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Chapter 27

Six weeks later Mr. Wesley married William Wright and Hetty in the bare little church of Wroote. Her sisters (among them Patty, newly returned from Kelstein) sat at home: their father had forbidden them to attend. A fortnight before they had stood as bridesmaids at Nancy's wedding with John Lambert, and all but Molly had contrived to be mirthful and forget for a day the shadow on the household and the miserable woman upstairs. Hetty had no bridesmaids, no ringing of bells. The church would have been empty, but for a steady downpour which soaked the new-mown hay, and turned the fields into swamps, driving the labourers and their wives, who else had been too busy, to take recreation in a ceremony of scandal. For of course the whole story had been whispered abroad. It was to keep them away that the Rector had chosen a date in the very middle of the hay-harvest, and they knew it and enjoyed his discomfiture. He, on his part, when the morning broke with black and low-lying clouds, had been tempted to read the service in the parlour at home; but his old obstinacy had asserted itself. Hetty's feelings he did not consider.

The congregation pitied Hetty. She, with Molly to help, had been the parish alms-giver, here and at Epworth; and though the alms had been small, kind words had gone with the giving. Of gratitude--active gratitude--they were by race incapable: also they were shrewd enough to detect the Wesley habit of condescending to be kind. She belonged to another world than theirs: she was a lady, blood and bone. But they were proud of her beauty, and talked of it, and forgave her for the sake of it.

They hated the Rector; yet with so much of fear as kept them huddled to-day at the west end under the dark gallery. A space of empty pews divided them from Mrs. Wesley, standing solitary behind her daughter at the chancel step.

"O God, who hast consecrated the state of Matrimony to such an excellent mystery that in it is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church: look mercifully upon these thy servants. . . ."

A squall of rain burst upon the south windows, darkening the nave. Mrs. Wesley started, and involuntarily her hands went up towards her ears. Then she remembered, dropped them and stood listening with her arms rigid.

Under a penthouse in the parsonage yard, Molly and Johnny Whitelamb watched the downpour, and the cocks and hens dismally ruffling under shelter of the eaves.

"She was the best of us all, the bravest and the cleverest."

"She was like no one in the world," said Johnny.

"And the most loyal. She loved me best, and I have done nothing for her."

"You did what you could, Miss Molly."

"If I were a man--Oh, Johnny, of what use are my brothers to me?"

Johnny was silent.

"The others were jealous of her. She could no more help excelling them in wit and spirits than she could in looks. None of them understood her, but I only--and you, I think, a little."

"It was an honour to know her and serve her. I shall never forget her, Miss Molly."

"We will never forget her--we two. When the others are not listening we will talk about her together and say, She did this or that; or, Just so she looked; or, At such a time she was happy. We will recollect her sayings and remind each other. Oh, Hetty! dear, dear Hetty!"

Johnny was fairly blubbering. "But she will visit us sometimes. Lincoln is no great distance."

Molly shook her head disconsolately. "I do not think she will come. Father will refuse to see her. For my part, after the wickedness he has committed this day--"

"Hush, Miss Molly!"

"Is it not wrong he is doing? Is it not a wicked wrong? Answer me, John Whitelamb, if we two are ever to speak of her again." She glanced at his face and read how terribly old fidelity and new distrust were tearing him between them. "Ah, I understand!" she said, and laid a hand on his coat-sleeve.

The service over and the names signed in the vestry, Mr. Wesley marched out to the porch for a view of the weather. Half a score of gossips were gathered there among the sodden graves awaiting the bridal party. They gave back a little, nudging and plucking one another by the arm. For all the notice he took of them they might have been tombstones.

The rain had ceased to fall, and though leaden clouds rolled up from the south-west, threatening more, a pale gleam, almost of sunshine, rested on the dreary landscape. The Rector nodded his head and strode briskly down the muddy path. The newly married pair followed at a respectful distance, Mrs. Wesley close behind. Hetty showed no sign of emotion. She had given her responses clearly and audibly before the altar, and she bore herself as bravely now.

As they entered the house the Rector turned and held out his hand to the bridegroom. "You will not find us hospitable, I fear. But there are some refreshments laid in the parlour: and my wife will see that you are served while I order the gig. Your wife will have time to say farewell to her sisters if she chooses. As I may not see her again, I commit her to your kindness and God's forgiveness."

"At least you will bless her, husband!" entreated Mrs. Wesley. But he turned away.

Twenty minutes later bridegroom and bride drove southward towards Lincoln, under a lashing shower and with the wind in their faces.


Arthur Quiller-Couch