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    Chapter 7

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    Chapter 7
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    KEEPING UP APPEARANCES

    It was in the roomy dining-room of the Hotel Metropole at Brighton. Maude and Frank were seated at the favourite small round table near the window, where they always lunched. Their immediate view was a snowy-white tablecloth with a shining centre dish of foppish little cutlets, each with a wisp of ornamental paper, and a surrounding bank of mashed potatoes. Beyond, from the very base of the window, as it seemed, there stretched the huge expanse of the deep blue sea, its soothing mass of colour broken only by a few white leaning sails upon the furthest horizon. Along the sky-line the white clouds lay in carelessly piled cumuli, like snow thrown up from a clearing. It was restful and beautiful, that distant view, but just at the moment it was the near one which interested them most. Though they lose from this moment onwards the sympathy of every sentimental reader, the truth must be told that they were thoroughly enjoying their lunch.

    With the wonderful adaptability of women--a hereditary faculty, which depends upon the fact that from the beginning of time the sex has been continually employed in making the best of situations which were not of their own choosing--Maude carried off her new character easily and gracefully. In her trim blue serge dress and sailor hat, with the warm tint of yesterday's sun upon her cheeks, she was the very picture of happy and healthy womanhood. Frank was also in a blue serge boating-suit, which was appropriate enough, for they spent most of their time upon the water, as a glance at his hands would tell. Their conversation was unhappily upon a very much lower plane than when we overheard them last.

    'I've got such an appetite!'

    'So have I, Frank.'

    'Capital. Have another cutlet.'

    'Thank you, dear.'

    'Potatoes?'

    'Please.'

    'I always thought that people on their honeymoon lived on love.'

    'Yes, isn't it dreadful, Frank? We must be so material.'

    'Good old mother Nature! Cling on to her skirt and you never lose your way. One wants a healthy physical basis for a healthy spiritual emotion. Might I trouble you for the pickles?'

    'Are you happy, Frank?'

    'Absolutely and completely.'

    'Quite, QUITE sure?'

    'I never was quite so sure of anything.'

    'It makes me so happy to hear you say so.'

    'And you?'

    'O Frank, I am just floating upon golden clouds in a dream. But your poor hands! Oh, how they must pain you!'

    'Not a bit.'

    'It was that heavy oar.'

    'I get no practice at rowing. There is no place to row in at Woking, unless one used the canal. But it was worth a blister or two. By Jove, wasn't it splendid, coming back in the moonlight with that silver lane flickering on the water in front of us? We were so completely alone. We might have been up in the interstellar spaces, you and I, travelling from Sirius to Arcturus in one of those profound gulfs of the void which Hardy talks about. It was overpowering.'

    'I can never forget it.'

    'We'll go again to-night.'

    'But the blisters!'

    'Hang the blisters! And we'll take some bait with us and try to catch something.'

    'What fun!'

    'And we'll drive to Rottingdean this afternoon, if you feel inclined. Have this last cutlet, dear!'

    'No, thank you.'

    'Well, it seems a pity to waste it. Here goes! By the way, Maude, I must speak very severely to you. I can't if you look at me like that. But really, joking apart, you must be more careful before the waiters.'

    'Why, dear?'

    'Well, we have carried it off splendidly so far. No one has found us out yet, and no one will if we are reasonably careful. The fat waiter is convinced that we are veterans. But last night at dinner you very nearly gave the thing away.'

    'Did I, Frank?'

    'Don't look so sweetly penitent, you blessing. The fact is that you make a shocking bad conspirator. Now I have a kind of talent for that, as I have for every other sort of depravity, so it will be pretty safe in my hands. You are as straight as a line by nature, and you can't be crooked when you try.'

    'But what did I say? Oh, I AM so sorry! I tried to be so careful.'

    'Well, about the curry, you know. It was an error of judgment to ask if I took chutnee. And then . . . '

    'Something else?'

    'About the boots. Did I get them in London or Woking.'

    'Oh dear, dear!'

    'And then . . . '

    'Not another! O Frank!'

    'Well, the use of the word "my." You must give that word up. It should be "our."'

    'I know, I know. It was when I said that the salt water had taken the curl out of the feather in my--no, in our--well, in THE hat.'

    'That was all right. But it is OUR luggage, you know, and OUR room, and so on.'

    'Of course it is. How foolish I am! Then the waiter knows! O Frank, what shall we do?'

    'Not he. He knows nothing. I am sure of it. He is a dull sort of person. I had my eye on him all the time. Besides, I threw in a few remarks just to set the thing right.'

    'That was when you spoke about our travels in the Tyrol?'

    'Yes.'

    'O Frank, how COULD you? And you said how lonely it was when we were the only visitors at the Swiss hotel.'

    'That was an inspiration. That finished him.'

    'And about the closeness of the Atlantic staterooms. I blushed to hear you.'

    'But he listened eagerly to it all. I could see it.'

    'I wonder if he really believed it. I have noticed that the maids and the waiters seem to look at us with a certain interest.'

    'My dear girlie, you will find as you go through life that every man will always look at you with a certain interest.'

    Maude smiled, but was unconvinced.

    'Cheese, dear?'

    'A little butter, please.'

    'Some butter, waiter, and the Stilton. You know the real fact is, that we make the mistake of being much too nice to each other in public. Veterans don't do that. They take the small courtesies for granted--which is all wrong, but it shows that they ARE veterans. That is where we give ourselves away.'

    'That never occurred to me.'

    'If you want to settle that waiter for ever, and remove the last lingering doubt from his mind, the thing is for you to be rude to me.'

    'Or you to me, Frank.'

    'Sure you won't mind?'

    'Not a bit.'

    'Oh, hang it, I can't--not even for so good an object.'

    'Well, then, I can't either.'

    'But this is absurd. It is only acting.'

    'Quite so. It is only fun.'

    'Then why won't you do it?'

    'Why won't you?'

    'He'll be back before we settle it. Look here! I've a shilling under my hand. Heads or tails, and the loser has to be rude. Do you agree?'

    'Very well.'

    'Your call.'

    'Heads.'

    'It's tails.'

    'Oh goodness!'

    'You've got to be rude. Now mind you are. Here he comes.'

    The waiter had come up the room bearing the pride of the hotel, the grand green Stilton with the beautiful autumn leaf heart shading away to rich plum-coloured cavities. He placed it on the table with a solemn air.

    'It's a beautiful Stilton,' Frank remarked.

    Maude tried desperately to be rude.

    'Well, dear, I don't think it is so very beautiful,' was the best that she could do.

    It was not much, but it had a surprising effect upon the waiter. He turned and hurried away.

    'There now, you've shocked him?' cried Frank.

    'Where HAS he gone, Frank?'

    'To complain to the management about your language.'

    'No, Frank. Please tell me! Oh, I wish I hadn't been so rude. Here he is again.'

    'All right. Sit tight,' said Frank.

    A sort of procession was streaming up the hall. There was their fat waiter in front with a large covered cheese-dish. Behind him was another with two smaller ones, and a third with some yellow powder upon a plate was bringing up the rear.

    'This is Gorgonzola, main,' said the waiter, with a severe manner. 'And there's Camembert and Gruyere behind, and powdered Parmesan as well. I'm sorry that the Stilton don't give satisfaction.'

    Maude helped herself to Gorgonzola and looked very guilty and uncomfortable. Frank began to laugh.

    'I meant you to be rude to ME, not to the cheese,' said he, when the procession had withdrawn.

    'I did my best, Frank. I contradicted you.'

    'Oh, it was a shocking display of temper.'

    'And I hurt the poor waiter's feelings.'

    'Yes, you'll have to apologise to his Stilton before he will forgive you.'

    'And I don't believe he is a bit more convinced that we are veterans than he was before.'

    'All right, dear; leave him to me. Those reminiscences of mine must have settled him. If they didn't, then I feel it is hopeless.'

    It was as well for his peace of mind that Frank could not hear the conversation between the fat waiter and their chambermaid, for whom he nourished a plethoric attachment. They had half an hour off in the afternoon, and were comparing notes.

    'Nice-lookin' couple, ain't they, John?' said the maid, with the air of an expert. 'I don't know as we've 'ad a better since the spring weddin's.'

    'I don't know as I'd go as far as that,' said the fat waiter critically. "E'd pass all right. 'E's an upstandin' young man with a good sperrit in 'im.'

    'What's wrong with 'er, then?'

    'It's a matter of opinion,' said the waiter. 'I likes 'em a bit more full-flavoured myself. And as to 'er taste, why there, if you 'ad seen 'er turn up 'er nose at the Stilton at lunch.'

    'Turn up 'er nose, did she? Well, she seemed to me a very soft- spoken, obligin' young lady.'

    'So she may be, but they're a queer couple, I tell you. It's as well they are married at last.'

    'Why?'

    'Because they 'ave been goin' on most owdacious before'and. I 'ave it from their own lips, and it fairly made me blush to listen to it. Awful, it was, AWFUL!'

    'You don't say that, John!'

    'I tell you, Jane, I couldn't 'ardly believe my ears. They was married on Tuesday last, as we know well, and to-day's Times to prove it, and yet if you'll believe me, they was talkin' about 'ow they 'ad travelled alone abroad--'

    'Never, John!'

    'And alone in a Swiss 'otel!'

    'My goodness!'

    'And a steamer too.'

    'Well, there! I'll never trust any one again.'

    'Oh, a perfec' pair of scorchers. But I'll let 'im see as I knows it. I'll put that Times before 'im to-night at dinner as sure as my name's John.'

    'And a good lesson to them, too! If you didn't say you'd 'eard it from their own lips, John, I never could 'ave believed it. It's things like that as shakes your trust in 'uman nature.'

    Maude and Frank were lingering at the table d'hote over their walnuts and a glass of port wine, when their waiter came softly behind them.

    'Beg pardon, sir, but did you see it in the Times?'

    'See what?'

    'THAT, sir. I thought that it might be of interest to you and to your good lady to see it.'

    He had laid one page of the paper before them, with his forefinger upon an item in the left-hand top corner. Then he discreetly withdrew. Frank stared at it in horror.

    'Maude, your people have gone and put it in.'

    'Our marriage!'

    'Here it is! Listen! "Crosse--Selby. 30th June, at St. Monica's Church, by the Rev. John Tudwell, M.A., Vicar of St. Monica's, Frank Crosse, of Maybury Road, Woking, to Maude Selby, eldest daughter of Robert Selby, Esq., of St. Albans." Great Scot, Maude! what shall we do?'

    'Well, dear, does it matter?'

    'Matter! It's simply awful!'

    'I don't mind much if they do know.'

    'But my reminiscences, Maude! The travels in the Tyrol! The Swiss Hotel! The Stateroom! Great goodness, how I have put my foot into it.'

    Maude burst out laughing.

    'You old dear!' she cried, 'I don't believe you are a bit better as a conspirator than I am. There's only one thing you can do. Give the waiter half a crown, tell him the truth, and don't conspire any more.'

    And so ignominiously ended the attempt which so many have made, and at which so many have failed. Take warning, gentle reader, and you also, gentler reader still, when your own turn comes.
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