The Art-Music, Literature and Linguistics Forum
September 27, 2023, 05:48:01 am
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

Login with username, password and session length
News: Here you may discover hundreds of little-known composers, hear thousands of long-forgotten compositions, contribute your own rare recordings, and discuss the Arts, Literature and Linguistics in an erudite and decorous atmosphere full of freedom and delight.
  Home Help Search Gallery Staff List Login Register  

Chapter 7

Pages: [1]   Go Down
Author Topic: Chapter 7  (Read 18 times)
Level 8

Times thanked: 53
Offline Offline

Posts: 3047

View Profile
« on: April 05, 2023, 04:38:19 am »

MR. Marble was, of course, deceiving himself when he imagined that his wife could deduce all that had happened from his half-hearted exclamations that night. He realized this as time passed. She could do nothing of the sort. The situation between them was still strained; they said as little to each other as they could help, but it was not because Annie knew her husband for a murderer. Mr. Marble gradually regained his peace of mind in that respect.

And other things were too exciting for him to brood over it just at present. As he had expected, Mr. Saunders had been unable to keep to himself the glorious fact that he had brought off a hundred to one success and had acquired the highly respectable sum of twenty-four thousand pounds. In two days the news was all over the City, and in three it had been brought to the official notice of the Bank. There had been a slight scene, in which Mr. Marble bore himself with the arrogance only to be expected of a man with a fortune at his back. The Bank suspected the worst; told him more in sorrow than in anger that they would not prosecute this time—they had had no case anyway, and furthermore they would not expose their office routine to comment in a court of law—and then accepted the resignation that he tendered with a sigh of relief.

Yet Mr. Marble did not become at once a gentleman of leisure. A distinguished firm of foreign exchange brokers heard Saunders’ story and decided that a man of Mr. Marble’s talents would be a desirable acquisition. The only man in all the City who had foreseen the rise of the franc, who had had the courage of his convictions to put all his savings into the speculation, and who, besides, had the force of character to inveigle Saunders into supporting him would be a man worth having. So they approached Mr. Marble, and made him a tentative offer which with little debate—he already had a vague idea that the more his thoughts were occupied the better—he accepted. The hours were easy; the junior partner was a little hesitant in mentioning the amount of the salary—five hundred a year. So Mr. Marble found himself in a comfortable position with no less an income than seventeen hundred pounds a year. He struggled hard to stop himself from thinking about the fact that all this splendour was entirely due to the fierce stimulus of being in danger of the gallows.

The freehold of 53 Malcolm Road was safely purchased. It was only a matter of three days’ negotiations, for the owners were overjoyed to find someone willing to pay seven hundred pounds for a house which cost twenty pounds a year in repairs and yet was not allowed by law to be rented at a greater sum than thirty-five pounds.

Mr. Marble could afford to live in a house three times as expensive. But he could not bring himself to leave the place. He could not bear the idea of taking his eyes from that garden. Besides, he had a vague apprehension that there might be legislation compelling all owners of unoccupied houses to let them, and then the state of affairs which his tortured imagination so constantly pictured would naturally develop. No, he could not bear to leave the place, and so Mr. Marble, with an income of seventeen hundred a year, continued to live in a shabby street, in a house with two tiny sitting-rooms, three tiny bedrooms, and a kitchen whose size Mrs. Marble deplored every time she entered it.

Poor Annie Marble! She could hardly realize all the changes that would take place. The first convincing proof that matters were radically different occurred in a week or two after that unpleasant evening in the drawing-room. Mr. Marble was leaving for town—he did not have to start until past nine o’clock nowadays—and as he said good-bye at the door he reached into his pocket and thrust something roughly into her hand.

‘Here,’ he said, ‘take this and go out this morning and spend it, every bit of it. Mind you spent it all. There, good-bye.’

He dashed off up the road. Mrs. Marble looked wonderingly at what he had given her. It was a roll of notes, crisp and fresh from the Bank. She passed them through her fingers. Some were five-pound notes, and some were one-pound notes. Altogether they amounted to an enormous sum—fifty pounds in all, actually—and it was more money than she had ever seen together at one time. Mr. Marble, in the bus on the way to the station, felt a good deal more comfortable than he had done for the last two weeks. It had been rotten, not daring to meet his wife’s eyes. She had a thin time, poor thing, and Mr. Marble knew from experience that one of the few slight pleasures in her life was being able to spend money. With fifty pounds in her purse she would be able to go down Rye Lane and have a high old time. Perhaps when he came back that evening she would be smiling again and all that beastly business when he had lost control of himself would be forgotten.

But even while he was thinking this Mrs. Marble was turning those notes over with fear in her heart. At that time her husband would have given her more pleasure by an unexpected gift of five shillings. For five shillings does not set one thinking of police and prisons. Besides, Mrs. Marble hardly knew what to do with fifty pounds, and lastly she had too great a fear for the future to spend it all at once. Muddle-headed she may have been, but in her life Mrs. Marble had learned one lesson, and that very thoroughly; it was to the effect that there is nothing as nice as money, nothing that goes so quickly, and nothing that is so hard to obtain. Mrs. Marble went and locked it into the one private drawer she had in all the house.

She went slowly through her morning’s work—she still had no help—making the beds, turning out one room, peeling potatoes for the children’s dinner, and then she put her hat on to do her usual day’s shopping. In the hall she hesitated for a moment, and then she yielded. Hurrying upstairs, she unlocked the drawer and guiltily peeled off one single pound note and thrust it into her purse.

Mr. Marble returned home in time to join his children at their tea. As he came in he was obviously in good spirits, and Mrs. Marble brightened as she saw that this all-too-rare mood was on him. Mr. Marble looked round the room inquiringly; he put his head out into the hall again and peered up and down it. Then with much elaboration he began to search under the table and in all sorts of impossible places.

‘What are you looking for, Will?’ asked Mrs. Marble. She could hardly help laughing at his antics.

‘I’m looking for all the things you bought to-day,’ was the reply.

Mrs. Marble looked guiltily at her husband.

‘With that money you gave me this morning?’ she asked.

‘That’s right. I gave it to you to spend.’

‘I didn’t like to spend it all, dear. I only used a little of it.’

Mr. Marble took a gold cigarette case out of his pocket, chose a gold-tipped cigarette, lighted it with a match from a gold matchbox, and looked across at her with half-concealed amusement.

‘Well, what did you buy, then? Come on, let’s hear all about it.’

Mrs. Marble fumbled nervously with her dress.

‘I—I bought one or two little things for the kitchen——’

‘What were they?’

‘A—a mop, dear, and two new pie-dishes——’

Mr. Marble yelled with laughter.

‘Splendid!’ he said. ‘And what else?’

‘A new china pot for the aspidistra, such a nice one, dear, but, of course, they’re sending that. And a wing for my other hat, the black one, you know. And—and—I don’t think there’s anything else. Oh, don’t laugh like that. I couldn’t help it.’

But Mr. Marble only laughed the more. He rocked with merriment.

He turned to the children, and gasped out between his outbursts, ‘I give your mother fifty pounds to go out and spend, and that’s what she does with it! A mop and some pie-dishes! Oh, Annie, you’ll be the death of me one of these days.’

Even the children realized that it was vague bad taste on his part to hold their mother up to ridicule before them, and poor Mrs. Marble grew more and more flustered.

‘Oh, don’t laugh, Will, don’t. How was I to know that you really wanted me to spend all that?’

But Mr. Marble did not continue the argument.

‘To-morrow’s Saturday,’ he said, ‘and I’m not going to the office. We’ll go out together and then I’ll show you how to spend the money I give you. What about it?’

‘Oh, that would be nice, dear.’

Little Mrs. Marble was happily flustered now. It was perhaps a year since she had been out with her husband; it was probably three since she had been north of the Thames with him.

And yet that morning to which she looked forward so happily through the night was not wholly successful. It was rather like a wild nightmare. They began in Tottenham Court Road at ten o’clock in the morning. Mr. Marble began by making arrangements for having ’some old furniture’ removed from 53 Malcolm Road. Then he began an orgy of buying. Clearly he was acting on some already-matured plan of his own, for he went straight to the ‘period rooms’ to make his purchases. But he did not want modest Queen Anne or beautiful Chippendale. That sort of thing was not in his line. Instead, he demanded Empire furniture. They gave it to him. In addition they gave him furniture of the period following close after the Empire, massively gilt, and showing evident traces of the debasement of taste that flooded the world from the forties onward. He bought over-gilded, over-florid chairs and couches. He bought an unsightly Empire bed ornamented with gilt Cupids in hideous taste. His crowning purchase was a massive table, the frame carved and chased and tortured into a monstrosity of design and then flamingly gilded; the body of the table was of marble mosaic, crudely arranged in feeble classical design. That table probably weighed between nine and ten hundredweight, and it looked like it.

The manager of the department rubbed his hands as the bargain was concluded. He could not remember a morning like this since the palmy days of the war. He foisted a few more white elephants on to Mr. Marble, and then led them off in the direction of pictures and picture-frames. And yet that manager did not feel altogether happy while making these arrangements. The business was too simple. It was too like taking advantage of the feeble-minded. He had only to offer the thing, name its price, and book the order. Even he, skilled as he was in the mentality of the furniture-buyer, did not appreciate the fact that Mr. Marble was buying what he wanted to buy, not what the manager wanted him to buy. Mr. Marble was thoroughly enjoying himself. Those vast expanses of gilt, those florid designs like nightmare Laocoöns, were to Mr. Marble’s mind the perfection of good taste. As for the mosaic table, he considered himself lucky to have got hold of that.

So rapidly did Mr. Marble make his purchases, and so little did he confer with his wife, that in two hours the whole business was completed. Mr. Marble signed a cheque that gave him possession of enough debased Empire furniture to fill 53 Malcolm Road to overflowing, and was bowed out of the shop by an amazed and delighted staff.

On the pavement Mr. Marble consulted the gold octagon-shaped watch on his wrist and hailed a taxicab.

‘Oh, Will,’ murmured Mrs. Marble in deprecating tones, but she got in.

‘Bond Street,’ snapped Mr. Marble to the driver, and climbed in beside her.

Mrs. Marble clung desperately to her husband’s arm as they bowled along Oxford Street. She was half afraid lest he might suddenly disappear, as so frequently happens in fairy stories, and leave her alone in a taxicab—she had never been in one before—to find her way home and face the arrival of a houseful of Empire furniture without the support of his presence. Mr. Marble made no objection to this public display of affection. He even pressed the timid arm that lay between his own and his side, thereby sending Mrs. Marble into the seventh heaven of delight. She was vaguely reminded of their honeymoon.

They got down at Bond Street tube station, and began to walk slowly down, their eyes on the shop windows. Mrs. Marble began to wonder what was going to happen next. She soon found out.

‘Go in there,’ said Mr. Marble, stopping outside a shop.

Mrs. Marble glanced at the windows. The one or two articles displayed there proved without a doubt that it was a shop for women, and also that it was a shop for women with plenty of money. She clung to her husband’s arm more wildly than ever.

‘Oh, I can’t, Will, I can’t. I—I don’t like to.’

Mr Marble snorted with contempt.

‘Get along with you,’ he said. ‘Go and buy what you want. Nine women out of ten would give their ears for the chance.’

‘Oh, but, Will, I don’t know what I want. Let’s—let’s go to Selfridge’s or somewhere.’

Mr Marble announced his contempt for Selfridge’s to all Bond Street.

‘Women never do know what they want when they go into a shop. You go in. Just leave it to them. They’ll do all the asking that’s necessary once you get inside and they find out how much money you’ve got. You got your fifty all right?’

‘Yes, dear.’ Mrs. Marble was sure of that. She had been clutching her handbag all the morning in terror lest she should lose it.

‘Right. Here’s another twenty. Put it away. Now in you go.’

Mrs. Marble, in the grip of a blind terror that made her knees tremble, tottered into the shop. Mr. Marble wandered thirstily away in search of a drink.

When he returned his wife was still inside, and he had to wait dismally for some time before she emerged, pale but firm, and with a strange joy at her heart. She could tell him little of what had happened—Mrs. Marble was not clever at describing experiences—and it was hopeless for her to endeavour to enlighten him about the feeling of hopeless inferiority that she had felt when she saw the look on the assistant’s face when she had to confess miserably to an address in the unenlightened suburbs south of the river, and of the condescension of the whole staff towards her, and of the unmoved fashion in which they had kindly relieved her of all her money and further allowed her to order a great deal more than she had been able to pay for. And how she had realized as soon as she was inside the door that her clothes were dowdy and that her hat, even with the new wing that she had bought the day before, was not, in the eyes of those aristocratic assistants, a hat at all. In fact, none of her clothes were even clothes in their eyes. She had realized in a blinding flash that these people mentally divided the world into the clothed and the unclothed, and to them she was on no higher plane than a naked savage. But she had made up for it.

‘I’m afraid I’ve spent an awful lot of money, Will,’ she said apologetically.

‘Quite right, too,’ said Mr. Marble. ‘They’re sending the things, I suppose? Sure you gave ’em the right address? That’s all right, then. Let’s go home.’

And home they went, in a bus crowded with the Saturday morning rush, back to Malcolm Road. It was rather unfortunate that when they arrived there, at two o’clock, there was nothing ready for them to eat, and Mr. Marble had to wait while his wife, with her brain swimming in a delirium of chiffons and serges, prepared a hurried and indigestive meal. The best thing they could have done was to have had their lunch out, but Mr. Marble had hardly thought of that. His old obsession had gripped him again; he was moody while on the bus, without a word to spare for his wife; he had been very anxious to get home to see that no one was interfering with that precious garden of his. This panic fear was displaying a growing habit of suddenly developing.
Report Spam   Logged

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Pages: [1]   Go Up
Jump to:  

Powered by EzPortal
Bookmark this site! | Upgrade This Forum
SMF For Free - Create your own Forum

Powered by SMF | SMF © 2016, Simple Machines
Privacy Policy