Chapter VIII. Billy Cultivates a "Comfortable Indifference"
 

The next morning, under the uncompromising challenge of a bright sun, Billy began to be uneasily suspicious that she had been just a bit unreasonable and exacting the night before. To make matters worse she chanced to run across a newspaper criticism of a new book bearing the ominous title: "When the Honeymoon Wanes A Talk to Young Wives."

Such a title, of course, attracted her supersensitive attention at once; and, with a curiously faint feeling, she picked up the paper and began to read.

As the most of the criticism was taken up with quotations from the book, it was such sentences as these that met her startled eyes:

"Perhaps the first test comes when the young wife awakes to the realization that while her husband loves her very much, he can still make plans with his old friends which do not include herself. . . . Then is when the foolish wife lets her husband see how hurt she is that he can want to be with any one but herself. . . . Then is when the husband--used all his life to independence, perhaps--begins to chafe under these new bonds that hold him so fast. . . . No man likes to be held up at the end of a threatened scene and made to give an account of himself. . . . Before a woman has learned to cultivate a comfortable indifference to her husband's comings and goings, she is apt to be tyrannical and exacting."

" `Comfortable indifference,' indeed!" stormed Billy to herself. "As if I ever could be comfortably indifferent to anything Bertram did!"

She dropped the paper; but there were still other quotations from the book there, she knew; and in a moment she was back at the table reading them.

"No man, however fondly he loves his wife, likes to feel that she is everlastingly peering into the recesses of his mind, and weighing his every act to find out if he does or does not love her to- day as well as he did yesterday at this time. . . . Then, when spontaneity is dead, she is the chief mourner at its funeral. . . . A few couples never leave the Garden of Eden. They grow old hand in hand. They are the ones who bear and forbear; who have learned to adjust themselves to the intimate relationship of living together. . . . A certain amount of liberty, both of action and thought, must be allowed on each side. . . . The family shut in upon itself grows so narrow that all interest in the outside world is lost. . . . No two people are ever fitted to fill each other's lives entirely. They ought not to try to do it. If they do try, the process is belittling to each, and the result, if it is successful, is nothing less than a tragedy; for it could not mean the highest ideals, nor the truest devotion. . . . Brushing up against other interests and other personalities is good for both husband and wife. Then to each other they bring the best of what they have found, and each to the other continues to be new and interesting. . . . The young wife, however, is apt to be jealous of everything that turns her husband's attention for one moment away from herself. She is jealous of his thoughts, his words, his friends, even his business. . . . But the wife who has learned to be the clinging vine when her husband wishes her to cling, and to be the sturdy oak when clinging vines would be tiresome, has solved a tremendous problem."

At this point Billy dropped the paper. She flung it down, indeed, a bit angrily. There were still a few more words in the criticism, mostly the critic's own opinion of the book; but Billy did not care for this. She had read quite enough-- boo much, in fact. All that sort of talk might be very well, even necessary, perhaps (she told herself), for ordinary husbands and wives! but for her and Bertram--

Then vividly before her rose those initial quoted words:

"Perhaps the first test comes when the young wife awakes to the realization that while her husband loves her very much, he can still make plans with his old friends which do not include herself."

Billy frowned, and put her finger to her lips. Was that then, last night, a "test"? Had she been "tyrannical and exacting"? Was she "everlastingly peering into the recesses" of Bertram's mind and "weighing his every act"? Was Bertram already beginning to "chafe" under these new bonds that held him?

No, no, never that! She could not believe that. But what if he should sometime begin to chafe? What if they two should, in days to come, degenerate into just the ordinary, everyday married folk, whom she saw about her everywhere, and for whom just such horrid books as this must be written? It was unbelievable, unthinkable. And yet, that man had said--

With a despairing sigh Billy picked up the paper once more and read carefully every word again. When she had finished she stood soberly thoughtful, her eyes out of the window.

After all, it was nothing but the same old story. She was exacting. She did want her husband's every thought. She gloried in peering into every last recess of his mind if she had half a chance. She was jealous of his work. She had almost hated his painting--at times. She had held him up with a threatened scene only the night before and demanded that he should give an account of himself. She had, very likely, been the clinging vine when she should have been the sturdy oak.

Very well, then. (Billy lifted her head and threw back her shoulders.) He should have no further cause for complaint. She would be an oak. She would cultivate that comfortable indifference to his comings and goings. She would brush up against other interests and personalities so as to be "new" and "interesting" to her husband. She would not be tyrannical, exacting, or jealous. She would not threaten scenes, nor peer into recesses. Whatever happened, she would not let Bertram begin to chafe against those bonds!

Having arrived at this heroic and (to her) eminently satisfactory state of mind, Billy turned from the window and fell to work on a piece of manuscript music.

" `Brush up against other interests,' " she admonished herself sternly, as she reached for her pen.

Theoretically it was beautiful; but practically--

Billy began at once to be that oak. Not an hour after she had first seen the fateful notice of "When the Honeymoon Wanes," Bertram's ring sounded at the door down-stairs.

Bertram always let himself in with his latchkey; but, from the first of Billy's being there, he had given a peculiar ring at the bell which would bring his wife flying to welcome him if she were anywhere in the house. To-day, when the bell sounded, Billy sprang as usual to her feet, with a joyous "There's Bertram!" But the next moment she fell back.

"Tut, tut, Billy Neilson Henshaw! Learn to cultivate a comfortable indifference to your husband's comings and goings," she whispered fiercely. Then she sat down and fell to work again.

A moment later she heard her husband's voice talking to some one--Pete, she surmised. "Here? You say she's here?" Then she heard Bertram's quick step on the stairs. The next minute, very quietly, he came to her door.

"Ho!" he ejaculated gayly, as she rose to receive his kiss. "I thought I'd find you asleep, when you didn't hear my ring."

Billy reddened a little.

"Oh, no, I wasn't asleep."

"But you didn't hear--" Bertram stopped abruptly, an odd look in his eyes. "Maybe you did hear it, though," he corrected.

Billy colored more confusedly. The fact that she looked so distressed did not tend to clear Bertram's face.

"Why, of course, Billy, I didn't mean to insist on your coming to meet me," he began a little stiffly; but Billy interrupted him.

"Why, Bertram, I just love to go to meet you," she maintained indignantly. Then, remembering just in time, she amended: "That is, I did love to meet you, until--" With a sudden realization that she certainly had not helped matters any, she came to an embarrassed pause.

A puzzled frown showed on Bertram's face.

"You did love to meet me until--" he repeated after her; then his face changed. "Billy, you aren't--you can't be laying up last night against me!" he reproached her a little irritably.

"Last night? Why, of course not," retorted Billy, in a panic at the bare mention of the "test" which--according to "When the Honeymoon Wanes"--was at the root of all her misery. Already she thought she detected in Bertram's voice signs that he was beginning to chafe against those "bonds." "It is a matter of-- of the utmost indifference to me what time you come home at night, my dear," she finished airily, as she sat down to her work again.

Bertram stared; then he frowned, turned on his heel and left the room. Bertram, who knew nothing of the "Talk to Young Wives" in the newspaper at Billy's feet, was surprised, puzzled, and just a bit angry.

Billy, left alone, jabbed her pen with such force against her paper that the note she was making became an unsightly blot.

"Well, if this is what that man calls being `comfortably indifferent,' I'd hate to try the uncomfortable kind," she muttered with emphasis.