The question now becomes one of priority.
Far into the night I labored, writing and re-writing my speech to old Colonel Goode. You may believe that it is absurd to write a speech for such an occasion, but I was unwilling to leave anything to chance. I must make a persuasive argument that I, humble though my origins might be, was the best possible husband for his beloved daughter. I must exercise all the powers of rhetoric to prove that Amelia could be in no safer hands than mine. I was, after all, asking him for his whole treasure—not just his daughter, but also the millions she would inherit. Certainly I would not mention the millions, but they must be present to his mind all the same. Could he safely deposit his daughter and his fortune in my hands? That was the question he had to be able to answer affirmatively. It was true that Amelia might be persuaded to defy her father even if he should withhold his consent; but, much as I lusted after Amelia’s beauty, my rational mind recognized that her beauty was transitory, whereas the Goode millions were of permanent value.
My first attempt cost me half an hour of staring at a blank sheet, until at last I was able to bring myself to write something:
“Sir: It behooves every young man to consider carefully how——”
That was as far as I got before I tossed the sheet aside. What a perfectly ridiculous way to begin! I made it sound as though I were applying for a position in his firm. And what sort of word was “behooves” anyway? Could it possibly even be English? The more I turned it over in my mind, the more absurd it sounded. Behooves, behooves, behooves, behooves, behooves. Horses and cattle are among the behooved animals. Obviously I was very tired, but I would not rest until the thing was done. I began afresh:
“Sir: Since I first made the acquaintance of your daughter in the course of rescuing her from a fate worse than death——”
No, I must not boast. He certainly remembered the circumstances under which he met me the first time; that worked in my favor, but to remind him of it specifically would be distasteful. I began once more:
“Sir: Unworthy though I am to ask for——”
No—why should I put the notion that I was unworthy into his mind? My aim was to show him that I was worthy. I must not begin by confusing the argument. That sheet joined the rest in the waste-basket. So did the next one, which touched on the Christian duty of marriage, and the one after that, which began, “I am reminded of the story of the Irishman and his sister.”
At last, as the clock was striking two, I finished an oration that I thought would be wonderfully persuasive. I spent another half-hour committing it to memory, and then at last settled in bed to dream of my beautiful Amelia.
The next day, my brother-in-law Bradley was quite surprised to learn that his wages had risen to two dollars a day. I told him that he had proved himself and deserved the additional half-dollar; I did not tell him that Amelia disapproved of low wages, since no one else but Viola knew that I had anything to do with Amelia. You may note that I made this decision without consulting my father. I informed him of it later (and he expressed his approval), but I had decided to regard the responsibility as mine. My father had already been made wealthy beyond his poor imagination by my management of the business, so he wisely refrained from questioning me in most of these affairs.
Immediately after supper I excused myself, left the house, and walked briskly to the Goode mansion. I was not looking forward to what I had to do, but I had some confidence in my persuasive abilities. Besides, there was Amelia. Any effort would be worth my while for such a prize. I recalled the soft warmth of her lips on mine, the tender caresses that turned my lapel under, and her eagerness to offer still greater liberties—Oh! what a delicious thought! It carried me all the way through the dark and chilly evening until I reached the front door of the Goode mansion and pulled the bell.
The same young man who had been my messenger on Sunday answered the door, and without waiting for me to present my card, told me, “Miss Goode has been expecting you, sir.”
I was about to say that I had come to call on her father, but then it occurred to me that Amelia might have some good reason for intercepting me. It would be wise (as well as pleasant) to see her before confronting her father. I followed the boy into the ballroom and through the double doors into the back parlor, where I found Amelia sitting—and her father in the chair opposite her.
The time had come—and suddenly I had forgotten every word of the speech I had so carefully composed. In a single moment, I went through a thousand agonies; my face flushed; I swallowed; and, at last, forgetting even a polite greeting, I began to stammer out the only words that came to me:
“Sir:—It behooves every young——”
“My son!” The old man fairly leaped out of his chair with his right hand extended. “No need to make a fool of yourself with some silly speech—my little girl has told me everything, and I’m delighted, my boy, delighted! I couldn’t hope for anything better.” He grasped my hand, and at the same time clapped me on the shoulder—which was something of a reach for him, since I was taller by a head.
“Well,” I replied,—and at the moment I could think of nothing else to say.
“Darling,” Amelia said from behind him, “I hope you won’t be angry with me, but you see I’ve anticipated you.”
“She told me that you were going to ask for her hand, and that I was to say yes,” the Colonel said with what I suppose was his heartiest laugh—a sort of contralto piping that seemed to emanate from somewhere behind his nose. “She’s made her mind up. She does that, my boy—you’ll find that out soon enough. But I was more than happy to oblige her—more than happy. Why, a fine young man like you is exactly what I had been hoping for. She won’t have me forever, you know.”
“Well, of course——” I started out rather uncertainly, but I soon found my footing again. “Of course I shall always take care of her as—as my greatest treasure.”
“I know you will, my boy. A man who would risk life and limb for a stranger would certainly take good care of a wife, wouldn’t he? —And you have a head for business as well, which is more necessary than most people think. Marriage is a business partnership: two persons combine their assets in hopes of making a profitable venture, just as——”
“Now, Father, don’t start talking business with him already,” Amelia said with a bright smile; then to me, “If you let him get started you’ll never hear the end of it.” This provoked another round of piping from the Colonel.
So our conversation turned to other matters: Amelia’s dear mother, carried off by a fever when the poor girl was but an infant—my own mother, whose memory my father professed to revere, although I doubt whether he really thought about her very much at all—and my father, to whom Colonel Goode had taken an inexplicable liking. I was told at last that I should consider myself already part of the family; and then Colonel Goode left us, saying, “Now I’m sure you young folks have things to talk about that you don’t need me to hear,” and telling Amelia she could show me out when she was through with me.
For a few moments after he was gone, we were both silent;—then Amelia threw herself into my arms and pressed her lips to mine. Then she drew back just enough to talk to me.
“Galahad, my valiant knight, tell me—are you happy that you have achieved your quest?”
“I don’t think there’s a happier man in Pennsylvania,” I replied, and I certainly meant it.
“I knew my father would like you right away. He’s seen so many fortune-hunters and besotted old widowers try their luck with me that an honest, brave, loyal young man like my Galahad was bound to please him.”
Well, I was not about to correct her impression of me. “I’ll always try to live up to his expectations.”
She smiled. “You’d do better to think of living up to mine, darling. I’m going to expect quite a lot from you as soon as I have a right to expect it.” She kissed me again.
Our conversation was more physical than verbal for some time after that; but at last we began to speak of the wedding itself.
“It must be as soon as it can be done decently,” Amelia insisted, and I was certainly not about to disagree with her. “April, perhaps—when the daffodils are blooming. I’ll speak to Father about the date, but I think the first Sunday after Easter might do.”
“The sooner the better,” I agreed.
“It will be the social event of the season, of course,” she continued. “It can’t be helped: Father’s position will make it so. In the mean time, there’s so much to do! Father will want to give a ball to announce our engagement, and I’m sure your father will want to have us for dinner, and we must decide on our living arrangements after the wedding—not to mention the wedding itself. It will be splendid, but—darling—I almost wish it did not have to be done, that we could be united to-night and never parted again!”
“Believe me, dearest, I wish it could be so. The wait will be difficult,—but patience will have its reward.”
“I know it will,” Amelia said with a soft smile. “But, in the mean time, you are now my acknowledged husband to be. I think that position permits you a few pardonable liberties beyond what you might have considered proper before.”
Since I could find no flaw in her reasoning, I agreed; and when I parted from her that evening, I was a considerably more educated man. I walked briskly back through the dark and quiet streets feeling as though nothing could possibly be wrong anywhere in the world. I also felt a positive need to proclaim my triumph, though the only possible audience for my proclamation would be my father and my sister. They would have to be told sometime, at any rate, and it might just as well happen immediately.
I entered the hall, left my hat and stick in the rack, and carefully hung my coat in the closet—reflecting, as I did so, that I should soon have servants to take care of those inconsequential tasks. Entering the front parlor, I found my sister sitting straight in a side chair reading one of her appalling novels, and my father slumped in an armchair with a book of sentimental poetry open on his face.
“I’m glad I found you both together,” I began with no other greeting. ”I have something important to tell you both.”
My father awoke with a start and brushed the book off his face; I saw Viola’s expression darken a little, and she said without looking up at me, “If you’ve sold your Graded Stationery to some department store in the Indian Territory, we can hear all about it in the morning,—or never, if that’s more convenient.” Viola liked to profess a violent distaste for hearing me talk about the firm at all, though she was very happy to spend the money I provided for her.
“Nothing to do with the firm,” I replied. “It’s a more personal kind of business. I’m going to marry Amelia Goode.”
At this Viola did look up, with her jaw gaping in a most unattractive fashion. My father, on the other hand, leaped out of his chair.
“You mean Hiram Goode’s daughter?” he asked—quite unnecessarily, since there cannot have been great numbers of Amelia Goodes wandering the streets of Allegheny.
“Yes, that Amelia Goode,” I answered cheerfully—for I was in such good spirits that I could not bring myself to be annoyed even by my father’s thickheadedness. “She has done me the honor of consenting to be my wife, and her father has given us his blessing.”
“Oh! this is marvelous, Galahad!” my father exclaimed. “Hiram and I were hoping the two of you might make a match of it—we thought you might have made an impression on the girl—but we never expected it to happen so quickly! Have you set a date yet?”
“Nothing firm,” I answered, while my mind was still trying to grasp the implications of what my father had just told me. Did he really say “Hiram and I”? —“Nothing firm,” I repeated, since my first attempt had come out as more of a squeak than a statement. “We had talked of a wedding in April, the first Sunday after Easter. We do want it to be soon, for reasons that—well, that I think should be obvious.”
“Of course, Galahad!” My father attempted a sly wink, which was really quite hideous. “No need to elaborate on that, my boy. Well, my heartiest congratulations to you both. I think she’s ideally suited to you, Galahad, and I know you’ll be an ideal husband to her. —Won’t they make a perfect pair, Viola?”
My father and I both looked toward the side chair, but there was no Viola in it. Instead, from the hall, we heard the sound of heels stamping noisily upstairs, and then a door ostentatiously slammed.
Viola refused to speak to me all the next day, which in ordinary circumstances would have suited me admirably; but in this case her blank refusal to be impressed by my greatest triumph irked me. My father, however, did unfortunately deign to speak, and during a brief lull at the store he explained the reason for Viola’s petulance. “She had planned her own wedding for June, you know. She seems to think that your wedding will detract from hers somehow.”
Well, of course it would. What kind of public glory did she expect for marrying the clerk in the lampseller’s store? I was marrying the belle of Allegheny. Nevertheless, I tried to think of something more conciliatory to say to my father.
“I should think that, by having her wedding after ours, she would have the last word, so to speak. Hers would be the wedding everyone would remember.” This was nothing but a lie, of course, and a clumsy one. I was not yet very far advanced in my pursuit of evil, and I had not yet learned to avoid all but the most necessary lies. It is greatly to one’s advantage to have a reputation for veracity; the rational or evil man must in fact be uncommonly truthful.
“Your sister won’t see it that way,” my father replied, displaying more knowledge of the nature of sisters than I might have expected of him.
“Well, I can’t be held responsible for my sister’s unreasonable attitude,” I said,—knowing at the same time that I would be held responsible for it, because Viola would see to it that I was. But at that moment a patron walked through the door, which put an end to our conversation.
I told Amelia about Viola’s unabated petulance a few days later. It was an unseasonably warm and sunny day, and Amelia and I were actually strolling in the park. We should ordinarily have taken the carriage, which afforded us more privacy; but Henry, on whose discretion Amelia and I relied, was off that day, and it really was delightful to walk in the warm sun after so much chilly weather. A good number of other young couples had come to the same conclusion, so the park was quite lively that day.
“It’s such a pity your sister should be so cross,” Amelia responded when I told her how my sister—who in fact still remained mute when I was present—was behaving. “I had hoped we should be great friends.”
Was not Amelia the best-natured girl in the world? Imagine meeting Viola and hoping one could be great friends with her! “I’m sure you will be,” I assured her, though not really believing anything of the sort. “Viola will forget all about it shortly.” In fact Viola had never forgiven me for being born, so I suppose twenty-two years might be a good estimate of the length of one of her grudges.
Amelia was about to reply, but just then a familiar voice hailed me, and I looked up to see Gertrude Snyder, her brother, and a moustache behind which lurked that Hoffman fellow. They were all strolling toward us.
“How do you do, Mr. Bousted?” Gertrude greeted me.
“Miss Snyder! How delightful to see you. I believe you know Miss Goode.”
“How do you do, Miss Goode?”
Amelia replied with a mumbled greeting, which was very uncharacteristic of her.
“And this,” I continued, taking up the burden of introductions, “is Mr. Magnus Hoffman”—I indicated the ambulatory moustache on Gertrude’s right,—“and Miss Snyder’s brother, Mr. Edward Snyder.”
“Mr. Snyder and I are already acquainted,” Amelia said quietly. She was gripping my arm; I felt that same unsettling rigidity in her frame that I had felt that night in the carriage when I rejected her amorous advances. I reflected that she must often have seen me walking with Gertrude; I should probably have to reveal the extent of my acquaintance with Gertrude when I talked to Amelia later. But I might at least make that conversation easier by emphasizing Gertrude’s current attachment to the moustache whose arm she was holding.
“And how have you and Mr. Hoffman been getting on?” I asked with my pleasantest smile.
Gertrude also smiled—one of those very rare bright smiles of hers that indicated genuine happiness. “We’re to be married this spring,” she answered.
“What wonderful news!” I exclaimed—quite sincerely, since it would certainly persuade Amelia that there was no lingering attachment between Gertrude and me. “Miss Goode and I will also be married this spring.”
“Oh, how splendid, Mr. Bousted! I had no idea you and Miss Goode were even acquainted.” There was no accusation in her tone; either it did not occur to her to wonder whether I had already had designs on Amelia when I was courting her, or she did not choose to wonder. For my part, I did not answer the implied question.
“And you, Snyder,” I said as cheerily as I could,—“you must be happy to see your sister so well matched.”
“H’m? Oh, yes indeed,” he answered distractedly. He did not look happy, which was not at all surprising when I considered his stated opinion of the Hoffman fellow.
Clearly we had exhausted the possibilities of pleasant conversation, if neither Snyder nor Amelia was ready to be pleasant. “Well, it was very good to see you,” I concluded, “and my best wishes to the happy pair.”
Gertrude returned my compliments, still smiling, and then continued on her way with her brother and the moustache. Amelia and I also resumed our walk, but I could still sense that strange hardness in her arm.
Finally, after a thoroughly uncharacteristic silence, Amelia spoke in a rather quiet monotone. “Is Mr.—Mr. Snyder” (she pronounced it as if it were a foreign name and she was not quite sure if she had it right) “a good friend of yours?”
Something in her tone suggested that there was more to the question than what was conveyed by mere words. She was probably looking for information about Gertrude, and I decided that it was time to tell her as much as it suited me to tell her about my abortive pursuit of Miss Snyder.
“More of a business acquaintance really,” I told her. “I know the sister a good bit better than the brother. Gertrude and——”
“Galahad, that was the man,” she said suddenly.
I stopped in my tracks. “The man?”
Amelia looked around nervously, but there was no one within earshot. “I told you that there was a man who—who took my innocence. That was the man—the man you called Snyder.”