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I’m reading “The Set of Poe”, a 1903 short story by George Ade. The context: Mr. Waterby wanted to buy a set of Poe, but his wife didn’t like that idea and advised him not to buy. He were upset and started to think bad of his wife. In the end, she didn’t let him buy his favorite set since she had bought it already (as a Christmas present).

Such a nice story, unfortunately, I don’t understand the meaning of this paragraph:

“I was determined not to ask you for any money to pay for your own presents," Mrs. Waterby continued. “Do you know I had to save for you and the children out of my regular allowance. Why, last week I nearly starved you and you never noticed it as I was afraid you would."

Mr. Waterby’s wife said to him that she saved money to buy presents for her children and her husband. But I don’t know where did she get that money? From fixed sum for household expenses or her own money? More confusing, she said “Why, last week I nearly starved you”.

In the story, there’s no mention that the wife has a job, it only said that:

“Mr. Waterby had tried to be an indulgent husband. He took a selfish pleasure in giving, and found it more blessed than receiving. Every salary day he turned over to Mrs. Waterby a fixed sum for household expenses. He added to this an allowance for her spending money. He set aside a small amount for his personal expenses and deposited the remainder in the bank. He flattered himself that he approximated the model husband.”

Well, as far I can understand, the wife has a fixed money for household expenses, and an amount of money for her own spending. I don't know much about 1903 living condition or society. It really hard to figure out.

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I had to save for you and the children out of my regular allowance. Why, last week I nearly starved you and you never noticed it as I was afraid you would."

The text is from 1903 and does not say anything that she has a job, so we can assume that she is a housewife.

Her husband regularly gives her a fixed sum for the household expenses and some money she can spend for herself. But I think we can assume that this sum more or less covers only the necessary expenses, as he wants to save some money on the bank, too.

Christmas is coming, and she wants to buy gifts for him and the children. She has two possibilities: either ask her husband for more money than usual (which means that he has to pay for his own presents) or save some of the money he usually gives her. (Of course it is his money, too, but no extra expenses.) She chooses the second option.

Obviously, the "regular allowance" she gets for her own expenses is not enough to buy the gifts, so she has to cut the spendings for household expenses, too.

If she spends less for the household, she cannot buy as much food as usual. Less food means that her family members might starve and guess that she might have spent the money for something else instead.

And that's what she fears.

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