You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 15

Man and Wife

“COURAGE!” said Pip, “Be — hey-good to her,” waving to the outgoing train. He slid out of sight past the windows and the young couple were off for their honeymoon. . . .

Edward Albert had slumped into his seat. “Wish I knew who frew that last slipper,” he said. “All bruised I am. Someone must’ve delib’ratly buzzed it straight at my face. Ugh!”

He shut his eyes.

“Merried,” he said, and said no more.

She seated herself diametrically opposite to him.

For a time they sat in silence.

She was perplexed by a disconcerting little incident that had just occurred. A radiant railway official had taken them in charge, led them along the platform and ushered them to their reserved compartment. “Wish you all happiness,” he said, and stood waiting. Edward Albert looked in dull interrogation at his bride. “Wans a tip, I s’pose,” he said, fumbled in his pocket and produced sixpence. The man stared at the coin with a hostile expression and made no movement. Matters hung in suspense.

“All right Evangeline! My affair,” said Pip, and had drawn the resentful official out of the apartment and brightened his face on the platform.

“I suppose” (hiccup) “I can do what I like with my own money,” said Edward Albert answering her unspoken protest.

“But he expected more. Dressed up as we are! He looked so astonished and hurt. He didn’t like you, Teddy.”

“Well, I didn’t like ‘is face either.”

He seemed to think the incident concluded. But this assertion that he meant to do what he liked with his own money came as a clear definition of a disposition already very plainly apparent. He had evidently been thinking things over and he had got one reality very clear in his mind. He had the power of the purse. He had insisted on paying himself for every incidental expense for which Pip had not provided already. (Pip’s bill was to come in later.) Evangeline studied his sulky face across the carriage. Edward Albert had never been drunk before and the temporary exhilaration of Old Gooseberry was apt to be followed by an uncomfortable obstinacy.

Her immediate disposition was to leave him alone. But for some days she had been anticipating this moment and preparing a little speech for him, that would readjust their relations on a saner basis. And that former resolution was still sufficiently strong to prevail over her discretion.

“Teddy,” she said, “Listen to me.”

He did not open his eyes. “Wassit?” he asked.

“Teddy, we’ve got to make the best of all this. I was a fool to fall in love with you in the first place — oh, yes, I was in love with you right enough — but I fell out quicker than I fell in. Kidnapping — she said. What was her name? Blame. Détournement des mineurs. Are you listening? Face things as they are. You’re young, Teddy, even for your years. And I’m a grown-up woman.”

“Don wan argue. Thing’s done s’done. Wish I knew who chucked that slipper. . . . Couldn’t have been old Pip. . . . Pip wount done thin’ like that.”

Nothing more to be said. She sat back, disregarding him. She felt intolerably sober. She wished she had let herself go like the rest of them with Veuve Gooseberry, She tried to reassemble her ideas. She had entered upon a new sort of life in which there would be no weekly pay day. She had never thought of that before and at the time the prospect scared her unduly. . . .

She went out into the corridor and contemplated the flying landscape. She looked over her shoulder and then resorted to the privacy of the lavatory. There she counted her available money. She had £2.11s.6d. Not much. And no more to come.

She returned to their apartment.

He had shifted. He was in the middle of the carriage now with his hands on the seat arms and he was making a queer noise between snoring and sobbing. He was partly asleep and wholly drunk. She stood for a long time regarding him.

“Tu n’as voulu,” Georges what is it? — Dindon? — Chose?” she whispered to herself. “He used to say that and laugh at me.”

And then, “What was that other one he used to laugh at? As a girl falls so shall she lie. . . . Nothing to laugh at now.”

Well, she was in a fix and somehow she would get out of it. When one looked at her antagonist, there was nothing really for aidable about him. She glanced at the panel of looking — glass above the back of the seat and she realised that her grey going-away dress suited her very well. She nodded to her reflection reassuringly.

She posed to herself, admiring and sympathising with, herself. She saw herself brilliant, generous^ passionate, unfortunate and still undaunted.

“I’ve got no right to hate him,” she said. “But it’s going to be hard not to. This money business. That’s something new. Evadne, my dear, you never dreamt of that. Somehow that must be put straight. Think it out. Put him to bed to-night and talk sense to him tomorrow.”

At Torquay Station she felt she had the situation well in hand. She got the porters tipped generously by saying, “His fee is half a crown,” and she settled handsomely with the cabdriver by the same device. “Thish Torquay don’t arf charge,” said her spouse.

“Nothing is dear if it’s good,” she said, partly to him and partly to the hotel porter.

And having pacified her lord and sent him to sleep, she lay awake beside him in a reverie.

Before her acutely wakeful mind passed a pageant of beautiful women down the ages who had had to give their bodies to dwarfed kings and ugly feudal lords, rich merchants, influential statesmen, millionaires, with far less desire than had served her turn. And all the women in this procession were strangely alike; reasonably tall, bright-eyed, with shadowy black hair and a dark warmth of skin; each indeed was her own dreamself in a thousand lovely costumes, sacrificial always but still proud and self-contained. One lady on a white horse, however, wore no costume at all, Lady Godiva. Venus the prey of Vulcan also, was scanty. Anne Boleyn was rich by contrast. A splendid figure was Esther, purified, anointed, and in robes of the utmost frankness and splendour, jingling like a sistrum, going into the King, conquering by her dark loveliness, conquering by submission. Always she submitted rather than gave, holding back a precious jewel of self-abandonment that was hers, her own unexplored essence. She controlled the brute for fine and generous ends.

Was this after all what wifehood amounted to?

For most women perhaps — yes.

Was there ever a true love between husband and wife? There was obligation in it and obligation kills love. There was an excessive proximity. You saw the creature too closely. The advantage of an amant was that you didn’t have to live with him.

There was someone she had been trying to forget, but the word amant translated itself into English and the desire for love flooded her being. . . . True love . . .

Her imaginative posturing came to an end. She stared hard at the darkness for some moments and then moaned weakly and began to weep and weep silently; “Oh my dear,” she whispered, “Oh my dear” She let herself weep, and it comforted her greatly.

The morning found her restored to her normal self and prepared even to enjoy Torquay. She had thought of all sorts of things that revolutionised the situation. She slipped out of bed and into a Parisian dressing-gown, went to look at the sea — lovely! — rang and demanded a “chocolate camplit” and explained that “M’sieu mangera Plutarch.” Then, recalled to Old England at the maid’s stare, she translated, “One chocolate and rolls and butter. My husband is still asleep.” He might, she reflected, have the monopoly of payment, but nothing here could prevent her giving orders.

She dressed and as she dressed she revised that speech she had composed in the train. She would say it all later in the day, when he was washed and penitent. There was an aftermath of penitence in that champagne. It was his first experience of getting drunk, and she knew there was a state called having a head and a mouth, when fallen humanity craves for a cool hand on its brow. She wished she knew more about pick-me-ups.

She would go down and find out in the bar.

All that worked out admirably. The barman was understanding and charming. She tried a cocktail he said he had invented, It cleared and invigorated the spirit. She did a very unusual thing for her. She had another.

In the afternoon she was able to deliver her little speech from under a sunshade that she held over her husband’s head in the hotel gardens, and win his depressed but unresisting agreement.

Should she say a word about the money? Not a word until they went back to London and she began housekeeping.

This they did precipitately when Edward Albert received the first week’s bill.

It was rather a big bill, but then they were having their honeymoon. To him it seemed unspeakably vast. By all his available means it was overwhelmingly vast. He examined it incredulously.

“Why do they call it the King’s Suite?”

“They flatter themselves they are doing us well.”

“Doing us well!” His face was white and damp — with perspiration. He was too appalled to shout. “Doing us!” he whispered.

“Wot’s this — this porter’s account? That’s that big busybody downstairs.”

“He paid for a few things I bought in the shops. It’s how they do in hotels.” She glanced at the bill. “That’s all quite correct,” she said.

“Hairdresser? Manicure?”

“Downstairs in the hotel.”

“Gordormighty!” said Edward Albert, using Nuts MacBryde’s once terrifying expletive without a qualm.

He reflected bitterly. “I seen advertisements in the newspapers about chaps who won’t be responsible for their wives1 debts.”

She offered no comment.

They returned to London third class and for the most pan in silence.

For some days the tension in Torrington Square was grim. No money was issued for housekeeping. Edward Albert went out to get meals at convenient public houses. But Evangeline ate and there were even fresh flowers. Returning from one of those outside repasts, he discovered his home very largely occupied by his father-inlaw. The Inspector was talking sternly to his daughter as Edward Albert came in, and, after making a brief gesture that commanded his son-in law to sit down and wait his turn, he continued his discourse.

“You get more like your mother every day — in looks and behaviour. But so far as I can I will stand between you and the sort of disgrace she brought upon herself. Why should you go on like this now? I’ve got to do what I can for you and see you’re not put upon. But this can’t go on. No. . . . And now, young man, what’s all this about the household accounts and not letting your wife have a penny?”

“S’my money,” said Edward Albert.

“Not if you owe it, young fellow my lad; not if you’re under an obligation. No. There’s such a thing as a reg’lar housekeeping allowance and she’s got to have it. To cover breakages and reasonable wear and tear as well as the tradesmen’s bills.”

“I can pay those,” said Edward Albert.

“You’d better settle the amount, whoever hands it out. And if she handles it then there won’t be any need for argument. And there’s such a thing as a fair dress allowance, per month or quarter, and no decent husband refuses it. And there’s her private petty cash for incidental things. You want to be a decent husband, Tewler, so far as it’s in you, and all that much, no gentleman can refuse. There ought to have been a proper marriage settlement before you rushed her into all this. Better late than never. The rest of your money is your own money to do exactly what you like with. So now how do we figure it out?”

“Aren’t I to have a voice —”

“No,” said the Inspector, calmly but dreadfully.

Something remotely like a gleam of humour appeared in the big man’s manner and even something in the nature of sympathy. “I’ve got no.reason,” he said, “to befriend you, young fellow, and you aren’t the sort of person anyone would naturally take a fancy to, but I do know something of this daughter of mine — and her mother — and the sooner you fix up this particular business, exactly and for your own protection, mind you, for your own protection, the more you’ll want to thank me later on. I suppose you’re ordering things from the tradespeople?” he said to Evangeline.

“Naturally,” said Evangeline.

“There you are!” said the Inspector.

Edward Albert could have eaten at home and saved all that much money.

So they figured it out and the Inspector wrote it all down in a clear round hand. “You’s better initial it,” he said, and waited.

Edward Albert initialled it.

The Inspector rose over him and patted his shoulder with a powerful hand. “You’ll both thank me for this” he said. He refused all refreshment and departed humming,

Edward Albert closed the door on him and returned to his domestic life. He sat down violently and stuck his hands in his pockets.

“That’s put the lid on. I might just as well be back in the boarding-house. My home. Gaw!”

Evangeline was disposed to be quite kind and generous about it all.

“I didn’t ask Father to come this time,” she said. “He just thought about it and came. I didn’t ask him to interfere.”

“Gaw,” said Edward Albert ambiguously.

“It’s just your inexperience, Teddy. Every decent husband has to do the same sort of thing. . . . It’s the way of things. My dear, you murst face reality. Why can’t we pull ourselves together and make the best of it? Even now.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wells/hg/you-cant-be-too-careful/book3.15.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30