A Marriage Below Zero/Chapter XI
For eight days Captain Dillington remained with us, a most unwelcome guest as far as I was concerned. He knew it, too, I suppose. I was too young to be able to dissemble. I disliked the man so thoroughly, that I made the fact only too apparent.
My interview with Arthur in the garden, however, had eased my mind considerably. I felt now that I could soon win my way to his heart, if I could only succeed in gaining his confidence. This, I reflected, must not be forced, but carefully and studiously worked for.
Captain Dillington's visit was a source of horrible discomfort to me. To be sure, while he was in the city during the daytime, Arthur took me for a " constitutional," but after dinner I was left entirely to my own resources and those of my faithful Marie, whom I was now beginning to appreciate more than I could have thought possible. The men sat down to their detestable game of chess, and long after midnight, at which time I left them, Marie informed me that they remained at the table. When I met them at breakfast, they were polite, amiable, talkative; they seemed to think that as long as they were satisfied, all was well.
How delighted I was when Captain Dillington at last informed me that he must return to London. I was so happy that I believe I favored him with a radiant smile, and oh, deceit! oh, hypocrisy!—hoped he would come again. I imagine he fully understood the frame of mind which induced the utterance of such a flagrantly improbable wish. I fancied I saw him bite his lips, though he merely bowed and thanked me.
"Arthur," I said, clasping my hands, while a flush of pleasure mantled my cheeks as Captain Dillington, with his valise and smile disappeared from our sight, "he has gone—at last."
Now, generally speaking, a fact that is so self-evident as the one which I had just mentioned, would need no further comment. Of course he had gone. We had seen him go. But under the circumstances it seemed to roe that Arthur might have said something. He stood with his eyes fixed upon the ground, making little circles in the smooth gravel with the point of his shoe.
"Arthur, dear," I continued, laying my hand with its conspicuous gold circletted finger on his arm, "I am so glad."
My husband did not look up. "What is your objection to Captain Dillington?" he asked. "I am sure he always treated you kindly—and no one could have been more polite."
"I am jealous of him, Arthur."
I got no further in my playful remark. "How dare you talk such nonsense!" he asked, passionately, turning upon me furiously and positively glaring at me. "Women are all the same, inconsistent, foolish, unstable as water. They do not know their own minds from one moment to another. I was wrong to believe you when you declared that you would never discountenance our friendship—that you admired it—that—pshaw! what a fool I was! Great heavens! that I should have been so deceived."
"Stop!" I exclaimed, my voice ringing out so loudly that it astonished me, though I was too indignant and alarmed to pay any attention to it. "You have no right to talk in that manner to me, and I will not permit it. Captain Dillington's presence in this house was an affront to me, and he knows it if you do not. I still say I admire friendship, but when it causes a man to treat his wife with complete indifference and as a necessary incumbrance in his house, I retract and declare that I despise it—despise it from the bottom of my heart."
I turned my back upon him in silent disgust—silent, because in my bitter indignation I could say no more. Heaven knows that these angry words were called forth by himself. I would willingly have forgiven the first week of neglect and indifference, if with Captain Dillington's departure, he had shown the least sympathy for me. But to champion the cause of that intruder and disregard mine—I was no saint. He had slapped one cheek, but I would take good care that he should not slap the other.
"Have I treated you with neglect?" The anger was gone from his voice. I had frightened it away.
"Have you?" I asked scornfully. "You have treated me with such marked coldness, that even my maid, Marie, has been gossiping with the other servants about it."
Ah, I had made a mistake. I knew it the moment the words were out of my mouth.
"She has, has she?" he exclaimed in arage. "She shall leave the house to-night. I will not pay a pack of drones to gossip about me. She shall go, and this minute, too."
"She shall not. If she leaves your house " (I was beside myself with rage and excitement, and was hardly accountable for what I said) " I will go too."
"Elsie!" There was actual fear in his voice. He looked so handsome as these varied emotions stirred him, that—alas! that I should say it—I felt that my indignation could not last mach longer. As he uttered my name, he looked at me earnestly, and with a pained, wearied gaze. I began to feel sorry for him. Despise me, readers, and mentally declare that you would have acted far differently.
Women so often start in as plaintiffs and end as defendants in their controversies with the other sex.
"I mean it," I managed to say in a low voice.
"You would ruin my reputation," he began in a grieved tone. Unpardonably selfish as the remark was, it made just the impression upon me that he probably intended it should do.
"How can you say it?" I asked. "Arthur, listen to me. I love you, and I begin to think that I love you too well. If I did not care for you, I should be glad when you absented yourself from me, but—but—as it is—it—breaks m-my heart."
I was going to give way. I felt quite sure of that.
"Don't, Elsie," said Arthur, hastily. "Don't. I cannot stand scenes. I want you to be happy I would not for the world see you in such dis tress, but—"
"Nothing. Elsie, let us go for a long walk and drop these painful subjects." Painful subjects! He said it, I assure you.
"No," I said, sadly. I would not make myself cheap. He did not want me, I felt sure. I must try another policy.
"What are you going to do to pass away the morning?"
"Oh, I have a wealth of amusement," I said, smiling through my tears. "Do—do not trouble any more about me. You probably have some w-writing to do. Do not let me disturb you. Good-bye," and I ran away to my room.
Yes, I must try another policy. Perhaps I was letting him see too plainly that his neglect caused me pain. It might be that, like some men of whom I have since heard, hf disliked to know that a woman was running after him. If I treated him as he treated me, perhaps I might teach him a little respect. Men do not like weak, clinging beings—at least some of them don't, and perhaps my husband belonged to that class. At any rate I would change my policy. Why do I say "change my policy?" I had none before. I was simply acting as my heart told me to act. Now I would follow the course prescribed by my reason. I could lose nothing by so doing, and I might gain my husband's love.
I congratulated myself that I had refused to accompany him on that walk. I was really dying to go, but I would deny myself the pleasure for the sake of possible results. He had not insisted—it would have been no use if he had—I told myself. Perhaps he was annoyed at my refusal. I sincerely hoped that he was. I trusted that he was even seriously angry and would resent my non-compliance with his request.
I must confess that the afternoon passed away most tediously for me. I called in Marie, and made her talk herself tired. I tried to be amused at her chatter, but I found it insufferably uninteresting. She would tell me all about Paris, and her own dull life in that city. The poor girl was the daughter of an honest little Rue du Temple fabricant, and her history was not exciting. If she had only been the daughter of a dishonest little fabricant, she would have been far more entertaining, I thought. I felt that she was supplying me with conversational gruel, and I was in a condition of mind when I wanted curry. As the hour for dinner drew nigh, I dressed myself carefully. Everything I could do to make myself look pretty—I did. I was determined that Arthur should admire me.
I recovered my spirits sufficiently to be able to "sail" downstairs, and as I reached the dining-room, the flush of excitement came to my cheeks. I wondered how it would all end. Arthur was not in the dining-room, so I threw myself into an armchair to await him. I was rather impatient. I suppose it was natural that I should be. I took up a newspaper and tried to read. I did not have to try very long.
"Mrs. Ravener." It was James, the butler. I suppose he was not sure that I was in the Chair, as I was covered with newspaper.
"Master told me to give you this note."
I snatched it from the man's hands, and read it hastily. "Dear Elsie," it ran, "I have just received a telegram that calls me up to town immediately. Do not wait dinner for me, and pray do not be angry. Your affectionate husband, Arthur Ravener."
Oh, this was cruel. I waved my hand to James to dismiss him, and then flung myself upon the sofa in an agony of weeping. For twenty minutes I gave my grief full play, and then, when anger came peeping in, I let it enter and take possession of my soul. I rang the bell. James, with suspicious promptness answered the call.
"James, did any telegram come here for your master this afternoon?"
"Not to my knowledge, madame."
"Are you sure?"
"Go ask the servants, and find out if anybody brought a telegram for Mr. Ravener to the house to-day."
He soon returned. "No one has received any telegram. If one had come to the house," he added with the officiousness of his class, "I should have known it."
"You may go."
My blood was boiling. I would not be set aside. Perhaps Arthur Ravener thought I was a milk and-water maiden. He made a great mistake. "I gave him the option between peace and war," I said to myself, "and he has chosen war. So be it."
I tried to be lively, but it was a failure. I was changed. I was no longer a flippant girl, but a jealous woman. Does any one know what a jealous woman really is? I think not. Perhaps a volcano always on the eve of eruption is about the best simile I can suggest.