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after all, she did as other women do, didn't she? She had a home and a
husband and child, and she was bound to look after them, wasn't she?
He gave her all he could, and sometimes it seemed to him - though he
didn't mean to grouse - that she might have managed better. His mother,
for instance, grown grey and quiet in the service of himself and his
father, had worked wonders with the limited family money.

Had she been still alive, she might have given Marie a few wrinkles,
perhaps....

There is little doubt that Mrs. Kerr the departed could have given her
young daughter-in-law a few wrinkles had she met her - wrinkles of the
most unprofitable kind upon her fair face; but as it was, Mrs. Kerr
senior lay quietly afar off from No. 30 Welham Mansions, impotent to
reform, and Osborn lay thinking his thoughts in silence while Marie,
having dressed to petticoat and camisole, wreathed up her long and
lustrous hair.

The baby sucked intermittently at his bottle.

When Marie had put on her blouse and skirt, and a pinafore to protect
them, she went out without further conversation. Osborn wondered a
little whether she sulked, but she was not sulking; she was only
occupied much as he was, in thinking and considering and arguing with
herself about him. She was modern enough to remain proud and critical
and impatient after domestic experiences which would have gone far
towards cowing the generation of women before her. Her mother had
bowed beneath such experiences without so much as an inquiry or
expostulation. As Marie hurried about with brush and duster, with
black-lead and fire-fuel, as she stood over the purring stove, and
watched toast and eggs and coffee come to their various perfections,
each over its ring of flame, she was absorbed in wondering:

"It _is_ I who am right? It's I who have the harder time? It's
the woman upon whom everything falls? But can't it all be put right
somehow? Couldn't I make him see?"

Something definite emerged from her prospecting, at least; the resolve
to seek an understanding with Osborn, not now, over breakfast with its
time-limit and its haste, but perhaps to-night, after dinner, when
he'd come in, and been fed and rested, and had put on his warm
slippers. She faced Osborn over the breakfast-table with a brightness
which he was relieved to see; but after he had noted it with inward
approval, he hid himself behind his newspaper; he wanted to say
little; to get away very, very quietly.

He had known many men who had to fly before the domestic sirocco; he
had laughed at and despised them in his heart. But - poor beggars! No
doubt they had hidden themselves behind newspapers with a child-like
faith in the impenetrability of the shield, even as he was hiding.

Poor beggars!

It was no better than the ostrich habit of tucking your head into the
sand, to crowd yourself behind your morning paper. You felt awfully
nervy behind it, and you kept a scowl handy. There was something in
the tension which made you bolt your good food quickly, indifferent as
your lunch would be presently, and which made you glad when you were
ready to rise, and remark with a forced _bonhomie_:

"Well, so long, girlie! I must be off."

Marie followed Osborn out into the narrow hall, where now faint daubs
marked the cream distemper, and helped him on with his coat, and found
his gloves and muffler. "It's cold, dear," she said solicitously,
"wrap up well."

"Oh, that's all right! Take care of yourself and baby. Good-bye!"

He stooped and kissed her lips quickly, avoiding her eyes, and went
out whistling. A forlornness overtook her; she ran back through the
dining-room to the window, and, leaning out, watched for him to emerge
from the doorway below; when he came, and started down the street
towards the tramcar terminus, she made ready to wave as she used to do
should he look up.

But he did not look up, as he strode purposefully away. A few months
ago he would have lagged a little, glancing up and waving frequently
before he finally disappeared. This morning as she watched the thought
smote: "When did he forget to wave to me? When did we leave off - all
this?"

She remembered it was when she began to be so really busy, after the
baby came. Baby was crying sometimes as they finished breakfast; she
must hurry to him; it was time for his bath; he must have his bath,
mustn't he? She couldn't help that. But she rather thought that
perhaps this was the beginning of the end of all those dear smiles and
salutes right down the street back to the girl above. Perhaps Osborn
had looked up in vain many mornings, hoping to see her leaning out
there, and at last had ceased to mind whether she were there or not.

A surprise came for Marie after lunch. She was making herself ready to
carry her baby and her basket to the open-air market a street away,
where the thriftier housewives of the neighbourhood shopped, when a
delivery carman left at her door the handsome baby-carriage which
Julia's note had sent Desmond Rokeby out post-haste to buy. Such a
perambulator Marie had never hoped for, nor dreamed of; it boasted
every luxury of contrivance, from the umbrella basket, slung to the
handles, to its C-springs and its big, smooth-rolling tyres. In colour
it was French-grey, extremely dainty; and it came with Desmond's love
to his godson and a tactfully expressed hope that his gift had not
been forestalled. So Marie put her baby in, and her basket, too; and
after she had finished admiring her pink-and-white son among the
lavender upholstery, she wheeled him out proudly to the open-air
market, where the equipage drew forth delighted comments from the
vendors who knew her well. She did not come straight home, as she had
to do when carrying the baby; but, her purchases finished, she turned
towards the Heath, and wheeled about proudly there for a while,
envying no one, not the smart nurses who propelled their smart
perambulators, nor the few mothers who strolled beside them. She felt
that, with the finest baby in town in a French-grey and lavender
chariot, she could meet and beat any turnout of the kind.

Marie sang during the rest of the afternoon when she reached home
again. She sang while she made a cup of tea; sang while she put her
boy to bed, and set about her preparations for her husband's return;
he heard her singing when he fitted his latchkey unobtrusively in the
lock, and stepped, still furtively, into the hall. He breathed freely
again and told himself that the storm had passed.

He sat down by the fire, before which his wife had set his slippers,
but he did not unlace his boots. He was hungry; he cast a short look
over the dinner-table to judge, by its arrangement, something of what
he might be given to eat. Before he had made a guess, Marie ran in.

"Guess!" she cried, "guess what's happened!"

"Dunno, old girl," said Osborn.

"That dear darling Mr. Rokeby has sent us the _most gorgeous_
baby-carriage."

"The devil he has!" said Osborn, with deep feeling, straightening his
shoulders as if a burden had been lifted from them.

"It's down in the lobby with the other prams; you must go down and see
it."

"I will after dinner. By Jove, that's good of Rokeby! I wonder what
made him think of it."

"I can't imagine; he _is_ thoughtful, isn't he?"

"What's it like?"

"It's pale grey, with ball bearings; and C-springs, and an umbrella
basket. There's no enamel; it's all nickel. And the upholstery...."

"By Jove, Desmond's done the youngster proud, what?"

"We couldn't _possibly_ have bought such a carriage for him,
Osborn!"

Osborn began to feel flattered as well as pleased. He had always
noticed, of course, the very particular attraction and beauty and the
early cleverness of his son, but he had not guessed that the little
beggar had so impressed that confirmed bachelor.

"Rokeby thinks no end of the kid, you know," he said, sitting down to
the table.

"That's not to be wondered at, is it?" replied the enthusiastic
mother.

Osborn caught her hand as she passed by him and kissed it.

"I've been thinking about you - about us - to-day," he confided.

"Have you?" she said timidly.

"We - we were both," Osborn hesitated, "both a bit - mad last night,
weren't we?"

He pressed her hand before he relinquished it so that she might
proceed to the kitchen to dish up the dinner. And she went with a
lighter heart because of his affection.

Opposite him, beneath the candles which she still lighted with
pleasure each night, she regarded him with a new earnestness. The
quarrel was over, it seemed; but it had opened for her a door through
which she had never passed before, the door into the darkness of human
hearts, and she felt as if she would never forget that horrific step
across the unveiled threshold. She watched Osborn steadily yet
unobtrusively while his mind was given to the meal; she saw him eat
with a great hunger, and the rather tired look which had marked his
face when he first came in disappeared as he ate. Men who perforce eat
lunch very frugally look forward keenly to a good meal, and Osborn had
no eyes or words for Marie until the edge of his appetite was
satisfied. She did not yet understand this very well; she was inclined
to a slight resentment in his absorption with his dinner to the
exclusion of herself. But she did not interrupt him by chatter; she
just sat there quietly observing until he should be ready for more
conversation.

Presently she brought his coffee round to his side, and he lighted a
cigarette with a sigh of satisfaction. He appreciated, indefinitely,
her gift of silence when a man came in sharpset for dinner; he had
spent a day among busy men, talking all the time, and he did not wish
to talk any more. After all, a man came home for quiet.

Marie had spent the day alone with the baby. There had been no voice
save her singing one uplifted in the flat since early morning; she
wanted to sit with Osborn by the fire in their dear old way, and to
talk and talk; and to hear him talk. After all, was not the
companionable evening the time for which the lonely household woman
lived through her silent day?

She brought her coffee to a place near him and sat down there.

"Osborn," she said, "I was awf'ly hurt that you were so angry last
night. I do want you to see that it isn't my fault."

He looked at her rather appealingly. "Let's chuck it," he suggested.

"If you will only understand! I don't believe men think; but if you
_would_ think over it for just a few minutes, dear old boy, you'd
know that I'm just as careful as a woman can be. You used to give me
thirty shillings a week for the housekeeping before we had baby; and
I've never asked you for any more since, have I? And his food's awf'ly
expensive too. I manage on just the same, Osborn."

"Yes, yes," he said, moving uneasily, "but where's all this leading? I
mean - "

"It isn't leading anywhere. I only wanted you to see that I can't help
anything."

After a pause, with a little line between his brows, he said:

"No, I know you can't. It's all right. You said some perfectly awful
things last night - "

"So did you, Osborn."

He rose slowly. "Well, dear, we won't go over it. We've seen things
with the gilt off; and that's that. Anyhow, there's nothing to worry
about, is there? We're about straight with the world, though it means
every penny earmarked before I earn it. And there's no question of
buying a pram now, thank God!"

He turned away and searched on the mantelpiece for matches. "It made
me shudder," he said very gravely, "three-pound-ten! Four pounds!
After all the expenses I'd had."

"Well...." she said, swallowing hard, "well, come and see Mr. Rokeby's
present. It's a ten-guinea carriage, Osborn; nothing less."

He swung round and looked at her, palsied in amazement.

"Ten guineas! _Ten!_ Good God! Why ... it takes me the best part
of three weeks to earn what that baby of yours just rides about in!"

"Aren't you coming down to see it?"

"I - I shall see it as I go out, thanks."

"When you - go out!"

She looked down quickly and noted that he had not taken off his boots.

She said in a changed voice: "You're going out?"

"I promised a man to look in and see the show at The Happy with him
to-night. Just in the prom, you know. We haven't got stalls like
giddy bachelors!"

"Osborn, can't you stay in? It - it's lonely all day, and I look
forward to your coming home."

"You didn't seem to look forward very kindly last night."

She cried with hot resentment: "I thought you didn't want that
mentioned again!"

"Oh, very well! And I shall be in to-morrow night; won't that do? A
man can't be always tied up to the kitchen table, you know. Besides, I
promised Dicky Vendo I'd go; his wife's away, and he's free."

"Yours isn't away."

"But she's been a damned little shrew, and doesn't deserve me to stay
in for her. There! that's what you get by arguing." He laughed a laugh
of vexation as much at his own ill-temper as at her pertinacity.

"Very well," she said, drawing back.

The light in the room was subdued, for the candles had not yet given
place to the incandescent glare. He cast a glance at her face, but she
had withdrawn to the shadow.

"Well," he hesitated, "night-night, in case you don't sit up."

"Good night," she replied. "I shan't sit up."

"You might make up the fire before you go to bed, though, there's a
dear girl."

She did not answer, and he went out; she followed him to the doorway,
and stood there watching him put on his overcoat and muffler again.
His pipe was between his teeth; he removed it for a second to kiss her
cheek hastily, then restored it. With a hysterical anger held
feverishly in check, she thought that male imperturbability, male
selfishness, were incredible.

"Night-night!" he said again, going out. "I'll bring you a programme."

The door shut. She was alone. She advanced passionately upon the
strewn dinner-table; it waited there to be cleared by the work of her
hands, as imperturbable as he.

She dashed off the candle-shades first.

"What a day!" she gasped.

Early morning and the awakening in the cold, the brushing of grates
and the lighting of fires, the sweeping and cooking, to get a man off
warmed and comfortable to business; the long, long hours of silence
and domestic tasks, waiting for his return; his return to his food;
his departure again; a desolate evening of silence and domestic
tasks - these were that span of hope and promise called a day.

Married life!




CHAPTER XIII

"THE VERY DEVIL"


When spring had passed, and part of the summer, the Osborn Kerrs did
as all their neighbours did; they packed up their best clothes, folded
the baby's cot, swathed the ten-guinea perambulator, and with the baby
and his cumbersome impedimenta, made an exhausting effort and went to
the sea.

They did not go to the sea altogether lightly; it had cost a great
deal of thought and arithmetic and discussion as to a stopping-place.
Osborn was keen on a boarding-house; he knew a jolly one where he had
stayed before, but Marie vetoed that. They wouldn't have babies in
boarding-houses; they wouldn't like her keeping the perambulator
there, and wheeling it through the hall; likewise they wouldn't like
her intruding into the back regions with it. She knew that what one
did with a young family was to take rooms, and cater for oneself. So
they wrote to engage rooms, and after much correspondence found what
would suit their purse, and started for a week by the sea.

The baby fretted a little during its unaccustomed travelling, and,
fretting, fretted its parents. Osborn was dimly annoyed with Marie for
not being able to keep the baby up to the best standard of infantile
behaviour, feeling that the things he was called upon to do, in a
public railway carriage, made him look a fool; and Marie was hurt with
Osborn that he should show so little sympathy and patience. She wrote,
upon arrival, a letter to Mrs. Amber, which brought her down within a
couple of days, to stay at a boarding-house within a stone's throw.

Grandmother was very good. She was always nice-tempered and kind and
soothing. In the morning she came round early to the rooms in a side
street, and took the baby out for his airing upon the promenade, so
that Marie and Osborn might bathe together. She it was who persuaded
their landlady to take charge of the baby for just one hour, one
afternoon, while Marie and Osborn came to take fashionable tea with
her at the boarding-house. In the evening, when the pier was lighted
and the band played, and the summer life of the place was at its
giddiest, she would arrive with her comfortable smile and her knitting
to sit within earshot of her sleeping grandson while his parents went
out to enjoy themselves.

Marie did not know what she would have done without the wise woman
upon this holiday; but when they talked together she was still shy of
confidences, and still reluctant to admit any but the most modern
interpretation of the married relationship. Mrs. Amber, however, saw
all there was to see and felt no resentment about it. Things were so;
and they always had been. You might be miserable if you were married,
but then you would have been far more miserable if you had not
married. She pitied all spinsters profoundly. She was glad her
daughter had found a husband and a home; and she would not have
dreamed of combating Osborn. He was that strange, wilful despotic
thing, a man. She would have handed him without contest that dangerous
weapon of complete power over a woman and her children. Mrs. Amber
propitiated Osborn; she pleased and flattered him; and her judgment of
him was that he was far better than he might have been.

Grannie travelled back with them to town, and she was very useful
during the journey. She kept a strict eye upon the hand-luggage and
nursed the baby, while Marie and Osborn smiled together over the
sketches in a humorous weekly. Their money was all spent, and they
were really half-relieved to be going back to the flat, where they
need not keep up that air of being so very pleased with every detail
of a rather strained holiday. They would meet other people they knew,
who had similarly enjoyed themselves, and would cry:

"Have _you_ been away? We're just back. We went to Littlehampton
and had a gorgeous time! We had such awf'ly comfortable rooms, not
actually _on_ the front, but within a minute's walk. We
_prefer_ rooms to an hotel. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously.
Where did you go?"

Mrs. Amber was with Marie a great deal during the rest of that hot
summer; she had waited for the close intimacy of the honeymoon time,
of the first year, to wear away; she had bided her hour very
patiently. When the husband began - as he would - to go out for an hour
after dinner, just to meet a friend, and would stay two - three, four
hours perhaps, then the mother had come into her own again. Sitting
with the strangely-quietened Marie by the open windows of the pale
sitting-room - which they could use again with perfect economy during
the summer weather - Mrs. Amber was well content with the way of
things. She knitted placidly for baby George all the while, and Marie,
who hated knitting, sewed for him.

They were evenings such as Mrs. Amber the young wife used to spend
with her own mother, while young Mr. Amber betook himself to the
strange and unexplained haunts of men.

And on one of these evenings, while the weather was still warm enough
to sit looking out into the darkness through the opened windows, but
when an autumn haze had begun to hang again about the night, Marie had
something to tell her mother, which had blanched her cheek and
moistened her eyes all day.

"Mother, I don't know _what_ you'll think, but - I'm going to have
another baby."

"Oh - my - dear!" said Mrs. Amber.

The two women gazed into each other's eyes, and while a half-pleased
expression stole through the solicitude in Mrs. Amber's, Marie's were
wide with fear.

"Are you sure, duck?" said the elder woman, her knitting dropped in
her lap.

"Sure," Marie murmured hoarsely. "I've been afraid - and I waited
before I told you. But I'm sure. It - it'll be next summer - in the hot
weather, just when we'd have been going away to the sea. We shan't be
able to afford to go to Littlehampton next year."

"An only child," said Mrs. Amber comfortingly, "is a mistake. It's
almost cruel to have an only child. You'll be much better with two
than one."

"How can you say so? All that to go through again - "

"Oh, duck, I know! But it won't be so bad next time; anyone'll tell
you that. Ask your doctor."

"I shan't have the doctor till I'm obliged."

"I'm sure Osborn would wish you to - "

"How do you know what Osborn would wish?" And she said as so many
rebellious women have said before her: "He promised I should never
have another. He was crying. I've never told you before, but he was.
He cried; and promised me."

"Cried!" Mrs. Amber echoed aghast. "Poor fellow, oh, poor fellow!
Osborn has a very good heart. The dear boy!"

"What about me, mother? Where's your sympathy for me? I cried, too."

"We're different."

"No, we aren't. And he _promised_."

"Oh, my duck," said Mrs. Amber in a voice of confidential bustle,
"that's not to be depended on. Men always promise these things; I've
known it scores of times. But it doesn't do to depend upon them,
love."

"I despise men."

"Oh, don't say that, like Miss Winter. I never did approve of that
girl."

"She's wiser than I. She won't marry."

"I guess she hasn't had the chance," said Mrs. Amber, with the
disbelief of the old married woman in spinster charms.

"Oh, yes, she has, mother. She's had several chances. But she knows
when she's lucky; she's her own mistress, and she has her own money
and her freedom."

"She's missing a great deal; and some day she'll know it."

"She knows it now, thank you. She knows she's missing illness and pain
and poverty and worry, and the whims and fancies and bad tempers of a
husband."

Mrs. Amber said soothingly: "Now, now, my dear, you're not yourself,
or you wouldn't say such things. It's every woman's duty to marry if
she can and have children. As to your husband, it's no use expecting
anything of men but what you get; and the sooner you realise it, my
love, the happier you'll be."

"I'll never realise it!" Marie fired.

"Then you'll never settle down contentedly as you ought to."

"Why ought I, mother?"

"Because there's nothing else to be done," replied Mrs. Amber
sensibly.

"You're right there," Marie moaned, with her forehead against the
chair back, "there's nothing else to be done."

"What does Osborn say now about a second baby?"

"He doesn't know."

Mrs. Amber paused and thought before she said: "You ought to tell him
at once, my dear. It's possible - he might be pleased."

"He'll be anything but pleased. I dread telling him."

"Oh, my duck!" said Mrs. Amber helplessly.

Marie enumerated: "He'll hate the expense, and the worry, and my
illness, and the discomforts he'll have while I'm ill. He'll hate
everything."

"Men do, of course, poor things," Mrs. Amber commented with sympathy.

"Poor things!" Marie flared. "I'd like to - "

"No, you wouldn't like to do anything unkind, love. And when you've
got your dear little new baby you'll love it, and be just as pleased
with it as you are with George. You will, my dear; there's no
gainsaying it, because we women are made that way."

"I know," said Marie very sorrowfully.

Mrs. Amber regarded her knitting thoughtfully, then she dropped it to
regard her daughter thoughtfully. She rose and shut the windows
against the now chill night air of October, and drawing the curtains,
made the room look cosy. She looked at the fire laid ready in the
grate, but unlighted, and puckered her eyebrows doubtfully.

"The dining-room fire isn't lighted either, is it, duck?"

"No mother. When Osborn goes out in the evenings, I don't light one
just for myself after these warm days."

"You should, my love. Really you should make yourself more
comfortable."

"Now, mother, I'm sure you never lighted fires for yourself when
father was out, unless it was to keep all the pipes in the place from
freezing solid. I'm sure you screwed and skimped and saved and worried
along, as all we other fools of women do."

Mrs. Amber did not deny this, knowing it to be true; she said
something remote, however, about the pleasure of women being duty, and
their duty sacrifice.

Marie remained limp in her chair.

"The point is, mother, that I don't know how to tell Osborn."

"Well, my love, let me tell him."

"Oh, mother," said Marie, "would you?"


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