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- In the Year of Jubilee - 80/87 -
'No reason in particular. The fancy took me. Am I unwelcome?'
For answer, his wife's arms were thrown about him. A lovers' meeting, with more of tenderness, and scarcely less of warmth, than when Nancy knocked at the door in Staple Inn.
'Are you hungry?'
'Only for what you have given me.'
'Some tea, then, after that wretched journey.'
'No. How's the boy?'
He drew her upon his knee, and listened laughingly whilst the newest marvels of babyhood were laughingly related.
'Anything from Horace?'
'Not a word. He must be in London now; I shall write tomorrow.'
Tarrant nodded carelessly. He had the smallest interest in his wife's brother, but could not help satisfaction in the thought that Horace was to be reputably, and even brilliantly, married. From all he knew of Horace, the probability had seemed that his marriage would be some culmination of folly.
'I think you have something to tell me,' Nancy said presently, when her hand had been fondled for a minute or two.
'Nothing much, but good as far as it goes. Bunbury has asked me to write him an article every week for the first six months of '90. Column and a half, at two guineas a column.'
'Three guineas a week.'
'O rare head!'
'So there's no anxiety for the first half of next year, at all events,' said Nancy, with a sigh of relief.
'I think I can count on a margin of fifty pounds or so by midsummer --towards the debt, of course.'
Nancy bit her lip in vexation, but neither made nor wished to make any protest. Only a week or two ago, since entering upon his patrimony, Horace Lord had advanced the sum necessary to repay what Nancy owed to the Barmbys. However rich Horace was going to be, this debt to him must be cancelled. On that, as on most other points, Tarrant and his wife held a firm agreement of opinion. Yet they wanted money; the past year had been a time of struggle to make ends meet. Neither was naturally disposed to asceticism, and if they did not grumble it was only because grumbling would have been undignified.
'Did you dine with the great people on Thursday?' Nancy asked.
'Yes, and rather enjoyed it. There were one or two clever women.'
'Been anywhere else?'
'An hour at a smoking-concert the other evening. Pippit, the actor, was there, and recited a piece much better than I ever heard him speak anything on the stage. They told me he was drunk; very possibly that accounted for it.'
To a number of such details Nancy listened quietly, with bent head. She had learned to put absolute faith in all that Tarrant told her of his quasi-bachelor life; she suspected no concealment; but the monotony of her own days lay heavy upon her whilst he talked.
'Won't you smoke?' she asked, rising from his knee to fetch the pipe and tobacco-jar kept for him upon a shelf. Slippers also she brought him, and would have unlaced his muddy boots had Tarrant permitted it. When he presented a picture of masculine comfort, Nancy, sitting opposite, cautiously approached a subject of which as yet there had been no word between them.
'Oughtn't you to get more comfortable lodgings?'
'Oh, I do very well. I'm accustomed to the place, and I like the situation.'
He had kept his room in Great College Street, though often obliged to scant his meals as the weekly rent-day approached.
'Don't you think we might make some better--some more economical arrangement?'
Nancy took courage, and spoke her thoughts.
'It's more expensive to live separately than if we were together.'
Tarrant seemed to give the point his impartial consideration.
'H'm--no, I think not. Certainly not, with our present arrangements. And even if it were we pay for your comfort, and my liberty.'
'Couldn't you have as much liberty if we were living under the same roof? Of course I know that you couldn't live out here; it would put a stop to your work at once. But suppose we moved. Mary might take a rather larger house--it needn't be much larger--in a part convenient for you. We should be able to pay her enough to set off against her increased expenses.'
Smoking calmly, Tarrant shook his head.
'Impracticable. Do you mean that this place is too dull for you?'
'It isn't lively, but I wasn't thinking of the place. If _you_ lived here, it would be all I should wish.'
'That sounds so prettily from your lips, Nancy, that I'm half ashamed to contradict it. But the truth is that you can only say such things because we live apart. Don't deceive yourself. With a little more money, this life of ours would be as nearly perfect as married life ever can be.'
Nancy remembered a previous occasion when he spoke to the same purpose. But it was in the time she did not like to think of, and in spite of herself the recollection troubled her.
'You must have more variety,' he added. 'Next year you shall come into town much oftener--'
'I'm not thinking of that. I always like going anywhere with you; but I have plenty of occupations and pleasures at home.--I think we ought to be under the same roof.'
'Ought? Because Mrs. Tomkins would cry _haro_! if her husband the greengrocer wasn't at her elbow day and night?'
'Have more patience with me. I didn't mean _ought_ in the vulgar sense--I have as little respect for Mrs. Tomkins as you have. I don't want to interfere with your liberty for a moment; indeed it would be very foolish, for I know that it would make you detest me. But I so often want to speak to you--and--and then, I can't quite feel that you acknowledge me as your wife so long as I am away.'
'I quite understand. The social difficulty. Well, there's no doubt it is a difficulty; I feel it on your account. I wish it were possible for you to be invited wherever I am. Some day it will be, if I don't get run over in the Strand; but--'
'I should like the invitations,' Nancy broke in, 'but you still don't understand me.'
'Yes, I think I do. You are a woman, and it's quite impossible for a woman to see this matter as a man does. Nancy, there is not one wife in fifty thousand who retains her husband's love after the first year of marriage. Put aside the fools and the worthless; think only of women with whom you might be compared--brave, sensible, pure-hearted; they can win love, but don't know how to keep it.'
'Why not put it the other way about, and say that men can love to begin with, but so soon grow careless?'
'Because I am myself an instance to the contrary.'
Nancy smiled, but was not satisfied.
'The only married people,' Tarrant pursued, 'who can live together with impunity, are those who are rich enough, and sensible enough, to have two distinct establishments under the same roof. The ordinary eight or ten-roomed house, inhabited by decent middle-class folk, is a gruesome sight. What a huddlement of male and female! They are factories of quarrel and hate--those respectable, brass-curtain-rodded sties--they are full of things that won't bear mentioning. If our income never rises above that, we shall live to the end of our days as we do now.'
Nancy looked appalled.
'But how can you hope to make thousands a year?'
'I have no such hope; hundreds would be sufficient. I don't aim at a house in London; everything there is intolerable, except the fine old houses which have a history, and which I could never afford. For my home, I want to find some rambling old place among hills and woods,--some house where generations have lived and died,--where my boy, as he grows up, may learn to love the old and beautiful things about him. I myself never had a home; most London children don't know what is meant by home; their houses are only more or less comfortable lodgings, perpetual change within and without.'
'Your thoughts are wonderfully like my father's, sometimes,' said Nancy.
'From what you have told me of him, I think we should have agreed in a good many things.'
'And how unfortunate we were! If he had recovered from that illness, --if he had lived only a few months,--everything would have been made easy.'
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