Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 13

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For some time the pair said nothing: what they must have felt during their first half hour, the reader must guess, for it is beyond my power to tell him; at the end of that time, however, Theobald had rummaged up a conclusion from some odd corner of his soul to the effect that now he and Christina were married the sooner they fell into their future mutual relations the better.  If people who are in a difficulty will only do the first little reasonable thing which they can clearly recognise as reasonable, they will always find the next step more easy both to see and take.  What, then, thought Theobald, was here at this moment the first and most obvious matter to be considered, and what would be an equitable view of his and Christina’s relative positions in respect to it?  Clearly their first dinner was their first joint entry into the duties and pleasures of married life.  No less clearly it was Christina’s duty to order it, and his own to eat it and pay for it.

The arguments leading to this conclusion, and the conclusion itself, flashed upon Theobald about three and a half miles after he had left Crampsford on the road to Newmarket.  He had breakfasted early, but his usual appetite had failed him.  They had left the vicarage at noon without staying for the wedding breakfast.  Theobald liked an early dinner; it dawned upon him that he was beginning to be hungry; from this to the conclusion stated in the preceding paragraph the steps had been easy.  After a few minutes’ further reflection he broached the matter to his bride, and thus the ice was broken.

Mrs Theobald was not prepared for so sudden an assumption of importance.  Her nerves, never of the strongest, had been strung to their highest tension by the event of the morning.  She wanted to escape observation; she was conscious of looking a little older than she quite liked to look as a bride who had been married that morning; she feared the landlady, the chamber-maid, the waiter—everybody and everything; her heart beat so fast that she could hardly speak, much less go through the ordeal of ordering dinner in a strange hotel with a strange landlady.  She begged and prayed to be let off.  If Theobald would only order dinner this once, she would order it any day and every day in future.

But the inexorable Theobald was not to be put off with such absurd excuses.  He was master now.  Had not Christina less than two hours ago promised solemnly to honour and obey him, and was she turning restive over such a trifle as this?  The loving smile departed from his face, and was succeeded by a scowl which that old Turk, his father, might have envied.  “Stuff and nonsense, my dearest Christina,” he exclaimed mildly, and stamped his foot upon the floor of the carriage.  “It is a wife’s duty to order her husband’s dinner; you are my wife, and I shall expect you to order mine.”  For Theobald was nothing if he was not logical.

The bride began to cry, and said he was unkind; whereon he said nothing, but revolved unutterable things in his heart.  Was this, then, the end of his six years of unflagging devotion?  Was it for this that when Christina had offered to let him off, he had stuck to his engagement?  Was this the outcome of her talks about duty and spiritual mindedness—that now upon the very day of her marriage she should fail to see that the first step in obedience to God lay in obedience to himself?  He would drive back to Crampsford; he would complain to Mr and Mrs Allaby; he didn’t mean to have married Christina; he hadn’t married her; it was all a hideous dream; he would—But a voice kept ringing in his ears which said: “YOU CAN’T, CAN’T, CAN’T.”

“CAN’T I?” screamed the unhappy creature to himself.

“No,” said the remorseless voice, “YOU CAN’T.  YOU ARE A MARRIED MAN.”

He rolled back in his corner of the carriage and for the first time felt how iniquitous were the marriage laws of England.  But he would buy Milton’s prose works and read his pamphlet on divorce.  He might perhaps be able to get them at Newmarket.

So the bride sat crying in one corner of the carriage; and the bridegroom sulked in the other, and he feared her as only a bridegroom can fear.

Presently, however, a feeble voice was heard from the bride’s corner saying: