Juggling With Matrimony,
“It’s very wrong of me,” she said, “to let you put your arm around my waist in this disgraceful manner.”
“It’s little enough,” pleaded the man.
The girl looked doubtfully at the darkening sea. She was but a girl, despite the prefix to her name.
“My waist—or the concession?” she enquired.
The man dug a vicious heel into the yielding shingle.
“The concession,” he replied savagely. “Besides, who is there to see us in this solitude? Even the dusk has merged into the darkness.”
The girl knit her pretty brows in an effort of thought. Before them towered a great grey rock. On either hand lay a broad sweep of unoccupied shingle. Darkness enveloped them, and the possibility of discovery was proportionately small. But Mrs. Lucian had her scruples. Moreover, she inwardly marveled at the man’s audacity in thus totally disregarding the laws and commandments incidental to matrimony.
** ** **
“It is not a question of discovery,” she reproved. “Wrong is not right until it is found out, Mr. Searle.”
The man laughed, but there was little mirth in the laugh.
“Well,” he said defiantly, “we’re at the seaside anyhow. That fact carries with it a certain degree of license, as every one will admit.”
The girl leaned back, but the man’s arm never moved.
“Do you think Mr. Lucian would admit such a thing—in our case?” she inquired sweetly. “Besides, are you resolving sin into a mere question of geography?”
The man opened his eyes.
“Oh, come!” he protested. “That’s much too strong a term! And if you will insist on reminding me of—of your husband, Laura—well, all I can say is that he ought to be ashamed of himself for sending you down here alone, and never helping to give you a jolly good time!”
The girl smiled.
“I could write for him?” she suggested dreamily. “It would be so nice to see you two shake hands.”
Once more the offending heel crashed into the shingle.
“You needn’t trouble,” he said, gloomily. “I’m going back to town in the morning.”
The girl sat up.
“So soon!” she exclaimed. “I thought you had another week? I hope you’ve not had bad news, Mr. Searle?”
The man was silent. He did not quite know how to answer her.
“Would you care?” he asked suddenly. “Does it matter to you whether I go or stay?”
The girl leaned back again. There was an almost imperceptible tightening of the arm about her waist. Clearly she had not noticed it, for the man was not rebuked.
“Of course it matters,” she responded, with a charming assumption of innocent surprise. “We’ve been such good friends, Mr. Searle. I’m almost ashamed to confess it, but I’ve scarcely missed my husband since you and your friend met us on the pier ten days ago. You’ve been awfully kind, you know.”
The man frowned. He was beginning to fight anew the self-same battle that had been going on for days. He had always lost, and he had now determined on retreat. Yet, with an astonishing lack of generalship, he actually intended to notify the enemy as to his plans.
“Well,” he said, doggedly, “I’m going away because I’m a fool—that’s all! I never thought twice about any woman in my life till I met you. And now I’m on the rocks, like the rest of mankind, I shall never love any other woman. And you are out of reach. That’s why I must go.”
** ** **
The girl sighed sympathetically.
“Is it really so bad as that?” she murmured.
“Yes,” he said, “It’s as bad as that. This is our last evening, Laura.”
She sighed again.
“What a silly boy,” she said, “to fall in love with a married woman!”
The man bit his moustache savagely.
“You didn’t own to being married till we’d been out for three whole days together,” he reminded her. “The mischief was done then, and it was too late.”
The girl leaned towards him till her wavy brown hair caressed his cheek, and set his pulses beating. Yet it was only her way of apologizing. Some temperaments are so sensitively sympathetic that the diffusion of sweet consolation becomes an absolute necessity. But every strain has its breaking point. With a sudden movement he bent down and kissed her squarely on the lips. She uttered a little startled cry that was not too audible, and feebly struggled to release herself. But the next instant she was again still. It seemed so cruel to be unkind on this very last night of their sweet association. Yet she owed something to herself nevertheless.
** ** **
“What do you think my husband would say to such a proceeding?” she protested, breathlessly.
The reply was not audible. He felt relieved at this, and supplemented it with another.
“That’s his look-out!” he said, bluntly. “He shouldn’t be fool enough to make such a thing possible!”
He looked down suddenly. The girl was quietly laughing! Was she making a fool of him? The possibility sent a hot flush to his brow, and he was on the point of springing to his feet and tragically bidding her a long and reproachful farewell when he saw her do a curious thing. She deliberately withdrew the plain gold band that encircled the third finger of her left hand and tossed it in the sea. The action made him gasp. But the girl only laughed.
“I bought it on the way down,” she said. “It wasn’t worth much.”
The man stared at her in blank bewilderment.
“I—I don’t understand!” he blurted out.
The girl nodded.
“You see,” she said, “girls have a good deal to put up with when they come down alone to the seaside. Every man seems to think he has a right to accost them and take all kinds of liberties with them. So Dora and I hit on a plan to avoid this annoyance. We just bought wedding rings and posed as married women. It worked all right till we met you. Then, somehow, we wanted to hide it, but couldn’t. The fellows we had dismissed gave the game away, and we had to stick to the deception.”
There was a tacit confession in the speech which the man did not fail to observe. The encircling arm tightened again. And this time there could be no mistake about the action.
** ** **
“Then there isn’t any Mr. Lucien!” he cried, beginning to laugh in his turn.
The girl shook her head regretfully. It was now the man’s duty to offer consolation.
“Never mind!” he murmured, warming to his work. “We’ll soon remedy that misfortune.”
The process of consolation lasted for half an hour and was apparently conducted on the plan of Mendelssohn’s exquisite songs. Presently the man looked up.
“I wonder where Tom is!” he said, thoughtfully.
“Listening to Dora’s confession,” she replied, with the promptness of conviction. “Is he, too, returning to town to-morrow, Mr. Searle?”
The man resumed his former occupation.
“I’ve changed my mind,” he said. “But, I say, Laura, we must remember this rock. There’s not a soul in sight!”
And this they certainly did. As the sun dipped down into the sea, they turned up with astonishing regularity throughout the ensuing week. And when, a year later, they revisited the spot and found another couple there before them, they were in no way perturbed. For, though “Mr. Lucian” still remains as elusive as the renowned Mrs. ‘Arris, or that mythical hero of a modern ballad who was so pathetically implored to “come ‘ome,” and whose recent decease has evoked such universal rejoicing, he is now ably represented in the flesh by the husband of Laura Searle. And Tom and Dora think they cannot do better than follow so excellent an example.
The Pittsburgh [PA] Press 10 January 1906: p. 4
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil suggests that there is quite enough moral turpitude in this tale to go around: Shame on Laura for essentially “honey-trapping” Mr Searle into adulterous affection; and shame to Mr Searle for being the sort of man who did not mind taking advantage of the lax moral codes of sea-side resorts. One wishes them joy, but one is not sanguine about their future. We have already seen how husbands slipped the leash while wives and children disported themselves on the boardwalks. One fears a similar outcome after the honeymoon is over.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.