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“Couldn't we DO something?” she said.
“I don't know. Couldn't we perhaps go away from here soon—and walk in the mountains—on our way home.”
I thought. “There seems to be no exercise at all in this place.”
“Isn't there some walk?”
“I wonder,” I answered. “We might walk to Chioggia perhaps, along the Lido.” And we tried that, but the long stretch of beach fatigued Margaret's back, and gave her blisters, and we never got beyond Malamocco....
A day or so after we went out to those pleasant black-robed, bearded Armenians in their monastery at Saint Lazzaro, and returned towards sundown. We fell into silence. “PIU LENTO,” said Margaret to the gondolier, and released my accumulated resolution.
“Let us go back to London,” I said abruptly.
Margaret looked at me with surprised blue eyes.
“This is beautiful beyond measure, you know,” I said, sticking to my point, “but I have work to do.”
She was silent for some seconds. “I had forgotten,” she said.
“So had I,” I sympathised, and took her hand. “Suddenly I have remembered.”
She remained quite still. “There is so much to be done,” I said, almost apologetically.
She looked long away from me across the lagoon and at last sighed, like one who has drunk deeply, and turned to me.
“I suppose one ought not to be so happy,” she said. “Everything has been so beautiful and so simple and splendid. And clean. It has been just With You—the time of my life. It's a pity such things must end. But the world is calling you, dear.... I ought not to have forgotten it. I thought you were resting—and thinking. But if you are rested.—Would you like us to start to-morrow?”
She looked at once so fragile and so devoted that on the spur of the moment I relented, and we stayed in Venice four more days.
Margaret had already taken a little house in Radnor Square, Westminster, before our marriage, a house that seemed particularly adaptable to our needs as public-spirited efficients; it had been very pleasantly painted and papered under Margaret's instructions, white paint and clean open purples and green predominating, and now we set to work at once upon the interesting business of arranging and—with our Venetian glass as a beginning—furnishing it. We had been fairly fortunate with our wedding presents, and for the most part it was open to us to choose just exactly what we would have and just precisely where we would put it.
Margaret had a sense of form and colour altogether superior to mine, and so quite apart from the fact that it was her money equipped us, I stood aside from all these matters and obeyed her summons to a consultation only to endorse her judgment very readily. Until everything was settled I went every day to my old rooms in Vincent Square and worked at a series of papers that were originally intended for the FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW, the papers that afterwards became my fourth book, “New Aspects of Liberalism.”
I still remember as delightful most of the circumstances of getting into 79, Radnor Square. The thin flavour of indecision about Margaret disappeared altogether in a shop; she had the precisest ideas of what she wanted, and the devices of the salesman did not sway her. It was very pleasant to find her taking things out of my hands with a certain masterfulness, and showing the distinctest determination to make a house in which I should be able to work in that great project of “doing something for the world.”
“And I do want to make things pretty about us,” she said. “You don't think it wrong to have things pretty?”
“I want them so.”
“Altiora has things hard.”
“Altiora,” I answered, “takes a pride in standing ugly and uncomfortable things. But I don't see that they help her. Anyhow they won't help me.”
So Margaret went to the best shops and got everything very simple and very good. She bought some pictures very well indeed; there was a little Sussex landscape, full of wind and sunshine, by Nicholson, for my study, that hit my taste far better than if I had gone out to get some such expression for myself.
“We will buy a picture just now and then,” she said, “sometimes—when we see one.”
I would come back through the January mire or fog from Vincent Square to the door of 79, and reach it at last with a quite childish appreciation of the fact that its solid Georgian proportions and its fine brass furnishings belonged to MY home; I would use my latchkey and discover Margaret in the warm-lit, spacious hall with a partially opened packing-case, fatigued but happy, or go up to have tea with her out of the right tea things, “come at last,” or be told to notice what was fresh there. It wasn't simply that I had never had a house before, but I had really never been, except in the most transitory way, in any house that was nearly so delightful as mine promised to be. Everything was fresh and bright, and softly and harmoniously toned. Downstairs we had a green dining-room with gleaming silver, dark oak, and English colour-prints; above was a large drawing-room that could be made still larger by throwing open folding doors, and it was all carefully done in greys and blues, for the most part with real Sheraton supplemented by Sheraton so skilfully imitated by an expert Margaret had discovered as to be indistinguishable except to a minute scrutiny. And for me, above this and next to my bedroom, there was a roomy study, with specially thick stair-carpet outside and thick carpets in the bedroom overhead and a big old desk for me to sit at and work between fire and window, and another desk specially made for me by that expert if I chose to stand and write, and open bookshelves and bookcases and every sort of convenient fitting. There were electric heaters beside the open fire, and everything was put for me to make tea at any time—electric kettle, infuser, biscuits and fresh butter, so that I could get up and work at any hour of the day or night. I could do no work in this apartment for a long time, I was so interested in the perfection of its arrangements. And when I brought in my books and papers from Vincent Square, Margaret seized upon all the really shabby volumes and had them re-bound in a fine official-looking leather.
I can remember sitting down at that desk and looking round me and feeling with a queer effect of surprise that after all even a place in the Cabinet, though infinitely remote, was nevertheless in the same large world with these fine and quietly expensive things.