"I mustn't carry on like this. I mustn't be so nervous," Victor said to himself as he crossed the entry hall. Pausing in midstride, he groaned. "Oh, what is the matter with me? What is Victoria going to think?" At the thought of Victoria, who had just gone upstairs to bed, Victor had one of his nervous tremors. As he took a step backward, his flailing hand hit a decorative vase that stood on a table next to the staircase. Before he could make a move to catch it, the vase fell to the floor with a smash. The echo was incredible, and Victor cringed at the noise.
He sighed as he knelt to pick up the shattered pieces of the vase, wincing as his knee landed on a particularly sharp shard of porcelain—it was nearly impossible to see all of the pieces in the gloom of the large entrance hall. The only light came from a guttering candle on a small table next to a settee, and it was hardly equal to lighting the immense space.
As he picked up the larger bits of the vase, Victor heard soft footsteps overhead. Looking up, he saw the faint light of a candle near the top of the stairs.
"Victor?" Victoria said. Victor heard the banister creak as the out-of-sight Victoria leaned against it. "I heard a crash—is everything all right?"
"Er, yes, Victoria, everything's fine," Victor answered. He jumped to his feet, hitting the hall table with his shoulder as he did so and sending it crashing to the floor. Groaning from both the pain in his shoulder and exasperation, he stooped to right the table.
"What was that crash?" Victoria sounded worried. "Victor, are you certain you don't need any help?" Victor could see Victoria's silhouette against the wall as she took a few tentative steps down the stairs.
"No," Victor replied as he hastily dropped the shards of vase he'd collected on the now upright table. "I mean, yes, I'm all right." He wiped some dust from his hands on his waistcoat as he straightened up. Victoria was silent for a moment. Then,
"All right, if you're certain." Another pause, this one slightly uncomfortable. "Will you...Are you coming upstairs soon?" Victoria asked. Even though she was out of sight, Victor could almost hear her blushing. Or perhaps he was just projecting his own feelings onto her--at the implication of going to bed, Victor had immediately begun twitching and tugging nervously at his cravat. A nervous sweat began to bead on his forehead.
When Victor answered, his voice had a slight tremor to it. "Y-yes, Victoria. I'll be...I'll be up d-d-directly. I just need to...er..." He glanced around hurriedly for an excuse to delay. Spotting a discarded newspaper on the entry's settee, he said, "Finish reading the newspaper." Rolling his eyes, he smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand. Finish reading the newspaper! Nervously he glanced up the stairs. He could still see Victoria's shadow on the wall; she seemed to be hesitating. The only sound in the dim, cavernous entry was the ticking of the grandfather clock in the nearby parlor. It seemed an eternity before Victoria answered.
Finally she said, "All right, Victor. Then I suppose I'll see you...directly." There seemed to be the tiniest bit of relief in her voice. Victor watched as the light disappeared from the stairwell; he heard Victoria's footsteps heading back to her bedroom. A door closed softly, and except for the clock, there was silence.
Letting out his breath in a whoosh, Victor sat down heavily on the settee. With his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands, Victor stared at the floor through his fingers. He was absolutely disgusted with himself. Well, there was a good bit of nervousness mixed in with the disgust as well. Or perhaps it was abject terror. Either way, his chest felt as though there was a block of ice resting on it. Victor had never felt so frightened and nervous in his life--and considering the events of the past two weeks, including his brief marriage to a corpse, that was really saying something.
Now his living bride was upstairs, presumably waiting for him. The newly-married Van Dorts had arrived at the Everglot country estate early that afternoon. Victor and Victoria had been married that morning, and had decided (rather, Victoria's parents had decided) that they would spend their honeymoon at the Everglots' country home. Victor's parents had wanted to send the pair to a fancy resort somewhere to the south--the better to see and be seen by the elite class. Lady Everglot had quickly nixed that idea, on the grounds that it was hardly proper for a newly married couple to mingle freely in public. If that was the real reason or if Lady Everglot simply enjoyed shooting down Mrs. Van Dort's grand ideas, Victor wasn't sure. Perhaps a bit of both.
A few weeks in the country was what Victor and Victoria both preferred, even though they hadn't been asked. A little privacy, some time to get used to one another--that was what they wanted. Everglot Manor ("I don't believe my family has ever been much for creative names," Victoria had said with a smile) was certainly the place for privacy. Because of declining fortunes, the manor had been closed up for almost thirty years. Only the parlor, the breakfast room, and two front bedrooms had been opened and cleaned for the honeymooners. The place was musty and a little dank from years of disuse, but Victor liked it. Everglot Manor had an old-fashioned feel, with a lot of dark wood and marble. With a little work, the manor could be restored to its former opulence. Maybe a garden with hedge sculptures to the south, and rosebushes out front. Or lilacs. Perhaps some climbing ivy on the trellises, and perennials near the walk. A large, pretty garden would be the perfect place to stroll, or to catch butterflies...
What am I doing thinking about landscaping? Victor asked himself. There are slightly more pressing matters at the moment. Such as: How long could he believably put off going to bed?
He simply couldn't believe what was expected of him. Victor's father had discreetly pulled him aside after the short reception for a "Bit of a talk," as William had put it. A bit of a talk indeed. While Victoria waited in the carriage to leave for the manor, Victor listened with growing shock as his father explained, with a lot of embarrassed throat-clearing, precisely what Victor's "husbandly duties" consisted of. The new husband had the sudden thought that everyone (with the exception of Victoria, he hoped) knew exactly what sort of conversation was going on near the front steps. All of the adults made it a point to look anywhere but at Victor and his father, leaving Victor in some sort of bizarre, shame-filled bubble. Victor's eyes had grown wider and wider as his father spoke; he would have taken a step or two backward if he hadn't been rooted to the spot with disbelief.
With embarrassed color rising in his cheeks, a stunned Victor had asked, "I'm...to d-do what to Victoria!" The words had come out in an almost breathless whisper--Victor was having just the slightest amount of trouble getting his lungs to work. As he darted a quick glance at the carriage that held his bride, another thought occurred to him. He looked back at his father--well, at his father's feet--and said, "And she won't...That is to say...She won't mind?"
An almost equally embarrassed William had shaken his head and answered in a patient tone, "Victor, my boy, minding has nothing to do with it. These, er...'marital relations,' as they're called--they're what is expected of you. It's simply what must be done, do you understand?"
Victor might have given some sort of nod. He couldn't quite remember--he was in a bit of a daze. Yet, if he were to be honest, Victor would have replied that no, he didn't understand at all. He simply couldn't imagine himself and Victoria doing something like that. In a sudden flash, he thought about his marriage to Emily that had never quite happened. If it had...Oh dear God!
Why hadn't something like this occurred to him before? Where had the idea that marriage consisted mainly of talking to one another, taking the occasional walk, spending quiet Sunday afternoons together in the parlor, and bickering about how to arrange furniture come from? Considering it, Victor decided that there was no possible way for a gentleman to conceive of...well, that on his own. It all depended on fathers ambushing their sons five minutes before they were to leave on their honeymoons.
Wonderful. Not married for an hour and Victor was already terrified at the prospect of doing something that might shock, disgust, and/or completely alienate his new wife. He also hated his father.
The surge of hatred, unlike his terror, abated after a little while. Victor was quite subdued during the carriage ride out to the country. He tried to put it out of his mind, but one glance at Victoria was all it took to bring the knowledge of his impending "responsibilities" back to the fore. Victoria noticed something was amiss, no matter how hard Victor tried to hide it. All she had said was, "Is everything all right?" That particular question Victor could answer without having to lie. Of course everything was all right--he and Victoria were finally married, and he quite honestly couldn't have been happier. It was the prospect of ruining her happiness about marriage that bothered him. He thanked everything good and holy that she hadn't asked what the matter was straight-out. What would he have said then? Well, Victoria, my wedding present for you just happens to be "marital relations." Aren't you thrilled? Victor had wondered more than once why he simply couldn't give her a nice new sewing kit or something instead of...er..."husbandly duties." At least with a sewing kit he'd be sure of where he stood--at any rate, Victoria probably would still want to speak to him after receiving some thread and buttons.
The rest of the afternoon and evening, luckily, had been much better. There had been a flurry of activity as the two servants and the driver (all three in Victor's parents' employ) carted luggage into the house. Left alone for a moment in the sweeping drive, Victor and Victoria had stood together beside the carriage, gazing at the grand house in front of them. It seemed to rise toward them in welcome, as trite as that sounded. All at once, and at the same moment, the realization "We really are married" dawned on the pair. It was one of those moments that really didn't need any words. Beaming, Victor offered his arm, which Victoria took with a smile that seemed almost too big for her face.
As they reached the large front door, Victor suddenly remembered something else that he was supposed to do. Luckily, it happened to be something he could do without (hardly) any embarrassment at all. Still, it occurred to him to ask permission first--married or not, politeness counted.
"May I help you over the threshold, Vic--Mrs. Van Dort?" he asked. Victoria gave a small laugh.
"Of course you may, Mr. Van Dort. I would be very much obliged," she answered, sounding pleased.
In what he hoped was a graceful movement, Victor managed to sweep Victoria into his arms. Do not drop her, whatever you do! he warned himself. He staggered only slightly as Victoria settled herself into his arms. Feeling quite proud of himself for not accidentally tripping or banging Victoria's head against the doorframe, Victor carried his new wife into the entrance hall of their temporary home.
Holding hands most of the way, the two of them had explored the parts of the house that had been opened for them. Everything was new to Victoria as well--despite this being one of her family's houses, she'd never been inside it. Victor was thrilled to find a piano in the parlor. It was a little out of tune, but he could fix that easily. Perhaps he could even give Victoria a music lesson while he was at it. He felt cheered by the prospect. Music was the one thing he was confident about.
Most of the afternoon and early evening was spent in the parlor. Victor and Victoria had their first tea together, and after that a short walk around the grounds. What they had talked about, Victor couldn't remember--it all blended together, their conversation creating a kind of music of its own. At least, that's how it seemed to Victor. As darkness fell, the two of them were sitting on a small, somewhat dusty couch in front of the parlor fire. Victoria was reading aloud from the only book she'd been able to find in the house--Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Victoria had told him she no idea what this particular book happened to be doing at the Everglot estate. To her knowledge, her grandfather had never expressed any interest in science fiction. They had a good laugh together about the strangeness of the selection. Captain Nemo's adventures on the Nautilus made for very odd reading on a honeymoon. Hardly the most romantic of subjects, after all. Not that it mattered. Victor would have been more than happy to just sit quietly listening to Victoria read, and letting his arm rest on the back of the couch over her shoulders, for the rest of the night. It was all very...sweet. Pleasant. Listening to Victoria read about the submarine shaped like a whale, Victor was more sure of his love for her than he ever had been. Best of all, it pushed the thought of his conversation with his father out of his mind completely.
Their first real kiss happened on that couch, over the open volume of Verne's fantastic story. It was all so sudden, and happened so fast. Victoria's voice had started to give out, and she happened to look up at Victor only to catch him gazing at her intently. Victor wasn't quite sure what had come over him; maybe it was that Victoria just looked so...pretty, there in the firelight. Whatever the reason, he'd leaned forward, not really quite sure what he intended to do. He was rather glad when Victoria decided for him--she'd placed a hand on his shoulder, leaned up, and kissed him. It was wonderful.
Then they had pulled apart, and just looked at one another. Victor had assumed that Victoria would go back to reading (actually, Victor was rather interested as to what happened next in the story), but he was wrong. That was when Victoria had said the words that had thrown him into his new fit of nerves.
"I'm rather tired, Victor," she had said, closing the book. With her hands clasped in her lap, she'd looked at the floor rather than him when she continued, "I believe I'll go upstairs now. To bed, I mean."
She'd stood up, maybe expecting Victor to follow her. Victor wasn't really aware of anything but cold dread after Victoria had said, "To bed." He must have looked a little dazed, because Victoria had placed a hand on his shoulder. At her warm touch, he had jumped just the tiniest bit. He'd looked up at her, and stammered,
"What? Oh...er, yes. To...bed. I'm rather tired as well. Perhaps we should go to bed...ah, for sleep! Sleep, of course...Because we're rather tired..." Springing up, Victor had nearly turned the couch over.
If Victor's babbling had confused or worried her at all, Victoria didn't show it. Maybe he was imagining it, but it seemed to him that Victoria seemed the tiniest bit...nervous? Was that it? At any rate, she had simply smiled in that quiet way of hers, taken a candle, and started for the staircase. Victor had watched her go, wondering if he dared to follow her.
As it turned out, he hadn't dared. And that's why he was sitting all by himself in the dark entrance hall, his only company a guttering candle, the clock's ticking, and the shattered remains of the first piece of china he'd broken as a married man.
"Oh, Victoria," he murmured. "What will she think of me if I don't join her? What will she think of me if I do?" He briefly considered fleeing, and sparing Victoria (and himself, perhaps?) what was to come. Victor quickly dismissed that idea. He couldn't leave her, he loved her--and besides, the last time he'd run off in shame the consequences had been a bit too bizarre for his taste.
"It's time I grew up," Victor said aloud, rising from the settee. "I shall do what is expected of me." His shoulders slumped as he looked up the stairs. "And if Victoria throws me out of the house, then she throws me out of the house."
Picking up the candle, Victor walked over to the staircase. He hesitated at the foot of the stairs, his heart trying
valiantly to leap out of his chest. Taking a deep breath, Victor headed upstairs to bed.