Magazine article The Spectator

How I Came to Be Lawfully Wed

Magazine article The Spectator

How I Came to Be Lawfully Wed

Article excerpt

After we had finished the punch, our parents murmured a few words to each other and left us alone.

`Go ahead!' my father whispered to me on his way out. `Say the words!'

`But how can I declare my love,' I whispered back, `if I don't love her?'

`No one's asking what you want to do, you idiot!'

My father gave me an angry stare and left the garden pavilion. Then, after everyone had gone, a woman's hand reached in the half-open door and snatched the candle from the table. We sat in the dark.

`Well, there's no escaping now!' I thought, and with a discreet cough I said briskly, 'I see that circumstances favour me, Zoe Andreyevna! At last we are alone, and darkness comes to my aid, for it covers the shame written on my face ... the shame pouring from the feelings with which my soul is ablaze.'

Suddenly I stopped. I could hear Zoe Andreyevna's heart beating and her teeth chattering. Her whole organism was trembling - I could hear and feel it from the way the bench was shaking. The poor girl didn't love me. She hated me, the way a dog hates the stick that beats it. She despised me, you could say, as only an idiot can. Suddenly I feel like an orang-utan, ugly - even though I'm covered in medals and honours - no better than a beast, fatfaced, pimply, covered with stubble; alcohol and a perpetual cold have made my nose red and bloated! A bear has more grace than I do. And don't even mention my intellectual qualities! With her, with Zoe, I had pulled an immoral trick before she became my bride. I stopped in midsentence, because suddenly I felt deeply sorry for her.

'Let us go out into the garden,' I said. `It's stifling in here.'

We went out and walked down the garden path. Our parents, who had been listening by the door, had managed to scamper into the bushes just before we appeared. The moonbeams played on Zoe's face. Idiot though I was, I thought I could read in that face all the sweet pain of bondage. I sighed and continued:

`The nightingale sings for its sweetheart ... and I, all alone in this world, who can I sing to?'

Zoe blushed and lowered her eyes. She was acting to perfection the role she was expected to play. We sat on a bench by the stream, beyond which a church glimmered white. Behind the church towered Count Kuldarov's mansion, in which his clerk lived, Bolnitsin, the man Zoe loved. As she sat down on the bench she fixed her gaze on the mansion. My heart sank and shrivelled with pity. My God, my God! May heaven smile on our parents ... but they should be sent down to hell, for a week at least!

`All my happiness rests on a single person,' I continued. 'I feel deeply for that person ... her perfume ... I love her, and should she not return my love, then I am lost ... dead ... You are that person. Can you love me? Huh? Could you love me?

'I love you,' she whispered.

I must confess I almost died. I had thought she would dig in her heels, since she was deeply in love with someone else. I had relied on her passion for the other man, but things turned out quite differently. She wasn't strong enough to swim against the tide!

'I love you,' she repeated, and burst into tears.

`But, no, that can't be!' I shouted, not knowing what I was saying, my whole body shaking. `How is it possible? Zoe Andreyevna - do not believe a word of what I said! My God, do not believe a word! …

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