John Marchmont's Legacy, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 7

How the Tidings Were Received in Lincolnshire.

The young widower made no further lamentation, but did his duty to his betrothed bride with a cheerful visage. Ah! what a pleasant journey it was to Belinda, that progress through London on the way to Lincolnshire! It was like that triumphant journey of last March, when the Royal bridegroom led his Northern bride through a surging sea of eager, smiling faces, to the musical jangling of a thousand bells. If there were neither populace nor joy-bells on this occasion, I scarcely think Miss Lawford knew that those elements of a triumphal progress were missing. To her ears all the universe was musical with the sound of mystic joy-bells; all the earth was glad with the brightness of happy faces. The railway-carriage — the commonplace vehicle — frouzy with the odour of wool and morocco, was a fairy chariot, more wonderful than Queen Mab’s; the white chalk-cutting in the hill was a shining cleft in a mountain of silver; the wandering streams were melted diamonds; the stations were enchanted castles. The pale sherry, carried in a pocket-flask, and sipped out of a little silver tumbler — there is apt to be a warm flatness about sherry taken out of pocket-flasks that is scarcely agreeable to the connoisseur — was like nectar newly brewed for the gods; even the anchovies in the sandwiches were like the enchanted fish in the Arabian story. A magical philter had been infused into the atmosphere: the flavour of first love was in every sight and sound.

Was ever bridegroom more indulgent, more devoted, than Edward Arundel? He sat at the counters of silk-mercers for the hour together, while Mrs. Arundel and the two girls deliberated over crisp fabrics unfolded for their inspection. He was always ready to be consulted, and gave his opinion upon the conflicting merits of peach-colour and pink, apple-green and maize, with unwearying attention. But sometimes, even while Belinda was smiling at him, with the rippling silken stuff held up in her white hands, and making a lustrous cascade upon the counter, the mystic hand plucked him back, and his mind wandered away to that childish bride who had chosen no splendid garments for her wedding, but had gone with him to the altar as trustfully as a baby goes in its mother’s arms to the cradle. If he had been left alone with Belinda, with tender, sympathetic Belinda — who loved him well enough to understand him, and was always ready to take her cue from his face, and to be joyous or thoughtful according to his mood — it might have been better for him. But his mother and Letitia reigned paramount during this ante-nuptial week, and Mr. Arundel was scarcely suffered to take breath. He was hustled hither and thither in the hot summer noontide. He was taken to choose a dressing-case for his bride; and he was made to look at glittering objects until his eyes ached, and he could see nothing but a bewildering dazzle of ormolu and silver-gilt. He was taken to a great emporium in Bond Street to select perfumery, and made to sniff at divers essences until his nostrils were unnaturally distended, and his olfactory nerves afflicted with temporary paralysis. There was jewellery of his mother and of Belinda’s mother to be re-set; and the hymeneal victim was compelled to sit for an hour or so, blinking at fiery-crested serpents that were destined to coil up his wife’s arms, and emerald padlocks that were to lie upon her breast. And then, when his soul was weary of glaring splendours and glittering confusions, they took him round the Park, in a whirlpool of diaphanous bonnets, and smiling faces, and brazen harness, and emblazoned hammer-cloths, on the margin of a river whose waters were like molten gold under the blazing sun. And then they gave him a seat in an opera-box, and the crash of a monster orchestra, blended with the hum of a thousand voices, to soothe his nerves withal.

But the more wearied this young man became with glitter, and dazzle, and sunshine, and silk-mercer’s ware, the more surely his mind wandered back to the still meadows, and the limpid trout-stream, the sheltering hills, the solemn shadows of the cathedral, the distant voices of the rooks high up in the waving elms.

The bustle of preparation was over at last, and the bridal party went down to Lincolnshire. Pleasant chambers had been prepared at the Grange for Mr. Arundel and his mother and sister; and the bridegroom was received with enthusiasm by Belinda’s blue-eyed younger sisters, who were enchanted to find that there was going to be a wedding and that they were to have new frocks.

So Edward would have been a churl indeed had he seemed otherwise than happy, had he been anything but devoted to the bright girl who loved him.

Tidings of the coming wedding flew like wildfire through Lincolnshire. Edward Arundel’s romantic story had elevated him into a hero; all manner of reports had been circulated about his devotion to his lost young wife. He had sworn never to mingle in society again, people said. He had sworn never to have a new suit of clothes, or to have his hair cut, or to shave, or to eat a hot dinner. And Lincolnshire by no means approved of the defection implied by his approaching union with Belinda. He was only a commonplace widower, after all, it seemed; ready to be consoled as soon as the ceremonious interval of decent grief was over. People had expected something better of him. They had expected to see him in a year or two with long grey hair, dressed in shabby raiment, and, with his beard upon his breast, prowling about the village of Kemberling, baited by little children. Lincolnshire was very much disappointed by the turn that affairs had taken. Shakesperian aphorisms were current among the gossips at comfortable tea-tables; and people talked about funeral baked meats, and the propriety of building churches if you have any ambitious desire that your memory should outlast your life; and indulged in other bitter observations, familiar to all admirers of the great dramatist.

But there were some people in Lincolnshire to whom the news of Edward Arundel’s intended marriage was more welcome than the early May-flowers to rustic children eager for a festival. Paul Marchmont heard the report, and rubbed his hands stealthily, and smiled to himself as he sat reading in the sunny western drawing-room. The good seed that he had sown that night at the Rectory had borne this welcome fruit. Edward Arundel with a young wife would be very much less formidable than Edward Arundel single and discontented, prowling about the neighbourhood of Marchmont Towers, and perpetually threatening vengeance upon Mary’s cousin.

It was busy little Lavinia Weston who first brought her brother the tidings. He took both her hands in his, and kissed them in his enthusiasm.

“My best of sisters,” he said, “you shall have a pair of diamond earrings for this.”

“For only bringing you the news, Paul?”

“For only bringing me the news. When a messenger carries the tidings of a great victory to his king, the king makes him a knight upon the spot. This marriage is a victory to me, Lavinia. From to-day I shall breathe freely.”

“But they are not married yet. Something may happen, perhaps, to prevent ——”

“What should happen?” asked Paul, rather sharply. “By-the-bye, it will be as well to keep this from Mrs. John,” he added, thoughtfully; “though really now I fancy it matters very little what she hears.”

He tapped his forehead lightly with his two slim fingers, and there was a horrible significance in the action.

“She is not likely to hear anything,” Mrs. Weston said; “she sees no one but Barbara Simmons.”

“Then I should be glad if you would give Simmons a hint to hold her tongue. This news about the wedding would disturb her mistress.”

“Yes, I’ll tell her so. Barbara is a very excellent person. I can always manage Barbara. But oh, Paul, I don’t know what I’m to do with that poor weak-witted husband of mine.”

“How do you mean?”

“Oh, Paul, I have had such a scene with him to-day — such a scene! You remember the way he went on that day down in the boat-house when Edward Arundel came in upon us unexpectedly? Well, he’s been going on as badly as that to-day, Paul — or worse, I really think.”

Mr. Marchmont frowned, and flung aside his newspaper, with a gesture expressive of considerable vexation.

“Now really, Lavinia, this is too bad,” he said; “if your husband is a fool, I am not going to be bored about his folly. You have managed him for fifteen years: surely you can go on managing him now without annoying me about him? If Mr. George Weston doesn’t know when he’s well off, he’s an ungrateful cur, and you may tell him so, with my compliments.”

He picked up his newspaper again, and began to read. But Lavinia Weston, looking anxiously at her brother’s face, saw that his pale auburn brows were contracted in a thoughtful frown, and that, if he read at all, the words upon which his eyes rested could convey very little meaning to his brain.

She was right; for presently he spoke to her, still looking at the page before him, and with an attempt at carelessness.

“Do you think that fellow would go to Australia, Lavinia?”

“Alone?” asked his sister.

“Yes, alone of course,” said Mr. Marchmont, putting down his paper, and looking at Mrs. Weston rather dubiously. “I don’t want you to go to the Antipodes; but if — if the fellow refused to go without you, I’d make it well worth your while to go out there, Lavinia. You shouldn’t have any reason to regret obliging me, my dear girl.”

The dear girl looked rather sharply at her affectionate brother.

“It’s like your selfishness, Paul, to propose such a thing,” she said, “after all I’ve done ——!”

“I have not been illiberal to you, Lavinia.”

“No; you’ve been generous enough to me, I know, in the matter of gifts; but you’re rich, Paul, and you can afford to give. I don’t like the idea that you’re so willing to pack me out of the way now that I can be no longer useful to you.”

Mr. Marchmont shrugged his shoulders.

“For Heaven’s sake, Lavinia, don’t be sentimental. If there’s one thing I despise more than another, it is this kind of mawkish sentimentality. You’ve been a very good sister to me; and I’ve been a very decent brother to you. If you have served me, I have made it answer your purpose to do so. I don’t want you to go away. You may bring all your goods and chattels to this house to-morrow, if you like, and live at free quarters here for the rest of your existence. But if George Weston is a pig-headed brute, who can’t understand upon which side his bread is buttered, he must be got out of the way somehow. I don’t care what it costs me; but he must be got out of the way. I’m not going to live the life of a modern Damocles, with a blundering sword always dangling over my head, in the person of Mr. George Weston. And if the man objects to leave the country without you, why, I think your going with him would be only a sisterly act towards me. I hate selfishness, Lavinia, almost as much as I detest sentimentality.”

Mrs. Weston was silent for some minutes, absorbed in reflection. Paul got up, kicked aside a footstool, and walked up and down the room with his hands in his pockets.

“Perhaps I might get George to leave England, if I promised to join him as soon as he was comfortably settled in the colonies,” Mrs. Weston said, at last.

“Yes,” cried Paul; “nothing could be more easy. I’ll act very liberally towards him, Lavinia; I’ll treat him well; but he shall not stay in England. No, Lavinia; after what you have told me to-day, I feel that he must be got out of the country.”

Mr. Marchmont went to the door and looked out, to see if by chance any one had been listening to him. The coast was quite clear. The stone-paved hall looked as desolate as some undiscovered chamber in an Egyptian temple. The artist went back to Lavinia, and seated himself by her side. For some time the brother and sister talked together earnestly.

They settled everything for poor henpecked George Weston. He was to sail for Sydney immediately. Nothing could be more easy than for Lavinia to declare that her brother had accidentally heard of some grand opening for a medical practitioner in the metropolis of the Antipodes. The surgeon was to have a very handsome sum given him, and Lavinia would of course join him as soon as he was settled. Paul Marchmont even looked through the “Shipping Gazette” in search of an Australian vessel which should speedily convey his brother-in-law to a distant shore.

Lavinia Weston went home armed with all necessary credentials. She was to promise almost anything to her husband, provided that he gave his consent to an early departure.

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