A Marriage Below Zero/Chapter VIII
My marriage was not a particularly interesting event from an anecdotal standpoint. My mother was far too precisely conventional to allow anything to interfere in the slightest with the rule laid down by that terrible tyrant in petticoats, Mrs. Grundy.
I was rather surprised that Arthur cared for the amount of publicity which I saw would attend the event, but he positively gloried in it. He seemed anxious to have his marriage recorded in the four corners of the globe. The feminine newspaper correspondents, who called to ask for the particulars of Miss Bouverie's bridal dress, Miss Bouverie's trousseau, and Miss Bouverie herself, I had strict injunctions from my betrothed to satisfy as far as possible.
My wedding morning was one in which novelists delight—plenty of sun, and a delightfully invigorating atmosphere. I was as happy as a bird. The prospect of freedom from the hateful society chains, which I felt would in a few years deprive me of my much prized liberty, added to the love which I felt for Arthur Ravener, were the causes of my bliss.
I was a dainty little bride in my white robes, but I still had the horrible feeling that I was not nearly as pretty as Arthur. The flush on his cheek, his full red lips, long eyelashes, and splendid complexion far surpassed my efforts in those directions. He was more noticed in the church than I was—by which you will perceive that my excitement did not prevent my powers of observation from having full play. Perhaps it was his beauty after all that gained for him the contempt of men. The sterner sex have their weaknesses, and we do not monopolize,—as they are so fond of asserting,—all the petty envy and spite in this world.
I saw all my old friends in the church. My "belongings" certainly out-numbered Arthur's. Two hideous old maiden aunts, one dilapidated uncle, and three lachrymose cousins constituted his force of relatives. I feel it is awful of me to allude in such terms to people who could now claim relationship with myself, but I do not intend to conceal anything from my readers.
A drowsy old minister, so well known that I suppose he thought that any exertion on his part was unnecessary, made us man and wife, and kept his gaze rivetted all the time on the bridesmaids, who imagined they were not paying proper attention on that account, and seemed at a loss to know what to do to get rid of his eyes.
How I should have enjoyed the wedding if it had been somebody else's. Letty and I, in a corner of the church, could have picked everybody to pieces and amused ourselves generally. I can even imagine what I should have said about myself, and I know I should have sworn that Arthur was rouged. My bridesmaids I should have revelled in criticising, because I thoroughly disliked every one of them. My mother had selected them, and I had nothing to do in the matter but submit.
Arthur seemed to be in a dream, from which he only awoke when the reverend gentleman put those extremely leading questions to him. His voice was hoarse as he answered. His hand trembled as he placed the wedding ring on my finger. His fingers were icily cold. Only once did be look at me. I fancied then that there war just a faint tinge of compassion in the glance. I met it with a proud smile. Ah! he little knew what a lucky girl I thought myself.
After the ceremony came a reception and breakfast, at which everybody I had ever seen seemed to be present. In the evening there was to be a ball, at which, of course, we were not to be present. I was glad for once to follow fashion's dictates. Early in the afternoon Arthur and I said good-bye to a few hundred people, and stepping into the carriage which was waiting for us, set out for Tavistock Villa.
As we rolled away from the metropolis towards our country home, I tried hard to direct my thoughts into those channels through which I felt they ought to flow. Here was I, a bride of a few hours, leaving home without a regret and without a reflection of "childhood's associations," the new life, and other pathetic subjects over which nineteenth century brides are popularly supposed to become sentimental. I must put it all down to the flippancy of my nature.
Arthur made no attempt to break the silence. If I was an unusual bride, certainly he was the most utterly unconventional bridegroom it was possible to imagine. His eyes were fixed dreamily upon two little fleecy clouds which were floating about artlessly above us. He could not have looked more hopelessly subdued if he had been sitting in a funeral coach, and going to bury a friend. I suppose my glance aroused him.
"Are you enjoying this ride, Elsie?" he asked, kindly.
"Yes," I answered, noting his effort to amuse me, and feeling grateful to him for it. "I sup pose," I said, laughing, "that all these people would be staring at us if they knew we were bride and bridegroom. They take us for brother and sister, undoubtedly."
"Or an old married couple," he added, smiling.
"I wonder if we ever shall be old commonplace people," I went on happily. "Imagine us fifty years from now, Arthur—you a nice reminiscent old man with white hair (you see I decline to think of you as cross and crotchety), sitting on one side of the fire, and I, a talkative old body, having outlived every weakness but that furnished by the tongue, which no woman could outlive if she were a female Methuselah."
Arthur laughed, and seemed for the first time since I had known him to be perfectly at his ease. I put my hand ("my little gloved hand," as my friends the novelists would say) on his arm. He might have squeezed it if he had chosen. I am quite sure I should not have objected, except perhaps by a little maidenly coyness, which does not amount to very much. Arthur, however, took no notice whatever of my innocent little band. Indeed, by a movement he made as if to look out of the carriage window, he contrived to shake h 1 off. This I did not notice at the time, but as I have since become accustomed to think and brood over every little incident of those days, I have remembered it.
After that we talked merrily for the remainder of the ride. I was determined that I would start my married life with mirth. Men hate miserable, doleful women. Nine out of ten of them would sooner have an ugly wife who laughed than a pretty one who cried. Now I resolved that Arthur Ravener should have a wife who was both pretty and jolly. So I was as lively as I could be.
Tavistock Villa came into sight all too soon. It was a pretty red brick house, which I shall not attempt to describe. I am an utter failure from an architectural standpoint, and only know two things in that line: that some houses are Go tire and some are not. The house had been the gift of my mother, and it had been furnished by my husband. We went in.
I was loud in my admiration of his taste as soon as we had passed the front door. Every article of furniture seemed to have been selected with excellent judgment. I will not weary my readers with a description of tables and chairs and carpets, which have nothing to do with my story.
"Here are your rooms, Elsie," said Arthur, opening the door of an exquisite little boudoir, "and you can be as completely alone here as though you were Robinson Crusoe on the desert island."
"I shall not want to be alone very often, dear," I said, gushingly.
"I have a couple of rooms on the other side of the house fitted up for myself, to smoke and write in," he went on, rather hesitatingly, paying no attention to my pretty little speech. "You nee I do a little literary work, and I—I—do not want to be disturbed."
"You shall not be disturbed, Arthur," I said, dutifully. "Let me go and inspect your rooms, please."
He looked annoyed. "They are in great disorder, Elsie," he said, "and I don't think you had better venture into them."
"I feel a wifely interest in them, dear," I pleaded with a smile.
"Not now," he said hastily.
"I believe you're a Bluebeard, Arthur, and that the bodies of a dozen preceding Mrs. Ravener's lie festering in that room. I shall wait until you go out, like the last and surviving Mrs. Bluebeard did, and then make a voyage of exploration."
"You will not be repaid for your trouble," he said, smiling. But he was vexed. I could see it.
"I don't see why your rooms are at one side of the house and mine at the other, Arthur," I said. "It's very unsociable, I am sure."
"Nonsense," was my husband's testy response. " Every man ought to have a den of his own, in which he can smoke, or read, or write."
"I know it," was my prompt rejoinder, "but, though it is an odious thing to say, I could have permitted you to smoke in my boudoir."
"You are not your mother's daughter," he said, laughing rather uneasily.
Arthur then introduced me to a young French girl, whom he had engaged as my maid. Marie was certainly a pretty woman, not a bit Gallic to look at. She had honest gray eyes, an excellent complexion, and brown hair. I liked her appearance and thanked Arthur for his thoughtfulness. Since I had entered Tavistock Villa I had seen nothing but evidences of his earnest desire to make my life there pleasant. When we had finished inspecting our new home, or rather, when I had come to the end of my gushing superlatives, and his services as guide were no longer required, we decided to take a stroll through the pretty Kew roads, and return in time for dinner. He led the way and I followed. Down the dusty, charming little lanes we went, talking all the time, and laughing frequently. I had never known Arthur so entertaining as he was that afternoon. He told me stories of his school days, of his dead father and mother, of his musical studies, and of all his old friends. I was not obliged to catechize him. He talked freely and seemed to enjoy it.
That was a delightful afternoon. I shall always remember it. I can see the delicious little town as I saw it before it became hateful to me. I can recollect my first impressions of the sunny thoroughfares, the lovely gardens, and the comfortable, unpretentious houses.
It was dark when we turned back. I was rather tired. The day had been somewhat fatiguing. It is rather an unusual event in one's life to be married. Arthur might have offered me his arm, I thought. But he made no attempt to do so as I walked by his side. We found dinner awaiting us. It was a very elaborate meal, with I don't know how many courses. I seemed to have come to the end of my good spirits. I did not feel inclined to talk, and as Arthur appeared to be wrapped in his own thoughts (not agreeable ones, either, if I can judge from his face) silence prevailed. It seemed strange to be sitting there at dinner with him. I felt rather sorry that he had objected to the honeymoon; I really began to wonder, now that I had seen Kew, how we could possibly amuse ourselves there for any length of time. I wondered more for his sake than for my own, as I know that to men variety is always charming.
"Elsie," said Arthur, breaking the silence at last, "do you think, dear, that you could get along without me this evening. You have Marie—and—and I must run up to town?"
My husband was very intently regarding the walnuts on his plate as he asked this question—very intently indeed.
"Of course, Arthur," I replied, quickly, 'if you must leave me, go by all means. I would not like to interfere with any of your business arrangements, or—"
"You are a good little woman," he said, but he did not look into my face and thank me for what I really considered a sacrifice. I thought it was rather strange that he should be obliged to go up to London so soon. Surely he could have transacted any business he might have had before we started, though as Arthur was "a gentleman" (in the language of the directory) I was at a loss to imagine what business could call him away, and surely the poorest commercial drudge took a holiday and devoted the first week at least of his married life, exclusively to his wife. However, there might be a hundred reasons for his departure, and I had no doubt that when I had earned the right to know what they were, he would permit me to do so.
"I may be rather late, Elsie," he said hastily, "but do not worry." He left the room a few moments later, and returned overcoated and ready to start.
"Amuse yourself, Elsie," he said. "Do anything you like, and try not to be homesick. Good-bye, dear."
He was leaving without kissing me. Though I had protested so often that I would not tolerate a demonstrative husband, Arthur's conduct seemed so strange, that a feeling of resentment came over me. I did not look up.
"Good-bye, Elsie," repeated my husband, uneasily approaching me. "What is the matter?"
He started for the door, and the next instant I was after him. "Arthur," I cried impulsively, "you shall not go from me in that way, even if you intend being away only half-an-hour. Kiss me."
He bent forward and touched my lips with his, so coldly and undemonstratively, that I shrank back, and looked at him in surprise. I felt chilled. "Come back early," I said, returning to the room hastily, anxious to be away from him. I decided that I would go to my boudoir, so calling Marie to keep me company, we went upstairs to that cosy little apartment.
I had a long evening before me and the prospect was not a lively one. I could not feel at home in Tavistock Villa, which a few hours ago I had never even seen. It seemed to me that Arthur ought to have stayed with me, no matter what sacrifice he made. I knew very little about brides and bridegrooms beyond what I had read in novels, nine-tenths of which either ended with a couples' engagement, or began, in early married life.
I went to the drawing-room and tried the piano, but somehow I could derive no amusement from it. I glanced at a couple of books, but their unreality disgusted me. The heroine in one of them was sentimental to idiocy, with a flower-like face and violet eyes, while the principal character in the other was a hoyden with whom I could find no sympathy. I went back to my boudoir. It was delightfully comfortable. I installed myself in an easy-chair, made Marie sit opposite, poor girl, and then closed my eyes.
"Is it that Madame is recently married?" asked Marie presently, more, I felt convinced, to break a silence that was becoming oppressive than from any real interest in me or my belongings.
"Did you not know that we were married this morning, Marie?" I demanded rather sharply.
"Comment!" She was interested now to such an extent that the exclamation she uttered was in her own language. "You were married this morning—to-day?"—with incredulity.
"Certainly," said I. "When my husband engaged you did he not tell you that he was about to be married?"
"No, Madame," replied Marie. "When I called regarding the advertisement he told me I was to be maid to his wife. In consequence I thought you were long married. But, Madame, pardon me, if you were married to-day, why is it that Monsieur leaves you so soon alone?"
"Why not?" I was furious with her and would have given a sovereign for the privilege of administering a sharp slap. I could not answer her question. I knew of no answer. It was evident, however, from her unfeigned surprise that Arthur had done a very unusual thing when he Left me alone on my wedding-day. My instinct told me that he was entirely in the wrong. Marie, however, had confirmed this hardly admitted view. She sat with her mouth slightly open, staring at me in such unpleasant surprise that I was forced to turn my face away.
"You are very rude, Marie," I said at last, desperately angry at the girl's stupidly apparent astonishment. "Don't you know that it is the height of impoliteness to stare at anybody like that? I am surprised at you, a Frenchwoman, behaving in such a manner."
It did me good to manifest a little surprise on my own account. I saw no reason why she should be permitted to monopolize it all.
"Madame will excuse me," said the girl quickly. "I am not yet entirely used to English customs. It seemed so droll to me that a bridegroom should leave his bride—Madame will pardon me."
I rose and paced up and down the room. What a fool I was to worry myself about such trifles Arthur had shown nothing but the most delicate consideration for me up to the present, and yet because he asked my permission to absent himself for a few hours on our wedding-day, I worked myself up into a state of nervous excitement on the ground that the proceeding happened to be a little unusual. Pshaw! what nonsense. Had we not a whole lifetime to spend together? How could I be so ridiculous? "Ha! Ha! Ha!" I burst out laughing. Poor Marie must have experienced another surprise concerning English customs. She looked up, her gray eyes round as saucers.
"Is Madame ill?"
"Fiddlesticks!" I exclaimed, with unpardonable inelegance. "Let us come into the drawing-room, and I will teach you how we waltz over here."
Alas! with all the efforts I made, the time dragged horribly. It was now midnight, and there had been nothing to break the monotony of the evening. I wondered what they were doing at home. Dancing, of course, for my sake. The ball was now at its height, and my mother was in a state of dignified ecstasy. Marie sat in a low armchair, yawning. She tried to yawn gracefully, I am sure, but it was quite impossible.
"Go to bed, Marie," I said, peremptorily, at one o'clock.
"I will wait with Madame," was the reply.
And again we sat down to the contemplation of each other's charms. How lonely it was! We made a round of the house and saw that everything had been properly secured for the night, simply because I felt so nervous that I could not sit there inactive. I will not attempt to describe all the weird noises we heard, because everybody who has sat up in the early hours of the morning knows exactly what they are. At three o'clock I started violently. I think I must have been asleep. The striking of the clock in the hall aroused me.
"Marie," I said a few minutes later, "I am going to bed. My husband will not be back to-night, that is very sure. I will wait no longer. Good-night."
To my surprise Marie kissed me. I remember hoping that she did not intend to do so every night. I hated affectionate people as I have already said often enough. I was almost dead with fatigue. I went to my room, undressed quickly, and was soon in a deep, dreamless sleep, from which I awoke when my watch told me it was ten o'clock, and the sun was dancing merrily over the daintily carpeted floor.