Three Marriages

Date of publication
Published reviews
Brophy, John. ‘New Fiction’. Daily Telegraph, no. 26107, 2 Mar. 1939, p. 7; Charques, R. D. ‘Novels of the Week: Three Marriages’. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 1930, 28 Sept. 1939, p. 55; J. S. ‘New Novels: Three Marriages’. The Times, no. 48214, 27 Jan. 1939, p. 18; Moult, Thomas. ‘Short Stories: Three Marriages’. The Manchester Guardian, 3 Mar. 1939, p. 7; Three Marriages’. Manchester Evening News, 18 Feb. 1939, p. 8.
The Wedding of Rose Barlow (1857) In 1855, Rose Barlow is sixteen; her mother Rosabel, fearful that her unkind and stingy husband Sir Comus will not allow her to bring her daughter out properly, suggests to her cousin, Gilbert Harrington, that he should marry Rose. Gilbert is a Colonel and has been invalided home from the Crimean War. He is rather shocked, and worried about the twenty-year age gap between them, but he agrees to think about it. He realises that any child would be "doubly a Harrington" and that Rose already loves his home, Orlebar; he also realises that Rose's marriage would allow Rosabel some respite from her own husband. At breakfast the next day, he tells Rosabel that he will propose to Rose, and Rosabel makes him promise to let Rose's governess, Miss Mortimer, to stay on with her for a while after their marriage. Rose and Mortimer speculate about the mysterious discussions that seem to be going on. Sir Comus arrives at Orlebar and tells Rose that Gilbert has asked for her hand. Rose is surprised, and slightly embarrassed to think that her cousin, known all her life, is in love with her, but is happy to accept. They are to marry before Gilbert returns to his regiment, now in India, but Rose will stay at Orlebar while he is there. She tells Mortimer the news; her governess is equally surprised and considers her young to be married. Rose is relieved that Miss Mortimer will stay on with her after her marriage. Rose and Gilbert meet in the garden and Gilbert proposes formally, and is accepted. Rose feels warmly affectionate towards him, if not passionate. Gilbert gives her his mother's pearl ring, and an emerald ring that is to be her engagement ring; Rose is more excited about the latter. Countess Aurelie, an ancient displaced French aristocrat and a regular house guest at Orlebar, offers her congratulations. Rose and her mother return to London to prepare for her wedding; she suggests to Gilbert that she and Miss Mortimer might join him in India, later on. Gilbert agrees to consider this. Gilbert visits Rosabel, who weeps over the lost opportunities of her youth; Gilbert realises that she has always been in love with him, and that he has strong feelings for her, but determines that this must not go further. After their marriage and wedding-tour, Gilbert leaves for India; Rose is proving good-natured and sweet-tempered, and he is sorry to leave her, although her lack of passion for him is a slight disappointment that he hopes his absence will correct. Rose and Miss Mortimer settle down at Orlebar, Gilbert's Aunt Mollie continuing to manage the house as she has always done. Countess Aurelie comes to visit, bringing her nephew Count Pierre de St Edme who works as a tutor; he also plays the violin. Rose misses his arrival, and finds him tuning his violin; she is struck by the sadness in his handsome face. He tells Rose some of his family history, and that he hopes to return to France one day. They find, coincidentally, that they share the same middle name, Valentine. After dinner Pierre sings to the family, and Rose is entranced; later, she accompanies him while he plays the violin. Rose remembers Gilbert's assertion of his marital rights, with no pleasure. Countess Aurelie becomes ill, and is nursed by Miss Mortimer, so Rose and Pierre are much in each other's company and play together each evening while Aunt Mollie dozes. Pierre tells Rose that he must go, and she is devastated; she realises that she is in love with Pierre and is deeply upset. Consoling herself with the idea that they may meet again in another world, and consoled by Miss Mortimer's assurance that nothing can last for ever. Out for a walk, she meets a gypsy couple, who tell her she will get her heart's desire, but through fire and flood. As she returns to the house, a huge elm tree crashes to the ground just in front. Pierre has seen the crash and rushes out to see if she is all right; they exchange a passionate embrace, and speak openly of their love for one another. They know they must part, but assure each other of their lasting love. Rose is profoundly upset by Pierre's departure, and finds it hard to hide her feelings from Miss Mortimer, who is very kind to her. Rose's realisaiton that her hasty marriage was a childish mistake affects her relationship with her mother; she cannot forgive her for persuading Rose to marry. When Rosabel visits, she notices the difference in Rose, but attributes it to marriage. In September Rose and Miss Mortimer sail for India. Before they leave, Rose reproaches her mother for not telling her frankly about the facts of life, when Rosabel mentioneds that Gilbert needs an heir. In Cawnpore in India, the following May, Rose has settled in well to the local routine, made friends, and she and Gilbert get on well enough. Gilbert is worried about the reports of unrest in the native population, and Rose discusses this with her friend Margaret Ransome. Margaret's frank admission of her love for her husband pains Rose, who can only think of Pierre. The regiment builds defensive earthworks and it is decided that all the women and children should retreat behind them. By 6 June, four native regiments have mutinied and are attacking the English with guns they have captured. Rose and Miss Mortimer work to help the sick and injured, and to care for the others in the encampment. Soldiers, women and children begin to die. On the eighth day of the siege they hear from Lucknow that there is no immediate help to be given. After three weeks of siege, almost two hundred and fifty people have died. The English feel they will have to capitulate, and fear the consequences, particularly for the women. Gilbert tells Rose that they have received the offer of safe conduct to Allahabad by boat if they surrender their arms, and he believes this is their only hope. They talk of Orlebar, and how Gilbert wishes he could think of an heir there; he asks Rose, if she should reach England, to take Rosabel his love. The next morning arrangements are made to take the English to the river. Gilbert tells Rose that the women are to travel first, and he will follow in the next party. Margaret confides that she has the means of suicide rather than be captured alive by the Indians. Rose and Gilbert say their farewells at the water's edge, and Rose climbs into Major Fairfield's boat with Miss Mortimer. As soon as the boats cast off the Indian soldiers begin to fire on them; the thatched roofs of the boats burn and their passengers burn with them. Miss Mortimer is hit by a bullet, and the rest of the party in Rose's boat are all killed and injured apart from Major Fairfield. Rose is unhurt. Miss Mortimer is breathing but gravely injured. A swimmer, Mr Calcott, reaches the boat; Rose and the Major pull him in. The three of them begin to lower the dead into the water. Miss Mortimer regains consciousness, and Rose tells her what has happened, and prays with her; Miss Mortimer dies in Rose's arms. Further down the river, an injured and deranged woman throws herself at Major Fairfield, knocking them both into the water; Rose and Calcott cannot turn the boat against the tide to rescue them. Rose makes Calcott promise to kill her if the Indians come. Two Englishmen swim to the boat; they have escaped from a sinking boat. The three men agree that their only hope is to swim to land, which is in the control of a friendly Rajah who may protect them. They will carry Rose, who cannot swim well, between them. Reaching the bank, they are met by Indians; Rose, terrified, faints, but they agree to protect the English. Rose is badly sunburnt and Calcott looks half dead, but one of the other men, Lefanu, tells Rose he is only exhausted. Rose regains consciousness only at the Rajah's fort, where a doctor cares for her and the refugees are treated well. Eventually a British steamer comes to fetch them; Rose longs for news from Cawnpore of Gilbert, who she feels must be dead. At Alllahabad, Rose is looked after by the Brightons, and Mrs Brighton nurses her and encourages her to speak of her ordeal. News finally comes from Cawnpore and confirms that Gilbert was killed in the fighting, and that Margaret Ransome was killed with her husband. The women and children left behind were imprisoned before being murdered; Gilbert died trying to protect them. Rose agrees to return to England, and to visit Mrs Brighton's daughters and write to her about them. In England, Rose stays with her mother, who looks very unwell; her father is actually ill and being nursed by the cook. Rose passes Gilbert's message to Rosabel, who is made very unhappy by it; Rose does not enquire deeply into the reasons for her mother's grief. Gilbert's will allows Rose to live at Orlebar in her lifetime, provided she does not marry again, and she returns there, escorted by Mr Calcott. Aunt Mollie is comforting to Rose, and Rose is able to tell her of Gilbert's bravery in India. Mollie and Rose arrange for a memorial to Gilbert, and a smaller tablet commemorating Miss Mortimer, to be put up in the church. Sir Comus dies, and Rosabel is free to come with Rose to live at Orlebar, although she treats Rose with a mixture of affection and resentment; Rose suspects that her mother is jealous of her position as mistress of the house, but will not consider other sources of her behaviour. Countess Aurelie comes for another visit, and tells Rose that Pierre is working in a boys' school outside London. The Countess sends for Pierre to accompany her to Bath, but he refuses, much to her and Rosabel's annoyance. Countess Aurelie has a heart attack on the eve of her journey, however, and a telegram is sent to Pierre. Rose goes to the church to pray, and feels convinced that Pierre will come to her, and they will be able to marry. In the park, she meets him arriving at the house. Girl-of-the-Period (1897) Violet Cumberledge is engaged to be married to Harvey Lessingham. Violet, as she is well aware, is extremely pretty, but despite being much admired during her two seasons she has only attracted one proposal. Harvey has six older unmarried sisters, and Violet constrasts her sophistication and reticence with their naivety and exuberance. The Lessinghams are fond of Violet, however, and draw attention to her cleverness and beauty. Violet's mother is less enthusiastic about her fiancé but Violet is confident that they will be compatible; she considers herself her mother's superior in terms of sense and rationality, keen to stress that she does not need to be with Harvey all the time. Her mother suggests that Violet's rational approach to matrimony may be a mistake, and that she is not in love with Harvey, but Violet reassures her that her feelings are sound and her rationality is part of her modernity. Lady Cumberledge is unconvinced and suggests that Violet does not understand what love is; Violet begins to cry, but continues to insist that she will be married, and eventually warns her mother not to raise the matter again. Harvey comes to dinner, reflecting on his inadequacy as a lover for the cultured Violet. After dinner, Violet alludes to her conversation with her mother, but tells Harvey she is confident that they are entering marriage with no illusions about each other, and no old-fashioned sentiment. Harvey expresses the hope that they may be silly with each other sometimes, to Violet's evident disapproval. Eventually, she allows herself to be persuaded that a little silliness is tolerable, and that the wedding vows are just a conventional expression of what she already knows; she goes on to tell Harvey that should he ever come to care for another woman, he must tell her, and she will try to make things easy for her. As the wedding approaches, Violet becomes increasingly unhappy, although she does her best to busy herself and ignore her feelings. Two of the Lessingham sisters visit and discuss engagements, and how awful it must be to break one off after the presents have started to arrive. Violet asserts that she would still be able to break an engagement if she felt it right, while Dorothy says she would hang on to a fiancé at all costs. Violet considers their attitudes old-fashioned, and their manners and frank deprecation of their unattached state responsible for their all being spinsters. Harvey arrives, and when the others have gone compliments Violet's beautiful eyelashes; she wonders if she is only loved for her looks. Charlie, Violet's brother, and Harvey leave a party together, and go on to a party of some people Charlie knows. On the way Charlie asks if Harvey does not find Violet's high ideals difficult to live up to, to Harvey's annoyance, and suggests that marriage is a mistake for any man, and that Violet is cold. At the party, an artistic one in a Chelsea studio, Harvey meets Peggy, an art student, with whom he very quickly falls in love. Remembering Violet's statements about personal freedom and jealousy, he suggests that he and Peggy might visit Hampton Court Maze together. He takes Peggy home from the party, and she tells him about her first love, who drifted away from her; he confides in her that he has always felt rather lonely, and they end by embracing. They attempt to part forever, but Harvey has great misgivings. After a dinner party with Violet and the Lessinghams, Charlie suggests to Lady Cumberledge that Harvey is beginning to recognise Violet's rather cold nature, and was only ever really in love with her looks. He tells his mother that he does not believe Violet loves Harvey, and she agrees. Charlie agrees to discuss this with Harvey. Harvey arrives to see Violet, looking pale and tired. He suggests that they are not getting on as well as they did at first, which Violet disclaims, but then tells her he has fallen in love with someone else. Violet is angry, but remains calm, and refuses to decide anything about their position straight away. The news leaks out to the rest of the family, Charlie is asked to talk to Harvey, the Lessingham sisters are furious with their brother. Violet wants to meet Peggy, and Charlie arranges this; Violet is slightly shocked by Peggy's independent life with her own latch-key and flatmate. Violet finds Peggy scruffy and unattractive. She cannot understand how Peggy could have allowed herself to fall in love with an engaged man, and Peggy suggests that she has not actually been in love herself in that case, and tells Violet bluntly that Harvey does not want to marry her and their engagement should be broken off. Violet tells her that it will be, as she will not marry a man who has behaved in this way. Peggy suggests that Harvey has not really done anything wrong, and, in an echo of Violet's own views, suggests that it is better for him to be honest about his changed feelings. That evening, Harvey arrives and Violet returns his ring. Harvey apologises and hopes that Violet will remain on good terms with his sisters. Violet is, at heart, relieved that the engagement and the preparations for the wedding are over. Violet continues to see Dorothy and Enid Lessingham when she returns from a trip to Scotland to get over the end of her engagement. Harvey has married Peggy, and is slightly estranged from his family, having married rather out of his class. The three girls go to the Hurlingham club and Violet is introduced to a Major Courtenay, a man clearly being admired by Dorothy, who says he has been called a bounder but that she could marry any man not "absolutely repulsive". After tea, Major Courtenay takes Violet for a walk; she finds him very sympathetic and they seem to have many views and tastes in common. Violet quarrels with her mother when she seeks to reassure her that Violet is still attractive. At a ball, Violet is told by Enid that Dorothy expects the Major to propose. Violet has many partners, but Major Courtenay asks her to dance; they waltz together and then go out on the balcony. Courtenay tells Violet he was disappointed not to find her in the Lessingham party, takes her hand and unbuttons her glove to hold her bare hand, finally kissing her, much to her agitation. Afterwards Violet is deeply disapppointed by her own irrational behaviour, and ashamed that she has allowed a man to kiss her when he is all but engaged to someone else. Lady Cumberledge has noticed how long her daughter sat out with him on the balcony, but Violet can only think that Courtenay may possibly call, and is deeply distracted. The next day, they meet Courtenay in the park with the Lessinghams; he asks Violet if she is angry at his behaviour, and she can only shake her head. Charlie invites him to lunch, and Violet realises that she is in love with him. After lunch, they manage to be alone together and he kisses her again, while telling her this is goodbye; he must return to his regiment in York in a few days; he also tells her that he is not in love with Dorothy but will certainly have to marry her, having paid so much attention to her. Violet feels that she will do anything to prevent this, while realising that Courtenay is not behaving well. Suddenly Dorothy and Charlie appear. Dorothy, alone with Violet, asks her angrily to leave Courtenay alone; he is her last chance of marriage. Violet argues that there is no engagement and therefore Courtenay is free to pay attention to her. They argue, and Violet loses her temper and slaps Dorothy, resulting in a wrestling match until Violet manages to hit Dorothy in the mouth. Suddenly she realises how appallingly she is behaving, and faints away. Charlie suggests to a distressed Lady Cumberledge that Violet's coldness has been transformed by Courtenay's attention, and that Courtenay will certainly marry Dorothy. Charlie tells Violet that this will have done her good - she has realised that she can be as uncivilised and passionate as anyone else. Violet realises that her infatuation is over and says she may have seemed self-righteous in the past, but will not do so now. We Meant to be Happy (1937) Cathleen Christmas is 36 and grew up in an orphanage, although not unhappily, and began her working life as a mother's help. Her second job was as nurse-companion to an elderly lady, and doing this job she met Philip Christmas, the lady's bank manager and a widower. They become friends and he proposed marriage, which she accepted; she had never been much attractive to men and thought herself lucky to get the proposal. although she was not in love wth him. Their marriage is happy, if not passionate, and they have three young children. Cathleen is generously provided for and has a nursery-maid. She has a friend, Pat Schofield, who is socially prominent, wealthy and attractive. Philip has an unmarried sister, Blanche, who has just had an operation, paid for by her brother. Blanche is a negative and unenthusiastic character with a tendency to hypochondria, but doing better under the care of a new Irish doctor, Kavanagh. Cathleen tries to be affectionate to Philip, but finds sex dull and unpleasant, but thankfully since their son was born Philip has asked for more than a kiss, citing his age as the reason. Blanche is ready to go home, but unwilling to leave the comfortable nursing home; Dr Kavanagh talks to Cathleen about her, and Cathleen tells him how dreary Blanche's life is. Dr Kavanagh suggests that a week's convalescence at the sea might help her adjust; Philip suggests instead that she should stay with the family for ten days. Cathleen cannot look forward to this, as Blanche criticises the children and Cathleen's parenting. However, the visit goes fairly smoothly until Pat visits, and Blanche takes against her; it is not "nice" for a single woman to be friends with a married one. A series of dances are arranged at the tennis club; Pat and Dr Kavanagh are both members, and Philip agrees to take Cathleen, drawn by the offer of bridge. Cathleen assumes that Maurice Kavanagh is attracted by Pat, and they dance together; Pat is, in Cathleen's view, clever ass well as attractive. During the dance, Maurice and Cathleen talk together, and he remembers something she has said before, about life being hard for women with nothing to look forward to. He refers to her housekeeping as work, which surprises her; Maurice tells her how his widowed mother worked to bring up her family. Some days later, Cathleen and the children are out for a walk when Pat and Maurice pass them in Maurice's car, and offer them a ride; Pat is going to a nearby village to interview a cook. They wait for her, and they hear birdsong; Maurice tells Cathleen it is a blackbird. Looking at each other, they realise that they have fallen in love. The next day, the children ask to go to hear the band in the park, and Cathleen sends them with her maid; she then goes out to look for Kavanagh, utterly distracted. He meets her in her road, and they go into the house where they embrace, and confide their mutual love. Both are radiant with happiness. But when Philip comes home, she realises the difficulty of her position. She feels that she is already being unfaithful to Philip, and wonders if she should talk to him about it; she realises that she could renounce Maurice, but feels that she never could. They attend the tennis club dance, and discuss their position; Cathleen says she would like to tell Philip, but knows that a divorce is impossible for him professionally. She also cannot leave the children, so the lovers agree to meet in secret. Initially it is relatively easy for them to continue to see each other socially and occasionally to meet alone. One day Cathleen visits Blanche, and while she is there Maurice phones Blanche about her medication; he will come to her flat to deliver it. Cathleen takes her leave, and says she will walk home but Blanche, suggesting she looks ill, insists that she takes the tram. The tram stop is in full view of Blanche's window so Cathleen takes it, miserable that she has missed seeing Maurice. She gets off at the next stop and finds that Maurice has driven after her; he drives her home and they make plans to meet at the next Saturday dance. Pat visits her that afternoon and tells her that she has noticed Cathleen's feelings for Maurice and suggests, kindly, that Cathleen stop the relationship before there is a scandal. She offers to let Cathleen talk to her about it, and to explain the psychological basis for her feelings, but this angers Cathleen greatly. She tells Pat that she and Maurice are hurting no-one, but Pat warns her that Philip will soon come to hear of their relationship and that will hurt him. Increasingly unhappy, Cathleen goes to the dance and tells Maurice about her conversation with Pat and that people are beginning to talk. Pat's mother goes to some effort to prevent Maurice talking to Cathleen, and once alone they discuss, repeatedly, how to resolve their situation. Their conversation finally ends with the arrival of Philip, but Maurice manages to suggest a time to meet on the following Monday. Monday is wet, and Cathleen realises desparingly that she will not be able to go for a walk and meet him, but Maurice telephones and suggests that he will call that afternoon. When he arrives, he tells Cathleen they must talk to Philip. Blanche arrives, and conversation is desultory while they all wait for Philip; Cathleen turns faint, and Philip suddenly arrives home. Cathleen and Maurice realise that Blanche knows about their relationship. Philip sees Blanche out, and is gone for some time, and Cathleen becomes seriously frightened; on his return, Maurice tells him that he and Cathleen love one another and that he will marry her if Philip will give her a divorce. Philip tells her that she will lose the children if they divorce, which is in any case out of the question. He and Maurice go into another room, and Cathleen goes up to see the children. Coming downstairs, she hears shouting, and then a heavy crash; in the room, Philip has collapsed with a heart attack. Another doctor is called to tend to Philip and Maurice leaves. Philip is diagnosed with angina and needs to avoid anxiety and exertion. Cathleen goes to him, and he is distant and polite with her. The next day, Philip asks to see Blanche, and Cathleen sends for her. Cathleen realises that Philip might die, and is horrified to feel relieved. Blanche arrives, and talks to Philip; she then relays his views to Cathleen. Once Cathleen has confirmed she is not pregnant, Blanche tells her she must make up her mind whether to stay or leave now, to avoid causing Philip stress. Philip begins to get better, but is told that he must live quietly. On the way back from seeing a London specialist, Cathleen tries to talk to him about her affair, but he will not engage with her, citing his illness as a reason for not discussing her feelings. He tells her that Blanche will explain the terms for the continuation of their marriage, and that Blanche will play a much bigger role in their lives than before. At home, he tells Cathleen that he plans to invite Blanche to live with them. The family prepare for a holiday to Devon, and Philip suggests that, on their return, they should make a new start. He has arranged to sell the house and move somewhere larger where Blanche will come to live with them. Cathleen protests, but Philip refuses to listen to her. Cathleen telephones Pat and asks her to help her meet Maurice at Pat's house for the last time. She agrees, and they make an emotional farewell. In the new house, Blanche's nagging drives servants away and makes the children unhappy. Cathleen becomes guilty for spoiling the children's previously happy life. Pat is preparing for marriage to a rich American, and Cathleen realises that she now, like Blanche who she once pitied, has nothing to look forward to.
courtship extra-marital affairs marriage short stories
Published in the USA as When Women Love, but including the first two stories only.