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- A Duet - 4/46 -


Arthur. Stamped in gold upon it were the letters M.C., I said, 'Oh, what a pity! They have put the wrong initials.' That made mamma laugh. I suppose one soon gets used to it. Fancy how you would feel if it were the other way about, and you changed your name to mine. They might call you Selby, but you would continue to feel Crosse. I didn't mean that for a joke, but women make jokes without intending it. The other day the curate drove up in his donkey-cart, and mother said, 'Oh, what a nice tandem!' I think that she meant to say 'turn- out'; but papa said it was the neatest thing he had heard for a long time, so mamma is very pleased, but I am sure that she does not know even now why it should be so funny.

What stupid letters I write! Doesn't it frighten you when you read them and think that is the person with whom I have to spend my life. Yet you never seem alarmed about it. I think it is so BRAVE of you. That reminds me that I never finished what I wanted to say at the beginning of this letter. Even supposing that I am pretty (and my complexion sometimes is simply awful), you must bear in mind how quickly the years slip by, and how soon a woman alters. Why, we shall hardly be married before you will find me full of wrinkles, and without a tooth in my head. Poor boy, how dreadful for you! Men seem to change so little and so slowly. Besides, it does not matter for them, for nobody marries a man because he is pretty. But you must marry me, Frank, not for what I look but for what I am--for my inmost, inmost self, so that if I had no body at all, you would love me just the same. That is how I love you, but I do prefer you with your body on all the same. I don't know how I love you, dear. I only know that I am in a dream when you are near me--just a beautiful dream. I live for those moments.--Ever your own little

MAUDE.

P.S.--Papa gave us such a fright, for he came in just now and said that the window-cleaner and all his family were very ill. This was a joke, because the coachman had told him about my tart. Wasn't it horrid of him?

Woking, June 17th.

My own sweetest Maude,--I do want you to come up to town on Saturday morning. Then I will see you home to St. Albans in the evening, and we shall have another dear delightful week end. I think of nothing else, and I count the hours. Now please to manage it, and don't let anything stop you. You know that you can always get your way. Oh yes, you can, miss! I know.

We shall meet at the bookstall at Charing Cross railway station at one o'clock, but if anything should go wrong, send me a wire to the Club. Then we can do some shopping together, and have some fun also. Tell your mother that we shall be back in plenty of time for dinner. Make another tart, and I shall eat it. Things are slack at the office just now, and I could be spared for a few days.

So you have had a fish-slice. It is so strange, because on that very day I had my first present, and it was a fish-slice also. We shall have fish at each end when we give a dinner. If we get another fish- slice, then we shall give a fish-dinner--or keep one of the slices to give to your friend Nelly Sheridan when SHE gets married. They will always come in useful. And I have had two more presents. One is a Tantalus spirit-stand from my friends in the office. The other is a pair of bronzes from the cricket club. They got it up without my knowing anything about it, and I was amazed when a deputation came up to my rooms with them last night. 'May your innings be long and your partnership unbroken until you each make a hundred not out.' That was the inscription upon a card.

I have something very grave to tell you. I've been going over my bills and things, and I owe ever so much more than I thought. I have always been so careless, and never known exactly how I stood. It did not matter when one was a bachelor, for one always felt that one could live quite simply for a few months, and so set matters straight. But now it is more serious. The bills come to more than a hundred pounds; the biggest one is forty-two pounds to Snell and Walker, the Conduit Street tailors. However, I am ordering my marriage-suit from them, and that will keep them quiet. I have enough on hand to pay most of the others. But we must not run short upon our honeymoon--what an awful idea! Perhaps there may be some cheques among our presents. We will hope for the best.

But there is a more serious thing upon which I want to consult you. You asked me never to have any secrets from you, or else I should not bother you about such things. I should have kept it for Saturday when we meet, but I want you to have time to think about it, so that we may come to some decision then.

I am surety to a man for an indefinite sum of money. It sounds rather dreadful, does it not? But it is not so bad as it sounds, for there is no harm done yet. But the question is what we should do in the future about it, and the answer is not a very easy one. He is a very pleasant fellow, an insurance agent, and he got into some trouble about his accounts last year. The office would have dismissed him, but as I knew his wife and his family, I became surety that he should not go wrong again, and so I saved him from losing his situation. His name is Farintosh. He is one of those amiable, weak, good fellows whom you cannot help loving, although you never can trust them. Of course we could give notice that we should not be responsible any longer, but it would be a thunderbolt to this poor family, and the man would certainly be ruined. We don't want to begin our own happiness by making any one else unhappy, do we? But we shall talk it over, and I shall do what you advise. You understand that we are only liable in case he defaults, and surely it is very unlikely that he will do so after the lesson that he has already had.

I think the house will do splendidly. The Lindens is the name, and it is on the Maybury Road, not more than a quarter of a mile from the station. If your mother and you could come down on Tuesday or Wednesday, I should get a half-day off, and you would be able to inspect it. Such a nice little lawn in front, and garden behind. A conservatory, if you please, dining-room and drawing-room. You can never assemble more than four or five guests. On your at-home days, we shall put up little placards as they do outside the theatres, 'Drawing-room full,' 'Dining-room full,' 'Room in the Conservatory.' There are two good bedrooms, one large maid's room, and a lumber- room. One cook and one housemaid could run it beautifully. Rent 50 pounds on a three years' lease--with taxes, about 62 pounds. I think it was just built for us. Rupton Hale says that we must be careful not to brush against the walls, and that it would be safer to go outside to sneeze--but that is only his fun.

What a dull, stupid letter! I do hope that I shall be in good form on Saturday. I am a man of moods--worse luck! and they come quite regardless of how I wish to be, or even of how I have cause to be. I do hope that I shall make your day bright for you--the last day that we shall have together before THE day. There have been times when I have been such bad company to you, just when I wished to be at my best. But you are always so sweet and patient and soothing. Until Saturday, then, my own darling.--Ever your lover, FRANK.

P.S.--I open this to tell you that such a gorgeous fish-knife, with our monograms upon it, has just arrived from Mrs. Preston, my father's old friend. I went to the Goldsmith's Company in Regent Street yesterday afternoon, and I bought--what do you think? It looks so beautiful upon its snow-white cotton wadding. I like them very broad and rather flat. I do hope you will think it all right. It fills me with the strangest feelings when I look at it. Come what may, foul weather or fair, sorrow or joy, that little strip of gold will still be with us--we shall see it until we can see no more.

P.P.S.--Saturday! Saturday!! Saturday!!!

CHAPTER IV--THE TWO SOLOS

Their tryst was at the Charing Cross bookstall at one o'clock, and so Mr. Frank Crosse was there at quarter-past twelve, striding impatiently up and down, and stopping dead whenever a woman emerged from the entrance, like a pointer dog before a partridge. Before he came he had been haunted by the idea that possibly Maude might have an impulse to come early--and what if she were to arrive and not find him there! Every second of her company was so dear to him, that when driving to meet her he had sometimes changed from one cab to another upon the way, because the second seemed to have the faster horse. But now that he was on the ground he realised that she was very exact to her word, and that she would neither be early nor late. And yet, in the illogical fashion of a lover, he soon forgot that it was he who was too soon, and he chafed and chafed as the minutes passed, until at about quarter to one he was striding gloomily about with despondent features and melancholy forebodings, imagining a thousand miserable reasons for her inexplicable delay. A good many people stared at him as they passed, and we may do so among the number.

In person Frank Crosse was neither tall nor short, five feet eight and a half to be exact, with the well-knit frame and springy step of a young man who had been an athlete from his boyhood. He was slim, but wiry, and carried his head with a half-defiant backward slant which told of pluck and breed. His face was tanned brown, in spite of his City hours, but his hair and slight moustache were flaxen, and his eyes, which were his best features, were of a delicate blue, and could vary in expression from something very tender to something particularly hard. He was an orphan, and had inherited nothing from his parents save a dash of the artist from his mother. It was not enough to help him to earn a living, but it transformed itself into a keen appreciation and some ambitions in literature, and it gave a light and shade to his character which made him rather complex, and therefore interesting. His best friends could not deny the shade, and yet it was but the shadow thrown by the light. Strength, virility, emotional force, power of deep feeling--these are traits which have to be paid for. There was sometimes just a touch of the savage, or at least there were indications of the possibility of a touch of the savage, in Frank Crosse. His intense love of the open air and of physical exercise was a sign of it. He left upon women the impression, not altogether unwelcome, that there were unexplored recesses of his nature to which the most intimate of them had never penetrated. In those dark corners of the spirit either a saint or a sinner might be lurking, and there was a pleasurable excitement in peering into them, and wondering which it was. No woman ever found him dull. Perhaps it would have been better for him if they had, for his impulsive nature had never been long content with a chilly friendship. He was, as we may see, a man with a past, but it WAS a past, now that Maude Selby had come like an angel of light across the shadowed path of his life. In age he was nearly twenty-seven.

There are one or two things which might be said for him which he would not have said for himself. He was an only child and an orphan, but he had adopted his grandparents, who had been left penniless


A Duet - 4/46

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