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   Chapter 2 MY WIFE MAKES UP HER MIND TO MOVE.

The Last Tenant By B. L. Farjeon Characters: 8450

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


From a peculiar restlessness in my wife's movements, I gathered that she was considering some scheme which threatened to disturb the peaceful surroundings of my life. Upon two or three occasions lately she had reproached me for not being sufficiently lofty in my social views, and although the tone in which she addressed me was free from acerbity, her words conveyed the impression that in some dark way I was inflicting an injury upon her. Familiar with her moods, and understanding the best way in which to treat them, I made no inquiries as to the precise nature of this injury, but waited for her to disclose it--which I was aware she would not do until she was quite prepared.

I am not, in any sense of the term, an ambitious man, being happily blessed with a peaceful and contented mind which renders me unwilling to make any departure from my usual habits. As regards old-fashioned ways I am somewhat of a conservative; I do not care for new things and new sensations, and I am not forever looking up at persons above me, and sighing for their possessions and enjoyments. Indeed, I am convinced that the happiest lot is that of the mortal who is neither too high nor too low, and who is in possession of a competence which will serve for modest pleasures, without exciting the envy of friends and acquaintances. Such a competence was mine; such pleasures were mine. Secure from storms and unnecessary worries--by which I mean worries self-inflicted by fidgety persons, or persons discontented with their lot--I should have been quite satisfied to remain all my life in our cozy ten-roomed house, which we had inhabited for twenty years, and in which we had been as comfortable as reasonable beings can expect to be in life. Not so my wife, the best of creatures in her way, but lately (as I subsequently discovered) tormented with jealousy of certain old friends who, favored by fortune, had moved a step or two up the social ladder. It was natural, when these friends visited us, that they should dilate with pride upon their social rise, and should rather loftily, and with an air of superiority, seize the opportunity of describing the elegances of their new houses and furniture. Their fine talk amused me, and I listened to it undisturbed; but it rendered my wife restless and uneasy, and the upshot of it was that one morning, during breakfast, she said:

"You have nothing particular to do to-day, my dear?"

"No, nothing particular," I replied.

"Then you won't mind coming with me to see some new houses."

I gasped. The murder was out.

"Some new houses!" I cried.

"You can't expect me to go alone," she said calmly. "It would hardly be safe--to say nothing of its impropriety--for a lady, unaccompanied, to wander through a number of empty houses with the street door shut. We read of such dreadful things in the papers."

"Quite true; they are enough to make one's hair stand on end. It would not be prudent. But what necessity is there for you to go into a number of empty houses?"

"How stupid you are!" she exclaimed. "You know we must move; you know that it is impossible for us to remain in this house any longer."

"Why not?"

"Such a question! And the house in the state it is!"

"A very comfortable state, Maria. There is nothing whatever the matter with it."

"There is everything the matter with it."

"Oh, if you say so----"

"I do say so."

A man who has been long married learns from experience, and profits by what he learns, if he has any sense in him. I am a fairly sensible man, and experience has taught me some useful lessons. Therefore I went on with my breakfast in silence, knowing that my wife would soon speak again.

"The house is full of inconveniences," she said.

"You have been a long time finding them out, Maria."

"I found them out years ago, but I have borne with them for your sake."

I laughed slyly, took the top off an egg, and requested her to name the inconveniences of which she complained.

She commenced. "We want a spare room."

"We have one," I said, "and it is never used."

"It isn't fit to use."

"Oh! I had an idea that there was no demand for it."

"If it was a comfortable room there would be, Edward, I

wish you would recognize that things cannot always remain as they are."

"More's the pity."

"Nonsense. You talk as if we were shellfish."

"It did not occur to me. Proceed with your wants, Maria."

"Our wants, my dear."

"Well, our wants."

"You want a nice, cozy study, where you can sit and smoke."

"I want nothing of the kind. I can sit and smoke anywhere. Don't forget that I am fifty years of age, and that my habits are fixed."

"My dear, it is never too late to learn."

"Keep to the point," I said.

"As if I am not keeping to it! I have no morning room."

"So you are to sit in your morning room, and I am to sit in my study, instead of sitting and chatting together, as we have always done. A cheerful prospect! What next?"

"We have very good servants," she said pensively.

"Has that anything to do with the inconveniences you speak of?"

"I shouldn't like to lose the girls, especially cook. They sleep in the attic, you know, and the roof is shockingly out of repair."

"It is the chronic condition of roofs. Go where you will, you hear the same story. Have the girls complained?"

"No, but I can see what is coming."

"Ah!"

"The kitchen is not what it should be; the range causes us the greatest anxiety. The next dinner party we give we must have the dinner cooked out. Think what a trouble it will be, and how awkward it will look. Everything brought to the table lukewarm, if not quite cold."

"The thought is heartrending."

"And you so particular as you are. I am not blaming you for these things, my dear."

"You are very considerate. Is your catalogue of ills finished?"

"By no means. Look at the wine cellar--it positively reeks. As for the store cupboard, not a thing can I keep in it for the damp. Then there's the bath. Every time I turn the hot water tap I am frightened out of my life. It splutters, and chokes, and gurgles--we shall have an explosion one day. Then there's----"

"No more!" I cried, in a tragic tone. "Give me two minutes to compose myself. My nerves are shattered."

I finished my eggs and toast, I emptied my breakfast cup, I shifted my chair.

"You wish to move," I then said.

"Do you not see the impossibility of our remaining where we are?" was her reply.

"Frankly, I do not, but we will not argue; I bend my head to the storm."

"Edward, Edward!" she expostulated. "Must not a woman have a mind? Must it always be the man?"

"I meant nothing ill-natured, Maria. Have you any particular house in view?"

"Several, and I have made out a list of them. I have been to the house agents and have got the keys. I did not wish you to have the bother of it, so I took it all on myself. And here are the orders to view the houses where there are care-takers. Of course we don't want the keys of those houses; all we have to do is to ring."

"How many empty houses are there on your list?"

"Twenty-three."

I repressed a shudder. "And you have the keys of----"

"Eleven. I can get plenty more. We must be careful they don't get mixed up. Perhaps you had better keep them."

"Not for worlds. Do you propose to go over the whole twenty-three to-day?"

"Oh, no, my dear, but we will continue till we are tired. With what I have and what I am promised I dare say it will be a long job before we are suited. Days and days."

"Perhaps weeks and weeks," I suggested faintly.

"Perhaps. Do you remember how we hunted and hunted till we found this house?"

"Can I ever forget it? I grew so sick of tramping about that I thought seriously of buying a traveling caravan, and living in it. Well, Maria, I confess I don't like the prospect, but as your mind is made up I will put a good face on it."

"I was sure you would, my dear. You are the best man in the world." And she gave me a hearty kiss.

"All right, my dear. When do we start?"

"I shall be ready in half an hour."

In less than that time we were off, I resigned to my fate, and my wife as brisk as a young maid about to enter into housekeeping for the first time. I could not but admire her courage. Her bag was stuffed with keys, and in her hand she carried a book in which were set down the particulars of the houses we were to look over.

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