‘He must be mad!’ said Granville, flourishing a telegram in his hand.
‘He must be very fond of her,’ Lady Bligh replied, simply.
Granville held the telegram at arm’s length, and slowly focussed it with his eyeglass. He had already declaimed it twice, once with horror in his voice, once with a running accompaniment of agreeable raillery. His third reading was purely compassionate, in accordance with his latest theory regarding the mental condition of the sender.
‘“Arrived both well. Chartered launch take us Gravesend Twickenham; show her river. Join us if possible Westminster Bridge 3 o’clock. — Alfred.”’
‘Do you comprehend it, dear mother? I think I do, at last, though the prepositions are left to the imagination. He has saved at least twopence over those prepositions — which, of course, is an item, even in a ten-pound job.’
‘You don’t mean to say it will cost him ten pounds?’
‘Every penny of it: it would cost you or me, or any ordinary person, at least a fiver. I am allowing for Alfred’s being let in rather further than any one else would be.’
‘At all events,’ said Lady Bligh, ‘you will do what he asks you; you will be at Westminster at the time he mentions?’
Granville shrugged his shoulders. ‘Certainly, if you wish it.’
‘I think it would be kind.’
‘Then I will go, by all means.’
‘Thank you — and Granville! I do wish you would give up sneering at your brother’s peculiarities. He does do odd and impulsive things, we know; and there is no denying the extravagance of steaming up the river all the way from Gravesend. But, after all, he has money, and no doubt he wants to show his wife the Thames, and to bring her home in a pleasant fashion, full of pleasant impressions; and upon my word,’ said Lady Bligh, ‘I never heard of a prettier plan in my life! So go, my dear boy, and meet them, and make them happier still. If that is possible, no one could do it more gracefully than you, Gran!’
Granville acknowledged the compliment, and promised; and punctually at three he was at Westminster Bridge, watching with considerable interest the rapid approach of a large launch — a ridiculously large one for the small number of people on board. She had, in fact, only two passengers, though there was room for fifty. One of the two was Alfred, whose lanky figure was unmistakable at any distance; and the dark, straight, strapping young woman at his side was, of course, Alfred’s wife.
The meeting between the brothers was hearty enough, but it might have been more entirely cordial had there been a little less effusiveness on one side — not Granville’s. But Alfred — who was dressed in rough tweed clothes of indeterminate cut, and had disfigured himself with a beard — was so demonstrative in his greeting that the younger brother could not help glancing anxiously round to assure himself that there was no one about who knew him. It was a relief to him to be released and introduced to the Bride.
‘Gladys, this is Gran come to meet us — as I knew he would — like the brick he is, and always was!’
Gran was conscious of being scrutinised keenly by the finest dark eyes he had ever encountered in his life; but the next moment he was shaking his sister-in-law’s hand, and felt that it was a large hand — a trifling discovery that filled Granville with a subtile sense of satisfaction. But the Bride was yet to open her lips.
‘How do you do?’ she said, the olive tint of her cheek deepening slightly. ‘It was awfully nice of you to come; I am glad to see you — I have heard such lots about you, you know!’
It was said so glibly that the little speech was not, perhaps, exactly extempore: and it was spoken — every word of it — with a twang that, to sensitive ears like Granville’s, was simply lacerating. Granville winced, and involuntarily dropped his eyeglass; but otherwise he kept a courteous countenance, and made a sufficiently civil reply.
As for Alfred, he, of course, noticed nothing unusual in his wife’s accents; he was used to them; and, indeed, it seemed to Granville that Alfred spoke with a regrettable drawl himself.
‘You’ve got to play showman, Gran,’ said he, when some natural questions had been hurriedly put and tersely answered (by which time they were opposite Lambeth Palace). ‘I’ve been trying, but I’m a poor hand at it; indeed, I’m a poor Londoner, and always was: below Blackfriars I was quite at sea, and from here to Richmond I’m as ignorant as a brush.’
‘No; he’s no good at all,’ chimed in the Bride, pleasantly.
‘Well, I’m not well up in it, either,’ said Gran, warily.
This was untrue, however. Granville knew his Thames better than most men — it was one of the things he did know. But he had a scholar’s reverence for classic ground; and in a young man who revered so very little, this was remarkable, if it was not affectation. Granville would have suffered tortures rather than gravely point out historic spots to a person whose ideas of history probably went no farther back than the old Colonial digging days; he would have poured sovereigns into the sea as readily as the coin of sacred associations into Gothic ears. At least, so he afterwards said, when defending his objection to interpreting the Thames for his sister-in-law’s benefit.
‘What nonsense!’ cried Alfred, good-humouredly. ‘You know all about it — at all events, you used to. There — we’ve gone and let her miss Lambeth Palace! Look, dear, quick, while it’s still in sight — that’s where the Archbishop of Canterbury hangs out.’
‘Oh,’ said Gladys, ‘I’ve heard of him.’
‘And isn’t that Cheyne Walk, or some such place, that we’re coming to on the right there?’ said Alfred.
‘Yes,’ said Granville, briefly; ‘that’s Cheyne Walk.’
Luckily the Bride asked no questions — indeed, she was inclined to be silent — for of all localities impossible to discuss with an uneducated person, Granville felt that Chelsea and Cheyne Walk were the most completely out of the question. And that the Bride was a sadly uneducated person was sufficiently clear, if only from her manner of speaking. Granville accepted the fact with creditable equanimity — he had prophesied as much — and sat down to smoke a cigarette and to diagnose, if he could, this new and wonderful dialect of his sister-in-law. It was neither Cockney nor Yankee, but a nasal blend of both: it was a lingo that declined to let the vowels run alone, but trotted them out in ill-matched couples, with discordant and awful consequences; in a word, it was Australasiatic of the worst description. Nor was the speech of Alfred free from the taint — Alfred, whose pronunciation at least had been correct before he went out; while the common colloquialisms of the pair made Granville shudder.
‘If I did not hope for such surprisingly good looks,’ said he to himself, ‘yet even I was not prepared for quite so much vulgarity! Poor dear Alfred!’
And Granville sighed, complacently.
Yet, as she leant upon the rail in the summer sunlight, silent and pensive, there was certainly no suggestion of vulgarity in her attitude; it was rather one of unstudied grace and ease. Nor was there anything at all vulgar in the quiet travelling dress that fitted her tall full form so closely and so well. Nor was her black hair cut down to within an inch of her eyebrows — as, of course, it should have been — or worn in a fringe at all. Nor was there anything the least objectionable in the poise of the small graceful head, or in the glance of the bold dark eyes, or in the set of the full, firm, crimson lips; and thus three more excellent openings — for the display of vulgarity — were completely thrown away. In fact, if she had never spoken, Granville would have been at a loss to find a single fault in her. Alas! about her speech there could be no two opinions — it bewrayed her.
Presently Alfred sat down beside his brother, and began to tell him everything, and did all the talking; while the Bride still stood watching the shifting panorama of the banks, and the golden sunlight upon the water, and the marvellous green of all green things. It was practically her first experience of this colour. And still she asked no questions, her interest being perhaps too intense; and so the showman-business was forgotten, to the great relief of Granville; and the time slipped quickly by. At last — and quite suddenly — the Bride clapped her hands, and turned with sparkling eyes to her husband: they had entered that splendid reach below Richmond, and the bridges were in sight, with the hill beyond.
‘I give this best!’ she cried. ‘It does knock spots out of the Yarra and the Murray after all!’
Alfred glanced uneasily at his brother, but found an impassive face.
‘Come, old fellow,’ said Alfred, ‘do your duty; jump up and tell her about these places.’
So at last Granville made an effort to do so; he got up and went to the side of the Bride; and presently he was exercising a discreet if not a delicate vein of irony, that was peculiarly his own.
‘That was Kew we passed just now — you must see the gardens there,’ he said; ‘and this is Richmond.’
‘Kew and Richmond!’ exclaimed the Bride, innocently. ‘How rum! We have a Kew and a Richmond in Melbourne.’
‘Ah!’ said Gran. ‘I don’t fancy the theft was on our side. But look at this gray old bridge — picturesque, isn’t it? — and I dare say you have nothing like it out there. And there, you see — up on the left yonder — is Richmond Hill. Rather celebrated, Richmond Hill: you may have heard of it; there was a lass that lived there once.’
‘Yes — what of her?’
‘Oh, she was neat and had sweet eyes — or sweet, with neat eyes — I really forget which. And there was a somebody or other who said he’d resign any amount of crowns — the number wasn’t specified — to call her his. He was pretty safe in saying that — unless, indeed, he meant crown-pieces— which, now I think of it, would be rather an original reading.’
‘Alfred,’ said the Bride abruptly, ‘are we nearly there?’
‘Not far off,’ said Alfred.
Granville bit his lip. ‘We are very nearly there,’ he said; ‘this is the beginning of Twickenham.’
‘Then where’s the Ferry?’ said the Bride. ‘I know all about “Twickenham Ferry”; we once had a storekeeper — a new chum — who used to sing about it like mad. Show it me.’
‘There, then: it crosses by the foot of the island: it’s about to cross now. Now, in a minute, I’ll show you Pope’s old place; we don’t go quite so far — in fact, here we are — but you’ll be able just to see it, I think.’
‘The Pope!’ said Gladys. ‘I never knew he lived in England!’
‘No more he does. Not the Pope —Pope; a man of the name of Pope: a scribbler: a writing-man: in fact, a poet.’
The three were leaning over the rail, shoulder to shoulder, and watching eagerly for the first glimpse of the Judge’s retreat through the intervening trees. Granville was in the middle. The Bride glanced at him sharply, and opened her lips to say something which — judging by the sudden gleam of her dark eyes — might possibly have been rather too plain-spoken. But she never said it; she merely left Granville’s side, and went round to the far side of her husband, and slipped her hand through his arm. Granville walked away.
‘Are we there?’ whispered Gladys.
‘Just, my darling. Look, that’s the house — the one with the tall trees and the narrow lawn.’
‘Hush, Gladdie! For Heaven’s sake don’t say anything like that before my mother! There she is on the lawn, waving her handkerchief. We’ll wave ours back to her. The dear mother! Whatever you do, darling girl, don’t say anything of that sort to her. It would be Greek to my mother and the Judge, and they mightn’t like it.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09