MARRIAGE A LA MODE
For Rosalind was no victim of the monster man, as you may have supposed her, no illustration of his immemorial perfidies. On the contrary, she was one half of a very happy marriage, and, in a sense, her sufferings at the moment were merely theoretical, if one may so describe the sufferings caused by a theory. But no doubt the reader would prefer a little straightforward narrative.
Well, Rosalind and Orlando, as we may as well call them, are two newly married young people who've been married, say, a year, and who find themselves at the end of it loving each other more than at the beginning,--for you are to suppose two of the tenderest, most devoted hearts that ever beat as one. However, they are young people of the introspective modern type, with a new theory for everything.
About marriage and the law of happiness in that blessed estate, they boasted the latest philosophical patents. To them, among other matters, the secret of unhappy marriages was as simple as can be. It was in nothing more or less than the excessive "familiarity" of ordinary married life, and the lack of personal freedom allowed both parties to the contract. Thus love grew commonplace, and the unhappy ones to weary of each other by excessive and enforced association. This was obvious enough, and the remedy as obvious,--separate bedrooms, and a month's holiday in each year to be spent apart (notoriously all people of quality had separate bedrooms, and see how happy they were!). These and similar other safeguards of individual liberty they had in mock-earnest drawn up and signed on their marriage eve, as a sort of supplemental wedding service.
It would not be seemly to inquire how far certain of these conditions had been kept,--how often, for example, Orlando's little hermit's bed had really needed remaking during those twelve months! Answer, ye birds of the air that lie in your snug nests, so close, so close, through the tender summer nights, and maybe with two or three little ones besides,--unless, indeed, ye too have felt the influence of the Zeit-geist, and have taken to sleeping in separate nests.
The condition with which alone we have here to concern ourselves was one which provided that each of the two lovers, hereafter to be called the husband of the one part and the wife of the other part, solemnly bound themselves to spend one calendar month of each year out of each other's society, with full and free liberty to spend it wheresoever, with whomsoever, and howsoever they pleased; and that this condition was rigidly to be maintained, whatever immediate effort it might cost, as the parties thereto believed that so would their love the more likely maintain an enduring tenderness and an unwearied freshness. And to this did Orlando and his Rosalind set their hands and hearts and lips.
Now, wisdom is all very well till the time comes to apply it; and as that month of June approached in which they had designed to give their love a holiday, they had found their courage growing less and less. Their love didn't want a holiday; and when Orlando had referred to the matter during the early days of May, Rosalind had burst into tears, and begged him to reconsider a condition which they had made before they really knew what wedded love was. But Orlando, though in tears himself (so Rosalind averred), had a higher sense of their duty to their ideal, and was able, though in tears, to beg her look beyond the moment, and realise what a little self-denial now might mean in the years to come. They hadn't kept any other of their resolutions,--thus Rosalind let it out!--this must be kept.
And thus it had come about that Orlando had gone off for his month's holiday with a charming girl, who, with the cynic, will no doubt account for his stern adherence to duty; and Rosalind had gone off for hers with a pretty young man whom she'd liked well enough to go to the theatre and to supper with,--a young man who was indeed a dear friend, and a vivacious, sympathetic companion, but whom, as a substitute for Orlando, she immediately began to hate. Such is the female heart!
The upshot of the experiment, so far as she was concerned, was that she had quarrelled with her companion, and had gone off in search of her husband, on which search she was embarked at the moment of my encountering her. The tears, therefore,--that is, the first lot of tears by the roadside,--had not been all on account of the injured bicycle, you see.
Now the question was, How had Orlando been getting on? I had an intuition that in his case the experiment had proved more enjoyable, but I am not one to break the bruised reed by making such a suggestion. On the contrary, I expressed my firm conviction that Orlando was probably even more miserable than she was.
"Do you really think so?" she asked eagerly, her poor miserable face growing bright a moment with hope and gratitude.
"Undoubtedly," I answered sententiously. "To put the case on the most general principles, apart from Orlando's great love for you, it is an eternal truth of masculine sentiment that man always longs for the absent woman."
"Are you quite sure?" asked Rosalind, with an unconvinced half-smile.
"I thought," she continued, "that it was just the other way about; that it was presence and not absence that made the heart of man grow fonder, and that if a man's best girl, so to say, was away, he was able to make himself very comfortable with his second-best!"
"In some cases, of course, it's true," I answered, unmoved; "but with a love like yours and Orlando's, it's quite different."
"Oh, do you really mean it?"
"Certainly I do; and your mistake has been in supposing that an experiment which no few every-day married couples would be only too glad to try, was ever meant for two such love-birds as you. Laws and systems are meant for the unhappy and the untractable, not for people like you, for whom Love makes its own laws."
"Yes, that is what we used to say; and indeed, we thought that this was one of love's laws,--this experiment, as you call it."
"But it was quite a mistake," I went on in my character as matrimonial oracle. "Love never made a law so cruel, a law that would rob true lovers of each other's society for a whole month in a year, stretching them on the rack of absence--" There my period broke down, so I began another less ambitiously planned.
"A whole month in a year! Think what that would mean in a lifetime. How long do you expect to live and love together? Say another fifty years at the most. Well, fifty ones are fifty. Fifty months equal--four twelves are forty-eight and two over--four years and two months. Yes, out of the short life God allows even for the longest love you would voluntarily throw away four years and two months!"
This impressive calculation had a great effect on poor Rosalind; and it is a secondary matter that it and its accompanying wisdom may have less weight with the reader, as for the moment Rosalind was my one concern.
"But, of course, we have perfect trust in each other," said Rosalind presently, with charming illogicality.
"No doubt," I said; "but Love, like a good householder(ahem!), does well not to live too much on trust."
"But surely love means perfect trust," said Rosalind.
"Theoretically, yes; practically, no. On the contrary, it means exactly the opposite. Trust, perfect trust, with loved ones far away! No, it is an inhuman ideal, and the more one loves the less one lives up to it. If not, what do these tears mean?"
"Oh, no!" Rosalind retorted, with a flush, "you mustn't say that. I trust Orlando absolutely. It isn't that; it's simply that I can't bear to be away from him."
What women mean by "trusting" might afford a subject for an interesting disquisition. However, I forbore to pursue the matter, and answered Rosalind's remark in a practical spirit.
"Well, then," I said, "if that's all, the thing to do is to find Orlando, tell him that you cannot bear it, and spend the rest of your holiday, you and he, together."
"That's what I thought," said Rosalind.
"Unfortunately," I continued, "owing to your foolish arrangement not to tell each other where you were going and not to write, as being incompatible with Perfect Trust, you don't know where Orlando is at the present moment."
"No; but I have a good guess," said Rosalind. "There's a smart little watering- place, not so many miles from here, called Yellowsands, a sort of secret little Monaco, which not many people know of, a wicked-innocent gay little place, where we've often talked of going. I think it's very likely that Orlando has gone there; and that's just where I was going when we met."
I will tell the reader more about Yellowsands in the next chapter. Meanwhile, let us complete Rosalind's arrangements. The result of our conversation was that she was to proceed to Yellowsands on the morrow, and that I was to follow as soon as possible, so as to be available should she chance to need any advice, and at all events to give myself the pleasure of meeting her again.
This arranged, we said good-night, Rosalind with ever such a brightened-up face, of which I thought for half an hour and then fell asleep to dream of Yellowsands.Next