A Marriage Below Zero/Chapter IX
I felt thoroughly good-natured, and was determined to be as smilingly gracious as I possibly could when I met my eccentric husband. Of course I should not even allude to his most unaccountable behavior, but I had no doubt at all that he would be utterly repentant, and that his remorse would even go so far as to melt the ice of his manners.
I selected one of the nattiest little morning dresses that my trousseau contained. It was one of those charmingly devised costumes that would render the most hideous woman acceptable. Now, I was not hideous by any means, and when I took a final look at myself before descending, I had never appeared more comely, I thought. In spite of my early morning vigil, the roses bloomed becomingly on my cheeks, and my eyes sparkled with health.
Down the broad staircase I sailed. I was Mrs Arthur Ravener now, so it would not do to "trip." Matrons sail. That term has a very dignified sound in my ears. Before entering the breakfast-room, I peeped coyly in. Yes, there sat my husband, deep in a newspaper. He had already begun breakfast, and must have poured out his coffee, and buttered his toast with his own manly fingers. I walked in.
"Good-morning, Arthur," I said, coquettishly, taking my seat at the head of the table. Perhaps I had better confess that I felt a little nervous.
"You are late, Elsie," remarked my husband, laying down his paper. "I thought I would take the initiative and begin breakfast. I hope you do not think it impolite on my part?"
"Not a bit, I shall soon catch you up. I'm as hungry as a hunter. This Kew air seems to be invigorating."
In reality I had no appetite at all. The thought of breakfast sickened me, but I was determined, with all the perversity of my sex, that he should not know it.
"I am glad of that, Elsie," said Arthur, smiling at me kindly. He rose, poured me out a cup of coffee, buttered a slice of toast for me, helped me to some cold partridge, and went back to his seat. He had looked just a trifle uneasy, I fancied, when I entered, but he had now completely recovered. The awful idea occurred to me that he would make no comments whatever on his absence last night. As I had always heard that between husband and wife there should be complete confidence, I resolved that I would do violence to my feelings and broach the subject, as a matter of principle, if for no other reason I did not want abject apologies, but I was not going to be treated with such sublime disrespect.
"Will you have half my newspaper, Elsie?" asked Arthur, as I sat silently devouring my partridge, with all my good temper rapidly vanishing.
"Thank you." He handed me a couple of sheets.
"They have given a splendid account of the wedding," he said, "and I suppose that all England knows about it now."
"Why are you so anxious for all England to be informed that you are a Benedict?" I enquired scornfully.
He reddened and made no reply. I glanced carelessly through the half column of silly gush, learned that I had made a very interesting bride, and noticed some very flattering allusions to my husband. "After the reception," I read aloud, "the bride and bridegroom left for Kew, where they will spend the honeymoon in their handsome home, Tavistock Villa." "They might have added," I said, laying down the paper and trying to speak indifferently, "that the bridegroom returned to London early in the evening, and was back in Kew again in time for breakfast."
I leaned forward in my chair to enjoy the effect of my sarcasm.
"Don't be foolish, Elsie," said my husband, from behind his newspaper, "I told you I was obliged to go up to London, and I know you are too sensible a little woman to stand in my way in a case like that."
"Stand in your way!" My cheeks were the color of peonies. I was horribly indignant.
"Elsie," said Arthur, "I don't want you to be vexed. You are very young, and—and—well, I am older. There was really no cause for you to worry last night. This house is as safe as a—a hank. Kew is a very quiet, respectable sort of place, and such things as burglars are almost unknown. I—I—was going to telegraph you that I was unable to return, but—but—"
"I was afraid a telegram might alarm you. Now, Elsie, there is not a soul who knows anything about this—this—this affair, and I would not talk about it."
"Talk about it?" I exclaimed in angry surprise. "With whom?"
"W-with anybody. With your mother, for example."
"Oh, no," I laughed satirically. "It would not interest her. I am not a gossip, Arthur. Our affairs can interest nobody but ourselves."
"You are a thoroughly sensible girl, Elsie," said Arthur, with what sounded like a little sigh of relief. "Now, hurry with your breakfast, dear, and I'll take you for a nice long drive, and we'll have luncheon out."
That restored my drooping spirits more than anything else could have done. I forgot all about my grievances. After all they were not very formidable. If I never had anything more to contend with during my life, I might think myself fortunate.
It was a glorious day and I was determined to enjoy myself. Arthur had a neat little phaeton waiting at the door, and into it we stepped. Arthur took the whip, and off we went at a delightful rate. How keenly invigorating the air was! I thought of Letty Bishop and remembered how she hated such drives. The bane of her life was a red nose, and she would have had an extremely conspicuous one had she been with us today. After a delicious drive of a couple of hours, we "put up" at a little hotel, and Arthur ordered a most tempting luncheon. What a blessing an appetite is! We were both hungry. The last vestige of my woes vanished as I found myself opposite to a plate of succulent natives. My good spirits must have been contagious. Arthur caught them, and was his own amiable, amusing self. He talked and laughed and told some excellent stories. I had never found myself with so agreeable a companion—and to think that he was my husband! What a senseless girl I had been to worry. I promised myself that for the future I would indulge in no more idiocy.
"Just think, Arthur," I said, as he dallied with some cheese (dallying with cheese is my own idea) and I made a combination of almonds and raisins, "Marie imagined we were old married people. You never told her that we were just married—you sly boy."
"Did you?" It was really very strange why Arthur should get so uncomfortable at my little innocent remarks.
"Of course I did. I don't propose to sail under false colors, as an antiquated dowager."
"What did Marie say?" with eagerness.
"She was very, very surprised. She thought you were so droll to go off to the City as you did. I was angry with her, and she said she was not accustomed to English habits." I spoke cheerfully; I had quite forgiven him.
My husband did not look pleased. "I do wish you would not chatter about me and my business, Elsie," he said with marked vexation. "If Marie makes any more impertinent remarks, send her away."
I said nothing. Arthur was an oddity—voilà tout, as my mother loved to remark. I must give way to him in a proper, wifely manner. I was resolved that "amiability, amiability, always amiability," should be my motto. So I cracked him three most inviting filberts and laid them as a peace offering on his plate.
"By-the-bye, Elsie," said my husband presently, as we were thinking about departing, "Captain Dillington is coming to dinner tonight,"
If he had given me a sound box on the ears I could not have been more disagreeably surprised. I lost all idea of keeping to the text of my motto. What did he mean by asking this man to our house, the day following our marriage? Why, my mother had told me that as we were not going on a wedding trip, we must live in retirement for a month. I had Fashion on my side, thank goodness.
"To-night!" I exclaimed aghast.
"It is not usual, Arthur. Why c-can't we have a nice 1-little dinner alone?"
"Nonsense. It is perfectly proper to ask one's parents and most intimate friends to the house, I am sure. Elsie, I cannot put Captain Dillington off. You—you do not want me to do so."
He appealed to me. What could I say! I felt that an untruth would be the only thing that would please him. If I told the truth it would be to the effect that I hated Captain Dillington at all times, and my hatred was, if possible, intensified, just now.
"No, no," I said, choking down a little sob, "don't put him off. When d-did you invite him, Arthur?"
"Oh, you saw him last night. D-did you meet him accidentally?"
"Elsie!" exclaimed Arthur fretfully, "don't catechize me. What makes you so cross? I want to amuse you. I am doing all I can to prevent you feeling in the least homesick. I am very, very anxious for you to be happy, and you look miserable because I ask my greatest friend to the house. Why you yourself said that our great friendship was a source of admiration to you. It first attracted your attention."
He spoke the truth. I had said all that and more. Of course I meant it. I did admire sincere friendship—but surely there was a limit to all things. His affection for Captain Dillington certainly need not interfere with his love for me. I was his wife after all. I would not argue, however. Captain Dillington was to come to dinner. So be it. I would reserve a careful analysis of my statements for a future occasion.
"I am foolish, Arthur," I said, rising. "Come, let us go home, and see that at any rate Captain Dillington will have something to eat."
He took my hand and pressed it lightly. His eyes looked into mine with gratitude clearly expressed in their depths. Yes, my self-sacrifice had its reward. I jumped at the crumbs he threw to me, and swallowed them ravenously. I could have digested more with perfect facility. We went back to Tavistock Villa. The drive home, however, was not very pleasant. The atmosphere seemed to be less invigorating. There were clouds in the sky. The horses were tired, and the dust, which the wheels of the phaeton sent up in columns, almost blinded me.
There were but few arrangements to make for the accommodation of our guest. I made myself charming in a dress of pale blue silk, and went down to the drawing-room. Captain Dillington was already there. He and Arthur stood with their backs to the door as I appeared. They were in earnest conversation, and did not even hear me enter.
"Good evening, Captain Dillington," I said affably, extending my hand.
"Ah, Mrs. Ravener—delighted I am sure." There was horrible unction in his greeting. Was I so blinded by prejudice that everything this man did simply nauseated my soul?
"I do sincerely hope that I am not intruding," he went on blandly. "I told Arthur—"
"Not at all," I said in the tones which a refrigerator would use if it could speak. "How are things in London?"
"You were there but yesterday," with a smile, as though he were determined that I should not forget this. "There is positively nothing new—positively nothing."
The announcement of dinner was a welcome sound in my ears. How heartily I wished before commencing it that it was over. It was not a very trying ordeal, however. My husband and Captain Dillington talked on a variety of subjects, and I did not feel it at all necessary, under the circumstances, to include myself in the conversation. I did not absolutely wish Captain Dillington to feel that his presence was unpleasant, but I likewise did not wish him to congratulate himself on the fact that it was pleasant.
After dinner I rose, and, leaving them to their own resources, went into the drawing-room. I played some of my beautiful "morceaux de salon," not because I liked them, but because it passed away the time and made a noise. I was not happy enough to indulge in any of the dainty little pieces in which I generally delighted when alone.
It was ten o'clock before they joined me. Captain Dillington congratulated me upon my "exquisite touchand said a few conventional things, after which the two men sat down to a game of chess.
What a wearisome parody of amusement chess is, in my opinion; I suppose I am not intellectual enough to appreciate it. I remember I once tried to learn it, but I never could remember how to move the pawns, and always called out "check" at the most ridiculously inopportune moments.
I sat in a low rocking chair and yawned desperately. I made no pretense of occupying ' myself with fancy work, which I despised most cordially.
I took up the Times and tried to get interested in the agony column. I wondered what it was that A. B. would hear of to his advantage if he communicated with Mr. Snipper of Lincoln's Inn Fields. I tried to imagine what a weight of woe would be lifted from the heart of Lottie L. when she read that all would be forgiven if she would only return to Jack D.
"You are tired, Elsie," said Arthur at last, pausing in an interesting move as I yawned in an ultra-outrageous manner.
"Very," I said.
Then he forgot that I was there.
At midnight they were still hard at it. My eyelids were closing with fatigue. I was raging inwardly (which ought to have kept me awake, but it did not).
At one o'clock I could stand it no longer. I rose from my chair and went towards the door.
"Good-night," I said, looking straight in front of me. If they replied, I did not hear them. I fled to my room.