Here to return to
I TALKED to a woman once on the subject of honeymoons. I said, "Would you recommend a long honeymoon, or a Saturday to Monday somewhere?" A silence fell upon her. I gathered she was looking back rather than forward to her answer.
"I would advise a long honeymoon," she replied at length, "the old-fashioned month."
"Why," I persisted, "I thought the tendency of the age was to cut these things shorter and shorter."
"It is the tendency of the age," she answered, "to seek escape from many things it would be wiser to face. 1 think myself that, for good or evil, the sooner it is over, – the sooner both the man and the woman know, – the better."
"The sooner what is over?" I asked.
If she had a fault, this woman, about which I am not sure, it was an inclination towards enigma.
She crossed to the window and stood there, looking out.
"Was there not a custom," she said, still gazing down into the wet, glistening street, "among one of the ancient peoples, I forget which, ordaining that when a man and woman, loving each other, or thinking that they loved, had been joined together, they should go, down upon their wedding night to the temple? And into the dark recesses of the temple, through many winding passages, the priest led them until they came to the great chamber where dwelt the Voice of their god. There the priest left them, clanging to the massive door behind him, and there, alone in silence, they made their sacrifice; and in the night the Voice spoke to them, showing them their future life, – whether they had chosen well; whether their love would live or die. And in the morning the priest returned and led them back into the day; and they dwelt among their fellows. But no one was permitted to question them, nor they to answer should any do so. – Well, do you know, our nineteenth-century honeymoon at Brighton, Switzerland, or Ramsgate, as the choice or necessity may be, always seems to me merely another form of that night spent alone in the temple before the altar of that forgotten god. Our young men and women marry, and we kiss them and congratulate them, and standing on the doorstep throw rice and old slippers, and shout good wishes after them; and he waves his gloved hand to us, and she flutters her little handkerchief from the carriage window; and we watch their smiling faces and hear their laughter until the corner hides them from our view. Then we go about our own business, and a short time passes by; and one day we meet them again, and their faces have grown older and graver; and I always wonder what the voice has told them during that little while that they have been absent from our sight. But of course it would not do to ask them. Nor would they answer truly if we did."
My friend laughed, and leaving the window took her place beside the tea-things, and, other callers dropping in, we fell to talk of pictures, plays, and people.
But I felt it would be unwise to act on her sole advice, much as I have always valued her opinion.
A woman takes life too seriously. It is a serious affair to most of us, the Lord knows. That is why it is well not to take it more seriously than need be.
Little Jack and little Jill fall down the hill, hurting their little knees and their little noses, spilling the hard-earned water. We are very philosophical.
"Oh, don't cry!" we tell them; "that is babyish. Little boys and little girls must learn to bear pain. Up you get, fill the pail again, and try once more."
Little Jack and little Jill rub their dirty knuckles into their little eyes, looking ruefully at their bloody little knees and trot back with the pail. We laugh at them, but not ill-naturedly.
"Poor little souls," we say; "how they did hullabaloo! One might have thought they were half-killed. And it was only a broken crown, after all. What a fuss children make!" We bear with much stoicism the fall of little Jack and little Jill.
But when we – grown-up Jack with moustache turning grey; grown-up Jill with the first faint, "crow's feet" showing – when we tumble down the hill, and our pail is spilt, ye Heavens! what a tragedy has happened! Put out the stars, turn off the sun, suspend the laws of nature. Mr. Jack and Mrs. Jill, coming down the hill, – what they were doing on the hill we will not inquire, – have slipped over a stone, placed there surely by the evil powers of the universe. Mr. Jack and Mrs. Jill have bumped their silly heads. Mr. Jack and Mrs. Jill have hurt their little hearts, and stand marvelling that the world can go about its business in the face of such disaster.
Don't take the matter quite so seriously, Jack and Jill. You have spilled your happiness; you must toil up the hill again and refill the pail. Carry it more carefully next time. What were you doing? Playing some fool's trick, I'll be bound.
A laugh and a sigh, a kiss and good-bye, is our life. Is it worth so much fretting? It is a merry life on the whole. Courage, comrade. A campaign cannot be all drum and fife and stirrup-cup. The marching and the fighting must come into it somewhere. There are pleasant bivouacs among the vineyards, merry nights around the campfires. White hands wave a welcome to us; bright eyes dim at our going. Would you run from the battle-music? What have you to complain of? Forward: the medal to some, the surgeon's knife to others; to all of us, sooner or later, six foot of mother earth. What are you afraid of? Courage, comrade.
There is a mean between basking through life with the smiling contentment of the alligator, and shivering through it with the aggressive sensibility of the Lama determined to die at every cross word. To bear it as a man we must also feel it as a man. My philosophic friend, seek not to comfort a brother standing by the coffin of his child with the cheery suggestion that it will be all the same a hundred years hence, because, for one thing, the observation is not true: the man is changed for all eternity, – possibly for the better, but don't add that. soldier with a bullet in his neck is never quite the man he was. But he can laugh and he can talk, drink his wine and ride his horse. Now and again, towards evening, when the weather is trying, the sickness will come upon him. You will find him on a couch in a dark corner.
"Hallo! old fellow, anything up?"
"Oh, just a twinge, the old wound, you know. I will be better in a little while." Shut the door of the dark room quietly. I should not stay even to sympathise with him if I were you. The men will be coming to screw the coffin down soon. I think he would like to be alone with it till then. Let us leave him. He will come back to the club later on in the season. For a while we may have to give him another ten points or so, but he will soon get back his old form. Now and again, when he meets the other fellows' boys shouting on the towing-path; when Brown rushes up the drive, paper in hand, to tell him how that young scapegrace Jim has won his Cross; when he is congratulating Jones's eldest on having passed with honours, – the old wound may give him a nasty twinge. But the pain will pass away. He will laugh at our stories and tell us his own; eat his dinner, play his rubber. It is only a wound.
Tommy can never be ours; Jenny does not love us. We cannot afford claret, so we shall have to drink beer. Well, what would you have us do? Yes, let us curse Fate, by all means; some one to curse is always useful. Let us cry and wring our hands – for how long? The dinner-bell will ring soon, and the Smiths are coming. We shall have to talk about the opera and the picture-galleries. Quick, where is the, eau-de-Cologne? where are the curling tongs? Or would you we committed suicide? Is it worth while? Only a few more years, – perhaps to-morrow, by aid of a piece of orange peel or a broken chimney pot, – and Fate will save us all that trouble.
Or shall we, as sulky children, mope day after day? We are a broken-hearted little Jack – little Jill. We shall never smile again; we shall pine away and die, and be buried in the spring. The world is sad, and life so cruel, and heaven so cold. Oh, dear! oh, dear! we have hurt ourselves.
We whimper and whine at every pain. In old strong days men faced real dangers, real troubles, every hour; they had no time to cry. Death and disaster stood ever at the door. Men were contemptuous of them. Now in each snug protected villa we set to work to make wounds out of scratches. Every headache becomes an agony, every heartache a tragedy. It took a murdered father, a drowned sweetheart, a dishonoured mother, a ghost, and a slaughtered Prime Minister to produce the emotions in Hamlet that a modern minor poet obtains from a chorus girl's frown, or a temporary slump on the Stock Exchange. Like Mrs. Gummidge, we feel it more. The lighter and easier life gets, the more seriously we go out to meet it. The boatmen of Ulysses faced the thunder and the sunshine alike with frolic welcome. We modern sailors have grown more sensitive. The sunshine scorches us; the rain chills us. We meet both with loud self-pity.
Thinking these thoughts, I sought a second friend, – a man whose breezy common-sense has often helped me, – and him likewise I questioned on this subject of honeymoons.
"My dear boy," he replied, "take my advice: if ever you get married, arrange it so that the honeymoon shall only last a week, and let it be a bustling week into the bargain. Take a Cook's circular tour. Get married on the Saturday morning, cut the breakfast and all that foolishness, and catch the eleven-ten from Charing Cross to Paris. Take her up the Eiffel Tower on Sunday. Lunch at Fontainebleau. Dine at the Maison Dorée, and show her the Moulin Rouge in the evening. Take the night train for Lucerne. Devote Monday and Tuesday to doing Switzerland, and get into. Rome by Thursday morning, taking the Italian lakes en route. On Friday cross to Marseilles, and from there push along to Monte Carlo. Let her have a flutter at the tables. Start early Saturday morning for Spain, cross the Pyrenees on mules, and rest at Bordeaux on Sunday. Get back to Paris on Monday (Monday is always a good day for the opera), and on Tuesday evening you will be at home and glad to get there. Don't give her time to criticise you until she has got used to you. No man will bear unprotected exposure to a young girl's eyes.
The honeymoon is the matrimonial microscope. Wobble it. Confuse it with many objects. Cloud it with other interests. Don't sit still to be examined. Besides, remember that a man always appears at his best when active, and a woman at her worst. Bustle her, my dear boy, bustle her: I don't care who she may be. Give her plenty of luggage to look after; make her catch trains. Let her see the average husband sprawling comfortably over the railway cushions, while his wife has to sit bolt upright in the corner left to her. Let her hear how other men swear. Let her smell other men's tobacco. Hurry up, and get her accustomed quickly to the sight of mankind. Then she will be less surprised and shocked as she grows to know you. One of the best fellows I ever knew spoilt his married life beyond repair by a long quiet honeymoon. They went off for a month to a lonely cottage in some heaven-forsaken spot, where never a soul came near them, and never a thing happened but morning, afternoon, and night. There for thirty days she overhauled him. When he yawned and he yawned – pretty often, I guess, during that month – she thought of the size of his mouth, and when he put his heels upon the fender she sat and brooded upon the shape of his feet. At meal-time, not feeling hungry herself, having nothing to do to make her hungry, she would occupy herself with watching him eat; and at night, not feeling sleepy for the same reason, she would lie awake and listen to his snoring. After the first day or two he grew tired of talking nonsense, and she of listening to it (it sounded nonsense now they could speak it aloud; they had fancied it poetry when they had had to whisper it); and having no other subject, as yet, of common interest, they would sit and stare in front of them in silence. One day some trifle irritated him and he swore. On a busy railway platform, or in a crowded hotel, she would have said, "Oh!" and they would both have laughed. From that echoing desert the silly words rose up in widening circles towards the sky, and that night she cried herself to sleep. Bustle them, my dear boy, bustle them. We all like each other better, the less we think about one another, and the honeymoon is an exceptionally critical time. Bustle her, my dear boy, bustle her."
My very worst honeymoon experience took place in the South of England in eighteen hundred and – well, never mind the exact date, let us say a few years ago. I was a shy young man at that time. Many complain of my reserve to this day, but then some girls expect too much from a man. We all have our shortcomings. Even then, however, I was not so shy as she. We had to travel from Lyndhurst in the New Forest to Ventnor, an awkward bit of cross-country work in those days.
"It's so fortunate you are going too," said her aunt to me on the Tuesday; "Minnie is always so nervous travelling alone. You will be able to look after her, and I sha'n't be anxious."
I said it would be a pleasure, and at the time I honestly thought it. On the Wednesday I went down to the coach office and booked two places for Lymington, from where we took the steamer. I had not a suspicion of trouble.
The booking-clerk was an elderly man. He said, –
"I've got the box seat, and the end place on the back bench."
I said, "Oh, can't I have two together?"
He was a kindly looking old fellow. He winked at me. I wondered all the way home why he had winked at me. He said, –
"I'll manage it somehow."
I said, "It's very kind of you, I'm sure."
He laid his hand on my shoulder. He struck me as familiar, but well-intentioned. He said, –
"We have all of us been there."
I thought he was alluding to the Isle of Wight. I said, –
"And this is the best time of the year for it, so I'm told." It was early summer time.
He said, "It's all right in summer, and it's good enough in winter – while it lasts. You make the most of it, young 'un;" and he slapped me on the back and laughed.
He would have irritated me in another minute. I paid for the seats and left him. At half-past eight the next morning Minnie and I started for the coach-office. I call her Minnie, not with any wish to be impertinent, but because I have forgotten her surname. It must be ten years since I last saw her. She was a pretty girl, too, with those brown eyes that always cloud before they laugh. Her aunt did not drive down with us as she had intended in consequence of a headache. She was good enough to say she felt every confidence in me.
The old booking-clerk caught sight of us when we were about a quarter of a mile away, and drew to us the attention of the coachman, who communicated the fact of our approach to the gathered passengers. Everybody left off talking and waited for us. The boots seized his horn, and blew – one could hardly call it a blast; it would be difficult to say what he blew. He put his heart into it, but not sufficient wind. I think his intention was to welcome us, but it suggested rather a feeble curse. We learnt subsequently that he was a beginner on the instrument.
In some mysterious way the whole affair appeared to be our party. The booking-clerk bustled up and helped Minnie from the cart. I feared, for a moment, he was going to kiss her. The coachman grinned when I said good-morning to him. The passengers grinned, the boots grinned. Two chamber-maids and a waiter came out from the hotel, and they grinned. I drew Minnie aside and whispered to her. I said, –
"There's something funny about us. All these people are grinning."
She walked round me, and I walked round her, but we could neither of us discover anything amusing about the other. The booking-clerk said, –
"It's all right. I've got you young people two places just behind the box-seat. We'll have to put five of you on that seat. You won't mind sitting a bit close, will. you?"
The booking-clerk winked at the coachman, the coachman winked at the passengers, the passengers winked at one another, – those of them who could wink, – and everybody laughed. The two chamber-maids became hysterical, and had to cling to each other for support. With the exception of Minnie and myself, it seemed to be the merriest coach party ever assembled at Lyndhurst.
We had taken our places, and I was still busy trying to fathom the joke, when a stout lady appeared on the scene and demanded to know her place.
The clerk explained to her that it was in the middle behind the driver.
"We've had to put five of you in that seat," added the clerk.
The stout lady looked at the seat.
"Five of us can't squeeze into that," she said.
Five of her certainly could not. Four ordinary-sized people with her would find it tight.
"Very well, then," said the clerk, "you can have the end place on the back seat."
"Nothing of the sort," said the stout lady. "I booked my seat on Monday, and you told me any of the front places were vacant."
"I'll take the back place," I said; "I don't mind it."
"You stop where you are, young 'un," said the clerk, firmly, "and don't be a fool. I'll fix her."
I objected to his language, but his tone was kindness itself.
"Oh, let me have the back seat," said Minnie, rising, "I'd so like it."
For answer the coachman put both his hands on her shoulders. He was a heavy man, and she sat down again.
"Now then, mum," said the clerk, addressing the stout lady, "are you going up there in the middle, or are you coming up here at the back?"
"But why not let one of them take the back seat?" demanded the stout lady, pointing her reticule at Minnie and myself; "they say they'd like it. Let them have it."
The coachman rose and addressed his remarks generally.
"Put her up at the back, or leave her behind," he directed. "Man and wife have never been separated on this coach since I started running it fifteen year ago, and they ain't going to be now."
A general cheer greeted this sentiment. The stout lady, now regarded as a would-be blighter of love's young dream, was hustled into the back seat, the whip cracked, and away we rolled.
So here was the explanation. We were in a honeymoon district in June, – the most popular month in the whole year for marriage. Every two out of three couples found wandering about the New Forest in June are honeymoon couples; the third are going to be. When they travel anywhere it is to the Isle of Wight. We both had on new clothes. Our bags happened to be new. By some evil chance our very umbrellas were new. Our united ages were thirty-seven. The wonder would have been had we not been mistaken for a young married couple.
A day of greater misery I have rarely passed. To Minnie, so her aunt informed me afterwards, the journey was the most terrible experience of her life, but then her experience up to that time had been limited. She was engaged, and devotedly attached, to a young clergyman; I was madly in love with a somewhat plump girl named Cecilia, who lived with her mother at Hampstead. I am positive as to her living at Hampstead. I remember so distinctly my weekly walk down the hill from Church Row to the Swiss Cottage station. When walking down a steep hill all the weight of the body is forced into the toe of the boot; and when the boot is two sizes too small for you, and you have been living in it since the early afternoon, you remember a thing like that. But all my recollections of Cecilia are painful, and it is needless to pursue them.
Our coach-load was a homely party, and some of the jokes were broad, – harmless enough in themselves, had Minnie and I really been the married couple we were supposed to be, but even in that case unnecessary. I can only hope that Minnie did not understand them. Anyhow, she looked as if she didn't.
I forget where we stopped for lunch, but I remember that lamb and mint sauce was on the table, and that the circumstance afforded the greatest delight to all the party, with the exception of the stout lady, who was still indignant, Minnie, and myself. About my behaviour as a bridegroom opinion appeared to be divided. "He's a bit stand-offish with her," I overheard one lady remark to her husband; "I like to see 'em a bit kittenish myself." A young waitress, on the other hand, I am happy to say, showed more sense of natural reserve. "Well, I respect him for it," she was saying to the bar-maid, as we passed through the hall; "I'd just hate to be fuzzled over with everybody looking on." Nobody took the trouble to drop their voices for our benefit. We might have been a pair of prize lovebirds on exhibition, the way we were openly discussed. By the majority we were clearly regarded as a sulky young couple who would not go through their tricks.
I have often wondered since how a real married couple would have faced the situation. Possibly, had we consented to give a short display of marital affection, "by desire," we might have been left in peace for the remainder of the journey.
Our reputation preceded us on to the steamboat. Minnie begged and prayed me to let it be known we were not married. How I was to let it be known, except by requesting the captain to summon the whole ship's company on deck, and then making them a short speech, I could not think. Minnie said she could not bear it any longer, and retired to the ladies' cabin. She went off crying. Her trouble was attributed by crew and passengers to my coldness. One fool planted himself opposite me with his legs apart, and shook his head at me.
"Go down and comfort her," he began.
"Take an old man's advice. Put your arms around her." (He was one of those sentimental idiots.) "Tell her that you love her."
I told him to go and hang himself with so much vigour that he all but fell overboard. He was saved by a poultry crate: I had no luck that day.
At Ryde the guard, by superhuman effort, contrived to keep us a carriage to ourselves. I gave him a shilling, because I did not know what else to do. I would have made it half-a-sovereign if he had put eight other passengers in with us. At every station people came to the window to look in at us.
I handed Minnie over to her father on Ventnor platform; and I took the first train, the next morning, to London. I felt I did not want to see her again for a little while; and I felt convinced she could do without a visit from me. Our next meeting took place the week before her marriage.
"Where are you going to spend your honeymoon?" I asked her; "in the New Forest?"
"No," she replied ; "nor in the Isle of Wight."
To enjoy the humour of an incident one must be at some distance from it either in time or relationship. I remember watching an amusing scene in Whitefield Street, just off Tottenham Court Road, one winter's Saturday night. A woman – a rather respectable-looking woman, had her hat only been on straight had just been shot out of a public-house. She was very dignified and very drunk. A policeman requested her to move on. She called him "Fellow," and demanded to know of him if he considered that was the proper tone in which to address a lady. She threatened to report him to her cousin, the Lord Chancellor.
"Yes; this way to the Lord Chancellor," retorted the policeman. "You come along with me;" and he caught hold of her by the arm.
She gave a lurch and nearly fell. To save her the man put his arm round her waist. She clasped him round the neck, and together they spun round two or three times; while at the very moment a piano-organ at the opposite corner struck up a waltz.
"Choose your partners, gentlemen, for the next dance," shouted a wag, and the crowd roared.
I was laughing myself, for the situation was undeniably comical, the constable's expression of disgust being quite Hogarthian, when the sight of a little girl's face beneath the gas-lamp stayed me. The child's look was so full of terror that I tried to comfort lier.
"It's only a drunken woman," I said; "he's not going to hurt her."
"Please, sir," was the answer, "it's my mother."
Our joke is generally another's pain. The man who sits down on the tin-tack rarely joins in the laugh.Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.