Vixen, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon


Vixen and Rorie were married in the spring, when the forest glades were yellow with primroses, the mossy banks blue with violets, and the cuckoo was heard with monotonous iteration from sunrise to sundown. They were married in the little village church at Beechdale, and Mrs. Scobel declared that Miss Tempest’s wedding was the prettiest that ever had been solemnised in that small Gothic temple. Never, perhaps, even at Eastertide, had been seen such a wealth of spring blossoms, the wildlings of the woods and hills. The Duchess had offered the contents of her hot-houses, Lady Ellangowan had offered waggon-loads of azaleas and camellias, but Vixen had refused them all. She would allow no decorations but the wild flowers which the school-children could gather. Primroses, violets, bluebells, the firstlings of the fern tribe, cowslips, and all the tribe of innocent forest blossoms, with their quaint rustic names, most of them as old as Shakespeare.

It was a very quiet wedding. Vixen would have no one present except the Scobels, Miss McCroke, her two bridesmaids, and Sir Henry Tolmash, an old friend of her father, who was to give her away. He was a white-haired old man, who had given his latter days up to farming, and had not a thought above turnips and top-dressing; but Violet honoured him, because he had been her father’s oldest friend. For bride-maids she had Colonel Carteret’s daughters, a brace of harmless young ladies, whose conversation was as stereotyped as a French and English vocabulary, but who dressed well and looked pretty.

There was no display of wedding gifts, no ceremonious wedding breakfast. Vixen remembered the wedding feast at her mother’s second marriage, and what a dreary ceremonial it had been.

The bride wore her gray silk travelling-dress, with gray hat and feather, and she and her husband went straight from the church to the railway station, on their way to untrodden paths in the Engadine, whence they were to return at no appointed time.

“We are coming back when we are tired of mountain scenery and of each other,” Violet told Mrs. Scobel in the church porch.

“That will be never!” exclaimed Rorie, looking ineffably happy, but not very much like a bride-groom, in his comfortable gray suit. “You might just as well say that we are going to live among the mountains as long as Rip Van Winkle. No, Mrs. Scobel, we are not going to remain away from you fifty years. We are coming back in time for the hunting.”

Then came kissing and handshaking, a shower of violets and primroses upon the narrow churchyard path, a hearty huzza from the assembled village, all clustered about the oaken gate-posts. The envious carriage-door shut in bride and bride-groom, the coachman touched his horses, and they were gone up the hill, out of the peaceful valley, to Lyndhurst and the railway.

“How dreadfully I shall miss them,” said Mrs. Scobel, who had spent much of her leisure with the lovers. “They are both so full of life and brightness!”

“They are young and happy!” said her husband quietly. “Who would not miss youth and happiness?”

When the first frosts had seared the beeches to a fiery red, and the berries were bright on the hawthorns, and the latest bloom of the heather had faded on hill and plain, and the happy pigs had devoured all the beech-nuts, Mr. Vawdrey and his wife came back from their exploration of Alpine snows and peaceful Swiss villages, to the good old Abbey House. Their six months’ honeymoon had been all gladness. They were the veriest boy and girl husband and wife who had ever trodden those beaten tracks. They teased each other, and quarrelled, and made friends again like children, and were altogether happy. And now they came back to the Forest, bronzed by many a long day’s sunshine, and glowing with health and high spirits. The glass of Time seemed to be turned backwards at the Abbey House; for all the old servants came back, and white-haired old Bates ruled in the well-filled stables, and all things were as in the dead and gone Squire’s time.

Among Roderick’s wedding gifts was one from Lord Mallow: Bullfinch, the best horse in that nobleman’s stable.

“I know your wife would like you to have her father’s favourite hunter,” wrote Lord Mallow. “Tell her that he has never been sick or sorry since he has been in my stable, and that I have always taken particular care of him, for her sake.”

Among Violet’s presents was a diamond bracelet from Lady Mallow, accompanied by a very cordial letter; and almost the first visit that the Vawdreys received after they came home was from Lord and Lady Mallow. The first great dinner to which they were bidden was at Briarwood, where it seemed a curious thing for Rorie to go as a guest.

Matrimony with the man of her choice had wondrously improved Mabel Ashbourne. She was less self-sufficient and more conciliating. Her ambition, hitherto confined to the desire to excel all other women in her own person, had assumed a less selfish form. She was now only ambitious for her husband; greedy of parliamentary fame for him; full of large hopes about the future of Ireland. She looked forward complacently to the day when she and Lord Mallow would be reigning at Dublin Castle, and when Hibernian arts and industries would revive and flourish under her fostering care. Pending that happy state of things she wore Irish poplin, and Irish lace, Irish stockings, and Irish linen. She attended Her Majesty’s Drawing-room on St. Patrick’s Day, with a sprig of real shamrock — sent her by one of her husband’s tenantry — among the diamonds that sparkled on her bosom. She was more intensely Irish than the children of the soil; just as converts to Romanism are ever more severely Roman than those born and nurtured in the faith.

Her husband was intensely proud of his wife, and of his alliance with the house of Ashbourne. The Duke, at first inclined to resent the scandal of an elopement and the slight offered to his favourite, Rorie, speedily reconciled himself to a marriage which was more materially advantageous than the cousinly alliance.

“I should like Rorie to have had Ashbourne,” he said mournfully. “I think he would have kept up my breed of Chillingham cattle. Mallow’s a good fellow, but he knows nothing about farming. He’ll never spend enough money on manure to maintain the soil at its present producing power. The grasp of his mind isn’t large enough to allow him to sink his money in manuring his land. He would be wanting to see an immediate result.”

As time went on the Duke became more and more devoted to his farm. His Scottish castle delighted him not, nor the grand old place in the Midlands. Ashbourne, which was the pleasure-dome he had built for himself, contained all he cared about. Too heavy and too lazy to hunt, he was able to jog about his farm, and supervise the work that was going on, to the smallest detail. There was not a foot of drain-pipe or a bit of thatch renewed on the whole estate, without the Duke having a finger in the pie. He bred fat oxen and prize cart-horses, and made a great figure at all the cattle-shows, and was happy. The Duchess, who had never believed her paragon capable of wrong-doing, had been infinitely shocked by Lady Mabel’s desperate course; but it was not in her nature to be angry with that idolised daughter. She very soon came back to her original idea, that whatever Mabel Ashbourne did was right. And then the marriage was so thoroughly happy; and the world gladly forgives a scandal that ends so pleasantly.

So Lord and Lady Mallow go their way — honoured, beloved, very active in good works — and the pleasant valleys around Mallow are dotted with red brick school-houses, and the old stone hovels are giving place to model cottages, and native industries receive all possible encouragement from the owner of the soil; and, afar off, in the coming years, the glories of Dublin Castle shine like the Pole Star that guides the wanderer on his way.

In one thing only has Lady Mallow been false to the promise of her girlhood. She has not achieved success as a poet. The Duchess wonders vaguely at this, for though she had often found it difficult to keep awake during the rehearsal of her daughter’s verses, she had a fixed belief in the excellence of those efforts of genius. The secret of Lady Mallow’s silence rests between her husband and herself; and it is just possible that some too candid avowal of Lord Mallow’s may be the reason of her poetic sterility. It is one thing to call the lady of one’s choice a tenth muse before marriage, and another thing to foster a self-delusion in one’s wife which can hardly fail to become a discordant element in domestic life. “If your genius had developed, and you had won popularity as a poet, I should have lost a perfect wife,” Lord Mallow told Mabel, when he wanted to put things pleasantly. “Literature has lost a star; but I have gained the noblest and sweetest companion Providence ever bestowed upon man.” Lady Mallow has not degenerated into feminine humdrum. She assists in the composition of her husband’s political pamphlets, which bristle with lines from Euripides, and noble thoughts from the German poets. She writes a good many of his letters, and is altogether his second self.

While the Irishman and his wife pursue their distinguished career, Rorie and Vixen live the life they love, in the Forest where they were born, dispensing happiness within a narrow circle, but dearly loved wheresoever they are known; and the old men and women in the scattered villages round about the Abbey House rejoice in the good old times that have come again; just as hearty pleasure-loving England was glad when the stern rule of the Protector and his crop-headed saints gave place to the reign of the Merry King.

From afar there comes news of Captain Winstanley, who has married a Jewish lady at Frankfort, only daughter and heiress of a well-known money-lender. The bride is reported ugly and illiterate; but there is no doubt as to her fortune. The Captain has bought a villa at Monaco — a villa in the midst of orange-groves, the abandoned plaything of an Austrian princess; and he has hired an apartment in one of the new avenues, just outside the Arc de Triomphe, where, as his friends anticipate, he will live in grand style, and receive the pleasantest people in Paris. He, too, is happy after his kind, and has won the twenty-thousand-pound prize in the lottery of life; but it is altogether a different kind of happiness from the simple and unalloyed delight of Rorie and Vixen, in their home among the beechen woods whose foliage sheltered them when they were children.


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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50