Reluctant Bride, Chapter 3

On the appointed day—they had arranged to leave for Montreal on a Friday and return the following Tuesday—Lorne and Illona boarded the Via Rail train and settled into their comfortable seats in mid car. The train left the station with barely a shudder.
For the next few minutes they were entranced by the passing scenery, of first the port, then glimpses of Lake Ontario, but as time went on and they seemed to be in the midst of a uninteresting scrub forest, so they turned from the window and started to question each other about their life stories.
Illona let it “all hang out.” She had been born in Georgia, Russia to two middle-class Russian parents. Her father had a uninspiring communist government job. Her mother had spent the early part of the marriage taking care of their two children, Ivan a boy, then after an interval of 10 years, Illona. Music had always been an important part of their family and though Ivan wasn’t particularly interested, the family scrapped to give a musical education to Illona. Even as a young child she had shown particular aptitude.
“But all that rather dull domesticity came to an abrupt end,” said Illona quietly, letting her voice tail off.
Lorne was full of curious sympathy. “An abrupt end? How did that happen?”
A deep sigh from Illona. “Well we Georgians were always an unruly bunch, always prepared to revolt over some cause or another—most of them quite trivial. During one of these ‘uprisings,’ Ivan was shot—an innocent bystander… but a dead bystander.”
“My God! Shot!!”
“Yes, shot! Well it not only killed Ivan, it destroyed our family. Eventually it became evident that my mother and father couldn’t cope with a pubescent girl, but they didn’t know what to do about it. Then my Uncle Igor, who lived in Canada, offered to ‘take me on.’ Uncle Igor was a bachelor and older than my father. He seemed really ancient to me but I suppose he was 50 or so. Anyway, a flight was booked for me and next thing I knew I was in a strange country, listening to a strange language, and living with a strange Uncle Igor. You know he really was a wonderful second father to me. He didn’t know much about bringing up young girls but he made up for it in love”
“But tell me about your music. You didn’t just pick that up, I’m sure.”
“Well, no. He insisted on sending me to musical schools. My métier was piano. I had an ambition to be a concert pianist but I just wasn’t good enough to be on the top circuit. So I gave up that dream and settled for entertainment for myself and my friends. That’s why I couldn’t resist that piano at the gala. I’m afraid I made a bit of an ass of myself.”
“Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub. So two asses at a gala. That’s when I really fell in love with you.”
She ignored the comment. “Now I’m in a senior administrative position with a large symphony orchestra. It’s exciting even if the pay is not all that great.”
The train pulled into Kingston and the passengers all got out to stretch their legs. The conversation on the station platform was casual and unimportant. But once the two had settled in their seats again, Illona took control. “Look I’ve told you far more than I meant to. What about you? Where did you pick up your musical talent?”
“Me? Oh. Well I was born into a musical family in Toronto. My parents were at least third generation Canadian—maybe even more. I never bothered to check it out. We had a middle class home which was a musical Mecca for all the school kids. We formed more bands with more weird names than you could count. But I never took a lesson. Mum tells me that I was playing simple tunes at three. I don’t remember. Anyway it came naturally and without effort. A true gift. But it didn’t take me long to find out that even talent wasn’t going to buy the groceries. So I got into law. That’s about a far away from music as you can get.”
“Do you like being a lawyer?”
“Do I like my job? Yes—at least the way it turned out. I joined a law firm as a junior. Just about the same time, their patent lawyer retired so they thrust me into that role. It’s not Perry-Mason–style exciting, but it’s steady and the hours are usually predictable.”
“Where you an only child, Lorne?”
“Yes. To give you the whole story, mum did tell me she lost a sister for me in childbirth.”
“That must have been tragic.”
“I suppose it was. I simply don’t remember. I was too young. And it never was a major point in our family history.”
Illona looked out the window dreamily. “And now we’re going to see your mother. Tell me about her.”
“Oh boy. How can I squeeze her into a few sentences? You know I think I have the best mother in the world. At least I think that now. Perhaps not when she was goading me or correcting me or scolding me. I can remember on my 40th birthday. we had a dinner party at her house for maybe a dozen friends and family. During a lull in the conversation, she chose to correct my table manners. I was a little miffed and said. ‘Mother. I’m 40 years old. When are you going to stop treating me like a child?’ Sharp off the mark, she replied, ‘When you stop behaving like a child.’ Score one for mum, zero for Lorne.”
Illona chuckled. “She sounds like a regular harridan.”
It was Lorne’s turn to chuckle. “No not at all. If she loves you (and she WILL love you) you are cherished and pampered. If she finds you with faults she will correct them. If she senses you are evil, you’re dead. Look, I’m not trying to prepare you for an ordeal. She’s a quick read of character. Give her 30 seconds to asses you. Then you’ll know how she feels.”
“Is your dad still with her?”
“No. Dad died suddenly twenty years ago or so. Fortunately he left her with enough wealth to take care of herself and she chose to stay on in the family home. I can hardly remember him.”
Lorne batted the ball into her court. “But what about your parents? Are they still alive. Do you still keep in touch?”
He noticed her eyes were dewy. “I don’t know. I tried to keep in touch but they didn’t respond. So we just gradually lost track of each other. I think Uncle Igor contacts his brother every once in awhile but he never confides in me. So, in short, I really never was ‘mothered.’ Odd that I should miss that simply because you brought it up.”
“I don’t want to embarrass you but what about your love life. I want to know about the competition.”
She smiled. “I assure you the line-up is not very long. Oh, I’ve had boy friends but not very serious. Mother kept at me telling me that I wasn’t getting any younger and now was the time. But there’s no way she was going to force me before I found the right guy. It’s a cinch that Bill wasn’t the right guy. So what about you? You the kind of handsome male that peels off clinging females before taking a shower.”
He smiled at the metaphor. “Rather an exaggeration of my come-on skills. You don’t seem to be clinging… yet.”
She composed her face. “Look, Lorne, I’m not trying to play you like a hooked fish. I think you’re really great. But I don’t know you. You only been in my life for a couple of weeks. You talk about marriage. Is two weeks long enough to make a life-time decision?”
“It definitely was long enough for me. I’ve never been surer of anything than that you’re the girl for me. If it’s too short a time for you, I’ll have to take myself out of ‘drive’ and settle for ‘park’—for the time being.”
The train arrived in Montreal. They debarked and caught a taxi for the relatively short ride to Westmount. As Illona had never been in Montreal before, the street names didn’t mean anything to her. She was fascinated by the old, rich architecture, though a little surprised it did not seem particularly French—except for the signage.
At a well kept house with a lovely flower garden, they stopped and Lorne opened the car door for her. Naturally she was nervous. She was very aware that this was a test of her very being.
The two walked up to the front door, hand in hand. Before they had reached the veranda the door opened. Obviously, Lorne’s mother had been watching out for them. She stepped out the door. A striking woman. She was tall for her age and with a gentle motherly figure. A full head of white hair framed a… what shall we say, not a beautiful face but one full of happy character. She was dressed fashionably but according to her age. Illona’s first impression was that she genuinely radiated warmth and love.
She reached out and put her hands on Illona’s shoulders and stood for a full minute searching her eyes. Finally she spoke. “Illona! I wanted so to meet you. Now you given me great joy. My son appears to have settled on you. I read souls you know. He’s made a good choice!”
Illona was shocked out of the usual greeting platitudes. “You’re so kind, Mrs. Cochrane…” (Illona had meant to steer her hostess away from the topic of her relationship with Lorne, but it would appear that her hostess moved too fast for her.)
“‘Grace,’ please. even my grandchildren call me Grace. Please come inside.”
They all had tea in the living room and then Grace took her guests upstairs to show them to their rooms. “Dinner will be served in about an hour, so that will give you time to freshen up from your long train ride. Just come down whenever you’re ready.”
The dinner was a delightful affair, prepared and served by an old family retainer, Mary. (Illona considered how much you could learn about people by how they treated their employees or servants. Mary was treated almost as a family member.) The conversation was general—about what Lorne should show Illona in Montreal, where they should have lunch together, whether they would have time to take in the Montreal Symphony—things like that. And eventually off to bed.
The following morning, the couple started off early, took in shopping in the downtown area and then wended their way up to the Art Gallery just to see what was being presented. They enjoyed a private lunch in the gallery restaurant. They came home in time for tea. Grace filled the cups but presented one to Lorne with the order, “OK, son, you go and find things to do. Illona and I want to have time by ourselves.”
So while Lorne did who knows what around the house, Grace and Illona dug deeply into each other. In the course of conversation, Grace became aware that she had found the daughter that she had lost in childbirth. And Illona also realized she had found the mother she couldn’t remember. And so the next two days went by quickly with Lorne circling on the circumference of this unique “marriage” of a mother and a daughter.
The day before the couple were due to depart, Grace drew her guest aside for a serious talk. As usual she tackled the subject directly. “Look, dear, Lorne is like a horse in the starting gate. You’re not even saddled up yet.”
Illona blushed. “I know. I know. I feel sort of like a traitor even being here.”
Grace continued. “This is not just because I’m his mother. I’m trying not to be biased, but I told you I read souls. Let me tell you, you two are soul mates, whether you are ready to admit it or not.”
“Grace, the thought scares me. It just scares me. You see I hardly remember family life at home in Russia. I don’t remember how my mother and father expressed their love for each other. Then I came to Canada. Uncle Igor is a bachelor. He was kind, loving and generous, but there was no man/woman love. Then I see all sorts of demonstrations of partnerships that have gone wrong—from friendly partings to highly violent ones. So I’m scared.”
“Love is a risk but the rewards are very high. With a well-matched match heaven is within your grasp… Do you love him?”
“I… I think so. I really like being with him. I just loved this Montreal adventure—not the least of which was meeting you. I get a thrill when he holds my hand. When he kisses me, which isn’t often, I melt. But I really don’t know what love is. I have no experience.”
Grace tittered a bit. “Virgins are very rare jewels. They are highly prized. Virgins look forward to having ‘experience,’ as you put it, with their husbands. Has he asked you to marry him?”
“Well he has certainly indicated he wants to marry me, but a direct question, in so many words? No”
“So if he does what are you going to reply?”
A long pause. “I’m going to close my eyes and say ‘Yes.’ But what if he doesn’t ask me again?”
“Oh Illona. Come on. You’re a big girl now. Big girls know how to handle reluctant swains. Use your talents!”
The train ride back to Toronto was a repeat of the one out. They had good conversations and indeed there were three of more times when she thought he was on the verge of proposing but he always stepped back. She was in agony as she approached the brink and then receded again and again. Then she realized that playing the waiting game simply wasn’t working.
She suddenly firmed up and tackled him head on. “Lorne, dear, do you remember that old saying, ‘Shit or get off the pot?’”
He was thrown for a loop. “I’ve never heard you swear before!”
“Oh I’m not swearing. I simply pointing out a fact of life to you.”
He blushed crimson. “Me? Look I know what your thinking but I haven’t asked you outright because I was afraid you’d say, ‘No.’”
“Try me!”
Ignoring the other passengers he slid to his knees in front of her. “Illona will you marry me?”
She shut her eyes, steeled herself and whispered, ‘Yes.’”
He took advantage of her and smothered her in kisses. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an engagement ring—a large solitary topaz, set in a simple gold setting. He slid it on her finger. The ring wonderfully complimented her tawny complexion. The audience applauded.
At the Toronto station he helped her with her simple suitcase and found his own. While they were waiting for the exit to be prepared, they were standing very close together, each carrying a suitcase. She whispered in his ear, “I want a simple wedding and soon, If we wait too long I might change my mind and right now I don’t want to.”
He responded, “Simple and soon. We can take care of that, I think… But hold on. Inasmuch as we’re looking forward to a life-time together, I should start off by being perfectly honest with you. I have been thinking of a short cut.”
She turned to look at him. “A short cut. I don’t know what you mean.”
“Well we’re standing here each with a suitcase filled with toothbrushes, cleansing creams and night attire. Just there,” he pointed across the road, “is the Royal York Hotel. They rent luxury rooms. We could rent one for the night and wake up in the morning to a champagne breakfast. It would just be putting the first night ahead of the wedding rather than after.”
She looked at him full stare for some time. There was apprehension in her eyes, maybe even a touch of terror. He continued, “But I’m not going to suggest that. Surely we are not in such haste that we start off a life together with what has all the attributes of a one-night stand. So we’ll take the more traditional route.”
Her gaze changed to one of admiration. “Oh, Lorne. I love you so much. Right now I need a long kiss. And there on Front Street in front of the Union Station he was glad to oblige.
As the author is going west for a holiday, the next posting will not be until June 6th, DG.

6 Responses to “Reluctant Bride, Chapter 3”

  1. Jack Long says:

    You are building a good foundation but what are you ever going to do to make an exciting Chapter4. Right now their situation looks all too easy. And you are going to make us wait forever to see what happens. I guess you will need the time to think of a climax for this one.

  2. Libby Buchanan says:

    It all looks like a fait a compli but I guess you have some problems hidden away. Have a lovely holiday Libby

  3. Silvana Ness says:

    I agree with Libby.

    I wonder what the coup de scène is going to be. A very intriguing development.


  4. Fran Deacon says:

    Lyman, Dear Lyman:
    This was intended…initially…as a love
    story and now you’ve turned it into a
    mystery. To add to it, the next chapter
    is not until June 6th. I believe that’s
    called…”Hanging us by the Frames”.
    Have a great trip west but feel a wee bit
    guilty for not resolving this romance.

  5. Rose says:

    UHO!! Here comes the jealous boyfriend. I feel it in my bones. All this peace & serenity may get shaken up.

    Have a wonderful time out west and please give my best to Toni & Victoria. Looking forward to the next chapter Lyman.

    Happy travels.


  6. charles kirby says:

    Well whaddayouknow…Lyman is writing Love Stories. Next thing we know Lyman will be # 1 on the “Harlequin Romance” list. Actually,my man: it reads very well.Enjoyed.

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