Undertow by Kathleen Thompson Norris
It was their first Christmas, and they spent it alone together. Bert and Nancy knew that they would not spend another Christmas alone, and the shadowy hope for April lent a new tone even to their gayety, and deepened the exquisite happiness of the dark, snowbound day. The tiny house was full of laughter, for Bert had given his wife all the little things she had from time to time whimsically desired. The fancy cheeses, and the perfumes and soaps, made her laugh and laugh as she unwrapped them. There were fuzzy wash-cloths--a particular fancy of hers--and new library paste and new hair-pins, and a can-opener that made her exclaim: "Bert, that was cute of you!" and even an alligator pear. A bewildered look came into Nancy's eyes as she went on investigating her bulging stocking--gloves, and silk hosiery, and new little enamelled pins for her collars, and the piano score of the opera she so loved--where had the money come from?
"My firm gave us each ten," Bert explained, grinning.
"And you spent it all on me!" Nancy said, stricken. "You poked about and got me every blessed thing I ever wanted in this world-- you darling!"
"Why not?" he asked. "You're the only thing I have, Nance! And such little things, dear."
"It isn't the things--it's your thinking of them," Nancy said. "And eating wretched lunches while you planned them! You make me cry--and meanwhile, my beloved little chicken will roast himself dry!"
She rushed into her kitchen. Bert rushed after her; his days at home were a succession of interruptions for Nancy, no topic was too insignificant for their earnest discussion, and no pleasure too small to share. To-day the chief object of their interest was his mother's Christmas present to him, a check for fifty dollars, "for my boy's winter coat."
They looked at the slip of paper at regular intervals. To Bert it brought a pleasant thought of the thin, veiny hand that had penned it, the little silk-clad form and trimly netted gray hair. He remembered his mother's tiny sitting room, full of begonias and winter sunshine and photographs of the family, with a feeling that while mother could never again know rapturous happiness like his own, yet it was good to think of her as content and comfortable, with her tissue-wrapped presents from the three daughters-in-law lying on her table.
But to Nancy the check meant the future only: it meant her handsome Bert dressed at last in suitable fashion, in a "big, fuzzy, hairy coat." She pointed out various men's coats in the windows they passed that afternoon, and on the other young men who were walking with wives and babies.
But Bert had his own ideas. When Nancy met him down town a day or two later, to go pick the coat, she found him quite unmanageable. He said that there was no hurry about the coat--they were right here in the housekeeping things, why not look at fireless cookers? In the end they bought an ice-cream freezer, and a fireless cooker, and two pairs of arctic overshoes, and an enormous oval- shaped basket upon which the blushing Nancy dropped a surreptitious kiss when the saleswoman was not looking, and a warm blue sweater for Nancy, and, quite incidentally, an eighteen- dollar overcoat for Bert.
Nancy's lip trembled over this last purchase. They were nice overcoats, remarkable for the price, indeed--"marked down from twenty-five." But--but she had wanted him to spend every cent of the fifty dollars for a stunning coat! Bert laughed at her April face. He took her triumphantly to the fifty-cent luncheon and they talked over it for a blissful hour. And when she left him at the office door, Nancy consoled herself by drifting into one of the near-by second-hand bookshops, and buying him a tiny Keats, "Pepy's Diary" somewhat shabby as to cover, and George's "Progress and Poverty," at ten cents apiece. These books were piled at Bert's place that night, and gave him almost as much pleasure as the overcoat did.
And even Nancy had to confess that the disputed garment looked warm and thick, when it came home in its green box, and that it was "fun" to open the other packages, and find the sweater, looking so wooly and comfortable, and the big basket destined for so precious a freight! She and Bert laughed and chattered over the thick papers and strings that bound the freezer and the cooker, and made chocolate ice-cream for dinner on Sunday, and never ate their breakfast oatmeal without a rapturous appreciation of the cooker.