Helen Whitney’s Wedding


Ellen Wood

First published in March 1877.

This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.

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Helen Whitney’s Wedding.

1.

“What a hot day it is going to be!” cried the Squire, flinging back his thin light coat, and catching the corner of the breakfast-cloth with it, so that he upset the salt-cellar. “Yesterday was about the hottest day I ever felt, but today will be worse.”

“And all the jam-making about!” added Mrs. Todhetley.

“You need not go near the jam-making.”

“I must today. Last year Molly made a mistake in the quantity of sugar: and never could be brought to acknowledge it.”

“Molly—— There’s the letter-man,” broke off the Squire. “Run, lad.”

I went through the open glass-doors with all speed. Letters were not everyday events with us. In these fast and busy days a hundred letters are written where one used to be in those. It was one only that the man handed me now.

“That’s all this morning, Mr. Johnny.”

I put it beside the Squire’s plate, telling him it was from Sir John Whitney. There was no mistaking Sir John’s handwriting: the popular belief was that he used a skewer.

“From Whitney, is it,” cried he. “Where are my spectacles? What’s the postmark! Malvern? Oh, then, they are there still.”

“DEAR TODHETLEY,

“Do take compassion upon a weary man, and come over for a day or two. A whole blessed week this day have I been here with never a friend to speak to, or to make up a rubber in the evening. Featherston’s a bad player, as you know, but I wish I had him here. I and my wife might take double dummy, for all the players we can get. Helen is engaged to be married to Captain Foliott, Lord Riverside’s nephew; and nobody has any time to think of me and my whist-table. Bring the boys with you: Bill is as moped as I am. We are at the Belle Vue, you see. The girls wanted to stand out for the Foley Arms: it’s bigger and grander: but I like a place that I have been used to.

“From your old friend,

“JOHN WHITNEY.”

The little Whitneys had caught scarlatina, all the fry of them. Recovered now, they had been sent to a cottage on the estate for change; and Sir John, his wife, William, Helen, and Anna went for a week to Malvern while the Hall was cleaned. This news, though, of Helen’s engagement, took us by surprise.

“How very sudden!” cried the mater.

Tod was leaning back in his chair, laughing. “I told her I knew there was something up between her and that Captain Foliott!”

“Has she known him before?” asked the mater.

“Known him, yes,” cried Tod. “She saw a good deal of him at Cheltenham. As if she would engage herself to any one after only a week’s acquaintanceship!”

“As if Sir John would let her!” put in the Squire. “I can’t answer for what Miss Helen would do.” And Tod laughed again.

When the children were taken ill, Helen and Anna, though they had had the malady, were packed off to Sir John’s sister, Miss Whitney, who lived at Cheltenham, and they stayed there for some weeks. After that, they came to us at Dyke Manor for three days, and then went with their father and mother to Malvern. Helen was then full of Captain Foliott, and talked of him to us in private from morning till night. She had met him at Cheltenham, and he had paid her no end of attention. Now, as it appeared, he had followed her to Malvern, and asked for her of Sir John.

“It seems to be a good match—a nephew of Lord Riverside’s,” observed the Squire. “Is he rich, I wonder?—and is the girl over head and ears in love with him?”

“Rich he may be: but in love with him she certainly is not,” cried Tod. “She was too ready to talk of him for that.”

The remark was amusing, coming from Tod. How had he learnt to be so worldly-wise?

“Shall you go to Malvern, father?”

Shall I go!” repeated the Squire, astonished at the superfluous question. “Yes. And start as soon as ever I have finished my breakfast and changed my coat. You two may go also, as you are invited.”

We reached Malvern in the afternoon. Sir John and Lady Whitney were alone, in one of the pleasant sitting-rooms of the Belle Vue Hotel, and welcomed us with outstretched hands.

“The girls and William?” cried Sir John, in answer to inquiries. “Oh, they are out somewhere—with Foliott, I conclude; for I’m sure he sticks to Helen like her shadow. Congratulate me, you say? Well, I don’t know, Todhetley. It’s the fashion, of course, to do it; but I’m not sure but we should rather be condoled with. No sooner do our girls grow up and become companionable, and learn not to revoke at whist when they can be tempted into taking a hand, than they want to leave us! Henceforth they must belong to others, not to us; and we, perhaps, see them no oftener than we see any other stranger. It’s one of the crosses of life.”

Sir John blew his old red nose, so like the Squire’s, and my lady rubbed her eyes. Both felt keenly the prospect of parting with Helen.

“But you like him, don’t you?” asked the Squire.

“As to liking him,” cried Sir John, and I thought there was some hesitation in his tone; “I am not in love with him: I leave that to Helen. We don’t all see with our children’s eyes. He is well enough, I suppose, as Helen thinks so. But the fellow does not care for whist.”

“I think we play too slow a game for him,” put in Lady Whitney. “He chanced to say one evening that Lord Riverside is one of the first hands at whist; and I expect Captain Foliott has been in the habit of playing with him.”

“Anyway, you are satisfied with the match, as a match, I take it?” observed the Squire.

“I don’t say but that I am,” said Sir John. “It might be better, of course; and at present their means will not be large. Foliott offers to settle an estate of his, worth about ten thousand pounds, upon Helen; and his allowance from his uncle Foliott is twelve hundred a-year. They will have to get along on that at present.”

“And the captain proposes,” added Lady Whitney, “that the three thousand pounds, which will come to Helen when she marries, shall be invested in a house: and we think it would be wise to do it. But he feels quite certain that Mr. Foliott will increase his allowance when he marries; probably double it.”

“It’s not Lord Riverside, then, who allows him the income?”

“Bless you, Todhetley, no!” spoke Sir John in a hurry. “He says Riverside’s as poor as a church mouse, and vegetates from year’s end to year’s end at his place in Scotland. It is Foliott the mine-owner down in the North. Stay: which is it, Betsy?—mine-owner, or mill-owner?”

“Mill-owner, I think,” said Lady Whitney. “He is wonderfully rich, whichever it is; and Captain Foliott will come into at least a hundred thousand pounds at his death.”

Listening to all this as I stood on the balcony, looking at the beautiful panorama stretched out below and beyond, for they were talking at the open window, I dreamily thought what a good thing Helen was going to make of it. Later on, all this was confirmed, and we learnt a few additional particulars.

Mr. Foliott, mill-owner and millionaire, was a very great man in the North; employing thousands of hands. He was a good man, full of benevolence, always doing something or other to benefit his townspeople and his dependents. But his health had been failing of late, and he had now gone to the Cape, a sea-voyage having been advised by his doctors. He had never married, and Captain Foliott was his favourite nephew.

“It’s not so bad, after all, is it, Johnny?”

The words were whispered over my shoulder, and I started back to see Helen’s radiant face. She and Anna had come in unheard by me, and had caught the thread of conversation in the room.

“I call it very good, Helen. I hope he is good too.”

“You shall see,” she answered. “He is coming up with William.”

Her dark brown eyes were sparkling, a bright colour glowed on her cheeks. Miss Helen Whitney was satisfied with her future bridegroom, and no mistake. She had forgotten all about her incipient liking for poor Slingsby Temple.

“What regiment is Captain Foliott in, Helen?”

“Not in any. He has sold out.”

“Sold out!”

“His mother and his uncle made him do it. The detachment was ordered to India, and they would not let him go; would not part with him; begged and prayed of him to sell out. Nothing ever vexed him so much in his life, he says; but what could he do? His mother has only him: and on Mr. Foliott he is dependent for riches.”

“Entirely dependent?”

“For riches, I said, Johnny. He has himself a small competence. Ten thousand pounds nearly comprises it. And that is to be settled on me.”

A slight bustle in the room, and we both looked round. Bill Whitney was noisily greeting Tod. Some one else had followed Bill through the door.

A rather tall man, with reddish hair and drooping, reddish whiskers, bold handsome features, and a look I did not like in his red-brown eyes. Stepping over the window-sill from the balcony, they introduced me to him, Captain Richard Foliott.

“I have heard much of Johnny Ludlow,” said he, holding out his hand with a cordial smile, “and I am glad to know him. I hope we shall soon be better acquainted.”

I shook his hand and answered in kind. But I was not drawn to him; not a bit; rather repelled. The eyes were not nice: or the voice, either. It had not a true ring in it. Undeniably handsome he was, and I thought that was the best that could be said.

“Look here: we are going for a stroll,” said Sir John; “you young people can come, or not, as you please. But if you go up the hill, remember that we dine at six o’clock. Once you get scampering about up there, you forget the time.”

He went out with the Squire. Lady Whitney had a letter to write and sat down to do it; the rest of us stood, some on the balcony, some in the room. Helen, Tod, and Captain Foliott were apparently trying which could talk the fastest.

“Why do you look at me so earnestly?” suddenly demanded the latter.

It was to me he spoke. I laughed, and apologized; saying that his face put me in mind of some other face I had seen, but I could not remember whose. This was true. It was true also that I had been looking at him more fixedly than the strict rules of etiquette might require: but I had not an idea that he was observing me.

“I thought you might be wishing to take my portrait,” said the captain, turning away to whisper to Helen.

“More likely to take your character,” jestingly struck in Bill, with more zeal than discretion. “Johnny Ludlow sees through everybody; reads faces off like a book.”

Captain Foliott wheeled sharply round at the words, and stood before me, his eyes gazing straight into mine.

“Can you read my face?” he asked. “What do you see there?”

“I see that you have been a soldier: your movements tell me that: right-about, face; quick march,” answered I, turning the matter off with a jest. Tod opportunely struck in.

“How could you leave the army?” he asked with emphasis. “I only wish I had the chance of joining it.” Though he knew that he had better not let the Squire hear him say so.

“It was a blow,” acknowledged Foliott. “One does meet with raps in this world. But, you see, it was a case of—of the indulgence of my own gratification weighed in the scale against that of my mother: and I let my side go up. My uncle also came down upon me with his arguments and his opposition, and altogether I found myself nowhere. I believe he and she are equally persuaded that nobody ever comes out of India alive.”

“Who will take my letter to the post?” called out Lady Whitney. All of us volunteered to do it, and went out together. We met Sir John and the Squire strolling about the village rubbing their red faces, and saying how intensely hot it was.

They left us to regale ourselves at the pastry-cook’s, and sauntered on towards the dark trees shading that deep descent on which the hotel windows looked out. We found them sitting on one of the benches there.

“Well, Foliott!” cried Sir John. “You’d not have found it hotter than this in India.”

“Not so hot, Sir John. But I like heat.”

“How do-you-do?” struck in a big, portly gentleman, who was sitting on the same bench as the Squire and Sir John, and whose face was even redder than theirs. “Did not expect to meet you here.”

Captain Foliott, who was the one addressed, wheeled round to the speaker in that sharp way of his, and was evidently taken by surprise. His manner was cold; never a smile sat on his face as he answered—

“Oh, is it you, Mr. Crane! Are you quite well? Staying at Malvern?”

“For an hour or two. I am passing a few days at Worcester, and my friends there would not let me go on without first bringing me to see Malvern.”

The stranger spoke like a gentleman and looked like one, looked like a man of substance also (though Foliott did draw down his lips that same evening and speak of him as “nobody”); and Sir John, in his old-fashioned cordiality, begged of Captain Foliott to introduce his friend. Captain Foliott did it with a not very ready grace. “Mr. Crane, Sir John Whitney; Mr. Todhetley.”

“A beautiful place this, sirs,” cried he.

“Yes, only it’s too hot to walk about today,” answered they. “Have you been up the hill?”

“No, I can’t manage that: but my friends are gone up. Have you heard lately from your uncle, Captain Foliott?” added Mr. Crane.

“Not very lately.”

“I hear the outward voyage did him a world of good.”

“I believe it did.”

As if the questions of the stranger worried him, Captain Foliott strolled away towards the abbey: the two girls, Tod, and William following him. I stayed where I was: not liking the heat much more than the Squire did.

“You know Mr. Foliott of Milltown?” observed Sir John to the stranger.

“I know him very well indeed, sir. I am a mill-owner myself in the same place: but not as large a one as he is.”

“He is uncommonly rich, we hear.”

“Ay, he is. Could buy up pretty well half the world.”

“And a good man into the bargain?”

“Downright good. Honest, upright, liberal; a true Christian. He does an immense deal for his fellow-men. Nobody ever asks him to put his hand in his pocket in vain.”

“When is he expected home?”

“I am not sure when. That will depend, I expect, upon how he feels. But we hear the outward voyage has quite set him up.”

“Captain Foliott often talks of his uncle. He seems to think there’s nobody like him.”

“He has cause to think it. Yes, I assure you, sirs, few men in the world can come up to George Foliott, the mill-owner, for probity and goodness.”

How much more he might have said in Mr. Foliott’s praise was cut short by the hasty appearance of two young men, evidently the friends of Mr. Crane. They laughed at the speed they had made down the hill, told him the carriage was ready, and that they ought to start at once to reach Worcester by dinner-time. So the portly old gentleman wished us good-day and departed. Running up the bank, I saw them drive off from the Crown in a handsome two-horse phæton.

It was on the day following this, that matters were finally settled with regard to Helen’s marriage. Captain Foliott made good his wish—which, as it appeared, he had been harping upon ever since the proposal was first made: namely, that they should be married immediately, and not wait for the return of Mr. Foliott to England. Sir John had held out against it, asking where the hurry was. To this Captain Foliott had rejoined by inquiring what they had to wait for, and where was the need of waiting, and the chances were that his uncle would stay away for a year. So at last, Sir John, who was a simple-minded man, and as easily persuaded as a duck is to water, gave in; and the wedding was fixed to take place the next month, September, at Whitney.

We made the most of this, our one entire day at Malvern, for we should disperse the next. The Whitneys to Whitney Hall, the house now being in apple-pie order for them; ourselves back to Dyke Manor; Captain Foliott to get the marriage-settlement prepared. Helen’s three thousand pounds, all she would have at present, was not to be settled at all, but invested in some snug little house that they would fix upon together after the marriage, so that Captain Foliott’s lawyers took the preparation of the deeds of settlement on themselves, saving trouble to Sir John. Three parts of the day we spent roaming the hill: and I must say Foliott made himself as delightful as sun in harvest, and I told myself that I must have misjudged his eyes in thinking they were not nice ones.

But the next morning we received a shock. How swimmingly the world would go on without such things, I leave those who have experienced them to judge. It came when we were at the breakfast-table, in the shape of a letter to Lady Whitney. Scarlatina—which was supposed to have been cleaned and scrubbed out—had come into the Hall again, and the kitchen-maid was laid up with it.

Here was a pretty kettle of fish! Whether Sir John or my lady looked the most helplessly bewildered, might have puzzled a juror to decide. Back to the Hall they could not go; and what was to be done? The Squire, open-handed and open-hearted, pressed them to accompany us and take up their quarters at Dyke Manor; and for a minute or two I thought they would have done it; but somebody, Helen, I think, suggested a furnished house in London, and that was finally decided upon. So to London they would go, hire the first suitable house that offered, and the marriage would take place there instead of at home. Captain Foliott, coming in after breakfast from his hotel, the Foley Arms, stared at the change of programme.

“I wouldn’t go to London,” said he, emphatically. “London at this season of the year is the most wretched wilderness on the face of the whole earth. Not a soul in it.”

“The more room for us, Foliott,” cried Sir John. “What will it matter to us whether the town is empty or full?”

“I would strongly advise you, Sir John, not to go. Lady Whitney will not like it, I am certain. As Mr. Todhetley has been good enough to offer you his hospitality——”

“Put, bless my heart,” interrupted Sir John in a heat, “you don’t suppose, do you, that I could trespass upon an old friend for weeks and weeks—a regular army of us! Were it a matter of a few days, I wouldn’t say nay; but who is to foresee how long it may be before we can get into our own house? You’ve not a bit of thought, Foliott.”

“Why not go to your sister’s at Cheltenham, sir?” was all the captain said to this.

“Because I don’t choose to go to my sister’s at Cheltenham,” retorted Sir John, who could be as obstinate as the Squire when he liked. “And why should we go to Cheltenham more than to London? Come?”

“I thought it would be less trouble for you, sir. Cheltenham is close at hand.”

“And London is not far off. As to its being empty, I say that’s so much the better: we shall more readily find a furnished house in it. To London we go today.”

With Sir John in this resolute mood, there was no more to be said. And the notion became quite agreeable, now that they were growing reconciled to it.

“All things are directed for the best,” concluded Lady Whitney in her simple faith. “I hardly see how we should have procured Helen’s trousseau down at Whitney: there will be no difficulty in London.”

“You are right, my dear lady, and I am wrong,” conceded Captain Foliott, with a good-natured smile. “To us young men of fashion,” he added, the smile deepening to a laugh, “London between August and April is looked upon as a nightmare. But circumstances alter cases; and I see that it will be the best and most convenient place for you.”

Drawing Helen aside as he spoke, and taking a small morocco case from his pocket, he slipped upon her finger his first and parting gift: a magnificent hoop of diamonds.

“I should like you to wear it always, my love,” he whispered. “As the pledge of your engagement now; later, as the guard of your wedding-ring.”

2.

“I shall go up in the smoking-carriage, Johnny.”

“Shall you! You’ll smell finely of smoke when we get there.”

“Not I. I’ll give my coat a shake at the end of the journey. By Jove! I shall be left behind, if I don’t take care.”

Tod was right. The train was already on the move. He dashed into the smoking-compartment; the porter closed the doors, and we were off.

Off to London. He and I were going up to Helen Whitney’s wedding, to which we had been invited when staying at Malvern some weeks ago. The Squire declined for himself, though Sir John had wanted him also. This was Monday; the wedding was to be on Thursday; and on the Saturday Anna and William were to go back with us to Dyke Manor.

It was September weather, and a glorious day. Now, as the train steamed away on its windings and turnings, the Malvern Hills would glide into view; and now be lost again. But the beautiful landscape was always to be seen, with its woods and dales and fertile plains; and there was not a cloud in the deep blue sky to obscure the sun.

I had the carriage to myself; and pictured Tod one of a crowd of smokers. At Oxford he came back to the carriage, and got in.

“Had enough smoke, Tod?”

“Just for now, lad,” he shortly answered; and began to whistle softly and pull at his whiskers. By which I knew he had something on his mind.

“I say, Johnny, I am in a dilemma,” he began abruptly, when we were going on again, bending towards me from the opposite seat till his face nearly touched mine.

“What about? What is it?”

“Look here. When I got into the smoking-carriage it was full, all but one seat, which I took—and that was a corner one, which they had been polite enough to leave. The carriage was dark with smoke: pipes had been going, I expect, all the way from Worcester. I lighted mine, saying nothing, and nobody said anything to me. The man opposite to me and the one next me had a hot discussion on hand, touching a racehorse; not quarrelling, but talking loudly, so that they made a tolerable noise. At the other end of the carriage sat two men facing one another, just as you and I sit now; and one of them I’ll vow was an Oxford man: I could tell him by his cut. They were talking together also, but rather in an undertone. All at once, when we were nearing Oxford, there was a lull at my end, and I heard a bit of what they were saying. The first word that particularly caught my ear was Foliott. ‘What plant is Foliott up to now, I wonder?’ cried one. ‘Don’t know,’ said the other; ‘nothing good, we may be sure of. A rumour reached me that he was going to be married.’ ‘What a chance for the girl!’ cried the first. ‘Poor thing! But it may not be true,’ he went on, knocking the ashes out of his pipe: ‘who would marry such a scamp as that?’ Now, Johnny,” broke off Tod, “the question is, were they speaking of this Foliott? This man that we are now on our way to see married to Helen?”

“Was that all you heard, Tod?”

“Every word. The train began to slacken speed then for the Oxford station, and the two men stood up to reach their overcoats and hand-bags, for they got out there. I had half a mind to stop them and ask what Foliott they had been speaking of; but I did not much like to, and while I hesitated they disappeared. They might just have told me to mind my own business if I had spoken; so perhaps it comes to the same.”

“Foliott is not an absolutely uncommon name, Tod. There may be plenty of Foliotts about.”

“Just so, lad. But, on the other hand, it may be the one we know of, Richard Foliott. One point coincides—he is going to be married.”

I sat back on the seat, revolving probabilities, and thinking of many things. That instinctive dislike I had taken to Captain Foliott’s eyes, or to himself, or to both, flashed over me with vivid force. The fine scenery we were just then whirling past, and on which my eyes seemed to be fixed, might have been a sandy desert, for all I saw of it.

“The worst is, the dilemma it puts one in,” continued Tod. “To speak of this to the Whitneys, or not to speak?—that’s the question. If it should turn out to be another Foliott, they might never forgive me. He never would.”

“But then—Helen’s whole future may be at stake. It may be in peril.”

Tod pulled at his whiskers again. I read the name of the station we were flashing past.

“I hate a doubt of this sort,” cried Tod impatiently, “where one can’t see how one’s duty lies. It bothers the mind. I think I’ll let it go, Johnny.”

“But, if it should turn out, when too late, that he is a scamp: and, for the want of a word, you have let him—let him make havoc of Helen’s life!”

“What could I say?” he asked irritably. “That I overheard two fellows, in the smoking-compartment of a railway train, saying that one Foliott was a scamp. Sir John would naturally ask me what grounds I had for assuming that it was their Foliott. Well, I have no grounds. And how small I should look!”

“There are slight grounds, at any rate, Tod. The name is his, Foliott; and both are going to be married.”

“All the same, I don’t see that I can speak.”

“Put it in this light, Tod,” I said. “You don’t speak; and they get married; and then something or other bad turns up about Foliott; and Sir John finds out that it was in your power to warn him in time, and you did not. What will he say then?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” grunted Tod. “I wish I could see on which side land lies.”

All the rest of the way to London we continued to discuss it by fits and starts, and at last hit upon a good thought—to tell the whole to William Whitney. It was the best thing to do, so far as we could see. It might all end in smoke, or—it might not.

The Whitneys had found a furnished house in Gloucester Place, near Portman Square. The maid who had taken the illness was soon well again, and the Hall was being regularly fumigated now, preparatory to their return. In Gloucester Place they were within a short drive of Miss Deveen’s, a fact which had guided them to the locality. Indeed, it was only a walk for the younger of us.

Not until night did we get any chance of a private talk with William. Our bedrooms opened into one another; and after we went up for good, he sat down in our room.

“You won’t be affronted, Bill, at something I am about to say?” struck in Tod, by way of prelude.

“Affronted!” cried Bill. “I! What on earth do you ask that stupid question for?”

“In coming up today, I heard a few words in the train,” went on Tod. “Two fellows were talking, and they brought up a man’s name in a disparaging manner. It is a friend of yours, Bill; and Johnny and I had a precious discussion, I can tell you, as to whether we should repeat it to you or not.”

“Was it my name?” asked Bill. “What could they have to say against me?”

“No, no; they’d have got an answer from me had it been yours. First of all, we thought of mentioning it to Sir John; but I did not like to, and that’s the truth. So we just concluded to put it before you, as one of ourselves, and you can tell him if you like.”

“All right,” said Bill. “Go ahead.”

Tod told him all from beginning to end. Not that it was very much to tell: but he brought in our own conversation; the delicacy we felt in speaking at all, and the arguments for and against. Bill was not in the least put out; rather wondered, I thought, that we should be.

“It can’t be Dick Foliott, you know,” said he. “There’s not anything against him; impossible that there should be.”

“I am glad you say so,” cried Tod, relieved. “It was only for Helen’s sake we gave a thought to it.”

“The name was the same, you see—Foliott,” I put in. “And that man is going to be married as well as this one.”

“True,” answered Bill, slowly. “Still I feel sure it is quite impossible that it can be Foliott. If—if you think I had better mention it, I will. I’ll mention it to himself.”

“I should,” said I eagerly, for somehow my doubts of the man were growing larger. “Better be on the safe side. You don’t know much about him, after all, Bill.”

“Not know much about him! What do you mean, Johnny? We know enough. He is Riverside’s nephew, a very respectable old Scotch peer, and he is Foliott the mill-owner’s nephew; and I’m sure he is to be respected, if it’s only for the money he has made. And Dick has a very fair income of his own, and settles ten thousand pounds upon Helen, and will come into a hundred thousand by-and-by, or more. What would you have?”

I could not say what I would have; but the uneasiness lay on my mind. Tod spoke.

“The men alluded to conduct, I expect, Bill; not to means. They spoke of that Foliott as an out-and-out scamp, and called the girl he was going to marry ‘Poor thing,’ in a piteous tone. You wouldn’t like that applied to Helen.”

“By Jove, no. Better be on the safe side, as Johnny says. We’ll say nothing to my father at present; but you and I, Tod, will quietly repeat to Foliott what you heard, and we’ll put it to him, as man to man, to tell us in all honour whether the words could have related to himself. Of course the idea is altogether absurd; we will tell him that, and beg his pardon.”

So that was resolved upon. And a great relief it was. To decide upon a course of action, in any unpleasant difficulty, takes away half its discomfort.

Captain Foliott had come to London but once since they met at Malvern. His stay was short; three days; and during those days he was so busy that Gloucester Place only saw him in the evenings. He had a great deal to do down in the North against his marriage, arranging his property preparatory to settling it on Helen, and seeing to other business matters. But the zeal he lacked in personal attention, he made up by letter. Helen had one every morning as regularly as the post came in.

He was expected in town on the morrow, Tuesday: indeed, Helen had thought he might perhaps have come today. Twelve o’clock on Wednesday, at Gloucester Place, was the hour fixed for signing the deeds of settlement: and by twelve o’clock on Thursday, the following day, all going well, he and Helen would be man and wife.

Amidst the letters waiting on the breakfast-table on Tuesday morning was one for Helen. Its red seal and crest told whence it came.

“Foliott always seals his letters to Helen,” announced Bill for our information. “And what ill news has that one inside it?” continued he to his sister. “You look as cross as two sticks, Nelly.”

“Just mind your own business,” said Helen.

“What time will Captain Foliott be here today, my dear?” questioned her mother.

“He will not be here at all today,” answered Helen, fractiously. “It’s too bad. He says it is impossible for him to get away by any train, in time to see us to-night; but he will be here the first thing in the morning. His mother is worse, and he is anxious about her. People always fall ill at the wrong time.”

“Is Mrs. Foliott coming up to the wedding?” I asked.

“No,” said Lady Whitney. “I of course invited her, and she accepted the invitation; but a week ago she wrote me word she was not well enough to come. And now, children, what shall we set about first? Oh dear! there is such a great deal to do and to think of today!”

But we had another arrival that day, if we had not Captain Foliott. That was Mary Seabright, who was to act as bridesmaid with Anna. Brides did not have a string of maids in those days, as some have in these. Leaving them to get through their multiplicity of work—which must be connected, Bill thought, with bonnets and wedding-cake—we went up with Sir John in a boat to Richmond.

That evening we all dined at Miss Deveen’s. It was to be one of the quietest of weddings; partly by Captain Foliott’s express wish, chiefly because they were not at home at the Hall. Miss Deveen and Miss Cattledon were to be the only guests besides ourselves and Mary Seabright, and a Major White who would go to the church with Foliott. Just twelve of us, all told.

“But where’s the bridegroom?” asked Miss Deveen, when we reached her house.

“He can’t get up until late to-night; perhaps not until tomorrow morning,” pouted Helen.

The dinner-table was a downright merry one, and we did not seem to miss Captain Foliott. Afterwards, when Sir John had made up his whist-table—with my lady, Miss Deveen, and the grey-haired curate, Mr. Lake, who had dropped in-we amused ourselves with music and games in the other room.

“What do you think of the bridegroom, Johnny Ludlow?” suddenly demanded Miss Cattledon, who had sat down by me. “I hear you saw him at Malvern.”

“Think of him! Oh, he—he is a very fine man; good-looking, and all that.”

“That I have seen for myself,” retorted Cattledon, pinching her hands round her thin waist. “When he was staying in London, two or three weeks ago, we spent an evening in Gloucester Place. Do you like him?”

She put the “like” so very pointedly, staring into my face at the time, that I was rather taken aback. I did not like Captain Foliott: but there was no particular necessity for telling her so.

“I like him—pretty well, Miss Cattledon.”

“Well, I do not, Johnny Ludlow. I fancy he has a temper; I’m sure he is not good-natured; and I—I don’t think he’ll make a very good husband.”

“That will be a pity. Helen is fond of him.”

Miss Cattledon coughed significantly. “Is she? Helen is fond of him inso-far as that she is eager to be married—all girls are—and the match with Captain Foliott is an advantageous one. But if you think she cares for him in any other way, Johnny Ludlow, you are quite mistaken. Helen Whitney is no more in love with Captain Foliott than you are in love with me.”

At which I laughed.

“Very few girls marry for love,” she went on. “They fall in love, generally speaking, with the wrong person.”

“Then what do they marry for?”

“For the sake of being married. With the fear of old-maidism staring them in the face, they are ready, silly things, to snap at almost any offer they receive. Go up to Helen Whitney now, tell her she is destined to live in single blessedness, and she would be ready to fret herself into a fever. Every girl would not be, mind you: but there are girls and girls.”

Well, perhaps Miss Cattledon was not far wrong. I did not think as she did then, and laughed again in answer: but I have learned more of the world and its ways since.

In every corner of the house went Helen’s eyes when we got back to Gloucester Place, but they could not see Captain Foliott. She had been hoping against hope.

3.

Wednesday. Young women, bringing in huge band-boxes, were perpetually ringing at the door, and by-and-by we were treated to a sight of the finery. Sufficient gowns and bonnets to set up a shop were spread out in Helen’s room. The wedding-dress lay on the bed: a glistening white silk, with a veil and wreath beside it. Near to it was the dress she would go away in to Dover, the first halting-place on their trip to Paris: a quiet shot-silk, Lady Whitney called it, blue one way, pink another. Shot, or not shot, it was uncommonly pretty. Straw bonnets were the mode in those days, and Helen’s, perched above her travelling-dress, had white ribbons on it and a white veil—which was the mode for brides also. I am sure Helen, in her vanity, thought more of the things than of the bridegroom.

But she thought of him also. Especially when the morning went on and did not bring him. Twelve o’clock struck, and Sir John Whitney’s solicitor, Mr. Hill, who had come up on purpose, was punctual to his appointment. Sir John had thought it right that his own solicitor should be present at the reading and signing of the settlements, to see that they were drawn up properly.

So there they sat in the back-parlour, which had been converted into a business room for the occasion, waiting for Captain Foliott and the deed with what patience they had. At one o’clock, when they came in to luncheon, Sir John was looking a little blue; and he remarked that Captain Foliott, however busy he might have been, should have stretched a point to get off in time. Appointments, especially important ones, ought to be kept.

For it was conclusively thought that the delay was caused by the captain’s having been unable to leave the previous day, and that he was travelling up now.

So Mr. Hill waited, and Sir John waited, and the rest of us waited, Helen especially; and thus the afternoon passed in waiting. Helen was more fidgety than a hen with one chick: darting to the window every instant, peeping down the staircase at the sound of every ring.

Dinner-time; and no appearance of Captain Foliott. After dinner; and still the same. Mary Seabright, a merry girl, told Helen that her lover was like the knight in the old ballad—he loved and he rode away. There was a good deal of laughing, and somebody called for the song, “The Mistletoe Bough.” Of course it was all in jest: as each minute passed, we expected the next would bring Captain Foliott.

Not until ten o’clock did Mr. Hill leave, with the understanding that he should return the next morning at the same hour. The servants were beginning to lay the breakfast-table in the dining-room, for a lot of sweet dishes had been brought in from the pastry-cook’s, and Lady Whitney thought they had better be put on the table at once. In the afternoon we had tied the cards together—“Mr. and Mrs. Richard Foliott”—with white satin ribbon, sealed them up in their envelopes with white wax, and directed them ready for the post on the morrow.

At twelve o’clock a move was made to go upstairs to bed; and until that hour we had still been expecting Captain Foliott.

“I feel positive some dreadful accident has happened,” whispered Helen to me as she said good-night, her usually bright colour faded to paleness. “If I thought it was carelessness that is causing the delay, as they are cruelly saying, I—I should never forgive him.”

“Wait a minute,” said Bill to me aside, touching Tod also. “Let them go on.”

“Are you not coming, William?” said Lady Whitney.

“In two minutes, mother.”

“I don’t like this,” began Bill, speaking to us both over our bed-candles, for the other lights were out. “I’ll be hanged if I think he means to turn up at all!”

“But why should he not?”

“Who is to know? Why has he not turned up already? I can tell you that it seems to me uncommonly strange. Half-a-dozen times to-night I had a great mind to call my father out and tell him about what you heard in the train, Tod. It is so extraordinary for a man, coming up to his wedding, not to appear: especially when he is bringing the settlements with him.”

Neither of us spoke. What, indeed, could we say to so unpleasant a topic? Bill went on again.

“If he were a man in business, as his uncle, old Foliott, is, I could readily understand that interests connected with it might detain him till the last moment. But he is not; he has not an earthly thing to do.”

“Perhaps his lawyers are in fault,” cried Tod. “If they are backward with the deeds of settlement——”

“The deeds were ready a week ago. Foliott said so in writing to my father.”

A silence ensued, rendering the street noises more audible. Suddenly there came a sound of a horse and cab dashing along, and it pulled up at our door. Foliott, of course.

Down we went, helter-skelter, out on the pavement. The servants, busy in the dining-room still, came running to the steps. A gentleman, getting out of the cab with a portmanteau, stared, first at us, then at the house.

“This is not right,” said he to the driver, after looking about him. “It’s next door but one.”

“This is the number you told me, sir.”

“Ah, yes. Made a mistake.”

But so sure did it seem to us that this late and hurried traveller must be, at least, some one connected with Captain Foliott, if not himself, that it was only when he and his luggage had disappeared within the next house but one, and the door was shut, and the cab gone away, that we realized the disappointment, and the vague feeling of discomfort it left behind. The servants went in. We strolled to the opposite side of the street, unconsciously hoping that luck might bring another cab with the right man in it.

“Look there!” whispered Bill, pointing upwards.

The room over the drawing-room was Lady Whitney’s; the room above that, the girls’. Leaning out at the window, gazing now up the street, now down, was Helen, her eyes restless, her face pale and woe-begone in the bright moonlight.

It was a sad night for Helen Whitney. She did not attempt to undress, as we knew later, but kept her post at that weary window. Every cab or carriage that rattled into view was watched by her with eager, feverish anxiety. But not one halted at the house, not one contained Captain Foliott. Helen Whitney will never forget that unhappy night of tumultuous feeling and its intolerable suspense.

But here was the wedding-morning come, and no bridegroom. The confectioners were rushing in with more dishes, and the dressmakers appearing to put the finishing touches to Helen. Lady Whitney was just off her head: doubtful whether to order all the paraphernalia away, or whether Captain Foliott might not come yet. In the midst of the confusion a little gentleman arrived at the house and asked for Sir John. Sir John and he had a long conference, shut in alone: and when they at length came out Sir John’s nose was a dark purple. The visitor was George Foliott, the mill-owner: returned since some days from the Cape.

And the tale he unfolded would have struck dismay to the nose of many a wiser man than was poor Sir John. The scamp spoken of in the train was Richard Foliott; and a nice scamp he turned out to be. Upon Mr. Foliott’s return to Milltown the prospective wedding had come to his ears, with all the villainy encompassing it; he had at once taken means to prevent Mr. Richard’s carrying it out, and had now come up to enlighten Sir John Whitney.

Richard Foliott had been a scamp at heart from his boyhood; but he had contrived to keep well before the world. Over and over again had Mr. Foliott paid his debts and set him on his legs again. Captain Foliott had told the Whitneys that he quitted the army by the wish of his friends: he quitted it because he dared not stay in. Before Mr. Foliott departed for the Cape he had thrown Richard off; had been obliged to do it. His fond foolish mother had reduced herself to poverty for him. The estate, once worth ten thousand pounds, which he had made a pretence of settling upon Helen, belonged to his mother, and was mortgaged about a dozen deep. He dared not go much abroad for fear of arrest, especially in London. This, and a great deal more, was disclosed by Mr. Foliott to Sir John; who sat and gasped, and rubbed his face, and wished his old friend Todhetley was at hand, and thanked God for Helen’s escape.

“He will never be any better,” affirmed Mr. Foliott, “be very sure of that. He is innately bad, and the pain he has inflicted upon me for years has made me old before my time. But—forgive me, Sir John, for saying so—I cannot think you exercised discretion in accepting him so easily for your daughter.”

“I had no suspicion, you see,” returned poor Sir John. “How could I have any? Being your nephew, and Lord Riverside’s nephew—”

“Riverside’s nephew he called himself, did he! The old man is ninety, as I dare say you know, and never stirs from his home in the extreme north of Scotland. Some twenty years ago, he fell in with the sister of Richard’s mother (she was a governess in a family up there), and married her; but she died within the year. That’s how he comes to be Lord Riverside’s ‘nephew.’ But they have never met in their lives.”

“Oh dear!” bemoaned Sir John. “What a villain! and what a blessed escape! He made a great point of Helen’s bit of money, three thousand pounds, not being tied up before the marriage. I suppose he wanted to get it into his own hands.”

“Of course he did.”

“And to pay his debts with it; as far as it would go.”

Pay his debts with it!” exclaimed Mr. Foliott. “Why, my good sir, it would take thirty thousand to pay them. He would just have squandered it away in Paris, at his gaming-tables, and what not; and then have asked you to keep him. Miss Whitney is well quit of him: and I’m thankful I came back in time to save her.”

Great news to disclose to Helen! Deeply mortifying to have ordered a wedding-breakfast and wedding things in general when there was no wedding to be celebrated! The tears were running down Lady Whitney’s homely cheeks, as Miss Deveen drove up.

Mr. Foliott asked to see Helen. All he said to her we never knew—but there’s no doubt he was as kind as a father.

“He is a wicked, despicable man,” sobbed Helen.

“He is all that, and more,” assented Mr. Foliott. “You may be thankful your whole life long for having escaped him. And, my dear, if it will at all help you to bear the smart, I may tell you that you are not the first young lady by two or three he has served, or tried to serve, in precisely the same way. And to one of them he behaved more wickedly than I care to repeat to you.”

“But,” ruefully answered poor Helen, quietly sobbing, “I don’t suppose it came so near with any of them as the very morning.”

And that was the end of Helen Whitney’s wedding.

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