SATURDAY NIGHT MARKETING
“It’s a new sentiment and perilously original," said Ione, one Saturday night as they stood on the step of their cottage; "but I don't think any two people were ever so happy as we are!"
Then Ione tried the handle to see if the door were really locked. Keith, with great content, was carrying the market-basket on his arm, while Ione, with a well-accustomed working housewife's air pocketed the key, and noted that the front window hasp was duly fastened.
"Now," said Ione to her husband, "just deliver up all the coppers. I can't have you tipping the tram conductors and butcher's salesmen as you did last Saturday. It's very bad for their morals. Besides which, they think we are rich, and overcharge us promptly. No, sir; you don't! Turn round and let me feel in your ticket pocket! There! I knew it! Reptile, you were concealing all of threepence-halfpenny from your legally married wife! Just think of the incalculable harm you might have done with that threepence-halfpenny! Ain't you shamed?"
They were going slowly riverwards as she talked. "Now," she continued, for Keith was too busy watching her to speak, too proud and happy also; "I think we shall get some lovely bargains along Paul's Road. I saw the loveliest scrubbing-brushes, only fivepence-farthing each for cash at a shop up near the World's End." So with little money in their pockets, but much happiness in their hearts, they went along the crowded bustling streets shoulder to shoulder like the good comrades they were.
"What nice inkstands!" cried Ione presently; "and what a lovely blotter! Why, it's only eleven-pence. Keith! I can't resist that! Your birthday is not for three months yet, but I tell you what, I’ll give you these and a fender for a birthday present."
"Thank you, dearest," said Keith meekly. "And while I think of it, I’ll buy you a pipe-rack, and a pound tin of ‘Golden Rose Mixture ' for your birthday! Then we shall be quits!"
"Do, dear," returned Ione promptly; "that will be so nice. I know a shop where they trade tobacco for beautiful toilet soap. Yes, and hairpins, or almost anything. And then, you know, there's always our dear Uncle just over the way!"
The woman in the brush shop was kind-hearted and sympathetic, and as they edged their way in between the serried walls of bright tin-plate kitchen utensils she smiled down on them, and exclaimed, "Out of the way, Johnny," to a grubby but happy child of three, who was playing with a sorely stricken go-cart or rather won't-go-cart) right in the fair-way of traffic.
Keith and Ione left the shop poorer by two shillings and threepence, but Keith's basket was heavier by a writing apparatus, a paint can, a ball of twine, a scrubbing brush, a paste-pot, and a pair of strong scissors.
Next they came to a part of the street which had been turned into an open-air market. Shop-men were standing at doors lighted by a strong flare of gas hissing and blowing above the glassless window. Each was vociferating more loudly than the other, and holding up pieces of rather purplish beef and dim-coloured suet.
“Prime beef, fourpence-halfpenny a pound! Cheaper than the beast can be bought for in Australy, ma'am! Going at an enormous sacrifice, it being Saturday night!"
"Don't look quite so hungry, Keith," said Ione; "or the man will certainly throw it at us as a present. And we are ever so much too high-toned for that! Besides, we are going to buy our Sunday beef farther on at a shop which does not advertise by human lung power, and which disposes of all its left-over stuff to a respectable cat's-meat man. There's going to be nothing second-class about us — now that Forgan has paid up."
So in due time they bought beef. They loaded their basket with vegetables. A turnip came next, then parsnips, and last of all, a delightful baby cauliflower.
"No; not onions, Keith," said Ione decisively. "Onion is — well — bad for the complexion, so, at least, I've always heard!"
At a large shop near the Albert Bridge they bought creamy curtains for the "orielette," as Ione persisted in calling the small bay window of their home, because it was not yet a grown-up oriel.
“No sage-green and dusty crimson for you and me, Keith," she said; "but plain lace curtains that fall straight down, only cream-coloured, because of the smuts! We are working-folk, and I'm going to have a working-man's window curtains."
The lace curtains were wrapped in paper and laid on top of the vegetables, it must be confessed, somewhat to Keith's secret relief.
Presently they turned homeward, the cries of the vendors echoing emptily after them. Keith had never felt so strong in his life, nor yet so happy. Even the Matterhorn, he thought, would scarcely be a breather to him now.
Presently they were attracted by a little crowd at a shop where silver plate sparkled at the window.
"Come on, Keith," his wife said, "let's look! As Seth would say, this is as good as a free lunch, with crackers. We can't afford to go to the theatre, so let us see all the sights we can for nothing."
It was indeed a marvellous exhibition for the district — plated spoons, no two the same; claret jugs, in a region which drank only beer; sugar tongs, where all used, in continental fashion, their fingers, or else contented themselves with brown sugar dug out of a paper-bag with a spoon.
Keith was specially attracted by a lemon-squeezer. It was most ingenious. He returned again and again to it, marvelling at the simplicity of its mechanism. He would have gone in and looked at it, but Ione waxed anxious for the remaining shillings in her purse.
"Better pay last quarter's rent and settle with the gas collector before you think of buying lemon-squeezers!" she said, loud enough for the little crowd about the window to hear. These all turned round and stared indignantly at the spendthrift husband who had made such a rash suggestion.
Keith stalked away from the window with a most haughty expression on his face, and Ione walked beside him in demure pretended penitence for having uttered such an unseemly speech.
But they made it up presently. At the dark part of Ely Street she took tight hold of his arm.
"Are you very cross?" she whispered; "you see I had to get you away, or you would have spent all my money. And you know we don't need to squeeze a lemon once a year."
When they were on their doorstep, she turned to her husband again.
“Keith, dear," she said, "I never was so happy in my life. I just didn't begin to know before what happiness meant!"
"Nor I," said Keith devoutly, setting down the market basket within the open door, and kissing his wife before they turned up the gas, which somehow gave it the flavour of stolen waters.
But Ione said to herself, "And there are still thirteen months like these two!"
First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.