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"How happy by my mother's side
When some dear friend became a bride!
To shine beyond the rest I was
In gay embroidery drest.
Vain of my drapery's rich brocade,
I held my flowing locks to braid."
- ANSTICE (from the Greek).
"Epidemics of marriage set in from time to time," said Jane Mohun. "Gillian has set the fashion."
For the Rock Quay neighbourhood was in a state of excitement over a letter from Mrs. White, of Rocca Marina, announcing the approaching marriage of Mr. White's niece, Maura, with Lord Roger Grey, a nephew of dear Emily's husband, and heir to the Dukedom. The White family were coming home for the wedding, and the interest entirely eclipsed that of Gillian Merrifield's. In fact, though that young lady somewhat justified the Oxford stories, she was in a state of much inward agitation between real love for Ernley, and pain in leaving home, so she put on an absolutely imperturbable demeanour. Her reserve and dread of comments made her so undemonstrative and repressive to her Captain that there were those who doubted whether she cared for him at all, or only looked on her wedding as a mediaeval maiden might have done, as coming naturally a few years after she had grown up. Ernley Armytage knew better, and so did her parents. The wedding was hurried on by Captain Armytage's appointment to a frigate on the coast of Southern America, where he had to join at once, in lieu of a captain invalided home; and Gillian accepted the arrangements, which would take her to Rio, "as much a matter of course," said her aunt, "as if she had been a wife for ten years." Her uncle, Mr. Mohun, was anxious that the marriage of his sister Lily's daughter should take place at the family home, Beechcroft. If there had been scruples, chiefly founded on the largeness of the party, and the trouble to Mrs. Mohun, these were forgotten in the convenience of being out of the way of Rockstone gossip, as well as for other reasons.
"I should certainly have escaped," said General Mohun. "I have no notion of meeting that unmitigated scamp."
"Mr. White ought to be warned," said Jane.
"You'll do so, I suppose; and much good it will be."
"I do not imagine that it will. It will be too charming to surpass Franciska and Ivinghoe; but if neither you nor Jasper will speak to old Tom, I shall deliver my conscience to Ada."
"And be advised to mind your own business."
Nevertheless, Jane Mohun did deliver her conscience, when, on the day after the arrival, there had been loud lamentations over the intended absence of the Merrifield family. "It would have looked well to make it a double wedding, all in the family," said Mr. White.
To which Miss Mohun only answered by a silence which Mrs. White was unwilling to break, but Maura exclaimed -
"But I thought Valetta would be sure to be my bridesmaid. Such friends as we were at the High School!"
It did not strike Miss Mohun that the friendship had been very close or very beneficial; but Adeline added, "We thought she would pair so well with Vera Prescott, and then uncle will give all the dresses-- white silk with cerise trimmings. We ordered them in Paris."
"Uncle Tom is so generous!" said Maura. "There is no end to his kindness. I'll go and unpack some of the patterns, that Miss Mohun may see them."
She tripped out of the room, and Jane exclaimed, "Poor child! Has Emily written to you, Ada?"
"Yes, rather stiffly. Mr. White thinks it aristocratic pride."
"Ada, you know it is not that."
"Well, I suppose the Greys are hardly gratified by the connection, though Mr. White will make it worth their while. You see the Duke leaves everything in his power to his daughters, so poor Roger will be very badly off."
"But--" There was so much expressed in that "but" that Adeline began to answer one of the sentiments she supposed it to convey. "He can do it easily--for all the rest are provided for by the Marble Works-- except the two eldest brothers. Richard has gone away, and Alexis-- oh, you know he has notions of his own that Mr. White does not like."
"Does Mr. White know all about Lord Roger, or why the Duke should cut him off as far as possible?"
"My dear Jane, it is not charitable to bring things up against young men's follies."
"It is a pretty considerable folly to have done what compelled him to retire. Reginald was called in at the inquiry, and knows all about it."
"But that was ages ago, and he has been quite distinguished in the Turkish army."
"Yes; and I also know that English gentlemen have associated with him as little as possible. I should call it a fatal thing to let Maura marry him. What does Captain Henderson say?"
"Mr. White thinks that it is all jealousy. And really, Jenny, I do not in the least believe that he will make her unhappy. He is old enough to have quite outgrown all his wild ways, and he has quite gentlemanly manners and ways. Besides, Maura likes him, and is quite bent upon it."
Still there was a dissatisfied look on Jane's face, and Adeline went on answering it, with tears in her eyes. "My dear Jane, I know what you would say, and what Reginald and all the rest feel, that it is not what we should like! But, my dear, don't let the whole family rise up in arms! It would be of no use, only make it painful for me. Maura is quite bent upon it, and she has arrived at turning her uncle round her finger so much that I am sometimes hardly mistress of the house! Oh, I don't tell any one, not Lily nor any one, but it will really be a relief to me when she is gone, with her Greek coaxing ways. Her uncle is wrapped up in her, and so proud of her being a Duchess that he would condone anything. Indeed, I am always afraid of her putting it into his head to suppose that her disappointment about Ivinghoe was in any way owing to my family pride."
Jane was sorry for Adeline, and able to perceive how the wifely feelings, which she had taken on herself, by choosing a man of inferior breeding and nature clashed with her hereditary character and principles.
"You are absolutely relieved that the Beechcroft wedding takes all of us out of the way naturally and without offence," she said so kindly that Ada laid her head on her sisterly shoulder, and allowed herself to shed a few tears.
"Yes, yes," she said; "I am glad to have so good a reason to mention. Only I do hope Jasper will not object to Valetta's coming back to be bridesmaid. That would really be a blow and give offence, and it would make difficulties with others--even James Henderson, who swears by Jasper. I have often wished they would have done as I advised, and have had this wedding at Rocca Marina, out of the way of everybody! I sometimes think it will be the death of me. Do come home to help me through it."
She spoke so like the Ada of old that it went to Jane's heart.
She promised that she would return in time to give the very substantial assistance in which all believed, and the more sentimental support in which nobody believed, though her distaste arose tenfold after seeing the bridegroom, who looked like an old satyr, all the more because Maura was like a Greek nymph. Mrs. Henderson was much grieved, and had tried remonstrance with her sister, but found her quite impervious.
Glad were all the Merrifields to escape to the quiet atmosphere of Beechcroft, where the relations were able to congregate between the Court, the Vicarage, and the more-distant Rotherwood; and the wedding was an ideal one in ecclesiastical beauty, and the festivities of those who had known and loved Lady Merrifield as Miss Lily in early youth, grandmothers who had been her schoolchildren, and were pleased to hear that she was a grandmother herself, and hoped in a year or two to welcome her grandchildren.
Alethea and her little Somervilles she had seen en route to Canada, and Phyllis was to come in due time when Bernard Underwood could be spared from the bank in Colombo, and they would bring their little pair.
In the matter of bridesmaids Gillian certainly had the advantage, for she was amply provided with sisters and cousins, Dolores coming for a few days for the wedding; whereas the six whom Maura had provided for beforehand in Paris were only, as Miss Jane said, "scraped up" with difficulty from former schoolfellows. Lord Roger's nieces would not hear of being present. Paulina was unwillingly pressed into the service, as well as the more willing Vera; but Mysie Merrifield was not to be persuaded to give up her visit to Lady Phyllis, and Aunt Jane could only carry home Valetta, who held the whole as "capital fun," and liked the acquisition of the white silk and lace and cerise ribbons. Dolores had negotiated that No. 6 of the Vanderkist girls should spend a year with Miss Mohun for a final polish at the High School at Rock Quay, so as to be with her brother Adrian, who was completing his term at the preparatory school before his launch at Winchester.
Wilfred also returned, father and uncle having decided that he did not merit a game licence, nor to attack the partridges of Beechcroft, and the prospect of the gaieties of Cliffe House consoled him.
Adeline had to endure her husband's mortification at other disappointments. The Ducal family was wholly unrepresented. Even Emily, the connecting link, would not venture on the journey; and the clerical nephew was not sufficiently gratified by Lord Roger's intention to se ranger to undertake to officiate; and a Bishop, who had enjoyed the hospitality of Rocca Marina, proved to have other engagements. No clergyman could be imported except Maura's brother Alexis, who had been two years at work at Coalham under Mr. Richard Burnet, and had just been appointed by the newly-chosen Bishop of Onomootka, and both were to go out with him as chaplains. In the meantime, while the Bishop was preparing, by tours in England, Alexis undertook the duties of Mr. Flight's curate, rejoicing in the opportunity of seeing his elder sister, and the old friends with whom he had never been since his unlucky troubles with Gillian Merrifield, now no more.
The delight of receiving him compensated to Kalliope Henderson for much that was distressing to both in Maura's choice. The seven years that had passed had made him into a noble-looking man, with a handsome classical countenance, lighted up by earnestness and devotion, a fine voice and much musical skill, together with a bright attractive manner that, all unconsciously on his part, had turned the heads of half the young womanhood of Coalham, and soon had the same effect at Rock Quay.
Vera and Paulina were in a state of much excitement over their white silks, in which the three other sisters took great pleasure in arraying them, and Thekla only wished that Hubert could see them. She should send him out a photograph, buying it herself with her own money.
She was, of course, to see the wedding, in her Sunday white and broad pink sash, of the appropriateness of which she was satisfied when, at Beechcroft, they met Miss Mohun's young friend, Miss Vanderkist, in the same garb. She and her brother had been put under Magdalen's protection, as Miss Mohun was too much wanted at Cliffe House to look after them; but Sir Adrian, a big boy of twelve, wanted to go his own way, and only handed her over with "Hallo, Miss Prescott! you'll look after this pussy-cat of ours while Aunt Jane is dosing Aunt Ada with salts and sal volatile. She--I'll introduce you! Miss Prescott, Miss Felicia Vanderkist! She wants to be looked after, she is a little kitten that has never seen anything! I'm off to Martin's."
The stranger did look very shy. She was a slight creature, not yet seventeen, with an abundant mass of long golden silk hair tied loosely, and a very lovely face and complexion, so small that she was a miniature edition of Lady Ivinghoe.
Her name was Wilmet Felicia, but the latter half had been always used in the family, and there was something in the kitten grace that suited the arbitrary contractions well. In fact, Jane Mohun had been rather startled to find that she had the charge of such a little beauty, when she saw how people turned around at the station to look, certainly not at Valetta, who was a dark bright damsel of no special mark.
At church, however, every one was in much too anxious a state to gaze at the coming procession to have any eyes to spare for a childish girl in a quiet white frock. St. Andrew's had never seen such a crowded congregation, for it was a wedding after Mr. White's own heart, in which nobody dared to interfere, not even his wife, whatever her good taste might think. So the church was filled, and more than filled, by all who considered a wedding as legitimate gape seed, and themselves as not bound to fit behaviour in church. On such an occasion Magdalen, being a regular attendant, and connected with the bridesmaids, was marshalled by a churchwarden into a reserved seat; but there they were dismayed by the voices and the scrambling behind them, which, in the long waiting, the Vicar from the vestry vainly tried to subdue by severe looks; and Felicia, whose notions of wedding behaviour were moulded on Vale Lecton and Beechcroft, looked as if she thought she had got into the house of Duessa, amid all Pride's procession, as in the prints in the large- volumed "Faerie Queene."
And when, on the sounds of an arrival, the bridegroom stood forth, the resemblance to Sans Foy was only too striking, while the party swept up the church, the bride in the glories of cobweb veil, white satin, &c., becomingly drooping on her uncle's arm, while he beamed forth, expansive in figure and countenance, with delight. Little Jasper Henderson, anxious and patronising to his tiny brother Alexis, both in white pages' dresses picked out with cerise, did his best to support the endless glistening train.
The bridesmaids' costumes taxed the descriptive powers of the milliners in splendour and were scarcely eclipsed by the rich brocade and lace of Mrs. White, as she sailed in on Captain Henderson's arm; but her elaborate veil and feathery bonnet hardly concealed the weary tedium of her face, though to the shame, well nigh horror, of her sister, she was rouged. "I must, I must," she said; "he would be vexed if I looked pale."
It was true that "he" loved her heartily, and that he put all the world at her service; but she had learnt where he must not be offended, and was on her guard. Hers had been the last wedding that Jane had attended in St. Andrew's. "Did she repent?" was Jane's thought. No, probably not. She had the outward luxuries she had craved for, and her husband was essentially a good man, though not of the caste to which her instincts belonged--very superior in nature and conscience to him to whom his blinded vanity was now giving his beautiful niece, a willing sacrifice.
It was over! More indecorous whispering and thronging; and the procession came down the aisle, to be greeted outside by a hail of confetti and rice; the schoolboys, profiting by the dinner interval, and headed by Adrian, had jostled themselves into the foreground, and they ran headlong to the portico of Cliffe House to renew the shower.
And there, unluckily, Mr. White recognised the boy, and, pleased to have anything with a title to show, turned him round to the bridegroom, with, "Here, Lord Roger, let me introduce a guest, Sir Adrian Vanderkist."
"Ha, I didn't know poor Van had left a son. I knew your father, my boy. Where was it I saw him last? Poor old chap!"
"You must come in to taste the cake, my boy," began Mr. White.
"Thank you, Mr. White, I must get back to Edgar's. Late already. The others are off."
"Not a holiday! For shame! He'll excuse you. I'll send a note down to say you must stay to drink the health of your father's old friend."
Those words settled the matter with Adrian. The holiday was enticing, and might have overpowered the chances of a scholarship, for which he was working; but he had begun to know that there were perplexities from which it was safer to retreat; and that he had never transgressed his Uncle Clement's warning might be read in the clear open face that showed already the benefits, not only of discipline, but of self-control. So obedience answered the question; though, as he again thanked and refused, he looked so dogged as he turned and walked off, that Ethel Varney whispered to Vera that at school he was called, "the Dutchman, if not the Boer."
Nor did he ever mention the temptation or his own resistance. Only Mr. White asked Miss Mohun to bring him to the dance which was to be given in the evening, telling her of his refusal of the invitation to wedding cake and champagne and she--mindful of her duty to her charge as hinted by Clement Underwood--had not granted the honour of his presence on the score of his school obligations.
The afternoon was spent in desultory wanderings about the gardens, Magdalen and her sisters being invited guests, and Vera in a continual state of agitated expectation. Had not Wilfred Merrifield always been a cavalier of her own? And here he was, paying no attention to her, with all the embellishment of her bridesmaid's adornments, and squiring instead that little insignificant Felicia, in a simple hat, and hair still on her shoulders; whilst she had to put up with nothing better than a young Varney, who was very shy, and had never probably mastered croquet.
She was an ill-used mortal; and why had she not Hubert to show how superior she was to them all, in having a piece of property of her own to show off?
There was Paula, too, playing animated tennis with that clerical brother of the bride, who had been talking to Magdalen about the frescoes of St. Kenelm's (as if she, Vera, had not the greatest right to know all about those frescoes!). Even little Thekla was better off, for she was reigning over a merry party of the little ones, which had been got up for the benefit of the small Hendersons, and of which Theodore White had constituted himself the leader, being a young man passionately devoted to little children.
So when the guests dispersed to eat their dinner at their homes and dress for the dance, Vera was extremely cross. Each of the other three had some delightful experiences to talk over; but whether it was Mr. Theodore's fun in acting ogre behind the great aloe, or Mr. Alexis's achievements with the croquet ball, or his information about the Red Indians and Onomootka, she was equally ungracious to all; she scolded Thekla for crumpling her skirt, and was quite sure that Paula had on the wrong fichu that was meant for her. Each bridesmaid had been presented with a bracelet, like a snake with ruby eyes; but Vera, fingering hers with fidgeting petulance, seemed to have managed to loosen the clasp, and when arranging her dress for the evening thought that her snake had escaped.
Upstairs and downstairs she rushed in hopes of finding it. The cab in which they had returned was gone home to come again, and there was the chance that it might be there or in the Cliffe House gardens; and then the others tried to console her, but they were not able to hinder a violent burst of crying, which scandalised Thekla.
"I am sure you couldn't cry more if you had lost Hubert's, and that would be something worth crying about."
Hubert's was an ingeniously worked circle of scales of Californian gold, the first ornament that Vera had ever possessed, and that all the sisters had set great store by. But with an outcry of joy Vera exclaimed, "Here's the snake all safe! I pushed the other up my arm because it looked so plain and dull, and it was that which came off."
"That is a great deal worse than losing the snake," said Thekla. "He has a nasty face, and I don't like him, with his red eyes."
"Don't be silly," returned Vera; "this is a great deal more valuable."
"Surely the value is in the giver," said Paula; to which Vera returned in the same vein, "Don't be silly and sentimental, Polly."
She was so much cheered by the recovery of the snake that they brought her off to the evening dance without a fresh fit of ill- humour, and she sprang out under the portico of Cliffe House, with her spirits raised to expectation pitch.
But disappointment was in store for her. It was not disappointment in other eyes. Paula had all the attention she expected or desired, she danced almost every time and did not reckon greatly on who might be her partner. What pleased and honoured her most was being asked to dance by Captain Henderson himself.
What was it to Vera, however, that partners came to her, young men of Rock Quay whom she knew already and did not care about? And she never once had the pleasure of saying that she was keeping the next dance for Wilfred Merrifield! To her perceptions, he was always figuring away with Felicia Vanderkist, her golden hair seemed always gleaming with him; and though this was not always the case, as the nephew of the house was one of those who had duties to guests and was not allowed by his aunts to be remiss, yet whenever he was not ordered about by them, he was sure to be found by Felicia's side.
Vera's one consolation was that Alexis White took her to supper. To be sure he was a clergyman, and had stood talking to Lady Flight half the time, and his conversation turned at once to Hubert Delrio's frescoes; but then he was very handsome, and graceful in manner, and he sympathised with her on the loss of her bracelet, and promised to have a search for it by daylight in the gardens.
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