Home > To Paradise(4)

To Paradise(4)
Author: Hanya Yanagihara

   This was his opportunity to once again offer his thanks, but his grandfather waved those away with the vapor of his smoke. “There is no need to offer gratitude. The house is yours. You love it, after all.”

   “Yes,” he began, for he did, but he was thinking still of those queer feelings he’d had earlier that day, when he was examining, for those many blocks, why the prospect of inheriting the house filled him not with a sense of security, but, rather, a sort of panic. “But—”

   “But what?” asked Grandfather, now looking at him with a queer expression of his own, and David, worried he had sounded doubtful, hurried on: “I’m just worried for Eden and John, is all,” to which Grandfather flapped his hand again. “Eden and John will be fine,” he said, briskly. “You needn’t worry about them.”

   “Grandfather,” he said, and smiled, “you needn’t worry about me, either,” to which his grandfather said nothing, and then they were both embarrassed, equally at the fact of the lie and at its enormity, so wrong that not even manners demanded a denial of it.

   “I have had an offer of marriage for you,” his grandfather said at last into this silence. “A good family—the Griffiths, of Nantucket. They began as shipbuilders, of course, but now they have their own fleet, as well as a small but lucrative fur trade. The gentleman’s Christian name is Charles; he is a widower. His sister—herself a widow—lives with him, and they raise her three sons together. He spends the trading season on-island and lives on the Cape in the winters.

   “I don’t know the family myself, but they have a very respectable position—quite involved in local government, and Mister Griffith’s brother, with whom he and his sister run their business, is the head of the merchant association. There is another sibling as well, a sister, who lives in the North. Mister Griffith is the eldest; the parents are still living—it was Mister Griffith’s maternal grandparents who began the business. The offer came to Frances, through their lawyer.”

   He felt he should say something. “How old is the gentleman?”

   Grandfather cleared his throat. “One-and-forty,” he said, reluctantly.

   “One-and-forty!” he exclaimed, more vehemently than he had intended. “I apologize,” he said. “But one-and-forty! Why, he is an old man!”

   At this, Grandfather smiled. “Not quite,” he said. “Not to me. And not to most of the rest of the world. But, yes, he is older. Older than you, at least.” And then, when he said nothing, “Child, you know I don’t mean for you to marry if you don’t wish. But it is something we’ve discussed for you, it is something in which you’ve expressed interest, or I wouldn’t have entertained the offer at all. Shall I tell Frances you decline? Or would you like to have a meeting?”

   “I feel I’m becoming a burden to you,” he murmured, finally.

   “No,” Grandfather said. “Not a burden. As I said, no grandchild of mine has need to marry unless he wishes. But I do think you might consider it. We needn’t give Frances an answer immediately.”

   They sat in silence. It was true that it had been many months—a year, perhaps; more—since he had last had any offers, or even any interest, though he didn’t know whether this was because he had declined the last two proposals so quickly and with such indifference, or whether it was because word of his confinements, which Grandfather and he had worked so diligently to conceal, had finally become known to society. It was true that the idea of marriage made him to some measure fearful, and yet was it not also worrisome that this latest offer was from a family unknown to them? Yes, they would be of adequate station and standing—Frances would not have dared to mention it to Grandfather were they not—but it also meant that the two of them, Grandfather and Frances, had decided they must now entertain prospects from beyond the people the Binghams knew and with whom they associated, the fifty-odd families who had built the Free States, and among whom not only he and his siblings but his parents, and Grandfather before them, had spent their entire lives. It was to this small community that Peter belonged, as well as Eliza, but it was now apparent that the eldest Bingham heir, were he to marry, would have to find his spouse from beyond this golden circle, would have to look to another group of people. They were not dismissive, the Binghams, they were not exclusive, they were not the sort of people who did not associate with merchants and traders, with people who had begun their lives in this country as one kind of person and had, through diligence and cleverness, become another. Peter’s family was like that, but they were not. And yet he could not but feel that he had disappointed, that the legacy his ancestors had worked so hard to establish was, with his presence, being diminished.

   But he also felt, despite what Grandfather said, that it would not do for him to immediately refuse this offer: He was the only person he might blame for his current situation, and as the presence of the Griffiths made clear, his choices would not be infinite, despite his name and his grandfather’s money. So he told Grandfather that he would accept the meeting, and his grandfather—with what was, was it not, an expression of relief, barely concealed?—replied that he would tell Frances straightaway.

   He was tired then, and made his excuses and went to his room. Though it was now unrecognizable from when he had first occupied it, he knew it so well that he could navigate it even in the dark. A second door led to what had been his and his siblings’ playroom and was now his study, and it was to here he retreated with the envelope his grandfather had given him before he had taken his leave for the night. Inside it was a small etching of the man, Charles Griffith, and he looked at it, closely, in the lamplight. Mister Griffith was fair, with light eyebrows and a soft, round face, and a full, though not excessive mustache; David could see that he was heavyset even from the drawing, which showed only his face and neck and the top of his shoulders.

   All at once he was gripped by a panic, and he went to the window and opened it, quickly, and inhaled the cold, clear air. It was late, he realized, later than he’d thought, and beneath him nothing stirred. Was he really to contemplate leaving Washington Square, so soon after reluctantly imagining he perhaps never would? He turned back around and studied the room, trying to imagine everything in it—his shelves of books; his easel; his desk with his papers and inks and the framed portrait of his parents; his chaise, its scarlet piping now flattened and splitting with age, which he had had since his college years; his paisley-embroidered scarf of the softest wool, which Grandfather had given him two Christmases ago, special-ordered from India; everything arranged for his comfort or for his delight, or both—relocated to a wooden house in Nantucket, and himself among them.

   But he couldn’t. These things belonged here, in this house: It was as if the house itself had grown them, as if they were something living that would shrivel and die were they moved elsewhere. And then he thought: Was the same not true for him? Was he not also something the house had, if not spawned, then nourished and fed? If he left Washington Square, how would he ever know where he truly was in the world? How could he leave these walls that had stared blankly, plainly back at him through all of his states? How could he leave these floors, upon which he heard his grandfather walking late at night, come himself with bone broth and medicine in the months he was unable to leave his room? It was not always a joyful place. It had at times been a terrible one. But how could anywhere else feel so exactly his?

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