A Marriage Below Zero/Introduction
I suppose I am rather frivolous. I believe in the voice of the majority, to a certain extent; and it has announced my giddiness and superficiality so frequently, that there is nothing left for me to do but succumb to this view as pleasantly as possible. I never listen to the minority in any of the social questions with which I am confronted. It would therefore be inconsistent to pay much attention to its estimate of myself.
Butterfly-like I flutter about in society, living in the all-sufficient present, reckless of the future, and absolutely declining to recollect the past.
I have a mother who loves me a great deal more than she did some time ago, when I seemed to tacitly insist that she should grow old decently and gracefully. Now I do my best to assist her in her vigorous struggle for perpetual youth, and she is thankful to me; she appreciates my efforts. Ah! it is good to be appreciated, sometimes.
'I really don't know what I should do without you, Elsie," she says, in an occasional outburst of good nature. "You are such a comfort to me; you make me feel as though I were your sister. Sometimes I think I am."
So you see that her affection for me is by no means maternal. I call her "mother" from force of habit, though, accustomed as I am to the word, it often sounds rather ludicrous in my ears.
Conventionality forbids me to use her Christian name. People have always had pronounced prejudices in favor of what they call filial respect, and a quarrel with conventionality is generally fatal, as I have learned. So we trot around to receptions, and kettledrums, and dinners and dances as mother and daughter. I would willingly pass for the former if it were possible to do so, but it is out of the question, unfortunately for dear mamma.
I shall never leave my mother. We shall continue our trot about the social world, until one of us is obliged to give in. I hope I shall be the first to fall, because, like the little boy in the song, I could not play alone. I am convinced that my mother also hopes that she will be the bereaved one. She enjoys life so much, that I cannot blame her.
My demise would necessitate her withdrawal from society for a year or so, but Madame Pauline, in Regent Street, really furnishes such delightful mourning, that, as Mrs. Snooksley Smith said to me the other day: "it is positively a pleasant change to wear it." Mr. Snooksley Smith had been gathered to his fathers a few months previously, so that I know she spoke from experience, poor lonely widow.
I wear a wedding ring. It is concealed beneath a scintillating cluster of diamonds which I have purposely placed on the third finger of my left hand, but it is there. I hate it. It is in the way. If I thought I should ever marry again, I would make it a point of insisting that the lucky man should despise those little golden badges as much as I do.
I must wear mine until I die, I suppose. You see everybody knows that I am Mrs. Ravener; all my friends seem to take an ill-natured delight in emphatically using my married name. I may be as frivolous as I choose, as recklessly flippant as I possibly can, but my wedding ring must remain. It does not upbraid me for my conduct. Not a bit of it. I have a perfect right to do everything in my power to forget it. I would fling my ring to the bottom of the Thames, and still maintain my unquestioned right to do so, but,—ah! there is always one of those detestable little conjunctions in the way.
I hope I am making you wonder what all this means, dear reader, because I intend tearing myself away from mamma for a little and devoting some time to you. You say you would not like to inconvenience mamma? Oh, you need not hesitate. I shall tell her that I need a little rest, and shall interpret her surprised "What nonsense, Elsie!" into a motherly injunction to take it. She is still a little afraid of me, you see. She remembers that, like Mr. Bunthorne, I am very terrible when I am thwarted. Though nothing in my behavior nowadays indicates that I have the faintest suspicion of a will of my own, mamma knows better. Perhaps in the solitude of her chamber she wishes that dear Elsie were the sweet little gushing nonentity she appears to be. In time I may make her forget that I have ever been anything else. Perhaps as she grows old (if she ever does) her memory may be dulled. It is just possible that she may pass away in the fond conviction that her only daughter has never crossed her will. Who shall say that I am not charitable?
I am going to write the story of my married life. I intend to open old wounds by confession which, it is popularly said, is good for the soul. The task may do me good. A little taste of bitter recollection can but enhance the value of the sweet vapidity of my present life. I can pause while I am writing, if I feel at all overwhelmed by the flood of reminiscence, which will pour in upon me by the gates which I voluntarily open, to congratulate myself that it is all over forever.
Like the little girl who used to get out of her nice warm bed, and make her sister call out, "There are mice on the floor," so that she might have the pleasure of rushing back again and huddling up under the clothes in an ecstacy of comfort, I will recall the past, in order that I may enjoy the present all the more.
Perhaps that present palls upon me sometimes, though no one guesses it, and I hardly suspect it myself. Possibly it needs all the contrast with the past that I can give it, to render it endurable. I say "possibly" you know. I wish to be consistently frivolous.
You will be able to remember these remarks when you have read the record of the events which I am about to chronicle, and when you close the book, say with a sigh of relief: "Well, in spite of all, she is living happily ever afterwards."