Mr. Nicholson was in love with two beautiful women
So they were married . . .
Some might call it Mr. Nicholson’s
A FABLE BY I ROBERT AYRE Illustrated by TOM HODGSON
There was once a man who got himself into difficulties by marrying two women at the same time and was extricated, although no one would have said he deserved it, without any effort on his own.
The man's name was Nicholson and he had never been a bigamist before, or even a monogamist, but when he did anything he preferred to do it by doubles rather than halves. Nicholson owned a large island in the South Seas, which gave him more than the usual latitude. The island was left him by his father, a Mr. Nicholson, a blackbirder. “If you promise to divert your enterprise elsewhere and not take any more of my people." the chief had said to the blackbirder, “I will give you my island, stick and stone and sea around.” Mr. Nicholson Senior accepted the island with the wholehearted agreeablcness that was characteristic of him. exporting all the young men whose wives he admired and dumping the chief into the ocean, because he was too old to be negotiable.
Under the new management, the island prospered, bootlegging in slaves when blackbirding was officially discontinued. and building up a sumptuous trade in pearls and copra. And when he died. Nicholson the First left behind a considerable increase in population, including one fully white man. his heir.
Mrs. Nicholson, who made this heir possible, brought a refining influence to the island in black bombazine— this was quite a while ago—and so eagerly did she make the poor benighted islanders strive for refinement that they were continually stealing her gold chains and her little gold watches. However, she forgave them and retaliated by reading the Bible at them. It was she who inflicted on them the missionary, the Rev. Andrew Thretlowc.
Mr. Nicholson inherited enough refinement from her to offset his father's vulgar forthrightness, and w'hat he did he did gracefully. He was polished in Eton and Oxford and when he came home to the island he began chumming around with Mr. Thretlowe. much to his mother's satisfaction and the disgust of his father, who really didn't understand the missionary. The young heir spent most of his time on protracted outrigger canoe trips, exploring the neighboring island and atolls, helping Mr. Thretlowc in his anthropological studies, with special reference to coming-of-age ceremonies and fertility rites, and compiling a sort of Pacific Kinsey Report long before Dr. Kinsey was born.
By the time Nicholson came into his island there was quite a little colony of whites in the village. Mrs. Nicholson had chosen the colony, man and wife, and it was the acme of decorum, as far as it lay in her power to keep it so. Of course her husband was a bad influence, but Rev. Thretlowe always had a full church on Sundays and enough knickknacks for the rummage sales, so she knew that her efforts were bearing fruit.
Mr. and Mrs. Nicholson duly died and were beautifully buried by Mr. Thretlowe. who had a noble baritone; Mr. Nicholson going to Hell, which made his story end consistently and happily; and Mrs. Nicholson, of course, to Heaven, which was nobody’s fault but her own.
l ime passed and the heir of the island did nothing about it. He had inherited, alas, no pious tendencies to duty or business. The island and an inclination to enjoy life w'erc all he had.
One day, he took it into his head to be married.
Long before this both Cicely and Joan Stanbridge had made lip their minds to wed and. in common with the rest of the village, they gave a great deal of thought to the problem of which of them he would eventually have. They were beautiful and talented girls. Cicely sang and wrote verses and drank tea. Joan played the pianoforte and painted waterfalls and drank coffee. Nothing stronger insofar as their mother knew, though she sometimes had mysterious hints from neighbors who misconstrued the girls’ occasional dizzy spells. They were athletic young ladies; both swam and rode and played tennis and croquet and bridge and went to church faithfully. If there had been any golf on the island, they would have played it. But not on Sunday.
“Will who marry you?” “Both of you,” he saicL
Determined to marry Mr. Nicholson, they developed a spirit of bitter jealousy and avid rivalry, which was manifested in an extraordinary sweetness to each other and an attachment which would not allow them to be apart even for a moment. “Dear girls,” sighed Mrs. Stanbridge, "they are so devoted to each other! If he married Joan, I am sure Cicely will pine away and die for loss of her. And vice versa.”
Joan was convinced that, of the two, she would make the better wife for Mr. Nicholson, and exerted herself to convince Mr. Nicholson. It was exactly the opposite with Cicely. The village could sec nothing to choose between them. Neither could Nicholson. With two morethan-eligible young ladies interested in his future welfare, not to mention a fond mamma and a whole island, it was a wonder the thought of marriage did not occur to Nicholson earlier. But it dawned with a full flush on him one morning in his bath, and he proposed. Not then, but later.
THE THREE OF THEM were picnicking up the hill when it happened. It was just the morning for romance. The sun was sluicing a vivid-blue sky with golden light and the little white clouds were clotted at the rim like soapsuds. Below them the island dozed in lazy greenery and paddled its feet in the dazzling ocean. After a breathless climb, Mr. Nicholson and the Misses Stanbridge had bathed in the cold waterfall, making the silver drops sparkle in the sun as they laughed and splashed, and drenching the dancing leaves to a glossier green. They lunched and, after luncheon, Nicholson proposed.
"Cicely, dear.” said he, drawing Cicely close to him, and "Joan, dear,” drawing Joan close to him with the other arm. He sat for a moment thus, in supreme contentment. Except for the raging jealousy in their hearts, the girls were blissful too.
"Will you marry me?” Nicholson whispered.
There was a fluttering silence.
"Who?” asked Joan.
“Me,” said Nicholson. “I always believe in speaking for myself.”
"Will who marry you?” asked Joan. "He is speaking to me,” said Cicely sweetly, snuggling closer. "Yes, my beloved, with all my heart!”
"I am speaking to both of you,” said Nicholson. “1 want to marry you both, darlings! I love you! 1 can’t choose between you.”
“Don’t be a fool!” said Joan.
“He asked me first,” said Cicely. “He said, ‘Cicely, dear,’ before he said, ‘Joan, dear.’ I don’t think he’s a fool, if you do, and I will marry him.”
“No, you won’t!” said Joan ominously.
"I said, ‘Cicely, dear,’ before, ‘Joan, dear,’ because C comes before J. That’s the method I shall have to adopt—to avoid misunderstanding, sweethearts,” said Nicholson.
“Obviously you can’t marry two women at the same time,” said Joan. "If you are proposing to me, you might have the manners to do it when we are alone.” "We are alone, we three,” said Nicholson. “Joan, if I said to you, in the singular, ‘Will you marry me?’ what would your answer be?”
With his white teeth, his crisp curly hair, his blue eyes, his manly figure and his island, he was irresistible. Joan whispered, "Yes.”
“And, Cicely,” said Nicholson, “if I said to you, in the singular, ‘Will you
marry me?’ what would your answer be?”
“I have already said yes,” whispered Cicely.
“There you are!” exclaimed Nicholson, jumping up. “Both of you would marry me! What am I to do? I love Cicely too much to break her heart by marrying Joan. And I love Joan too much to break her heart by marrying Cicely.”
He walked up and down in great distress of mind until he trod on a thorn, and then he sat down suddenly, and received with much pleasure the effusive
ministrations of both young ladies.
“How happy could I be with either, were t’other fair charmer away!” sighed Nicholson. “No,” he repented, “I don’t mean that. I love you both at once. One is the complement of the other. Two beautiful girls and, together, the one ideal girl. My dearests, I cannot live without you! You must marry me! You shall be the double queens of the island! See your kingdom!”
He rose and tempted them.
“Look below,” he said.
They gazed down the fronded green slopes to the sea.
“The island is fat with coconuts. It is all mine. It is all yours!”
He pointed to the roofs of the gleaming white village.
“All mine. All yours,” said Nicholson. “Stick and stone and sea around. You shall be the queens. You shall set fashion and lead society.”
“We do now,” said Joan.
Nicholson was a little dashed. "Well,” he said, “I will give you more power and prestige than you could possibly have as two spinsters. More pleasure too.” he added, partly because he was partial to alliteration.
He pointed to the sea crawling in long white lines to the shore.
“Pearls!” said he. “Pearls! All mine. All yours. You have no idea how opulent I am.”
They looked and were silent.
“Am I daring convention?” asked Nicholson. “What are trumpery conventionalities to me? 1 am master. I own the island, to the last hibiscus blossom. 1 make my own laws and conventions. And you girls are too modern-minded to be handicapped by childish superstitions. They are all right for Muddleton-in-theMud or some such hole. You and I are not Muddletonians.”
But the Misses Stanbridge were not thinking of convention.
“You needn't be afraid. 1 am not starting a harem,” said Nicholson. “Two wives are enough for any man. You are equally beautiful and I adore you equally. Can I be blamed for wanting you both? Would you blame me for wanting you, Cicely?”
Cicely shook her head.
“Would you blame me for wanting you, Joan?”
“I thought so,” said Nicholson. “When shall we wed?”
Each girl fought for herself, but Nicholson was resolute. “Both, or neither,” he said, and so they both said yes and they came down from the hill.
WHEN Mrs. Stanbridge heard the news she forthwith took to her bed and died. Like the late Mrs. Nicholson, she was an old-fashioned woman.
.Sadly reflecting on the loss of a mother-in-law, Nicholson consoled himself with the thought that he might have had two, had Cicely and Joan come from different families.
The whole community was shocked and insulted. Especially the young ladies and the fond mammas. But Nicholson made no bones about it. and he was king. When he embarrassed the good people by speaking of his impending marriage, they said how delightfully original he was, and how lucky. Secretly some of the men (you could tell them by their wives) envied him and wished they had his nerve—or the power and the money —and the girls, of course, to do likewise. Some of the women thought Nicholson was a beast, but most of them agreed that the girls were a bad lot.
But the whole island went to the church to see them married. Rev. Mr. Thretlowe had to do it. When he demurred, Nicholson quietly reminded him of the anthropological expeditions. If it had been in a civilized country the brides would have adorned all the society pages. They were ravishingly beautiful as they walked up the aisle together in white, with their proud father between them; and they were beyond compare as they stepped down the aisle, one on each arm of their beaming husband, trailing clouds of glory. The island talked about the wedding forever after.
For a few months there was bliss in the Nicholson household. Nicholson had it all. FT is brides were being consumed from within by a fierce-burning jealousy of each other. Their sisterly sweetness went sour before a malice they did not attempt to hide, and then Mr. Nicholson began to suffer from their snarlings and bitings. His carefree face was clouded with misery and his hair turned grey before its time.
"I have married two tigers!” he groaned. "Or volcanoes” — a more natural metaphor, because there were two volcanoes on the island and no wild animals. "One would have been enough. With one Eve, this would be Eden, but with two it is Hell!”
Cicely came to him privily and said, “Darling, if you love me, you will send that woman away. She is killing me!”
Joan came to him privily and said, "You must send that woman away! I can't live with her!”
Neither mentioned divorce because in those days divorce was unseemly.
Nicholson was in a dilemma and he knew not how to escape. He thought of going away by himself and leaving them to fight it out. but they both insisted on going with him, so he stayed home. He offered Joan a trip to Australia and Cicely a trip to England, but they refused to trust him or each other. How was Cicely to know that Joan had really gone to Australia? Far away in England, how could she know that Joan wasn’t alone on the island with their joint husband? And vice versa.
For a few weeks longer Nicholson and his wives dragged on in wretchedness. Then came the climax.
Joan, it will be remembered, drank coffee. Cicely drank tea. The idea came to them simultaneously. Joan put strychnine in Cicely’s tea and Cicely put mix vomica in Joan’s coffee. They sat down to lunch together, each watching for the other’s downfall. They perished simultaneously, to their mutual surprise, and their husband could hardly believe his eyes.
"The ways of Providence are past understanding,” said Rev. Mr. Thretlowe after the funeral.
“Aren’t they!” exclaimed the bereaved husband, with admiration.
His face and hair resumed their accustomed hue and he walked with a new elasticity in his step.
At first he thought of putting up a single headstone bearing the inscription: NICHOLSON, BELOVED WIVES OF. But he was a man who never did things by halves, so he had two stones raised, over tw'o graves, one at one end of the island and one at the other. ★
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