A Marriage Below Zero/Chapter XIII
You, my fair young readers, will imagine that nothing could be easier than to go to your mother, and tell her—well, anything on earth. That is because you have the right kind of a mother. I had the wrong kind. I am well aware that such a sentiment is not pretty from anybody's lips, but as you already know, I am one of those candid beings who conceal nothing, even when concealment might be beneficial.
There had never been any confidence between my mother and me. She had always considered me uninteresting, and I—well, I could never realize that she really existed out of society. Her ambition never extended beyond the "set" in which she moved; her ideas were suggested invariably by those immediately above her in rank; worldliness reigned rampant within her.
I had been glad to leave her house, and rejoiced to escape from society's prospective thraldom. And now I was going to consult my mother on a question of vital importance. I was about to appeal to the very worldliness which I condemned, to assist me in my dilemma.
I had no difficulty in leaving Tavistock Villa for London. I do not suppose that if I had set out for Timbuctoo, any very unconquerable obstacles would have presented themselves.
My journey to town was without incident; my arrival at Grosvenor Square, stupid. The butler was far too well bred to express any surprise when he beheld me; the maids whom I met en route to my mother's morning-room, were too well drilled in fashionable idiocy to look either pleased or interested when I burst upon them.
My mother had only just risen. She had been at an ultra-swell reception the night before, and was to be present at another that evening, so that the interval between the two was to be spent in a lounge-chair with a novel and a few newspapers—those that chronicled in detail the events of society.
She pressed a farcical kiss upon my brow, said she was charmed to see me—though she wasn't—wondered why I had come in such an informal manner and so disgracefully soon, hoped dear Arthur was well, and—well, would I not sit down, and take off my cloak?
I unbosomed myself without any delay. I did not attempt to shield Arthur's neglect. I felt that he deserved everything I could say—and more. I did not tell my mother that I was miserable, because my ideas of misery and happiness did not coincide with hers. I simply laid the situation before her, and asked her superior knowledge of the world what it all meant.
Her languor disappeared as I proceeded; she even sat up straight in her lounge-chair, and when I came to an end she deliberately closed her novel—a tacit recognition of the fact that I was more entertaining than her author.
"Well, my dear," she said blandly, when I paused, "this story is strange indeed, but—but singularly interesting."
"Interesting?" I asked, horrified.
"Yes, my dear, certainly interesting. Though I always thought Arthur Ravener a peculiar young man—you remember when I saw you two in the library that day—I never supposed that he suffered from anything but bashfulness. Bashfulness, though a grievous fault in these enlightened days when young men are supposed to have overcome any little gaucheries long before they attain their majority, is not an unsurmountable objection. You see what I mean? I always thought—you know, Elsie, I do a great deal of thinking in my quiet way—that you and he would settle down into a commonplace, everyday couple. Not for one instant did any idea to the contrary enter my head."
She was gratified. I could see it. With disgust in my soul, and no very filial reverence written upon my unpleasantly mobile features, I was obliged to realize the fact that this society mother was entertained by the story of her daughter's marital misfortunes.
"It was only the other day," she went on, "that I heard that Lady Erminow's daughter who was recently married to that young scapegrace. Erickson—you remember her, Elsie, that pretty golden-haired girl—was living so unhappily with her husband. He is a slave to alcohol, my dear, Nothing could be worse than that. It is the lowest, most degrading passion. Lady Erminow has my heartfelt sympathy. By-the-bye, Elsie, Arthur, you omitted to tell me—is he abstemious?"
"Yes—as far as I know," I answered, bitterly.
"I thought it," said my mother, triumphantly. "The cause of his neglect must be found elsewhere. Do not worry yourself at all, Elsie."
"What do you mean?" I asked excitedly. " Do you think you know why he neglects me?"
My mother looked at me with intense scorn. "Of course I do. Do you suppose I have lived so long in the world without being able to diagnose this simple case of domestic infelicity. My dear Elsie, another girl of your age would not need aid in this matter. The case is absolutely transparent. Husband indifferent, always away from home, uninterested in wife—why, my dear child, it is all as plain as a pikestaff."
I listened eagerly. If I only understood the situation I had no doubt but that I could grapple with it. How glad I felt that I had come. If I knew the malady, surely I could find the remedy.
"One thing—before I proceed, Elsie," continued my mother, now so interested that her novel fell to the ground unheeded. "Your case would not be considered at all strange in society, and rest assured, dear, that you would not suffer in the least. Society is a kind friend—my best,—as I have told you so often. Still for the present I do not think I would ventilate my grievances, if I were you—"
"What do you mean?" I interrupted indignantly.
"Hear me, Elsie, and do not be so impulsive, please. As I was saying, for the present I would not ventilate my grievances, as in such a very young married couple, they might—remember I say 'might'—cause a little comment. If you had been married twelve months, or even six—yes, I think six," she added, reflectively, "I would not caution you thus. You see—"
"Nothing," I exclaimed, angrily, "you explain nothing."
"If you do not understand the case," continued my mother, looking rather keenly at me, "perhaps it would be better for your interests—and mine, for I am your mother, Elsie—that you should not do so. Live quietly for a few months more, and then—"
"I will not!" I cried, rising energetically from my seat. "I will not endure such a home, unless there be some very excellent reason why I should do so. I love my husband—I may as well tell you that; but when I see myself neglected in such a shameful way, through nothing that I have done, I will not submit blindly to it. Tell me what the cause of this trouble is, if you know, and I will try to remedy it. If I can do so, and can gain Arthur's love, no one will be happier than I. If I cannot, I will leave him, before the—the—whole affair k-kills me."
I burst into tears.
"You are unreasonably excited," said my mother, sternly, "or you would not dare to talk to me of leaving your husband. Why, girl, your position would be gone—and mine too. You talk of suffering through no fault of your own, but you seem extremely willing to let me suffer through no fault of mine. If you left your husband, I might as well close my establishment. All London would talk, and I—I pride myself upon furnishing no food for idle and detrimental gossip."
She rose from her seat and walked up and down the room, thoroughly and selfishly roused.
"Why will you not take my advice?" she asked. "Go home and stay there quietly for a few months. Then I will tell you what to do."
"I will not!" I exclaimed passionately.
My mother reflected. She saw that I was determined. I was. As I sat in that room I resolved that if I could not discover the cause of my husband's coldness—and discovering, vanquish it—I would leave my married life forever.
"If you will not," said my mother, after a good two minutes of complete silence, and in a wisely calculating tone, "something must be done. Of course, Elsie, there's a woman in the case."
A woman in the case! What woman? What did my mother mean?
"The expression is not a pretty one," resumed my parent, taking my surprise for ladylike wonder at the construction of her phrase. "But it means everything. You know, Elsie, that the French in every catastrophe that happens, declare that 'cherchez la femme' will explain everything."
"I do not understand you," I said in a dazed way. " Why there is not a soul in our house but the servants and my maid, Marie."
"Perhaps not," said Mrs. Bouverie. "But there are plenty of souls out of your house, my dear, and—according to your story—that is where your husband spends the greater part of his time. His neglect of you is only too clear. He is interested in some other woman, and with her he spends his time. Have I made myself clear?"
She had. I started up, surprised at my own obtuseness and burning to settle this question once and forever. But—no, I could not understand fully.
"If he is interested in some other woman," I asked helplessly, "why did he marry me? He asked me to be his wife. Nobody force! him to do it. I didn't suggest it."
My mother laughed harshly. "I suppose not," she said. "Perhaps he wanted you to be his wife on account of the superior social advantages a married man enjoys. Perhaps as a married man his liaison could be carried on more favorably. Perhaps—there are a hundred suggestions I could make. Don't let us forget the fact, also, that you were dowered handsomely."
"Nonsense; he did not want my money, be quite sure of that. Mother," I said, putting on my cloak and buttoning it all wrong, "you are right, there is a woman in the case, and I was blind not to have seen it."
"No doubt your husband's friend, the Captain, is the go-between. That might explain his intimacy with your husband, might it not?"
Of course it might.
"Yes," I said. "What would you advise me to do?"
"I suppose you ask that," said mamma, severely, "in order that you may do something else. You are too obstinate, too self-willed to ask advice. Still," seeing that I looked threatening—I must have done so for I am sure I felt it—"perhaps I had better make a suggestion or two. Go home to your husband and tax him with his infidelity; you will easily see by his manner if the shot strikes home. Don't be impulsive and—ridiculous—as you generally are. Try a little diplomacy. If your husband denies everything—come to me, and I'll help you with a detective or two."
"I will," I said promptly.
"And now, go, Elsie," sinking wearily into her chair, "I declare you have fatigued me. I shall never be able to get through the reception—all this on top of my fatigues of last night."
She waved me away. I did not offer her my brow to freeze. I could not.
Her words rang in my ears all the way home. "A woman in the case." Yes, of course there must be. What a bat I must have been not to have suspected it before. I was eccentric. There was no doubt about it. I ought to have waited a few years before I had married, and gained a little experience in the world. But no! If the price of such experience was the forfeit of my self-respect, I did not want it.
A woman in the case! Who could she be? I wondered if she were more attractive than I was. What a fool I had been to imagine that he would notice me, as I strutted before my glass in the silly pride of a peacock! He was all the time thinking of some one else. I wondered why I could not picture this "some one else." I seemed utterly unable to realize the fact that Arthur Ravener could love another woman.
However, my future should soon be decided. I was excited, earnest, and eager to begin my self-imposed task.