SPOKEN BETWEEN THE COURSES
Mr. Bounderby’s wife had not said a word to him since they sat down to dinner, except to remark that the weather was exceedingly warm. Casting a covert look at her across the fish he noticed two deep and ominous lines between her eyebrows.
“Brace up, Bounderby!” he said to himself, and forthwith swallowed a great goblet of wine without drawing breath.
“My dear,” he began, “You seem rather distrait this evening.”
“I—I am far from well, Archibald,” faintly. “The doctor”—
“Ah!” Bounderby drags his chair close to the table and assumes the attitude of a man about to catch a cannon ball in his bare hands. “Why, my dear, I think I never saw you looking so well before.”
“That Is because I have taken pains to conceal my sufferings. Doctor Borax assured me that I am falling rapidly, and nothing short of a trip to Switzerland would save me,” whisking a dainty bit of cambric across her eyes.
“Huh! He doesn’t consider my chances of failing when he gives such expensive prescriptions. Besides, you are the very picture of health.”
“That is the most dangerous sign of all. Nature’s last rally before the end. I feel it here! Here!” Clasping her bosom convulsively and staring at the ceiling.
“Well, now if it is us bad as that,” replies the unsympathetic brute, “I shouldn’t risk the journey. But apart from financial reasons there is another why you shouldn’t go.”
“How can there be any other?”
“Heh? Oh, to be sure! Why, business wouldn’t permit me to go with you, and as for straggling off alone in your feeble health”—
“Oh, I have arranged for all that. Dear mamma will accompany me.”
“Take the old ca — old lady with you? There’s double expense!”
“But what (tragically) does a paltry sum of money weigh against a life?”
“As you say (musingly), what does a paltry sum of money weigh against a life? I give it up.” He relapses into deep thought and then returns to the charge. “But think, Celestina, how people will talk if you spend the summer away from your husband.”‘
“And for idle gossip would you hold me here to perish at your feet?”
Bounderby, in a brown study, rouses at the last words.
“Perish? Feet? Whose feet? Certainly not! But, my love, are you not the least bit selfish? Of course I can deny you nothing, but a man needs woman’s companionship more in summer than any other time,” (He sighs deeply.) “It is then that love’s romance is renewed and the most holy sentiments of the soul awakened. Ah, me,” and bows his head on his breast.
His wife regards him curiously, even with some alarm.
“Since you are bent on going” — after a pause— “better this summer.”
“And why this summer more than another?” icily.
‘There is— er — a possibility I shall not have to spend the silvery evenings alone,” his coward eyes downcast.
“Archibald Bounderby,” nibbling nervously on her handkerchief, “I insist on your explaining your meaning.”
“Oh, it’s nothing that could interest you, my dear. Fact is an old friend of ours has asked me to look her up a house in the neighborhood. It will comfort you when in foreign climes to think that I have a pleasant place to spend the evenings. Won’t it, darling?”
“And might I ask who this person is?” twisting her handkerchief to shreds and displaying ill-concealed emotion.
“Why, certainly, my dear. Of course, you have not forgotten— the former Miss Gabster— she’s a widow now.”
“You mean the creature with dyed hair that angled so shamelessly for you before we were married?” her voice rising shrilly.
Bounderby swallows a chuckle mid shakes hands with himself effusively under the protection of the table. “I certainly knew the lady very well before marriage, but what of that? It will make it all the easier to renew the acquaintance.” The craven Bounderby dares not raise his shameful head, and an ominous silence follows. A servant enters with the next course, removes the remains of the fish and himself.
“Well, my dear, and what are you thinking about?” he asks. She seems to be writing on the table with a fork. Then she gulps hard, as if a croquet ball had lodged in her throat:—
“I— l have been thinking that, after all, it is selfish of me to consider my own happiness first. Wha— what If you should fall ill whe— when I am away,” with a look as if confronted by some horrid vision.
“And your health, my dear,” hardly able to repress his unholy glee.
“Archibald (with tragic gravity), a wife’s place is at her husband’s side. I shall remain.”
Victorious in his villainy, the arch-hypocrite says to himself as he imprints a chaste kiss on his wife’s brow, “Archie, old boy, you were born to be a diplomat!”
Los Angeles [CA] Herald 30 April 1905: p. 30
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The summer pilgrimage of the Little Woman to some Beauty Spot while her lord and master remained toiling at home in the summer heat was a convention which inspired many jokes and saucy sea-side postcards. We have seen the rules for gentlemen who preferred to think of themselves as “slipping the leash” rather than abandoned by wife and chicks. Mrs Daffodil has mentioned the Summer Girls who posed as married ladies to avoid mashers. Gentleman, too, posed as “grass widowers” as we see in this cartoon.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.