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Dollenganger 05 Garden of Shadows, Page 2

V. C. Andrews

  "No. I've been too occupied with my business."

  We paused, and he looked out at the ships.

  "If I may be a little forward," he went on, "I feel you and I share some things in common. From what your father tells me and from what I can observe, you are a serious-minded person, pragmatic and diligent. You appreciate the business world already, and therefore you are already head and shoulders above most women in this country today."

  "Because of the way most men have treated them," I said quickly. I nearly bit my lip. I wasn't going to express my controversial opinions, but the words just seemed to form on my lips by themselves.

  "I don't know. Maybe," he said quickly. "The point is, it's true. And you know," he said, taking my elbow gently and turning me so we would walk on, "we have other things in common as well. We both lost our mothers at an early age. Your father explained your circumstances," he added quickly, "so I hope you don't feel I'm intruding."

  "No. You lost your mother at an early age?"

  "Five," His voice grew 'somber and faraway.

  "Oh, how hard it must have been."

  "Sometimes," he said, "the harder things are, the better we become. Or should I say, the tougher." Indeed, he did sound tough when he said that, so cold that I feared to ask him more.

  We walked on that night. I listened to him talk about his various enterprises. We had a little discussion about the upcoming presidential elections and he was surprised at how informed I was about the candidates vying for the Republican and Democratic nominations.

  I was sorry when we reached my house so soon, but then I thought, at least I had my walk with a handsome young man. I thought it would be left at that.

  But at the doorway he asked if he could call again.

  "I feel as if I have dominated the evening with my conversation," he said. "I'd like to be more of a listener next time."

  Was I hearing right? A man wanted to hear me talk, wanted to know my thoughts?

  "You could call tomorrow," I said. I suppose I sounded as eager as a schoolgirl. He didn't smile or laugh.

  "Fine," he said. "There's a good seafood restaurant where I am staying. Perhaps we could have dinner."

  Dinner? An actual date. Of course, I agreed. I wanted to watch him get into his car and drive off, but I couldn't do anything so obvious. When I reentered the house, my father was standing in the den doorway.

  "Interesting young man," he said. "Something of a business genius, I'd say. And good-looking, too, eh?"

  "Yes, Father," I said.

  He chuckled.

  "He's coming to call tomorrow and we're going to dinner."

  His smile faded. His face took on that look of serious hope I had seen before.

  "Really? Well, what do you know? What do you know?"

  "I don't know what to tell you, Father."

  I couldn't contain myself anymore. I had to excuse myself and go upstairs. For a while I simply sat in my room staring at myself in the mirror. What had I done differently? My hair was the same.

  I pulled my shoulders back. I had a tendency to turn them in because they were so wide. I knew it was bad posture and Malcolm had such good posture, such confident posture. He didn't seem to see my inadequacies and imperfections, and it was so good not having to look down at a man.

  And he had told me I was very attractive, implied that I was desirable to men. Maybe I had underestimated myself all those years. Maybe I had unnecessarily accepted a dreadful fate?

  Of course, I tried chastising myself, warning myself. A man who's been to dinner has asked you out. It doesn't have to mean he has romantic inclinations. Maybe he's just lonely here.

  No, I thought, we'll have dinner, talk some more, and he will be gone. Perhaps, some distant day, on some occasion, like Christmas, I'll receive a card from him, on which he will write, "Belated thanks for your fine conversation. Happiest of holidays. Malcolm."

  My heart fluttered in fear. I went out to the glass- enclosed dollhouse and looked for the hope I left encased there. Then I went to sleep dreaming about the porcelain figures. I was one of them. I was the happy wife--and Malcolm, he was the handsome husband.

  Our dinner date was elegant. I tried not to overdress, but everything I picked out to wear looked so plain. It was my own fault for not caring enough about my wardrobe. In the end I chose the gown I had worn to a wedding reception last year. Perhaps it would bring me good luck, I thought.

  Malcolm said I looked nice, but the

  conversation at dinner quickly turned to more mundane things. He wanted to know all about the work I did for my father and he made me elaborate in detail. I was afraid the conversation would prove boring, but he showed such interest that I went on and on. Apparently, he was quite impressed with my knowledge of my father's affairs.

  "Tell me," he asked when we returned to my house, "what do you do to entertain yourself?" At last the conversation was to be more personal; at last there was interest in me.

  "I read a great deal. I listen to music. I take walks. My one sport is horseback riding."

  "Oh, really. I own a number of horses, and Foxworth Hall, my home, is situated on grounds that would fascinate any explorer of nature."

  "It sounds wonderful," I said.

  He saw me to the door and, once again, I thought this would be the end. But he surprised me.

  "I suppose you know I will be joining you and your father to attend church tomorrow."

  "No," I said. "I didn't know."

  "Well, I look forward to it," he added. "I must thank you for a most enjoyable evening."

  "I enjoyed it too," I said, and waited. Was this the moment when the man was supposed to kiss the woman? How I regretted not having a close girlfriend in whom I could confide and with whom I could discuss the affairs between men and women, but all the girls I had known in school were married and gone.

  Was I supposed to do something to encourage him? Lean toward him, pause dramatically, smile in some way? I felt so lost, standing before the door, waiting.

  "Until the morning, then," he said, tipped his hat, and went down the steps to his car.

  I opened the door and rushed into the house, feeling both excited and disappointed. My father was in the sitting room, reading the paper, pretending to be interested in other things; but I knew he was waiting to hear about my date. I made up my mind I would not give him a review. It made me feel more like someone auditioning and I didn't like all these expectations.

  What could I tell him anyway? Malcolm took me out to dinner. We talked a great deal. Rather, I talked a great deal and he listened. Maybe he thought I was a chatterbox after all, even though my

  conversation was about things in which he showed some interest. I'm sure I talked so much because I was so nervous. In a way I was grateful for his questions about business. That was a subject on which I could expand.

  I could have talked about books, of course, or horses, but it wasn't until just now that I learned he had any interests in anything other than making money.

  So what would I tell my father? The dinner was wonderful. I tried not to eat too much, even though I could have eaten more. I tried to look dainty and feminine and even refused to order dessert. It was he who insisted.

  "Did you have a good time?" my father asked quickly. He saw I would just go right up to my room.

  "Yes, but why didn't you tell me you had invited him to join us for church?"

  "Oh, didn't I?"

  "Father, despite your expertise in business, you're not a good liar," I said. He roared. I even laughed a bit myself.

  Why should I be mad anyway? I thought. I knew what he was doing and I wanted him to do it.

  "I'm going to sleep," I said, thinking about how early I would get up the next morning. I had to take extra pains with my appearance for church.

  Before I fell asleep that night, I reviewed every moment of my date with Malcolm, condemning myself for this, congratulating myself for that. And when I recalled our moments at the door, I imagined that
he did kiss me.

  Never was I as nervous about going to church as I was that morning. I couldn't eat a thing at breakfast. I rushed about, not quite confident about my dress, not sure about my hair. When the time finally came to leave and Malcolm had arrived, my heart was beating so rapidly, I thought I would go into a faint and collapse on the stairway.

  "Good morning, Olivia," he said, and looked quite satisfied with my appearance. I didn't even realize until we were all in the car and on the way to church that he had called me "Olivia" and not "Miss Winfield."

  It was a lovely, warm spring day, really the first warm Sunday of the year. All the young ladies were dressed in their new spring dresses with veiled hats and parasols. And the families all looked so fresh, with the children scampering about in the sun, waiting to go in to the service. As we stepped from the car, it seemed all those gathered turned to look at me. Me, Olivia Winfield, arriving at church on a fine Sunday morning with my father and a strikingly handsome young man Yes, I wanted to scream, yes, it's me! See? But of course I would never stoop to such guttersnipe behavior. I stood straighter, taller, and held my chin high as we walked directly from the car and into the dark, musky church. Most had stayed outdoors to enjoy the sun, so we had our choice of pews, and Malcolm led us directly to the very front seats. We sat silently as we waited for the sermon to begin. Never had I had such difficulty following the sermon; never did I feel so self-conscious about the sound of my voice when we stood to sing the hymns. Yet Malcolm sang out clearly and loudly, and recited the Lord's Prayer at the end in a deep, strong voice. Then he turned to me and took my arm to escort me out. How proud I felt walking down the aisle with him

  Of course, I saw the way other members of the congregation were watching us and wondering who was the handsome young man accompanying the Winfields and standing beside Olivia Winfield?

  We left a stream of chatter behind us and I knew that Malcolm's appearance would be the subject of parlor talk all day.

  That afternoon we went horseback riding. It was the first time I had gone horseback riding alone with a man and I found his company invigorating. He rode like an experienced English huntsman. He seemed to enjoy the way I could keep up with him.

  He came to Sunday dinner and we took another walk along the river. For the first part of the walk I found him more quiet than ever and I anticipated the announcement of his departure. Perhaps he would promise to write. Actually, I was hoping for that promise, even if he didn't hold to it. At least I would have something to look forward to. I would cherish every one of his letters, should there be more than one.

  "Look here, Miss Winfield," he suddenly began. I didn't like his reverting back to calling me Miss Winfield. I thought that was a dark omen. But it wasn't. "I don't see the point in two people who have so much in common, two sensible people, that is, delaying and unnecessarily prolonging a relationship just to arrive at the point they both agree would be best."


  "I'm speaking of marriage," he said. "One of the most holy sacraments, something that must never be taken lightly. Marriage is more than the logical result of a romance; it's a contractual union, teamwork. A man has to know that his wife is part of the effort, someone on whom he can depend. Contrary to what some men think, my father included, a man must have a woman who has strength. I'm impressed with you, Miss Winfield. I would like your permission to ask your father for your hand in marriage."

  For a moment I could not speak. Malcolm Neal Foxworth, six feet two inches tall, as handsome a man as there could be, a man of intelligence, wealth, and looks, wanted to marry me? And we were standing on the bank of the river with the stars above us more brilliant than ever. Had I wandered into one of my own dreams?

  "Well . . . ," I said. I brought my hand to my throat and looked at him I was at a loss for words. I didn't know how to phrase my response.

  "I realize this seems rather sudden, but I'm a man with a destiny who has the good fortune to realize almost immediately what is valuable and what is not. My instincts have always proven reliable. I am confident that this proposal will be a good one for both of us. If you can place your trust in that . . ."

  "Yes, Malcolm. I can," I said quickly, perhaps too quickly.

  "Good. Thank you," he said.

  I waited. This was surely the moment for us to kiss. We should consummate our faith in each other under the stars. But maybe I was being childishly romantic. Malcolm was the kind to do things properly, correctly. I had to have faith in that too.

  "Then, if you will, let us return to your home so that I can speak to your father," he said. He did take my arm and draw me closer to him. As we walked back to my father's house, I thought about the couple I had seen strolling on the street that first night he came to dinner My dream had come true. For the first time in my life, I felt truly happy.

  My father waited in his den as if he had anticipated the news. Things were moving so quickly. On more than one occasion, I had brought myself to the double doors that separated my father's den from the sitting room and listened in on conversations. I resented being left out of some of the conversations anyway. They had to do with family affairs or business affairs that could affect me.

  Nothing would affect me more than the conversation that was about to ensue. I stood quietly to the side and listened, eager to hear Malcolm express his love for me.

  "As I told you the first night, Mr. Winfield," he began, "I am quite taken with your daughter. It is rare to find, a woman with her poise and dignity, a woman who can appreciate the pursuit of economic success and grow gracefully with it."

  "I am proud of Olivia's achievements," my father said. "She, is as brilliant an accountant and bookkeeper as any man I know," he added. My father's compliments always had a way of making me feel less desirable.

  "Yes. She's a woman with a steady, strong temperament. I have always wanted a wife who would let me pursue my life as I will, and would not cling to me helplessly like a choking vine. I want to be confident that when I come home, she won't be sulky or moody, or even vindictive as so many flimsy women can be. I like the fact that she is not concerned with superficial things, that she doesn't dote on her own coiffure, that she doesn't giggle and flirt. In short, I like her maturity. I compliment you, sir. You have brought up a fine, responsible woman."

  "Well, I--"

  "And I can think of no other way to express that compliment better than to ask for your permission to marry her."

  "Does Olivia . . . ?"

  "Know that I have come in here to make this proposal? She has given me permission to do so. Knowing she is a woman of strong mind, I thought it best to ask her first. I hope you understand."

  "Oh, I understand that." My father cleared his throat. "Well, Mr. Foxworth," he said. He felt it necessary to refer to him as Mr. Foxworth during this conversation. "I'm sure you understand as well that my daughter will come into a sizable fortune. I want you to know beforehand that her money will be her own. It is specifically stated in my will that no one but she will have access to those funds."

  There was what I thought to be a long silence.

  "That's as it should be," Malcolm finally said. "I don't know what your plans might be for a wedding," he added quickly, "but I would favor a small church ceremony as quickly as possible. I need to return soon to Virginia."

  "If Olivia wants that," my father said. He knew that I would.

  "Fine. Then I have your permission, sir?"

  "You understand what I have said about her money?"

  "Yes, sir, I do."

  "You have my permission," my father said. "And we'll shake on it."

  I released the air that I held in my lungs and stepped quickly away from the double doors.

  A man, most handsome and elegant, had come calling and then had asked for my hand in marriage. I had heard it all and it had all happened so quickly, I had to catch my breath and keep telling myself it wasn't a dream.

  I hurried upstairs and sat before the dollhouse. I would live in a
big house with servants and there would be people coming and going. We would entertain with elaborate dinner parties and I would be an asset to my husband who was, as my father had said, something of a business genius. In time we would be envied by all.

  "Just like I have envied you," I said to the porcelain family within the glass.

  I looked about me.

  Good-bye to lonely nights. Good-bye to this world of fantasy and dreams.

  Good-bye to my father's face of pity and to my own forlorn look in the mirror. There was a new face to know--and so much to learn about Malcolm Neal Foxworth--and a lifetime to learn it in. I was to become Olivia Foxworth, Mrs. Malcolm Neal Foxworth. All my mother had predicted had come true.

  I was blooming. I felt myself opening out toward Malcolm like a tightly closed bud bursting into blossom. And when his blue, blue eyes looked into my gray ones, I knew the sun had come and melted the fog away. My life would no longer be colored gray. No, from now on it would be blue--blue as the sun-filled skies of a cloudless day. Blue as Malcolm's eyes. In the flush of being swept away by love, like any foolish schoolgirl I forgot all I knew about caution and looking beyond appearances to see the truth. I forgot that never once when Malcolm proposed to me and then made his proposal to my father had he mentioned the word "love." Like a foolish schoolgirl I believed I would lie beneath the blue sky of Malcolm's eyes, and my tiny little blossom would grow into a sturdy, long-lasting bloom. Like any woman stupidly believing in love, I never realized that the blue sky I saw was not the warm, soft, nurturing sky of spring, but the cold, chilling, lonely sky of winter.

  2 My Wedding

  . THERE WERE SO MANY PLANS TO BE MADE AND SO little time to plan. We decided to have the wedding two weeks hence. "I've been away quite a long time," Malcolm explained, "and I have many pressing business concerns. You don't mind a bit, do you, Olivia? After all, we shall have our whole lives from now on to be together, and we shall have a honeymoon later, after you're all settled in at Foxworth Hall. Do you agree?"

  How could I not agree? The size of my wedding, the abruptness of it, did not lessen my excitement. I kept telling myself I was lucky to have this one. Besides, I was never comfortable being on display in front of people. And I really had no friends to celebrate with. Father invited my mother's younger sister and her child, John Amos, our only living close relatives. "Poor relations," my father always called them. John Amos's father had died several years before. His mother was a dark drab thing, seemingly still in mourning after all these years. And John Amos, at eighteen, seemed already old. He was a hard, pious young man who always quoted the Bible. But I agreed with Father that it was only appropriate that we invite them. Malcolm brought no one. His father had recently begun traveling and intended to visit many countries and travel for a number of years. Malcolm had no brothers or sisters and apparently no close relations he cared to invite or, as he explained, who could come on such short notice. I knew what people would think about that--he didn't want his family to see what he was marrying until it was too late. They might talk him out of it.