The Golden Calf, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 8

At the Lock-House.

Miss Pew had argued rightly that the process of packing would not be a long one with Ida Palliser. The girl had come to Mauleverer with the smallest number of garments compatible with decency; and her stock had been but tardily and scantily replenished during her residence in that manorial abode. It was to her credit that she had contrived still to be clean, still to be neat, under such adverse conditions; it was Nature’s royal gift that she had looked grandly beautiful in the shabbiest gowns and mantles ever seen at Mauleverer.

She huddled her poor possessions into her solitary trunk — a battered hair trunk which had done duty ever since she came as a child from India. She put a few necessaries into a convenient morocco bag, which the girls in her class had clubbed their pocket-money to present to her on her last birthday; and then she washed the traces of angry tears from her face, put on her hat and jacket, and went downstairs, carrying her bag and umbrella.

One of the housemaids met her in the hall, a buxom, good-natured country girl.

‘Is it true that you are going to leave us, miss?’ she asked.

‘What! you all know it already?’ exclaimed Ida.

‘Everybody is talking about it, miss. The young ladies are all on your side; but they dare not speak up before Miss Pew.’

‘I suppose not. Yes, it is quite true; I am expelled, Eliza; sent out into the world without a character, because I allowed Mr. Wendover to walk and talk with the Fräulein and me for half an hour or so in the river-meadow! Mr. Wendover, my best, my only friend’s first cousin. Rather hard, isn’t it?’

Hard? it’s shameful,’ cried the girl. ‘I should like to see old Pew turning me off for keeping company with my young man. But she daren’t do it. Good servants are hard to get nowadays; or any servants, indeed, for the paltry wages she gives.’

‘And governesses are a drug in the market,’ said Ida, bitterly. ‘Good-bye, Eliza.’

‘Where are you going, miss? Home?’

‘Yes; I suppose so.’

The reckless tone, the careless words alarmed the good-hearted housemaid.

‘Oh, miss, pray go home, straight home — wherever your home is. You are too handsome to be going about alone among strangers. It’s a wicked world, miss — wickeder than you know of, perhaps. Have you got money enough to get you home comfortable?’

‘I’ll see,’ answered Ida, taking out Miss Cobb’s fat little purse and looking into it.

There were two sovereigns and a good deal of silver — a tremendous fortune for a schoolgirl; but then it was said that Cobb Brothers coined money by the useful art of brewing.

‘Yes; I have plenty of money for my journey,’ said Ida.

‘Are you certain sure, now, miss?’ pleaded the housemaid; ‘for if you ain’t, I’ve got a pound laid by in my drawer ready to put in the Post Office Savings Bank, and you’re as welcome to it as flowers in May, if you’ll take it off me.’

‘God bless you, Eliza. If I were in any want of money, I’d gladly borrow your sovereign; but Miss Cobb has lent me more than I want. Good-bye.’

Ida held out her hand, which the housemaid, after wiping her own paw upon her apron, clasped affectionately.

‘God bless you, Miss Palliser,’ she said fervently; ‘I shall miss the sight of your handsome face when I waits at table.’

A minute more and Ida stood in the broad carriage sweep, with her back to the stately old mansion which had sheltered her so long, and in which, despite her dependency and her poverty, she had known some light-hearted hours. Now, where was she to go? and what was she to do with her life? She stood with the autumn wind blowing about her — the fallen chestnut leaves drifting to her feet — pondering that question.

Was she or was she not Brian Wendover’s affianced wife? How far was she to trust in him, to lean upon him, in this crucial hour of her life? There had been so much playfulness in their love-making, his tone had been for the most part so light and sportive, that now, when she stood, as it were, face to face with destiny, she hardly knew how to think of him, whether as a rock that she might lean upon, or as a reed that would give way at her touch. Rock or reed, womanly instinct told her that it was not to this fervent admirer she must apply for aid or counsel yet awhile. Her duty was to go home at once — to get across the Channel, if possible, as quickly as Miss Pew’s letter to her father.

Intent on doing this, she walked along the dusty high road by the river, in the direction of the railway station. This station was more than two miles distant, a long, straight walk by the river, and then a mile or so across fields and by narrow lanes to an arid spot, where some newly-built houses were arising round a hopeless-looking little loop-line station in a desert of agricultural land.

She had walked about three-quarters of a mile, when she heard the rapid dip of oars, as if in pursuit of her, and a familiar voice calling to her.

It was Brian, who almost lived in his boat, and who had caught sight of her in the distance, and followed at racing speed.

‘What are you doing?’ he asked, coming up close to the bank, and standing up in his boat. ‘Where are you going at such a pace? I don’t think I ever saw a woman walk so fast.’

‘Was I walking fast?’ she asked, unconscious of the impetus which excitement had given to her movements.

She knew in her heart of hearts that she did not love him — that love — the passion which she had read of in prose and poetry was still a stranger to her soul: but just at this Moment, galled and stung by Miss Pew’s unkindness, heart-sick at her own absolute desolation, the sound of his voice was sweet in her ears, the look of the tall slim figure, the friendly face turned towards her, was pleasant to her eyes. No, he was not a reed, he was a rock. She felt protected and comforted by his presence.

‘Were you walking fast! Galloping like a three-year-old —quoe velut latis equa trima campis,’ quoted Brian. ‘Are you running away from Mauleverer Manor?’

‘I am going away,’ she answered calmly. ‘I have been expelled.’

‘Ex — what?’ roared Brian.

‘I have been expelled — sent away at a minute’s notice — for the impropriety of my conduct in allowing you to talk to me in the river-meadow.’

Brian had been fastening his boat to a pollard willow as he talked. He leapt on to the bank, and came close to Ida’s side.

‘My darling, my dearest love, what a burning shame! What a villainous old hag that Pew woman must be! Bessie told me she was a Tartar, but this beats everything. Expelled! Your conduct impeached because you let me talk to you — I, Bessie’s cousin, a man who at the worst has some claim to be considered a gentleman, while you have the highest claim to be considered a lady. It is beyond all measure infamous.’

‘It was rather hard, was it not?’ said Ida quietly.

‘Abominable, insufferable! I— well. I’ll call upon the lady this afternoon, and make her acquainted with my sentiments upon the subject. The wicked old harridan.’

‘Please don’t,’ urged Ida, smiling at his wrath; ‘it doesn’t give me any consolation to hear you call her horrid names.’

‘Did you tell her that I had asked you to be my wife?’

‘I said something to that effect — in self-defence — not from any wish to commit you: and she told me that a man in your position, who intended to marry a girl in my position, would act in a very different manner from the way in which you have acted.’

‘Did she? She is a wise judge of human nature — and of a lover’s nature, above all. Well, Ida, dearest, we have only one course open to us, and that is to give her the lie at once — by our conduct. Deeds, not words, shall be our argument. You do care for me — just a little — don’t you, pet? just well enough to marry me? All the rest will come after?’

‘Whom else have I to care for?’ faltered Ida, with downcast eyes and passionately throbbing heart. ‘Who else has ever cared for me?’

‘I am answered. So long as I am the only one I will confide all the rest to Fate. We will be married to-morrow.’

‘To-morrow! No, no, no.’

‘Yes, yes, yes. What is there to hinder our immediate marriage? And what can be such a crushing answer to that old Jezebel! We will be married at the little church where I saw you last Sunday night, looking like St. Cecilia when you joined in the Psalms. We have been both living in the same parish for the last fortnight. I will run up to Doctors’ Commons this afternoon, bring back the licence, interview the parson, and have everything arranged for our being married at ten o’clock to-morrow morning.’

‘No, no, not for the world.’

For some time the girl was firm in her refusal of such a hasty union. She would not marry her lover except in the face of the world, with the full consent of his friends and her own. Her duty was to go by the first train and boat that would convey her to Dieppe, and to place herself in her father’s care.

‘Do you think your father would object to our marriage?’ asked Brian.

‘No, I am sure he would not object,’ she answered, smiling within herself at the question.

As if Captain Palliser, living upon his half-pay, and the occasional benefactions of a rich kinsman, could by any possibility object to a match that would make his daughter mistress of Wendover Abbey!

‘Then why delay our marriage, in order to formally obtain a consent which you are sure of beforehand! As for my friends, Bessie’s people are the nearest and dearest, and you know what their feelings are on your behalf.’

‘Bessie likes me as her friend. I don’t know how she might like me as her cousin’s wife,’ said Ida.

‘Then I will settle your doubts by telling you a little secret. Bessie sent me here to try and win you for my wife. It was her desire as well as mine.’

More arguments followed, and against the lover’s ardent pleading there was only a vague idea of duty in the girl’s mind, somewhat weakened by an instinctive notion that her father would think her an arrant fool for delaying so grand a triumph as her marriage with a man of fortune and position. Had he not often spoken to her wistfully of her beauty, and the dim hope that her handsome face might some day win her a rich husband?

‘It’s a poor chance at the best,’ he told her. ‘The days of the Miss Gunnings have gone by. The world has grown commercial. Nowadays money marries money.’

And this chance, which her father had speculated upon despondently as a remote contingency, was now at her feet. Was she to spurn it, and then go back to the shabby little villa near Dieppe, and expect to be praised for her filial duty?

While she wavered, Brian urged every argument which a lover could bring to aid his suit. To-morrow they might be married, and in the meanwhile Ida could be safely and comfortably housed with the good woman at the lock-house. Brian would give up his lodgings to her, and would stay at the hotel at Chertsey. Ida listened, and hesitated: before her lay the dry, dusty road, the solitary journey by land and sea, the doubtful welcome at home. And here by her side stood the wealthy lover, the very embodiment of protecting power — is not every girl’s first lover in her eyes as Olympian Jove? — eager to take upon himself the burden of her life, to make her footsteps easy.

‘Step into the boat, dearest,’ he said; ‘I know your heart has decided for me. You are not afraid to trust me, Ida?’

‘Afraid? no,’ she answered, frankly, looking at him with heavenly confidence in her large dark eyes; ‘I am only afraid of doing wrong.’

‘You can do no wrong with me by your side, your husband to-morrow, responsible for all the rest of your existence.’

‘True, after to-morrow I shall be accountable to no one but you,’ she said, thoughtfully. ‘How strange it seems!’

‘At the worst, I hope you will find me better than old Pew,’ answered Brian, lightly.

‘You are too good — too generous,’ she said; ‘but I am afraid you are acting too much from impulse. Have you considered what you are going to do? have you thought what it is to marry a penniless girl, who can give you none of the things which the world cares for in exchange for your devotion?’

‘I have thought what it is to marry the woman I fondly love, the loveliest girl these eyes ever looked upon. Step into my boat, Ida; I must row you up to the lock, and then start for London by the first train I can catch. I don’t know how early the licence-shop closes.’

She obeyed him, and sank into a seat in the stern of the cockle-shell craft, exhausted, mentally and physically, by the agitation of the last two hours, She felt an unspeakable relief in sitting quietly in the boat, the water rippling gently past, like a lullaby, the rushes and willows waving in the mild western breeze. Henceforth she had little to do in life but to be cared for and cherished by an all-powerful lord and master. Wealth to her mind meant power; and this devoted lover was rich. Fate had been infinitely kind to her.

It was a lovely October morning, warm and bright as August. The river banks still seemed to wear their summer green, the blue bright water reflected the cloudless blue above. The bells were ringing for a saint’s-day service as Brian’s boat shot past the water-side village, with its old square-towered church. All the world had a happy look, as if it smiled at Ida and her choice.

They moved with an easy motion past the pastoral banks, here and there a villa garden, here and there a rustic inn, and so beneath Chertsey’s wooded heights to the level fields beyond, and to a spot where the Thames and the Abbey River made a loop round a verdant little marshy island; and here was the silvery weir, brawling noisily in its ceaseless fall, and the lockhouse, where Mr. Wendover had lodgings.

The proprietress of that neat abode had just been letting a boat through the lock, and stood leaning lazily against the woodwork, tasting the morning air. She was a comfortable, well-to-do person, who rented a paddock or two by the towing-path, and owned cows. Her little garden was gay with late geraniums and many-coloured asters.

‘Mrs. Topman, I have brought you a young lady to take care of for the next twenty-four hours,’ said Brian, coolly, as he handed Ida out of the boat. ‘Miss Palliser and I are going to be married to-morrow morning; and, as her friends all live abroad, I want you to take care of her, in a nice, motherly way, till she and I are one. You can give her my rooms, and I can put up at the inn.’

Mrs. Topman curtseyed, and gazed admiringly at Ida.

‘I shall be proud to wait upon such a sweet young lady,’ she said. ‘But isn’t it rather sudden? You told me there was a young lady in the case, but I never knowed you was going to be married off-hand like this.’

‘I never knew it myself till an hour ago, Mrs. Topman, answered Brian, gaily. ‘I knew that I was to be one of the happiest of men some day; but I did not know bliss was so near me. And now I am off to catch the next train from Chertsey. Be sure you give Miss Palliser some breakfast; I don’t think she has had a very comfortable one.’

He dashed into the cottage, and came out again five minutes afterwards, having changed his boating clothes for a costume more appropriate to the streets of London. He clasped Ida’s hand, murmured a loving good-bye, and then ran with light footsteps along the towing-path, while Ida stood leaning against the lock door looking dreamily down at the water.

How light-hearted he was! and how easily he took life! This marriage, which was to her an awful thing, signifying fate and the unknown future, seemed to him as a mere whim of the hour, a caprice, a fancy. And yet there could be no doubt of his affection for her. Even if his nature was somewhat shallow, as she feared it must be, he was at least capable of a warm and generous attachment. To her in her poverty and her disgrace he had proved himself nobly loyal.

‘I ought to be very grateful to him,’ she said to herself; and then in her schoolgirl phrase she added, ‘and he is very nice.’

Mrs. Topman was in the house, tidying and smartening that rustic sitting-room, which had not been kept too neatly during Mr. Wendover’s occupation. Presently came the clinking of cups and saucers, and anon Mrs. Topman appeared on the doorstep, and announced that breakfast was ready.

What a luxurious breakfast it seemed to the schoolgirl after a month of the Mauleverer bread and scrape! Frizzled bacon, new laid eggs, cream, marmalade, and a dainty little cottage loaf, all served with exquisite cleanliness. Ida was too highly strung to do justice to the excellent fare, but she enjoyed a cup of strong tea, and ate one of the eggs, to oblige Mrs. Topman, who waited upon her assiduously, palpably panting with friendly curiosity.

‘Do take off your hat, miss,’ she urged; ‘you must be very tired after your journey — a long journey, I daresay. Perhaps you would like me to send a boy with a barrow for your luggage directly after breakfast. I suppose your trunks are at the station?’

‘No; Mr. Wendover will arrange about my trunk by-and-by,’ faltered Ida; and then looking down at her well-worn gray cashmere gown, she thought that it was hardly a costume in which to be married. Yet how was she to get her box from Mauleverer Manor without provoking dangerous inquiries? And even if she had the box its contents would hardly solve the question of a wedding gown. Her one white gown would be too cold for the season; her best gown was black. Would Brian feel very much ashamed of her, she wondered, if she must needs be married in that shabby gray cashmere?

And then it occurred to her that possibly Brian, while procuring the licence, might have a happy thought about a wedding gown, and buy her one ready made at a London draper’s. He, to whom money was no object, could so easily get an appropriate costume. It would be only for him to go into a shop and say, ‘I want a neat, pretty travelling dress for a tall, slim young lady,’ and the thing would be packed in a box and put into his cab in a trice. Everything in life is made so easy for people with ample means.

It was some time before Mrs. Topman would consent to leave her new lodger. She was so anxious to be of use to the sweet young lady, and threw out as many feelers as an octopus in the way of artfully-devised conjectures and suppositions calculated to extract information. But Miss Palliser was not communicative.

‘You must be tired after your journey. Those railways are so hot and so dusty,’ said Mrs. Topman, with a despairing effort to discover whence her unexpected guest had come that morning.

‘I am rather tired,’ admitted Ida; ‘I think, if you don’t mind, I’ll take a book and lie down on that comfortable sofa for an hour or two.’

‘Do miss. You’ll find some books of Mr. Wendover’s on the cheffonier. But perhaps you’ll be glad to take a little nap. Shall I draw down the blind and darken the room for you?’

‘No, thanks; I like the sunshine.’

Mrs. Topman unwillingly withdrew, and Ida was alone in the sitting-room which her lover had occupied for the last fortnight.

Much individuality can hardly be expected in a temporary lodging — a mere caravansary in life’s journey; and yet, even in the brief space of a fortnight, a room takes some colour from the habits and ideas of the being who has lived in it.

Ida looked round curiously, wondering whether she would discover any indications of her lover’s character in Mrs. Topman’s parlour. The room, despite its open casements, smelt strongly of tobacco. That was a small thing, for Ida knew that her lover smoked. She had seen him several times throw away the end of his cigar as he sprang from his boat by the river meadow. But that array of various pipes and cigar-holders — that cedar cigar box — that brass tobacco jar on the mantelpiece, hinted at an ardent devotion to the nymph Nicotina such as is rarely pleasing to woman.

‘I am sorry he is so wedded to his pipes,’ thought Ida with a faint sigh.

And then she turned to the cheffonier to inspect her lover’s stock of literature.

A man who loves his books never travels without a few old favourites — Horace or Montaigne, Elia, an odd volume of De Quincey, a battered Don Juan, a worn-out Faust, a shabby Shelley, or a ponderous Burton in his threadbare cloth raiment.

But there was not one such book among Mr. Wendover’s possessions. His supply of mental food consisted of a half a dozen shilling magazines, the two last numbers of Punch, and three or four sporting papers. Ida turned from them with bitter disappointment. She seemed to take the measure of Brian Wendover’s mind in that frivolous collection, and she was deeply pained at the idea of his shallowness.

‘What has he done with himself in the long evenings?’ she asked herself. ‘Has he done nothing but smoke and read those magazines?’

She took up the Cornhill, and found its graver essays uncut. It was the same with the other magazines. Only the most frivolous articles had been looked at. Mr. Wendover was evidently anything but a reading man.

‘No wonder he does not like the Abbey,’ she thought. ‘The country must always seem dull to a man who does not care for books.’

And then she reminded herself remorsefully of his generous affection, his single-minded devotion to her, and how much gratitude she owed him.

She read all that was worth reading in the magazines, she laughed at all that was laughable in Punch, and the long, slow day wore on somehow. Mrs. Topman brought her lunch, and consulted her about dinner.

‘You will not dine until Mr. Wendover comes back, I suppose, miss? You and he can have a nice little dinner together at seven.’

Ida blushed at the mere notion of hobnobbing alone with a gentleman in that water-side lodging.

‘No thanks; this will be my dinner,’ she answered quietly. ‘Please don’t get anything more for me. No doubt Mr. Wendover will dine at the hotel, if he has not dined in London. I shall want nothing more except a cup of tea.’

After luncheon Ida went out and strolled by the river, that river of which no one ever seems to grow weary. She wandered about the level meadows, where the last of the wild-flowers were blooming, or she sat on the bank, watching the ripple of the water, the slow smooth passage of pleasure-boat or barge, and the day was long but not dreary. It was so new to her to be idle, to be able to fold her hands and watch the stream, and not to fear reproof because she had ceased from toil. At Mauleverer, at this tranquil afternoon hour, while those rooks were sailing so calmly high above her head — yonder belated butterfly fluttering so happily over the feathery grasses — all nature so full of rest — they were grinding away in the hot schoolroom, grinding at the weekly geography lesson, addling their brains with feeble efforts to repeat by rote dry-as-dust explanations about the equator and the torrid zone, latitude, longitude, winds and tides, the height of mountains, the population of towns, manufactures, creeds; not trying in the least to understand, or caring to remember; only intent on getting over to-day’s trouble and preparing in some wise to meet the debts of to-morrow.

‘Oh, thank God, to have got away from that treadmill,’ said Ida, looking up at the bright blue sky;’ can I ever be sufficiently grateful to Providence, and to the man whose love has rescued me?’

Her deliverer came strolling across the fields in quest of her presently, tired and dusty, but delighted to be with her again. He sat down by her side, and put his arm round her waist for the first time in his life.

‘Don’t,’ he said, as she instinctively recoiled from him; ‘you are almost my own now. I have got the licence, I have seen the parson, and he is quite charmed at the idea of marrying us to-morrow morning. He had heard of your little escapade, it seems, and he thinks we are doing quite the wisest thing possible.’

‘He had heard — already!’ exclaimed Ida, deeply mortified. ‘Has Miss Pew been calling out my delinquencies from the house-top? Oh, no — I understand. Tuesday is Mr. Daly’s afternoon for Bible class, and he has been at the school.’

‘Exactly; and Miss Pew unburdened her mind to him.’

‘Did he think me a dreadful creature?’

‘He thinks you charming, but that I ought to have gone to the hall-door when I courted you; as I should have done, dearest, only I wanted to be sure of you first. He was all kindness, and will marry us quietly at nine o’clock to-morrow, just after Matins, when there will be nobody about to stare at us; and he has promised to say nothing about our marriage until we give him leave to make the fact public.’

‘I am glad of that,’ said Ida, looking at her shabby gown. ‘Do you think it will matter much — will you be very much ashamed of me, if I am married in this threadbare old cashmere?’

She had a faint hope that he would exclaim, ‘My love, I have brought you a wedding dress from Regent Street; come and see it.’ But he only smiled at her tenderly, and said —

‘The gown does not matter a jot; you are lovelier in your shabby frock than any other bride in satin and pearls. And some of these days you shall have smart frocks.’

He said it hopefully, but as if it were a remote contingency.

He spoke very much as her impecunious father might have spoken. He, the master of Wendover Abbey, to whom the possession of things that money could buy must needs be a dead certainty. But it was evidently a part of his character to make light of his wealth; assuredly a pleasant idiosyncrasy.

They dawdled about on the bank for half an hour or so, talking somewhat listlessly, for Ida was depressed and frightened by the idea of that fateful event, giving a new colour to all her life to come, which was so soon to happen. Brian was very kind, very good to her; she wished with all her heart that she had loved him better; yet it seemed to her that she did love him — a little. Surely this feeling was love, this keen sense of obligation, this warm admiration for his generous and loyal conduct. Yes, this must be love. And why, loving him, should she feel this profound melancholy at the idea of a marriage which satisfied her loftiest ambition?

Perhaps the cause of her depression lay in the strangeness of this sudden union, its semi-clandestine character, her loneliness at a crisis in life when most girls are surrounded by friends. Often in her reckless talk with Bessie Wendover she had imagined her marriage. She would marry for money. Yes, the soap-boiler, the candlestick maker — anybody. It should be a splendid wedding — a dozen of the prettiest girls at Mauleverer for her bridesmaids, bells ringing, flowers strewn upon her pathway, carriage and four, postilions in blue jackets and white favours, all the world and his wife looking on and wondering at her high fortune. This is how fancy had painted the picture when Ida discoursed of her future in the butterfly-room at Mauleverer; Miss Rylance listening and making sarcastic comments; Bessie in fits of smothered laughter at all the comic touches in the description; for did not true-hearted Bessie know that the thing was a joke, and that her noble Ida would never so degrade herself as to marry for money? And now Ida was going to do this thing, scarcely knowing why she did it, not at all secure in her own mind of future happiness; not with unalloyed pride in her conquest, but yielding to her lover because he was the first who had ever asked her; because he was warm and true when all else in life seemed cold and false; and because the alternative — return to the poor home — was so dreary.

The conversation flagged as the lovers walked in the twilight. The sun was sinking behind the low hedge of yonder level meadow. Far away in mountainous regions the same orb was setting in rocky amphitheatres, distant, unapproachable. Here in this level land he seemed to be going down into a grave behind that furthest hedge.

It was a lovely evening — orange and rosy lights reflected on the glassy river, willows stirred with a murmurous movement by faintest zephyrs — a wind no louder than a sigh. Brian proposed that they should go on the river; his boat was there ready, it was only to step into the light skiff, and drift lazily with the stream.

They got into the Abbey river, among water-lilies whose flowers had all died long ago, face downwards. The season of golden flowers, buttercup, marsh-mallow, was over. The fields were grayish-green, with ruddy tinges here and there. The year was fading.

Ida sat in dead silence watching the declining light, one listless hand dipping in the river.

Brian was thoughtful, more thoughtful than she had known him in any period of their acquaintance.

‘Where shall we go for our honeymoon? he asked abruptly, jingling some loose coins in his pocket.

‘Oh, that is for you to decide. I— I know what I should like best,’ faltered Ida.

‘What is that?’

‘I should like you to take me to Dieppe, where we could see my father, and explain everything to him.’

‘Did you write to him to-day?’

‘No; I thought I would tell him nothing till after our marriage. You might change your mind at the last.’

‘Cautious young party,’ said Brian, laughing. ‘There is no fear of that. I am too far gone in love for that. For good or ill I am your faithful slave. Yes, we will go to Dieppe if you like. It is late in the year for a place of that kind; but what do we care for seasons? Do you think your father and I will be able to get on?’

‘My father is the soul of good nature. He would get on with anyone who is a gentleman, and I am sure he will like you very much. My stepmother is — well, she is rather vulgar. But I hope you won’t mind that. She is very warm-hearted.’

‘Vulgarians generally are, I believe,’ answered Brian lightly. ‘At least, one is always told as much. It is hard that the educated classes should monopolize all the cold hearts. Vulgar but warm-hearted — misplaces her aspirates — but affectionate! That is the kind of thing one is told when Achilles marries a housemaid. Never mind, Ida, dearest, I feel sure I shall like your father; and for his sake I will try to make myself agreeable to his wife. And your little brother is perfection. I have heard enough about him from those dear lips of yours.’

‘He is a darling little fellow, and I long to see him again. How I wish they could all be with me to-morrow!’

‘It would make our wedding more domestic, but don’t you think it would vulgarize it a little?’ said Brian. ‘There is something so sweet to me in the idea of you and me alone in that little church, with no witnesses but the clerk and the pew-opener.’

‘And God!’ said Ida, looking upward.

‘Did you ever read the discourses of Colonel Bob Ingersoll?’ asked Brian, smiling at her.

‘No; what has that to do with it?’

‘He has curious ideas of omnipotence; and I fancy he would say that the Infinite Being who made every shining star is hardly likely to be on the look-out for our wedding.’

‘He cares for the lilies and the sparrows.’

‘That’s a gospel notion. Colonel Bob is not exactly a gospel teacher,’

‘Then don’t you learn of him, Brian,’ said Ida, earnestly.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31