'Name, please?' said he.
'Name, if YOU please?'
'Why, you know.'
'Maude Crosse—O Frank!'
'You blessing! How grand it sounds! O Maude, what a jolly old world it is! Isn't it pretty to see the rain falling? And aren't the shining pavements lovely? And isn't everything splendid, and am I not the luckiest—the most incredibly lucky of men. Dear girlie, give me your hand! I can feel IT under the glove. Now, sweetheart, you are not frightened, are you?'
'Yes, I was a little. O Frank, you won't tire of me, will you? I should break my heart if you did.'
'Tire of you! Good heavens! Now you'll never guess what I was doing while the parson was telling us about what Saint Paul said to the Colossians, and all the rest of it.'
'I know perfectly well what you were doing. And you shouldn't have done it.'
'What was I doing, then?'
'You were staring at me.'
'Oh, you saw that, did you?'
'I felt it.'
'Well, I was. But I was praying also.'
'Were you, Frank?'
'When I saw you kneeling there, so sweet and pure and good, I seemed to realise how you had been given into my keeping for life, and I prayed with all my heart that if I should ever injure you in thought, or word, or deed, I might drop dead now before I had time to do it.'
'O Frank, what a dreadful prayer!'
'But I felt it and I wished it, and I could not help it. My own darling, there you are just a living angel, the gentlest, most sensitive, and beautiful living creature that walks the earth, and please God I shall keep you so, and ever higher and higher if such a thing is possible, and if ever I say a word or do a deed that seems to lower you, then remind me of this moment, and send me back to try to live up to our highest ideal again. And I for my part will try to improve myself and to live up to you, and to bridge more and more the gap that is between us, that I may feel myself not altogether unworthy of our love. And so we shall act and re-act upon each other, ever growing better and wiser, and dating what is best and brightest in our minds and souls from the day that we were married. And that's MY idea of a marriage-service, and here endeth the first lesson, and the windows are blurred with rain, and hang the coachman, and it's hard lines if a man may not kiss his own wife—you blessing!'
A broad-brimmed hat with a curling feather is not a good shape for driving with an ardent young bridegroom in a discreetly rain-blurred carriage. Frank demonstrated the fact, and it took them all the way to the Langham to get those pins driven home again. And then after an abnormal meal, which was either a very late breakfast or a very early lunch, they drove on to Victoria Station, from which they were to start for Brighton. Jack Selby and the two regimental fizzers, who had secured immortality for the young couple, if the deep and constant drinking of healths could have done it, had provided themselves with packages of rice, old slippers, and other time- honoured missiles. On a hint from Maude, however, that she would prefer a quiet departure, Frank coaxed the three back into the luncheon-room with a perfectly guileless face, and then locking the door on the outside, handed the key and a half-sovereign to the head- waiter, with instructions to release the prisoners when the carriage had gone—an incident which in itself would cause the judicious observer to think that, given the opportunity, Mister Frank Crosse had it in him to go pretty far in life. And so, quietly and soberly, they rolled away upon their first journey—the journey which was the opening of that life's journey, the goal of which no man may see.
CHAPTER VII—KEEPING UP APPEARANCES
It was in the roomy dining-room of the Hotel Metropole at Brighton. Maude and Frank were seated at the favourite small round table near the window, where they always lunched. Their immediate view was a snowy-white tablecloth with a shining centre dish of foppish little cutlets, each with a wisp of ornamental paper, and a surrounding bank of mashed potatoes. Beyond, from the very base of the window, as it seemed, there stretched the huge expanse of the deep blue sea, its soothing mass of colour broken only by a few white leaning sails upon the furthest horizon. Along the sky-line the white clouds lay in carelessly piled cumuli, like snow thrown up from a clearing. It was restful and beautiful, that distant view, but just at the moment it was the near one which interested them most. Though they lose from this moment onwards the sympathy of every sentimental reader, the truth must be told that they were thoroughly enjoying their lunch.
With the wonderful adaptability of women—a hereditary faculty, which depends upon the fact that from the beginning of time the sex has been continually employed in making the best of situations which were not of their own choosing—Maude carried off her new character easily and gracefully. In her trim blue serge dress and sailor hat, with the warm tint of yesterday's sun upon her cheeks, she was the very picture of happy and healthy womanhood. Frank was also in a blue serge boating-suit, which was appropriate enough, for they spent most of their time upon the water, as a glance at his hands would tell. Their conversation was unhappily upon a very much lower plane than when we overheard them last.
'I've got such an appetite!'
'So have I, Frank.'
'Capital. Have another cutlet.'
'Thank you, dear.'
'I always thought that people on their honeymoon lived on love.'
'Yes, isn't it dreadful, Frank? We must be so material.'
'Good old mother Nature! Cling on to her skirt and you never lose your way. One wants a healthy physical basis for a healthy spiritual emotion. Might I trouble you for the pickles?'
'Are you happy, Frank?'
'Absolutely and completely.'
'Quite, QUITE sure?'
'I never was quite so sure of anything.'
'It makes me so happy to hear you say so.'
'O Frank, I am just floating upon golden clouds in a dream. But your poor hands! Oh, how they must pain you!'
'Not a bit.'
'It was that heavy oar.'
'I get no practice at rowing. There is no place to row in at Woking, unless one used the canal. But it was worth a blister or two. By Jove, wasn't it splendid, coming back in the moonlight with that silver lane flickering on the water in front of us? We were so completely alone. We might have been up in the interstellar spaces, you and I, travelling from Sirius to Arcturus in one of those profound gulfs of the void which Hardy talks about. It was overpowering.'
'I can never forget it.'
'We'll go again to-night.'
'But the blisters!'
'Hang the blisters! And we'll take some bait with us and try to catch something.'
'And we'll drive to Rottingdean this afternoon, if you feel inclined. Have this last cutlet, dear!'
'No, thank you.'
'Well, it seems a pity to waste it. Here goes! By the way, Maude, I must speak very severely to you. I can't if you look at me like that. But really, joking apart, you must be more careful before the waiters.'
'Well, we have carried it off splendidly so far. No one has found us out yet, and no one will if we are reasonably careful. The fat waiter is convinced that we are veterans. But last night at dinner you very nearly gave the thing away.'
'Did I, Frank?'
'Don't look so sweetly penitent, you blessing. The fact is that you make a shocking bad conspirator. Now I have a kind of talent for that, as I have for every other sort of depravity, so it will be pretty safe in my hands. You are as straight as a line by nature, and you can't be crooked when you try.'
'But what did I say? Oh, I AM so sorry! I tried to be so careful.'
'Well, about the curry, you know. It was an error of judgment to ask if I took chutnee. And then . . . '
'About the boots. Did I get them in London or Woking.'
'Oh dear, dear!'
'And then . . . '
'Not another! O Frank!'
'Well, the use of the word "my." You must give that word up. It should be "our."'
'I know, I know. It was when I said that the salt water had taken the curl out of the feather in my—no, in our—well, in THE hat.'
'That was all right. But it is OUR luggage, you know, and OUR room, and so on.'
'Of course it is. How foolish I am! Then the waiter knows! O Frank, what shall we do?'
'Not he. He knows nothing. I am sure of it. He is a dull sort of person. I had my eye on him all the time. Besides, I threw in a few remarks just to set the thing right.'
'That was when you spoke about our travels in the Tyrol?'
'O Frank, how COULD you? And you said how lonely it was when we were the only visitors at the Swiss hotel.'
'That was an inspiration. That finished him.'
'And about the closeness of the Atlantic staterooms. I blushed to hear you.'
'But he listened eagerly to it all. I could see it.'
'I wonder if he really believed it. I have noticed that the maids and the waiters seem to look at us with a certain interest.'
'My dear girlie, you will find as you go through life that every man will always look at you with a certain interest.'
Maude smiled, but was unconvinced.
'A little butter, please.'
'Some butter, waiter, and the Stilton. You know the real fact is, that we make the mistake of being much too nice to each other in public. Veterans don't do that. They take the small courtesies for granted—which is all wrong, but it shows that they ARE veterans. That is where we give ourselves away.'
'That never occurred to me.'
'If you want to settle that waiter for ever, and remove the last lingering doubt from his mind, the thing is for you to be rude to me.'
'Or you to me, Frank.'
'Sure you won't mind?'
'Not a bit.'
'Oh, hang it, I can't—not even for so good an object.'
'Well, then, I can't either.'
'But this is absurd. It is only acting.'
'Quite so. It is only fun.'
'Then why won't you do it?'
'Why won't you?'
'He'll be back before we settle it. Look here! I've a shilling under my hand. Heads or tails, and the loser has to be rude. Do you agree?'
'You've got to be rude. Now mind you are. Here he comes.'
The waiter had come up the room bearing the pride of the hotel, the grand green Stilton with the beautiful autumn leaf heart shading away to rich plum-coloured cavities. He placed it on the table with a solemn air.
'It's a beautiful Stilton,' Frank remarked.
Maude tried desperately to be rude.
'Well, dear, I don't think it is so very beautiful,' was the best that she could do.
It was not much, but it had a surprising effect upon the waiter. He turned and hurried away.
'There now, you've shocked him?' cried Frank.
'Where HAS he gone, Frank?'
'To complain to the management about your language.'
'No, Frank. Please tell me! Oh, I wish I hadn't been so rude. Here he is again.'
'All right. Sit tight,' said Frank.
A sort of procession was streaming up the hall. There was their fat waiter in front with a large covered cheese-dish. Behind him was another with two smaller ones, and a third with some yellow powder upon a plate was bringing up the rear.
'This is Gorgonzola, main,' said the waiter, with a severe manner. 'And there's Camembert and Gruyere behind, and powdered Parmesan as well. I'm sorry that the Stilton don't give satisfaction.'
Maude helped herself to Gorgonzola and looked very guilty and uncomfortable. Frank began to laugh.
'I meant you to be rude to ME, not to the cheese,' said he, when the procession had withdrawn.
'I did my best, Frank. I contradicted you.'
'Oh, it was a shocking display of temper.'
'And I hurt the poor waiter's feelings.'
'Yes, you'll have to apologise to his Stilton before he will forgive you.'
'And I don't believe he is a bit more convinced that we are veterans than he was before.'
'All right, dear; leave him to me. Those reminiscences of mine must have settled him. If they didn't, then I feel it is hopeless.'
It was as well for his peace of mind that Frank could not hear the conversation between the fat waiter and their chambermaid, for whom he nourished a plethoric attachment. They had half an hour off in the afternoon, and were comparing notes.
'Nice-lookin' couple, ain't they, John?' said the maid, with the air of an expert. 'I don't know as we've 'ad a better since the spring weddin's.'
'I don't know as I'd go as far as that,' said the fat waiter critically. ''E'd pass all right. 'E's an upstandin' young man with a good sperrit in 'im.'
'What's wrong with 'er, then?'
'It's a matter of opinion,' said the waiter. 'I likes 'em a bit more full-flavoured myself. And as to 'er taste, why there, if you 'ad seen 'er turn up 'er nose at the Stilton at lunch.'
'Turn up 'er nose, did she? Well, she seemed to me a very soft- spoken, obligin' young lady.'
'So she may be, but they're a queer couple, I tell you. It's as well they are married at last.'
'Because they 'ave been goin' on most owdacious before'and. I 'ave it from their own lips, and it fairly made me blush to listen to it. Awful, it was, AWFUL!'
'You don't say that, John!'
'I tell you, Jane, I couldn't 'ardly believe my ears. They was married on Tuesday last, as we know well, and to-day's Times to prove it, and yet if you'll believe me, they was talkin' about 'ow they 'ad travelled alone abroad—'
'And alone in a Swiss 'otel!'
'And a steamer too.'
'Well, there! I'll never trust any one again.'
'Oh, a perfec' pair of scorchers. But I'll let 'im see as I knows it. I'll put that Times before 'im to-night at dinner as sure as my name's John.'
'And a good lesson to them, too! If you didn't say you'd 'eard it from their own lips, John, I never could 'ave believed it. It's things like that as shakes your trust in 'uman nature.'
Maude and Frank were lingering at the table d'hote over their walnuts and a glass of port wine, when their waiter came softly behind them.
'Beg pardon, sir, but did you see it in the Times?'
'THAT, sir. I thought that it might be of interest to you and to your good lady to see it.'
He had laid one page of the paper before them, with his forefinger upon an item in the left-hand top corner. Then he discreetly withdrew. Frank stared at it in horror.
'Maude, your people have gone and put it in.'
'Here it is! Listen! "Crosse—Selby. 30th June, at St. Monica's Church, by the Rev. John Tudwell, M.A., Vicar of St. Monica's, Frank Crosse, of Maybury Road, Woking, to Maude Selby, eldest daughter of Robert Selby, Esq., of St. Albans." Great Scot, Maude! what shall we do?'
'Well, dear, does it matter?'
'Matter! It's simply awful!'
'I don't mind much if they do know.'
'But my reminiscences, Maude! The travels in the Tyrol! The Swiss Hotel! The Stateroom! Great goodness, how I have put my foot into it.'
Maude burst out laughing.
'You old dear!' she cried, 'I don't believe you are a bit better as a conspirator than I am. There's only one thing you can do. Give the waiter half a crown, tell him the truth, and don't conspire any more.'
And so ignominiously ended the attempt which so many have made, and at which so many have failed. Take warning, gentle reader, and you also, gentler reader still, when your own turn comes.
CHAPTER VIII—THE HOME-COMING
The days of holiday were over, and for each of them the duties of life were waiting. For him it was his work, and for her, her housekeeping. They both welcomed the change, for there was a rush and a want of privacy about the hotel life which had been amusing at first, but was now becoming irksome. It was pleasant, as they rolled out of Waterloo Station that summer night, to know that their cosy little home was awaiting them just five-and-twenty miles down the line. They had a first-class carriage to themselves—it is astonishing how easy it is for two people to fit into one of those armchair partitions,—and they talked all the way down about their plans for the future. Golden visions of youth, how they can glorify even a suburban villa and four hundred a year! They exulted together over the endless vista of happy days which stretched before them.
Mrs. Watson, Frank's trusty housekeeper, had been left in charge of The Lindens, and he had sent her a telegram the evening before to tell her that they were coming. She had already engaged the two servants, so everything would be ready for them. They pictured her waiting at the door, the neat little rooms with all their useful marriage-presents in their proper places, the lamplight and the snowy cloth laid for supper in the dining-room. It would be ten o'clock before they got there, and that supper would be a welcome sight. It was all delightful to look forward to, and this last journey was the happiest of all their wanderings. Maude wanted to see her kitchen. Frank wanted to see his books. Both were eager for the fight.
But they found a small annoyance waiting for them at Woking. A crowded train had preceded them, and there was not a single cab left at the station. Some would be back soon, but nobody could tell when.
'You don't mind walking, Maude?'
'I should prefer it.'
So a friendly porter took charge of their trunks, and promised to send them up when a conveyance had arrived. In the meantime they started off together down an ill-lit and ill-kept road, which opened into that more important thoroughfare in which their own villa was situated. They walked quickly, full of eager anticipations.
'It's just past the third lamp-post on the right,' said Frank. 'Now it's only the second lamp-post. You see it will not be far from the station. Those windows among the trees are where Hale lives—my best man, you know! Now it is only one lamp-post!' They quickened their pace almost to a run, and so arrived at the gate of The Lindens.
It was a white gate leading into a short path—'carriage sweep' the house-agent called it,—and so to a low but comfortable-looking little house. The night was so dark that one could only see its outline. To their surprise, there was no sign of a light either above the door or at any of the windows.
'Well, I'm blessed!' cried Frank.
'Never mind, dear. They live at the back, no doubt.'
'But I gave them the hour. This is too bad. I am so sorry.'
'It will be all the more cosy inside. What a dear little gate this is! The whole place is perfectly charming.'
But in spite of her brave attempts at making the best of it, it could not be denied that this black house was not what they had pictured in their dreams. Frank strode angrily up the path and pulled at the bell. There was no answer, so he knocked violently. Then he knocked with one hand while he rang with the other, but no sound save that of the clanging bell came from the gloomy house. As they stood forlornly in front of their own hall-door, a soft rain began to rustle amidst the bushes. At this climax of their troubles Maude burst into such a quiet, hearty, irresistible fit of laughter, that the angry Frank was forced to laugh also.
'My word, it will be no laughing matter for Mrs. Watson if she cannot give a good reason for it,' said he.
'Perhaps the poor woman is ill.'
'But there should be two other people, the cook and the housemaid. It is just as well that we did not bring up our trunks, or we should have had to dump them down in the front garden. You wait here, dear, under the shelter of the porch, and I will walk round and see if I can burgle it.'
He tried the back, but it was as dark as the front, and the kitchen- door was locked. Then he prowled unhappily in the rain from window to window. They were all fastened. He came back to the kitchen- door, poked his stick through the glass which formed the upper panel, and then putting his hand through the hole, he turned the key, and so stumbled into the obscurity of his own hall. He passed through it, unlocked the front door, and received Maude into his open arms.
'Welcome to your home, my own darling girl. May you never have one sad hour under this roof! What a dismal home-coming! What can I do to make amends? But good comes out of evil, you see, for in no other possible way could I have been inside to welcome you when you entered.'
They stayed in the hall in the dark some time, these wet and foolish young people. Then Frank struck a match, and tried to light the hall-lamp. There was no oil in it. He muttered something vigorous, and carried his burning vesta into the dining-room. Two candles were standing on the sideboard. He lit them both, and things began to look a little more cheerful. They took a candle each and began to explore their own deserted house.
The dining-room was excellent—small, but very snug. The Tantalus spirit-stand—stood upon the walnut sideboard, and the bronzes from the cricket-club looked splendid upon each side of the mantelpiece. Beside the clock in the centre lay an open telegram. Frank seized it eagerly.
'There now!' he cried. 'Listen to this. "Expect us on Thursday evening about ten." It was TUESDAY evening, I said. That's the telegraphic clerk. We've come two days before our time.'
It was good to have any sort of explanation, although it left a great deal unexplained. They passed through the hall with its shining linoleum, and into the drawing-room. It was not a very good room, too square for elegance, but they were in no humour for criticism, and it was charming to see all the old knick-knacks, and the photographs of friends in their frames. A big wrought-iron and brass-work standing lamp towered up near the fireplace, but again there was no oil.
'I think that Mrs. Watson has arranged it all splendidly,' said Maude, whose active fingers were already beginning to reconstruct. 'But where can she be?'
'She must be out, for, of course, she lives in the house. But it is the absence of the servants which amazes me, for I understood that they had arrived. What would you like to do?'
'Aren't you hungry, Frank?'
'So am I.'
'Well, then, let us forage and see if we cannot find something to eat.'
So hand in hand, and each with a candle in the other hand, like a pair of young penitents, they continued their explorations with more purpose than before. The kitchen, into which they penetrated, had clearly been much used of late, for there were dirty dishes scattered about, and the fire had been lighted, though it was now out. In one corner was what seemed to be a pile of drab-coloured curtains. In the other, an armchair lay upon its side with legs projecting. A singular disorder, very alien to Mrs. Watson's habits, pervaded the apartment. A dresser with a cupboard over it claimed the first attention of the hungry pair. With a cheer from Frank and hand- clapping from Maude, they brought out a new loaf of bread, some butter, some cheese, a tin of cocoa, and a bowl full of eggs. Maude tied an apron over her pretty russet dress, seized some sticks and paper, and had a fire crackling in a very few minutes.
'Put some water in the kettle, Frank.'
'Here you are! Anything else?'
'Some in the small saucepan for the eggs.'
'I believe they are "cookers,"' said he, sniffing at them suspiciously.
'Hold them up to the light, sir. There, they are quite bright and nice. In with them! Now, if you will cut some bread and butter it, we shall soon have our supper ready.'
'It's too new to cut,' cried Frank, sawing away upon the kitchen table. 'Besides, new bread is better in chunks. Here are some cloths and knives and forks in the dresser drawer. I will go and lay the table.'
'And leave me here alone. No please, Frank, if I am cook, you must be scullery-maid. Get the cups down and put the cocoa in them. What fun it all is! I think it is simply SPLENDID to be mistress of a house.'
'With one scullery-maid.'
'And she perfectly incompetent, and much given to embracing her mistress. I must take my hat off. Get the sugar for the cocoa out of the cupboard. The kettle is singing, so it won't be long. Do you know, Frank'—she paused, listening, with the egg-saucepan in her hands. 'There's a dog or something in the room.'
They had both become aware of a sort of sibilant breathing, and they looked round them in bewilderment.
'Where is it?' asked Maude. 'Frank, I believe it's a mouse.'
'Hope for the best. Don't frighten yourself unnecessarily. I fancy it comes from under these curtains.' He approached them with his candle, and was suddenly aware of a boot which was projecting from them. 'Great Scot!' he cried, 'there's a woman here asleep.'
Reassured as to the mouse, Maude approached with her saucepan still clutched in her hand. There could be no doubt either as to the woman or the sleep. She lay in an untidy heap, her head under the table, and her figure sprawling. She appeared to be a very large woman.
'Hullo!' cried Frank, shaking her by the shoulder. 'Hullo, you there!'
But the woman slumbered peacefully on.
'Heh, wake up, wake up!' he shouted, and pulled her up into a sitting position. But she slept as soundly sitting as lying.
'The poor thing must be ill,' said Maude. 'O Frank, shall I run for a doctor?'
'Wake up, woman, wake up!' Frank yelled, and danced her up and down. She flopped about like a sawdust doll, with her arms swinging in front of her. He panted with his exertions, but she was serenely unconscious. At last he had to lower her on to the floor again, putting a footstool under her head.
'It's no go,' said he. 'I can make nothing of her. She will sleep it off.'
'You don't mean to say, Frank, that she is—'
'Indeed I do.'
'That kettle is boiling now. Suppose we have our supper.'
'Dear Frank, I could not enjoy my supper with that unfortunate woman lying there. O Frank, I know that you could not either.'
'Bless her!' said Frank bitterly, as he gazed at the inert lump. 'I really don't see why we should put ourselves out for her. She is quite comfortable.'
'Oh I couldn't, Frank. It would seem inhuman.'
'What are we to do, then?'
'We must put her to bed.'
'Yes, dear, it is our duty to put her to bed.'
'But look here, my dear girl, we must be practical. The woman weighs half a ton, and the bedrooms are at the top of the house. It's simply impossible.'
'Don't you think, Frank, that if you took her head and I took her feet, we might get her up?'
'Not up the stair, dear. She is enormous.'
'Well, then, on to the drawing-room sofa,' said Maude. 'I could have my supper, if I knew that she was safe upon the sofa.'
So Frank, seeing that there was no help for it, seized her under the arms, and Maude took her ankles, and they bore her, bulging but serene, down the passage. They staggered exhausted into the drawing- room, and the new sofa groaned beneath the weight. It was a curious and unsavoury inaugural ceremony. Maude put a rug over the prostrate form, and they returned to their boiling kettle and their uncooked eggs. Then they laid the table, and served the supper, and enjoyed this picnic meal of their own creating as no conventional meal could ever have been enjoyed. Everything seemed beautiful to the young wife—the wall-paper, the pictures, the carpet, the rug; but to him, she was so beautiful in mind, and soul, and body, that her presence turned the little room into an enchanted chamber. They sat long together, and marvelled at their own happiness—that pure serene happiness of mere companionship, which is so much more intimate and deeper than all the transports of passion.
But suddenly he sprang from his chair. There was the sound of steps, of several steps, outside upon the gravel path. Then a key clicked, and a burst of cold air told them that the door was open.
'It's agin' the law for me to enter,' said a gruff voice.
'I tell you she's very strong and violent,' said a second voice, which Frank recognised as that of Mrs. Watson. 'She chased the maid out of the house, and I can do nothing with her.'
'Very sorry, mum, but it's clean agin' the law of England. Give me a warrant, and in I come. If you will bring her to the doorstep, I will be answerable for her removal.'
'She's in the dining-room. I can see the lights,' said Mrs. Watson; and then, 'Good Lord, Mr. Crosse, what a fright you gave me! Oh dear me, that you should have come when I was out, and I not expecting you for another two days yet. Well, now, I shall never forgive myself for this.'
But all the mistakes and misfortunes were very quickly explained. The telegram was the root of the evil. And then the new cook had proved to be a violent, intermittent drunkard. She had chased the other maid out of the house, and then, while Mrs. Watson rushed for the police, she had drunk herself into the stupor in which she had been found. But now, in the nick of time, the station cab came up with the luggage, and so the still placidly slumbering culprit was carried out to it, and sent off in the charge of the policeman. Such was the first entry of Mr. and Mrs. Crosse into their home at The Lindens.
CHAPTER IX—LAYING A COURSE
Frank Crosse was a methodical young man—his enemies might sometimes have called him pedantic,—and he loved to reduce his life to rule and order. It was one of his peculiarities. But how about this new life into which he was entering? It took two to draw up the rules for that. The little two-oared craft who put out upon that voyage have to lay their own course, each for itself; and all round them, as they go, they see the floating timbers and broken keels of other little boats, which had once started out full of hope and confidence. There are currents and eddies, low sand-banks and sunken reefs, and happy the crews who see them ahead, and trim their course to avoid them. Frank brooded over it all. He had seen something of life, for his years. He was observant and reflective. He had watched his friends who were happy, and he had watched his friends who were not. And now, as a result of all this wise cogitation, he sat down at a table one evening, with a solemn face, and a sheet of foolscap.
'Now, Maude,' said he, 'I want to have a serious talk.'
Maude looked up in surprise from the linen which she was marking.
'Oh dear!' she cried.
'Why "oh dear"?'
'There's something wrong?'
'Nothing in the world.'
'You looked so solemn, Frank. I thought you had been looking at the tradesman's books. What is it, dear?'
'Well, Maude, I have been thinking of married life in general. Don't you think it would be a good thing if we were to make some resolutions as to how it should be conducted—some fundamental principles, as it were?'
'Oh do, dear, do! What fun it will be!'
'But it's serious, Maude.'
'Yes, dear, I am quite serious.'
'It seemed to me, that if we could reduce it to certain rules, then, whatever came upon us in the future, we should always know exactly how to act.'
'What are the rules, dear?'
'Well, we can only arrive at them by talking it over between ourselves. I could not draw up a set of rules, and ask you to submit to them. That is not my idea of a partnership. But if we found that we were agreed upon certain points, then we could both adopt them by mutual consent.'
'How charming, Frank! Do please tell me some of the points.'
'I have a few in my mind, and I should like to hear any which you may have—any ideas, you know, how to get the very highest and best out of our life. Now, first of all, there is the subject of quarrelling.'
'O Frank, how horrid!'
'Dear girl, we must look into the future. We are going to live all our lives together. We must foresee and prepare for all the chances of life.'
'But that is absurd.'
'You can't live all your life and never be in a bad temper!'
'But not with YOU, Frank.'
'Oh, I can be very aggravating sometimes. Now, my idea is this. Ill-humour passes and hurts nobody. But if two people are ill- humoured, then each excites the other, and they say ever so much more than they mean. Let us make a compact never both to be ill-humoured at the same time. If YOU are cross, then it is your turn, and I stand clear. If I am cross, you let me work it off. When either hoists the danger-signal, the other is on guard. What do you think of that?'
'I think you are the funniest old boy—'
'Do you agree?'
'Yes, dear, of course I agree.'
'Article number one,' said Frank, and scribbled upon his paper.
'Your turn, now.'
'No, dear, I have not thought of anything.'
'Well, then, here is another point. Never take each other for granted.'
'What do you mean by that?'
'Never relax those attentions which one lover shows to another. Some husbands seem to forget that their wives are ladies. Some wives speak to their husbands with less courtesy and consideration than to any casual male visitor. They mean no harm, but they get into a slack way. We must not do that.'
'I don't think we are likely to.'
'People get into it unconsciously. Pull me up sharply at the first sign.'
'Yes, sir, I will.'
'The next point that I have noted is an extension of the last. Let each strive to be worthy of the love of the other. People get slovenly and slipshoddy, as if it didn't matter now that they were married. If each were very keen to please the other, that would not be so. How many women neglect their music after marriage.'
'My goodness, I haven't practised for a week!' cried Maude.
'And their dress and their hair'—Maude's hand flew up to her curls. 'My darling, yours is just perfect. But you know how often a woman grows careless. "He will love me anyhow," she says to herself, and perhaps she is right, but still it is not as it should be.'
'Why, Frank, I had no idea you knew so much.'
'I have heard my friends' experiences.—And the man too: he should consider his wife's feelings as much as he did his sweetheart's. If she dislikes smoke, he should not smoke. He should not yawn in her presence. He should keep himself well-groomed and attractive. Look at that dirty cuff! I have no business to have it.'
'As if it could make any difference to me.'
'There now! That is what is so demoralising. You should stand out for the highest. When I came to you at St Albans, I had not dirty cuffs.'
'You forgive me the music, Frank, and I'll forgive you the cuff. But I agree to all you say. I think it is so wise and good. Now I've got something to add.'
'Good. What is it?'
'Each should take an interest in the other's department.'
'Why, of course they should.'
'But it is not done.'
'Why naturally, dear, you take an interest in my City work.'
'Yes, sir, but do you take as keen an interest in my housekeeping?'
'Perhaps I have been a little thoughtless.'
'No, no, dear, you haven't. You are always full of consideration. But I have noticed it with mother, and with others also. The husband pulls out his cheque-book at the end of the week or month, and he says, "Well, this is rather more than we can afford," or "This is less than I expected," but he never really takes any interest in his wife's efforts to keep things nice on a little. He does not see it with her eyes and try to realise her difficulties. Oh, I wish I could express myself better, but I know that the interest is one- sided.'
'I think what you say is quite right. I'll try to remember that. How shall we enter it upon our list?'
'That Interests should be mutual.'
'Quite right. I have it down. Well, any more points?'
'It is your turn.'
'Well, there is this, and I feel that it is just the holiest thing in matrimony, and its greatest justification—that love should never degenerate into softness, that each should consciously stimulate the better part of the other and discourage the worse, that there should be a discipline in our life, and that we should brace each other up to a higher ideal. The love that says, "I know it is wrong, but I love him or her so much that I can't refuse," is a poor sort of love for the permanent use of married life. The self-respect which refuses to let the most lofty ideal of love down by an inch is a far nobler thing, and it wears better too.'
'How will you express all that?'
'Mutual respect is necessary for mutual love.'
'Yes, I am sure that that is right.'
'It sounds obvious, but the very intensity of love makes love soft and blind. Now I have another, which I am convinced that you will not agree with.'
'Let me hear it.'
'I have put it in this way, "The tight cord is the easiest to snap."'
'What do you mean?'
'Well, I mean that married couples should give each other a certain latitude and freedom. If they don't, one or other will sooner or later chafe at the restriction. It is only human nature, which is an older and more venerable thing than marriage.'
'I don't like that at all, Frank.'
'I feared you wouldn't, dear, but I believe you'll see it with me when I explain what I mean. If you don't, then I must try to see it with you. When one talks of freedom in married life, it means, as a rule, freedom only for the man. He does what he likes, but still claims to be a strict critic of his wife. That, I am sure, is wrong. To take an obvious example of what I mean, has a husband a right to read his wife's letters? Certainly not, any more than she has a right to read his without his permission. To read them as a matter of course would be stretching the chain too tight.'
'Chain is a horrid word, Frank.'
'Well, it is only a metaphor. Or take the subject of friendships. Is a married man to be debarred from all friendship and intimacy with another woman?'
Maude looked doubtful.
'I should like to see the woman first,' she said.
'Or is a married woman to form no friendship with another man who might interest or improve her? There is such a want of mutual confidence in such a view. People who are sure of each other should give each other every freedom in that. If they don't, they are again stretching it tight.'
'If they do, it may become so slack that it might as well not be there at all.'
'I felt sure that we should have an argument over this. But I have seen examples. Look at the Wardrops. THERE were a couple who were never apart. It was their boast that everything was in common with them. If he was not in, she opened his letters, and he hers. And then there came a most almighty smash. The tight cord had snapped. Now, I believe that for some people, it is a most excellent thing that they should take their holidays at different times.'
'Yes, I do. No, not for us, by Jove! I am generalising now. But for some couples, I am sure that it is right. They reconsider each other from a distance, and they like each other the better.'
'Yes, but these rules are for our guidance, not for that of other people.'
'Quite right, dear. I was off the rails. "As you were," as your brother Jack would say. But I am afraid that I am not going to convince you over this point.'
Maude looked charmingly mutinous.
'No, Frank, you are not. I don't think marriage can be too close. I believe that every hope, and thought, and aspiration should be in common. I could never get as near to your heart and soul as I should wish to do. I want every year to draw me closer and closer, until we really are as nearly the same person as it is possible to be upon earth.'
When you have to surrender, it is well to do so gracefully. Frank stooped down and kissed his wife's hand, and apologised. 'The wisdom of the heart is greater than the wisdom of the brain,' said he. But the love of man comes from the brain, far more than the love of woman, and so it is that there will always be some points upon which they will never quite see alike.
'Then we scratch out that item.'
'No, dear. 'Put "The cord which is held tight is the easiest to snap." That will be all right. The cord of which I speak is never held at all. The moment it is necessary to hold it, it is of no value. It must be voluntary, natural, unavoidable.'
So Frank amended his aphorism.
'Anything more, dear?'
'Yes, I have thought of one other,' said she. 'It is that if ever you had to find fault with me about anything, it should be when we are alone.'
'And the same in your case with me. That is excellent. What can be more vulgar and degrading than a public difference of opinion? People do it half in fun sometimes, but it is wrong all the same. Duly entered upon the minutes. Anything else?'
'Only material things.'
'Yes, but they count also. Now, in the matter of money, I feel that every husband should allow his wife a yearly sum of her own, to be paid over to her, and kept by her, so that she may make her own arrangements for herself. It is degrading to a woman to have to apply to her husband every time she wants a sovereign. On the other hand, if the wife has any money, she should have the spending of it. If she chooses to spend part of it in helping the establishment, that is all right, but I am sure that she should have her own separate account, and her own control of it.'
'If a woman really loves a man, Frank, how can she grudge him everything she has? If my little income would take one worry from your mind, what a joy it would be to me to feel that you were using it!'
'Yes, but the man has his self-respect to think of. In a great crisis one might fall back upon one's wife—since our interests are the same, but only that could justify it. So much for the wife's money. Now for the question of housekeeping.'
'That terrible question!'
'It is only hard because people try to do so much upon a little. Why should they try to do so much? The best pleasures of life are absolutely inexpensive. Books, music, pleasant intimate evenings, the walk among the heather, the delightful routine of domestic life, my cricket and my golf—these things cost very little.'
'But you must eat and drink, Frank. And as to Jemima and the cook, it is really extraordinary the amount which they consume.'
'But the tendency is for meals to become much too elaborate. Why that second vegetable?'
'There now! I knew that you were going to say something against that poor vegetable. It costs so little.'
'On an average, I have no doubt that it costs threepence a day. Come now, confess that it does. Do you know what threepence a day comes to in a year? There is no use in having an accountant for a husband, if you can't get at figures easily. It is four pounds eleven shillings and threepence.'
'It does not seem very much.'
'But for that money, and less, one could become a member of the London Library, with the right to take out fifteen books at a time, and all the world's literature to draw from. Now just picture it: on one side, all the books in the world, all the words of the wise, and great, and witty; on the other side, a lot of cauliflowers and vegetable-marrows and French beans. Which is the better bargain?'
'Good gracious, we shall never have a second vegetable again!'
'My dear, you always eat the pudding.'
'I know I do. It seems an obvious thing to do when the pudding is there in front of me. But if it were not there, I should neither eat it nor miss it, and I know that you care nothing about it. There would be another five or six pounds a year.'
'We'll have a compromise, dear. Second vegetable one day, pudding the next.'
'I notice that it is always after you have had a substantial meal that you discuss economy in food. I wonder if you will feel the same when you come back starving from the City to-morrow? Now, sir, any other economy?'
'I don't think money causes happiness. But debt causes unhappiness. And so we must cut down every expense until we have a reserve fund to meet any unexpected call. If you see any way in which I could save, or any money I spend which you think is unjustifiable, I do wish that you would tell me. I got into careless ways in my bachelor days.'
'That red golfing-coat.'
'I know. It was idiotic of me.'
'Never mind, dear. You look very nice in it. After all, it was only thirty shillings. Can you show me any extravagance of mine?'
'Well, dear, I looked at that dressmaker's bill yesterday.'
'O Frank, it is such a pretty dress, and you said you liked it, and you have to pay for a good cut, and you said yourself that a wife must not become dowdy after marriage, and it would have cost double as much in Regent Street.'
'I didn't think the dress dear.'
'What was it, then?'
'The silk lining of the skirt.'
'You funny boy!'
'It cost thirty shillings extra. Now, what can it matter if it is lined with silk or not?'
'Oh, doesn't it? Just you try one and see.'
'But no one can know that it is lined with silk.'
'When I rustle into a room, dear, every woman in it knows that my skirt is lined with silk.'
Frank felt that he had ventured out of his depth, so he struck out for land again.
'There's only one economy which I don't think is justifiable,' said he, 'and that is, to cut down your subscriptions to charities. It is such a very cheap way of doing things. Not that I do much in that line—too little, perhaps. But to say that because WE want to economise, therefore some poor people are to suffer, is a very poor argument. We must save at our own expense.'
So now Frank, in his methodical fashion, had all his results tabulated upon his sheet of foolscap. It was not a very brilliant production, but it might serve as a chart for the little two-oared boats until a better one is forthcoming. It ran in this way -
Maxims for the Married
1. Since you ARE married, you may as well make the best of it.
2. So make some maxims and try to live up to them.
3. And don't be discouraged if you fail. You WILL fail, but perhaps you won't always fail.
4. Never both be cross at the same time. Wait your turn.
5. Never cease to be lovers. If you cease, some one else may begin.
6. You were gentleman and lady before you were husband and wife. Don't forget it.
7. Keep yourself at your best. It is a compliment to your partner.
8. Keep your ideal high. You may miss it, but it is better to miss a high one than to hit a low one.
9. A blind love is a foolish love. Encourage the best in each other's nature.
10. Permanent mutual respect is necessary for a permanent mutual love. A woman can love without respect, but a man cannot.
11. The tight cord is the easiest to snap.
12. Let there be one law for both.
13. There is only one thing worse than quarrels in public. That is caresses.
14. Money is not essential to happiness, but happy people usually have enough.
15. So save some.
16. The easiest way of saving is to do without things.
17. If you can't, then you had better do without a wife.
18. The man who respects his wife does not turn her into a mendicant. Give her a purse of her own.
19. If you save, save at your own expense.
20. In all matters of money, prepare always for the worst and hope for the best.
Such was their course as far as this ambitious young couple could lay it. They may correct it by experience, and improve it by use, but it is good enough to guide them safely out to sea.
'Tell me, Frank, did you ever love any one before me?'
'How badly trimmed the lamp is to-night!' said he. It was so bad that he went off instantly into the dining-room to get another. It was some time before he returned.
She waited inexorably until he had settled down again.
'Did you, Frank?' she asked.
'Did I what?'
'Ever love any one else?'
'My dear Maude, what IS the use of asking questions like that?'
'You said that there were no secrets between us.'
'No, but there are some things better left alone.'
'That is what I should call a secret.'
'Of course, if you make a point of it—'
'Well, then, I am ready to answer anything that you ask. But you must not blame me if you do not like my answers.'
'Who was she, Frank?'
'O Frank, more than one!'
'I told you that you would not like it.'
'Oh, I wish I had not asked you!'
'Then do let us drop it.'
'No, I can't drop it now, Frank. You have gone too far. You must tell me everything.'
'Yes, everything, Frank.'
'I am not sure that I can.'
'Is it so dreadful as that?'
'No, there is another reason.'
'Do tell me, Frank.'
'There is a good deal of it. You know how a modern poet excused himself to his wife for all his pre-matrimonial experiences. He said that he was looking for her.'
'Well, I do like that!' she cried indignantly.
'I was looking for you.'
'You seem to have looked a good deal.'
'But I found you at last.'
'I had rather you had found me at first, Frank.' He said something about supper, but she was not to be turned.
'How many did you really love?' she asked. 'Please don't joke about it, Frank. I really want to know.'
'If I choose to tell you a lie—'
'But you won't!'
'No, I won't. I could never feel the same again.'
'Well, then, how many did you love?'
'Don't exaggerate what I say, Maude, or take it to heart. You see it depends upon what you mean by love. There are all sorts and degrees of love, some just the whim of a moment, and others the passion of a lifetime; some are founded on mere physical passion, and some on intellectual sympathy, and some on spiritual affinity.'
'Which do you love me with?'
She came over and the cross-examination was interrupted. But in a few minutes she had settled down to it again.
'Well, now—the first?' said she.
'Oh, I can't, Maude—don't.'
'Come, sir—her name?'
'No, no, Maude, that is going a little too far. Even to you, I should never mention another woman's name.'
'Who was she, then?'
'Please don't let us go into details. It is perfectly HORRIBLE. Let me tell things in my own way.'
She made a little grimace.
'You are wriggling, sir. But I won't be hard upon you. Tell it your own way.'
'Well, in a word, Maude, I was always in love with some one.'
Her face clouded over.
'Your love must be very cheap,' said she.
'It's almost a necessity of existence for a healthy young man who has imagination and a warm heart. It was all—or nearly all—quite superficial.'
'I should think all your love was superficial, if it can come so easily.'
'Don't be cross, Maude. I had never seen you at the time. I owed no duty to you.'
'You owed a duty to your own self-respect.'
'There, I knew we should have trouble over it. What do you want to ask such questions for? I dare say I am a fool to be so frank.'
She sat for a little with her face quite cold and set. In his inmost heart Frank was glad that she should be jealous, and he watched her out of the corner of his eye.
'Well!' said she at last.
'Must I go on?'
'Yes, I may as well hear it.'
'You'll only be cross.'
'We've gone too far to stop. And I'm not cross, Frank. Only pained a little. But I do appreciate your frankness. I had no idea you were such a—such a Mormon.' She began to laugh.
'I used to take an interest in every woman.'
'"Take an interest" is good.'
'That was how it began. And then if circumstances were favourable the interest deepened, until at last, naturally—well, you can understand.'
'How many did you take an interest in?'
'Well, in pretty nearly all of them.'
'And how many deepened?'
'Oh, I don't know.'
'Well—rather more than that, I think.'
'Not more than forty, I think.'
Maude sat aghast at the depths of his depravity.
'Let me see: you are twenty-seven now, so you have loved four women a year since you were seventeen.'
'If you reckon it that way,' said Frank, 'I am afraid that it must have been more than forty.'
'It's dreadful,' said Maude, and began to cry.
Frank knelt down in front of her and kissed her hands. She had sweet little plump hands, very soft and velvety.
'You make me feel such a brute,' said he. 'Anyhow, I love you now with all my heart and mind and soul.'
'Forty-firstly and lastly,' she sobbed, half laughing and half crying. Then she pulled his hair to reassure him.
'I can't be angry with you,' said she. 'Besides, it would be ungenerous to be angry when you tell me things of your own free will. You are not forced to tell me. It is very honourable of you. But I do wish you had taken an interest in me first.'
'Well, it was not so fated. I suppose there are some men who are quite good when they are bachelors. But I don't believe they are the best men. They are either archangels upon earth—young Gladstones and Newmans—or else they are cold, calculating, timid, un-virile creatures, who will never do any good. The first class must be splendid. I never met one except in memoirs. The others I don't want to meet.'
Women are not interested in generalities.
'Were they nicer than me?' she asked.
'Those forty women.'
'No, dear, of course not. Why are you laughing?'
'Well, it came into my head how funny it would be, if the forty were all gathered into one room, and you were turned loose in the middle of them.'
'Funny!' Frank ejaculated. Women have such extraordinary ideas of humour. Maude laughed until she was quite tired.
'It doesn't strike you as comic?' she cried at last.
'No, it doesn't,' he answered coldly.
'Of course it wouldn't,' said she, and went off into another ripple of pretty contralto laughter. There is a soft, deep, rich laugh, which some women have, that is the sweetest sound in Nature.
'When you have quite finished,' said he huffily. Her jealousy was much more complimentary than her ridicule.
'All right now. Don't be cross. If I didn't laugh I should cry. I'm so sorry if I have annoyed you.' He had gone back to his chair, so she paid him a flying visit. 'Satisfied?'
'All right. I forgive you.'
'That's funny too. Fancy YOU forgiving ME after all these confessions. But you never loved one of them all as you love me.'
'I do swear it.'
'Morally, and what do you call it, and the other?'
'Not one of them.'
'And never will again?'
'Good boy for ever and ever?'
'For ever and ever.'
'And the forty were horrid?'
'No, hang it, Maude, I can't say that.'
She pouted and hung her head.
'You do like them better, then?'
'How absurd you are, Maude! If I had liked one better, I should have married her.'
'Well, yes, I suppose you would. You must have taken a deeper interest in me than in the others, since you married me. I hadn't thought of that.'
'Silly old girl! Of course I liked you best. Let us drop the thing, and never talk about it any more.'
'Have you their photographs?'
'None of them?'
'What did you do with them?'
'I never had most of them.'
'And the others?'
'I destroyed some when I married.'
'That was nice of you. Aren't you sorry?'
'No, I thought it was only right.'
'Were you fondest of dark women or fair?'
'Oh, I don't know. I was never pernickety in MY tastes. You know those lines I read you from Henley: "Handsome, ugly—all are women." That's a bachelor's sentiment.'
'But do you mean to say, sir—now, you are speaking on your honour, that out of all these forty, there was not one who was prettier than I am?'
'Do let us talk of something else.'
'And not one as clever?'
'How absurd you are to-night, Maude!'
'Come, answer me.'
'I've answered you already.'
'I did not hear you.'
'Oh yes, you did. I said that I had married you, and that shows that I liked you best. I don't compare you quality for quality against every one in the world. That would be absurd. What I say is that your combination of qualities is the one which is most dear to me.'
'Oh, I see,' said Maude dubiously. 'How nice and frank you are!'
'Now I've hurt you!'
'Oh no, not in the least. I like you to be frank. I should hate to think that there was anything you did not dare to tell me.'
'And you, Maude—would you be equally frank with me?'
'Yes, dear, I will. I feel that I owe it to you after your confidence in me. I have had my little experiences too.'
'Perhaps you would rather that I said nothing about them. What good can there be in raking up these old stories?'
'No, I had rather you told me.'
'You won't be hurt?'
'No, no—certainly not.'
'You may take it from me, Frank, that if any married woman ever tells her husband that until she saw him she never felt any emotion at the sight of another man, it is simple nonsense. There may be women of that sort about, but I never met them. I don't think I should like them, for they must be dry, cold, unsympathetic, unemotional, unwomanly creatures.'
'Maude, you have loved some one else!'
'I won't deny that I have been interested deeply interested in several men.'
'It was before I had met you, dear. I owed you no duty.'
'You have loved several men.'
'The feeling was for the most part quite superficial. There are many different sorts and degrees of love.'
'Good God, Maude! How many men inspired this feeling in you?'
'The truth is, Frank, that a healthy young woman who has imagination and a warm heart is attracted by every young man. I know that you wish me to be frank and to return your confidence. But there is a certain kind of young man with whom I always felt my interest deepen.'
'Oh, you did discriminate?'
'Now you are getting bitter. I will say no more.'
'You have said too much. You must go on now.'
'Well, I was only going to say that dark men always had a peculiar fascination for me. I don't know what it is, but the feeling is quite overpowering.'
'Is that why you married a man with flaxen hair?'
'Well, I couldn't expect to find every quality in my husband, could I? It would not be reasonable. I assure you, dear, that taking your tout ensemble, I like you far the best of all. You may not be the handsomest, and you may not be the cleverest—one cannot expect one's absolute ideal,—but I love you far, far the best of any. I do hope I haven't hurt you by anything I have said.'
'I am sorry I am not your ideal, Maude. It would be absurd to suppose myself anybody's ideal, but I hoped always that the eyes of love transfigured an object and made it seem all right. My hair is past praying for, but if you can point out anything that I can mend— '
'No, no, I want you just as you are. If I hadn't liked you best, I shouldn't have married you, Frank, should I?'
'But those other experiences?'
'Oh, we had better drop them. What good can it possibly do to discuss my old experiences? It will only annoy you.'
'Not at all. I honour you for your frankness in speaking out, although I acknowledge that it is a little unexpected. Go on.'
'I forget where I was.'
'You had just remarked that before your marriage you had love-affairs with a number of men.'
'How horrid it sounds, doesn't it?'
'Well, it did strike me in that way.'
'But that's because you exaggerate what I said. I said that I had been attracted by several men.'
'And that dark men thrilled you.'
'I had hoped that I was the first.'
'It was not fated to be so. I could easily tell you a lie, Frank, and say that you were, but I should never forgive myself if I were to do such a thing. You see I left school at seventeen, and I was twenty-three when I became engaged to you. There are six years. Imagine all the dances, picnics, parties, visitings of six years. I could not help meeting young men continually. A good many were interested in me, and I—'
'You were interested in them.'
'It was natural, Frank.'
'Oh yes, perfectly natural. And then I understand that the interest deepened.'
'Sometimes. When you met a young man who was interested several times running, at a dance, then in the street, then in the garden, then a walk home at night—of course your interest began to deepen.'
'Well, what was the next stage?'
'Sure you're not angry?'
'No, no, not at all. Why don't you keep the key in the spirit- stand?'
'It might tempt Jemima. Shall I get it?'
'No, no, go on! The next stage was?'
'Well, when you have been deeply interested some time, then you begin to have experiences.'
'Don't shout, Frank.'
'Did I shout? Never mind. Go on! You had experiences.'
'Why go into details?'
'You must go on. You have said too much to stop. I insist upon hearing the experiences.'
'Not if you ask for them in that way, Frank.' Maude had a fine dignity of her own when she liked.
'Well, I don't insist. I beg you to have confidence in me, and tell me some of your experiences.'
She leaned back in her armchair with her eyes half closed, and a quiet retrospective smile upon her face.
'Well, if you would really like to hear, Frank, as a proof of my confidence and trust, I will tell you. You will remember that I had not seen you at the time.'
'I will make every excuse.'
'I will tell you a single experience. It was my first of the sort, and stands out very clearly in my memory. It all came through my being left alone with a gentleman who was visiting my mother.'
'Well, we were alone in the room, you understand.'
'Yes, yes, go on!'
'And he paid me many little compliments: kept saying how pretty I was, and that he had never seen a sweeter girl, and so on. You know what gentlemen would say?'
'Oh, I hardly answered him, but of course I was young and inexperienced, and I could not help being flattered and pleased at his words. I may have shown him what I felt, for he suddenly—'
'Exactly. He kissed me. Don't walk up and down the room, dear. It fidgets me.'
'All right. Go on. Don't stop. After this outrage what happened next?'
'You really want to know?'
'I must know. What did you do?'
'I am so sorry that I ever began, for I can see that it is exciting you. Light your pipe, dear, and let us talk of something else. It will only make you cross if I tell you the truth.'
'I won't be cross. Go on. What did you do?'
'Well, Frank, since you insist—I kissed him back.'
'You—you kissed him back!'
'You'll have Jemima up if you go on like that.'
'You kissed him back!'
'Yes, dear; it may be wrong, but I did.'
'Good God! why did you do that?'
'Well, I liked him.'
'A dark man?'
'Yes, he was dark.'
'O Maude! Maude! Well, don't stop. What then?'
'Then he kissed me several times.'
'Of course he would, if you kissed him. What else could you expect? And then?'
'O Frank, I can't.'
'Go on. I am ready for anything!'
'Well, do sit down, and don't run about the room. I am only agitating you.'
'There, I am sitting. You can see that I am not agitated. For Heaven's sake, go on!'
'He asked me if I would sit upon his knee.'
Maude began to laugh.
'Why, Frank, you are croaking like a frog.'
'I am glad you think it a laughing matter. Go on! Go on! You yielded to his very moderate and natural request. You sat upon his knee.'
'Well, Frank, I did.'
'Don't be so excitable, dear. It was long before I ever saw you.'
'You mean to sit there and tell me in cold blood that you sat upon this ruffian's knee!'
'What else could I do?'
'What could you do? You could have screamed, you could have rung the bell, you could have struck him—you could have risen in the dignity of your insulted womanhood and walked out of the room.'
'It was not so easy for me to walk out of the room.'
'He held you?'
'Yes, he held me.'
'Oh, if I had been there!'
'And there was another reason.'
'What was that?'
'Well, I wasn't very good at walking at that time. You see, I was only three years old.'
Frank sat for a few minutes absorbing it.
'You little wretch!' he said at last.
'Oh you dear old goose! I feel so much better.'
'I had to get level with you over my forty predecessors. You old Bluebeard! But I did harrow you a little—didn't I?'
'Harrow me! I'm raw all over. It's a nightmare. O Maude, how could you have the heart?'
'Oh, it was lovely—beautiful!'
'It was dreadful.'
'And how jealous you were! Oh, I AM so glad!'
'I don't think,' said Frank, as he put his arms round her, 'that I ever quite realised before—'
And just then Jemima came in with the tray.
CHAPTER XI—CONCERNING MRS. BEETON
Frank Crosse had only been married some months when he first had occasion to suspect that his wife had some secret sorrow. There was a sadness and depression about her at times, for which he was unable to account. One Saturday afternoon he happened to come home earlier than he was expected, and entering her bedroom suddenly, he found her seated in the basket-chair in the window, with a large book upon her knees. Her face, as she looked up at him with a mixed expression of joy and of confusion, was stained by recent tears. She put the book hastily down upon the dressing-stand.
'Maude, you've been crying.'
'No, Frank, no!'
'O Maude, you fibber! Remove those tears instantly.' He knelt down beside her and helped. 'Better now?'
'Yes, dearest, I am quite happy.'
'Tears all gone?'
'Well, then, explain!'
'I didn't mean to tell you, Frank!' She gave the prettiest, most provocative little wriggles as her secret was drawn from her. 'I wanted to do it without your knowing. I thought it would be a surprise for you. But I begin to understand now that my ambition was much too high. I am not clever enough for it. But it is disappointing all the same.'
Frank took the bulky book off the table. It was Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management. The open page was headed, 'General Observations on the Common Hog,' and underneath was a single large tear-drop. It had fallen upon a woodcut of the Common Hog, in spite of which Frank solemnly kissed it, and turned Maude's trouble into laughter.
'Now you are all right again. I do hate to see you crying, though you never look more pretty. But tell me, dear, what was your ambition?'
'To know as much as any woman in England about housekeeping. To know as much as Mrs. Beeton. I wanted to master every page of it, from the first to the last.'
'There are 1641 of them,' said Frank, turning them over.
'I know. I felt that I should be quite old before I had finished. But the last part, you see, is all about wills, and bequests, and homeopathy, and things of that kind. We could do it later. It is the early part that I want to learn now—but it IS so hard.'
'But why do you wish to do it, Maude?'
'Because I want you to be as happy as Mr. Beeton.'
'I'll bet I am.'
'No, no, you can't be, Frank. It says somewhere here that the happiness and comfort of the husband depend upon the housekeeping of the wife. Mrs. Beeton must have been the finest housekeeper in the world. Therefore, Mr. Beeton must have been the happiest and most comfortable man. But why should Mr. Beeton be happier and more comfortable than my Frank? From the hour I read that I determined that he shouldn't be—and he won't be.'
'And he isn't.'
'Oh, you think so. But then you know nothing about it. You think it right because I do it. But if you were visiting Mrs. Beeton, you would soon see the difference.'
'What an awkward trick you have of always sitting in a window,' said Frank, after an interval. 'I'll swear that the wise Mrs. Beeton never advocates that—with half a dozen other windows within point- blank range.'
'Well, then, you shouldn't do it.'
'Well, then, you shouldn't be so nice.'
'You really still think that I am nice?'
'After all these months?'
'Nicer and nicer every day.'
'Not a bit tired?'
'You blessing! When I am tired of you, I shall be tired of life.'
'How wonderful it all seems!'
'Does it not?'
'To think of that first day at the tennis-party. "I hope you are not a very good player, Mr. Crosse!"—"No, Miss Selby, but I shall be happy to make one in a set." That's how we began. And now!'
'Yes, it is wonderful.'
'And at dinner afterwards. "Do you like Irving's acting?"—"Yes, I think that he is a great genius." How formal and precise we were! And now I sit curling your hair in a bedroom window.'
'It DOES seem funny. But I suppose, if you come to think of it, something of the same kind must have happened to one or two people before.'
'But never quite like us.'
'Oh no, never quite like us. But with a kind of family resemblance, you know. Married people do usually end by knowing each other a little better than on the first day they met.'
'What DID you think of me, Frank?'
'I've told you often.'
'Well, tell me again.'
'What's the use when you know?'
'But I like to hear.'
'Well, it's just spoiling you.'
'I love to be spoiled.'
'Well, then, I thought to myself—If I can only have that woman for my own, I believe I will do something in life yet. And I also thought—If I don't get that woman for my own, I will never, never be the same man again.'
'Really, Frank, the very first day you saw me?'
'Yes, the very first day.'
'And then, day by day, and week by week, that feeling grew deeper and stronger, until at last you swallowed up all my other hopes, and ambitions, and interests. I hardly dare think, Maude, what would have happened to me if you had refused me.'
She laughed aloud with delight.
'How sweet it is to hear you say so! And the wonderful thing is that you have never seemed disappointed. I always expected that some day after marriage—not immediately, perhaps, but at the end of a week or so—you would suddenly give a start, like those poor people who are hypnotised, and you would say, "Why, I used to think that she was pretty! I used to think that she was sweet! How could I be so infatuated over a little, insignificant, ignorant, selfish, uninteresting—" O Frank, the neighbours will see you?'
'Well, then, you mustn't provoke me.'
'What WILL Mrs. Potter think?'
'You should pull down the blinds before you make speeches of that sort.'
'Now do sit quiet and be a good boy.'
'Well, then, tell me what you thought.'
'I thought you were a very good tennis-player.'
'And you talked nicely.'
'Did I? I never felt such a stick in my life. I was as nervous as a cat.'
'That was so delightful. I do hate people who are very cool and assured. I saw that you were disturbed, and I even thought—'
'Well, I thought that perhaps it was I who disturbed you.'
'And you liked me?'
'I was very interested in you.'
'Well, that is the blessed miracle which I can never get over. You, with your beauty, and your grace, and your rich father, and every young man at your feet, and I, a fellow with neither good looks, nor learning, nor prospects, nor—'
'Be quiet, sir! Yes, you shall! Now?'
'By Jove, there IS old Mrs. Potter at the window! We've done it this time. Let us get back to serious conversation again.'
'How did we leave it?'
'It was that hog, I believe. And then Mr. Beeton. But where does the hog come in? Why should you weep over him? And what are the Lady's Observations on the Common Hog?'
'Read them for yourself.'
Frank read out aloud: '"The hog belongs to the order Mammalia, the genus sus scrofa, and the species pachydermata, or thick-skinned. Its generic characters are a long, flexible snout, forty-two teeth, cloven feet, furnished with four toes, and a tail, which is small, short, and twisted, while, in some varieties, this appendage is altogether wanting." —But what on earth has all this to do with housekeeping?'
'That's what I want to know. It is so disheartening to have to remember such things. What does it matter if the hog HAS forty-two toes. And yet, if Mrs. Beeton knew it, one feels that one ought to know it also. If once I began to skip, there would be no end to it. But it really is such a splendid book in other ways. It doesn't matter what you want, you will find it here. Take the index anywhere. Cream. If you want cream, it's all there. Croup. If you want—I mean, if you don't want croup, it will teach you how not to get it. Crumpets—all about them. Crullers—I'm sure you don't know what a cruller is, Frank.'
'No, I don't.'
'Neither do I. But I could look it up and learn. Here it is— paragraph 2847. It is a sort of pancake, you see. That's how you learn things.'
Frank Crosse took the book and dropped it. It fell with a sulky thud upon the floor.
'Nothing that it can teach you, dear, can ever make up to me if it makes you cry, and bothers you.—You bloated, pedantic thing!' he cried, in sudden fury, aiming a kick at the squat volume. 'It is to you I owe all those sad, tired looks which I have seen upon my wife's face. I know my enemy now. You pompous, fussy old humbug, I'll kick the red cover off you!'
But Maude snatched it up, and gathered it to her bosom. 'No, no, Frank, I don't know what I should do without it. You have no idea what a wise old book it is. Now, sit there on the footstool at my feet, and I will read to you.'
'Do, dear; it's delightful.'
'Sit quiet, then, and be good. Now listen to this pearl of wisdom: "As with the commander of an army, so it is with the mistress of a house. Her spirit will be seen through the whole establishment, and, just in proportion as she performs her duties thoroughly, so will her domestics follow in her path."'
'From which it follows,' said her husband, 'that Jemima must be a perfect paragon.'
'On the contrary, it explains all Jemima's shortcomings. Listen to this: "Early rising is one of the most essential qualities. When a mistress is an early riser, it is almost certain that her house will be orderly and well managed."'
'Well, you are down at nine—what more do you want?'
'At nine! I am sure that Mrs. Beeton was always up at six.'
'I have my doubts about Mrs. B. Methinks the lady doth protest too much. I should not be very much surprised to learn that she had breakfast in bed every morning.'
'O Frank! You have no reverence for anything.'
'Let us have some more wisdom.'
'"Frugality and Economy are home virtues without which no household can prosper. Dr. Johnson says, 'Frugality may be termed—'"
'Oh, bother Dr. Johnson! Who cares for a man's opinion. Now, if it had been Mrs. Johnson—!'
'Johnson kept house for himself for years—and a queer job he made of it.'
'So I should think.' Maude tossed her pretty curls. 'Mrs. Beeton is all right, but I will not be lectured by Dr. Johnson. Where was I? Oh yes—"'We must always remember that to manage a little well, is a great merit in housekeeping."'
'Hurrah! Down with the second vegetable! No pudding on fish days. Vive la biere de Pilsen!'
'What a noisy boy you are!'
'This book excites me. Anything more?'
"Friendships should not be hastily formed, nor the heart given at once to every newcomer—"'
'Well, I should hope not! Don't let me catch you at it! You don't mind my cigarette? Has Mrs. Beeton a paragraph about smoking in bedrooms?'
'Such an enormity never occurred to her as a remote possibility. If she had known you, dear, she would have had to write an appendix to her book to meet all the new problems which you would suggest. Shall I go on?'
'She next treats conversation. "In conversation, trifling occurrences such as small disappointments, petty annoyances, and other everyday incidents, should never be mentioned to friends. If the mistress be a wife, never let a word in connection with her husband's failings pass her lips—"'
'By Jove, this book has more wisdom to the square inch than any work of man,' cried Frank, in enthusiasm.
'I thought that would please you. "Good temper should be cultivated by every mistress, as upon it the welfare of the household may be said to turn."'
'"In starting a household, it is always best in the long-run to get the very best articles of their kind."'
'That is why I got you, Maude.'
'Thank you, sir. We have a dissertation then upon dress and fashion, another upon engaging domestics, another about daily duties, another about visiting, another about fresh air and exercise—'
'The most essential of any,' cried Frank, jumping up, and pulling his wife by the arms out of her low wicker-chair. 'There is just time for nine holes at golf before it is dark, if you wilt come exactly as you are. But listen to this, young lady. If ever again I see you fretting or troubling yourself about your household affairs—'
'No, no, Frank, I won't!'
'Well, if you do, Mrs. Beeton goes into the kitchen-fire. Now remember?'
'You are sure you don't envy Mr. Beeton?'
'I don't envy a man upon earth.'
'Then why should I try to be Mrs. Beeton?'
'O Frank, what a load off my mind! Those sixteen hundred pages have just lain upon it for months. Dear old boy! come on!'
And they clattered downstairs for their golf-clubs.
CHAPTER XII—MR. SAMUEL PEPYS
There were few things which Maude liked so much as a long winter evening when Frank and she dined together, and then sat beside the fire and made good cheer. It would be an exaggeration to say that she preferred it to a dance, but next to that supreme joy, and higher even than the theatre in her scale of pleasures, were those serene and intimate evenings when they talked at their will, and were silent at their will, within their home brightened by those little jokes and endearments and allusions which make up that inner domestic masonry which is close-tiled for ever to the outsider. Five or six evenings a week, she with her sewing and Frank with his book, settled down to such enjoyment as men go to the ends of the earth to seek, while it awaits them, if they will but atune their souls to sympathy, beside their own hearthstones. Now and again their sweet calm would be broken by a ring at the bell, when some friend of Frank's would come round to pay them an evening visit. At the sound Maude would say 'bother,' and Frank something shorter and stronger, but, as the intruder appeared, they would both break into, 'Well, really now it WAS good of you to drop in upon us in this homely way.' Without such hypocrisy, the world would be a hard place to live in.
I may have mentioned somewhere that Frank had a catholic taste in literature. Upon a shelf in their bedroom—a relic of his bachelor days—there stood a small line of his intimate books, the books which filled all the chinks of his life when no new books were forthcoming. They were all volumes which he had read in his youth, and many times since, until they had become the very tie-beams of his mind. His tastes were healthy and obvious without being fine. Macaulay's Essays, Holmes' Autocrat, Gibbons' History, Jefferies' Story of my Heart, Carlyle's Life, Pepys' Diary, and Borrow's Lavengro were among his inner circle of literary friends. The sturdy East Anglian, half prize-fighter, half missionary, was a particular favourite of his, and so was the garrulous Secretary of the Navy. One day it struck him that it would be a pleasant thing to induce his wife to share his enthusiasms, and he suggested that the evenings should be spent in reading selections from these old friends of his. Maude was delighted. If he had proposed to read the rig-vedas in the original Sanskrit, Maude would have listened with a smiling face. It is in such trifles that a woman's love is more than a man's.
That night Frank came downstairs with a thick well-thumbed volume in his hand.
'This is Mr. Pepys,' said he solemnly.
'What a funny name!' cried Maude. 'It makes me think of indigestion. Why? Oh yes, pepsine, of course.'
'We shall take a dose of him every night after dinner to complete the resemblance. But seriously, dear, I think that now that we have taken up a course of reading, we should try to approach it in a grave spirit, and endeavour to realise—Oh, I say, don't!'
'I AM so sorry, dear! I do hope I didn't hurt, you!'
'It all came from my having the needle in my hand at the time—and you looked so solemn—and—well, I couldn't help it.'
'No, dear; Jemima may come in any moment with the coffee. Now, do sit down and read about Mr Pepys to me. And first of all, would you mind explaining all about the gentleman, from the beginning, and taking nothing for granted, just as if I had never heard of him before.'
'I don't believe—'
'Never mind, sir! Be a good boy and do exactly what you are told. Now begin!'
'Well, Maude, Mr. Pepys was born—'
'What was his first name?'
'Oh dear, I'm sure I should not have liked him.'
'Well, it's too late to change that. He was born—I could see by looking, but it really doesn't matter, does it? He was born somewhere in sixteen hundred and something or other, and I forget what his father was.'
'I must try to remember what you tell me.'
'Well, it all amounts to this, that he got on very well in the world, that he became at last a high official of the navy in the time of Charles the Second, and that he died in fairly good circumstances, and left his library, which was a fine one, to one of the universities, I can't remember which.'
'There is an accuracy about your information, Frank—'
'I know, dear, but it really does not matter. All this has nothing to do with the main question.'
'Go on, then!'
'Well, this library was left as a kind of dust-catcher, as such libraries are, until one day, more than a hundred years after the old boy's death, some enterprising person seems to have examined his books, and he found a number of volumes of writing which were all in cipher, so that no one could make head or tail of them.'
'Dear me, how very interesting!'
'Yes, it naturally excited curiosity. Why should a man write volumes of cipher? Imagine the labour of it! So some one set to work to solve the cipher. This was about the year 1820. After three years they succeeded.'
'How in the world did they do it?'
'Well, they say that human ingenuity never yet invented a cipher which human ingenuity could not also solve. Anyhow, they did succeed. And when they had done so, and copied it all out clean, they found they had got hold of such a book as was never heard of before in the whole history of literature.'
Maude laid her sewing on her lap, and looked across with her lips parted and her eyebrows raised.
'They found that it was an inner Diary of the life of this man, with all his impressions, and all his doings, and all his thoughts—not his ought-to-be thoughts, but his real, real thoughts, just as he thought then at the back of his soul. You see this man, and you know him very much better than his own wife knew him. It is not only that he tells of his daily doings, and gives us such an intimate picture of life in those days, as could by no other means have been conveyed, but it is as a piece of psychology that the thing is so valuable. Remember the dignity of the man, a high government official, an orator, a writer, a patron of learning, and here you have the other side, the little thoughts, the mean ideas which may lurk under a bewigged head, and behind a solemn countenance. Not that he is worse than any of us. Not a bit. But he is frank. And that is why the book is really a consoling one, for every sinner who reads it can say to himself, "Well, if this man who did so well, and was so esteemed, felt like this, it is no very great wonder that I do."'
Maude looked at the fat brown book with curiosity. 'Is it really all there?' she asked.
'No, dear, it will never all be published. A good deal of it is, I believe, quite impossible. And when he came to the impossible places, he doubled and trebled his cipher, so as to make sure that it should never be made out. But all that is usually published is here.' Frank turned over the leaves, which were marked here and there with pencilings.
'Why are you smiling, Frank?'
'Only at his way of referring to his wife.'
'Oh, he was married?'
'Yes, to a very charming girl. She must have been a sweet creature. He married her at fifteen on account of her beauty. He had a keen eye for beauty had old Pepys.'
'Were they happy?'
'Oh yes, fairly so. She was only twenty-nine when she died!'
'She was happy in her life—though he DID blacken her eye once.'
'Yes, he did. And kicked the housemaid.'
'Oh, the brute!'
'But on the whole he was a good husband. He had a few very good points about him.'
'But how does he allude to his wife?'
'He has a trick of saying, "my wife, poor wretch!"'
'Impertinent! Frank, you said to-night that other men think what this odious Mr. Pepys says. Yes, you did! Don't deny it! Does that mean that you always think of me as "poor wretch"?'
'We have come along a little since then. But how these passages take you back to the homely life of those days!'
'Do read some.'
'Well, listen to this, "And then to bed without prayers, to-morrow being washing-day." Fancy such a detail coming down to us through two centuries.'
'Why no prayers?'
'I don't know. I suppose they had to get up early on washing-days, and so they wanted to go to sleep soon.'
'I'm afraid, dear, you do the same without as good an excuse. Read another!'
'He goes to dine with some one—his uncle, I think. He says, "An excellent dinner, but the venison pasty was palpable beef, which was not handsome."'
'How beautiful! Mrs. Hunt Mortimer's sole last week was palpable plaice. Mr. Pepys is right. It was not handsome.'
'Here's another grand entry: "Talked with my wife of the poorness and meanness of all that the people about us do, compared with what we do." I dare say he was right, for they did things very well. When he dined out, he says that his host gave him "the meanest dinner of beef, shoulder and umbles of venison, and a few pigeons, and all in the meanest manner that ever I did see, to the basest degree."
'What are umbles, dear?'
'I have no idea.'
'Well, whatever they are, it sounds to me a very good dinner. People must have lived very well in those days.'
'They habitually over-ate and over-drank themselves. But Pepys gives us the menu of one of his own entertainments. I've marked it somewhere. Yes, here it is. "Fricassee of rabbits and chickens, a leg of mutton boiled, three carps in a dish, a great dish of a side of lamb, a dish of roasted pigeons, a dish of four lobsters, three tarts, a lamprey pie (a most rare pie!), a dish of anchovies, good wine of several sorts, and all things mighty noble and to my great content."'
'Good gracious! I told you that I associated him with indigestion.'
'He did them pretty well that time.'
'Who cooked all this?'
'The wife helped in those days.'
'No wonder she died at twenty-nine. Poor dear! What a splendid kitchen-range they must have had! I never understood before why they had such enormous grates in the old days. Naturally, if you have six pigeons, and a lamprey, and a lobster, and a side of lamb, and a leg of mutton, and all these other things cooking at the same time, you would need a huge fire.'
'The wonderful thing about Pepys,' said Frank, looking thoughtfully over the pages, 'is that he is capable of noting down the mean little impulses of human nature, which most men would be so ashamed of, that they would hasten to put them out of their mind. His occasional shabbiness in money matters, his jealousies, his envies, all his petty faults, which are despicable on account of their pettiness. Fancy any man writing this. He is describing how he visited a friend and was reading a book from his library. "A very good book," says he, "especially one letter of advice to a courtier, most true and good, which made me once resolve to tear out the two leaves that it was writ in, but I forbore it." Imagine recording such a vile thought.'
'But what you have never explained to me yet, dear, or if you did, I didn't understand—you don't mind my being a little stupid, do you?— is, what object Mr. Pepys had in putting down all this in such a form that no one could read it.'
'Well, you must bear in mind, dear, that he could read it himself. Besides he was a fellow with a singularly methodical side to his mind. He was, for example, continually adding up how much money he had, or cataloguing and indexing his library, and so on. He liked to have everything shipshape. And so with his life, it pleased him to have an exact record which he could turn to. And yet, after all, I don't know that that is a sufficient explanation.'
'No, indeed, it is not. My experience of man—'
'YOUR experience, indeed!'
'Yes, sir, my experience of men—how rude you are, Frank!—tells me that they have funny little tricks and vanities which take the queerest shapes.'
'Indeed! Have I any?'
'You—you are compounded of them. Not vanity—no, I don't mean that. But pride—you are as proud as Lucifer, and much too proud to show it. That is the most subtle form of pride. Oh yes, I know perfectly well what I mean. But in this man's case, it took the form of wishing to make a sensation after his death. He could not publish such a thing when he lived, could he?'
'Well, then, he had to do it after his death. He had to write it in cipher, or else some one would have found him out during his lifetime. But, very likely, he left a key to the cipher, so that every one might read it when he was gone, but the key and his directions were in some way lost.'
'Well, it is very probable.'
The fire had died down, so Maude shipped off her chair, and sat on the black fur rug, with her back against Frank's knees. 'Now, dear, read away!' said she.
But the lamp shone down upon her dainty head, and it gleamed upon her white neck, and upon the fluffy, capricious, untidy, adorable, little curlets, which broke out along the edges of the gathered strands of her chestnut hair. And so, after the fashion of men, his thoughts flew away from Mr. Pepys and the seventeenth century, and all that is lofty and instructive, and could fix upon nothing except those dear little wandering tendrils, and the white column on which they twined. Alas, that so small a thing can bring the human mind from its empyrean flights! Alas, that vague emotions can drag down the sovereign intellect! Alas, that even for an hour, a man should prefer the material to the spiritual!
But the man who doesn't misses a good deal.
CHAPTER XIII—A VISIT TO MR. SAMUEL PEPYS
There are several unjustifiable extravagances which every normal man commits. There are also several unjustifiable economies. Among others, there is that absurd eagerness to save the striking of a second match, which occasions so many burned fingers, and such picturesque language. And again, there is the desire to compress a telegraphic message into the minimum sixpennyworth, and so send an ambiguous and cryptic sentence, when sevenpence would have made it as clear as light. We all tend to be stylists in our telegrams.
A week after the conversation about Mr. Pepys, when some progress had been made with the reading of the Diary, Maude received the following wire from Frank -
'Mrs. Crosse. Woking.—Pepys buttered toast suede gloves four Monument wait late.'
As a sixpennyworth it was a success, but as a message it seemed to leave something to be desired. Maude puzzled over it, and tried every possible combination of the words. The nearest approach to sense was when it was divided in this way—Pepys—buttered toast— suede gloves—four—Monument, wait late.
She wrote it out in this form, and took it section by section. 'Pepys,' that was unintelligible. 'Buttered toast,' no sense in that. 'Suede gloves,' yes, she had told Frank that when she came to town, she would buy some suede gloves at a certain shop in the City, where she could get for three and threepence a pair which would cost her three and ninepence in Woking. Maude was so conscientiously economical, that she was always prepared to spend two shillings in railway fares to reach a spot where a sixpence was to be saved, and to lavish her nerve and energy freely in the venture. Here, then, in the suede gloves, was a central point of light. And then her heart bounded with joy, as she realised that the last part could only mean that she was to meet Frank at the Monument at four, and that she was to wait for him if he were late.
So, now, returning to the opening of the message, with the light which shone from the ending, she realised that buttered toast might refer to a queer little City hostel, remarkable for that luxury, where Frank had already taken her twice to tea. And so leaving Mr. Pepys to explain himself later, Maude gave hurried orders to Jemima and the cook, and dashed upstairs to put on her new fawn-coloured walking-dress—a garment which filled her with an extraordinary mixture of delight and remorse, for it was very smart, cost seven guineas, and had not yet been paid for.
The rendezvous was evidently a sudden thought upon the part of Frank, for he had left very little time for her to reach the trysting-place. However, she was fortunate in catching a train to Waterloo, and another thence to the City, and so reached the Monument at five minutes to four. The hour was just striking when Frank, with his well-brushed top-hat and immaculate business frock-coat, came rushing from the direction of King William Street. Maude held out her hand and he shook it, and then they both laughed at the formality.
'I am so glad you were able to come, dearest. How you do brighten up the old City!'
'Do I? I felt quite lonely until you came. Nothing but droves of men—and all staring.'
'It's your dress.'
'Oh, thank you, sir!'
'Entirely that pretty brown—'
'Brown! Fawn colour.'
'Well, that's brown. Anyhow, it looks charming. And so do you—by Jove you do, Maude! Come this way!'
'Where are we going?'
'By underground. Here we are.—Two second singles, Mark Lane, please!—No, that's for the west-end trains. Down here! Next train, the man says.'
They were in the mephitic cellar, with the two long wooden platforms where the subterranean trains land or load their freights. A strangling gas tickled their throats and set them coughing. It was all dank and dark and gloomy. But little youth and love care for that! They were bubbling over with the happiness of this abnormal meeting. Both talked together in their delight, and Maude patted Frank's sleeve with every remark. They could even illuminate all that was around them, by the beauty and brightness of their own love. It went the length of open praise for their abominable surroundings.
'Isn't it grand and solemn?' said Maude. 'Look at the black shadows.'
'When they come to excavate all this some thousands of years hence, they will think it was constructed by a race of giants,' Frank answered.
'The modern works for the benefit of the community are really far greater than those which sprang from the caprice of kings. The London and North-Western Railway is an infinitely grander thing than the pyramids. Look at the two headlights in the dark!'
Two sullen crimson discs glowed in the black arch of the tunnel. With a menacing and sinister speed, they grew and grew until roaring they sprang out of the darkness, and the long, dingy train, with a whining of brakes, drew up at the platform.
'Here's one nearly empty,' said Frank, with his hand on the handle.
'Don't you think—' said Maude.
'Yes, I do,' cried Frank.
And they got into one which was quite empty. For the underground railway is blessed as regards privacy above all other lines, and where could a loving couple be more happy, who have been torn apart by cruel fate for seven long hours or so? It was with a groan that Frank remarked that they had reached Mark Lane.
'Bother!' said Maude, and wondered if there were any shop near where she could buy hairpins. As every lady knows, or will know, there is a very intimate connection between hairpins and a loving husband.
'Now, Frank, about your telegram.'
'All right, dear. Come along where I lead you, and you will understand all about it.'
They passed out of Mark Lane Station and down a steep and narrow street to the right. At the bottom lay an old smoke-stained church with a square tower, and a small open churchyard beside it.
'That's the church of Saint Olave,' said Frank. 'We are going into it.'
He pushed open a folding oaken door, and they found themselves inside it. Rows of modern seats filled the body of it, but the walls and windows gave an impression of great antiquity. The stained glass— especially that which surmounted the altar—contained those rich satisfying purples and deep deep crimsons which only go with age. It was a bright and yet a mellow light, falling in patches of vivid colour upon the brown woodwork and the grey floors. Here and there upon the walls were marble inscriptions in the Latin tongue, with pompous allegorical figures with trumpets, for our ancestors blew them in stone as well as in epitaphs over their tombs. They loved to die, as they had lived, with dignity and with affectation. White statues glimmered in the shadows of the corners. As Frank and his wife passed down the side-aisle, their steps clanged through the empty and silent church.
'Here he is!' said Frank, and faced to the wall.
He was looking up at the modern representation of a gentleman in a full and curly wig. It was a well-rounded and comely face, with shrewd eyes and a sensitive mouth. The face of a man of affairs, and a good fellow, with just that saving touch of sensuality about it which makes an expression human and lovable. Underneath was printed -
SAMUEL PEPYS Erected by public subscription 1883.
'Oh, isn't he nice?' said Maude.
'He's not a bad-looking chap, is he?'
'I don't believe that man ever could have struck his wife or kicked the maid.'
'That's calling him a liar.'
'Oh dear, I forgot that he said so himself. Then I suppose he must have done it. What a pity it seems.'
'Cheer up! We must say what the old heathen lady said when they read the gospels to her.'
'What did she say?'
'She said, "Well, it was a long time ago, and we'll hope that it wasn't true!"'
'O Frank, how can you tell such stories in a church. Do you really suppose that Mr. Pepys is in that wall?'
'I presume that the monument marks the grave.'
'There's a little bit of plaster loose. Do you think I might take it?'
'It isn't quite the thing.'
'But it can't matter, and it isn't wrong, and we are quite alone.' She picked off the little flake of plaster, and her heart sprang into her mouth as she did so, for there came an indignant snort from her very elbow, and there was a queer little smoke-dried, black-dressed person who seemed to have risen, like the Eastern genii or a modern genius, in a single instant. A pair of black list slippers explained the silence of his approach.
'Put that back, young lady,' said he severely.
Poor Maude held out her guilty relic on the palm of her hand. 'I am so sorry,' said she. 'I am afraid I cannot put it back.'
'We'll 'ave the 'ole church picked to pieces at this rate,' said the clerk. 'You shouldn't 'ave done it, and it was very wrong.' He snorted and shook his head.
'It's of no consequence,' said Frank. 'The plaster was hanging, and must have fallen in any case. Don't make a fuss about a trifle.'