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    Chapter 3

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    Chapter 3
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    THE OVERTURE CONCLUDED

    St. Albans, June 14th.

    Dearest Frank,--What a dreadful thing it is to have your name shouted out in public! And what a voice the man had! He simply bellowed 'Maude Selby of this parish' as if he meant all this parish to know about it. And then he let you off so easily. I suppose he thought that there was no local interest in Frank Crosse of Woking. But when he looked round expectantly, after asking whether there was any known cause or just impediment why we should not be joined together, it gave me quite a thrill. I felt as if some one would jump up like a Jack-in-the-box and make a scene in the church. How relieved I was when he changed the subject! I sank my face in my hands, but I know that I was blushing all down my neck. Then I looked at you between my fingers, and there you were sitting quite cool and cheerful, as if you rather liked it. I think that we shall go to evening-service next week. Papa has given up going altogether since the new organist came. He says he cannot face the music.

    What a sweet time we had together. I shall never, never forget it! O Frank, how good you are to me! And how I hope you won't regret what you are doing. It is all very well just now, when I am young and you think that I am pretty. I love that you should think so, but I am compelled to tell you that it is not really so. I can't imagine how you came to think it! I suppose it was from seeing me so often beside papa. If you saw me near Nelly Sheridan, or any other REALLY pretty girl, you would at once see the difference. It just happens that you like grey eyes and brown hair, and the other things, but that does not mean that I am really pretty. I should be so sorry if there were any misunderstanding about this, and you only found out when too late. You ought to keep this letter for reference, as papa always says, and then it will be interesting to you afterwards.

    I should like you to see me now--or rather I wouldn't have you see me for the world. I am so flushed and untidy, for I have been cooking. Is it not absurd, if you come to think of it, that we girls should be taught the irregular French verbs, and the geography of China, and never to cook the simplest thing? It really does seem ridiculous.

    But it is never too late to mend, so I went into the kitchen this morning and made a tart. You can't imagine what a lot of things one needs even for such a simple thing as that. I thought cook was joking when she put them all down in front of me. It was like a conjurer giving his performance. There was an empty bowl, and a bowl full of sliced apples, and a big board, and a rolling-pin, and eggs, and butter, and sugar, and cloves, and of course flour. We broke eggs and put them into a bowl--you can't think what a mess an egg makes when it misses the bowl. Then we stirred them up with flour and butter and things. I stirred until I was perfectly exhausted. No wonder a cook has usually a great thick arm. Then when it had formed a paste, we rolled it out, and put the apples in the dish, and roofed it in, and trimmed the edges, and stuck flat leaves made of paste all over it, and the dearest little crown in the middle. Then we put it into the oven until it was brown. It looked a very nice tart, and mamma said that I had made it very solidly. It certainly did feel very heavy for its size. Mamma would not taste it, because she said that she thought Dr. Tristram would not approve of her doing so, but I had a piece, and really it was not so bad. Mamma said the servants might have it at dinner, but the servants said that the poor window-cleaner had a large family, and so we gave it to him. It is so sweet to feel that one is of any use to any one.

    What do you think happened this morning? Two wedding-presents arrived. The first was a very nice fish slice and fork in a case. It was from dear old Mrs. Jones Beyrick, on whom we really had no claim whatever. We all think it so kind of her, and such a nice fish-slice. The other was a beautiful travelling-bag from Uncle 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!!!
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