Phantom Fortune, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 33

By Special Licence.

After that interview with John Hammond all the arrangements for the marriage were planned by Lady Maulevrier with a calm and business-like capacity which seemed extraordinary in one so frail and helpless. For a little while after Hammond left her she remained lost in a reverie, deeply affected by the speech and manner of her granddaughter’s lover, as he gave her that first kiss of duty and affection, the affection of one who in that act declared the allegiance of a close and holy bond.

Yes, she told herself, this marriage, humble as it might be, was altogether satisfactory. Her own feeling towards the man of her granddaughter’s choice was one of instinctive affection. Her heart had yearned to him from the beginning of their acquaintance; but she had schooled herself to hide all indications of her liking for him, she had made every effort to keep him at a distance, deeming his very merits a source of danger in a household where there were two fresh impressionable girls.

And despite all her caution and care he had succeeded in winning one of those girls: and she was glad, very glad, that he had so succeeded in baffling her prudence. And now it was agreeable to discover that he was not quite such a pauper as she had supposed him to be.

Her heart felt lighter than it had been for some time when she set about planning the wedding.

The first step in the business was to send for James Steadman. He came immediately, grave and quiet as of old, and stood with his serious eyes bent upon the face of his mistress, awaiting her instructions.

‘Lady Mary is going to be married to Mr. Hammond, by special licence, in this room, to-morrow afternoon, if it can be managed so soon,’ said Lady Maulevrier.

‘I am very glad to hear it, my lady,’ answered Steadman, without the faintest indication of surprise.

‘Why are you so — particularly glad?’ asked his mistress, looking at him sharply.

‘Because Lady Mary’s presence in this house is a source of danger to — your arrangements. She is very energetic and enterprising — very shrewd — and — well, she is a woman — so I suppose there can be no harm in saying she is somewhat inquisitive. Things will be much safer here when Lady Mary is gone!’

‘But she will not be gone — she is not going away — except for a very brief honeymoon. I cannot possibly do without her. She has become necessary to my life, Steadman; and there is so little left of that life now, that there is no need for me to sacrifice the last gleams of sunshine. The girl is very sweet, and loving, and true. I was not half fond enough of her in the past; but she has made herself very dear to me of late. There are many things in this life, Steadman, which we only find out too late.’

‘But, surely, my lady, Lady Mary will leave Fellside to go to a home of her own after her marriage.’

‘No, I tell you, Steadman,’ his mistress answered, with a touch of impatience; ‘Lady Mary and her husband will make this house their home so long as I am here. It will not be long.’

‘God grant it may be very long before you cease to be mistress here,’ answered Steadman, with real feeling; and then in a lower tone he went on: ‘Pardon me, my lady, for the suggestion, but do you think it wise to have Mr. Hammond here as a resident?’

‘Why should it not be wise? Mr. Hammond is a gentleman.’

‘True, my lady; but any accident, such as that which brought Lady Mary into the old garden ——’

‘No such accident need occur — it must not occur, Steadman,’ exclaimed Lady Maulevrier, with kindling eyes. She who had so long ruled supreme was not inclined to have any desire of hers questioned. ‘There must have been gross carelessness that day — carelessness on your part, or that stable door would never have been left open. The key ought to have been in your possession It ought not to have been in the power of the stableman to open that door. As to Mr. Hammond’s presence at Fellside, I cannot see any danger — any reason why harm should come of it, more than of Lord Maulevrier’s presence here in the past.’

‘The two gentlemen are so different, my lady,’ said Steadman, with a gloomy brow. ‘His lordship is so light-hearted and careless, his mind taken up with his horses, guns, dogs, fishing, shooting, and all kinds of sport. He is not a gentleman to take much notice of anything out of his own line. But this Mr. Hammond is different — a very thoughtful gentleman, an inquiring mind, as one would say.’

‘Steadman, you are getting cowardly in your old age. The danger — such a risk as you hint at, must be growing less and less every day. After forty years of security ——’

‘Security’ echoed Steadman, with a monosyllabic laugh which expressed intense bitterness. ‘Say forty years during which I have felt myself upon the edge of a precipice every day and every hour. Security! But perhaps you are right, my lady, I am growing old and nervous, a feebler man than I was a few years ago, feebler in body and mind. Let Mr. Hammond make his home here, if it pleases your ladyship to have him. So long as I am well and able to get about there can be no danger of anything awkward happening.’

Lady Maulevrier looked alarmed.

‘But you have no expectation of falling ill, I hope, Steadman; you have no premonition of any malady?’

‘No, my lady, none — except the malady of old age. I feel that I am not the man I once was, that is all. My brain is getting woolly, and my sight is clouded now and then. And if I were to fall ill suddenly ——’

‘Oh, it would be terrible, it would be a dire calamity! There is your wife, certainly, to look after things, but ——’

‘My wife would do her best, my lady. She is a faithful creature, but she is not — yes, without any unkindness I must say that Mrs. Steadman is not a genius!’

‘Oh, Steadman, you must not fail me! I am horror-stricken at the mere idea,’ exclaimed Lady Maulevrier. ‘After forty years — great God! it would be terrible. Lesbia, Mary, Maulevrier! the great, malignant, babbling world outside these doors. I am hemmed round with perils. For God’s sake preserve your strength. Take care of your health. You are my strong rock. If you feel that there is anything amiss with you, or that your strength is failing, consult Mr. Horton — neglect no precaution. The safety of this house, of the family honour, hangs upon you.’

‘Pray do not agitate yourself, my lady,’ entreated Steadman. ‘I was wrong to trouble you with my fears. I shall not fail you, be sure. Although I am getting old, I shall hold out to the end.’

‘The end cannot be very far off,’ said Lady Maulevrier, gloomily.

‘I thought that forty years ago, my lady. But you are right — the end must be near now. Yes, it must be near. And now, my lady, your orders about the wedding.’

‘It will take place to-morrow, as I told you, in this room. You will go to the Vicar and ask him to officiate. His two daughters will no doubt consent to be Lady Mary’s bridesmaids. You will make the request in my name. Perhaps the Vicar will call this afternoon and talk matters over with me. Lady Mary and her husband will go to Cumberland for a brief honeymoon — a week at most — and then they will come back to Fellside. Tell Mrs. Power to prepare the east wing for them. She will make one of the rooms into a boudoir for Lady Mary; and let everything be as bright and pretty as good taste can make it. She can telegraph to London for any new furniture that may be wanted to complete her arrangements. And now send Lady Mary to me.’

Mary came, fresh from the pine-wood, where she had been walking with her lover; her lover of to-day, her husband to-morrow. He had told her how he was to start for York directly after luncheon, and to come back by the earliest train next day, and how they two were to be married to-morrow afternoon.

‘It is more wonderful than any dream that I ever dreamt.’ exclaimed Mary. ‘But how can it be? I have not even a wedding gown.’

‘A fig for wedding gowns! It is Mary I am to wed, not her gown. Were you clad like patient Grisel I should be content. Besides you have no end of pretty gowns. And you are to be dressed for travelling, remember; for I am going to carry you off to Lodore directly we are married, and you will have to clamber up the rocky bed of the waterfall to see the sun set behind the Borrowdale hills in your wedding gown. It had better be one of those neat little tailor gowns which become you so well.’

‘I will wear whatever you tell me,’ answered Mary. ‘I shall always dress to please you, and not the outside world.’

‘Will you, my Griselda. Some day you shall be dressed as Grisel was —

“In a cloth of gold that brighte shone,

With a coroune of many a riche stone.”

‘Yes, you darling, when you are Lord Chancellor: and till that day comes I will wear tailor gowns, linsey-wolsey, anything you like,’ cried Mary, laughing.

She ran to her grandmother’s room, ineffably content, without a thought of trousseau or finery; but then Mary Haselden was one of those few young women for whom life is not a question of fashionable raiment.

‘Mary, I am going to send you off upon your honeymoon to-morrow afternoon,’ said Lady Maulevrier, smiling at the bright, happy face which was bent over her. ‘Will you come back and nurse a fretful old woman when the honeymoon is over?’

‘The honeymoon will never be over,’ answered Mary, joyously ‘Our wedded life is to be one long honeymoon. But I will come back in a very few days, and take care of you. I am not going to let you do without me, now that you have learnt to love me.’

‘And will you be content to stay with me when your husband has gone to London?’

‘Yes, but I shall try to prevent his going very often, or staying very long. I shall try to wind myself into his heart, so that there will be an aching void there when we are parted.’

Lady Maulevrier proceeded to tell Mary all her arrangements. Three handsome rooms in the east wing, a bedroom, dressing-room, and boudoir, were to be made ready for the newly-married, couple. Fräulein Müller was to be dismissed with a retiring pension, in order that Lady Mary and her husband might feel themselves master and mistress in the lower part of the house.

‘And if your husband really means to devote himself to literature, he can have no better workshop than the library I have put together,’ said Lady Maulevrier.

‘And no better adviser and guide than you, dear grandmother, you who have read everything that has been written worth reading during the last half century.’

‘I have read a great deal, Mary, but I hardly know if I am any wiser on that account,’ answered Lady Maulevrier. ‘After all, however much of other people’s wisdom we may devour, it is in ourselves that we are thus, or thus. Our past follies rise up against us at the end of life; and we see how little our book-learning has helped us to stand against foolish impulses, against evil passions. “Be good,” Mary, “and let who will be wise,” as the poet says. A faithful heart is your only anchor in the stormy seas of life. My dear, I am so glad you are going to be married.’

‘It is very sudden,’ said Mary.

‘Very sudden; yet in your case that does not much matter. You have quite made up your mind about Mr. Hammond, I believe.’

‘Made up my mind! I began to worship him the first night he came here.’

‘Foolish child. Well, there is no deed to wait for settlements. You have only your allowance as Lord Maulevrier’s daughter — a first charge on the estate, which cannot be made away with or anticipated, and of which no husband can deprive you.’

‘He shall have every sixpence of it,’ murmured Mary.

‘And Mr. Hammond, though he tells me he is better off than I supposed, can have nothing to settle. So there will be nothing forfeited by a marriage without settlements.’

Mary could not enter upon the question. It was even of less importance than the wedding gown.

The gong sounded for luncheon.

‘Steadman’s dogcart is to take Mr. Hammond to the station at half-past two,’ said Lady Maulevrier, ‘so you had better go and give him his luncheon.’

Mary needed no second bidding. She flew downstairs, and met her lover in the hall.

What a happy luncheon it was! Fräulein ‘mounched, and mounched, and mounched,’ like the sailor’s wife eating chestnuts: but those two lovers lunched upon moonshine, upon each other’s little words and little looks, upon their own ineffable bliss. They sat side by side, and helped each other to the nicest thing’s on the table, but neither could eat, and they got considerably mixed in their way of eating, taking chutnee with strawberry cream, and currant jelly with asparagus. What did it matter? Everything tasted of bliss.

‘You have had absolutely nothing to eat,’ said Mary, piteously, as the dogcart came grinding round upon the dry gravel.

‘Oh, I have done splendidly — thanks. I have just had a macaroon and some of that capital gorgonzola. God bless you, dearest, and à revoir, à revoir to-morrow.’

‘And to-morrow I shall be Mary Hammond,’ cried Mary, clasping her hands. ‘Isn’t it capital fun?’

They were in the porch alone. The servants were all at dinner, save the groom with the cart, Miss Müller was still munching at the well-spread table in the dining-room.

John Hammond folded his sweetheart in his arms for one brief embrace; there was no time for loitering. In another moment he was springing into the cart. A shake of the reins, and he was driving slowly down the steep avenue.

‘Life is full of partings,’ Mary said to herself, as she watched the last glimpse of the dogcart between the trees down in the road below, ‘but this one is to be very short, thank God.’

She wondered what she should do with herself for the rest of the afternoon, and finally, finding that she was not wanted by her grandmother until afternoon tea, she set out upon a round of visits to her favourite cottagers, to bid them a long farewell as a spinster.

‘You’ll be away a long time, I suppose, Lady Mary?’ said one of her humble friends; ‘you’ll be going to Switzerland or Italy, or some of those foreign parts where great ladies and gentlemen travel for their honeymoons?’

But Mary declared that she would be absent a week at longest She was coming back to take care of her invalid grandmother; and she was not going to marry a great gentleman, but a man who would have to work for his living.

She went back to Fellside, and read the Times, and poured out Lady Maulevrier’s tea, and sat on her low stool by the sofa, and the old and the young woman were as happy and confidential together as if they had been always the nearest and dearest to each other. Her ladyship had seen Miss Müller, and had informed that excellent person that her services at Fellside would no longer be required after Lady Mary’s marriage; but that her devotion to her duties during the last fourteen years should be rewarded by a pension which, together with her savings, would enable her to spend the rest of her days in repose. Miss Müller was duly grateful, and owned to a tender longing for the Heimath, and declared herself ready to retire from her post whenever her ladyship pleased.

‘I shall go back to Germany directly I leave you, and I shall live and die there, unless I am wanted by one of my old pupils. But should Lady Lesbia or Lady Mary need my services for their daughters, in days to come, they can command me. For no one else will I abandon the Fatherland.’

The Fräulein thus easily disposed of, Lady Mary felt that matrimony would verily mean independence. And yet she was prepared to regard her husband as her master. She meant to obey him in all meekness and reverence of spirit.

She spent the rest of the afternoon and the whole of the evening in her grandmother’s sitting-room, dining tête-à-tête with the invalid for the first time since her illness. Lady Maulevrier talked much of Mary’s future, and of Lesbia’s; but it was evident that she was full of uneasiness upon the latter subject.

‘I don’t know what Lesbia is going to do with her life,’ she said, with a sigh. ‘Her letters tell me of nothing but gowns and parties; and Georgina Kirkbank can only expatiate upon Mr. Smithson’s wealth, and the grand position he is going to occupy by-and-by. I should like to see both my granddaughters married before I die — yes, I should like to see Lesbia’s fate secure, if she were to be only Lady Lesbia Smithson.’

‘She cannot fail to make a good match, grandmother,’ said Mary.

‘I am beginning to lose faith in her future,’ answered Lady Maulevrier. ‘There seems to be a fatality about the career of particularly attractive girls. They are too confident of their power to succeed in life. They trifle with fortune, fascinate the wrong people, and keep the right people at arm’s length. I think if I had been Lesbia’s guide in society her first season would have counted for more than it is likely to count for under Lady Kirkbank’s management. I should have awakened Lesbia from the dream of dress and dancing — the mere butterfly life of a girl who never looks beyond the present moment. But now go and give orders about your packing, Mary. It is past ten, and Clara had better pack your trunks early to-morrow morning.’

Clara was a modest Easedale damsel, who had been promoted to be Lady Mary’s personal attendant, when the more mature Kibble had gone away with Lady Lesbia. Mary required very little waiting upon, but she was not the less glad to have a neat little smiling maiden devoted to her service, ready to keep her rooms neat and trim, to go on errands to the cottagers, to arrange the flowers in the old china bowls, and to make herself generally useful.

It seemed a strange thing to have to furnish a trousseau from the wardrobe of everyday life — a trousseau in which nothing, except half-a-dozen pairs of gloves, a pair of boots, and a few odds and ends of lace and ribbons would be actually new. Mary thought very little of the matter, but the position of things struck her maid as altogether extraordinary and unnatural.

‘You should have seen the things Miss Freeman had, Lady Mary,’ exclaimed the damsel, ‘the daughter of that cotton-spinning gentleman from Manchester, who lives at The Gables — you should have seen her new gowns and things when she was married. Mrs. Freeman’s maid keeps company with my brother James — he’s in the stables at Freeman’s, you know, Lady Mary — and she asked me in to look at the trousseau two days before the wedding. I never saw such beautiful dresses — such hats — such bonnets — such jackets and mantles. It was like going into one of those grand shops at York, and having all the things in the shop pulled out for one to look at — such silks and satins — and trimmed — ah! how those dresses was trimmed. The mystery was how the young lady could ever get herself into them, or sit down when she’d got one of them on.’

‘Instruments of torture, Clara. I should hate such gowns, even if I were going to marry a rich man, as I suppose Miss Freeman was.’

‘Not a bit of it, Lady Mary. She was only going to marry a Bolton doctor with a small practice; but her maid told me she was determined she’d get all she could out of her pa, in case he should lose all his money and go bankrupt. They said that trousseau cost two thousand pounds.’

‘Well, Clara, I’d rather have my tailor gowns, in which I can scramble about the ghylls and crags just as I like.’ There was a pale yellow Indian silk, smothered with soft yellow lace, which would serve for a wedding gown; for indifferent as Mary was to the great clothes question, she wanted to look in some wise as a bride. A neat chocolate-coloured cloth, almost new from the tailor’s hands, with a little cloth toque to match, would do for the wedding journey. All the details of Mary’s wardrobe were the perfection of neatness. She had grown very neat and careful in her habits since her engagement, anxious to be industrious and frugal in all things — a really handy housewife for a hard-worked bread-winner. And now she was told that Mr. Hammond was not so poor as she had thought. She would not be obliged to stint herself, and manage, as she had supposed when she went about among the cottagers, taking lessons in household economy. It was almost a disappointment.

She and Clara finished the packing that night, Mary being much too excited for the possibility of sleep. There was not much to pack, only one roomy American trunk — a trunk which held everything — a Gladstone bag for things that might possibly be wanted in a hurry, and a handsome dressing-bag, Maulevrier’s last birthday gift to his sister.

Mary had received no gifts from her lover, save the plain gold engagement ring, and a few new books sent straight from the publishers. Clara took care to inform her young mistress that Miss Freeman’s sweetheart had sent her all manner of splendid presents, scent bottles, photograph albums, glove boxes, and other things of beauty, albeit his means were supposed to be nil. It was evident that Clara disapproved of Mr. Hammond’s conduct in this matter, and even suspected him of meanness.

‘He did ought to have sent you his photograph, Lady Mary,’ said Clara, with a reproachful air.

‘I daresay he would have done so, Clara, but he has been photographed only once in his life.’

‘Lawk a mercy, Lady Mary! Why most young gentlemen have themselves photographed in every new place they go to; and as Mr. Hammond has been a traveller, like his lordship, I made sure he’d have been photographed in knickerbockers and every other kind of attitude.’

Mary had not refrained from asking for her lover’s portrait; and he had told her that he had carefully abstained from having his countenance reproduced in any manner since his fifteenth year, when he had been photographed at his mother’s desire.

‘The present fashion of photographs staring out of every stationer’s window makes a man’s face public property,’ he told Mary. ‘I don’t want every street Arab in London to recognise me.’

‘But you are not a public man,’ said Mary. ‘Your photograph would not be in all the windows; although, in my humble opinion, you are a very handsome man.’

Hammond blushed, laughed, and turned the conversation, and Mary had to exist without any picture of her lover.

‘Millais shall paint me in his grand Reynolds manner by-and-by,’ he told Mary.

‘Millais! Oh, Jack! When will you and I be able to give a thousand or so for a portrait?’

‘Ah, when, indeed? But we may as well enjoy our day-dreams, like Alnaschar, without smashing our basket of crockery.’

And now Mary, who had managed to exist without the picture, was to have the original. He was to be all her own — her master, her lord, her love, after to-morrow — unto eternity, in life, and in the grave, and in the dim hereafter beyond the grave, they two were to be one. In heaven there was to be no marrying or giving in marriage, Mary was told; but her own heart cried aloud to her that the happily wedded must remain linked in heaven. God would not part the blessed souls of true lovers.

A short sleep, broken by happy dreams, and it was morning, Mary’s wedding morning, fairest of summer days, July in all her beauty. Mary went to her grandmother’s room, and waited upon her at breakfast.

Lady Maulevrier was in excellent spirits.

‘Everything is arranged, Mary, I have had a telegram from Hammond, who has got the licence, and will come at half-past one. At three the Vicar will come to marry you, his daughters, Katie and Laura, acting as your bridesmaids.’

‘Bridesmaids!’ exclaimed Mary. ‘I forgot all about bridesmaids. Am I really to have any?’

‘You will have two girls of your own age to bear you company, at any rate. I have asked dear old Horton to be present; and he, Fräulein, and Maulevrier will complete the party. It will not be a brilliant wedding, Mary, or a costly ceremonial, except for the licence.’

‘And poor Jack will have to pay for that,’ said Mary, with a long face.

‘Poor Jack refused to let me pay for it,’ answered Lady Maulevrier. ‘He is vastly independent, and I fear somewhat reckless.’

‘I like him for his independence; but he mustn’t be reckless,’ said Mary, severely.

He was to be the master in all things! and yet she was to exercise a restraining influence, she was to guard him against his own weaknesses, his too generous impulses. Her voice was to be the voice of prudence. This is how Mary understood the marriage tie.

Under ordinary conditions Mary would have been in the avenue, lying in wait for her lover, eager to get the very first glimpse of him when he arrived, to see him before he had brushed the dust of the journey from his raiment. But to-day she hung back. She stayed in her grandmother’s room and sat beside the sofa, shy, and even a little downcast. This lover who was so soon to be transformed into a husband was a formidable personage. She dare not rush forth to greet him. Perhaps he had changed his mind by this time, and was sorry he had ever asked her to marry him. Perhaps he thought he was being hustled into a marriage. He had been told that he was to wait at least a year. And now, all in a moment, he was sent off to get a special licence. How could she be quite sure that he liked this kind of treatment?

If there is any faith to be placed in the human countenance, Mr. Hammond was in no wise an unwilling bridegroom; for his face teamed with happy light as he came into the room presently, followed by an elderly man with grey hair and whiskers, and in a strictly professional frock coat, whom the butler announced as Mr. Dorncliffe. Lady Maulevrier looked startled, somewhat offended even at this intrusion, and she gave Mr. Dorncliffe a very haughty salutation, which was almost more crushing than no salutation at all.

Mary stood up by her grandmother’s sofa, and looked rather frightened.

‘Dear Lady Maulevrier,’ said Hammond, ‘I ventured to telegraph to my lawyer to meet me at York last night, and come on here with me this morning. He has prepared a settlement, which I should like you to hear him read, and which he will explain to you, if necessary, while Molly and I go for a stroll in the grounds.’

He had never called her Molly before. He put his arm round her with a proud air of possession, even under her grandmother’s eyes. And she nestled close up to his side, forgetting everything but the delight of belonging to him.

They went downstairs, and through the billiard room to the terrace, and from the terrace to the tennis lawn, where John Hammond sat reading Heine nearly a year ago, just before he proposed to Lesbia.

‘Do you remember that day?’ asked Mary, looking at him, solemnly.

‘I remember every day and every hour we have spent together since I began to love you,’ answered Hammond.

‘Ah, but this was before you began to love me,’ said Mary, with a piteous little grimace. ‘This was while you were loving Lesbia as hard as ever you could. Don’t you remember the day you proposed to her — a lovely summer day like this, the lake just as blue, the sun shining upon Fairfield just as it is shining now, and you sat there reading Heine — those sweet, sweet verses, that seemed made of sighs and tears; and every now and then you paused and looked up at Lesbia, and there was more love in your eyes than in all Heine’s poetry, though that brims over with love.’

‘But how did you know all this, Molly? You were not here.’

‘I was not very far off. I was behind those bushes, watching and listening. I knew you were in love with Lesbia, and I thought you despised me, and I was very, very wretched; and I listened afterwards when you proposed to her there — behind the pine trees — and I hated her for refusing you, and I am afraid I hated you for proposing to her.’

‘When I ought to have been proposing to my Molly, blind fool that I was,’ said Hammond, smiling tenderly at her, smiling, though his eyes were dim with tears. ‘My own sweet love, it was a terrible mistake, a mistake that might have cost me the happiness of a lifetime. But Fate was very good to me, and let me have my Mary after all. And now let us sit down under the old red beech and talk till it is time to go and get ready for our wedding. I suppose one ought to brush one’s hair and wash one’s hands for that kind of thing, even when the function is not on a ceremonious scale.’

Mary laughed.

‘I have a prettier gown than this to be married in, although it isn’t a wedding gown,’ she said.

‘Oh, by-the-by, I have something for you,’ said her lover, ‘something in the way of ornaments, but I don’t suppose you’d care to wear them to-day. I’ll run and get them.’

He went back to the house, leaving Mary sitting on the rustic bench under the fine old copper beech, a tree that had been standing long before Lady Maulevrier enlarged the old stone house into a stately villa. He returned in a few minutes, bringing a morocco bag about the size of those usually carried by lawyers or lawyers’ clerks.

‘I don’t think I have given you anything since we were engaged, Mary,’ he said, as he seated himself by her side.

Mary blushed, remembering how Clara, the maid, had remarked upon this fact.

‘You gave me my ring,’ she said, looking down at the massive band of gold, ‘and you have given me ever so many delightful books.’

‘Those were very humble gifts, Molly: but to-day I have brought you a wedding present.’

He opened the bag and took out a red morocco case, and then half-a-dozen more red morocco cases of various shapes and sizes. The first looked new, but the others were old-fashioned and passing shabby, as if they had been knocking about brokers’ shops for the last quarter of a century.

‘There is my wedding gift, Mary,’ he said, handing her the new case.

It contained an exquisitely painted miniature of a very beautiful woman, in a large oval locket set with sapphires.

‘You have asked me for my portrait, dearest,’ he said. ‘I give you my mother’s rather than my own, because I loved her as I never thought to love again, till I knew you. I should like you to wear that locket sometimes, Mary, as a kind of link between the love of the past and the love of the present. Were my mother living, she would welcome and cherish my bride and my wife. She is dead, and you and she can never meet on earth: but I should like you to be familiar with the face which was once the light of my life.’

Mary’s eyes filled with tears as she gazed at the face in the miniature. It was the portrait of a woman of about thirty — a face of exquisite refinement, of calm and pensive beauty.

‘I shall treasure this picture always, above all things,’ she said: but ‘why did you have it set so splendidly, Jack? No gems were needed to give your mother’s portrait value in my eyes.’

‘I know that, dearest, but I wanted to make the locket worth wearing. And now for the other cases. The locket is your lover’s free gift, and is yours to keep and to bequeath to your children. These are heirlooms, and yours only during your husband’s lifetime.’

He opened one of the largest cases, and on a bed of black velvet Mary beheld a magnificent diamond necklace, with a large pendant. He opened another and displayed a set of sprays for the hair. Another contained earrings, another bracelets, the last a tiara.

‘What are they for?’ gasped Mary.

‘For my wife to wear.’

‘Oh, but I could never wear such things,’ she exclaimed, with an idea that these must be stage jewellery. ‘They are paste, of course — very beautiful for people who like that kind of thing — but I don’t.’

She felt deeply shocked at this evidence of bad taste on the part of her lover. How the things flashed in the sunshine — but so did the crystal drops in the old Venetian girondoles.

‘No, Molly, they are not paste; they are Brazilian diamonds, and, as Maulevrier would say, they are as good as they make them. They are heirlooms, Molly. My dear mother wore them in her summer-tide of wedded happiness. My grandmother wore them for thirty years before her; my great grandmother wore them at the Court of Queen Charlotte, and they were worn at the Court of Queen Anne. They are nearly two hundred years old; and those central stones in the tiara came out of a cap worn by the Great Mogul, and are the largest table diamonds known. They are historic, Mary.’

‘Why, they must be worth a fortune.’

‘They are valued at something over seventy thousand pounds.’

‘But why don’t you sell them?’ exclaimed Mary, opening her eyes wide with surprise, ‘they would give you a handsome income.’

‘They are not mine to sell, Molly. Did not I tell you that they are heirlooms? They are the family jewels of the Countesses of Hartfield.’

‘Then what are you?’

‘Ronald Hollister, Earl of Hartfield, and your adoring lover!’

Mary gave a cry of surprise, a cry of distress even.

‘Oh, that is too dreadful!’ she exclaimed; ‘grandmother will be so unhappy. She had set her heart upon Lesbia marrying Lord Hartfield, the son of the man she loved.’

‘I got wind of her wish more than a year ago,’ said Hartfield, ‘from your brother; and he and I hatched a little plot between us. He told me Lesbia was not worthy of his friend’s devotion — told me that she was vain and ambitious — that she had been educated to be so. I determined to come and try my fate. I would try to win her as plain John Hammond. If she was a true woman, I told myself, vanity and ambition would be blown to the four winds, provided I could win her love. I came, I saw her; and to see was to love her. God knows I tried honestly to win her; but I had sworn to myself that I would woo her as John Hammond, and I did not waver in my resolution — no, not when a word would have turned the scale. She liked me, I think, a little; but she did not like the notion of an obscure life as the wife of a hardworking professional man. The pomps and vanities of this world had it against love or liking, and she gave me up. I thank God that the pomps and vanities prevailed; for this happy chance gave me Mary, my sweet Wordsworthian damsel, found, like the violet or the celandine, by the wayside, in Wordsworth’s own country.’

‘And you are Lord Hartfield!’ exclaimed Mary, still lost in wonder, and with no elation at this change in the aspect of her life. ‘I always knew you were a great man. But poor grandmother! It will be a dreadful disappointment to her.’

‘I think not. I think she has learned my Molly’s value; rather late, as I learned it; and I believe she will be glad that one of her granddaughters should marry the son of her first lover. Let us go to her, love, and see if she is reconciled to the idea, and whether the settlement is ready for execution. Dorncliffe and his clerk were working at it half through the night.’

‘What is the good of a settlement?’ asked Mary. ‘I’m sure I don’t want one.’

‘Lady Hartfield must not be dependent upon her husband’s whim or pleasure for her milliner’s bill or her private charities,’ answered her lover, smiling at her eagerness to repudiate anything business-like.

‘But I would rather be dependent on your pleasure. I shall never have any milliner’s bills; and I am sure you would never deny me money for charity.’

‘You shall not have to ask me for it, except when you have exceeded your pin-money I hope you will do that now and then, just to afford me the pleasure of doing you a favour.’

‘Hartfield,’ repeated Mary, to herself, as they went towards the house; ‘shall I have to call you Hartfield? I don’t like the name nearly so well as Jack.’

‘You shall call me Jack for old sake’s sake,’ said Hartfield, tenderly.

‘How did you think of such a name as Jack?’

‘Rather an effort of genius, wasn’t it. Well, first and foremost I was christened Ronald John — all the Hollisters are christened John — name of the founder of the race; and, secondly, Maulevrier and I were always plain Mr. Morland and Mr. Hammond in our travels, and always called each other Jack and Jim.’

‘How nice!’ said Mary; ‘would you very much mind our being plain Mr. and Mrs. Hammond, while we are on our honeymoon trip?’

‘I should like it of all things.’

‘So should I. People will not take so much notice of us, and we can do what we like, and go where we like.’

‘Delightful! We’ll even disguise ourselves as Cook’s tourists, if you like. I would not mind.’

They were at the door of Lady Maulevrier’s sitting room by this time. They went in, and were greeted with smiles.

‘Let me look at the Countess of Hartfield that is to be in half an hour,’ said her ladyship. ‘Oh, Mary, Mary, what a blind idiot I have been, and what a lucky girl you are! I told you once that you were wiser than Lesbia, but I little thought how much wiser you had been.’

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