Mrs India Bridge 48

Each year on her birthday she was distressed by the extravagance of her husband’s gift. Invariably she protested to him, and meant it, but he was determined to give her costly presents and she could not dissuade him. Once he set his mind he was immovable. One year it had been the Lincoln, another year it was an ermine coat, another year it was a diamond necklace. She loved these things, to be sure, but she did not need them, and knew this quite well, and in spite of loving them she could not help being a little embarrassed by the opulence of her possessions. She was conscious of people on the street staring at her when, wrapped in ermine and driving the Lincoln, she started off to a party at the country club; she wanted to stop the car and explain to them that her husband was still at work in the office though it was nine in the evening, and that she had not asked for these expensive things but that he had given them to her for her birthday. But, of course, she could not stop to explain any more than she could stop people from staring.

This year, therefore, she was mildly surprised when her birthday arrived and all he said was that they were going to have dinner at the club. She supposed this was to be her gift. It was odd, considering the past, but she was not displeased; she was even a bit relieved.

And it came as an unforgettable shock when he remarked, slyly, pleased with himself, soon after they had been seated in the country-club dining room, that the two of them were leaving for Europe three weeks from Sunday. Mrs Bridge at first thought he was joking. He was not. And she learned that all her friends had known about the trip for the past month, but not one of them had so much as hinted about the surprise in store for her. The tickets were already bought and he had reserved hotel accommodations in the countries they were to visit. They would be gone, he told her, for about six weeks.

‘I feel giddy,’ said Mrs Bridge. ‘I never dreamed of anything like this.’

And when the waiter had taken their order Mr Bridge proceeded to tell her of the cities they would visit, and as he talked she stopped listening, because she could not help thinking of another evening when he had told of all he planned to do. He had said he would take her to Europe one day; she remembered having smiled at him fondly, not really believing, not caring, happy enough to be with him anywhere. How long ago, she thought, how very long ago that was! It seemed like eight or ten years ago, but it was more than twenty, and on this day she was forty-eight years old. She grew a little sad at this, and he talked on and on – he was more excited than she – she gazed out the window at the gathering clouds. And the distant thunder seemed to be warning her that one day this world she knew and loved would be annihilated.