Undertow by Kathleen Thompson Norris
Another silence. Then Nancy said briskly:
"Well! Listen to what I've planned, Bert, and tell me what you think. Item one: this is vacation, but when it's over I want to start Anne and the boys in at the village school. They can cut right across the field at the back here, it's just a good walk for them. They're frantic to go, instead of to Fraulein, and I'm perfectly satisfied to have them!"
"Sure you are?" the man asked, a little touched, for this had been a long-disputed point.
"Oh, quite! Just as you and I did. And then, item two: Agnes is a good plain cook, and Priscilla is an angel. I'll walk to market every day, and send out the laundry, and keep Priscilla with me. So that makes Agnes our entire domestic staff--she's enthusiastic, so don't begin to curl your lips over it. Then we'll have to have a floor in here, and cut a window in the closet back there, and put in a little gas stove, and before winter we'll put on a little addition--a kitchen in back, with a room for the boys above. And we'll shut the big double doors, and I'll have another window box right across their windows, and curtain the whole place in plain net. The boys can sleep in the tent for the time being. There's a furnace, but we'll have to make some provision for coal--"
"But, my good woman, you don't propose to make this arrangement permanent, I suppose?" Bert said, bewilderedly. "Why, I meant to spend to-morrow looking about--"
"Why shouldn't it be permanent?" Nancy demanded. "We can kitch and dine and sit in the big room, we'll have all the room we want, upstairs. It's the only place in the world where we don't have to pay rent. It's quiet, it's off the main road, nobody will see what we are doing here, and nobody'll care!"
"They'll see us fast enough," Bert said doubtfully. "I never heard of any one doing it--I don't know what people would say!"
"Bert," Nancy assured him seriously, "I don't care what they say. I've been thinking it all over, and I believe I can risk the opinion of Marlborough Gardens! Some of them will drop us, and you and I know who they are. How much do we care? And the others will realize that we are hard hit financially, and trying to catch up. Mary Ingram came over while you were away, perfectly aghast. She had just heard of it. I told her what we were trying to do, and she said--well, she said just the one thing that really could have helped me. She said: 'You'll have great fun--we lived in our garage while the house was being built, and it was quite the happiest summer we ever had down here!'" Nancy had squared herself on the arm of his chair so that Bert could see her bright eyes in the dark. "It was just like Mary, to put it that way," she went on. "For of course even Holly Court was never as large as the Ingrams' garage, and all those brick arches and things join it to the house anyway, but it made me think how much wiser it is to do things your own way, instead of some other people's way! And, Bert, we're going to have such fun! We'll keep the car, and you can run it on Sundays, and perhaps I will a little, during the week, and at night or when it rains we can cover it with a tarpaulin, and we'll have picnics with the children all summer long! And I'll make you 'chicken Nancy' again, and popovers, on Sunday mornings! I love to cook. I love to tell stories to children. I love to pack mashy suppers and get all dirty and hot dragging them to the beach, and I love to stuff my own Thanksgiving turkey, in my own way! We haven't had a real Thanksgiving turkey for four or five years! We'll have no rent-- Agnes gets thirty--light will be almost nothing, and coal about a tenth of what it was--Bert, we'll spend about two hundred a month, all told!"
"I don't say yet that you ought to try it," Bert said suddenly, in his old, excited, earnest way. "But of course that would--well, it would just about make me. I could plunge into the other thing, I wouldn't have this place on my mind!"
"There are some bills, you know, Bert."
"The extra thousand will take care of those!"
"So that we start in with a clean slate. Oh, Bert!" Nancy's voice was as exultant as a child's. "Bert--my fur coat, and your coat! I've just remembered they're in storage! Isn't that luck!"
Bert laughed at her face.
"Funny how your viewpoint on luck changes. This morning you had the coat and the Lord knows how much silver and glass and lace besides--"
"Oh, I know. But that's the kind of a woman I am, Bert. I don't like things to come to me so fast that I can't taste them. I don't like having four servants, I get more satisfaction out of one. And if I am hospitable, I'd rather give meals and rooms to persons who really need them, than to others who have left better meals and better rooms to come and share mine!
"Why, Bert dear," Nancy's cheek was against his now, "the thought of waking up in the morning and realizing that nobody expects anything of me makes me feel young again! It makes me feel as if I was breathing fresh air deep down into my lungs. We haven't room for servants, we have no guest room, I simply can't do anything but amuse Priscilla and make desserts. We'll have the children at the dinner table every night, and nights that Agnes is off, I'll have a dotted black and white percale apron for you--"
This was old history, there had been a dotted percale apron years ago, and Nancy was joking, but Bert did not laugh. He made a gruff sound, and tightened his arm.
"Bert," said his wife, seriously, "Bert, when I kissed you this afternoon, dirty and hot and sooty as you were, I knew that I'd been missing something for a long time!"
Again Bert made a gruff sound, and this time he kissed his wife, but he did not speak for a moment. When he did, it was with a long, deep breath.
"Lord--Lord--Lord!" said he.
"Why do you say that?" asked Nancy.
"Oh, I was just thinking!" Bert stretched in his chair, to the infinite peril of his equilibrium and hers. "I was just thinking what a wonderful thing it is to be married, and to climb and fall, and succeed and fail, and all the rest of it!" he said contentedly. "I'll bet you there are lots of rich men who would like to try it again! I was just thinking what corking times we're going to have this year, what it's going to be like to have my little commutation punched like the rest of 'em, and come home in the dark, winter nights, to just my own wife and my own kids! I like company now and then--the Biggerstaffs and the Ingrams--but I like you all the year round. We'll--we'll read Dickens this winter!"
Nancy gave a laugh that was half a sob.
"Bert--we were always going to read Dickens! Do you remember?"
"Do I remember!" He smoked for a while in silence. Then he chuckled. "Do you remember the Sunday breakfasts in the East Eleventh Street flat? With real cream and corn bread? Do you remember wheeling Junior through the park?"
Nancy cleared her throat.
"I remember it all!"
There was another silence. Then Bert straightened suddenly, and asked with concern:
"Nancy--what is it? You're all tired out, you poor little girl. Don't, dear--don't cry, Nancy!"
Nancy, groping for his handkerchief, battling with tears, feeling his kiss on her wet cheek, laughed shakily in the dark.
"I--I can't help it, Bert!" said she. "I'm--I'm so happy!"