My wedding, with other matters of interest.
My father awoke the next morning with what he called a little cough, though I would have called it a series of hideous hacking spasms—the result, he said, of a slight chill contracted while walking home with Viola the night before. It did not dampen his usual good cheer at all; it merely made him twice as annoying as usual at breakfast.
“I see you’ve shaved your moustache,” he said almost immediately after I sat down at the table. My father believed it was a dreadful sin against good manners to leave the obvious unstated.
“Amelia thought I might look better without it,” I replied.
“Well, I——” and here he was interrupted by another spasm of coughing. “I think you look very fine. What do you think, Viola? Doesn’t Galahad look fine?”
“I am happy to see less of his hair,” Viola replied, “but I am sorry to see more of his face.”
At this remark my father fell into another fit of coughing, which very conveniently spared him the trouble of having to take note of Viola’s ill temper.
Viola’s behavior toward me did not improve at all over the next few days. For my part, I cared not a whit, not even half a whit, whether my sister spoke a civil word to me or not; but Amelia, whose usual good spirits and affectionate nature had completely revived, persisted in imagining, and (what is far more absurd) hoping, that Viola could somehow be made her friend if only this little spell of petulance could be smoothed out. “We’re to be one family, after all,” Amelia explained, “and I’d like her to think of me as a sister. Surely there must be some way to show her that we regard her wedding as every bit the equal of ours.”
“Why don’t we just have a double wedding?” I grumbled with ill-disguised sarcasm. Amelia, however, did not penetrate the disguise.
“Oh, Galahad! What a marvelous suggestion! Do you really think she would agree? It would require such a deal of preparation in such a short time,—but it could be done.”
I was about to tell her that I had no intention of sharing my wedding with that human pestilence Viola, but at this point Amelia attacked me with kisses, and the battle was lost without a fight.
“You must ask your sister,” she reminded me when we parted; and I agreed that I should do so, since my agreement bought me a few more kisses.
In fact I had no desire to speak with my sister on any subject. It would have to be done, however, before I next saw Amelia. Moreover, the more I gave my mind over to thinking about it, the more it seemed as though I had hit accidentally on a very rational solution to my difficulties. Viola was certainly capable of keeping a grudge going for the rest of her life; and, while if anything it improved my own disposition not to have Viola speaking to me, Amelia would be happier if Viola were well disposed toward her. She seemed to regard it as a failure of her own that she could not secure Viola’s friendship. I had learned that Amelia’s happiness was linked directly to my own: the happier Amelia was, the more affectionate she was, and Amelia’s affection was a drug like opium to me, a necessity for which I was willing to make even the extreme sacrifice—I mean the sacrifice of speaking to my sister. As for the wedding itself, it was nothing to me whether we shared it with Viola and her clerk. I had no opinions on the wedding per se; it was the marriage I cared for. The wedding was useful only in that it would make possible that last degree of intimacy with Amelia that was currently denied to me;—or, rather, that I had denied myself, since there had been no unwillingness on Amelia’s part. The truly evil man must learn to curb his immediate desires in favor of that which will redound to his ultimate benefit, and I was willing to defer the complete possession of Amelia if it would assure my continued possession of both her and her father’s fortune.—Thus the wedding was but a means to that end; if it could be better accomplished in the presence of Viola, it was all the same to me.
The peace between Viola and Amelia that Amelia desired therefore became my object as well. After supper, I lost no time in seeking out Viola to speak with her alone. I found her in the front parlor reading the second volume of some silly three-volume novel.
“Viola,” I said, “I wish to speak to you.”
“H’m,” she replied without looking up from her book.
It was not the most promising beginning to our interview, but I persevered.
“I know that you have been worried that your wedding might somehow be overshadowed by mine,” I began, “and while I do not——”
“If you mean,” she interrupted, “that you think I have been disappointed to discover that my brother is the sort of man who cares nothing for the happiness of his family so long as his own is assured, and will gladly run roughshod over his own flesh and blood in his rush to attain his own selfish desires,—you are mistaken. It is no new discovery, and can therefore be no disappointment.”
Obviously she had turned over this speech and rehearsed it in her mind for days, if not weeks, while she waited for an opportunity to make use of it. In fact it was quite accurate: I was that sort of man. But it is one thing to be that sort of man, and another thing to appear to be that sort of man. It was meant as an insult, and as such it raised my hackles.
“Look here, Viola, there’s no reason for you to be so disagreeable when I’m trying to be conciliatory. I was talking with Amelia, and she thinks we should have our weddings together—a double wedding. She thinks it would bring us all together as a family. Frankly, she’s a good deal more interested in your happiness than I am at the moment, but I’ve agreed to the double wedding, if you can get it into your thick head that I’m trying to do you a good turn.”
Viola was actually silent for a moment, which is how I always like her best. When she did speak, all the harshness had gone from her tone.
“Galahad—you would really do that for me?”
“No, but I would do it for myself. This is the price at which I am willing to purchase a bit of peace in the family.”
“Galahad!” She leaped out of the chair and actually embraced me, for the first time since she had tried to crush the life out of me when I was a small child. “You are the sweetest and best brother in the world, and I love you with all my heart!”
With that unexpected demonstration out of the way, she ran out of the parlor and clattered noisily up the stairs.
Well, that was done, and it looked as though my success had been complete. I was about to retire early and get a good night’s sleep for once when my father found me in the hall.
“Galahad,” he said,—and then he began a fit of coughing that occupied him for a quarter-hour or so.
“Galahad,” he repeated when he had quite finished, “Viola has told me about the wedding. I know that you have not always been on good terms with your sister” (this was a simply extraordinary statement, since up to that moment I should have been prepared to wager a large sum on my father’s being entirely oblivious to the state of things between my sister and me), “and I know that your sister has been a little bit unreasonable lately” (this was even more astonishing), “but Viola has told me what you did for her. I’m very proud of you, Galahad. I know how difficult it must have been to persuade your Miss Goode to share her wedding day—in fact, I’m really very surprised that you accomplished it. You must have moved heaven and earth for your sister’s happiness, even after the way she treated you. It shows a rare spirit. You have grown into a fine Christian gentleman, and that, Galahad, is the best I could ever have hoped for from you.”
He clapped me on the back, and then he went to bed.
I recall this conversation vividly because I meditated on it for some considerable time afterward. It seemed to me that I had learned an invaluable secret. I had made a small concession on a matter that meant nothing to me, and as a result Amelia thought I was an angel; Viola was actually pleased with me for the first time in my memory; and my father was entirely persuaded that I was the paragon of oafish commercial virtue he had always hoped for in a son. What a cheap price bought so many treasures! I understood then the value of consulting the pleasure of others in small things of no consequence, so that the things of greater import would not be caught up in their petty displeasures; and I resolved thenceforth to adapt my wishes in small things to those of my family, so that my greater schemes might proceed without let or hindrance.
Oh, the things that had to be done to make two weddings happen on the same day! I am sure I never knew half of them; Viola and Amelia, both lacking the mothers who would ordinarily have been in charge of the arrangements, took everything in hand themselves, and showed every sign, in spite of their vast differences in temperament, of becoming fast friends in the process. I saw much less of Amelia, which was a disappointment; but, on the other hand, I saw much less of Viola, which was some compensation. Amelia insisted that the wedding must be at St. Andrew’s, to which Viola assented all the more readily because (as she informed me with insufferable pride) St. Andrews was the church where the better classes of weddings were performed. Indeed, through the whole planning of the wedding, Viola was torn between the two poles of giving unbridled expression to her glee at having been accepted into the upper stratum of Allegheny society, and affecting the air of having always belonged there. There were times when she seemed to be almost torn in two by these conflicting impulses. I sincerely enjoyed those occasions.
Amelia and I had some discussion about our living arrangements after the wedding,—though in the minds of Amelia and Viola such matters were clearly of secondary importance to the wedding itself. Amelia thought it would be most sensible if we began our married life in her father’s house, which was absurdly large for two people, and hardly less absurd for three. I did not need much persuading: the Goodes lived in a luxury that I had scarcely dreamt of before I met Amelia, and I could imagine nothing better than to become part of the Goode household. I was eagerly anticipating the delight of commanding an army of domestics instead of old Mrs. Ott, who used her deafness as a shield against any commands whatsoever. We also discussed the delicate topic of religion, but Amelia again easily persuaded me that it would be best if we both went to the same church, and of course the obvious choice was St. Andrew’s. It was nothing to me, after all, whether I followed the Methodist or the Episcopalian branch of Christian delusion.
The vicar at St. Andrew’s insisted on interrogating me on the subject of my Christian beliefs. Christian beliefs I had none; but clearly that was not an obstacle I was willing to place in the way of my temporal happiness. Here my otherwise useless education came to my assistance: I was able to give such a good account of my supposed beliefs that the man was sure I must have been raised on the Thirty-Nine Articles.
Thus I changed my religious affiliation on very practical considerations. There was no advantage to me in remaining in the little Methodist church my father attended; but there might be every advantage in joining the wealthy congregation at St. Andrew’s, where the best elements of Allegheny society gathered every Sunday to put on their pious faces and nod gravely at the commandments which they intended to spend the other six days of the week breaking. When my marriage to Amelia was accomplished, I must take my place among those best elements—indeed, very near their head—and therefore ought to be seen nodding as gravely as the rest of them.
To any young man who aspires to true evil, which is to say complete rationality, my advice is to cultivate a studious devotion to the forms and ceremonies of religion: for a reputation for exceptional piety opens every door. It is also of great utility to be seen performing such small acts of charity as cost little effort and make no difference in one’s overall wealth, but create an impression of generosity and Christian sympathy with one’s fellow creatures. Indeed, the truly evil man may find it to his advantage to make a display of Christian charity even at the cost of some considerable sacrifice, knowing that the temporary inconvenience will be more than balanced by the enhancement of his reputation and the concomitant enhancement of his prosperity in the long run.
One more thing happened during this interval, which is that Viola’s clerk came to work for Bousted & Son. Viola insisted that, if Camellia’s husband had a place in the firm, hers must as well. His name (I only now discover, reading back over these pages, that I have not mentioned it yet) was Colebrook; even now I sometimes have difficulty remembering it, because he does not make very much of an impression on me. I quickly discovered that he was much too timid to face patrons like the formidable Mrs. Rockland; but he wrote a very fair hand, and was intelligent enough to take over the correspondence with department stores and canvassing agents.
The time of the wedding finally arrived; but you, dear reader in my imagination, shall hear very little of the ceremony, for I myself recall very little of it. I remember my father’s coughing, and how I wished that he would be done with it;—but of course he never was, and he continued to make the most appalling din throughout. I remember how beautiful Amelia was in white silk, and the powerful scent of the orange blossoms she wore (they had come up from Florida in a special car), and how stiff my new blue coat was, and how long it took—hours, days, weeks—to walk the whole length of the aisle. I remember the sudden realization that struck me at the end of the ceremony, that Amelia now belonged to me entirely without qualification, and the difficulty of restraining myself so that our first kiss as man and wife was chaste enough for the occasion and the audience. Then there was an interminable dinner, during which, in obedience to the inflexible laws of etiquette, I saw so little of Amelia that I began to wonder whether I had only imagined the wedding. And then, after that interminable feast, where Amelia and Viola reigned as queens, and Colebrook (who looked alternately proud and terrified) and I seemed reduced to a page’s estate, there was an even more interminable wait.
We returned to the Goode mansion—my home now, I reflected with no little satisfaction—late in the evening, and Amelia’s father immediately bid us good-night, saying that he was very tired, and adding, with no apparent irony whatsoever, that Amelia and I must be looking forward to a good night’s sleep as well. He shuffled up the stairs, leaving me alone in the front parlor with my wife.
“I can assure you, Galahad,” she whispered to me while her father was still ascending the stairway, “that sleep is the very last thing on my mind.”
She gave me a light kiss, and then turned to watch until her father had vanished from sight.
“Now, Galahad,” she said in a low voice, “I want you to stay right here. Do not stir from this room until I send Elsie for you. It will be worth your while to be patient, I promise you.”
“Yes, of course, my love,” I replied, though secretly resenting every minute by which my enjoyment of the conjugal rights I had so laboriously earned was delayed.
She kissed me again. “Stay right here until Elsie comes for you,” she repeated; then she turned and floated out of the parlor and up the stairs with a soft rustle of silk.
There I was alone in her parlor—my parlor, I told myself, although it seemed only partly true. I looked around me at all the luxurious appointments: the marble, the mahogany, the stained glass, the Louis XIV this and that. I looked at them, and told myself, “This is mine, and this is mine, and this is mine”;—but in fact it all belonged to Colonel Goode, and would not really belong to me until he died and left it to his daughter. He was an old man, but in good health; unless some unexpected reverse hastened his demise, it might yet be many years before the Goode fortune was truly mine.
What was taking Amelia so long? It had already been—I looked at the clock on the mantel—at least three minutes. Well, it was some consolation to know that it had not been as long as I thought. My impatience had magnified those three minutes into half an hour. Surely Amelia must be as impatient as I; it was she, after all, who had been ready to consummate our marriage before the marriage had even been discussed. She could not keep me waiting very long. I picked up a book that was sitting on the side table: Carey’s Ancient Near East. The preface promised good fun with the Chaldees and the Assyrians and the Medes and Persians, but I was not able to read more than the first page and a half. I believe it took me half an hour to read that much. My mind was not with the book; it drifted off into thoughts of the delights I should soon enjoy—soon? Surely it must be soon, for I bitterly resented every tick of the clock. At last I abandoned my futile attempt at reading and simply sat. It had been more than half an hour, and still no Elsie had come. Had something terrible happened? Was Amelia even now lying insensible on a couch, struck down by some unknown and unsuspected ailment? No, of course not;—doubtless she was merely attending to some unnecessary details of her toilette—unnecessary because I could easily have ripped the last stitch of clothing from her in less than half a minute, and what more than that was necessary? The thought of doing so entertained me for another quarter-hour. Then, for a while longer, I simply watched the clock. It was just possible to perceive the movement of the minute hand against the dial. I observed it for a while; then I began to wonder how often the clock ticked. I waited until the minute hand exactly covered one of the marks on the dial, and then counted one hundred sixty ticks until it covered the next one. One hundred sixty ticks, or eighty full swings of the pendulum, per minute. It became absurdly important to me to ascertain this fact with certainty. I counted three more minutes with the same result. Yes, I had established beyond the possibility of doubt that the clock in the front parlor was regulated by a pendulum swinging eighty times a minute. I ought to take a survey of the other clocks in the house; perhaps I could write all their periods down in a memorandum-book and keep it with me, and then if someone should ask—perhaps one of the servants—“What is the period of the pendulum in this clock?”—why, then I could produce my memorandum-book, and——good God, would Elsie never come?
I had reached such a pitch of desperation by that time that I can hardly say why I did not break my promise and run up the stairs to see what could possibly be the matter with Amelia. Yet I was in that parlor—sitting, standing, pacing, muttering—for yet an hour after that. The thoughts that went through my mind in that time reflect no credit upon me, I am sure. I gave in to despair; I wondered again whether I had not merely imagined the wedding, or indeed my whole life. Was I not born in that parlor, and should I not die there?
——But at last Elsie did come, a wisp of a girl who could not bring herself to look straight at me.
“Miss Goode—that is, Mrs., uhm, Bousted—is ready,” she said in a voice so quiet and tremulous that I had to strain my ears to hear her. Then she turned away and took a few steps; and then she looked over her shoulder, and added, “If you could follow me, sir.”
So I followed her up the stairs—and it struck me that I had not been upstairs in the Goode house, my house, since I was first brought there after my heroic rescue of Amelia. At the top of the great staircase Elsie turned left into what seemed to me then to be an impossibly long hall, a hall that might have engulfed our entire Beech-street house. She glanced backwards to ascertain that I was still following her; but as soon as her eyes met mine she turned back abruptly and tripped ahead at a faster pace, as if I were some object of supernatural terror. I matched my pace to hers, striding briskly through the hall, past innumerable doors (no more than a dozen, but to my eyes the hall seemed infinite), until at last we reached the end of the hall, with a window before us and doors to the left and right.
For a moment—an interminable moment—Elsie simply stood facing the window. Then at last she turned to face me, with the most ghastly pale countenance I have ever seen on a living woman. She opened her mouth to speak, but no words proceeded from her lips; then all at once she turned deep rose, pointed to the door on the left hand, and almost pushed me out of the way as she suddenly dashed off and quite literally ran back down the hall.
After that performance, I certainly did not know what to expect behind the door. I knocked lightly, and then gently turned the knob. The door opened silently on perfectly oiled hinges.
The far wall was hung with deep red curtains, and in the middle of the room was a couch draped profusely in red velvet; and on the couch, La Belle Anglaise. Every fold of the drapery, every line of the furniture in the painting had been reproduced as accurately as lay within the power of feminine industry. And Amelia herself, the central figure in the composition, recumbent, her every limb exactly as in the picture—oh! reader, there are not words in our poor language to describe the vision that met my eyes.
“Lock the door,” she said with an inviting smile; and I did lock it.