A Marriage Below Zero/Chapter XX
Once away from Kew, and my old spirits reasserted themselves. As we rolled away from Euston to Liverpool's only and original Lime Street, I was as happy as—I was going to say—a newly made bride, but, alas, that hackneyed simile has no meaning for me. Every old corn field we passed delighted me; I made Arthur buy me illustrated papers and fruit at every station, and nearly caused him to miss the train at one halting place because in my insatiable desire for chocolate I sent him forth to the refreshment room.
Arthur was at first inclined to be subdued, as I suppose it was proper he should be, but I soon thwarted his intentions. I was determined that we would both of us forget the past, and start out afresh. I would be as engaging as a maiden yet to be wooed, and he,—well, he should woo me. I was resolved that I would not be wifely. I would consider that we were simply on good terms, and I was going to try hard to make him love me. Pshaw! A fig for the fact that I was really his wife. He would be glad to remember that by and by, I told myself.
So I broke every bit of ice I saw, and long before we had reached Lime Street, he was laughing at my idiotic behavior. We made a couple of fools of ourselves.
I wonder why English people who take railway journeys feel that they must eat as soon as the train starts. It has always caused me a great deal of amusement. On this particular occasion, a phlethoric old matron waited until she had waved her chubby hand at about fifty fond relations on the platform, allowed a tear or two to course portentously down her cheeks, and then sought consolation in her hamper. For the next thirty minutes she was busily engaged in dissecting a chicken. Ugh! how greasy she was at the end of that time. I was rude enough to stare at her, and I presume the poor old soul thought I coveted her chicken. She offered me some. At first I thought of accepting it and going halves with Arthur, but I caught his imploring glance and decided to be abstemious.
Of course we traveled with the usual ruddy-faced Briton, who before he was fifteen minutes out was caught peeping into a little spirit flask. They always amuse me—those exploring tipplers who seem anxious to impress you with the idea that they are merely making a scientific test. I have a detestation for red noses, both male and female, which of course means that I very frequently have one in cold weather—or at least used to do so, until I discovered that perfect French jewel, Marie, my maid. Dear readers, you will never know what comfort is until you have a Gallic "assistant." Of course they are expensive luxuries, but you can economize elsewhere.
My pen runs on. As I think of that delightful trip, coming as it did when life seemed darkest, all my happiness comes back to me, and I write now as I felt then.
As I was not desirous of parading myself, limp and seasick, before a select and fashionable audience, we decided not to patronize a Cunarder, even though it be so rapid. I was not so burningly anxious to be in America. I did not care where I was, so rejoiced was I to be away from London. So we ensconced ourselves meekly on one of the Inman steamers, which was quite good enough for me.
It seemed unnatural, going away without anyone to see us off, especially as nearly every one on board cried farewell to somebody on the tender. I felt hard-hearted because I "sailed away from my native land," without tear. I tried to be affected, but I couldn't. I wished that I had given the polite little fellow, who had carried my valise for me, half-a-crown extra to cry when the steamer started, and wave his hand to me.
"You are as bad I am, Arthur," I said, as we stood at the rail and watched the tender taking its farewell-sayers back to the dock. "There's not a solitary tear trickling down your countenance. I'm really vexed with myself, but they won't trickle. I can't help it."
"I am glad of it, Elsie," said Arthur, fervently. I knew he was thinking that they had trickled sufficiently during the past few sad weeks.
"I am not," I persisted in declaring. "It is unseemly to go about with all one's unshed tears while everybody else is lavishly distributing them in all directions."
No sooner had the tender disappeared from sight, and our own anchor had been lifted (isn't that deliciously nautical? I flatter myself it is extremely creditable), than I saw sixteen people—I counted them—rush up to the Captain and ask him if it were going to be "rough." Poor man! I suppose he is overwhelmed in this manner at every trip.
He thought it was going to be one of the finest voyages he had ever made, he said, and the sixteen timid ones went their way rejoicing. It is the correct thing, nowadays, to be eternally and consistently blasé, as my dear mother would say, especially on one's travels. To speak of my transatlantic trip of course makes it at once apparent that I have never been to America before. I admit it, and must also confess that my voyage interested me immensely, and all the more because my expected seasickness was never realized.
To have seen us all in the saloon on the first night was in itself an entertainment. We were all very stiff, and suspicious, and unfriendly, being mostly English, and took our places at the table under protest as it were. We were soon supplied with passenger lists, and before attempting to nourish our bodies we fed our curiosity by wondering "who was who," and trying to "locate" the different passengers.
There were at least a score whose identity we soon discovered. They belonged to that class which an American on board declared to be composed of "chronic kickers—gentlemen who, if they went to Heaven, would vow their halo's didn't fit." They found that their names had been spelled wrong, and complained loudly:
"I made a point of spelling S-m-y-t-h-e and here they have me down as Smith."
"I call it disgusting. They've made me John P. Bodley, when I distinctly remember telling them my name was J. Porterhouse Bodley."
"Oh, Mamma, they've never mentioned Jane. I wanted them to put 'and maid.' How annoying!"
"Why, Eliza! They've actually got us 'J. Rogers, wife and family,' in one line, instead of mentioning each of our names, as I asked them to do."
And so they made themselves known.
The first meal was the only one of which many of the passengers approved. They had made up their minds to be seasick, and seasick they were. One young woman announced that she had been under medical treatment for three days before starting, and that her doctor had advised her after the first meal to go to bed during the rest of the voyage. That such a man should be allowed to practice!
Arthur and I sat at the Captain's table, close by the Captain, which I am told was a great honor. That dignitary seemed to wish us to think so, at any rate. He was full of graceful condescension at first, and three courses had sped quickly away before he favored us with our first nautical story. Of course everyone at the table was convulsed with laughter. It put us all in a good temper, and led us to look upon one another with less suspicion.
After dinner Arthur and I walked up and down deck, talking gaily of our plans. Not a sentimental word passed from my lips; no one could have been more affectionate and sisterly than I was. I firmly believe that he understood and appreciated my efforts. He looked at me gratefully from time to time. That friendliness which had been so oppressive in his manner to me formerly, was not so apparent.
I pictured our return to England, the past forgotten like an ugly dream; the future full of promise; the present given up utterly to the love which though late might overwhelm us with its long delayed delight. As I painted the glowing probabilities on my susceptible mind-canvas, I could not school my voice to the mild, platonic utterances which I felt I must affect. Words of love rose to my lips; I trembled at my own emotion.
"Are you not glad to be—to be here?" I asked him as quietly as I could.
He paused for one moment. Then in a low tone—"Yes," he said.
He was sincere. But there was none of the passion in his voice that I—unhappy girl!—could not keep from mine. He gave me affection in return for love. Well, at any rate, he seemed to be thawing. I had every reason to rejoice.
As I said before, I was not seasick. When we arrived at Queenstown, I recognized the fact that I had slept soundly, and arose in the best of spirits. I found my husband on deck, watching the men carrying the mail-bags on board. He also had slept well, he informed me.
It was a superb day, a bright sky overhead, a lovely green opaque sea around us, while the pretty coast of Ireland, as seen from Queenstown's snug little harbor, completed a most fascinating picture. We were both of us in excellent spirits, and chatted lightly on every subject but that of ourselves. We laughed at the queer old creatures who clambered up the sides of the big ship and cajoled us into purchasing murderous looking blackthorns, bog-oak ornaments of the most funereal type, and other quaintly Hibernian wares. How charming Ireland is—from a distance!
As we left Queenstown, people seemed to have made themselves at home on board, and to have resigned themselves to something more than a week of irrevocable sea. Men who had made their first appearance clad in the height of fashion, were hardly to be known in their hideouscomfortable sea-garments. Traveling caps replaced the shining chapeau-de-soie; loose warm ulsters, the daintily fitting overcoats; while time-honored trousers were called into a brief resurrection. The ladies donned their plainest, most unbecoming attire. Any one who had a grudge against any particular dress, wore it. There is little coquetry in attire on shipboard. Woman, from a pictorial point of view at any rate, is at her worst. Perhaps for the first time in her life, she is caught napping, so far as her attire is concerned.
A great number of the feminine passengers installed themselves with graceful invalidism on steamer chairs rug-enveloped. They were so determined to be ill that I should really have sympathized with their disappointment had Neptune declined to affect them as they expected to be affected.
We were soon one big family, united in the common desire of reaching port speedily and safely. I had so many acquaintances before a week was ended, that my days were entirely taken up with them. We had our little scandal society on board, and discussed at afternoon tea those who were not at the table. Womanhood always finds its level, and womanhood is not womanhood without gossip.
The queer things I was told about America on that ship! One portly damsel took me to one side and informed me in a mysterious whisper that clothes were terribly expensive in America, but that I could purchase undergarments for next to nothing. Another American told me that New York houses were so much more civilized than London dwellings, because they all had stoops. What a stoop was, I had no idea. After a time it occurred to me that the houses must be trying to follow the example of the leaning tower of Pisa. That stooped. I received information on all sides, and as my mind was pleasantly blank in regard to the country discovered by Christopher Columbus, I was pounced upon by everybody who wanted to talk.
My husband rarely left my side. He never entered the smoking-room, and kept distinctly aloof from the other men. We were hardly ever alone. With the exception of a half-hour's stroll on deck each evening after dinner, my husband and I never enjoyed a solitude à deux. Those brief half hours were devoted to general conversation. We never referred to the troublous period that had preceded our voyage.
I was rather glad that my time was so much occupied by my friend-passengers. I was able to acknowledge very soon the fact that my husband found increasing pleasure in my society. Our after dinner walks, I could see, were very pleasant to him, and at the end of a week conversation grew less general.
One evening he was unusually silent, and I made no effort to talk. We sat looking at the foamy milk-path that marked the course of the ship. I soon felt that his eyes were fastened on my face. I did not speak. My policy was not to attempt to force results in any way.
"Elsie," he said, presently, "some time ago I remember saying to you that perhaps our marriage was a mistake." I started. He went on: "I now believe that it was not. Elsie, no other woman would have been as patient as you have been, or made the sacrifice you have made in—in—really expatriating yourself for my sake. I—I—am very grateful, dear."
"You have nothing to be grateful for," I said, gravely. Then lightly throwing off the sentimental mood to which I would have loved to give sway, "I don't consider this expatriation, this is merely a pleasant voyage, and it is even more delightful than I anticipated."
"It is delightful," he said, seriously.
I imagine our fellow-passengers considered that we were rather eccentric. The men seemed to look down upon Arthur—or at least I thought so. What looked to me like contemptuous glances were cast by them at my husband when he was sitting in the midst of the medley of feminine passengers, who had evidently "taken a fancy" to me. Arthur seemed indifferent to these manifestations, if he noticed them at all. But they aroused in me a feeling of violent indignation. I could have gone up to these whippersnappers and told them that I believed my husband to be better than they were; but perhaps it was lucky I did not adopt this course.
I was quite ready and eager to forgive Arthur everything. I had resolved that not a single allusion to my unknown rival should ever cross my lips, unless, of course, my husband showed himself to be subsequently unworthy of my love, which I did not believe he would do. I had not the faintest curiosity to know who the woman was. In fact I was glad I was absolutely ignorant on the subject. As soon as I felt convinced that our happiness was assured, I had promised myself that I would try to understand the influence which Captain Dillington possessed over my husband, and then gently to withdraw him from it. It was bad. I was quite certain of that.
And so, more happily than I had imagined even in my most sanguine moments, our voyage across the Atlantic was accomplished. We said good-bye to the friends we had made on board as sorrowfully as though we had known them for a lifetime, and prepared to join the busy throng in the American metropolis.