Henry Dunbar, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 23

The Bride that the Rain Rains on.

There was no sunshine upon Laura Dunbar’s wedding morning. The wintry sky was low and dark, as if the heavens had been coming gradually down to crush this wicked earth. The damp fog, the slow, drizzling rain shut out the fair landscape upon which the banker’s daughter had been wont to look from the pleasant cushioned seat in the deep bay-window of her dressing-room.

The broad lawn was soddened by that perpetual rain. The incessant rain-drops dripped from the low branches of the black spreading cedars of Lebanon; the smooth beads of water ran off the shining laurel-leaves; the rhododendrons, the feathery furze, the glistening arbutus — everything was obscured by that cruel rain.

The water gushed out of the quaint dragons’ mouths, ranged along the parapet of the Abbey roof; it dripped from every stone coping and abutment; from window-ledge and porch, from gable-end and sheltering ivy. The rain was everywhere, and the incessant pitter-patter of the drops beating against the windows of the Abbey made a dismal sound, scarcely less unpleasant to hear than the perpetual lamentation of the winds, which to-day had the sound of human voices; now moaning drearily, with a long, low, wailing murmur, now shrieking in the shrilly tones of an angry vixen.

Laura Dunbar gave a long discontented sigh as she seated herself at her favourite bay-window, and looked out at the dripping trees upon the lawn below.

She was a petted heiress, remember, and the world had gone so smoothly with her hitherto, that perhaps she scarcely endured calamity or contradiction with so good a grace as she might have done had she been a little nearer perfection. She was hardly better than a child as yet, with all a child’s ignorant hopefulness and blind trust in the unknown future. She was a pampered child, and she expected to have life made very smooth for her.

“What a horribly dismal morning!” Miss Dunbar exclaimed. “Did you ever see anything like it, Elizabeth?”

Mrs. Madden was bustling about, arranging her young mistress’s breakfast upon a little table near the blazing fire. Laura had just emerged from her bath room, and had put on a loose dressing-gown of wadded blue silk, prior to the grand ceremonial of the wedding toilet, which was not to take place until after breakfast.

I think Miss Dunbar looked lovelier in this déshabille than many a bride in her lace and orange-blossoms. The girl’s long golden hair, wet from the bath, hung in rippling confusion about her fresh young face. Two little feet, carelessly thrust into blue morocco slippers, peeped out from amongst the folds of Miss Dunbar’s dressing-gown, and one coquettish scarlet heel tapped impatiently upon the floor as the young lady watched that provoking rain.

“What a wretched morning!” she said.

“Well, Miss Laura, it is rather wet,” replied Mrs. Madden, in a conciliating tone.

“Rather wet!” echoed Laura, with an air of vexation; “I should think it was rather wet, indeed. It’s miserably wet; it’s horribly wet. To think that the frost should have lasted very nearly three weeks, and then must needs break up on my wedding morning. Did ever anybody know anything so provoking?”

“Lor’, Miss Laura,” rejoined the sympathetic Madden, “there’s all manner of provoking things allus happenin’ in this blessed, wicked, rampagious world of ours; only such young ladies as you don’t often come across ’em. Talk of being born with a silver spoon in your mouth, Miss Laura; I do think as you must have come into this mortal spear with a whole service of gold plate. And don’t you fret your precious heart, my blessed Miss Laura, if the rain is contrairy. I dare say the clerk of the weather is one of them rampagin’ radicals that’s allus a goin’ on about the bloated aristocracy, and he’s done it a purpose to aggeravate you. But what’s a little rain more or less to you, Miss Laura, when you’ve got more carriages to ride in than if you was a princess in a fairy tale, which I think the Princess Baltroubadore, or whatever her hard name was, in the story of Aladdin, must have had no carriage whatever, or she wouldn’t have gone walkin’ to the baths. Never you mind the rain, Miss Laura.”

“But it’s a bad omen, isn’t it, Elizabeth?” asked Laura Dunbar. “I seem to remember some old rhyme about the bride that the sun shines on, and the bride that the rain rains on.”

“Laws, Miss Laura, you don’t mean to say as you’d bemean yourself by taking any heed of such low rubbish as that?” exclaimed Mrs. Madden; “why, such stupid rhymes as them are only made for vulgar people that have the banns put up in the parish church. A deal it matters to such as you, Miss Laura, if all the cats and dogs as ever was come down out of the heavens this blessed day.”

But though honest-hearted Elizabeth Madden did her best to comfort her young mistress after her own simple fashion, she was not herself altogether satisfied.

The low, brooding sky, the dark and murky atmosphere, and that monotonous rain would have gone far to depress the spirits of the gayest reveller in all the universe.

In spite of ourselves, we are the slaves of atmospheric influences; and we cannot feel very light-hearted or happy upon black wintry days, when the lowering heavens seem to frown upon our hopes; when, in the darkening of the earthly prospect, we fancy that we see a shadowy curtain closing round an unknown future.

Laura felt something of this; for she said, by-and-by, half impatiently, half mournfully —

“What is the matter with me, Elizabeth. Has all the world changed since yesterday? When I drove home with papa, after the races yesterday, everything upon earth seemed so bright and beautiful. Such an overpowering sense of joy was in my heart, that I could scarcely believe it was winter, and that it was only the fading November sunshine that lit up the sky. All my future life seemed spread before me, like an endless series of beautiful pictures — pictures in which I could see Philip and myself, always together, always happy. To-day, to-day, oh! how different everything is!” exclaimed Laura, with a little shudder. “The sky that shuts in the lawn yonder seems to shut in my life with it. I can’t look forward. If I was going to be parted from Philip to-day, instead of married to him, I don’t think I could feel more miserable than I feel now. Why is it, Elizabeth, dear?”

“My goodness gracious me!” cried Mrs. Madden, “how should I tell, my precious pet? You talk just like a poetry-book, and how can I answer you unless I was another poetry-book? Come and have your breakfast, do, that’s a dear sweet love, and try a new-laid egg. New-laid eggs is good for the spirits, my poppet.”

Laura Dunbar seated herself in the comfortable arm-chair between the fireplace and the little breakfast-table. She made a sort of pretence at eating, just to please her old nurse, who fidgeted about the room; now stopping by Laura’s chair, and urging her to take this, that, or the other; now running to the dressing-table to make some new arrangement about the all-important wedding-toilet; now looking out of the window and perjuring her simple soul by declaring that “it”— namely, the winter sky — was going to clear up.

“It’s breaking up above the elms yonder, Miss Laura,” Elizabeth said; “there’s a bit of blue peepin’ through the clouds; leastways, if it ain’t quite blue, it’s a much lighter black than the rest of the sky, and that’s something. Eat a bit of Perrigorge pie, or a thin wafer of a slice off that Strasbog ‘am, Miss Laura, do now. You’ll be ready to drop with feelin’ faint when you get to the altar-rails, if you persist on bein’ married on a empty stummick, Miss Laura. It’s a moriel impossible as you can look your best, my precious love, if you enter the church in a state of starvation, just like one of them respectable beggars wot pins a piece of paper on their weskits with ‘I AM HUNGRY’ wrote upon it in large hand, and stands at the foot of one of the bridges on the Surrey side of the water. And I shouldn’t think as you would wish to look like that, Miss Laura, on your wedding-day? I shouldn’t if I was goin’ to be own wife to a baronet!”

Laura Dunbar took very little notice of her nurse’s rambling discourse; and I am fain to confess that, upon this occasion, Mrs. Madden talked rather more for the sake of talking than from any overflow of animal spirits.

The good creature felt the influence of the cold, wet, cheerless morning quite as keenly as her mistress. Mrs. Madden was superstitious, as most ignorant and simple-minded people generally are, more or less. Superstition is, after all, only a dim, unconscious poetry, which is latent in most natures, except in such very hard practical minds as are incapable of believing in anything — not even in Heaven itself.

Dora Macmahon came in presently, looking very pretty in blue silk and white lace. She looked very happy, in spite of the bad weather, and Miss Dunbar suffered herself to be comforted by her half-sister. The two girls sat at the table by the fire, and breakfasted, or pretended to breakfast, together. Who could really attend to the common business of eating and drinking on such a day as this?

“I’ve just been to see Lizzie and Ellen,” Dora said, presently; “they wouldn’t come in here till they were dressed, and they’ve had their hair screwed up in hair-pins all night to make it wave, and now it’s a wet day their hair won’t wave after all, and their maid’s going to pinch it with the fire-irons — the tongs, I suppose.”

Miss Macmahon had brown hair, with a natural ripple in it, and could afford to laugh at beauty that was obliged to adorn itself by means of hair-pins and tongs.

Lizzie and Ellen were the daughters of a Major Melville, and the special friends of Miss Dunbar. They had come to Maudesley to act as her bridesmaids, according to that favourite promise which young ladies so often make to each other, and so very often break.

Laura did not appear to take much interest in the Miss Melvilles’ hair. She was very meditative about something; but her meditations must have been of a pleasant nature, for there was a smile upon her face.

“Dora,” she said, by-and-by, “do you know I’ve been thinking about something?”

“About what, dear?”

“Don’t you know that old saying about one wedding making many?”

Dora Macmahon blushed.

“What of that, Laura dear?” she asked, very innocently.

“I’ve been thinking that perhaps another wedding may follow mine. Oh, Dora, I can’t help saying it, I should be so happy if Arthur Lovell and you were to marry.”

Miss Macmahon blushed a much deeper red than before.

“Oh, Laura,” she said, “that’s quite impossible.”

But Miss Dunbar shook her head.

“I shall live in the hope of it, notwithstanding,” she said. “I love Arthur almost as much — or perhaps quite as much, as if he were my brother — so it isn’t strange that I should wish to see him married to my sister.”

The two girls might have sat talking for some time longer, but they were interrupted by Miss Dunbar’s old nurse, who never for a moment lost sight of the serious business of the day.

“It’s all very well for you to sit there jabber, jabber, jabber, Miss Dora,” exclaimed the unceremonious Elizabeth; “you’re dressed, all but your bonnet. You’ve only just to pop that on, and there you are. But my young lady isn’t half dressed yet. And now, come along, Miss Laura, and have your hair done, if you mean to have any back-hair at all to-day. It’s past nine o’clock, and you’re to be at the church at eleven.”

“And papa is to give me away!” murmured Laura, in a low voice, as she seated herself before the dressing-table. “I wish he loved me better.”

“Perhaps, if he loved you too well, he’d keep you, instead of giving you away, Miss Laura,” observed Mrs. Madden, with evident enjoyment of her own wit; “and I don’t suppose you’d care about that, would you, miss? Hold your head still, that’s a precious darling, and don’t you trouble yourself about anything except looking your very best this day.”

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