XVI

"IN WHICH THE FUTURE IS CONSIDERED"

-as narrated by William-

My days were quiet, our love — calm and still, perhaps even too much than desired. By the end of November, we had already moved into our new home. Rose's manor had been sold, and was now belonging to a family of barons. We started a completely different life, compared to the restless one we had had before. The only thing left to remind us of the past was the antique piano that Rose wished to keep and which, from time to time, was filling our silent dwelling with music.

The day we beheld our new home for the first time, one could say, was the last day we spent in agitation, the novelty, the vision, of our new life — our last excitement. The householder — an old and wealthy widow of about seventy — who sold us the villa, greeted us with warmth and showed us the way around. Then, after a complete tour of her house, she gave us some time to decide, but not before she invited us to a cup of tea afterwards.

The villa was small, with two floors, three rooms each. It did not bother us at all that the house was half in size compared to Rose's manor. The windows were large, allowing a great amount of light to pass through them. Nevertheless the curtains were made of thick, heavy velvet, turning the day to night whenever they were loosened. There was also fireplace in both the bedroom and the living room. It seemed the perfect place for us — cosy and intimate. But what we both enjoyed the most were the gardens. The sight from the balcony was just as beautiful, if not even more, as the view of her manor's rear gardens, that beautiful view that Rose previously confessed to me that she would never give up. If flowers grew in Heaven, those must've been the ones.

"What do you think?" I asked her when we were alone. "It could've been larger, though, and we could use more rooms, and another bedroom, but —"

"That you might think. I, for one, believe it's perfect. Why would we need another bedroom anyway? As if we would sleep in different rooms...! And the garden... you knew I would like it, didn't you?" I silently admitted I did. "William, I think it is more than one in such a position as ours could ever ask for."

"Great! Then, we should tell Mrs. Hollingsworth that we're buying it. Wait, what do you mean... 'one in such a position as ours'? Do we not stand well?"

"No doubt about it! We stand very much in love with one another, and that is the sole thing I meant! William, you are worse than a woman when you twist the meaning of what I say in such a shameless manner."

"I can't help it... the writer in me, I guess! Well all right, all right! But we are so blessed right now, that you must allow me to doubt this heavenly state, for you must do the same from time to time, or you just aren't human."

"I do think the same, but not when we speak of the happiness that depends on us alone. There is heaven on earth, and that comes in the form of love. I am rather afraid of my ill luck, that which has nothing to do with us..."

"Whatever you mean by this...?"

"Oh, but do not stand there, my children; please," the old lady shouted from the garden upon seeing us lingering upstairs, "come here and be seated. You are my guests." We both descended the stairs and went outside in the garden, where Mrs. Hollingsworth was waiting for us at a small table. We sat down on the chairs and she poured some green tea in the porcelain cups, and handed them over us.

"How do you like my villa so far? Have you come to a decision? Will you buy it?"

I turned to Rose, seeking her consent once again. She nodded her head slightly in approval. "I see no reason not to do so, Mrs. Hollingsworth."

"Perfect! I am glad! This house has been filled with love in time. At first me and my husband, then my son and his wife... you see, it has an old tradition which I hope you will preserve."

"But where is your son now?" Rose interrupted, but immediately added, "I mean, if... if I am not too curious…"

"Oh, he's left for France. Our beautiful country did no longer suit his fancy. Then my husband died, and I was left alone. Now my son invited me to come to France as well. An offer I could not refuse."

"So this is why you sell this house."

"Precisely. But I care so much for this place, this home, that it would upset me, should I return one day, to find it in ruin, desolated. I told my son: "Young man, I refuse to join you until I am sure that I will leave it on good hands." And what other good hands are there than those of a young couple — two people who have not yet met sorrow and with so much power in their faith? It is only in the juvenile spirit of youngsters that the strength to build great things together can be found."

"Have you ever been to France, Mrs. Hollingsworth? Is it a nice place?"

"Oh, it is! Splendid, indeed! French is the language of love, my son. You should one day take your sweetheart there."

"Oh, no!" retorted my pessimistic 'sweetheart'. "That's too great a fancy, we could not afford it."

"I daresay we could," I hurried to disagree, "in time, if we wanted." Since when has my dear Rose become such a pessimist? A great new world, some sort of paradise, was waiting for us, and she, having seen the miracle with her own eyes, was no longer sure of what she perceived, daring to question it. Perhaps it was I who started it, even if just as a joke. I should've never doubt our happiness.

"But there might be one problem in the present, Mrs. Hollingsworth. My fiancé and I haven't yet sold our other house; you see, we have no other place to stay in. I'm afraid we will not be able to pay you the whole sum right from the start."

"Oh, do not worry, I will let you move in first, and you can give me the rest of money next month, but… no, on second thoughts, this is not possible, because I am leaving for France in a few days. Better than this, I will leave it at half the price! What do you say? Does this sound reasonable?"

"It is more than reasonable, Mrs. Hollingsworth. You are being too generous."

"Oh, no, you are flattering me. I am a wealthy woman, young man. There have been many other offers, but I refused them. I want this place to be filled with love. I am sure it will be in safe hands if you have it. I would rather sell it for half the price to a lovely young pair as you are, than for the full price to some snobbish aristocrats. You seem such a sweet couple, you remind me of my dear son and his wife. They love each other so much, I am sure you do too."

I turned to Rose, beaming at her. She blushed right away, in such an innocent manner that it made our host smile as well. "A woman who blushes is a treasure, young man, and treasures are to be kept. Listen to me, son, and take good care of her."

She beheld us with caring eyes, the look of a wise old woman. We must've reminded her of her youth, for she could not keep her eyes off of us. I assume we made a perfect pair right then. If I could but see us together as well in a mirror, I would've perhaps agreed. Though I could only imagine it being so, and my imagination was indeed kindled by the look of my other half, and by that of a third person acknowledging our love. "I will, Mrs. Hollingsworth. I will," I spoke, as if I made her a promise. For it was a promise that I made to myself right then, that I would respect her, love her, and protect her for all the rest of my life.

At times, Rose used to leave the bed in the morning and retire in the living room — where the piano was — and played it so carefully, so that she would not disturb me from my slumber. Whenever I woke up, I would hear a faint melody coming from the other floor, and recall our first night together, and the morning that followed when she, half-dressed and with tousled hair, dared to tease me, saying that she was not 'tired enough'. Although I wished that she would've been next to me when I rose up, still this was the only reminiscence of the passionate life that we'd once led, of our passion that once ran through our blood… and that, little by little, now seemed to have sunk. It was, thus, a reminder that I cherished — for we always treasure those things that we no longer have.

The wedding date has not yet been set. As my intention was to take her to the sea, the weather had to be warmer, thus I postponed our marriage and honeymoon for the spring — without giving her the real reason that was, clearly, meant to be a surprise. We had no reason to rush either. I feared that, once married, we would lose our ability to enjoy every second spent together… simply because there would be nothing between us to keep us apart anymore.

God knows that I loved her with all my heart; although, sometimes I could not help but wonder if this was what would become of us. This simple thought was enough to give me cold feet. There was a danger, a possibility that we might have fallen into a state of compliance and routine, now that the time of discoveries was gone. There was nothing about her I did not know, or at least so I thought.

Although possible, though, Rose did not let this thought materialise. Whenever she sensed that our love was too much, she would pout and sometimes never let me lay a finger on her for whole nights and days. She was careful not to give all of her, leaving me permanently hungry for her. It was in her instinct, I assume; and this was her secret of not allowing us to get bored of each other.

She has always possessed this sense of independence. There were days when she was so dependable on me, that I shuddered at the thought that something might tore us apart one day and destroy her, but many times I would find so much strength and power in her, enough to make me wonder whether she could as well lead a peaceful life without me being a part of it.

No matter how well I have come to know her, she was still a mystery to me — a woman embodying an antithesis of many contrastive features. My conquering her has been pretty much done according to the famous saying 'Veni, vidi, vici.' I had come, had laid eyes on her, had conquered her, but yet I had to learn to love her. And what a difficult, but pleasant thing to do it was, when she showed so many facets of her womanliness!

I woke up one day to find Rose lying on her side of bed. It was one of those mornings when she chose my presence over the piano's. She lay on one side, watching outside the window. Slowly, she rose up and looked back at me, checking whether I was still asleep. I closed my eyes in time, pretending to be in a deep slumber. The next moment, she sprang from the sheets with a sudden move and took a seat on a stool in front of her dressing table.

It was the most beautiful, graceful sight that I have been blessed to behold, when, arms brought to her head, fixing her hair with a pin, the curve of her breast showed up from under her arm. My curiosity being stirred, I rose and propped on my hands, allowing my sight to catch a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror, and she was caught unawares. Her cheeks immediately turned from pale pink to bright red, and it was all I could do, knowing that she would not let me get close to her after the midnight fling that we had indulged in the night before.

"You look beautiful," I said, watching her stand up — a feast for my eyes, but a quenchless one nevertheless. As if on purpose, she quickly stepped into her dress, taking the pleasure away from me.

"You always say that. I wonder, though, if you would still love me if I were not."

If her voice had been harsher, I would've been worried. However, the tone she used was light, and rather teasing than serious. Therefore, I spoke in return in the same manner, "Of course I would. You will always be beautiful in my eyes." Though, despite the easiness with which we engaged in this conversation, I was very serious, and meant what I said.

"Sometimes, William, I think that unattractiveness must be a blessing; love does not come often to those who are less agreeable, but when it does, it comes in the truest form; and there's a great chance that someday they might be loved for what they truly are. Can you see what I mean...?" She paused for a moment then continued, "You might take me as a pretender for saying all these..."

"Not as much as you would take me as a liar if I told you that I would love you anyway."

"But I do believe you! We both win," she replied, cheerfully, and stopped in the front of the window, peeking outside. "Look! The sun is telling us that spring is near. It will arrive before we have time to realise it, what do you say?" After drawing the curtains, she sat on the edge of the bed, admiring the landscape. It was, without a doubt, a beautiful morning, with the sun shining so bright, and no sign of clouds — a weather very uncommon for the beginning of March.

I looked at Rose while she glimpsed at the ring I had given to her. My intuition told me that she was thinking of our marriage. All of this time, I knew she has been waiting for me to set a date, although she never mentioned it. I knew what words she was longing to hear, thus I, eager to please her, spoke them with no refrain. "I say… that we should get married on the first of April. The winter will have been gone by then entirely." The result was the one I have anticipated; Rose was all smiles, and all of sudden she jumped at my neck.

"Really? So soon? I am so glad!" she exclaimed in an enthusiastic voice, refusing to ease her hold of me. "That's one month from now!"

"Well now that I think of it, it might be too soon…" replied I in a playful manner.

"Not at all! We will have enough time to make the arrangements… and eventually invite some of our acquaintances… Say, William," Rose asked me after pondering for a while, "Who shall we invite to our wedding, beside Scarlet?"

"I haven't given any thought to it until now. Do you have anybody in mind?"

"Mm, now that you've asked me, I guess there won't be many friends to invite."

"Does it… bother you?" I asked, absently stroking her cheek.

"Not much. I want the ceremony to be as intimate as possible, don't you?" A slight nod showed her that I agreed. Neither of us had many friends. While Rose had a friend she could trust in Miss Jones, I could not put my faith in Henry anymore. I did not quite realise until then that she was the only one I had. Little by little, with our retirement from the social life, our circle of acquaintances has decreased until we only had ourselves to trust and share our happiness or sorrow with. It did not bother me, for certain, but I could not be sure on her part.

"I think," she added, "that we should invite Scarlet, a few close friends we've met at the theatre… or at my friend's parties... and," she paused, hesitantly then continued in a low, shy voice, "maybe even your family, at least your father…"

"My father? There is no way I will invite him. He would not accept, nor could he ever care."

"But, you could give it a try." Rose did not seem willing to give up. Neither was I. She kept on looking at me with begging eyes, but I stood there, arms crossed at my chest, unmoved by her determination.

"Absolutely not."

"But William, my heart would be very much at ease if we had his approval... or at least the approval of somebody in your family... anybody... say, your brother..."

"John? Ha! He would never give us his approval, neither would my father. You do not know him — them — more than I do. I must say, you are too much of a naive."

"Naive? Yes, I take it you're right... I was naive when I offered you my rose. It was all that I had, but you would not take it. I was silly when I let you come to my place, in hope that you would never fall in love with me after you'd hear about my past... and even more naive to tell you about how sad was my childhood without a family to care for me! I know it is not likely that any of them should agree with our marriage; after all, what parent would agree to marry his son to a woman of my reputation, who is, beside all these, an orphan and penniless? Maybe you deserve better than this..." Suddenly, and with strong vexation, I grabbed her by the arm and shook her, with so much force as to bring her back to reality.

"Never say this again, hear me? We stand equal before God. I cannot accept that you ever say this again, not even that you think it."

"No, William... There's no need to contradict me. I know you do not think this way of me, but you know me so well, and love me. The world is cruel, and prejudiced. I do not dare to think that they will find me agreeable. But… the fact that your father would at least have knowledge of our marriage, even if he does not agree with it, would give me peace of mind. It is my only wish, and so simple a wish that I wonder why should you deny it so harshly."

"Rose, do not make me do something that you could regret later. You are leaving me at a crossroad by placing me in this awkward position."

"You wouldn't be at a crossroad if you cared for my feelings. You would just do as I say to please me."

"Even if it would hurt you afterwards? You have no idea of what you're asking for! Would you risk our marriage only for your peace of mind? What about my peace of mind and my feelings, and ultimately... yours?"

"Let me understand this. What you're saying… is that your father would do anything in his power to interfere between us and break our marriage?"

"How long has it taken you to understand! Of course he would."

"I doubt he has such a wicked soul."

"I doubt you know him better than I do. The subject is closed. I will not invite him, nor will I ever tell him anything about us, at least not now, not before our wedding. It would be madness. Have we forgotten misery so much that you now seek it with your own hands? Can't you see, I am afraid of losing you? Am I not entitled to feel so?"

"Stubborn man! Perhaps we should not marry at all, if it is such a wrong deed."

"Wrong in the eyes of who? Of those who do not matter."

"In your eyes, as much as in your family's. You've just proven that you only feel the same. And what are you afraid of? Are you not a man with your own power of decision?"

"Yes, and one who loves you too dearly. Must one be blind to what's real to prove that in which he does believe? I cannot ignore what's real; I have not yet lost my head."

"Senseless you might not be, although your fear is, but insensitive — a lot! Sometimes, William, I have a feeling that you do not understand me at all." And with this, she threw the bed sheets over her, showed me her back, and remained in that position all morning. To no avail did I try to reconcile with her, she denied all my efforts. A tough woman she was, that I could not but give in to her wishes.

The following day, I asked her, all of a sudden, whether she truly wished me to invite my father to our wedding, and she replied affirmatively, but quickly assured me that she would not insist anymore, and that the decision was entirely up to me. Between my question and her answer, I have made up my mind. A piece of paper and my pen were waiting for me upstairs, and I happily made use of them as I commenced a letter to my father.