Mrs Slee shook her head as she went back to the kitchen.
“He wean’t: he’s been getting worse for weeks and weeks, and it makes me wretched to see him look so wankle.”
Meanwhile at the House all was excitement. Eve had risen at daybreak to sit and watch the rising sun and ask herself what she should do. She had promised to be Richard’s wife. Her aunt’s happiness, perhaps her life, depended upon it, and it was to save her cousin. She was to redeem him, offering herself as a sacrifice to bring him back to better ways, to make him a good and faithful husband, and yet in her bosom lay those damning lines, telling of his infidelity in spirit – of his passion for another, and again and again she wailed —
“He never loved me, and he never will.”
Should she go – could she fly somewhere far away, where she might work and gain her own living, anywhere, in any humble station, in peace?
And Richard – her aunt?
No, no, it was impossible; and think how she would, the bitter feeling came back to her that she had promised her aunt, and she must keep her word.
And besides, if Richard was like this now, what would he be if she refused him at this eleventh hour, and cast him off. She shuddered at the thought, and at last grew calmer and more resigned.
In this way the hours passed on, till in a quiet mechanical manner she was dressed by the maid, who was enthusiastic in her praises of dress, jewels, flowers, everything.
Mrs Glaire was very pale, but bright and active, and in a supercilious, half-sneering way, Richard watched till all was ready, and the guests who had been invited had arrived.
A look from his mother brought him a little more to his senses, and he went to and kissed Eve, to find her lips like fire, while her hands were as ice, and at last he sat there peevish and impatient.
“I want it over,” he said, angrily, to Mrs Glaire. “I hate being made such an exhibition of. Will the carriages never come?”
An end was put to his impatience by the arrival of the first, in which he took his departure with his best man, his appearance being the signal for a volley of cheers.
Mrs Glaire went last, in the same carriage with Mr Purley, the doctor, and Eve, the stout old fellow trying to keep up the bride’s spirits by jokes of his ordinary calibre, the principal one being that he hoped the carriage would not break down under his weight, a witticism at which he laughed heartily, as he responded with bows and hand-wavings to the cheers of the people who lined the High Street of the little town.
Everything looked bright and gay, for the sun shone brilliantly; ropes laden with streamers were stretched across the street, while flags hung here and there, where satisfactory places could be found; and in front of the Bull, a party of the workmen had arranged a little battery of roughly-cast guns, sufficiently strong and large to give a good report when loaded with powder, the landlord having arranged to have a red-hot poker ready for discharging the pieces as soon as the wedding was over.
The old troubles of the strike were over and forgotten, and the town’s intent on this day was to give itself up to feasting, with its ordinary accompaniment of more drink than was good for those who partook.
Down by the churchyard the crowd had long secured to itself the best positions, the favourite places for viewing the coming and departing of the bridal party being the churchyard wall and the two railed tombs; but the boys put up with tombstones, and hurrahed till they were hoarse.
Jacky Budd got the first cheer, as he went up solemnly to the church door, evidently feeling his own importance, but he was checked half-way along the path by some one saying in a quiet, remonstrating tone —
“Say, Jacky, wean’t yow stop an’ hev a drain?”
He looked sharply round, and his hand went to his mouth, while a roar of laughter rose up from the merry crowd, and hastened his steps into the porch.
Trappy Pape was the next to be joked, as he came up hugging the green baize bag containing his violoncello.
“Say, Trappy, hast thee fed thee be-ast?” said one.
“Hast giv’ the poor owd fiddle its rozzum?” cried another.
“Trappy, lad,” shouted another, “does ta sleep inside that owd thing?”
The violoncello player hurried into the church, and Joey South came into view, to the great delight of the crowd.
“Here comes owd Poll Pry,” cried one.
“Look at his owd umbrella,” cried another.
“Why don’t ta put th’ umbrella up?” cried another voice, “it’s going to ree-an next week.”
Here there was another roar of laughter.
“Look at his leather breeches.”
“Say, Joey, wast ta sewed in ’em when they weer made?”
“Ay, lad, they weer made on him i’ the year one, and niver been off since.”
“Mind yon goon don’t go off,” cried one of the chief jokers, as the boy came by bearing Joey’s bassoon.
“Is she loaded, Joey?”
“Ay, lad, he rams her full wi’ kitchen poker,” cried another.
Joey South escaped into the porch, grinning angrily, for a fresh minstrel appeared in the shape of “Owd Billy Stocks” with his clarionet.
“Hey, lads, here’s owd Billy.
“Didst put a bit more waxey band round her, Billy?”
“Ay, lads, and she’s got a new reed.”
“Don’t split parson’s ears, Billy.”
“Hey, here’s Tommy Johnson and Johnny Buffam. Tak’ care, lads.”
“Where’s the brass?” shouted somebody.
“Hey,” cried another, “stop ’em – big goons aint allowed i’ the pooblic street.”
The two musicians hugged the French horn and ophecleide to their sides, and tried to smile.
“Don’t ’e blow paarson’s brains out wi’ that thing, Johnny Buffam.”
“Dost a make the dead rise wi’ it, Tommy, lad?” cried another.
“Say, Tommy,” said another, “keep thee fist tight i’ the bell, or thee’ll do some un a mischief.”
The appearance of Robinson, the landlord, and his wife, in gorgeous array, saved the brass instrument players from further banter, for the landlord had to be cheered. Then came churchwarden Bultitude, with, close behind, Jessie and John Maine, and this party had to be cheered.
“Say, Chutchwarden, why don’t a give parson a job for them two?” shouted some one; and, with scarlet cheeks, poor Jessie hurried into the church, where her eyes met John Maine’s with no disfavour.
“Wheer’s Tom Podmore? Why don’t he bring his lass?” shouted a workman.
But neither Daisy, Tom, nor Banks put in an appearance; and the crowd were on the look-out for some one else to banter, when the vicar appeared, to be received with deafening cheers, the men pressing forward to shake hands as he went slowly up the path.
“Say, mun, parson looks straange and wankle,” said one.
“Ay, but he is pasty-faced; he’s been wucking too hard.”
“Wucking!” said another; “why, he’s nowt to do.”
“Nowt to do, lad! why, he does as much i’ one week as thou dost i’ a month.”
“Say,” said another, “I’m getting strange and hungry.”
“Theer’ll he plenty to yeat by and by,” said another. “Hey, here’s owd Ransome and Tomson, the man as neither liked gristle nor swarth, but was very fond o’ pig’s feet.”
“It warn’t he, but the servant gell as they had. Say, owd Ransome, hast got a new gell yet?”
“What weer it about t’owd one?” said another.
“Why, they ’most pined her to dead.”
“Hey, I thought they lived well theer.”
“She towd my missus that she should leave, for she had beef and mutton and pigeon-pie till she wus sick to dead on ’em.”
“Poor lass!” said another. “That weer her as see owd Ransome’s wife makking the pie.”
“Hey, and what weer that?”
“Ah, she says, ‘Sugarmum and buttermum, it’ll be a straange dear pie, mum.’”
“Here’s Dicky Glaire!” now was shouted, and plenty of cheers arose; but the men talked critically about his personal appearance as he got out of the carriage and went up the path with a supercilious smile upon his face.
“He’s another pasty-faced un,” said one of the chief speakers. “Dicky isn’t half the man his father weer.”
“Hearken to owd Mother Cakebread,” said one of the men; “she says she’d sooner marry tawn’s poomp.”
“Here’s owd Satan comin’ to chutch,” cried a voice, as Primgeon, the lawyer, a tall, smooth-faced, sallow man, got out of the next carriage, but they cheered him well, and the guests in the next two carriages, when the cry arose —
“Here’s the Missus!”
“Gi’e the owd gell a good un, lads. Hats off.”
“Three cheers for the doctor.”
“Gie’s a ride i’ the chay, doctor.”
The cheers were hearty enough, as Purley handed out Mrs Glaire and the bride, and began to move slowly up the path, for the excitement was such that the crowd pressed forward upon them in the midst of the deafening cries, while a faint flush came upon Eve Pelly’s face, as she raised her eyes, and the icy look upon her face passed off, thawed by the sunshine of the warm greetings.
“God bless you, Miss Eve – hooray for Miss Eve!”
“Hurray!” shouted one of the leaders of the strike. “May all her bairns be gells.”
“Like their moother,” shouted another.
“Hooray, lads! Gi’e her another; put your showthers into it.”
There was a deafening roar from a couple of hundred throats, and then the poor school-mistress’s arrangements were overset, for a voice shouted —
“Fling thee flowers now, bairns;” and the bride went up to the church on a floral carpet, and with a shower falling upon her from all around.
“What a shame!” cried the school-mistress, as the party disappeared through the porch, and she was carried after them by the crowd which followed.
“Niver mind, owd lass, the bairns can pick ’em up, and fling ’em again.”
Poor flowers, they looked crushed and drooping now, though, as Eve Pelly walked up the damp old aisle, feeling as if it were all some dream, and beginning to tremble now as she approached the altar, where the rest of the party were assembled, from among whom came Richard, who had cast off his supercilious air, and was trying to play his part of bridegroom as became his position.
The young fellow was flushed now with the excitement of the scene, and somewhat carried away by the interest displayed by the town on the occasion of his marriage. He hardly heeded his mother’s words as she clung to his hand for a moment, and whispered —
“You see, my son: now take your position that your father won for you, of the first man in Dumford.”
“I will, mother,” he exclaimed, proudly; and he glanced round the church, to see it crowded, even the aisles being densely packed, a low, murmuring buzz arising, which was checked, though, as the vicar, in his white surplice, moved from behind the great tomb, looking white almost as the linen he wore, and took his place inside the low wooden altar rails, which Jacky Budd bustled officiously to close, giving his lips a smack as if he scented the feasting that generally followed this operation, and hastened to replace the hassocks in front of the little gates.
Eve’s eyes rested upon the vicar’s for a moment as she was led by some one, she could not tell whom, and told to stand in a particular position: there was a strange whirring sound in her head, and the place was alternately swimming round her, and then coming to a dead stand, and beginning to recede, till the whole of the chancel seemed to be reproduced with photographic minuteness far away, as if seen through the wrong end of a telescope.
Then the mutterings of the crowd in the church reached her; Mrs Glaire whispered, “Be strong for my sake,” and Richard Glaire, dimly seen, stood beside her; and before her, calm and motionless, divided from her by the quaint old wooden barrier, soon to be divided from her by bars that were a thousand times as strong, stood the man that she knew and owned now, with a kind of desperation, that she loved.
It was a blasphemy, she told herself, to stand there as she did, ready to lie before her Maker; but as she mentally said this she prayed that her sin might be forgiven, and her act looked upon as a sacrifice to save her who had been to her as a mother, and Richard Glaire from a downward career; and as this prayer was repeated she heard the deep, sad voice of the vicar speaking.
The words came slowly, and the utterance grew deeper as, hardly able to bear the bitter agony he experienced, Murray Selwood addressed the first solemn words of the service to those before him, going on to “I require and charge you both,” while the silence in the church was almost painful.
Then turning to Richard, and with his voice rising, he asked the question —
“Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, (a pause) comfort her, (another pause) honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, (a long and painful pause, during which Richard Glaire winced as he tried to meet the questioning eyes fixed on his, and failed) so long as ye both shall live?”
“I will,” answered Richard, once more trying to meet the eyes that were fixed upon him in solemn question, and failing miserably.
Those who watched the service from close by, remembered afterwards that the vicar’s voice became low and trembling as, turning to Eve, he asked her —
“Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him so long as ye both shall live?”
There was a dead silence, and Richard Glaire felt his breath catch, as if a hand was at his throat, as he saw Eve look wildly round from face to face, and at last let her eyes rest with a horrified expression upon those of the man who had asked her that solemn question. So deep was the silence, that a whisper would have been plainly heard, and the voice of the clerk sounded painful and strange, as he said in a low voice – “Answer ‘I will.’”
There was another painful pause, and then throwing herself on her knees, and clutching the altar rail as one might have sought sanctuary in days of old, Eve shrieked out —
“No, no, no, no – God forgive me – I do not love him, and I never can!”
Richard Glaire muttered an oath between his teeth, and stooped to raise her, but the book was dropped, and the vicar’s strong arm thrust him away.
“Stand back, sir,” he exclaimed; “this marriage cannot proceed. Mr Purley.”
The doctor stepped forward, raised, and laid the fainting girl upon the cushions hastily spread upon the stones of the chancel; and, tearing off his surplice, the vicar was the first to bring wine, and take one of the cold thin hands, as he knelt beside her, while Richard, trembling with fury, sought to be heard.
“It’s no use,” said the doctor, firmly. “Poor girl! over-excitement – nerves unstrung. We shall have brain fever if there is not the greatest care.”
“It’s all nonsense,” cried Richard, passionately. “A mere whim – a girl’s silly fainting-fit. Bring her to, doctor, and the marriage shall go on.”
“I told you, sir,” said the vicar, sternly, “that it could not go on. Poor girl: she could bear no more.”
“But,” shrieked Richard, “it shall go on. Do you think I’ll be made such a fool of before the town? Curse you, this is your doing, and – ”
“Silence, sir,” thundered the vicar. “You are in God’s house. Leave it this instant.”
Richard clenched his fists menacingly, but the stern eyes upon him made him drop them, and he fell back, the crowd opening to let him pass, when Mrs Glaire tottered to his side.
“My son, my son,” she faltered, clinging to his hand, but he flung her off, and strode out at the little chancel door, ran hastily round to where the carriage with its four greys was in waiting, and as the wondering crowd closed round, he whispered to the nearest post-boy: – “Quick – to the station. Gallop!” The crowd parted and the boys raised a cheer; and, as if to make the mocking sounds more painful, a man ran out from the Bull with a red-hot poker, and applied it to one of the little rough cannon.
There was a deafening explosion, and a tremendous jerk, as the frightened horses tore off at full gallop along the High Street, the chariot swaying from side to side on its tall springs, while all the postboys could do was to keep their seats.
Shrieks and cries arose as the horses tore along, gathering speed at each stride, and growing more frightened at the gathering noise.
On past the various houses, past his home and the works, and Richard clung desperately to the seat. For a moment he thought of throwing himself out, but in that moment he saw himself caught by the wheel, and whirled round and beaten into a shapeless pulp, and with a cry of horror he sank back.
On still, and on, at a wild gallop; and, to his horror, Richard saw that the horses were making straight for the great chalk pit, and in imagination he saw the carriage drawn right over the precipice, to fall crushed to atoms upon the hard masses below.
“I cannot bear this,” he exclaimed; and, turning the handle, he was about to leap out when the fore wheel of the chariot came with fearful violence against the short thick milestone; there was a tremendous crash as the vehicle was turned completely over, and Richard knew no more.
A dozen stout fellows, who had run panting after the carriage, came up a few minutes later, to find one of the postboys holding the trembling horses, which, after being released from the wreck, they had succeeded in stopping, and the other was striving hard to extricate Richard from where he lay, crushed and bleeding, amidst the splinters of the broken chariot.
The sturdy foundry-men soon tore away the part of the carriage that held the injured man, and a gate being taken from its hinges, he was carried back to the town; the doctor, who had been attending Eve at the vicarage, where she had been carried, having reached his house to fetch some medicine, which he sent on with a message to Mrs Glaire, who was in ignorance of the catastrophe, to come home at once.
A couple of months had glided away, during which time Richard Glaire had recovered from the severe injuries he had received in the accident, and then, as he said, gone on the continent to recruit his shattered nerves; though in confidence Doctor Purley told his lodger Dick Glaire’s nerves were stronger than ever, in consequence of eight weeks’ enforced attention to the orders of his medical man.
Richard wanted to get away, for several things had occurred to annoy him. He was only just recovering, when the news reached him that Daisy Banks had become Tom Podmore’s wife; and this was at a time when he was in the habit of saying bitter things to Mrs Glaire about the disgraceful arrangement by which Eve was still at the vicarage, where she had been carried from the church, and where she had lain through her long illness which followed, during which she was for weeks delirious, and knew neither of those who watched incessantly by her side.
Daisy Banks was her most constant attendant, and had taken up her residence at the vicarage with Miss Purley, who had told the vicar she would do anything to oblige him; and when he thanked her warmly, had gone up to her room at once to prepare, and sat down, poor woman, and cried with misery, because she was forty-three, very thin, and no one ever had, and probably never would, ask her to be a wife.
So the vicar became Doctor Purley’s lodger, never once crossing his own threshold, and Mrs Glaire went down daily from her son’s sick bed, to see how poor Eve sped.
Days and days of anxiety and anxious watching of the doctor’s face as he came home from his visits, and little hope. Days when the eminent physician from the county town came over, to give his supplementary advice; and still, though both doctors shook their heads, Eve lived on – a wavering flame, ready to be extinguished by the first rough waft of air.
“Selwood,” said the doctor one night, “I’ve lost over a stone weight since I’ve been attending that poor girl, and I’ve done my best; everything I know, or could get from others. I’m going back now, for this is about the critical time, and I shall stay all night. Why, man! Come, come, I say.”
He laid his hand upon the vicar’s shoulder, for the strong man’s head had gone down upon his hands. He had fought his grief back, and borne so much – now he had given way.
“I am weak,” said the vicar, gently. “Pray go.”
“Yes,” said the stout old fellow with animation; and the desponding feeling seemed to have gone. “Yes, I’ll go and watch while you pray; and between us, with God’s help, we may save her yet.”
As the night wore on, and the town grew stilled in sleep, the vicar rose and left the house, to go silently down the High Street, past the church, to his own home, where he could lean against the gate and watch for hour after hour the little lighted window with its drawn blind, and the one glowing spot where the candle burned.
Hour after hour, sometimes walking up and down, but always with the prayer upon his lip that she might be spared.
Sometimes a shadow crossed the blind, and a light went through the house. Then all was still again, and the night went on, with the stars that had risen as he watched passing over his head, and at last a faint, pearly light beginning to dawn in the east, and grow broader. The first chirp of a morning bird, as the pale light grew stronger, answering chirps, and the loud alarm-note of the blackbird that rose from the hedge beside him, dipped down, and skimmed rapidly along the ditch.