What morning is this, when Sam, waking from silver dreams to a golden reality, turns over in his bed and looks out of the open glass door; at dog Rover, propped up against the lintel, chopping at the early flies; at the flower-garden, dark and dewy; at the black wall of forest beyond, in which the magpies were beginning to pipe cheerily; at the blessed dawn which was behind and above it, shooting long rays of primrose and crimson half-way up the zenith; hearing the sleepy ceaseless crawling of the river over the shingle bars; hearing the booming of the cattle-herds far over the plain; hearing the chirrup of the grasshopper among the raspberries, the chirr of the cicada among the wattles — what happy morning is this? Is it the Sabbath?
Ah, no! the Sabbath was yesterday. This is his wedding morn.
My dear brother bachelor, do you remember those old first-love sensations, or have you got too old, and too fat? Do you remember the night when you parted from her on the bridge by the lock, the night before her father wrote to you and forbade you the house? Have you got the rose she gave you there? Is it in your Bible, brother? Do you remember the months that followed — months of mad grief and wild yearning, till the yearning grew less — less wild — and the grief less desperate; and then, worst of all, the degrading consciousness that you were, in spite of yourself, getting rid of your love, and that she was not to you as she had been? Do you remember all this? When you come across the rose in your Bible, do you feel that you would give all the honour and wealth of the world to feel again those happy, wretched, old sensations? Do you not say that this world has nothing to give in comparison to that?
Not this world, I believe. You and I can never feel that again. So let us make up our minds to it — it is dead. In God’s name don’t let us try to galvanize an old corpse, which may rise upon us hideous, and scare us to the lower pit. Let us be content as we are. Let us read that Book we spoke of just now with the rose in it, and imitate the Perfect Man there spoken of, who was crucified 1800 years ago, believing, like Him, that all men are our brothers, and acting up to it. And then, Lord knows what may be in store for us.
Here’s a digression. If I had had a good wife to keep me in order, I never should have gone so far out of the road. Here is Sam in bed, sitting up, with his happy head upon his hands, trying to believe that this dream of love is going to be realized — trying to believe that it is really his wedding morn.
It evidently is; so he gets out of bed and says his prayers like an honest gentleman — he very often forgot to do this same, but he did it this morning carefully — much I am afraid as a kind of charm or incantation, till he came to the Lord’s Prayer itself, and then his whole happy soul wedded itself to the eternal words, and he arose calm and happy, and went down to bathe.
Happy, I said. Was he really happy? He ought to have been; for every wish he had in this life was fulfilled. And yet, when Jim, and he, and Halbert, were walking, towel in hand down the garden, they held this conversation:—
“Sam, my dear old brother, at last,” said Jim, “are you happy?”
“I ought to be, Jim,” said Sam; “but I’m in the most confounded fright, sir.”— They generally are in a fright, when they are going to be married, those Benedicts. What the deuce are they afraid of?
Our dear Jim was in anything but an enviable frame of mind. He had found out several things which did not at all conduce to his happiness; he had found out that it was one thing to propose going to India, or No-man’sland, and cutting off every tie and association which he had in the world; and that it was quite another thing to do that same. He had found out that it was one thing to leave his sister in the keeping of his friend Sam, and another to part from her probably for ever; and, last of all, he had found out, ever since his father had put his arm round his neck and kissed him, that night we know of, that he loved that father beyond all men in this world. It was a new discovery; he had never known it till he found he had got to part with him. And now, when he woke in the night, our old merry-hearted Jim sat up in bed, and wept; aye, and no shame to him for it, when he thought of that handsome, calm, bronzed face tearless and quiet there, over the fortifications and the mathematics, when he was far away.
“He will never say a word, Sam,” said Jim, as they were walking down to bathe this very morning of the wedding; “but he’ll think the more. Sam, I am afraid I have done a selfish thing in going; but if I were to draw back now, I should never be the same to him again. He couldn’t stand that. But I am sorry I ever thought of it.”
“I don’t know, Jim,” said Halbert, pulling off his trowsers, “I really don’t know of any act of parliament passed in favour of the Brentwood family, exempting them from the ordinary evils of humanity. Do you think now, that when John Nokes, aged nineteen, goes into market at Cambridge, or elsewhere, and ‘lists, and never goes home again; do you think, I say, that that lad don’t feel a very strange emptiness about the epigastric region when he thinks of the grey-headed old man, that is sitting waiting for him at the cottage-door? And,” added Halbert, standing on the plunging-stage Adamically, without a rag upon him, pointing at Jim with his finger in an oratorical manner; “do you think that the old man who sits there, year after year, waiting for him who never comes, and telling the neighbours that his lad who is gone for a sodger, was the finest lad in the village, do you think that old man feels nothing? Give up fine feelings, Jim. You don’t know what trouble is yet.”
And so he went souse into the water.
And after the bathe all came up and dressed; — white trowsers and brilliant ties being the order of the day. Then we all, from the bachelor side of the house, assembled in the verandah, for the ceremony was not to be performed till eight, and it was not more than halfpast seven. There was the promise of a very awkward half hour, so I was glad of a diversion caused by my appearing in a blue coat with gilt buttons, and pockets in the tails — a coat I had not brought out for twenty years, but as good as new, I give you my honour. Jim was very funny about that coat, and I encouraged him by defending it, and so we got through ten minutes, and kept Sam amused. Then one of the grooms, a lad I mentioned before as bringing a note to Baroona on one occasion, a long brown-faced lad, born of London parents in the colony, made a diversion by coming round to look at us. He admired us very much, but my gilt buttons took his attention principally. He guessed they must have cost a matter of twenty pound, but on my telling him that the whole affair was bought for three pounds, he asked, I remember:—
“What are they made on, then?”
Brass I supposed, and gilt. So he left me in disgust, and took up with Jim’s trowsers, wanting to know “if they was canvas.”
“Satin velvet,” Jim said; and then the Major came out and beckoned us into the drawing-room.
And there she was, between Mrs. Buckley and Mary Hawker, dressed all in white, looking as beautiful as morning. Frank Maberly stood beside a little table, which the women had made into an altar, with the big Prayer-book in his hand. And we all stood around, and the servants thronged in, and Sam, taking Alice’s hand, went up and stood before Frank Maberly.
Captain Brentwood, of the Artillery, would give this woman to be married to this man, with ten thousand blessings on her head; and Samuel Buckley, of Baroona, would take this woman as his wedded wife, in sickness and health, for richer, for poorer, till death did them part. And, “Yes, by George, he will,” says Jim to himself — but I heard him, for we were reading out of the same Prayer-book.
And so it was all over. And the Doctor, who had all the morning been invisible, and had only slipt into the room just as the ceremony had began, wearing on his coat a great star, a prodigy, which had drawn many eyes from their Prayer-books, the Doctor, I say, came up, star and all, and taking Alice’s hand, kissed her forehead, and then clasped a splendid necklace round her throat.
Then followed all the usual kissings and congratulations, and then came the breakfast. I hope Alice and Sam were happy, as happy as young folks can be in such a state of flutter and excitement; but all I know is, that the rest of the party were thoroughly and utterly miserable. The certainty that this was the break-up of our happy old society, that all that was young, and merry, and graceful, among us, was about to take wing and leave us old folks sitting there lonely and dull. The thought, that neither Baroona nor Garoopna could ever be again what they had once been, and that never again we should hear those merry voices, wakening us in the morning, or ringing pleasant by the river on the soft summer’s evening; these thoughts, I say, made us but a dull party, although Covetown and the Doctor made talking enough for the rest of us.
There was something I could not understand about the Doctor. He talked loud and nervously all breakfast time, and afterwards, when Alice had retired to change her dress, and we were all standing about talking, he came up to me in a quiet corner where I was, and took me by the hand. “My dear old friend,” he said, “you will never forget me, will you?”
“Forget you, Baron! never,” I said. I would have asked him more, but there was Alice in the room, in her pretty blue riding-habit and hat, ready for a start, and Sam beside her, whip in hand; so we all crowded out to say good-bye.
That was the worst time of all. Mrs. Buckley had said farewell and departed. Jim was walking about, tearless, but quite unable to answer me when I asked him a question. Those two grim old warriors, the Captain and the Major, were taking things very quietly, but did not seem inclined to talk much, while the Doctor was conducting himself like an amiable lunatic, getting in everybody’s way as he followed Sam about.
“Sam,” he said, after Alice had been lifted on her horse, “my dear Sam, my good pupil, you will never forget your old tutor, will you?”
“Never, never!” said Sam; “not likely, if I lived to be a hundred. I shall see you tomorrow.”
“Oh yes, surely,” said the Baron; “we shall meet tomorrow for certain. But good-bye, my boy; good bye.”
And then the young couple rode away to Baroona, which was empty, swept, and garnished, ready for their reception. And the servants cheered them as they went away, and tall Eleanor sent one of her husband’s boots after them for luck, with such force and dexterity that it fell close to the heels of Widderin, setting him capering; — then Sam turned round and waved his hat, and they were gone.
And we turned round to look at one another, and lo! another horse, the Doctor’s, was being led up and down by a groom, saddled; and, while we wondered, out came the Doctor himself and began strapping his valise on to the saddle.
“And where are you going today, Baron?” asked the Major.
“I am going,” said he, “to Sydney. I sail for Europe in a week.”
Our astonishment was too great for ejaculations; we kept an awful silence; this was the first hint he had given us of his intention.
“Yes,” said he, “I sail from Sydney this day week. I could not embitter my boy’s wedding-day by letting him know that he was to lose me; better that he should come back and find me gone. I must go, and I foresaw it when that letter came; but I would not tell you, because I knew you would be so sorry to part. I have been inside and said farewell to Mrs. Buckley. And now, my friends, shorten this scene for me. Night and day, for a month, I have been dreading it, and now let us spare one another. Why should we tear our hearts asunder by a long leave-taking. Oh, Buckley, Buckley! after so many years —”
Only a hurried shaking of hands, and he was gone. Down by the paddock to the river, and when he reached the height beyond, he turned and waved his hand. Then he went on his way across the old plains, and we saw him lessening in the distance until he disappeared altogether, and we saw him no more. No more!
In two months from that time Jim and Halbert were gone to India, Sam and Alice were away to the Darling Downs, Desborough and the Doctor had sailed for Europe, and we old folks, taking up our residence at Baroona, had agreed to make common house of it. Of course we were very dull at first, when we missed half of the faces which had been used to smile upon us; but this soon wore off. During the succeeding winter I remember many pleasant evenings, when the Captain, the Major, Mrs. Buckley, and myself played whist, shilling points and the rigour of the game, and while Mary Hawker, in her widow’s weeds, sat sewing by the fireside, contentedly enough.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10