The Painted Veil: Week 3

3

As it happens, my wedding comes much quicker than expected. Despite my boredom at

Mother’s incessant wedding planning, her constant talk of ribbons, and dresses, and

flowers, and cake, and attendants-and lace- the busyness and intensity of my- or rather,

her– preparations creates a whirlwind that leaves little room for much other activity or

thought. After a day of planning, I simply roll into bed, wake several hours later, then start

the process over again.

Mercifully, my quickly impending wedding date also eliminates other headaches I would

have endured had I gone for a more conventional route to marital bliss. The most

important of these, perhaps, is the pruning-or shall I say, weeding- of the guest list. My

Great Aunt Myrna, who functions as my greatest critic, sees any engagement period of less

than six months as “cheap, gaudy, and low-position.” Those were her exact words when

she wrote to decline our invitation.

Another easy strike-out is my baby sister, Doris. She probably would have come had she not been so close to her

confinement. Plus, some of her illness from her first trimester had returned just in time for her last months

as a childless woman. Had I had a normal engagement period at my disposal, I probably would have scheduled the

wedding for when she’d given birth and had time to recover, but six weeks meant that there was no time fo

that.

Although I do feel bad for Doris, I can’t help but feel relieved as well. Although we’re

sisters,we had simply never found the closeness and friendship that should be between

sisters. I think it’s because she is so much like Mother; fussy, and fretful, and monotone

and conventional. To be friends with Doris would be like having Mother always breathing

down my throat, criticizing my every move. It would be like letting mother into my mind

and my heart, and if I did that, my mind would be turned to mush and my heart would be

bled out.

For his part, Father does much of what he’s always done; keeps far away from Mother

and her party-planning. But I know now that even if he doesn’t show it, he has his own opinions,

just the same as Mother. He may not voice them like she does, but he holds them all the same.

This is why I have a hard time talking to him now during the rare times we are in the same

Room. Sometimes I’ll see him at the corner of my eye, sitting at the head of the dinner table,

watching me over the top of newspaper, waiting for me to say something. But I look quickly

away and clamp my mouth shut because I know that a comment that reveals the extent of my

anger will escape it if I don’t. To see my father so quiet, so content to see me giving myself away

to a stranger, to know that this was his plan all along, hurts me far more than any of Mother’s

nasty, scathing words ever could.

Sometimes when I look away my eye catches Will’s. We look away quickly, or at least I

do, so I’m not sure if he does or not. Of all my relationships within my household, my

relationship with Will is the most complicated. He visits almost daily, sometimes even staying

in one of our guest rooms overnight. But despite his constant presence, I’ve barely spoken to

him since I accepted his proposal.

As soon as I heard Mother referring to me as a “lost cause,” I ran back out the door to

catch up to Will, sprinting most of the way up the street. He’s tall, almost six feet if not actually

six feet, so despite it only being a few minutes since we parted, he made surprising progress in

making his way back. I finally knew I would not catch him if he kept on going so I called out to

him. “Mr. Lane!”

I wondered if he would be able to hear me, as my voice was raspy and strained after

walking so briskly in heels. But after a moment, he paused and turned around to face me. It took

me a few beats to catch up to him, but when I came closer I could see a look of surprise on his

face. He waited until I could catch my breath before he spoke. “Are you alright?” Despite his

formality and abruptness, concern was etched on his drawn mouth and in his eyes, now turned to

a stormy grey from their usual clear silver shade, and his voice almost held, not a caress, exactly,

but almost a warm touch to it that softens its natural edge.

“Fine,” I replied once I caught my breath. He raised an eyebrow, waiting for elaboration.

Even though my mouth was dry I swallowed before continuing. “I’ve decided to accept your

proposal.” Nice, simple, straight to the point.

“The travel won’t be a burden to you?” He asked more for confirmation than with doubt.

“Not at all. I think the change will be suitable. Just what I need.” I hoped it didn’t sound

too self-interested.

If it did, I couldn’t tell by looking at him. He nodded. “Alright then.”

For a while, we stood in silence. Then he held his arm out for me. “We should go inform

your parents. Then I can ask your father, formally, for your hand in marriage.”

I laced my wrist over his arm without question. And that is how I became engaged to an

almost-stranger in one of the most unromantic ways possible.

It’s not as though it’s the worst way to become engaged. That description is probably

reserved for Society-arranged matches. And if I’m truthful with myself, what makes it the most

painful is that I feel as though I’ve been thrown away by my parents. I suppose I did expect to

look a little more put-together when I became engaged, not flustered from running. And I

thought that I would marry someone, maybe not who I loved, but who I was attracted to, who

excited me. Now, six weeks after my engagement, on the eve of my wedding, I don’t feel that I

know my fiancé any better than I did six weeks ago. My cousin and best friend, Della, notices

this almost as soon as she walks into the house.

“Kitty, Mr. Lane seems very stable and professional. I’m sure you’ll never have to worry,

Financially,” Della says after I’ve taken her to my room to show her my wedding dress after the

rehearsal dinner.

“I agree,” is my simple response since I know where she’s going with this. I turn to see

her hesitate.

“But he is awfully reserved, don’t you think? Not a bad thing, but he’s never, in a million

years, who I could have imagined you marrying.”

I shrug. “Like you sad, not a bad thing.”

“Yes, but I wonder how well you know him. You both seemed …distant from one

another at dinner, much more than I’d expect for an engaged couple.”

“I know that he can take me away from here. In that, he resolves all of my problems. I’ll

never have to worry about being taken care of, never have to be a burden to my parents.”

I say the word, burden, with an almost snarl, which I only notice when Della backs away

slightly. “I’ll never have to feel inferior in comparison to Doris again, and I’ll never, ever have to

hear one word about matches ever again.” I stop, realizing that my voice has risen considerably

since I started talking. Although I can’t see them, I can feel my cheeks burning with heat, and

can imagine how the scarlet of anger has painted my porcelain complexion red.

I take a deep breath, noting the fear in Della’s eyes. “Della, I’m so sorry.” I can hear the

tears in my weak apology, but am more surprised to feel one dribble down my cheek.

In that instant, sympathy replaces the fear in Della’s eyes, and she throws her arms

around my neck. I hold on tightly to her, as if doing so will allow me to hold on to our shared

childhood together for just a while longer.

“Sshh, don’t cry, you’ll spoil your eyes before your wedding.” Della stands back to talk

to me. “I have no right to question your motives, and certainly not to question Mr. Lane. He

seems kind enough, and a thoughtful, stable, professional man, as I’ve said before. You’ll never

have to worry about anything.” Her voice and words soothe me, and right on que, she envelopes

me in another embrace.

“I only hope that that will be enough for you.”

******

Those wistful words of Della’s play through my head as I stand before the Officiator at

my wedding the next day. It’s early summer, and despite the coolness of the Hall, my cream-

coloured silk and lace dress, fitted through my torso and hips, clings to my sticky skin.

Mercifully, my hair is pulled up with only an accent veil pinned to the back of my hair. I glance

Around, hopefully discreetly, at the wedding guests. My parents sit respectfully close to one

another, though they do not look happy to be that way. Della’s husband of three months, Roger,

gazes only at Della, who stands behind me as my maid-of-honour.

Della was lucky, she married for love, I remind myself as her words pass through my

mind again. She has no right to judge me.

Still, as I shift my gaze to Will, I can’t help but let my thoughts turn to Della’s words

once more. To get away from my parents and my home and my mundane life might just be

enough for me. But what about Will? Today he stands so still and serene, his eyes pools of

contemplative, but not worried, depth that I can almost believe that he actually does want to

marry me for other reasons than…

But what other reasons? Perhaps that’s why he leaves me so unsettled. I can marry

someone I do not know, but can I trust him? Can I trust his motives? And what are his motives? I

don’t offer him any more money than he likely already has, and while I have some attractive

features, I’m not particularly beautiful. So what then?

Before I can question any further, the Officiant directs the all-important question at Will.

“Do you, William, take Katrina to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

Will speaks firmly and solemnly. “I do.”

The Officiant nods before turning to look at me. “And do you, Katrina, take William to

be your lawfully wedded husband?”

I glance quickly at my parents, my father looking nervous, though I’m not exactly sure

what about, and my mother looking ready to smack me if I say no. My eyes find Will’s and I can

see in them what I saw six weeks earlier when we met at the party. There’s real softness and

kindness in them, even if I can’t always exactly read what’s behind them. If I run now, I may

never find that again.

So I try to speak with the same certainty as Will does, the same certainty that I accepted

his proposal with. “I do.”

 

 

 

 

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