Red Pottage, by Mary Cholmondeley


IT was autumn once more. The brambles were red in the hollow below Warpington Vicarage. Abel was gathering the apples in the orchard.

Mr. and Mrs. Gresley were sitting together in the shade of the new porch, contemplating a triumphal arch which they had just erected across the road. “Long life and happiness” was the original motto inscribed thereon.

Mrs. Gresley, in an alarming new hat, sank back exhausted in her garden-chair.

“The Pratts are having six arches, all done with electric-light designs of hearts with their crest on the top,” she said. “They are to be lit up at nine o’clock. Mr. Pratt said he did not mind any expense on such an occasion. He said it made an epoch in the life of the county.”

“Well,” said Mr. Gresley, “I lead too busy a life to be always poking my nose into other people’s affairs, but I certainly never did expect that Lady Newhaven would have married Algy Pratt.”

“Ada and Selina say Algy and she have been attached for years: that is why the wedding is so soon — only nine months — and she is to keep her title, and they are going to live at Westhope. I told Ada and Selina I hoped they did not expect too much from the marriage, for sometimes people who did were disappointed, but they only laughed and said Vi had promised Algy to take them out next season.”

“We seem to live in an atmosphere of weddings,” said Mr. Gresley. “First, Dr. Brown and Fraülein, and now Algy Pratt and Lady Newhaven.”

“I was so dreadfully afraid that Fraülein might think our arch was put up for her and presume upon it,” said Mrs. Gresley, “that I thought it better to send her a little note, just to welcome her cordially, and tell her how busy we were about the Pratt festivities, and what a coincidence it was her arriving on the same day. I told her I would send down the children to spend the morning with her to-morrow. I knew that would please her, and it is Miss Baker’s day in Southminster with her aunt, and I shall really be too busy to see after them. In some ways I don’t like Miss Baker as much as Fraülein. She is paid just the same, but she does much less, and she is really quite short sometimes if I ask her to do any little thing for me, like copying out that church music.”

“Hester used to do it,” said Mr. Gresley.

“Miss Brown told me she had heard from Hester, and that she and Miss West are still in India. And they mean to go to Australia and New Zealand, and come home next spring.

“Was Hester well?”

“Quite well. You know, James, I always told you that hers was not a genuine illness. That was why they would not let us see her. It was only hysteria, which girls get when they are disappointed at not marrying, and are not so young as they were. Directly poor Mr. Scarlett died, Hester left her room, and devoted herself to Miss West, and Dr. Brown said it was the saving of her. But for my part I always thought Hester took in Dr. Brown and the Bishop about that illness.”

“I should not wonder if Hester married Dick Vernon,” said Mr. Gresley. “It is rather marked their going to Australia when he went back there only a few months ago. If she had consulted me I should have advised her not to follow him up.”

A burst of cheering, echoed by piercing howls from Boulou locked up in the empty nursery.

“I hope Miss Baker has put the children in a good place. She is sure to be in a good one herself,” said Mrs. Gresley, as she and her husband took up their position by the gate.

More cheering! A sudden flourish of trumpets and a trombone from the volunteer band at the corner, of which Mr. Pratt was Colonel.

A clatter of four white horses and an open carriage. A fleeting vision of Captain Pratt, white waistcoat, smile, teeth, eye-glass, hat waved in lavender-kid hand! A fleeting vision of a lovely woman in white, with a wonderful white-feathered hat, and a large diamond heart, possibly a love token from Captain Pratt, hanging on a long diamond chain, bowing and smiling beside her elaborate bridegroom.

In a moment they were past, and a report of cannon and field artillery showed that the east lodge of Warpington Towers had been reached, and the solemn joy of the Pratts was finding adequate expression.

“She looked rather frightened,” said Mrs. Gresley.

“Such a magnificent reception is alarming to a gentle, retiring nature,” said Mr. Gresley.

More cheering! this time much more enthusiastic than the last — louder, deafening.

Dr. Brown’s dog-cart came slowly in sight, accompanied by a crowd.

“They have taken out the horse and are dragging them up,” said Mrs. Gresley in astonishment. “Look at Dr. Brown waving his hat, and Fraülein bowing in that silly way. Well, I only hope her head won’t be turned by the arches and everything. She will find my note directly she gets in. Really, James! two brides and bridegrooms in one day! It is like the end of a novel.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52