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Chapter Fifteen WE BEGIN TO LIVE
Toward the end of the summer we were all prospering. The factory business was coming up to expectations, the new baby was developing into a lusty child, and even my mother had ceased to be openly antagonistic. She was not entirely cordial, and she still kept a certain distance between herself and Helen—a distance which, strangely enough, also included Helen's baby; nevertheless, there were occasions when she seemed to forget her attitude. We spent several week-ends in the country as a family, and no incident occurred to disturb either Helen or me.

In fact, the prosperity and good nature were so general that once or twice Helen and I slipped away to look at little houses in the suburban country. We found the very thing we wanted at a small village in Hertfordshire, not far from St. Albans. It was a modern house, but it had a red-tiled roof and a pleasant garden of its own. "Ten minutes from the station," the agent said. He was a brisk walker. Helen went into raptures over the interior. She counted up seven bedrooms, four on the second, three above. "Just the right number," she announced. It was a surprise to me that seven bedrooms were our lucky quota. I was rather vague about bedrooms, never having thought out how many we should need. Downstairs there was a sitting-room, a dining-room, another room, the kitchen, and what the agent, once more, referred to as "the usual offices." There was a porcelain bath, so shiny and white that had we had any money the matter would have been settled then and there.

We went back to Kensington with the news of our discovery. After hearing the price—for the property was a freehold—my father inquired if it was actually what Helen and I really wanted. We assured him it was.

"Very well," my father overwhelmed us by saying; "if you want it, you shall have it."

He and my mother, it appeared, were going to Paris for a year, partly for the sake of my sister's education. They had already decided to give up the Kensington house, leaving Helen and me on our own. Our plans fitted in with theirs.

"You may call the house a belated wedding present," my father said.

In due time the agent and solicitors from far and near brought their endless papers, my father wrote out a check, we all signed our names a great many times, and the house was ours. Nor did my father's generosity stop there. Another check was handed to Helen. My father told her to furnish the house as well as she could with it. That evening Helen and I sat up half the night, making out lists of things. I wrote them down and Helen thought them out. Pots and pans seemed extraordinarily numerous. We were interrupted only by the younger Miss Helen demanding nourishment.

For the next two weeks we trudged up and down Tottenham Court Road shopping. Such discussions and arguments as Helen had with shop assistants; such checking of catalogues and comparing of prices! I suggested getting a lump price on the whole thing from one shop, thus simplifying the process. My commonsense suggestion was emphatically vetoed. It simply wasn't done that way—not when one furnished a house. I rather liked to sit on the edge of a counter and listen to Helen bullying young shopmen. I marvelled at her persistence, to say nothing of her obstinacy in getting them around to her demands. She accepted no provisos and exceptions. The daily struggle would have worn me out; she returned, to it fresh each morning, armed at all points cap-a-pie. Each evening we laid plans for the action of the following day. We were buying the minimum of furniture; the rest we hoped to pick up second-hand, old cottage tables and the like. We did, as a matter of fact, make one or two by-excursions down the Fulham Road to see the antique shops. We found the owners of these shops, however, too canny for our purposes. They fancied that Helen and I were American tourists and stuck their prices up accordingly.

The family listened with obvious amusement, during dinner each night, to our adventures and progress. They offered no advice, nor did we seek any, for we wanted to do it alone. Occasionally Helen and my mother conferred over the contents of the kitchen. Not everything bore the same name as in America. Helen had to ask what the English equivalents were.

Coming out of Kettner's one day in Soho, I observed a fascinating row of copper sauce-pans hanging in a smelly little French shop. I made Helen's growing equipment a present of this addition. "You can do me a poussin sauté, gran'mère, en casserole," I explained. It was Helen's turn to look a little vague.

We set the first of October as the date on which we hoped to move in. We were having the walls done and a kitchen range installed. Time was no object whatever to the group of men who had taken over these two jobs.

"Probably," I said to Helen, "they are enjoying a summer in the country."

"I hope they don't remain over for the hunting," she answered, thereby proving that she had begun to read Punch to some purpose.

The day actually did come at last. We sent off one van load from Kensington, said good-bye until next Sunday to the family, bundled nurse and the baby into a one-horse omnibus, and, accompanied by Chitty as general handy man, drove off for Euston. Our village was on the London and Northwestern.

We no longer had the trained nurse, of course, but a plain ordinary everyday nurse, who, according to Helen, was most unscientific. Helen had been reading up in that abominable book on the horrors of babies. I wanted to show baby the horse, but Helen informed me the child was as yet quite unable to appreciate the privilege.

All this by the way. We were more excited over the journey to our new home than we had been on our wedding-day. We were now definitely for ourselves.

"No one to care if I spill pipe ashes on the rugs," I said. I judged from Helen's reception of this that my illustration of liberty was not well-chosen. "I mean," I went on, to make amends, "that you will be at home in your own house, able to do just as you like." This was clearly a much better example of my thought.

We went first class, because of the baby. Helen thought first-class carriages would have fewer germs in them. It had an added advantage: we had the compartment to ourselves, except for the nurse. Chitty went third.

At the station Chitty highly incensed the only porter by taking charge of all our luggage. In some miraculous fashion he also packed us all into one fly, seating himself beside the driver. We drove up to our new home in state, Helen and I hand in hand, the baby cooing from the nurse's shoulder.

Inside we found a solitary representative of the kitchen-range-and-decorating crew, who informed us that he had not as yet been able to "connect the range," but that this would certainly be accomplished in two or three days. Until then we could not build a fire in it or do any cooking. Helen and I sat down on our luggage for a counsel of war over the situation. Should we send nurse and the baby back to Kensington? It was Chitty who solved the problem.

"I beg pardon, sir," he said, touching his forelock, "but I could build a bit of fire in the back garden, sir, and do the cooking on that."

Helen and I leaped at the proposal. It was the very thing! Nurse made it evident she did not approve it. We overruled her, and I gave Chitty immediate instructions to prepare luncheon. He took a box of matches and a frying pan and stepped outside.

Soon the vans arrived, for they had left town early in the morning. There also came a cook and a housemaid, engaged a month ago from a local employment agency. The cook's indignation at the condition of the range knew no bounds. She was not pacified by being shown Chitty hard at work in the garden. The smoke from his camp fire had already attracted the attention of two or three female neighbours. Helen's tact disposed of the cook for the time being. I went out to see how Chitty was getting along.

"What are we eating, Chitty?"

"Sausages and fried tomatoes, sir," he answered with the customary salute.

"Mind you do enough for the lot of us," I instructed him.

"Very good, sir."

I carried a deal table into the dining room, for the regular furniture was mostly in a chaotic pyramid on the pavement in front. Helen found knives, forks, and plates. The housemaid appeared to be paralyzed by circumstances. She was of little or no assistance. So it was that, amid gales of laughter from Helen, we sat down to the first meal under our own roof.

"The devil of it all is," I philosophized to her, between bites, "that nothing in this world ever turns out as one has imagined it will. Now, the number of times we have pictured ourselves eating our first dinner in our own home—"

"But what oceans more fun it is, like this," Helen interrupted.

"There is a great deal in your point of view, lady with the nice eyes," I agreed, carving her a wedge of bread from a household loaf. "What do you think, littlest Helen?" I added, turning to the baby, who sat, a solemn spectator, on nurse's lap.

"Now, Ted, please don't stir the baby up when she's being good," Helen cautioned. She always said that if I approached the child.

"When," I asked with mock irony, "will my daughter reach such an age of discretion that I may be permitted to converse with her?"

"You are being silly, Ted. If you'll promise to carry her about afterwards until she stops howling, you can speak to her now."

"I refuse your terms, and repudiate the vile implied slander," I returned, winking at the younger Helen. I believe the child sided with me. I poured myself a glass of stout and solemnly drank the baby's health. She continued to stare at me, not displeased.

"Ted, you dear idiot," exclaimed Helen, jumping up and kissing me in defiance of the nurse's presence.

"You have stout on your lips—serve you right," I said to the now retreating Helen. She scrubbed her face violently with a handkerchief no bigger than a postage stamp.

"Men are disgusting creatures."

"They are," I mused; "yet women love them." I drank deep of the stout.

"Ted, I'll shake you if you don't behave." She made a series of cabalistic signs at me, which, I took it, had reference to nurse. "It's time for baby's nap."

"Coward woman," I ejaculated, "you are afraid of me."

"Will you walk up to the nursery and set up the baby's crib?"

"Not unless I am paid in advance."

Helen hastily dabbed a kiss on my cheek. "Now, Ted, please!"

"I obey, Omphale. Call in Chitty."

"Call him in yourself," was Helen's parting shot.

Chitty and I laboured some time setting up beds, beginning with the crib in the nursery. Though the heavens were to fall, the baby had to have a nap at precisely two o'clock every afternoon. We were interrupted once by Helen, who reported that cook, housemaid, and nurse alike had refused point blank to eat any of Chitty's cooking. It ended by our sending them all off to a public house, near the station, where food was obtainable.

"An ominous look-out until we get that range going," I growled.

"I wish we had a Polish girl from Deep Harbor," was Helen's comment after her first run-in with English servants.

"I had rather have a Pole from Deep Harbor than an American from Warsaw," I amended.

"That is nonsense, Ted," Helen said.

"It isn't, if you think it over," I replied.

Chitty and I resumed setting up beds. At the end of the first hour I paused. My face was moist.

"Chitty," I observed, "living is composed of a great many details. Take a bed, for example. You find them in lots of rooms, looking harmless enough. It is only when you analyze them, or, more correctly speaking, synthetize them—if that is, in fact, the word—that you realize their complexity."

"Yessir," said Chitty. "It's 'ard work for a gentleman, I dare say."

"Then dare say so no longer. On with our task."

"Very good, sir."

Gradually we reached the top of the house and the end of the infernal job. Helen appeared again. "Do we have tea?" she asked.

"How long since is it, madam," I asked sternly, "that afternoon tea became a necessity in your life? Shall we tolerate this aping of foreign customs?"

"I can easily make the madam a cup of tea, sir," Chitty cut in, a shade of anxiety in his tone.

"Then let the madam have her tea," I answered, "since her throat burns."

"Ted," said Helen, as Chitty disappeared, "how am I going to have any discipline among the servants if you persist in making a damn fool of yourself in their presence?"

"A what, madam?" I inquired.

"A damn fool," said Helen firmly.

"You shall pay dear for that, madam," I exclaimed, seizing her. It was several minutes later that we went back to our dining room for tea, our arms about one another like a Bank holiday couple at Hampstead Heath.

Chitty provided a tin of tea, black as Cimmerian darkness. The furniture had by now been removed from the pavement and piled in smaller individual pyramids in each room.

"It looks absolutely hopeless, Ted," said Helen, shuddering over a taste of Chitty's tea, as well she might. "Shall we ever get settled?"

"I am so comfortable," I replied, "that it is a matter of complete indifference to me. Let's live as we are."

At this moment a surprise arrived. The family, whether suspecting the result of our first day's housekeeping, or out of sheer good will, had sent us a large hamper of food from Fortnum and Mason's. There was a bottle of champagne to give the final glow. No need for Chitty to cook any more that day. We summoned him from his tea. I verily believe he had consumed two quarts of that brew of his—proof positive that the British army is made of stern stuff, "hearts of oak and tummies of copper," Helen ventured.

"Sailors, my dear—for hearts of oak—not soldiers," I corrected.

"I'm right about the tummies," Helen rebutted stubbornly....

"Chitty," I commanded, "this room must be set right. The madam dines here tonight."

"Very good, sir." Chitty saluted, not a trace of a smile visible. In half an hour he had done wonders. Its normal appearance three quarters emerged from the confusion left behind by the van men.

We set the hamper in the centre of our gate-legged table, Helen's especial pride. Real ones were even then becoming hard to pick up. Helen lighted the candles herself, refusing to hear of gas or of assistance. There followed a feast. Cold pheasant, boned turkey, fonds d'artichaut, bottled asparagus d'Argenteuil, cakes and wine jellies, with champagne to top it all off. We made our own coffee over a spirit lamp.

With the third glass of champagne I was all for bringing the younger Helen down from the nursery, as we called it, to respond to her health. On this point her mother was immovable. The child's slumber was not disturbed.

"Madam"—I arose, addressing my wife—"once more permit me to point out to you that this is not at all like the first dinner we once planned."

"I think you have had enough champagne, Ted," was the woman's irrelevant response. "Let's give the last glass to Chitty."

"An excellent idea and a kindly thought, worthy of your woman's heart."

Once more Chitty was summoned. His eyes stared amazement when I poured him a glass of champagne.

"Thank you, sir. Thank you, madam," and he tossed it off with a neat jerk of his head. Meanwhile Helen made him up a heaping plate of food from the hamper.

"Thank you, madam."

He went out, carrying his ration carefully. We finished our coffee sitting on a rug before the fire, Helen tucked up comfortably against me.

We made heroic efforts all the week to get the house settled by Sunday. Chitty came out by train each morning to perform prodigies of strength in placing furniture. Our eagerness to be ready by Sunday was owing to the fact that we had invited the family to spend the day with us. Helen was extremely nervous about the critical eye she knew my mother would cast over our housekeeping. Poor Helen had never kept house before, let alone in a land where many ways and customs were still strange to her. We drew up the plan for dinner a dozen times, trying to include things that would please my mother's taste and rejecting everything we feared was doubtful.

We explored the shops in the village, choosing a butcher, a grocer, a greengrocer, and a fishmonger after minute investigation. There was also the question of the baby's milk. The milkman, who took Helen's searching inquiries rather light-heartedly, finally told her he would "earmark" one special cow for her.

"What on earth did he mean by that, Ted?" she said, as we pursued our way up the High Street. "Will he brand the cow in the ear so he can tell her from the others?"

I leaned against a convenient lamp-post to laugh. Helen grew quite indignant.

"Ted, you are making an exhibition of yourself in the public street!"

"I'm sorry, dear," I apologized. "But you conjured up a vision in my mind of that good English yoeman swinging on to his broncho in the early dawn to ride forth and rope your cow, while the Mexican peons dash up with the branding irons—and all for a cow's ear."

"It may all be very funny," Helen snorted, "but I really think baby's milk is more important than your silly idea of humour."

It was not often that we failed to agree on a laugh.

"What is the joke, Ted?"

"The milkman, my dear, has been reading the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is quoting a favourite phrase—that a certain item of revenue has been earmarked for a particular purpose. Thus he thought it good to earmark his cows. It's awful, my dear, when a joke has to be explained."

"I don't think it was much of a joke, now you have explained it," said Helen.

"Probably not," I agreed. "But you put it to a very severe test. It would have to be a remarkable joke to survive an analytical lecture."

"You are as clumsy as an elephant this morning, Ted."

We left the joke at that.

By Sunday we had established some sort of order and routine in the house. Not all the curtains were up, an omission which gave Helen distress. Curtains up, it appeared, was one of the first tests of housekeeping ability. There was no rug for the dining room. Otherwise we felt we had done rather well, as we surveyed our preparations. From now on we should have to manage without Chitty, who was to return Monday to his work at the Willesden factory.

Taking stock of our situation, we agreed that the sitting room would pass inspection. There was not much furniture in it, because we hoped later to pick up one or two good bits for it. It had, nevertheless, curtains and comfortable chairs. The extra room downstairs was our study, with all our books—a decent lot, too—around the walls. It also contained a good mahogany desk with over-shelves—but there were no curtains here. The dining room was likewise nearly done, save for the rug. Upstairs our bedroom and the nursery were complete; only the guest room remained to be furnished. The odd bedroom was to be turned into a laboratory for me; as yet nothing had been done to it. On the top floor the cook and housemaid lived in solitary state with an extra empty room between them. Such was the result of our final look around before the family was due.

They arrived about twelve, driven up by the station fly, which worthily upheld all the conservative traditions of village cabs. Napoleon might well have driven from the field of Waterloo in it.

Frances was the first to rush forward to greet us, dashing into the house like a Newfoundland puppy that has just been let off its leash. My father and mother followed more sedately. Helen took my mother upstairs, while Frances was running all over the place on her own, poking into everything. My father sat down in the study and got out his pipe.

"Satisfied, Ted?" he asked, as he began to consume matches.

"Yes, sir," I answered. "I can't imagine what more one could want."

"End of the chapter, eh, Ted?"

"With the addition of 'and they lived happily ever afterwards.'"

My father took a wire and ran it through the stem of his pipe.

"About the future which you have just mentioned. Your mother and sister will be on the Continent probably for several years. I shall be with them a good deal of the time. I am going to make you a director in the company to look after my interests and your own. That will not, however, take much of your time. You'll be free therefore, to do whatever you wish. I am definitely putting you and Helen on your own feet. If you need advice or help, you know where to turn—otherwise, go ahead and run your own show."

Any reply I might have made was cut short by Helen's entrance with my mother. My father joined us in a solemn visit to the whole house. The nursery received the closest inspection. Nurse was holding a very pink and well scrubbed baby, dressed in her Sunday best. The crib was ordered nearer the window; that was the only flaw discovered in what Helen and I felt to be the crucial room. We breathed easier, once by that. But a difficulty developed over the proposed laboratory. My mother said it was "criminal"—that was her very word—to have chemical fumes on the same floor with a baby's nursery. The rooms actually adjoined one another, making it much worse. The laboratory, if it was necessary at all to have such a nonsensical mess in a house, would have to be in the unoccupied room above. How Helen could in any event tolerate such a thing was beyond my mother's power to see. I was liable to burn the house down at any moment. If we were incapable of thinking for ourselves, we might at least occasionally think of the baby. The whole concluded with a peroration on my lack of any sense of responsibility. That had always been the curse of the Jevons side of the family. We humbly expressed our eagerness to put the laboratory upstairs.

"Why the devil did I tell her about that blasted laboratory?" I whispered to Helen as we went down into the garden. Outside we paused before the spacious kennel inhabited by the genial Sir Leonidas de la Patte Jaune. His welcome spread from ear to ear.

"This spot has been especially earmarked for Leonidas," I said to my mother, with a wink at Helen.

"Ted, what absurd words you use at times!" my mother said. "I can't see what attraction there is about that wretched animal. It's a loathsome yellow cur. If you are going to have a dog, for God's sake get a good one."

"He matches our family crest, mother. On a field vert, a hound souriant, or, enkennelé."

"I'm sure I have no idea what you are talking about, Ted. You are always a bore, like all the Jevonses, when you try to be amusing. The crest is certainly not a yellow dog."

There had been no time, as yet, to do anything to the garden. We stood, therefore, and talked of possibilities rather than of facts. We hoped to afford a tennis court by spring. There was just enough length, with room along the sides for flowers and a vegetable patch at the back. By the dining room window we were meditating a pergola.

"Amateur flowers never grow, or, if they do, they never blossom," announced my mother.

The housemaid rang the dinner gong. Helen and I felt we had now to face the supreme test. Our first dinner party! Helen was probably nervous as we sat down, and I rather wished I knew more about carving. My dear wife, not thinking of me, had ordered ducklings. The soup passed off very well. I had cheated there and brought some out from a caterer's in town.

"Helen makes rather good soup," I remarked, while the lady of the house cast me an imploring look from the other end of the table.

"It's the best soup I ever tasted," affirmed my father, wishing to be tactful. "Very clever of you, Helen."

Helen blushed crimson, but sat silent.

"You got it at Hickson's," said my mother calmly. "We often have it at home, although no one notices it."

"Ted—" Helen began. My mother cut her short.

"You need not apologize for Ted, Helen. I knew him before you did."

"May I offer an apology for hitting Helen with my boomerang?"

"Do," my mother replied. "It is exceedingly unusual for a Jevons to be aware he owes one."

The ducklings arrived at this point, and I arose to get a firmer grip upon them than was possible from a chair. Delicately I made the first incision, only to discover that ducklings do not respond to delicate treatment. I worked in silence for a time upon number one. Although division into his integral factors accumulated many apparent units, there seemed surprisingly little of him to serve when thus reduced to his lowest terms. Frances giggled.

"You look so funny, Ted," she explained, with sisterly devotion.

"For that you shall have a drum-stick," I retorted.

"I can see nothing funny in watching good food being ruined," my mother said encouragingly. The housemaid standing at my elbow with a plate ready made me nervous.

"It is a curious fact," my mother went on, in a reminiscent mood, "that no Jevons could ever carve. They are the most incompetent men that ever existed."

As I knew for a certainty that the only two Jevonses on earth my mother had ever seen were my father and myself, I wondered whether she was drawing on state documents or simply making a sweeping generalization from two examples. Something told me, however, not to argue this point.

"A duckling," I said, "is an act of God. Steamer tickets and insurance policies specially provide for no liability for such. Even a Jevons is powerless in the face of the handiwork of Providence."

"Sit down, Ted, and let me finish. It makes me ill to see you messing up those ducklings," my mother said. Willingly I changed places. To my secret joy she splashed some gravy on the table cloth. I tried to kick Helen under the table, but all I did was to make an awful crash against one of the complicated gate legs. My mother looked fixedly at me. I did not move a muscle of my face.

"Sorry," I murmured. "I haven't room for my feet."

The fragments of the two ducklings were at last distributed to my mother's satisfaction. The remainder of the dinner was eaten without caustic. Indeed, my mother commended the Burgundy, bought for her particular gratification.

It was, if the truth must be told, with mixed feelings that Helen and I sat down after saying good-bye to the family that evening. The day had been trying for Helen, for it was like being on dress parade before a critic whose motives were kindly, but who was perhaps all the more eager, for that reason, to find mistakes. Never before this week had the child kept house or entertained guests of her own. She could hardly be blamed for uttering a sigh of relief when it was all over. On the other hand, we neither of us knew when we should see any of the family again, for they were leaving England at once. Eager as we had been to be our own masters, we felt the isolation that was now to be ours as almost too literal a response to our prayers. Our circle of friends in town was neither large nor intimate; we had yet to test the resources of our village. Of one thing, however, time had made us absolutely certain. That certainty was concerning the stability of our love. Each week, each day made that firmer and more intense. We lived but for each other; we thought of nothing else....

"Well, Ted," Helen smiled at me, "there is one thing we can do now."

"What is that, dear?"

"Work. We have the leisure we have dreamed about. Let's use it. You shall begin writing your play in the morning." We went to bed very happy.


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