Yes; — it had come at last. As one may imagine to be the certainty of paradise to the doubting, fearful, all but despairing soul when it has passed through the gates of death and found in new worlds a reality of assured bliss, so was the assurance to her, conveyed by that simple request, “Mary, say that you will be my wife.” It did not seem to her that any answer was necessary. Will it be required that the spirit shall assent to its entrance into Elysium? Was there room for doubt? He would never go back from his word now. He would not have spoken the word had he not been quite, quite certain. And he had loved her all that time, when she was so hard to him! It must have been so. He had loved her, this bright one, even when he thought that she was to be given to that clay-bound rustic lover! Perhaps that was the sweetest of it all, though in draining the sweet draught she had to accuse herself of hardness, blindness and injustice. Could it be real? Was it true that she had her foot firmly placed in Paradise? He was there, close to her, with his arm still round her, and her fingers grasped within his. The word wife was still in her ears — surely the sweetest word in all the language! What protestation of love could have been so eloquent as that question? “Will you be my wife?” No true man, she thought, ever ought to ask the question in any other form. But her eyes were still full of tears, and as she went she knew not where she was going. She had forgotten all her surroundings, being only aware that he was with her, and that no other eyes were on them.
Then there was another stile on reaching which he withdrew his arm and stood facing her with his back leaning against it. “Why do you weep?” he said; —“and, Mary, why do you not answer my question? If there be anybody else you must tell me now.”
“There is nobody else,” she said almost angrily. “There never was. There never could be.”
“And yet there was somebody!” She pouted her lips at him, glancing up into his face for half a second, and then again hung her head down. “Mary, do not grudge me my delight”
“No; — no; — no!”
“But you do.”
“No. If there can be delight to you in so poor a thing, have it all.”
“Then you must kiss me, dear.” She gently came to him — oh so gently — and with her head still hanging, creeping towards his shoulder, thinking perhaps that the motion should have been his, but still obeying him, and then, leaning against him, seemed as though she would stoop with her lips to his hand. But this he did not endure. Seizing her quickly in his arms he drew her up, till her not unwilling face was close to his, and there he kept her till she was almost frightened by his violence. “And now, Mary, what do you say to my question? It has to be answered.”
“But that will not do, I will have it in words. I will not be shorn of my delight”
That it should be a delight to him, was the very essence of her heaven. “Tell me what to say,” she answered. “How may I say it best?”
“Reginald Morton,” he began.
“Reginald,” she repeated it after him, but went no farther in naming him.
“Because I love you better than in the world —”
“Ah, but say it”
“Because I love you, oh, so much better than all the world besides.”
“Therefore, my own, own husband —”
“Therefore, my own, own — ” Then she paused.
“Say the word”
“My own, own husband.”
“I will be your true wife”
“I will be your own true loving wife.” Then he kissed her again.
“That,” he said, “is our little marriage ceremony under God’s sky, and no other can be more binding. As soon as you, in the plentitude of your maiden power, will fix a day for the other one, and when we can get that over, then we will begin our little journey together.”
“You haven’t said anything.”
“Haven’t I? I thought I had said it all.”
“But you haven’t said it for yourself!”
“You say what you want — and I’ll repeat it quite as well as you did.”
“I can’t do that. Say it yourself.”
“I will be your true husband for the rest of the journey; — by which I mean it to be understood that I take you into partnership on equal terms, but that I am to be allowed to manage the business just as I please.”
“Yes; — that you shall,” she said, quite in earnest.
“Only as you are practical and I am vague, I don’t doubt that everything will fall into your hands before five years are over, and that I shall have to be told whether I can afford to buy a new book, and when I am to ask all the gentry to dinner.”
“Now you are laughing at me because I shall know so little about anything.”
“Come, dear; let us get over the stile and go on for another field, or we shall never get round the park.” Then she jumped over after him, just touching his hand. “I was not laughing at you at all. I don’t in the least doubt that in a very little time you will know everything about everything.”
“I am so much afraid.”
“You needn’t be. I know you well enough for that. But suppose I had taken such a one as that young woman who was here with my poor cousin. Oh, heavens!”
“Perhaps you ought to have done so.”
“I thank the Lord that hath delivered me.”
“You ought — you ought to have chosen some lady of high standing,” said Mary, thinking with ineffable joy of the stately dame who was not to come to Bragton. “Do you know what I was thinking only the other day about it? — that you had gone up to London to look for some proper sort of person.”
“And how did you mean to receive her?”
“I shouldn’t have received her at all. I should have gone away. You can’t do it now.”
“What were you thanking the Lord for so heartily?”
“Were you? That is the sweetest thing you have said yet. My own; — my darling; — my dearest! If only I can so live that you may be able to thank the Lord for me in years to come!”
I will not trouble the reader with all that was said at every stile. No doubt very much of what has been told was repeated again and again so that the walk round the park was abnormally long. At last, however, they reached the house, and as they entered the hall, Mary whispered to him, “Who is to tell your aunt?” she said.
“Come along,” he replied striding upstairs to his aunt’s bedroom, where he knew she would be at this time. He opened the door without any notice and, having waited till Mary had joined him, led her forcibly into the middle of the room. “Here she is,” he said; “my wife elect”
“We have managed it all, and there needn’t be any more said about it except to settle the day. Mary has been looking about the house and learning her duty already. She’ll be able to have every bedstead and every chair by heart, which is an advantage ladies seldom possess. Then Mary rushed forward and was received into the old woman’s arms.
When Reginald left them, which he did very soon after the announcement was made, Lady Ushant had a great deal to say. “I have been thinking of it, my dear — oh — for years; — ever since he came to Hoppet Hall. But I am sure the best way is never to say anything. If I had interfered there is no knowing how it might have been.”
“Then, dear Lady Ushant, I am so glad you didn’t,” said Mary — being tolerably sure at the same time within her own bosom that her loving old friend could have done no harm in that direction. “I wouldn’t say a word though I was always thinking of it. But then he is so odd, and no one can know what he means sometimes. That’s what made me think when Mr. Twentyman was so very pressing —”
“That couldn’t — couldn’t have been possible.”
“Poor young man!”
“But I always told him it was impossible.”
“I wonder whether you cared about Reginald all that time.” In answer to this Mary only hid her face in the old woman’s lap. “Dear me! I suppose you did all along. But I am sure it was better not to say anything, and now what will your papa and mamma say?”
“They’ll hardly believe it at first”
“I hope they’ll be glad.”
“Glad! Why what do you suppose they would want me to do? Dear papa! And dear mamma too, because she has really been good to me. I wonder when it must be?” Then that question was discussed at great length, and Lady Ushant had a great deal of very good advice to bestow. She didn’t like long engagements, and it was very essential for Reginald’s welfare that he should settle himself at Bragton as soon as possible. Mary’s pleas for a long day were not very urgent.
That evening at Bragton was rather long and rather dull. It was almost the first that she had ever passed in company with Reginald, and there now seemed to be a necessity of doing something peculiar, whereas there was nothing peculiar to be done. It was his custom to betake himself to his books after dinner; but he could hardly do so with ease in company with the girl who had just promised him to be his wife. Lady Ushant too wished to show her extreme joy, and made flattering but vain attempts to be ecstatic. Mary, to tell the truth, was longing for solitude, feeling that she could not yet realise her happiness.
Not even when she was in bed could she reduce her mind to order. It would have been all but impossible even had he remained the comparative humble lord of Hoppet Hall; — but that the squire of Bragton should be her promised husband was a marvel so great that from every short slumber, she waked with fear of treacherous dreams. A minute’s sleep might rob her of her joy and declare to her in the moment of waking that it was all an hallucination. It was not that he was dearer to her, or that her condition was the happier, because of his position and wealth; but that the chance of his inheritance had lifted him so infinitely above her! She thought of the little room at home which she generally shared with one of her sisters, of her all too scanty wardrobe, of her daily tasks about the house, of her stepmother’s late severity, and of her father’s cares. Surely he would not hinder her from being good to them; surely he would let the young girls come to her from time to time! What an added happiness it would be if he would allow her to pass on to them some sparks of the prosperity which he was bestowing on her. And then her thoughts travelled on to poor Larry. Would he not be more contented now; — now, when he would be certain that no further frantic efforts could avail him anything. Poor Larry! Would Reginald permit her to regard him as a friend? And would he submit to friendly treatment? She could look forward and see him happy with his wife, the best loved of their neighbours; — for who was there in the world better than Larry? But she did not know how two men who had both been her lovers, would allow themselves to be brought together. But, oh, what peril had been there! It was but the other day she had striven so hard to give the lie to her love and to become Larry’s wife. She shuddered beneath the bedclothes as she thought of the danger she had run. One word would have changed all her Paradise into a perpetual wail of tears and waste of desolation. When she woke in the morning from her long sleep an effort was wanting to tell her that it was all true. Oh, if it had slipped from her then; — if she had waked after such a dream to find herself loving in despair with a sore bosom and angry heart!
She met him downstairs, early, in the study, having her first request to make to him. Might she go in at once after breakfast and tell them all? “I suppose I ought to go to your father,” he said. “Let me go first,” she pleaded, hanging on his arm. “I would not think that I was not mindful of them from the very beginning.” So she was driven into Dillsborough in the pony carriage which had been provided for old Mrs. Morton’s use, and told her own story. “Papa,” she said, going to the office door. “Come into the house; — come at once.” And then, within her father’s arms, while her stepmother listened, she told them of her triumph. “Mr. Reginald Morton wants me to be his wife, and he is coming here to ask you.”
“The Lord in heaven be good to us,” said Mrs. Masters, holding up both her hands. “Is it true, child?”
“It is true, papa — and — and-”
“And what, my love?”
“When he comes to you, you must say I will be.”
There was not much danger on that score. “Was it he that you told me of?” said the attorney. To this she only nodded her assent. “It was Reginald Morton all the time? Well!”
“Why shouldn’t it be he?”
“Oh no, my dear! You are a most fortunate girl — most fortunate! But somehow I never thought of it, that a child of mine should come to live at Bragton and have it, one may say, partly as her own! It is odd after all that has come and gone. God bless you, my dear, and make you happy. You are a very fortunate child.”
Mrs. Masters was quite overpowered. She had thrown herself on to the old family sofa, and was fanning herself with her handkerchief. She had been wrong throughout, and was now completely humiliated by the family success; and yet she was delighted, though she did not dare to be triumphant. She had so often asked both father and daughter what good gentlemen would do to either of them; and now the girl was engaged to marry the richest gentleman in the neighbourhood! In any expression of joy she would be driven to confess how wrong she had always been. How often had she asked what would come of Ushanting. This it was that had come of Ushanting. The girl had been made fit to be the companion of such a one as Reginald Morton, and had now fallen into the position which was suited to her. “Of course we shall see nothing of you now,” she said in a whimpering voice. It was not a gracious speech, but it was almost justified by disappointments.
“Mamma, you know that I shall never separate myself from you and the girls.”
“Poor Larry!” said the woman sobbing. “Of course it is all for the best; but I don’t know what he’ll do now.”
“You must tell him, papa,” said Mary; “and give him my love and bid him be a man.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01