THE spirit of dissension in Musgrove Cottage penetrated to the very kitchen. Old Betty sided with Alfred, and combated in her place the creed of the parlour: "Why, according to Miss, the young sparrows are bound never to fly out of the nest; or else have the Bible flung at 'em. She do go on about God's will: seems to me 'tis His will the world should be peopled by body and beast — which they are both His creatures — and, by the same toaken, if they don't marry they does wus. Certainly whilst a young man bides at home, it behoves him to be dutiful; but that ain't to say he is to bide at home for ever. Master Alfred's time is come to leave we, and be master in a house of his own, as his father done before him, which he forgets that now; he is grown to man's estate, and got his mother's money, and no more bound to our master than I be." She said, too, that "parting blights more quarrels than it breeds:" and she constantly invited Peggy to speak up, and gainsay her. But Peggy was a young woman with white eyelashes, and given to looking down, and not to speaking up: she was always watching Mr. Hardie in company, like a cat cream; and hovering about him when alone. Betty went so far as to accuse her of colloguing with him against Alfred, and of "setting her cap at master," which accusation elicited no direct reply, but stinging innuendoes hours after.
Now, if one looks into the thing, the elements of discord had attacked Albion Villa quite as powerfully as Musgrove Cottage; but had hitherto failed signally: the mutual affection of the Dodds was so complete, and no unprincipled person among them to split the good.
And, now that the wedding drew near, there was but one joyful heart within the walls, though the others were too kind and unselfish to throw cold water. Mrs. Dodd's own wedding had ended in a piteous separation, and now to part with her darling child and launch her on the uncertain waves of matrimony! She heaved many a sigh when alone: but as there were no bounds to her maternal love, so there were no exceptions to her politeness: over her aching heart she forced on a wedding face, subdued, but hopeful, for her daughter, as she would for any other young lady about to be married beneath her roof.
It wanted but six days, when one morning after breakfast the bereaved wife, and mother about to be deserted, addressed her son and Viceroy thus: "Edward, we must borrow fifty pounds."
"Fifty pounds! what for? who wants that?"
"Why, I want it," said Mrs. Dodd stoutly.
"Oh, if you want it — what to do, please?"
"Why, to buy her wedding clothes, dear."
"I thought what her 'I' would come to," said Julia reproachfully.
Edward shook his head, and said, "He who goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing.'
"But she is not a he," objected Mrs. Dodd with the subtlety of a schoolman: "and who ever heard of a young lady being married without some things to be married in?"
"Well, I've heard Nudity is not the cheese on public occasions: but why not go dressed like a lady as she always does, only with white gloves; and be married without any bother and nonsense."
"You talk like a boy," said Mrs. Dodd. "I could not bear it. My poor child!" and she cast a look of tenderest pity on the proposed victim. "Well, suppose we make the poor child the judge," suggested Edward. He then put it to Julia whether, under the circumstances, she would wish them to run in debt, buying her finery to wear for a day. "It was not fair to ask her," said Mrs. Dodd with a sigh.
Julia blushed and hesitated, and said she would be candid; and then stopped.
"Ugh!" ejaculated Edward. "This is a bad beginning. Girl's candour! Now for a masterpiece of duplicity."
Julia inquired how he dared; and Mrs. Dodd said warmly that Julia was not like other people, she could be candid; had actually done it, more than once, within her recollection. The young lady justified the exception as follows: "If I was going to be married to myself, or to some gentleman I did not care for, I would not spend a shilling. But I am going to marry him; and so — oh, Edward, think of them saying, 'What has he married? a dowdy: why she hadn't new things on to go to church with him: no bonnet, no wreath, no new white dress!' To mortify him the very first day of our — — " The sentence remained unfinished, but two lovely eyes filled to the very brim without running over, and completed the sense, and did the Viceroy's business, though a brother. "Why you dear little goose," said he: "of course, I don't mean that. I have as good as got the things we must buy; and those are a new bonnet — — "
"A wreath of orange blossoms — — "
"Oh you good boy!"
"Four pair of gloves: two white — one is safe to break — two dark; very dark: invisible green, or visible black; last the honeymoon. All the rest you must find in the house."
"What, fit her out with a parcel of old things? so cruel, so unreasonable, dear Edward?"
"Old things! Why, where is all your gorgeous attire from Oriental climes? I see the splendiferous articles arrive, and then they vanish for ever."
"Now, shawls and Indian muslins! pray what use are they to a bride?"
"Why, what looks nicer than a white muslin dress?"
"Married in muslin? The very idea makes me shiver."
"Well, clap her on another petticoat."
"How can you be so childish? Muslin is not the the thing."
"No more is running in debt."
He then suggested that a white shawl or two should be cut into a bridal dress. At this both ladies' fair throats opened on him with ridicule: cut fifty guinea shawls into ten-pound dresses; that was male economy! was it? Total, a wedding was a wedding: new things always had had to be bought for a wedding, and always would in secula seculorum.
"New things? Yes," said the pertinacious wretch; "but they need not be new-bought things. You ladies go and confound the world's eyes with your own in the drollest way: If Gorgeous Attire has lain long in your drawers, you fancy the world will detect on its glossy surface how long you had it, and gloated over it, and made it stale to your eye, before you could bring your mind to wear it. That is your delusion, that and the itch for going out shopping; oh, I'm down on you. Mamma dear, you open that gigantic wardrobe of yours; and I'll oil my hair, white-wash my mug (a little moan from Mrs. D.) and do the counterjumping business to the life; hand the things down to you, unrol 'em, grin, charge you 100 per cent over value, note them down in a penny memorandum-book, sing out 'Caesh! Caesh!' etc. etc.: and so we shall get all Julia wants, and go through the ritual of shopping without the substantial disgrace of running in debt."
Mrs. Dodd smiled admiringly, as ladies generally do at the sauciness of a young male; but proposed an amendment. She would open her wardrobe, and look out all the contents for Edward's inspection; and, if the mere sight of them did not convince him they were inappropriate to a bride, why then she would coincide with his views, and resign her own.
"All right!" said he. "That will take a jolly time, I know; so I'll go to my governor first for the bonnet and wreath."
Mrs. Dodd drew in at this last slang word; she had heard young gentlemen apply it to their fathers. Edward, she felt sure, would not so sully that sacred relation; still the word was obnoxious for its past offences; and she froze at it: "I have not the honour to know who the personage is you so describe," said she formally. Edward replied very carelessly that it was an upholsterer at the north end of the town.
"Ah, a tradesman you patronise."
"Humph! Well, yes, that is the word, mamma, haw! haw! I have been making the bloke a lot of oak candlesticks, and human heads with sparkling eyes, for walking-sticks, etc. And now I'll go and draw my — protege's — blunt." The lady's hands were uplifted towards pitying Heaven with one impulse. The young workman grinned: "Soyons de notre siecle," said he, and departed whistling in the tenor clef. He had the mellowest whistle.
After a few minutes well spent in deploring the fall of her Oxonian, and gently denouncing his motto, and his century, its ways, and above all its words, Mrs. Dodd took Julia to her bedroom, and unlocked drawers and doors in her wardrobe; and straightway Sarah, who was hurriedly flogging the chairs with a duster, relaxed, and began to work on a cheval-glass as slowly as if she was drawing Nelson's lions at a thousand pounds the tail. Mrs. Dodd opened a drawer and took out three pieces of worked Indian muslin, a little discoloured by hoarding: "There, that must be bleached and make you some wrappers for the honeymoon, if the weather is at all fine; and petticoats to match;" next an envelope consisting of two foolscap sheets tacked: this, carefully undone upon the bed revealed a Brussels lace flounce and a veil: "It was my own," said Mrs. Dodd softly. "I saved it for you; see here is your name written on it seventeen years ago. I thought 'this dear little toddler will have wings some day, and then she will leave me.' But now I am almost afraid to let you wear it; it might bring you misfortune: suppose after years of wedded love you should be bereaved of — — " Mrs. Dodd choked, and Julia's arms were round her neck in a moment.
"I'll risk it," cried she impetuously. "If it but makes me as beloved as you are, I'll wear it, come weal come woe! And then I shall feel it over me at the altar like my guardian angel's wings, my own sweet, darling mamma. Oh what an idiot, what a wretch I am, to leave you at all."
This unfortunate, unexpected burst, interrupted business sadly. Mrs. Dodd sank down directly on the bed and wept; Julia cried over her, and Sarah plumped herself down in a chair and blubbered. But wedding flowers are generally well watered in the private apartments.
Patient Mrs. Dodd soon recovered herself: "This is childish of me. When I think that there are mothers who see their children go from the house corpses, not brides, I ought to be ashamed of myself. Come! a l'oeuvre. Ah, here is something." And she produced a white China crape shawl. "Oh, how sweet," said Julia; "why have you never worn it?"
"Dear me, child, what use would things be to those I love, if I went and wore them?"
The next article she laid her hand on was a roll of white poplin, and drew an exclamation from Mrs. Dodd herself: "If I had not forgotten this, and it is the very thing. Your dear papa bought me this in London, and I remonstrated with him well for buying me such a delicate thing, only once wear. I kissed it and put it away, and forgot it. They say if you keep a thing seven years. It is just seven years since he gave it to me. Really, the dear boy is a witch: this is your wedding dress, my precious precious." She unrolled a few yards on the bed to show it; and asked the gloating Sarah with a great appearance of consideration whether they were not detaining her from her occupations?
"Oh no, mum. This glass have got so dull; I'm just polishing of it a bit. I shan't be a minute now, mum."
From silver tissue paper, Mrs. Dodd evolved a dress (unmade) of white crape embroidered in true lover's-knots of violet silk, and ears of wheat in gold. Then there was a scream at the glass, and Sarah seen in it with ten claws in the air very wide apart: she had slily turned the mirror and was devouring the reflexion of the finery, and this last Indian fabric overpowered her. Her exclamation was instantly followed by much polishing; but Mrs. Dodd replied to it after the manner of her sex: "Well it is lovely," said she to Julia: "but where is the one with beetle wings? Oh here."
"Real beetles' wings, mamma?" inquired Julia.
"So they are, and how wicked! and what a lovely green! I will never wear them: they are prismatic: now, if ever I am to be a Christian, I had better begin: everything has a beginning. Oh vanity of women, you stick at nothing. A thousand innocent lives stolen to make one dress!" And she put one hand before her eyes, and with the other ordered the dress back into the wardrobe with genuine agitation.
"My dear, what expressions! And you need not wear it; indeed neither of them is fit for that purpose. But you must have a pretty thing or two about you. I have hoarded these a good many years; now it is your turn to have them by you. And let me see; you want a travelling cloak: but the dear boy will not let us; so choose a warm shawl."
A rich but modest one was soon found, and Julia tried it on, arching her supple neck, and looking down over her shoulder to see the effect behind, in which attitude oh for an immortal brush to paint her, or anything half as bright, supple, graceful, and every inch a woman. At this moment Mrs. Dodd threw a lovely blue Indian shawl on the bed, galvanising Sarah so that up went her hands again, and the door opened softly and a handsome head in a paper cap peeped on the scene, inquiring with mock timidity "May 'The British Workman' come in?"
He was invited warmly; Julia whipped his cap off, and tore it in two, reddening, and Mrs. Dodd, intending to compliment his foresight, showed him the bed laden with the treasures they had disinterred from vanity's mahogany tomb.
"Well, mother," said he, "you were right, and I was wrong: they are inappropriate enough, the whole lot."
The ladies looked at one another, and Sarah permitted herself a species of snort.
"Do we want Sarah?" he asked quietly. She retired bridling.
"Inappropriate?" exclaimed Mrs. Dodd. "There is nothing here unfit for a bride's trousseau."
"Good Heavens! Would you trick her out like a Princess?"
"We must. We are too poor to dress her like a lady."
"Cinderella; at your service," observed Julia complacently, and pirouetted before him in her new shawl.
Ideas rejected peremptorily at the time often rankle, and bear fruit by-and-bye. Mrs. Dodd took up the blue shawl, and said she would make Julia a peignoir of it; and the border, being narrowish, would do for the bottom. "That was a good notion, of yours, darling," said she, bestowing a sweet smile on Edward. He grunted. Then she took out a bundle of lace: "Oh, for pity's sake, no more," cried the "British Workman."
"Now, dearest, you have interfered once in feminine affairs, and we submitted. But, if you say another word, I will trim her poplin with Honiton two feet deep."
"Quarter! quarter!" cried Edward. "I'm dumb; grant me but this; have nothing made up for her out of the house: you know there is no dressmaker in Barkington can cut like you: and then that will put some limit to our inconsistency." Mrs. Dodd agreed; but she must have a woman in to sew.
Edward grunted at this, and said: "I wish I could turn you these gowns with my lathe; what a deal of time and bother it would save. However, if you want any stuffing, come to me; I'll lend you lots of shavings; make the silk rustle. Oh, here is my governor's contribution." And he produced L. 7, 10s.
"Now, look there," said Julia sorrowfully, "it is money. And I thought you were going to bring me the very bonnet yourself. Then I should have valued it."
"Oh yes," replied the young gentleman ironically; "can I choose a bonnet to satisfy such swells as you and mamma? I'll tell you what I'll do; I'll go with you and look as wise as Solomon, all the time you are choosing it"
"A capital plan," said Julia.
Edward then shook his fist at the finery: and retired to work again for his governor: "Flowers," he observed, "are indispensable, at a wedding breakfast; I hear too it is considered the right cheese to add something in the shape of grub." Exit whistling in the tenor clef; and keeping their hearts up, like a man.
So now there were two workshops in Albion Villa. Ned's study, as he called it, and the drawing-room. In the former shavings flew, and settled at their ease, and the whirr of the lathe slept not; the latter was all patterns, tapes, hooks and eyes, whalebone, cuttings of muslin, poplin and paper; clouds of lining-muslin, snakes of piping; skeins, shreds; and the floor literally sown with pins, escaped from the fingers of the fair, those taper fingers so typical of the minds of their owners: or they have softness, suppleness, nimbleness, adroitness, and "a plentiful lack" of tenacity.
The days passed in hard work, and the evenings in wooing, never sweeter than when it has been so earned: and at last came the wedding eve. Dr. Sampson, who was to give the bride away, arrived just before dinner-time: the party, including Alfred, sat down to a charming little dinner; they ate beetles' wings, and drank Indian muslin fifteen years in the wood. For the lathe and the chisel proved insufficient, and Julia having really denied herself, as an aspirant to Christianity, that assassin's robe, Mrs. Dodd sold it under the rose to a fat old dowager — for whom nothing was too fine — and so kept up appearances.
Julia and Alfred were profoundly happy at bottom; yet their union was attended with too many drawbacks for boisterous gaiety, and Alfred, up to this time, had shown a seriousness and sobriety of bliss, that won Mrs. Dodd's gratitude: it was the demeanour of a delicate mind; it became his own position, at odds with his own flesh and blood for Julia's sake; it became him as the son-in-law of a poor woman so lately bereaved of her husband, and reduced to poverty by one bearing the name of Hardie.
But now Dr. Sampson introduced a gayer element. He had seen a great deal of Life; i.e., of death and trouble. This had not hardened him, but, encountering a sturdy, valiant, self-protecting nature, had made him terribly tough and elastic; it was now his way never to go forward or backward a single step after sorrow. He seldom mentioned a dead friend or relation; and, if others forced the dreary topic on him, they could never hold him to it; he was away directly to something pleasant or useful, like a grasshopper skipping off a grave into the green grass. He had felt keenly about David while there was anything to be done: but now his poor friend was in a madhouse, thanks to the lancet: and there was an end of him. Thinking about him would do him no good. The present only is irresistible; past and future ills the mind can bar out by a resolute effort. The bride will very likely die of her first child! Well then, forget that just now. Her father is in an asylum! Well then, don't remember him at the wrong time: there sit female beauty and virtue ready to wed manly wit and comeliness, seated opposite; see their sweet stolen glances; a few hours only between them and wedded rapture: and I'm here to give the lovely virgin away: fill the bumper high! dum vivimus vivamus. In this glorious spirit he rattled on, and soon drew the young people out, and silvery peals of laughter rang round the genial board.
This jarred on Mrs. Dodd. She bore it in silence some time; but with the grief it revived and sharpened by contrast, and the polite effort to hide her distress, found herself becoming hysterical: then she made the usual signal to Julia, and beat an early retreat. She left Julia in the drawing-room, and went and locked herself in her own room. "Oh, how can they be so cruel as to laugh and giggle in my David's house!" She wept sadly, and for the first time felt herself quite lonely in the world: for what companionship between the gay and the sad hearted? Poor thing, she lived to reproach herself even with this, the nearest approach she ever made to selfishness.
Ere long she crept into Julia's room and humbly busied herself packing her trunks for the wedding tour. The tears fell fast on her white hands.
She would not have been left alone a minute if Julia's mind had not been occupied just then with an affectionate and amiable anxiety: she earnestly desired to reconcile her Alfred and his sister before the wedding; and she sat in the drawing-room thinking whether it could be done, and how.
At last she sat down blushing, and wrote a little note, and rang the bell for Sarah, and sent it courageously into the dining-room.
Sarah very prudently listened at the keyhole before entering, for she said to herself, "If they are talking free, I shan't go in till it's over."
The persons so generously suspected were discussing a parchment Alfred had produced, and wanted signed: "You are our trustee, my boy," said he to Edward: "so just write your name here, and mine comes here, and the witness's there: the Doctor and Sarah will do. Send for a pen."
"Let's read it first, please."
"Read it! What for?"
"Catch me signing a paper without reading it, my boy."
"What, can't you trust me? " inquired Alfred, hurt.
"Oh yes. And can't you trust me?"
"There's a question: why I have appointed you my Trusty in the Deed; he, he."
"Well then trust me without my signing, and I'll trust you without reading."
Sampson laughed at this retort, and Alfred reddened; he did not want the Deed read. But while he hesitated, Sarah came in with Julia's note, asking him to come to her for a minute. This sweet summons made him indifferent to prosaic things. "Well, read away," said he: "one comfort, you will be no wiser."
"What, is it in Latin?" asked Edward with a wry face.
"No such luck. Deeds used to be in Latin; but Latin could not be made obscure enough. So now Dark Deeds are written in an unknown tongue called 'Lawyerish,' where the sense is 'as one grain of wheat in two bushels of chaff,' pick it out if you can.
"Whatever man has done man may do," said Dr. Sampson stoutly. "You have rid it, and yet understood it: so why mayn't we, ye monster o' conceit?"
"Read it?" said Alfred. "I never read it: would not read it for a great deal of money. The moment I saw what a senseless rigmarole it was, I flung it down and insisted on the battological author furnishing me with an English translation. He complied: the crib occupies just twenty lines; the original three folio pages, as you see. That crib, gentlemen," added he severely, "is now in my waistcoat pocket; and you shall never see it — for your impudence. No, seat yourself by that pool of parchment (sedet eternumque sedebit, etc.) and fish for Lawyer Crawford's ideas, rari nantes in gurgite vasto." And with this he flew up-stairs on the wings of love. Julia met him in the middle of the room all in a flutter: "It is to ask you a favour. I am unhappy — about one thing."
She then leaned one hand softly on his shoulder, and curving her lovely supple neck looked round into his face and watched it as she preferred her petition: "It is about Jane and you. I cannot bear to part you two in this way: only think six days you have not spoken, and I am the cause."
"Not the only cause, love."
"I don't know, darling. But it is very cruel. I have got my dear mother and Edward; you have nobody — but Me. Alfred," said she with gentle impetuosity, "now is your time; your papa is away."
"Oh, is he?" said Alfred carelessly.
"Yes. Sarah says Betty says he is gone to Uncle Thomas. So I know you won't refuse me, my own Alfred: it is to go to your sister this minute and make it up."
"What, and leave you?" objected Alfred ruefully.
"No, no; you are with the gentlemen, you know: you are not here, in reality, till tea. Make them an excuse: say the truth; say it is Me; and come back to me with good news."
He consented on these terms.
Then she armed him with advice: "You go to make peace; it is our last chance; now remember, you must be very generous, very sweet-tempered. Guard against your impetuosity. Do take warning by me; see how impetuous I am. And then, you know, after all, she is only a lady, and a great creature like you ought not to be ruffled by anything so small as a lady's tongue: the idea! And, dearest, don't go trusting to your logic, but do descend to the arts of persuasion, because they are far more convincing somehow: please try them."
"Yes. Enumerate them."
"Why, kissing and coaxing, and — don't ask me."
"Will you bestow a specimen of those arts on me if I succeed?"
"Try me," said she: and looked him earnestly in the face; but lowered her long lashes slowly and shyly, as she realised to what her Impetuosity was pledging itself.
Alfred got his hat and ran to Musgrove Cottage.
A man stepped out of the shadow of a hedge opposite Albion Villa, and followed him, keeping in shadow as much as possible.
The door of Musgrove Cottage was opened to him by old Betty with a joyful start! "Mr. Alfred, I declare! Come in; there's only me and Miss. Master is in Yorkshire, and that there crocodile, Peggy, she is turned away — for sauce — and a good riddance of bad rubbish: Miss is in the parlour."
She ushered him triumphantly in. Jane was seated reading: she dropped her book, and ran and kissed him with a cry of joy. So warm a reception surprised him agreeably, and simplified his task. He told her he was come to try and make it up with her before the wedding: "We lose your presence, dear Jenny," said he, "and that is a great grief to us, valuing you as we do: don't refuse us your good wishes to-morrow."
"Dearest Alfred," said she, "can you think it? I pray for you day and night. And I have begun to blame myself for being so sure you were in the wrong and poor papa faultless. What you sent me half in jest, I take in earnest 'Judge not that ye be not judged.'"
"Why, Jenny," said Alfred, "how red your eyes are."
At this observation the young saint laid her head on her brother's shoulder and had a good cry like any other girl. When she recovered a little she told him, yes, she had been very unhappy: that he had always been a dear good brother to her, and the only one she had; and that it cut her to the heart not to be at his wedding; it seemed so unkind.
Alfred set her on his knee — she had more soul than body — and kissed her and comforted her: and, in this happy revival of natural affection, his heart opened, he was off his guard, and told her all: gave her the several proofs their father had got the L. 14,000. Jane, arrested by the skill and logical clearness with which he marshalled the proofs, listened in silence; and presently a keen shudder ran through her frame, and reminded him he was setting a daughter against her father.
"There," said he, "I always said I would never tell you, and now I've done it. Well, at least you will see with what consideration, and unheard-of leniency, the Dodds for our sake are treating Mr. Richard Hardie. Just compare their conduct to him with his to them. And which is most to his advantage? that I should marry Julia, and give Mrs. Dodd the life interest in my ten thousand pounds, to balance his dishonesty, or for him to be indicted as a thief? Ned Dodd told us plainly he would have set the police on him, had any other but his son been the informant"
"Did he say that? Oh, Alfred, this is a miserable world."
"I can't see that: it is the jolliest world in the world: everything is bright and lovely, and everybody is happy except a few sick people, and a few peevish ones that run to meet trouble. To-morrow I marry my sweet Julia; Richard Hardie will find we two don't molest him, nor trouble our heads about him. He will get used to us; and one fine day we shall say to him, 'Now, we know all about the L. 14,000: just leave it by will to dear Jenny, and let my friend Dodd marry her, and you can enjoy it unmolested for your lifetime.' He will consent: and you will marry Ned, and then you'll find the world has been wickedly slandered by dishonest men and dismal dogs."
In this strain he continued till he made her blush a good deal and smile a little; a sad smile.
But at last she said, "If I was sure all this is true, I think I should go — with a heavy heart — to your wedding. If I don't, the best part of me will be there, my prayers, and my warm, warm wishes for you both. Kiss her for me, and tell her so; and that I hope we shall meet round His throne soon, if we cannot meet at His altar to-morrow."
Brother and sister then kissed one another affectionately; and Alfred ran back like the wind to Albion Cottage. Julia was not in the drawing-room, and some coolish tea was. After waiting half an hour he got impatient, and sent Sarah to say he had a message for her. Sarah went upstairs to Mrs. Dodd's room, and was instantly absorbed. After waiting again for a long time, Alfred persuaded Edward to try his luck. Edward went up to Mrs. Dodd's room, and was absorbed.
The wedding dress was being solemnly tried on. A clean linen sheet was on the floor, and the bride stood on it, receiving the last touches of the milliner's art. With this and her white poplin and lace veil she seemed framed in white, and her cheeks bloomed so, and her eyes beamed, with excitement and innocent vanity, that altogether she was supernaturally lovely.
Once enter the room enchanted by this snow-chad rose, and — Vestigia nulla retrorsum.
However, Edward escaped at last and told Alfred what was on foot, and drew a picture of the Bride with white above and white below.
"Oh, let me see her," implored the lover.
Edward must ask mamma about that. He did, and mamma said "Certainly not; the last person in the world that shall see her in her wedding dress." But she should come down to him in half an hour. It seemed a very long half-hour. However, by way of compensation, he was alone when she did come. "Good news?" she asked eagerly.
"Capital: we are the best of friends. Why she is half inclined to come."
"Then — oh how good you are: oh, how I love you."
And she flung a tender arm round his neck, like a young goddess making love; and her sweet face came so near his, he had only to stoop a little, and their lips met in a long blissful kiss.
That kiss was an era in her life. Innocence itself, she had put up her delicious lips to her lover in pure, though earnest affection; but the male fire with which his met them, made her blush as well as thrill, and she drew back a little, ashamed and half scared, and nestled on his shoulder, hiding a face that grew redder and redder.
He bent his graceful head, and murmured down to her, "Are you afraid of me, sweetest?"
"Oh no, no! Yes, a little. I don't know. I was afraid I had made too free with my Treasure; you don't quite belong to me yet, you know."
"Oh yes, I do; and, what is more, you belong to me. Don't you, sweet rebel?"
"Ah, that I do, heart and soul, my own, own, own."
A few more soft delicious murmurs, and then Julia was summoned to more rites of vanity, and the lovers parted with tender reluctance for those few hours.
Alfred went home to his lodgings. He had not been there above ten minutes, when he came out hastily, and walked quickly to the "White Lion," the principal inn in Barkington. He went into the stable-yard, and said a few words to the ostler: then returned to his lodgings.
The man followed him at a distance from Albion Terrace; watched him home; dogged him to the "White Lion;" and, by-and-bye, entered the yard and offered the ostler a glass of ale at the tap.
At Albion Villa they were working on Julia's dresses till past midnight: and then Mrs. Dodd insisted on her going to bed. She obeyed; but when the house was all quiet, came stealing out to her mother, and begged to sleep with her: the sad mother strained her in a tearful embrace: and so they passed the night; clinging to one another more as the parting drew near.
Edward arranged the wedding breakfast for after the ceremony; and sent the ladies up a cup of coffee, and a bit of toast apiece. They could hardly find appetite even for this; or indeed time; there was so much still to do.
At ten o'clock Julia was still in the height of dressing, delayed by contretemps upon contretemps. Sarah and her sister did her hair up too loose, and, being a glorious mass, it threatened all to come down and, meantime, a hair-pin quietly but persistently bored her cream-white poll.
"Oh, run for mamma!" she cried.
Mamma came half dressed, had the hair all down again, and did it up with adroit and loving hand, and put on the orange wreath, kissed her admiringly, and retired to her own toilet; and the girls began to lace the bride's body.
Bump came Edward's foot against the door, making them all shriek.
"Now I don't want to hurry you; but Dr. Sampson is come." The handmaids, flustered, tried to go faster; and, when the work was done, Julia took her little handglass and inspected her back: "Oh," she screamed, "I am crooked. There, go for mamma!"
Mamma soon came, and the poor bride held out imploring hands, "I'm all awry; I'm as crooked as a ram's horn."
"La, miss," said Sarah, "it's only behind; nobody will notice it."
"How can they help it? Mamma! am I deformed?"
Mrs. Dodd smiled superior and bade her be calm: "It is the lacing, dear. No, Sarah, it is no use your pulling it; all the pulling in the world will not straighten it. I thought so: you have missed the second top hole."
Julia's little foot began to beat a tattoo on the floor: "There is not a soul in the house but you can do the simplest thing. Eyes and no eyes! Fingers and no fingers! I never did."
"Hush, love, we all do our best."
"Oh, I am sure of that; poor things."
"Nobody can lace you if you fidget about love," objected Mrs. Dodd.
(Bump)! "Now I don't want to hurry any man's cattle: but the bridesmaids are come."
"Oh dear, I shall never be ready in time," said Julia; and the tattoo recommenced.
"Plenty of time, love," said Mrs. Dodd, quietly lacing: "not half-past ten yet. Sarah, go and see if the bridegroom has arrived."
Sarah returned with the reassuring tidings that the bridegroom had not yet arrived; though the carriages had.
"Oh, thank Heaven, he is not come," said Julia. "If I keep him waiting to-day, he might say — 'Oho!'"
Under dread of a comment so significant she was ready at last, and said majestically he might come now whenever he liked.
Meantime, down stairs an uneasiness of the opposite kind was growing. Ten minutes past the appointed time, and the bridegroom not there. So while Julia, now full dressed, and easy in her mind, was directing Sarah's sister to lay out her plain travelling dress, bonnet and gloves on the bed, Mrs. Dodd was summoned downstairs. She came down with Julia's white gloves in her hand, and a needle and thread, the button sewed on by trade's fair hand having flown at the first strain. Edward met her on the stairs: "What had we better do, mother?" said he, sotto voce: "there must be some mistake. Can you remember? Wasn't he to call for me on the way to the church?"
"I really do not know," said Mrs. Dodd. "Is he at the church, do you think?"
"No, no, either he was to call for me here, or I for him. I'll go to the church, though: it is only a step."
He ran off, and in a little more than five minutes came into the drawing-room.
"No, he is not there. I must go to his lodgings. Confound him, he has got reading Aristotle, I suppose."
This passed before the whole party, Julia excepted.
Sampson looked at his watch, and said he could conduct the ladies to the church while Edward went for Alfred. "Division of labour," said he gallantly, "and mine the delightful half."
Mrs. Dodd demurred to the plan. She was for waiting quietly in one place.
"Well, but" said Edward, "we may overdo that; here it is a quarter-past eleven, and you know they can't be married after twelve. No, I really think you had better all go with the doctor. I dare say we shall be there as soon as you will."
This was agreed on after some discussion. Edward, however, to provide against all contingencies, begged Sampson not to wait for him should Alfred reach the church by some other road: "I'm only groomsman, you know," said he. He ran off at a racing pace. The bride was then summoned, admired, and handed into one carriage with her two bridesmaids, Miss Bosanquet and Miss Darton. Sampson and Mrs. Dodd went in the other; and by half-past eleven they were all safe in the church.
A good many people, high and low, were about the door and in the pews, waiting to see the beautiful Miss Dodd married to the son of a personage once so popular as Mr. Hardie: it had even transpired that Mr. Hardie disapproved the match. They had been waiting a long time, and were beginning to wonder what was the matter, when, at last the bride's party walked up the aisle with a bright April sun shining on them through the broad old windows. The bride's rare beauty, and stag-like carriage of her head, imperial in its loveliness and orange wreath, drew a hum of admiration.
The party stood a minute or two at the east end of the church, and then the clergyman came out and invited them into the vestry.
Their reappearance was eagerly expected; in silence at first, but presently in loud and multitudinous whispers.
At this moment a young lady, with almost perfect features and sylph-like figure, modestly dressed in dove-coloured silk, but with a new chip bonnet and white gloves, entered a pew near the west door, and said a little prayer; then proceeded up the aisle, and exchanged a word with the clerk, then into the vestry.
"Cheep! cheep! cheep!" went fifty female tongues, and the arrival of the bridegroom's sister became public news.
The bride welcomed her in the vestry with a sweet guttural of surprise and delight, and they kissed one another like little tigers.
"Oh, my darling Jane, how kind of you! have I got you back to make my happiness complete?"
Now none of her own party had thought it wise to tell Julia there was any hitch: but Miss Hardie blurted out naturally enough, "But where's Alfred?"
"I don't know, dear," said Julia innocently. "Are not he and Edward in another part of the church? I thought we were waiting till twelve o'clock, perhaps. Mamma dear, you know everything; I suppose this is all right?"
Then, looking round at her friends' faces, she saw in a moment that it was all wrong. Sampson's, in particular, was burning with manly indignation, and even her mother's discomposed, and trying to smile.
When the innocent saw this, she suspected her beloved was treating her cavalierly, and her poor little mouth began to work, and she had much ado not to whimper.
Mrs. Dodd, to encourage her, told her not to be put out: it had been arranged all along that Edward should go for him: "Unfortunately we had an impression it was the other way: but now Edward is gone to his lodgings."
"No, mamma," said Julia; "Alfred was to call for Edward; because our house was on the way."
"Are you sure, my child?" asked Mrs. Dodd very gravely.
"Oh yes, mamma," said Julia, beginning to tremble; "at a quarter before eleven: I heard them settle it."
The matter was terribly serious now; indeed, it began to look hopeless. Weather overclouded: rain-drops falling; and hard upon twelve o'clock.
They all looked at one another in despair.
Suddenly there was a loud, long buzzing heard outside, and the house of God turned into a gossiping fair. "Talk of money changers," said Satan that day, "give me the exchangers of small talk."
"Thank Heaven they are come," said Mrs. Dodd. But, having thus relieved her mind, she drew herself up and prepared a freezing reception for the defaulter.
A whisper reached their excited ears: "It is young Mr. Dodd" and next moment Edward came into the vestry — alone: the sight of him was enough; his brow wet with perspiration, his face black and white with bitter wrath.
"Come home, my people," he said sternly: "there will be no wedding here to-day!"
The bridesmaids cackled questions at him; he turned his back on them.
Mrs. Dodd knew her son's face too well to waste inquiries. "Give me my child!" she cried, in such a burst of mother's anguish long restrained, that even the insult to the bride was forgotten for one moment, till she was seen tottering into her mother's arms and cringing and trying to hide bodily in her: "Oh, throw a shawl over me," she moaned; "hide all this."
Well, they all did what they could. Jane hung round her neck and sobbed, and said, "I've a sister now, and no brother." The bridesmaids cried. The young curate ran and got the fly to the vestry-door: "Get into it," he said, "and you will at least escape the curious crowd."
"God bless you, Mr. Hurd," said Edward, half choked. He hurried the insulted bride and her mother in; Julia huddled and shrank into a corner under Mrs. Dodd's shawl: Mrs. Dodd had all the blinds down in a moment; and they went home as from a funeral.
Ay, and a funeral it was; for the sweetest girl in England buried her hopes, her laugh, her May of youth, in that church that day.
When she got to Albion Villa, she cast a wild look all around for fear she should be seen in her wedding clothes, and darted moaning into the house.
Sarah met her in the hall, smirking; and saying, "Wish you j — — "
The poor bride screamed fearfully at the mocking words, and cut the conventional phrase in two as with a razor; then fled to her own room and tore off her wreath, her veil, her pearls, and had already strewed the room, when Mrs. Dodd, with a foot quickened by affection, burst in and caught her half fainting, and laid her weary as old age, and cold as a stone, upon her mother's bosom, and rocked her as in the days of happy childhood never to return, and bedewed the pale face with her own tears.
Sampson took the bridesmaids each to her residence, on purpose to leave Edward free. He came home, washed his face, and, sick at heart, but more master of himself, knocked timidly at Julia's door.
"Come in, my son," said a broken voice.
He crept in, and saw a sorry sight. The travelling dress and bonnet were waiting still on the bed; the bridal wreath and veil lay on the floor; and so did half the necklace, and the rest of the pearls all about the floor; and Julia, with all her hair loose and hanging below her waist, lay faintly quivering in her mother's arms.
Edward stood and looked, and groaned.
Mrs. Dodd whispered to him over Julia: "Not a tear! not a tear!"
"Dead, or false?" moaned the girl: "dead, or false? Oh that I could believe he was false; no, no, he is dead, dead."
Mrs. Dodd whispered again over her girl.
"Tell her something: give us tears — the world for one tear!"
"What shall I say?" gasped Edward.
"Tell her the truth, and trust to God, whose child she is." Edward knelt on the floor and took her hand —
"My poor little Ju," he said, in a voice broken with pity and emotion, "would you rather have him dead, or false to you?"
"'Why false, a thousand times. It's Edward. Bless your sweet face, my own, own brother; tell me he is false, and not come to deadly harm."
"You shall judge for yourself," he groaned. "I went to his lodgings. He had left the town. The woman told me a letter came for him last night. A letter in — a female hand. The scoundrel came in from us; got this letter; packed up his things directly; paid his lodging; and went off in a two-horse fly at eight o'clock in the morning."