A Marriage Below Zero/Chapter VII
Arthur was very anxious that our engagement should be a short one. My mother would have been perfectly satisfied to have escorted me to the altar on the day following our betrothal, if fashion had established any precedent for such a course. But no, she could not remember any respectable folks marrying after an engagement of less than three months.
"People might talk," she said, and I knew that settled it. There was no more awful possibility. An earthquake would have been pleasant, and a conflagration merely an episode in comparison.
"I don't see why Arthur is in such a hurry," she went on. "Really, you have given him no cause for jealousy; your conduct is always irreproachable. In fact if I were a man I should run a mile to avoid you. I have often thought that your manners must be far from attractive to the other sex."
"I am sure I am very pleased that it is all going to end so happily, but I cannot consent to your marriage in less than three months. No such case can I remember, except, of course, that of Lady Stitzleton's daughter, which is too shocking for me to discuss with you. Tell Arthur he must wait for three months. I can't for the life of me understand his hurry. You will excuse me for saying it, Elsie, but I confess he does not seem to be particularly—"
"Tender, do you mean, mother?"
"Épris is an excellent word to use in this case," said my parent. "If you cannot understand it, however, you can substitute tender. Of course I know that it is very bad form to make any demonstrations in society, but when alone, a little effusiveness is entirely pardonable. You and Arthur were in the library together for a few minutes the other night—perfectly proper of course. As I happened to pass the room, I looked in, prompted of course by my motherly interest. You were at one end of the room, he at the other, and I—"
"Never mind," I said hastily, reddening with vexation. "It shall be as you say—three months."
I stalked from the room thoroughly annoyed. I did not dare to ask myself the cause of my ill temper. Demonstrations of affection I had frequently declared disgusted me, and I had engaged myself to a man who confessed that he thought as I did. I had no reason to complain of Arthur. His behavior toward me had not changed in the slightest since our engagement. He had not attempted to avail himself of the privileges which books on etiquette (I had glanced through them) accord to engaged couples. He had never kissed me, nor hinted at the slightest inclination to do so.
I loved Arthur Ravener, I was proud of the prospect of becoming his wife; but—lest my future history be considered inconsistent with that which I have already related—I will frankly admit, at the risk of being called a contemptible humbug, that I should not have objected in the least if Arthur had been just a trifle less glacial. I admit that now; I made no such admission at the time. I only felt a little discontented, and mentally changed the subject when there was any probability of my discovering the reason of my dissatisfaction.
The news of our engagement soon spread. Shall I be considered egotistical if I say that the men who had previously—so it seemed to me—looked down upon Arthur Ravener, now appeared anxious to know him, and apologetically anxious, too? They had evidently more respect for Elsie Bouverie's affianced husband, than for Captain Dillington's bosom friend. It was rather inexplicable to me, but I was pleased nevertheless.
Arthur was a constant visitor at our house. He never brought Captain Dillington with him. Indeed he always seemed to be so embarrassed when I asked him to do so, that I at last desisted. It was no desire to know the Captain better that prompted me to invite him to join us. He repelled me as no one either before or since has done. But I knew he was my future husband's boon companion, so was perfectly willing to sink my prejudices. I also thought as there was nobody but a blind old bat of a housekeeper in the flat which they had furnished, and in which they lived, that Captain Dillington must feel rather lonely when Arthur was away. Arthur was a very thoughtful young man. He never stayed very late at our house. Although he did not say so, I was convinced that he did not care to leave his friend alone too long. Such consideration for another pleased me. Had I not every right to reason, by analogy, that when I was his wife, he would show me the same devotion?
I thoroughly dreaded the day when I had to tell Letty Bishop of my engagement. I felt that she would be a wet blanket of the most distressing type, and—somehow or other—I want ed to steer as clear of wet blankets as possible. I was agreeably surprised to find that Letty gave my "news" very little attention, for the simple reason that she had similar information to impart. Yes, Letty was engaged. I had known her betrothed for some time, and had included him in the ranks of the men I despised. He was a butterfly. He admired every girl he met, or seemed to do so. However, if Letty was satisfied with him, why, so was I. I was glad to listen to all she had to say about him, as by doing so, I gave her no opportunity to make unpleasant remarks concerning Arthur Ravener. She hoped I would be happy, and laughingly begged me not to hold her responsible for the match. She talked a great deal of nonsense about her Reginald, and I could not get interested. They were evidently a conventionally gushing couple.
"Arthur," said I, that night, adopting my favorite would-be jaunty air, "what will become of Captain Dillington while we are on our honeymoon; there are such a number of places I want to visit, and I'm not going to be hurried." Arthur reddened painfully, and then averted his face. "I was thinking, Elsie," he said with a sickly smile, "that we would abolish that old-fashioned notion of honeymooning, and go immediately after the wedding to your house in Kew."
My mother had presented me with a delightful little villa near Kew Gardens, and it was settled that we were to live there during the first year of our wedded life at any rate. But I could not believe that we were to domesticate ourselves on our wedding day.
"You-are joking, Arthur," I said weakly.
"I don't see why," shuffling uneasily on his chair. "I think traveling is an abomination, and, really, you know, honeymoons are not fashionable. Are you—are you" (very anxiously) "very desirous of going out of town?"
"I don't care particularly," I said with magnanimity. "I took it for granted that we should make a trip. I would have preferred it; but, of course, if you would sooner not—"
"What is that, Elsie?"
Enter my maternal parent at an inopportune moment, as usual. She saw we were engaged in discussion and I felt she was anxious to assist us.
"Arthur does not want to take a wedding trip, mother," I said, "and I was telling him that I had been reckoning upon one."
"It is out of fashion, Mrs. Bouverie," remarked Mr. Ravener, looking with appealing eyes at the arbitrator. "I am sure you will agree with me that it is. No one is better acquainted with the usages of society than you are" (deferentially).
Oh, the hypocrite! I knew she would succumb to that, and so did he. If it had not been for that disgustingly polite speech, I felt that she would have decided in favor of the trip, as she had already confided to my care a list of commissions which I was to execute for her in Paris.
"You are right, Arthur," she said, promptly. "Honeymoons are becoming obsolete in the best society. There is something extremely bourgeois about them to my mind." There was not the faintest remembrance of the commissions in her tone. Her foible had been touched. Arthur was triumphant, but he looked rather doubtfully at me. He evidently did not want me to think that he was positively averse to a honeymoon.
"Where do you propose going after the wedding?" asked mamma.
"To Tavistock Villa, Kew." was his rejoinder.
"Of course you will not receive for several months?"
"Oh, no—no—," impatiently, "we shall remain in retirement, and see none but—but the immediate family, and—and intimate friends."
Well, I must let Arthur settle such matters, I thought. After all, perhaps he was right. Honeymoons must have distinctly unpleasant features. Traveling was a nuisance, and with the best of intentions, and the largest purse, it was impossible to obtain home comforts at continental hotels, I had heard. When I told Letty Bishop that we had decided to abolish the honeymoon, she opened her eyes in surprise. Was such a thing possible? Surely Arthur Ravener was even more eccentric than she had originally supposed, and she had given him credit for a considerable portion of eccentricity. What! Settle down to common-place matrimony, and receive the butcher, the baker and the greengrocer in the first week of married life! What could he mean?
"Don't be absurd, Letty" I said fretfully, in reply to this outburst. "It was my idea and not his." (There was a whopper, but I felt I must do something desperate.) "I dislike traveling, and I am convinced that we should quarrel before we reached Paris. And then, my dear," faintly "I should not care for my husband to see me—seasick." (That was an inspiration.)
"Well, Elsie, I suppose you know best what you like. It looks queer, though. Honeymoons may not be fashionable in the very, very highest society; but, my dear, you don't belong to the very, very highest society."
"Don't dare to say that to my mother," I cried, "or she would kill you in her frenzied indignation."
I tried to believe that I was satisfied, but I was not. With all my superiority, I was disappointed.