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Victorian Short Stories: Successful Marriages


warehouse in the city; where Mr Openshaw was now to superintend their
affairs. He rather enjoyed the change; having a kind of curiosity
about London, which he had never yet been able to gratify in his brief
visits to the metropolis. At the same time, he had an odd, shrewd
contempt for the inhabitants, whom he always pictured to himself as
fine, lazy people, caring nothing but for fashion and aristocracy, and
lounging away their days in Bond Street, and such places; ruining good
English, and ready in their turn to despise him as a provincial. The
hours that the men of business kept in the city scandalized him too,
accustomed as he was to the early dinners of Manchester folk and
the consequently far longer evenings. Still, he was pleased to go to
London, though he would not for the world have confessed it, even to
himself, and always spoke of the step to his friends as one demanded
of him by the interests of his employers, and sweetened to him by a
considerable increase of salary. This, indeed, was so liberal that he
might have been justified in taking a much larger house than the
one he did, had he not thought himself bound to set an example to
Londoners of how little a Manchester man of business cared for show.
Inside, however, he furnished it with an unusual degree of comfort,
and, in the winter-time, he insisted on keeping up as large fires as
the grates would allow, in every room where the temperature was in
the least chilly. Moreover, his northern sense of hospitality was such
that, if he were at home, he could hardly suffer a visitor to leave
the house without forcing meat and drink upon him. Every servant in
the house was well warmed, well fed, and kindly treated; for their
master scorned all petty saving in aught that conduced to comfort;
while he amused himself by following out all his accustomed habits and
individual ways, in defiance of what any of his new neighbours might
think.
His wife was a pretty, gentle woman, of suitable age and character. He
was forty-two, she thirty-five. He was loud and decided; she soft and
yielding. They had two children; or rather, I should say, she had two;
for the elder, a girl of eleven, was Mrs Openshaw's child by Frank
Wilson, her first husband. The younger was a little boy, Edwin, who
could just prattle, and to whom his father delighted to speak in the
broadest and most unintelligible Lancashire dialect, in order to keep
up what he called the true Saxon accent.
Mrs Openshaw's Christian name was Alice, and her first husband had
been her own cousin. She was the orphan niece of a sea-captain
in Liverpool; a quiet, grave little creature, of great personal
attraction when she was fifteen or sixteen, with regular features and
a blooming complexion. But she was very shy, and believed herself to
be very stupid and awkward; and was frequently scolded by her aunt,
her own uncle's second wife. So when her cousin, Frank Wilson, came
home from a long absence at sea, and first was kind and protective to
her; secondly, attentive; and thirdly, desperately in love with her,
she hardly knew how to be grateful enough to him. It is true, she
would have preferred his remaining in the first or second stages of
behaviour; for his violent love puzzled and frightened her. Her uncle
neither helped nor hindered the love affair, though it was going on
under his own eyes. Frank's stepmother had such a variable temper,
that there was no knowing whether what she liked one day she would
like the next, or not. At length she went to such extremes of
crossness that Alice was only too glad to shut her eyes and rush
blindly at the chance of escape from domestic tyranny offered her by
a marriage with her cousin; and, liking him better than any one in the
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