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    Chapter 8

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    Chapter 8
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    THE HOME-COMING

    The days of holiday were over, and for each of them the duties of life were waiting. For him it was his work, and for her, her housekeeping. They both welcomed the change, for there was a rush and a want of privacy about the hotel life which had been amusing at first, but was now becoming irksome. It was pleasant, as they rolled out of Waterloo Station that summer night, to know that their cosy little home was awaiting them just five-and-twenty miles down the line. They had a first-class carriage to themselves--it is astonishing how easy it is for two people to fit into one of those armchair partitions,--and they talked all the way down about their plans for the future. Golden visions of youth, how they can glorify even a suburban villa and four hundred a year! They exulted together over the endless vista of happy days which stretched before them.

    Mrs. Watson, Frank's trusty housekeeper, had been left in charge of The Lindens, and he had sent her a telegram the evening before to tell her that they were coming. She had already engaged the two servants, so everything would be ready for them. They pictured her waiting at the door, the neat little rooms with all their useful marriage-presents in their proper places, the lamplight and the snowy cloth laid for supper in the dining-room. It would be ten o'clock before they got there, and that supper would be a welcome sight. It was all delightful to look forward to, and this last journey was the happiest of all their wanderings. Maude wanted to see her kitchen. Frank wanted to see his books. Both were eager for the fight.

    But they found a small annoyance waiting for them at Woking. A crowded train had preceded them, and there was not a single cab left at the station. Some would be back soon, but nobody could tell when.

    'You don't mind walking, Maude?'

    'I should prefer it.'

    So a friendly porter took charge of their trunks, and promised to send them up when a conveyance had arrived. In the meantime they started off together down an ill-lit and ill-kept road, which opened into that more important thoroughfare in which their own villa was situated. They walked quickly, full of eager anticipations.

    'It's just past the third lamp-post on the right,' said Frank. 'Now it's only the second lamp-post. You see it will not be far from the station. Those windows among the trees are where Hale lives--my best man, you know! Now it is only one lamp-post!' They quickened their pace almost to a run, and so arrived at the gate of The Lindens.

    It was a white gate leading into a short path--'carriage sweep' the house-agent called it,--and so to a low but comfortable-looking little house. The night was so dark that one could only see its outline. To their surprise, there was no sign of a light either above the door or at any of the windows.

    'Well, I'm blessed!' cried Frank.

    'Never mind, dear. They live at the back, no doubt.'

    'But I gave them the hour. This is too bad. I am so sorry.'

    'It will be all the more cosy inside. What a dear little gate this is! The whole place is perfectly charming.'

    But in spite of her brave attempts at making the best of it, it could not be denied that this black house was not what they had pictured in their dreams. Frank strode angrily up the path and pulled at the bell. There was no answer, so he knocked violently. Then he knocked with one hand while he rang with the other, but no sound save that of the clanging bell came from the gloomy house. As they stood forlornly in front of their own hall-door, a soft rain began to rustle amidst the bushes. At this climax of their troubles Maude burst into such a quiet, hearty, irresistible fit of laughter, that the angry Frank was forced to laugh also.

    'My word, it will be no laughing matter for Mrs. Watson if she cannot give a good reason for it,' said he.

    'Perhaps the poor woman is ill.'

    'But there should be two other people, the cook and the housemaid. It is just as well that we did not bring up our trunks, or we should have had to dump them down in the front garden. You wait here, dear, under the shelter of the porch, and I will walk round and see if I can burgle it.'

    He tried the back, but it was as dark as the front, and the kitchen- door was locked. Then he prowled unhappily in the rain from window to window. They were all fastened. He came back to the kitchen- door, poked his stick through the glass which formed the upper panel, and then putting his hand through the hole, he turned the key, and so stumbled into the obscurity of his own hall. He passed through it, unlocked the front door, and received Maude into his open arms.

    'Welcome to your home, my own darling girl. May you never have one sad hour under this roof! What a dismal home-coming! What can I do to make amends? But good comes out of evil, you see, for in no other possible way could I have been inside to welcome you when you entered.'

    They stayed in the hall in the dark some time, these wet and foolish young people. Then Frank struck a match, and tried to light the hall-lamp. There was no oil in it. He muttered something vigorous, and carried his burning vesta into the dining-room. Two candles were standing on the sideboard. He lit them both, and things began to look a little more cheerful. They took a candle each and began to explore their own deserted house.

    The dining-room was excellent--small, but very snug. The Tantalus spirit-stand--stood upon the walnut sideboard, and the bronzes from the cricket-club looked splendid upon each side of the mantelpiece. Beside the clock in the centre lay an open telegram. Frank seized it eagerly.

    'There now!' he cried. 'Listen to this. "Expect us on Thursday evening about ten." It was TUESDAY evening, I said. That's the telegraphic clerk. We've come two days before our time.'

    It was good to have any sort of explanation, although it left a great deal unexplained. They passed through the hall with its shining linoleum, and into the drawing-room. It was not a very good room, too square for elegance, but they were in no humour for criticism, and it was charming to see all the old knick-knacks, and the photographs of friends in their frames. A big wrought-iron and brass-work standing lamp towered up near the fireplace, but again there was no oil.

    'I think that Mrs. Watson has arranged it all splendidly,' said Maude, whose active fingers were already beginning to reconstruct. 'But where can she be?'

    'She must be out, for, of course, she lives in the house. But it is the absence of the servants which amazes me, for I understood that they had arrived. What would you like to do?'

    'Aren't you hungry, Frank?'

    'Simply starving.'

    'So am I.'

    'Well, then, let us forage and see if we cannot find something to eat.'

    So hand in hand, and each with a candle in the other hand, like a pair of young penitents, they continued their explorations with more purpose than before. The kitchen, into which they penetrated, had clearly been much used of late, for there were dirty dishes scattered about, and the fire had been lighted, though it was now out. In one corner was what seemed to be a pile of drab-coloured curtains. In the other, an armchair lay upon its side with legs projecting. A singular disorder, very alien to Mrs. Watson's habits, pervaded the apartment. A dresser with a cupboard over it claimed the first attention of the hungry pair. With a cheer from Frank and hand- clapping from Maude, they brought out a new loaf of bread, some butter, some cheese, a tin of cocoa, and a bowl full of eggs. Maude tied an apron over her pretty russet dress, seized some sticks and paper, and had a fire crackling in a very few minutes.

    'Put some water in the kettle, Frank.'

    'Here you are! Anything else?'

    'Some in the small saucepan for the eggs.'

    'I believe they are "cookers,"' said he, sniffing at them suspiciously.

    'Hold them up to the light, sir. There, they are quite bright and nice. In with them! Now, if you will cut some bread and butter it, we shall soon have our supper ready.'

    'It's too new to cut,' cried Frank, sawing away upon the kitchen table. 'Besides, new bread is better in chunks. Here are some cloths and knives and forks in the dresser drawer. I will go and lay the table.'

    'And leave me here alone. No please, Frank, if I am cook, you must be scullery-maid. Get the cups down and put the cocoa in them. What fun it all is! I think it is simply SPLENDID to be mistress of a house.'

    'With one scullery-maid.'

    'And she perfectly incompetent, and much given to embracing her mistress. I must take my hat off. Get the sugar for the cocoa out of the cupboard. The kettle is singing, so it won't be long. Do you know, Frank'--she paused, listening, with the egg-saucepan in her hands. 'There's a dog or something in the room.'

    They had both become aware of a sort of sibilant breathing, and they looked round them in bewilderment.

    'Where is it?' asked Maude. 'Frank, I believe it's a mouse.'

    'Hope for the best. Don't frighten yourself unnecessarily. I fancy it comes from under these curtains.' He approached them with his candle, and was suddenly aware of a boot which was projecting from them. 'Great Scot!' he cried, 'there's a woman here asleep.'

    Reassured as to the mouse, Maude approached with her saucepan still clutched in her hand. There could be no doubt either as to the woman or the sleep. She lay in an untidy heap, her head under the table, and her figure sprawling. She appeared to be a very large woman.

    'Hullo!' cried Frank, shaking her by the shoulder. 'Hullo, you there!'

    But the woman slumbered peacefully on.

    'Heh, wake up, wake up!' he shouted, and pulled her up into a sitting position. But she slept as soundly sitting as lying.

    'The poor thing must be ill,' said Maude. 'O Frank, shall I run for a doctor?'

    'Wake up, woman, wake up!' Frank yelled, and danced her up and down. She flopped about like a sawdust doll, with her arms swinging in front of her. He panted with his exertions, but she was serenely unconscious. At last he had to lower her on to the floor again, putting a footstool under her head.

    'It's no go,' said he. 'I can make nothing of her. She will sleep it off.'

    'You don't mean to say, Frank, that she is--'

    'Indeed I do.'

    'How horrible!'

    'That kettle is boiling now. Suppose we have our supper.'

    'Dear Frank, I could not enjoy my supper with that unfortunate woman lying there. O Frank, I know that you could not either.'

    'Bless her!' said Frank bitterly, as he gazed at the inert lump. 'I really don't see why we should put ourselves out for her. She is quite comfortable.'

    'Oh I couldn't, Frank. It would seem inhuman.'

    'What are we to do, then?'

    'We must put her to bed.'

    'Great heavens!'

    'Yes, dear, it is our duty to put her to bed.'

    'But look here, my dear girl, we must be practical. The woman weighs half a ton, and the bedrooms are at the top of the house. It's simply impossible.'

    'Don't you think, Frank, that if you took her head and I took her feet, we might get her up?'

    'Not up the stair, dear. She is enormous.'

    'Well, then, on to the drawing-room sofa,' said Maude. 'I could have my supper, if I knew that she was safe upon the sofa.'

    So Frank, seeing that there was no help for it, seized her under the arms, and Maude took her ankles, and they bore her, bulging but serene, down the passage. They staggered exhausted into the drawing- room, and the new sofa groaned beneath the weight. It was a curious and unsavoury inaugural ceremony. Maude put a rug over the prostrate form, and they returned to their boiling kettle and their uncooked eggs. Then they laid the table, and served the supper, and enjoyed this picnic meal of their own creating as no conventional meal could ever have been enjoyed. Everything seemed beautiful to the young wife--the wall-paper, the pictures, the carpet, the rug; but to him, she was so beautiful in mind, and soul, and body, that her presence turned the little room into an enchanted chamber. They sat long together, and marvelled at their own happiness--that pure serene happiness of mere companionship, which is so much more intimate and deeper than all the transports of passion.

    But suddenly he sprang from his chair. There was the sound of steps, of several steps, outside upon the gravel path. Then a key clicked, and a burst of cold air told them that the door was open.

    'It's agin' the law for me to enter,' said a gruff voice.

    'I tell you she's very strong and violent,' said a second voice, which Frank recognised as that of Mrs. Watson. 'She chased the maid out of the house, and I can do nothing with her.'

    'Very sorry, mum, but it's clean agin' the law of England. Give me a warrant, and in I come. If you will bring her to the doorstep, I will be answerable for her removal.'

    'She's in the dining-room. I can see the lights,' said Mrs. Watson; and then, 'Good Lord, Mr. Crosse, what a fright you gave me! Oh dear me, that you should have come when I was out, and I not expecting you for another two days yet. Well, now, I shall never forgive myself for this.'

    But all the mistakes and misfortunes were very quickly explained. The telegram was the root of the evil. And then the new cook had proved to be a violent, intermittent drunkard. She had chased the other maid out of the house, and then, while Mrs. Watson rushed for the police, she had drunk herself into the stupor in which she had been found. But now, in the nick of time, the station cab came up with the luggage, and so the still placidly slumbering culprit was carried out to it, and sent off in the charge of the policeman. Such was the first entry of Mr. and Mrs. Crosse into their home at The Lindens.
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