Upon this cozy scene Conservation cast his gaunt shadow. It was in June, the year of America’s Great Step, that Emma, examining her household, pronounced it fattily degenerate, with complications, and performed upon it a severe and skilful surgical operation. Among the rest:
“One morning paper ought to be enough for any husband and wife who aren’t living on a Boffin basis. There’ll be one copy of the Times delivered at this house in the future, Mr. Buck. We might match pennies for it, mornings.”
It lay there on the hall table that first morning, an innocent oblong, its headlines staring up at them with inky eyes.
“Paper, T.A.,” she said, and handed it to him.
“You take it, dear.”
“Oh, no! No.”
She poured the coffee, trying to keep her gaze away from the tantalizing tail-end of the headline at whose first half she could only guess.
“By Jove, Emma! Listen to this! Pershing says if we have one m—”
“Stop right there! We’ve become pretty well acquainted in the last three years, T.A. But if you haven’t learned that if there’s one thing I can’t endure, it’s being fed across the table with scraps of the day’s news, I shall have to consider our marriage a failure.”
“Oh, very well. I merely thought you’d be—”
“I am. But there’s something about having it read to you—”
On the second morning Emma, hurriedly fastening the middle button of her blouse on her way downstairs, collided with her husband, who was shrugging himself into his coat. They continued their way downstairs with considerable dignity and pronounced leisure. The paper lay on the hall table. They reached for it. There was a moment—just the fraction of a minute—when each clutched a corner of it, eying the other grimly. Then both let go suddenly, as though the paper had burned their fingers. They stared at each other, surprise and horror in their gaze. The paper fell to the floor with a little slap. Both stooped for it, apologetically. Their heads bumped. They staggered back, semi-stunned.
Emma found herself laughing, rather wildly. Buck joined in after a moment—a rueful laugh. She was the first to recover.
“That settles it. I’m willing to eat trick bread and whale meat and drink sugarless coffee, but I draw the line at hating my husband for the price of a newspaper subscription. White paper may be scarce but so are husbands. It’s cheaper to get two newspapers than to set up two establishments.”
They were only two among many millions who, at that time, were playing an amusing and fashionable game called Win the War. They did not realize that the game was to develop into a grim and magnificently functioning business to whose demands they would cheerfully sacrifice all that they most treasured.