A Bride from the Bush, by E. W. Hornung

Chapter 10

Plain Sailing

Among unexpected pleasures there are few greater than the sudden discovery that one has become the living illustration of a common proverb. Of course the proverb must be of the encouraging order; but then most proverbs are. Equally of course, the conditions of this personal illustration should be exceptionally delightful; yet will there still remain an intrinsic charm in your relations with the proverb. You will feel benignantly disposed towards it for evermore. You will receive it henceforth with courtesy, even in the tritest application. Nor need the burden of obligation be all on your side: you can give that proverb a good character among your friends — a thing that few people will do for any proverb. You can tell it frankly: ‘Sir, I always thought you were a humbug, like the rest of them. Now I know better. I admit that I was hasty. I apologise. I shall speak up for you, sir, till my dying day!’

That good-hearted fellow, Alfred Bligh, awaking gradually to a sensation of this sort, became very rapidly the happiest of men. The proverb in his case was the one about the dawn and the darkest hour. Alfred’s darkest hour had been the day after Ascot, when, after a perfectly amicable conversation with the Judge, he had rushed up to town with ice at his heart and schemes of instant removal in his head. His dawn was the same evening, at dinner, when an indefinable je ne sais quoi in the mutual manner of Gladys and his mother attracted his attention and held him in suspense. And after dinner his sun rose quickly up.

The happiness of the succeeding days — to Alfred, to Gladys, and to Lady Bligh — was complete and pure. Nothing much happened in those last perfect days of June, when the rain had all fallen, and the wind changed, and summer was come back. There was some rowing on the sunlit river, and a good deal of coaching, in small parties; but on the whole they were quiet days. Yet these were the days that stood out most plainly through the dim distance of after years.

To be closely intimate with Lady Bligh meant an intimacy with a nature that was generous and sweet and womanly; and it included a liberal education — for those who would help themselves to it — in gentle, unaffected manners. Gladys came under this very desirable influence at a favourable moment, and in precisely the right frame of mind to profit most by it. And profit she did. As she herself had predicted, no miracle was wrought; she did not become everything that she ought to have been in a day; but several small alterations of manner, all of them for the better, did very quickly take place.

The Bride felt her feet at last. Then, becoming thoroughly in touch with Lady Bligh, she waxed bold in a less approachable direction, and with the best results. Not only did she start lively little conversations with Sir James, but she got him to carry them on in the same light strain, and sustained her part in them very creditably indeed, all things considered. But the subject of his judicial functions was now avoided far more sedulously by Gladys than by the old gentleman himself. She even joined the Judge more than once in his early morning prowls; but the stock-whip was always left behind in her room. On these occasions she showed herself to be an admirable assistant-potterer; while she delighted her old companion still further by many pretty and even delicate attentions, to which he was not used, having no daughters of his own. Thus there were mornings when the Judge would come in to breakfast with quite a startling posy in his button-hole, and with a certain scarcely perceptible twitching of the lips and lowering of the eyelids, such as had been observed in him sometimes on the bench when the rest of the court were ‘convulsed with laughter.’ It invariably transpired that the decoration was the work and gift of the Judge’s daughter-in-law; and, as the old gentleman had never before been seen by his family to sport any such ornament, the departure was extremely gratifying to most of them.

Granville, it is true, found fault with the taste displayed in the composition of the button-holes, and one morning flatly refused one that had been made for him expressly; but the fact is, Granville was of rather small account in the house just now. He was busy, certainly, and was seen very little down at Twickenham; but he might have been seen more — his temporary occupation of a back-seat was in a great measure voluntary. Nor was he really malicious at this time. It is true that he spoke of the leopard’s spots, and used other phrases equally ominous but less hackneyed; for the most part, however, he made these observations to himself. He could have found nowhere a more appreciative and sympathetic audience. But, though he looked on sardonically enough at the Bride’s conquests, Granville did not lay himself out to hinder them. This should be clearly understood. The fellow was not a full-blown Mephistopheles.

And the happy pair were indeed happy. But for an occasional wistful, far-away look — such as will come sometimes to every exile, for all the ‘pleasures and palaces’ of new worlds — Gladys seemed to everybody to be gay and contented as the midsummer days were long. As for Alfred, he considered the sum of his earthly happiness complete. Even the ideal farm (which his solicitors were doing their best to find for him) in the ideal sleepy hollow (which he meant to do his best to wake up, by the introduction of vigorous Bush methods)— when purchased, stocked, furnished, inhabited, and in full swing — could not, he felt, add much to his present happiness. Poor Alfred! He was laying out the future on idyllic lines. But, meanwhile, the present was full of happy days; and that was well.

There was one evening that Alfred did not soon forget.

It was the last Sunday in June. There had been a thunderstorm early in the afternoon and a smart shower. The evening air was a long, cool, delicious draught, flavoured with the exquisite fragrance of dripping leaves and petals; and this, and the sound of the church bells, and the sunlight glittering upon the wet lanes, came back to Alfred afterwards as often as he remembered the conversation which made the walk to the old church all too short. Alfred walked with his mother; Gladys, some little distance ahead, with the Judge.

‘I think Gladys likes England a little better now,’ observed Lady Bligh.

‘And can’t England say the same thing of Gladys?’ cried Alfred. ‘Don’t answer the question — it’s idiotic. But oh, mother, I’m a fool with very joy!’

‘Because Gladys has won all our hearts, dear?’

‘Yes; and I really think she has. You have all been so good, so patient and forgiving. Don’t stop me, mother. If you had been different, I know I never should have allowed that you had anything to forgive; but now that you are like this, I own that there was much. Look at her now with the Judge; he has given her his arm. Now think of the beginning between these two!’

‘Why think of that? We have all forgotten it. You must forget it too.’

‘I think of it,’ said Alfred, ‘because it is all over; because you have civilised my wild darling; and because I like to realise this. But, upon my soul, if you had seen her life out there; if you knew her father (she doesn’t remember her mother); if you had any idea of the work she did on that run; you would simply be amazed — as I am, now that I look back upon it — at what your tenderness has done. But do you know, mother, what the dear girl says? I had nearly forgotten to tell you.’

One would have counted upon a joke, and possibly a good one; for Alfred stopped to chuckle before coming out with it; though, certainly Alfred was not the best judge of jokes.

‘She says that if ever she makes you feel regularly ashamed of her again, she may be considered hopeless; and though you forgive her, she’ll never forgive herself! That’s rather rich, eh?’

Lady Bligh failed to see it in that light. On the contrary, for one moment she seemed both surprised and pained.

‘Perhaps, Alfred,’ she said, thoughtfully, ‘she still feels the restraint, and hates our conventionalities. I often think she must; I sometimes think she does.’

‘Not she! Not a bit of it! She’s as safe as the Bank, and as happy as they make ’em, I know her!’

Poor Alfred!

‘Perhaps,’ said Lady Bligh again; ‘but there may be a constant effort which we cannot see; and I have once or twice caught a look in her eyes — but let that pass. I may be wrong; only I think it has been rather slow for her lately. She must have more amusement. There are one or two amusing things coming on presently. But just now I should like to think of something quite fresh to interest her. My dear boy! you are whistling! — in the churchyard!’

In fact, Alfred was foolish with joy, as he himself had said. He could not control his spirits long when speaking of Gladys, and hearing her well spoken of by the others, and marvelling at the change that a few days had brought about. It was a case of either laughing or crying with him then; and the tears never got a chance.

But, in the solemn twilight of the church; standing, kneeling, sitting by his wife’s side; sharing her book; listening with her to the consummate language of the Common Prayer; watching with her the round stained window fail and fade against the eastern sky — then, indeed, the boisterous, boyish spirits of this singularly simple-minded man of thirty melted into thankfulness ineffable and perfect peace.

It so happened that they sang an anthem in the old church that evening. This neither attracted nor distracted Alfred at first. He was a man without very much more music in his soul than what he was able to whistle when in high spirits. It did not strike him that this anthem was lovelier than most ‘tunes.’ The sweet sensations that stole over his spirit as the singing of it proceeded certainly were not credited to the music. To the words he never would have attempted to listen but for an accident.

To Alfred the anthem presented but one of the many opportunities presented by the Church Service for private reverie on the part of worshippers. Of course his reverie was all about the future and Gladys. And while he mused his arm touched hers, that was the delightful part of it. But on glancing down to see her face again (he had actually not looked upon it for five whole minutes) his musing swiftly ended. Her singular expression arrested his whole attention. And this was the accident that made him listen to the words of the anthem, to see if they could have affected her so strangely.

The Bride’s expression was one of powerful yearning. The first sentence Alfred managed to pick out from the words of the anthem was: ‘Oh, for the wings, for the wings of a dove!’ piped in a boy’s high treble.

The melting wistfulness in the Bride’s liquid eyes seemed to penetrate through that darkening east window into far-away worlds; and the choir-boy sang: ‘Far away, far away would I rove!’

The solo went on:

In the wilderness build me a nest:

And remain there for ever at rest.

Then, with some repetition which seemed vain to Alfred, the chorus swallowed the solo. And to Alfred’s mind the longing in his wife’s face had grown definite, acute, and almost terrible.

As they knelt down after the anthem, his eyes met those of his mother. She, too, had seen Gladys’s expression. Was it the expression she had referred to on the way to church? Was such an expression a common one with his darling, and concealed only from him? Was it possible that she was secretly longing and pining for the Bush — now — when they were all so happy?

Much later in the evening — long after church — Lady Bligh made an opportunity of speaking again alone with Alfred. ‘I have been maturing my little plans,’ she said, smiling.

‘As regards Gladys?’ he asked.

‘Yes; and I have been thinking that really, after all, she need not be so dull during the next few days ——’

Alfred interrupted her hastily.

‘I also have been thinking; and, do you know, after all, I half fancy that she is a bit dull. I shall be very glad indeed if you have thought of something to ‘liven her up a little.’

Lady Bligh regarded him shrewdly; but she was not entirely astonished at this complete change of opinion. She, too, had seen Gladys’s longing, far-away expression in church. She, too, remembered it.

‘Well, she will be less dull during the next few days than just lately,’ said Lady Bligh, after a slight pause. ‘On Tuesday, to begin with, there is this garden-party of ours; a dull thing enough in itself, but the people may amuse Gladys. On Wednesday, there is to be the Opera for her, at last. Thursday and Friday you must boat and drive. But for Saturday — when the Lord Chief is coming — you are all invited to lawn-tennis somewhere; are you not? After this week it is simply embarras; the two matches at Lord’s, and Henley too, one on top of the other; then Wimbledon. Gladys must miss none of these. But can you guess what my happy thought is?’

‘You seem to have so many happy thoughts!’

‘No; but my little plan for tomorrow?’

‘I have no idea. But I think Gladys would be content to do nothing much tomorrow, perhaps.’

‘Alfred,’ said Lady Bligh, severely, ‘Gladys tells me you have never once had her in the Park! How is that?’

‘I— well, the fact is, I’m such a duffer in the very swagger part of the town,’ said poor Alfred; ‘and I never did know the run of the parks properly.’

‘Then you shall drive with Gladys and me, and learn. It is getting near the end of the season, when every day makes a difference. So, not to lose another day, we’ll drive in tomorrow. This is my happy thought! I think Gladys will like it — though Garrod won’t.’

‘You mean he’ll say it’s too much for his horses? I should think he’ll give warning,’ said Alfred, encouragingly.

‘He may,’ said Lady Bligh, with a fine fearlessness which can be properly appraised only by ladies who keep, or once kept, their coachman. ‘He may. I defy him!’

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hornung/ew/bride-from-the-bush/chapter10.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 20:51