66. Greed All About It
The ending of a honeymoon is, in metaphorical terms, the ending of a period of charity during which the other is able to do no wrong or, rather, is able to do wrong but also able to get away with it. As we all know, politicians have a honeymoon period during which the electorate forgives if not everything, then at least rather a lot. Then, when the metaphorical honeymoon comes to an end, the mood shifts, and every slip, every ill-advised step, indeed every sign of simple human fallibility, is eagerly pounced upon. There! shouts the opposition in triumphant chorus. There! You see what he’s like! Sleaze! Ineptitude! The very qualities that we ourselves so conspicuously lack! The end of a real honeymoon, one might hope, is not quite like that, even if one has discovered, on the honeymoon, perhaps, that one has married a sleazy and inept person. Even then, one’s spouse does not typically become critical and unforgiving, as an electorate may be. Yet life is certainly different after the honeymoon.
To begin with, one has to work, and for Matthew that meant going in to the gallery on that first morning back – easier work, perhaps, than clocking in at a factory or a busy office, but work nonetheless. The mail, which had been moved from the doormat to his desk by a helpful friend, was stacked in neat piles: three weeks of catalogues, enquiries and bills. The bills had yet to turn red, but would require reasonably prompt attention; the catalogues would need to be perused; the enquiries answered. Three weeks may not be an overly long time in a slow-moving business, but it seemed to Matthew that his working life, there in the gallery, was part of an altogether different world – a world which was of course familiar, but which in some ways was now strange. That would pass, of course, but for the moment the world of Dundas Street, of Edinburgh, somehow felt very alien. The light was different – this attenuated, northern light; the colours too – these subtle shades – greys, greens – everything was so much more muted than the bright tones, the strong light of Australia.
He sat at his desk and contemplated the piles of mail. He had left Edinburgh a newly married man, blissfully happy, excited beyond measure. Now he was back as a man who had faced death in shark-infested waters, who had been rescued by a dolphin – a rescue he could not bring himself to talk about because nobody would believe him; a man who had been wrongfully detained and threatened with psychiatric confinement; a man who had thought that he was his father’s son, only to discover that he might well be the son of another man altogether, the president of the Cat Society of Singapore. Those were transforming events for anybody, but how much more so for one who had been on his honeymoon at the time?
He had left Elspeth behind in the flat, still in bed, still deep asleep in her state of unadjusted jet lag. He had looked at her fondly from the door of the bedroom, standing there gazing upon the form under the blankets: his wife. The word still came uneasily to his tongue; it was so new. And he, Matthew, who had thought that he would never find anybody, was now a husband; moreover he was a husband setting off to work. It was such a mundane, unexceptional situation, the great domestic clich'e, but for Matthew it was something to be relished, and committed to memory.
They had not discussed what Elspeth was to do. She had said that she would no longer teach, but that she wanted to be occupied in some way. Matthew had suggested that she work in the gallery with him, but she had been reluctant to do that: a marriage, she thought, stood its best chance if both parties had their own areas of activity within it. Seeing one another all day and then again in the evening could become claustrophobic, Elspeth thought, even if one was head-over-heels in love with one’s spouse. So the gallery would be Matthew’s, and she would do something else.
“Something will turn up,” she said.
And he had agreed. She was the sort of person for whom something would always turn up.
Matthew thought of this as he sat at his desk in the gallery and worked through the pile of mail. Even if there were bills – and one of them, a bill from his framers, was quite large – there was good financial news from the managers of his portfolio. Some of his shares had done particularly well during his absence on honeymoon and the letter was bullish in tone. “Even further gains can be anticipated,” it said, “and we are inclined to advise against profit-taking at this point.” He was relieved that he was no poorer, but he was not sure if he necessarily wanted to be all that much richer. And he was convinced that he did not want to engage in profit-taking, either now or at some stage in the future. That sounded so greedy, he thought; the sort of thing that fat cats took, or the sellers of junk bonds, or speculators in currency. They took profits and gobbled them up in the way in which a greedy person cuts off the best part of a pie.
He laid aside the financial report and attended to the rest of the letters. One was a hand-written note in a script he recognised: that of Angus Lordie.
Dear Matthew, Welcome back! Make sure you contact me the moment you get in as I have some extraordinary news for you. Remember Lard O’Connor, your somewhat dubious pal from Glasgow? He of the ample proportions? Well, he turned up while you were away – with a picture for you, which he consigned to my eager hands pro tem. You’ll never guess what it is! A well-known Scottish portrait painter, Raeburn, no less! And his subject? A Scottish poet, from Ayrshire, to be precise. Yes! Contact me soonest for delivery of said masterpiece and chat about what can be done.
Matthew looked at his watch. If Angus came round shortly, they could go over the road for coffee, and Big Lou would welcome them warmly, as she always did. That was the reassuring thing about Edinburgh. It was always the same; nothing ever changed.