It was the morning before the day of my marriage. I followed my aunt as she passed through the house like a biting March wind, scolding everybody, until I found her in her own room.
She was ironing her new white cap, and as I entered (looking pale, I suppose) she flopped down her flat iron on to its stand and cried:
“Goodness me, girl, what’s amiss? Caught a cold with your morning walks, eh? Haven’t I enough on my hands without that? We must send for the doctor straight. We can’t have you laid up now, after all this trouble and expense.”
“It isn’t that, Auntie.”
“Then in the name of goodness what is it?”
I told her, as well as I could for the cold grey eyes that kept looking at me through their gold-rimmed spectacles. At first my aunt listened with amazement, and then she laughed outright.
“So you’ve heard that story, have you? Mary O’Neill,” she said, with a thump of her flat iron, “I’m surprised at you.”
I asked if she thought it wasn’t true.
“How do I know if it’s true? And what do I care whether it is or isn’t? Young men will be young men, I suppose.”
She went on with her ironing as she added:
“Did you expect you were marrying a virgin? If every woman asked for that there would be a nice lot of old maids in the world, wouldn’t there?”
I felt myself flushing up to the forehead, yet I managed to say:
“But if he is practically married to the other woman. . . .”
“Not he married. Whoever thinks about marriage in company like that? You might as well talk about marriage in the hen coop.”
“But all the same if he cares for her, Auntie. . . .”
“Who says he cares for her? And if he does he’ll settle her off and get rid of her before he marries you.”
“But will that be right?” I said, whereupon my aunt rested her iron and looked at me as if I had said something shameful.
“Mary O’Neill, what do you mean? Of course it will be right. He shouldn’t have two women, should he? Do you think the man’s a barn-door rooster?”
My confusion was increasing, but I said that in any case my intended husband could not care for me, or he would have seen more of me.
“Oh, you’ll see enough of him by and by. Don’t you worry about that.”
I said I was not sure that he had made me care much for him.
“Time enough for that, too. You can’t expect the man to work miracles.”
Then, with what courage was left me, I tried to say that I had been taught to think of marriage as a sacrament, instituted by the Almighty so that those who entered it might live together in union, peace and love, whereas . . .
But I had to stop, for Aunt Bridget, who had been looking at me with her hard lip curled, said:
“Tut! That’s all right to go to church with on Sunday, but on weekdays marriage is no moonshine, I can tell you. It’s a practical matter. Just an arrangement for making a home, and getting a family, and bringing up children—that’s what marriage is, if you ask me.”