“Is Benis here, my dear?” asked Aunt Caroline opening the door. “Oh yes, I see that he is. Benis, you are wanted on the ’phone. If you would take my advice, which you never do, you would have an extension placed in this room. Then you could always just answer and save Olive a great deal of bother. Not that I think maids ought to mind being bothered. They never did in my time. But it would be quite simple for you, when you are writing here, to attend to the ’phone. Perhaps if the butcher heard a man’s voice occasionally he might be more respectful. I do not expect much of tradespeople, as you know, but if the butcher—”
“Is it the butcher who wishes to speak to me, Aunt?”
“Good gracious, no. It’s long distance. Why don’t you hurry? . . . Men have no idea of the value of time,” she added as the professor vanished. “My dear you must not let Benis overwork you. He doesn’t intend to be unkind, but men never think.”
Desire turned back to her papers as the door closed. But her manner was no longer brisk and business-like. There was a small, hot lump in her throat.
“It isn’t fair,” she thought passionately. “It’s all very well to talk, but it does make a difference—it does. If I’m not his secretary what am I?” A hot blush crimsoned her white skin and she stamped her foot. “I’m not his wife. I’m not! I’m not!” she said defiantly.
There was no one to contradict her. Even Yorick was silent. And, as contradiction is really necessary to belligerency, some of the fire died out of her stormy eyes. But it flared again as thought flung thought upon the embers.
“Wife!” How dared he use the word? And in that tone! A word that meant nothing to him. Nothing, save a cold, calm statement of claim. . . . Not that she wanted it to mean anything else. Had she not, herself, arranged a most satisfactory basis of coolness and calmness? (Reason insisted upon reminding her of this.) And a strict recognition of this basis was precisely what she wanted, of course. Only she wanted it as a secretary and not as a—not as anything else.
“What’s in a word?” asked Reason mildly. “Words mean only what you mean by them. Wife or secretary, if they mean the same—”
Desire flung her note-books viciously into a drawer and banged it shut.
Why did things insist upon changing anyway? She had been content— well, almost. She had not asked for more than she had. Why, then, should a cross-grained fate insist upon her getting less? Since yesterday she had not troubled even about Mary. Her self-ridicule at the absurdity of her mistake regarding Dr. Rogers’ pretty nurse had had a salutary effect. And now—just when everything promised so well (self-pity began to cool the hot lump in her throat). And just when she had made up her mind that, however small her portion of her husband’s thought might be, it would be enough—well, almost enough--