Our Elizabeth_ A Humour Novel
The Project Gutenberg eBook, Our Elizabeth, by Florence A. Kilpatrick,Illustrated by Ernest Forbes
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Title: Our Elizabeth
A Humour Novel
Author: Florence A. Kilpatrick
Release Date: May 22, 2006 [eBook #18430]
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK OUR ELIZABETH***
E-text prepared by Al Haines
[Frontispiece: Elizabeth Renshaw.]
A HUMOUR NOVEL
FLORENCE A. KILPATRICK
ILLUSTRATED BY ERNEST FORBES
THORNTON BUTTERWORTH LIMITED
62 ST. MARTIN'S LANE, LONDON, W.C. 2
Published November 1920
Elizabeth is not a type; she is an individuality. Signs and omens ather birth no doubt determined her sense of the superstitious; but Itrace her evolution as a figure of fun to some sketches of mine in thepages of Punch. These, however, were only impressions of Elizabeth ona small scale, but I acknowledge the use of them here in the process ofdeveloping her to full life-size. Elizabeth, as I say, is apersonality apart; there is only one Elizabeth. Here she is.
F. A. K.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
|CHAPTER 1||CHAPTER 11|
|CHAPTER 2||CHAPTER 12|
|CHAPTER 3||CHAPTER 13|
|CHAPTER 4||CHAPTER 14|
|CHAPTER 5||CHAPTER 15|
|CHAPTER 6||CHAPTER 16|
|CHAPTER 7||CHAPTER 17|
|CHAPTER 8||CHAPTER 18|
|CHAPTER 9||CHAPTER 19|
|CHAPTER 10||CHAPTER 20|
If you ask Henry he will tell you that I cannot cook. In fact, he willtell you even if you don't ask. To hold up my culinary failures toridicule is one of his newest forms of humour (new to Henry, Imean—the actual jokes you will have learned already at yourgrandmother's knee).
I had begun to see that I must either get a servant soon or a judicialseparation from Henry. That was the stage at which I had arrived.Things were getting beyond me. By 'things' I mean the whole loathsomebusiness of housework. My mťtier is to write—not that I am a greatwriter as yet, though I hope to be some day. What I never hope to beis a culinary expert. Should you command your cook to turn out a shortstory she could not suffer more in the agonies of composition than I doin making a simple Yorkshire pudding.
Henry does not like housework any more than I do; he says theperformance of menial duties crushes his spirit—but he makes such afuss about things. You might think, to hear him talk, that getting upcoal, lighting fires, chopping wood and cleaning flues, knives andbrasses were the entire work of a household instead of being mereincidents in the daily routine. If he had had to tackle myduties … but men never understand how much there is to do in ahouse.
Even when they do lend a hand my experience is that they invariablymanage to hurt themselves in some way. Henry seems incapable ofgetting up coal without dropping the largest knob on his foot. If hechops wood he gashes himself; he cannot go through the simple rite ofpouring boiling water out of a saucepan without getting scalded; andwhen he mounts the steps to adjust the blinds I always keep the brandyuncorked in readiness; you see, he declares that a chap needs somethingto pull himself together after a fall from a step-ladder.
Perhaps you trace in all this a certain bitterness, a veiled antagonismon my part towards Henry; you may even imagine that we are a bickeringsort of couple, constantly trying to get the better of each other. Ifso, you are mistaken. Up to six months before this story opens ourmarried life had been ideal—for which reason I didn't open the storyearlier. Ideal marriages (to any one except the contracting parties)are uninteresting affairs. It is such a pity that the good, thelaudable, things in life generally are.
One of the reasons why our union was ideal (up to six months beforethis story opens) was that we shared identical tastes. Comradeship isthe true basis of—but perhaps you have read my articles on the subjecton the Woman's Page of the Daily Trail. I always advise girls tomarry men of their own temperament. As a matter of fact, I expect theymarry the men who are easiest to land, but you're not allowed to saythings like that (on the Woman's Page). We have pure and noble ideals,we are tender, motherly and housewifely (on the Woman's Page).
Henry and I were of the same temperament. For one thing, we wereequally incompetent at golf. Perhaps I foozled my drive rather worsethan Henry, but then he never took fewer than five strokes on thegreen, whereas I have occasionally done it in four. Then we mutuallydetested gramophones. But when we discovered that we could both play'Caller Herrin'' on the piano with one finger (entirely by ear) we feltthat we were affinities, and got married shortly afterwards.
Stevenson once said, 'Marriage is not a bed of roses; it is a field ofbattle.' At the epoch of which I write Henry and I had not got toturning machine-guns on each other. At the most we only had diplomaticunpleasantnesses. The position, however, was getting strained. Irealized quite clearly that if we didn't obtain domestic help of somesort very soon it might come to open hostilities. Isn't it surprisinghow the petty annoyances of life can wear away the strong bulwarks oftrust and friendship formed by years of understanding? Our particularbulwarks were becoming quite shaky through nothing else but having tomuddle through the dull sordid grind of cooking and housework byourselves. We were getting disillusioned with each other. No'jaundiced eye that casts discolouration' could look more jaundicedthan Henry's when I asked him to dry up the dinner things.
Having explained all this, you will now understand something of myfeelings when, on going to answer a knock at the door, I was confrontedby a solid female who said she had been sent from the Registry Office.Oh, thrice blessed Registry Office that had answered my call.
'Come in,' I said eagerly, and, leading the way into the dining-room, Iseated myself before her. With lowered eyes and modest mien I was, ofcourse, waiting for her to speak first. I did not wait long. Hervoice, concise and direct, rapped out: 'So you require a cook-general?'
'Yes—er—please,' I murmured. Under her searching gaze my kneestrembled, my pulses throbbed, a slight perspiration broke out on myforehead. My whole being seemed to centre itself in the mute inquiry:'Shall I suit?'
There was a pause while the applicant placed her heavy guns. Then sheopened fire immediately. 'I suppose you have outside daily help?'
'Er—no,' I confessed.
'Then you have a boy to do the windows, knives and boots?'
'Do you send everything to the laundry?'
'Well … no … not quite.' I wanted to explain, to modify, tospeak airily of woollens being 'just rubbed through,' but she hurriedme forward.
'Have you a hot water circulator?'
'A gas cooking-range?'
It was terrible. I seemed to have nothing. I stood, as it were, nakedto the world, bereft of a single inducement to hold out to the girl.
'Do you dine late?'
At this point, when I longed to answer 'No,' I was compelled to say'Yes.' That decided her. She rose at once and moved towards the door.'I'm afraid your situation won't do for me,' she remarked.
That was all she said. She was perfectly dignified about it. Much asshe obviously condemned me, there was no noisy recrimination, noviolent vituperative outburst on her part. I followed in her wake tothe door. Even at the eleventh hour I hoped for a respite. 'Couldn'tsomething be arranged?' I faltered as my gaze wandered hungrily overher capable-looking form. 'We might get you a gas-cooker—and allthat.'
Do not condemn me. Remember that my will had been weakened byhousework; six months of doing my own washing-up had brought me to myknees. I was ready to agree to any terms that were offered me. Theapplicant shook her head. There were too many obstacles in the way,too many radical changes necessary before the place could be madesuitable for her. I realized finality in her answer, 'No, nothink,'and closing the front door behind her, I returned to the study tobrood. I was still there, thinking bitterly, the shadows of theevening creeping around me, when Henry came in.
'Hallo,' he said gruffly. 'No signs of dinner yet? Do you know thetime?'
And only six months ago (before this story opens) he would haveembraced me tenderly when he came in and said, 'How is the littlewifie-pifie to-night? I hope it hasn't been worrying its fluffy littlehead with writing and making its hubby-wubby anxious?'
Perhaps you prefer Henry in the former role. Frankly, I did not. 'Youneedn't be so impatient,' I retorted. 'I expect you've gorged yourselfon a good lunch in town. Anyhow, it won't take long to get dinner, aswe're having tinned soup and eggs.'
'Oh, damn eggs,' said Henry. 'I'm sick of the sight of 'em.'
You can see for yourself how unrestrained we were getting. The thinveneer of civilization (thinner than ever when Henry is hungry) wasfast wearing into holes. There was a pause, and then I coldlyremarked: 'You didn't kiss me when you came in.'
It was a custom to which I was determined to cling with grimresolution. If I allowed his treatment of me to become too casual wemight continue to drift apart even when we had some one to do thewashing-up.
Henry came over to me and bestowed a labial salute. It is the onlyadequate description I can give of the performance. Then I went to thekitchen and got out the cookery-book.
It is a remarkable thing that I am never able to cook anything withoutthe aid of the book. Even if I prepare the same dish seven times aweek I must have the printed instructions constantly before me, or I amlost. This is especially strange, because I have a retentive memoryfor other things. My mind is crammed with odd facts retained fromcasual reading. If you asked me, the date of the Tai-ping Rebellion(though you're not likely to) I could tell you at once that itoriginated in 1850 and was not suppressed until 1864, for I rememberreading about it in a dentist's waiting-room when I was fifteen. Yetalthough I prepared scrambled eggs one hundred times in six months(Henry said it was much oftener than that) I had to pore over theinstructions as earnestly when doing my 'century' as on the firstoccasion.
The subsequent meal was taken in silence. The hay-fever from which Iam prone to suffer at all seasons of the year was particularlypersistent that evening. A rising irritability, engendered by leatheryeggs and fostered by Henry's expression, was taking possession of me.Quite suddenly I discovered that the way