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Undertow (Chapter5)

2006-08-22 21:07

  Chapter Five

  They both were destined to learn how it was managed, and being young and healthy and in love, they learned easily, and with much laughter and delight. Bert's share was perhaps the easier, for although he manfully walked to his office, polished his own shoes, and ate a tiresome and unsatisfying lunch five days a week, he had his reward on the sixth and seventh days, when Nancy petted and praised him.

  Her part was harder. She never knew what it was to be free from financial concern. She fretted and contrived until the misspending of five cents seemed a genuine calamity to her, She walked to cheap markets, and endured the casual scorn of cheap clerks. She ironed Bert's ties and pressed his trousers, saving car fares by walking, saving hospitality by letting her old friends see how busy and absorbed she was, saving food by her native skill and ingenuity.

  But they lived royally, every meal was a triumph, every hour strangely bright. Of cooking meat, especially the more choice cuts, Nancy did little this year, but there was no appetizing combination of vegetables, soups, salads, hot breads, and iced drinks that she did not try. Bert said, and he meant it, that he had never lived so well in his life, and certainly the walls of the little apartment in the “George Eliot” were packed with joy. When their microscopic accounts balanced at the end of the week, they celebrated with a table-d'hete dinner down town——dinners from which they walked home gloriously happy, Nancy wondering over and over again how the restaurateurs could manage it, Bert, over his cigar, estimating carefully: “Well, Sweet, there wasn't much cost to that soup, delicious as it was, and I suppose they buy that sole down at the docks, in the early morning……”

  When Nancy had learned that she could live without a telephone, and had cut down the milk bill, and limited Bert to one butter ball per meal, she found she could manage easily. In August they gave two or three dinners, and Nancy displayed her pretty table furnishings to “the girls,” and gave them the secret of her iced tea. She told her husband that they got along because he was “so wonderful”; she felt that no financial tangle could resist Bert's neatly pencilled little calculations, but Bert praised only her—— what credit to him that he did not complain, when he was the most fortunate man in the world?

  They came to be proud of their achievement. Nancy had Buckley Pearsall, Bert's chief, and his wife, to dinner, and kindly Mrs. Pearsall could not enough praise the bride and her management. Later the Pearsalls asked the young Bradleys down to their Staten Island home for a week-end. “And think of the pure gain of not buying a thing for three days!” exulted Nancy, thereby convulsing her lord. She brought back late corn, two jars of Mrs. Pearsall's preserved peaches, a great box of grapes to be made into jelly, and a basket of tomatoes. Bert said that she was a grafter, but he knew as well as she that Nancy's pleasure in taking the gifts had given Mrs. Pearsall a genuine joy.

  With none of the emergencies they had dreaded, and with many and unexpected pleasures, the first winter went by. Sometimes Bert got a theatre pass, sometimes old friends or kinspeople came to town, and Bert and Nancy went to one of the big hotels to dinner, and stared radiantly about at the bright lights, and listened to music again, and were whirled home in a taxicab.

  “That party cost your Cousin Edith about twenty-five dollars,” Nancy, rolling up her hair-net thoughtfully, would say late at night, with a suppressed yawn. “The dinner check was fourteen, and the tickets eight——it cost her more than twenty-five dollars! Doesn't that seem wicked, Bert? And all that delicious chicken that we hardly touched——dear me, what fun I could have with twenty-five dollars! There are so many things I'd like to buy that I never do; just silly things, you know——nice soaps and powders, and fancy cheeses and an alligator pear, and the kind of toilet water you love so——don't you remember you bought it in Boston when we honeymooned?”

  Perhaps a shadow would touch Bert's watching face, and he would come to put an arm about her and her loosened cloud of hair.

  “Poor old girl, it isn't much fun for you! Do you get tired of it, Nancy?”

  “Bert,” she said, one night in a mood of gravity and confidence that he loved, and had learned to watch for, “I never get tired. And sometimes I feel sure that the most wonderful happiness that ever is felt in this world comes to two people who love each other, and who have to make sacrifices for each other! I mean that. I mean that I don't think riches, or travel, or great gifts and achievements bring a greater happiness than ours. I think a king, dying,” smiled Nancy, trying not to be too serious, “might wish that, for a while at least, he had been able to wear shabby shoes for the woman he loved, and had had years of poking about a great city with her, and talking and laughing and experimenting and working over their problem together!”

  Bert kissed the thoughtful eyes, but did not speak.

  “But just the same,” Nancy presently went on, “sometimes I do get- -just a little frightened. I feel as if perhaps we had been a little too brave. When your cousins, and mine, ask us how we do it, and make so much of it, it makes me feel a little uneasy. Suppose we really aren't able to swing it ……?”

  Bert knew how to meet this mood, and he never failed her. He put his arm about her, tonight, and gave her his sunniest smile.

  “We could pay less rent, dear.”

  This fired Nancy. Of course they could. She had seen really possible places, in inaccessible neighbourhoods, which rented far more reasonably. She had seen quite sunny and clean flats for as little as fourteen and sixteen dollars a month. Her housekeeping abilities awakened to the demand. What did she and Bert care about neighbourhoods and the casual dictates of fashion? They were a world in themselves, and they needed no other company.

  “Everyone said that we'd never get this far,” Bert reminded her hearteningly. She was immediately reassured, and fell to enthusiastic planning for Christmas.

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