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- A Duet - 20/46 -


'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.'

'Yek!'

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.'

'Good heavens!'

'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.'

'You horror!'

'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?'

'Quite 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


A Duet - 20/46

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