herself to make plans to
coax her husband?"

"Ask me another. How do I know? She _did_ it, didn't she?"

"Yes, because he was one of those beastly 'hims,' to be toadied and
cajoled and fussed into a good humour before his wife dare ask for a
carriage for the baby that belongs to both of them."

"Oh, I see! I see! I say, I'm stupid, aren't I?"

"I'll forgive you your stupidity if you promise me never to marry and
make any woman miserable."

Rokeby became slightly nettled.

"Why shouldn't I marry and make some woman happy?" he demanded.

"Ask _me_ another; you men don't seem to, do you?"

"You're not very sympathetic to - "

"Nor you. Look here! Bread and butter, and candles and bootblacking,
and laundering, and expenses for a baby when you've got one, are all
everyday things, aren't they? If a woman's got to fuss and plan and
cry and worry and fight just every day for the everyday things, is
life worth while at all? Isn't a girl like me, in full possession of
her health, mistress of her own life, filling her own pocket, better
off than a girl like Marie who's married and lost it all?"

"_Are_ you?" he demanded, stirred enough to look right into
Julia's eyes; and he saw what deep eyes they were, and what sincere
trouble and question lay in them.

She fenced doggedly: "I don't see why Marie should be made wretched;
she's only twenty-six. Is she to have that kind of fuss every day of
her life?"

"She won't want a new perambulator every day, we'll hope."

"Oh ... don't be cheap! You know what I mean. Why can't men meet
domestic liabilities fairly and squarely with their wives? Why must
they be coaxed to look at a bill which they authorise their wives to
incur? Why is a man vexed because he's got to pay the butcher, when he
eats meat every day of his life?"

"Since you ask, my dear girl, I'll tell you. People are too selfish to
marry nowadays and make a good job of it. Most men always were; but
then women used to go to the wall and go unprotestingly. Now
something's roused them to jib. They're making the hell of a row. They
won't stand it; and nobody else can. So what's to be done?"

"Is this marriage?" Julia asked coldly.

"No," said Rokeby, "it's war."

"It ought not to be."

"What do you suggest?"

"N-nothing."

"Nor does anyone else," Rokeby stated.

They were through the first course, and he replenished her glass with
sparkling hock. "Eat, drink, and be merry," he counselled
lachrymosely, "for to-morrow we may be married."

"Never for me."

"That's rash. People are caught - oh! it's the very devil to keep out
of the net."

"What will be the end of things?"

"What things?"

"Marie's and Osborn's."

"My dear Miss Winter, you exaggerate. They'll shake down, and that's
all."

"Will they be happy?"

"You'll have to ask them that, later. But, you see, I know Osborn
Kerr, and he'll make the best of it like other people. I wish I could
convince you. Don't distress yourself over the normal troubles of
normal people."

But Julia still worried on: "She looked so white and tired to-day;
she'd been carrying that great baby about round the shops, and she's
not strong yet."

"Can't the baby stay peaceably at home?"

"Then she's got to stay too. Where she goes the baby must go. She's
given up going out at all except just for her marketing."

"Well," said Rokeby, rubbing his head, "I don't know, I'm sure, what
you or I can do. We'd better leave it all alone."

"If I hadn't spent everything I had in the bank only yesterday for a
new suit I'd send her a baby-carriage to-morrow. It'll be three weeks
before I've put by enough again."

"Don't rob yourself," said Rokeby quickly, with a softening face.
"Look here, let me know what happens, will you?"

"About the perambulator?"

"Ah!"

"Will you be fairy godfather, then?"

"If you'd like me to."

"Oh, I would! You - you - "

"What am I?"

"You dear!"

"'Rah! 'Rah!" cried Rokeby, "shake hands on that!" She laid in his
frankly a short and capable hand. "I'm not a 'him,' am I? Oh, say I'm
not."

"You're not - yet. You're a dear."

"Am now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."

"Amen," said Julia, twinkling.

"Here are _pêches melba_," said Rokeby, "women always like them.
I'm glad they're on our programme to-night."

"I adore them."

"You might try to remember, before we leave the subject," Rokeby
suggested, "that the prospects of these 'hims' aren't very rosy either
sometimes. You see it comes hard on a man, though doubtless he's a
black-hearted scoundrel to admit it, when he marries and has to
stretch an income, which was perfectly palmy in the bachelor days, to
meet the needs of two, or three, or however many it may ultimately
have to meet. He can't help a yelp now and then. It's a horrid sound,
but it relieves him. The only remedy I can suggest for the existing
state of affairs is that all wives of over a year's standing should
pack cotton wool in their ears. Eh? That's brains, isn't it? Kindly
applaud."

"'M ..." said Julia, tightening her lips.

"Osborn entered marriage with the most exalted expectations," Rokeby
went on.

"So did Marie."

"I assure you I never knew a chap more in love."

"Nor I a girl."

"Oh, chuck it!" begged Rokeby, laughing. "Do chuck it, will you? Then
you'll be a dear too. Look here, wouldn't you like to go on somewhere
after this? I can telephone from here for seats."

But she would not. So they lingered on for awhile, talking and smoking
over their coffee; and at last, when Julia looked across the room at
the clock over the big mirrors, she was astonished and half vexed to
find how much time had slipped by. Then she insisted on going, but
Rokeby insisted, too, upon his escort all the way home, and she did
not gainsay him. As he lifted her furs over her straight shoulders,
waving away the waiter who hastened forward for the service, he
murmured:

"Were you bored?"

"I've loved it," said Julia graciously, for she could be generous.

They walked home, according to her wishes, for it was a perfect night,
and she a robust young creature who loved to give her energy a fling.
She walked with a peculiar effect of hope and buoyancy, in spite of
her habit of sombre sayings, and Rokeby found a pleasure in noting
her. She looked what she was, a woman who had never yet encountered
defeat.

This did not rouse in him the hunting desire to run her to earth, or
to the dead wall against which she would sturdily plant that fine back
of hers, and to vanquish her vainglory; but it made him softer, more
protective of her than he had felt before; it made him wish that
always she would keep this spirit and courage which burned like a
brave candle in the mists of life. As they said good-bye upon the
imposing pillar-guarded steps of her boarding-house - called in modern
fashion a Ladies' Club - he held her hand longer than he had ever
imagined he might want to hold the hand of this dragon of a girl.

"Be happy," he adjured her, "don't take other folks' troubles upon
you; let 'em settle their own. Haven't you enough to do?"

"I always feel that there is no end to what I could do," Julia
confessed.

"Yes, you generous thing!" Rokeby cried, "but don't abuse yourself.
There - you don't want my advice, do you? Forgive me! And thank you so
much for an interesting evening. And - and - good night."

He stood at the bottom of the steps watching reluctantly while Julia
entered. She had a latchkey which, ordinary possession as it was,
seemed a symbol of her freedom. While he would have granted it
generously, the freedom somehow piqued Rokeby a little. He stood
smiling rather sadly till she shut the door.

A scurrying housemaid paused in her rush upstairs to say:

"Oh, miss! You were rung up on the 'phone just now, and I took the
message. From a Mrs. Kerr, miss, and she would be glad if you could go
round at once."

Julia stood still for a moment or two, keeping her hands very still in
her muff. "I expect ..." she began to think. Then she rushed for the
cab-whistle, which hung in the hall, pulled open the door, and
whistled until a cab came creeping round the corner, feeling in its
blind way for the invisible fare. She ran down the steps, signalling,
and it spurted up.

"Number Thirty Welham Mansions, Hampstead," she said as she jumped in.

It was an extravagant method of travel - being some distance to
Hampstead - for a young woman earning three pounds ten a week and
spending most of it gorgeously, but she did not care. The four
shillings were a nothing compared to Marie's need of her. She passed
the time in speculations of wrathful trend, until they pulled up in
the quiet road from which she had so recently driven away with Desmond
Rokeby.

Marie opened the door to her - Marie with a face like white marble and
burning eyes. Her dead composure was wonderful and scornful, but Julia
would have none of it; as soon as the door was shut upon them and they
stood there, between the cream walls and black etchings of the hall,
she seized Marie in her arms, exclaiming:

"My poor dear! What's up? Has he - "

For a long while Marie wept on Julia's breast, before the ashes of the
dining-room fire, while the clock with the kind voice ticked musically
on and on, and the room grew chillier, and herself more tired; but at
last she could tell all.

"We - we've had - an awful - quarrel."

"Oh dear!" Julia commented, "oh dear!" She did not know what else to
say.

"I asked him - about the pram."

"Yes, yes! As you said you would."

"He is so angry, so unjust."

"My poor old kiddie!"

"And I was so angry, perhaps I was unjust too."

"No, no, you weren't," said Julia viciously. "I'm sure of it. Nothing
could be unjust to _him_. He deserves it all."

"No, he doesn't You don't understand. But he wasn't fair to-night; he
was so angry, and it wasn't my fault. Do they think we _like_
asking, I wonder? And I don't know what I said, Julia, but I know I
made him think I didn't want baby."

"Well?"

"But I _do_ want him, Julia. I don't know what I'd do without
him; I love him so much - they just grow into your life, Julia, babies
do. He's so sweet."

"Course you love him. I know that. So does Osborn, so don't cry."

"He said I ought to be ashamed of myself."

"Oh, indeed? _In_deed! And may one ask why?"

"B - because I asked for a pram, I s'pose."

"Really! Indeed! I'd like to - "

"Perhaps it wasn't just that. I don't know - but he got so angry and
said he couldn't afford it, and I said, 'P - p - perhaps on the
instalment p - p - plan?' and he said he was sick of instalments and
when was his money ever going to be his own again? And I can't help
it, Julia, can I? I haven't money of my own. And then I got angry and
said things; and he said I ought to be ashamed of myself."

"But aren't you going to have the pram?"

"I don't know. I don't expect so. He went out without saying."

"That's like a man. Go out and slam the door if you don't want to give
an answer!"

"Julia, I - I'm afraid I hurt his feelings. I made him say, 'My God!'"

"That's nothing. They speak of God like a man in the street. That
means nothing."

"Are you sure?"

"Sure, you poor lamb? I'm as sure as sure."

"Do you think you know much about men, Julia?"

"I know too much, thank you."

"I hope you didn't mind coming here again? I didn't know what to do; I
was so wretched, and there was no one to speak to; no one to tell; so
I thought of you."

"That's right, my dear. Always think of me, if I can do anything. You
know I'll always come."

"You _are_ a darling, Julia."

The two girls hugged each other strenuously.

Marie said with a break yet in her voice, "It seemed to me I was being
quite reasonable."

"There are all sorts of men," said Julia, "kind men and unkind; mean
men and generous; good-tempered and bad-tempered; every sort except a
reasonable one. There's never been a reasonable man born yet."

When Julia had pronounced this dictum, she stroked Marie's hair, and
said: "You know, baby, you ought to go to bed like the other baby.
You're tired out and your young man'll be home soon, I've no doubt."

"I don't suppose he'll be later than eleven."

"Well, I'd rather not be still here when he comes, thank you."

"Oh, you wouldn't say I'd told you anything!"

"I won't give myself a chance. I'll put you to bed and then I'll go
home."

Julia was like a mother to Marie when she helped her to undress, and
tucked her up in the bed beside the infant's cot. And when Marie asked
anxiously, with her mind still troubled: "Julia, _you_ know that
I love baby, don't you?" she was warm in her assurances.

"Would you mind," said Marie, "making up the dining-room fire a
little, please, dear, in case Osborn is cold when he comes in?"

Julia stroked on her gloves slowly. "Certainly," she replied, after a
pause.

"I should only put on a couple of lumps, dear," said Marie from the
bed.

"Righto!" Julia answered at the door. "Good night, babies!"

Very softly she closed the door and left them.

She stood for a few moments in the dining-room trying to persuade
herself to make up the fire for Osborn. She hated doing it; she
grudged him his fire and his armchair and pipe and the comfort of
those carpet slippers she saw behind the coal-box. But at last she
took up the tongs, saying to herself sourly:

"It's for Marie, after all, because she asked me; not for him."

She chose her lumps of coal carefully, the two biggest, heavy enough
to crush out altogether the tiny glow of the embers which remained;
she battened them down and remained to assure herself that they would
not burn.

"He won't be able to say the fire wasn't made up," she thought.

She placed Osborn's carpet slippers carefully in front of it.

"He can't say he wasn't made comfortable when he came in."

She went out, with a small sense of satisfaction, and called softly
along the corridor, "Good night, babies," before she left the flat. It
was very, very cold, and she was more than ready for her own bed.

She travelled homewards upon the Tube.

Before she slept, however, Julia had a letter to write, to Desmond
Rokeby; she addressed it to his business address, which she happened
to know, and marked it _Very urgent_. The contents were as urgent
as the instruction upon the envelope, and once again that night she
left the Ladies' Club to post the letter at the pillar-box at the
corner. It would be cleared at midnight, and Rokeby should get his
news by the first post in the morning.

Then Julia Winter slept; but although her head was full of two babies,
a grown-girl one and a tiny weakling one, together in a soiled pink
room, it was not of them that she dreamed. She was sitting once more
at a balcony table in the quiet red restaurant with the big mirrors,
facing an unusual kind of man who cared as little what she thought of
him as she cared what he thought of her; the restaurant was warm and
rosy, and they drifted upon the flying hours, like two voyagers upon a
happy river.




CHAPTER XII

BEHIND THE VEIL


Marie heard Osborn come in and go to the dining-room and hit an
unresponsive mass of coal vigorously, but she gave no sign. In the
darkness she listened for all the sounds she had learned to know so
well; his movements in the dressing-room, his splashing as he washed
face and hands in the bathroom, his pat-pat tread in carpet slippers
along the corridor to their door. To-night he paused here, as if
listening; and it seemed as if her heart paused, too, while she also
listened for him. But he spoke no word, and she spoke none, and the
baby slept, so presently she heard the cautious turning of the handle
and his careful entry.

She feigned sleep.

He knew, by tiny signs he had learnt to discover, that she was not
asleep, but he feigned belief that she was.

His bed creaked to tell her that he was getting into it, in the
darkness, by her side.

Both Marie and Osborn were still angry, sore, insulted and resentful,
and, like other married people in small homes, they must intrude upon
each other intimately, sleep side by side, wake side by side, and
remain as closely conscious of each other as if they dwelt together,
by mutual desire, in a perpetual garden of roses. True, there was a
bed in Osborn's dressing-room, but it was an uncomfortable bed of the
fold-up family, and when he came in to-night it was folded against the
wall, and he did not know exactly where its particular blankets were
kept. He looked at it, thinking, "God! If I could only sleep here for
a night or two!" But he allowed himself to be daunted by the problem
of the blankets, and he went, as usual, to the room he shared with
Marie.

But each was too angry to speak, and the presence of each was fuel to
the other's anger.

Osborn was wakened in the morning by Marie's attentions to the baby.
Though he had gone to sleep turned as completely away from her as
possible, in the night he had rolled over, and now he watched her
quietly and sulkily in the grey dawn, with just one eye opened upon
her above the rim of his bedclothes. If she looked he meant to close
his eyes again quickly, pretending sleep.

But there was something about the frailty of her figure as she sat up
in bed, turning to the table with the spirit-lamp and saucepan upon
it, a quality of wistful charm in her little undressed head, which
went towards softening him. She was quiet, too; she spoke no word, nor
looked towards him. He watched her patiently waiting for the boiling
of the milk; he watched the care with which she mixed the food; and
then she got out of bed, not minding the stark cold, and gave the
bottle to the drowsy baby. She bent over it for a minute, smoothing
its downy head with her light fingers; then she propped the bottle
comfortably for the baby, by some ingenious management of its
bed-clothing, and looked at the clock by her bedside. After she had
looked at the clock she stood hesitating for awhile and he knew what
she was deciding.

She wanted five minutes more of that warm bed after a night broken, as
usual, by the baby's demands; but it was time to get up and sweep and
cook and light fires and lay Osborn's breakfast-table.

After all, it was Osborn who broke the silence between them, sulkily.

"I should give yourself five more minutes; you'll freeze out there."

Marie turned round quickly and looked at his long, comfortable outline
under his pink quilt. She hesitated, then spoke in her natural voice,
which he was secretly relieved to hear:

"It's half-past six; I'll have to dress."

"Poor old girl!" Osborn mumbled from his pillow. After she had gone
quietly out, and he listened to the sounds of running water in the
bathroom, and after she had come back, and he watched her again, one
eye cocked furtively over the blankets, while she moved about quickly,
he thought and considered and argued with himself about her. But,


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