Being the story of a woman who escaped from the daily round of domestic care only to find that the road to happiness led back whence she would escape.
FLEUR ANGE remembered that her too pretty name was supposed to have come from a cookery book an old, aristocratic cookery book filled with recipes for luxurious sweets to be made by the idle hands of great ladies,
“Fleur ange” had been a queen of delicacies, frothed cream, fragrant fruit, jewel-like jelly and a garnish of fresh flower buds. It had been an amusing name for a delicious baby, a charming name for a gay and lovely girl. It was not, the owner of it thought, quite an appropriate name for a young woman in a faded apron making a suet pudding, the background being a homely kitchen.
Fleur Ange had married a poor man and was living as a poor man’s wife. Fiers had been an experiment of which she had often read, and that which she read had always been gilded by a beautiful sentiment that concealed all sordid ness.
And Fleur Ange had begun with genuine and beautiful sentiment. There had not been much in her pleasant little life, but all there had been she had sacrificed, gladly and with the exultation of self-abnegation.
She had even, in her love for Quentin Fairfax, done a fantastic thing, something that people had rather laughed at. She possessed in her own right, a little fortune that had come from her mother. It amounted to an income of nearly two thousand a year and F’leur Ange, at her lover's stern insistence, had left this money untouched. His had refused to marry her on any other terms.
“I can’t make good struggling against your income.” he had said. “I’ve got to feel the burden is on me. We shan’t be paupers. I make five hundred a year, it will be a good life. Put your money by in case I fail you, but don’t use it while I live and can work."
And Fleur Ange had promised.
Only twice since had the money been mentioned between them. Once when the first child was born he had said:
“You can tie your money up for him, F’leur Ange."
And again, some time after the second child was born, she had said:
“Why not tawe some of my money and buy a business of your own?”
He had declined almost curtly.
I don't want a business of my own. I’m learning more as I am.”
Then, for the first time, Fleur Ange had tho ight him unreasonable. He was an engineer in a big firm of motor makers and earned seven hundred a year But it wasn’t enough. Fleur Ange had to live rigidly.
“It will be a good life,” he had said, but now she questioned that.
THERE had been six years of it. Absurd as it seemed, she was thirty. Her people, her friends, were goodhumored and kind, but she knew their opinion of her, and this knowledge had begun to sting.
In their early days Quentin, with shy enthusiasm, had talked of a possible invention of his which would bring fame and money, but, now, it was a long time since he had mentioned it. Failure, no doubt, lay behind the silence.
It was not very likely, thought Fleur Ange as she rolled her pudding in the scalded, floured cloth, that Quentin would ever earn much more than he earned now. No doubt, he was as she had heard other men call him— “one of the lucky ones,” but seven hundred a year, minus income tax and life insurance, was a very meagre allowance to a girl educated to comparative wealth
Fleur Ange had to cook, sew, nurse, dust, mend and, worst of all, “contrive.” She had learned to do all these things quite well, but she was becoming tired, ah, tired!
The modest house in the quiet, dull suburb, the third rate streets, the cheap shops; the lonely walks with the children on the common, broken only by visits, more and more rare, from people who were slowly “dropping” her; the short, perfunctory holiday in the most crowded, banal season each year - all these things had began to pall. It seemed foolish to endure them when she had the means to alter everything.
And, deepest grievance of all, Quentin did not seem to appreciate her sacrifice. He had known the arid grind of a
clergyman’s family in a small town, and he honestly thought he was earning a lot of money and that they were living quite comfortably. Fleur Ange had a woman for the hardest work and it seemed to her husband only natural that she should occupy herself with the other necessary household duties.
Fleur Ange looked round the tidy kitchen. The glance was that of a captive seekingvainly'some outlet forescape.
A lazy, September sunshine fell through the high windows. There was langor and tedium in the air, and the common on v h’.ch the house looked was burnt bistre color—the legacy of an arid summer. A few rusty, crackling leaves were all that remained on the sparse trees. The pale blue sky was veiled by a dust-colored haze.
Fleur Ange frowned as she slowly washed her hands at the stone sink. She hungered for either the gay pulse of the city or the calm fragrance of the country. This no man’s land of straggling streets and worn fields was hateful.
There was nothing more to do. She would leave Mrs. Green in charge now and take the children for a walk. No, she couldn’t cake John for a walk, he had a cold.
Fleur Ange believed that John was not strong; for all her care, she had not been able to make him a really healthy child. Resentment against Quentin smoldered hotly in her heart because of this and, side by side with resentment, was a queer sense of escape.
Acting on a sudden decision she went down to the public telephone and asked the doctor to come.
“I don’t think John is strong.” she said dully, when the doctor arrived.
“Nonsense!” came the reply.
Fleur Ange looked at the two beautiful children in the shabby little nursery. How odious to see such broken toys, such worn clothes, such battered furniture!
“Don’t you think, Doctor,” she asked wistfully, “that John would be the better for a change of air?”
He vetoed the suggestion, told her that both were in splendid condition—“the air round here is excellent, you know, Mrs. Fairfax”—and went back to his office, t
“What do these local men know?” thought Fleur Ange, restlessly.
She took Polly for ? walk, leaving John with Mrs. Green.
Never had the common seemed so dreary, the sprawling bushes and scant, trailing brambles, dulled with soot, such a graceless parody of the country, the passers-by with their baskets and piams so commonplace. Never had the encroaching masses of masonry, the shoddy “villas” and cramped “flats” seemed so blank and dismal. How detestable was Polly’s turned serge—her own “ready made” costume! And she had it in her power to change everything.
QUENTIN came home that evening in a state of unusual complacency, and accepted her rather exaggerated remarks about little John with slightly more than ordinary masculine indifference.
That was quite sufficient to inflame the secret discontent of Fleur Ange. For months that bugbear of the happy wife, “he is taking me for granted,” had been tormenting her, and, now, the horrid sentence seemed underscored.
As she watched him, seated peacefully in his old armchair and puffing at his old pipe while she cleared away their meal, her desire to rouse him became irresistible. She wanted to be cruel.
“Little John isn’t at all well,” she said. “I don’t think he is very strong—”
Quentin glanced at her in ingenuous alarm His very response further exasperated Fleur Ange.
“Did Dr. Pollock say so?” he asked. “Oh, Dr. Poilock! he knows nothing. John isn’t well. I should like a good opinion. I am sure he wants a long change.”
“But he has only got a cold,” replied the man, bewildered.
Fleur Ange held her ground.
“You don’t observe him as I do. We all want a change; we never go away except for that one fortnight I don’t like John’s cough—I should like to take him to town to see a really first class man—” “I’ll see what Pollock has toXsay,” frowned Quentin.
Fleur Ange smiled sweetly.
“Oh, you won’t take my word for it, I suppose?”
“Well, I’ve noticed nothing wrong with the little chap myself, and I don’t want to waste money—”
She caught at the last word, the word that had been uppermost in her mind for so long now.
“It is a pity that it should have to be a question of money, Quentin.”
“I know. But I like to put by what I can—there’s schooling to think of. I hope things will be all right with me by then, but it’s best to be prudent.”
Fleur Ange glanced, half in compunction, half in vexation, at his blonde face which lately had looked a little tired, a little fine drawn. How much they were denying themselves for a chimerical whim of pride and honor!
“There is my money,” she said timidly. “I thought we had agreed not to talk of that,” he replied, instantly alert.
“I know. But in an emergency—” “This isn’t an emergency. We are quite comfortable. I can pull my own weight. I shall do better soon. You don’t want your money till I’m dead.”
“John isn’t well,” she persisted. “After all they are brought up pretty roughly—” He caught her up; there was a flush in his weary face.
“Roughly? It’s luxury compared to the way I was brought up. What do you want for them that I can’t give you?”
“I might think of the way I was brought up,” she retorted with a pale smile, conscious of the unfairness of the reply, but unable in her bitter mood, to resist the taunt.
“What is the matter with you, Fleur Ange?” asked her husband sharply.
She was ashamed of herself. She could not but recall her desperate protestations, her passionate vows, her ardent pleadings when she had forced, yes, forced on him the sacrifices which he had almost refused to accept. “I love you, but I’d rather let you go than have you throw your unhappiness in my face some day. And I won’t live on your money,” he had said.
Now, she remembered, and forced herself to say, though it was sullenly:
“I’m worried about little John.”
Without a word he rose and left her. She could hear his heavy but hushed footsteps in the children’s room, then the shutting of the flat door.
A throb of compassion shook Fleur Ange. He had been so tired, and at the same time so happy in his quiet way. How happy they had both been in this mean room!
When he returned, she was prepared to conquer her secret discontent, but he was again in his complacent mood.
“I’ve talked to Pollock on the telephone. He says the children are simply splendid. If you are nervy about them he thinks you ought to get away a bit yourself.”
“I’m not a nervous woman,” retorted Fleur Ange, the horrid sting of the truth lashing her. “How strange that you should listen to what Dr. Pollock saye of me!”
Quentin picked up the evening paper.
“Well, there is no need to worry about John.”
“I daresay the doctor told him I am hysterical,” thought Fleur Ange bitterly. Aloud, she said:
“I don’t agree. I intend to have other advice.”
“W’hose?” He scented challenge and put down the paper.
“The best I can get. I’ll take them both up to town I'll give them a long holiday and lots of things they need.”
“You are trying to provoke me,” he answered coldly. “You know I can’t afford any of this.”
He rose at that and faced her.
“Are you sick of it?” he asked sternly. “If you want to quit, say so, and don’t try to sneak away under cover of maternal affection.”
This was an outrage, the more so as it came so near the truth. Shown herself in those harsh words, Fleur Ange blenched into a fervent anger.
She made no reply, allowing him, with feminine guile, to believe her conquered, and, the next morning, her demeanor gave no hint of the blow she contemplated dealing him. When he had gone, conscious of her displeasure but ignorant of the deadly depth of it or from what long silent rebellion it sprang, she hastily dressed the children, packed a few of their things and her own in a handbag, and left the flat.
Once out of sight of possible prying neighbors, she hurried the excited children into a taxicab and gave the address of her lawyer in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
IT WAS a long time since Fleur Ange had been in a taxicab. The sight of the shillings ticking up on the meter gave her both a thrill and a shudder. She had hardly enough in her purse to pay the fare.
When she came out of the dingy stately office, she had rather more money than Quentin had given her in the last year. If the remembrance of an ironic smile under the lawyer’s gravity rankled, she was exalted with a sense of daring—and a fear. She clasped the two shabby children in a passion of tenderness.
“I won’t spend it on anything but them. Quentin can’t really mind that.” By lunch time she was installed in a delightful little hotel, well known to her own youth, and had arranged an appointment for little John with a very big man indeed. An exclusive agency had provided a temporary nurse, who was a model of pleasant efficiency, and a West End shop had sent round a selection of clothes. Fleur Ange was known to all these places and the smiling readiness with which she was recognized seemed to strip away six years from her life. She still knew how to spend money, how to command the resources of the city.
She could not resist some clothes for herself; she could not resist telephoning to some old friends.
“I’m just up in town for a few days— shopping—taking little John to see the doctor—oh, nothing the matter, a mere precaution—” and so on.
Her long telegram to Quentin was couched in the same terms. It was “only for a few days” that she had left him—a justification of her liberty of thought and action; a vindication, though this she did not say, of her right to use her own money; a complete violation of the letter and spirit of her promise, though this she did not say either. Poor Fleur Ange.
With an air of candor she gave the address of the hotel. Her secret hope was that he would follow her—at once.
But he did not come that night nor was there any answer to her message.
In the morning there was nothing from the shabby little house in the suburbs. Fleur Ange turned slightly sick at heart, but defiance was still strong in her. She would send no more appeals. He was behaving badly, spitefully, unkindly, she thought, and into the background of her mind she thrust her broken promise.
When the great doctor told her that there was nothing whatever the matter with little John she did not even feel a pang of relief—she had been sure the boy was all right—but she was conscious of a stab of utter shame.
FLEUR ANGE looked very pretty and enchanting in her new finery—prettier and younger than she had looked for a long time in the drab flat—when she received a grim and cold Quentin that afternoon. Quentin seemed dusty and shabby in these elegant, frivolous surroundings.
To him, it was as if she had deliberately raised between them the barriers that he, on their marriage, had so resolutely destroyed.
“I knew that there was nothing the matter with the child,” he announced harshly. “And so did you.”
“Well,” said Fleur Ange steadily, “perhaps there was something the matter with me. Perhaps I felt I had to get away. I suppose you had never thought of that, Quentin?”
“Why should I think of that? It was the life that you deliberately chose.”
His direct honesty and the simple truth of his words galled her pride. She could not tell him that she wanted praise and gratitude for what he considered her obvious duty.
She laughed nervously.
“It is rather hopeless going into that, isn’t it? I thought you very unreasonable when I spoke about John. I could see no good reason for not—doing as I liked—” “Breaking your promise, you mean? This trip of yours has cost a good deal; you mean to pay for it with your own money, no doubt.”
Fleur Ange fluttered her eyelids. She winced but she was still defiant.
“The money is mine—anyone would say that I was crazy to go without things while it was there—”
“So you’re a quitter,” he said curtly. “Is that what you’ve got to say to me after six years of sacrifice!”
She had not really meant to use that word, but it had been much in her mind, and, somehow, it had leaped out. He fastened on it, angrily.
“So you’ve been thinking it a sacrifice all the time. The best I could do for you was never good enough and all the time you were hankering after the money I thought you had forgotten!”
He half turned from her, and added sadly:
“You might have waited a bit longer.” Fleur Ange, torn between vexation and remorse, and with tears shaking in her voice, answered desperately:
“You need not make so much of it, I am ready to come home.”
“Home!” he repeated sternly. “It never was home to you—that poor place —this was what you wanted, all this ease and comfort; these gewgaws; all the things that six years ago you swore to me you despised and hated!”
“That isn’t true,” protested Fleur Ange.
“Your actions have proved it true,” he said. “You’ve flung back everything in my face, made a mock of me. I was warned,” he added grimly, “what would happen if I married one of your set.”
That further exasperated Fleur Ange. “All right, you need not trouble about me any more,” said Fleur Ange, furious on the instant. “I’ll leave you quite free.” “I mean you shall. You’ve gone after the money, now you can keep it—do what you like with it, give yourself and the children a good time. I’ve got my work.”
“Yes, you have your work,” she replied, turning to the window. “And if you don’t want me back—”
“No,” he interrupted, “no more sacrifices.”
“—very well.” Fleur Ange kept her quivering face away from him. “I won’t thrust them on you—I’ll take the children away for a holiday.”
“For as long as you please. Now you’ve asserted your independence, of course, I shall make no effort to control you. You will do as you please with your money. Of course, when the children are older they’ll have to be brought up on my level—” Fleur Ange foresaw devastating disputes anent the children.
“Please don’t let us quarrel about that,” she said nervously.
“Not now. I don’t wish to deprive them of the advantages of your money.”
It still seemed incredible to Fleur Ange that he should not by a look or gesture or word show some tenderness, some appreciation, some regret for the past, but there was no trace of any emotion save disgust and anger in his tired face.
He picked up his poor shabby hat from one of the silky gilt chairs and a pang of unutterable remorse shook Fleur Ange as she recalled his careful penury in regard to himself.
“Oh, Quentin, don’t go away unkindly!” she said, and turned to him, ready to surrender at a word.
But he would not speak that word. He made a slight movement that seemed to put her away from him.
“Oh, unkind?” He smiled a little, then added brusquely: “Well, good-by, let me know where you are.”
He took up the poor shabby hat and was gone.
FLEUR ANGE felt the sting of harsh reality through her tender incredulity. Of her gesture of rebellion he had made a gesture of farewell. He had really gone.
She could not but think how bitterly now he must be regretting his weakness in yielding to her promises—for had she not ended by betraying him?
But Fleur Ange held her head high and trusted to time. With outward calm, she took the children away to the sea. Their delight in the modest luxury of their surroundings was some solace to her inward pain, but the little boy inquired with too insistent a wistfulness after his father for Fleur Ange’s perfect comfort.
She wrote to Quentin and Quentin did not reply.
Strengthened in her pride by this which she regarded as a slap in the face of supplication to be forgiven—her letter had been meek—Fleur Ange did not write again.
And so long weeks slipped by, and, at last, autumn was over and it was too cold by the sea.
Back to town came Fleur Ange, still living in hotels, still with the efficient nurse, still with nothing to do but spend money and amuse herself.
By now she had bought everything she had longed for during those six years, she had looked up all her old friends and acquaintances and was firmly established once more in the life that she had lately looked back at with such passionate regret. The breach between Quentin and herself she carefully covered up. It was astonishing how easily people accepted her excuse of “change for the children,” and “Quentin working so hard, he is almost always at the works.”
And still he did not write.
And still Fleur Ange could not bring herself to write again, but one day, unable to resist an overwhelming impulse of yearning, she took the once so familiar omnibus and went out to the distant suburb and the barren common, now gray under a winter sky.
It took all the courage of Fleur Ange to skirt the half made road and look back at the house.
And, there, across the windows from which she and Quentin for six years, and the babies for all their lives, had looked out, were placards with the words "To Let."
Fleur Ange had hardly realized that life held such a bitter moment as the next. The full extent of her loss was borne in upon her with devastating force.
She turned and hurried blindly away. As soon as she reached the hotel she was at the telephone talking to Quentin’s beloved “works” enquiring for Mr. Fairfax.
She was at once informed that Mr. Fairfax had left some weeks ago. His address was not known.
This to Fleur Ange was the very worst. As a flash of lightning will illuminate a sudden picture of desolation, she saw what had happened in the light of this news.
Quentin, forsaken, wounded, had lost interest in his work and been dismissed. She ought to have known, indeed she had known, that he was a man who existed through his affections and responsibilities. She had simply pulled the whole fabric of his life from under him and he had gone down.
Her pitiful remorse knew no bounds. By the desperate expedient of revealing her identity and something of her story, she wrung Quentin’s address out of a companion of his at the “works.” It was that of a cottage in a Sussex village.
Fleur Ange did not write. She felt that matters had gone beyond the written word but with bitter haste she made her plans; every scrap of anything that she had bought with her own money she packed up and sent to a hospital. The efficient nurse was returned to the exclusive registry office, and Fleur Ange, in the dingy clothes in which she had made her escape with the children, went again to the lawyers’ offices in Lincoln Inn Fields.
When she left she had put in train a ferocious document whereby she had tied up all her money for the children when they were twenty-one and made it impossible for her to touch either interest or capital, meanwhile.
She had left herself just enough money for the fare down to the little Sussex village and she kept saying to herself:
“He will be bound to take us in if we have nowhere else to go—he will have to—”
During the journey, she was furiously calculating on how little they could live.
TO FLEUR ANGE, it was like one of those vague but deadly important journeys we all take in dreams, that drive through the little village in the cold afternoon, the arrival at the lonely cottage where “Mr. Fairfax” lived, the waiting in the wintry garden with the children either side of her while her knock echoed through the tiny house.
It was Quentin who opened the door. Quentin, after all these weeks of absence, looking real and solid and breaking through the dreamy fears, the vague imaginings that beset her.
Fleur Ange could not speak, but the children prevented any awkwardness, any constraint. They were shouting and clinging to their father in the mean but bright passage and Quentin could not, did not, try to resist them.
Seeing his smiles, it was easy for Fleur Ange to at last falter:
“Won’t you ask me inside?”
“Have you come back to stay?” he asked over the heads of the children, “or is this just a visit, Fleur Ange?”
“I’ll stay, as long as you’ll have me,” she replied eagerly, crossing his threshold with exultant joy. “As soon as I heard you’d left the works I wanted to come and help—Quentin, you have no idea how little I can manage on—”
‘‘What have you done with your money?” he demanded, but gently.
“That is tied up for the children—I shan’t be able to touch it again, but I shan't want to, I’ve had my lesson—”
He looked at her curiously.
“Why do you think I left the works?” “Oh, poor Quentin, it was my fault— but I’ve come to make up—” she faltered. “You’ll find another, a better job—”
He stooped now and gathered her into one embrace with the children.
“I don’t need another job, Fleur Ange,” he said. “My invention came off at last and I’m wealthy enough to buy you all the pretty things you want. I just came here to think it all over—”
Fleur Ange sobbed on his shoulder:
“Oh, I’m glad I didn’t know or I should never have had the courage to come back!”
“Well,” said Quentin tenderly, “I think I should have had the courage to fetch you back, Fleur Ange.”