J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

The Wayfarers online

. (page 7 of 18)
Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe Wayfarers → online text (page 7 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Blodgett's delight, when lo and behold! that formidable fair burst into
the room, redder in the face than ever, for she was out of breath. She
had seen the clerk, and he had gone that minute to open the door of the
church. And she conveyed this piece of news in such a brisk and
important tone as seemed a good deal out of keeping with her severity
of character. She had an air of interest which we had certainly not
expected her to betray in our humble affairs. And when the parson
without a word of preface had the audacity to prefer his proposal in
regard to the ring she bore on her finger, an audacity that caused us
both to hold our breaths, since we were fully persuaded that Blodgett
would at least break into a most violent diatribe against the impudence
of some people, drawing an affecting parallel with the late departed
saint whose relict she was, and how wild horses should not tear her and
this venerable sanctified token of their marital harmony apart, to our
surprise her reply was mercifully brief.

"Humph!" says she. Having glanced at us for a very embarrassing
period, during which time a good deal of perplexity distorted her harsh
features, says she: "Well, I never did! Is it a runaway?"

"You can take it at that," says I.

A very singular change was being wrought in this stern matron. Where
is the female bosom that can resist a wedding, or a touch of the
romantical? Not even that of the Spartan Blodgett. The more she
pondered the matter in hand the less terrible she became. She began to
ask a dozen questions of us in a greatly mollified voice. Nay, the
tone she used to Cynthia might even be called indulgent.

"Well," says she, "seeing as how it is an emergency, you shall have my
ring this once, but it goes against my conscience, I am sure. You are
doing a very wicked thing, young woman. To think of a little chit like
you running away to get married! I am sure I ought not to countenance
it. Oh, what will your mother say?"

"I have not a mother," says Cynthia, putting her hands to her eyes, and
smiling at me through her fingers.

This admission seemed considerably to ease the mind of Mrs. Blodgett,
and forthwith she began wrestling with the wedding-ring on her fat
finger. In the meantime her master was very fortunately engrossed in
another matter, and we were therefore spared his comments.

It seemed that Blodgett had brought him that day's _London Gazette_,
which had been left by the coach at the village alehouse. It was the
newspaper that claimed the parson's attention while his housekeeper
struggled with her wedding-ring. I vow it was as whimsical a sight as
ever was seen to witness the good lady growing redder and redder in her
face, and puffing, grunting, and twisting her countenance into the most
fantastical shapes, while she freely "dratted the thing," and called
down a murrain upon it. But strive as she might, the precious ring
still clung faithfully to her finger. Presently Cynthia was fain to
take a hand at hauling it off, but she fared not a whit better than
Mrs. Blodgett. Whereon I was called on, and after several very natural
and becoming protestations on my part as to my inability and so forth,
even I was pressed into the service. I tugged and hauled away with
what gravity I might, but never an inch would that wretched ring budge.
In the height of this deadlock, I was seized with a brilliant expedient.

"One of the rings round the curtain-pole," says I. "Surely one of them
will do most admirably well, and at least there will be no difficulty
about getting it off, nor on neither."

Now when I proffered this suggestion Mrs. Cynthia blushed such a colour
and looked so ill at ease, that I half began to doubt whether this idea
was so fine after all. And indeed, Blodgett took me up warmly.

"Wedded in a curtain-ring indeed!" says she. "I'facks, that she never
shall be. Who ever heard of such a thing! Has the man no decency!
Rather than that, my dear, I will run to neighbour Hodge's and borrow
hers. As she's a thin body it should slip off easy."

There and then the scandalized Blodgett was as good as her word.
Favouring me with a glance of such scorn and contempt that a person
more impressionable would have been rooted to the spot, she flounced
out of the room all in a moment, and directly afterwards passed by the
library window, running quite excitedly down the garden path. Surely a
whole chapter of dissertation might be written on the metamorphosis of
Mrs. Blodgett. From openly deriding Cynthia she had passed to an
almost motherly tenderness towards her. She had become as concerned
for her as though she had been her own daughter. She was no longer
"wench," or "vagrant beggar," nay nor even "young woman," but just "my
dear." And why was this? Do you think it was because she had suddenly
lighted on some latent virtues in my little madam, some strain of moral
loveliness, some unexpected beauty in her mind and heart? I am sure I
crave the pardon of her ladyship, but it was devil a one of these
things that had such a magic effect on Mrs. Blodgett. It was simply
that she had run away to get married, and that this was her wedding
morning. Oh, woman, woman! where is the daughter among you that can
resist the blandishments of Hymen?

While this was going forward, and we were congratulating ourselves in
secret on the most fortunate course this portentous affair was like to
take, an incident happened that shook me dreadfully, and recalled to my
mind much more sharply than I cared, the kind of fortune I was about to
endow my bride with. For the time being I had forgotten the colour of
my reputation, the character of my past, and my black prospects for the
future, in the cheerful topsy-turvy madness of the last twelve hours.
But now all of a sudden, in the least expected fashion, I was reminded
as to who I was, and what I was. The parson, who all the time had been
deeply involved in his news-sheet, suddenly cast it down, uttered a
loud exclamation, and with tears in his honest eyes began striding down
in his agitation, and knocked down many an unoffending book.

"_O tempera! O mores!_" says he, "In what degenerate days do we live!
To think that this should be the grandson of such a grandsire! No; I
cannot believe it of him; nay, I will not believe it of him."

You may guess that as there was a grandfather in the case I pricked up
my ears at once, and on looking at the newspaper saw that which
confirmed my premonition. There was a paragraph in the column of
"Newest Intelligence" that ran in this wise:

"On Tuesday evening in the near neighbourhood of divers well-known
coffee-and-chocolate-houses in Saint James's Street, Piccadilly, was
found the body of Mr. Richard Burdock, of His Majesty's 4th Regiment of
Horse Guards. The unfortunate gentleman had been done to death by a
sword-wound in the upper part of the chest. Precisely in what manner
the deceased came by his end is not at present known, but we are
informed that on the following day an information was laid against the
Earl of Tiverton, a nobleman whose name has been most unhappily
notorious of late. A warrant was at once procured for the arrest of
Lord Tiverton, and on an attempt being made to put it in force at his
lordship's residence later in the day, a most desperate struggle
ensued, and his lordship with the assistance of his household succeeded
in effecting, for the time being, his escape. We learn, however, that
the celebrated Mr. John Jeremy of Bow Street has the matter in hand;
that Mr. Jeremy with his world-famed acumen is in possession of a clue
as to Lord Tiverton's whereabouts; that Mr. Jeremy is already actively
following up the same, and that presently an event may transpire that
shall set all the town by the ears."

I directed Cynthia's attention to this account, and she was so startled
by it that she changed colour, and offered so many visible evidences of
her distress, that I feared she would have excited the suspicions of
the parson, yet after all that must have been an impossible feat, for I
am sure the honest parson was a man so utterly without guile, that he
was incapable of harbouring any sort of suspicion against a
fellow-creature. Besides he was still fully occupied in lamenting the
low repute into which our name had fallen, with a grief so genuine that
I did not know whether to be touched or amused by it.

However, I could not pay much heed to the parson at that minute, being
deeply concerned for little Cynthia. I began to fear that I had done
an ill-considered thing in allowing her to see the news-sheet. I had
never tried to find out how far she was acquainted with my history of
the past few years - my gaming, duels, intrigues and debts. That she
must have known of it to some extent was certain. She had heard of
them from my own lips in a haphazard sort of way; and again, they were
too well known to be suppressed, as witness the conduct of her father
in the matter of my suit. At his hands, and those of my friends, and
of my rival too, they would certainly lose nothing of their magnitude.
Whatever she had heard of me, she had been able to condone. But now
confronted with a more circumstantial charge against me, clothed in all
the authority of black and white, a charge of the most terrible
character that can be preferred against any person, it came on her with
a cruel force that almost crushed her down. She stood faltering, with
the newspaper still clutched in her hands; her lips trembled, and the
tears gathered slowly in her eyes.

"I don't believe it," said she, in a low, shaking voice.

She held out her hand, and I, despite the presence of the parson, took
it to my lips with the same passion with which she had extended it to
me. If a man in the midst of all the contumely and detraction of the
world, can yet get one woman to believe in him, it is enough!

Meantime the parson, whatever he may have thought of our behaviour, not
that it is altogether certain that he happened to witness it, was so
strangely ingenuous that he took my little one's distress to spring
from the same source as his own. He laid it all to that precious
Commentary on the _Analects of Confucius_!

"Your grief does you honour, my dear madam, allow me to say," says he,
wiping the memorials of his own from his red eyes. "It honours you
vastly. It is something in this benighted age to know that the
reverence for polite letters has not yet died out amongst us. And I,
on my part, will never be persuaded that the descendant of so noble and
learned a gentleman, whatever the errors of his youth, could fall into
an act of such a hideous kind. I blame the publick press too for
disseminating such a story. If it is false, as I believe it to be, oh,
the pity of it! But if it should be true, the pity is the greater.
With your permission, I will destroy this newspaper, lest this
scandalous thing it contains should come under the eye of Blodgett, and
she should spread it amongst the village folk."

I protest with all my settled views on life, and my arbitrary way of
looking at things, I did not know whether to burst out into a shout of
laughter, or fall a-weeping too, for, ecod! there was an affecting side
to the affair when our simple old parson tore up the offending
newspaper in a hundred pieces, all to preserve the fair name of that
philosopher who had perished of the gout a full thirty years ago.

Cynthia was so greatly shaken, that to defend her from his observation
I was even moved to indulge in the parson's fondness for the dead
languages and abstruse theories. However, I had just induced him to
quarrel with Cicero on the strength of something that Cicero ought to
have said and yet had not said at all, when Blodgett returned, bearing
the ring.

That redoubtable lady observed Cynthia's distress at once, but did not
put the same construction on it that her master had.

"Very natural to be sure," says she. "Weddings are strange, exciting
things, and apt to upset the strongest of us. I remember the first
time I went through the ceremony. I was mortal worried by it."

Mrs. Blodgett having by this time fully entered into the affair, took
Cynthia in hand. She insisted that Cynthia should go with her
upstairs, "to tidy herself like," and be accomplished generally in a
manner more befitting the occasion. Indeed so enthusiastic had the
housekeeper become about it that she even proposed to search for some
of her own discarded nuptial garments, which she ventured to say with a
bit of fettling and contriving, a pleat here and a tuck there, Cynthia
after all might not lack for a wedding-gown. The conceit of a young
lady who a week ago had been of the first fashion, appearing as a bride
in a gown that had once done duty for the admirable Blodgett, convulsed
me with laughter. And this behaviour was heightened rather than
depressed when I recollected that such an attire would consort very
aptly with the hobnailed appearance of the bridegroom.

During the absence of the ladies upstairs, the parson had the
forethought to give me a two-shilling-bit, for the purpose of feeing
the clerk. I was so struck by this further instance of his generous
courtesy, that I asked the name of my benefactor, for I swore that I
would not rest content until I had repaid him. It seemed that this
obscure country clergyman bore the name of Scriven. It is a name as
far as I can make out, that has not yet come to any eminence in letters
or the humane arts; nor has it attained to any signal preferment in
that Church of which it is so true an ornament. His great learning,
his simple ingenuous character, his notable generosity, his tenderness
of heart, his implicit courtesy have never advanced him one step, so
far as I can gather, in the world's opinion. For aught I know he is
still the country parson on his forty pounds or so a year, whilst many
a sleek old worldling with half of his learning and a tithe of his
humanity is my lord Bishop riding by in his gilt coach with footmen
behind it, the recipient of a hundred times more kudos and emolument.

When Cynthia came down again she looked wonderfully spic and span. Her
hair had been done into a becoming rustic mode, most admirably neat,
and showed off its qualities of abundance, gloss and curliness to true
advantage. She had not thought fit to call in the aid of Mrs.
Blodgett's gown it is true, but her own became her as well as another,
and happily at the same time afforded no index to her degree. It was a
plain and simple country dress, sober in hue and severe in its style.
Yet it fell so exactly into the exquisite lines of her shape, that she
and the dress became one as it were; and if there was a woman's tailor
who could have exhibited a lovely figure more artfully than that, she
must have been good Mrs. Nature herself. Cynthia, for all her country
clothes, looked so sweet, arch and dainty too, so much the gentlewoman
without the affectations that go with _ton_ and "fine," that by their
absence the breeding that lurked in every inch of her, the carriage of
her person, slender and small as it was, the set of her head, and the
cast of her features became more apparent.

These evidences had even an effect on Mrs. Blodgett. She was mightily
pleased with her _protégée_.

"I don't know who _you_ are, young man," says she, "and I won't say all
that's in my mind about you, but I hope you know that you are taking a
real born lady to wife. Such white hands I never did see, and such
pretty ways, saving her presence, as she 'ave too. You are not a
quarter good enough, young man, for the likes of her, and just keep
that in your mind and live up to it. But I gravely misdoubt me as to
whether you will, for take you all round you are about as disreppitable
and low a fellow as ever I saw. To think that such as you should have
lured the pretty lamb from her father's house. But as I've told her,
it is not yet too late for her to go back again."

Although neither Cynthia nor I was greatly inconvenienced by this crude
statement of the case, except in the matter of the smiles we strove in
vain to control, the parson, good, honest man, was not a little
disconcerted by it.

"Tut, tut!" says he, "my good Blodgett, your tongue runs too fast.
However excellent the motives may be that inspire you, I could wish you
had a somewhat less direct manner of expressing them. I really cannot
have you intervene between plighted lovers, at the very steps of the
altar. And whatever the personality of our young lady, if truth
compels us to admit that our young gentleman is scarcely so fortunate
in his physical semblance, I am sure he hath a very nice mind."

With these panegyrics we ultimately got us to church. Now it is not to
be expected, I hope, that a man should describe his own nuptials. If
there are three acts in his life on which he is the least qualified to
speak, are not those his birth, his marriage, and his burial? For in
not one of them can he testify with any certainty as to whether he went
through them on his heels or his head. Besides, I am one who holds
that there should be a becoming reticence in these things.

I can recall perhaps an empty, musty-smelling church, and the clerk, a
solemn, unctuous man, with a graveyard cough. Some little wind of the
affair had evidently got abroad in the village, owing to the exertions
of Mrs. Blodgett in quest of the wedding-ring. Thus the ceremony was
not so entirely private as we could have wished. A few women in
aprons, and some with babes in their arms kept the porch and the
immediate interior of the church. It seemed that they did not venture
to go further owing to their awe of the clerk. Various ragamuffin
children of tender years played hide-and-seek round the gravestones and
their mothers' gowns. When however the wedding party came along in a
kind of little procession, they desisted for a minute, and having
safely seen the parson precede us into the sacred edifice, they put out
their tongues at Cynthia and myself, and made several references of a
nature uncomplimentary to us couched in the form of rustic wit.

Mrs. Blodgett had undertaken the office of chief bridesmaid. She would
have undertaken that of groomsman too, had I given her the least
encouragement. She made an impressive figure at the altar rails, clad
in a severe black hood; whilst she was quite conscious of her
conspicuous position, and stood calm and erect in the dignity of her
infinite experience. What whispered but animated counsel she proffered
to Cynthia during the brief period in which we waited for the parson to
emerge from the vestry, I know not, but I would have given a good deal
to have been a party to it, for I am sure that if the look on Mrs.
Cynthia's countenance was any index to its character, it would well
have been worth setting down in this place.

At the last moment when the tension of our minds was very great, the
clerk became obstreperous. He asked parson Scriven in a significant
undertone for the special licence that was to marry us, as the banns
had not been put up and cried in church. Of course we were not
furnished with anything of the kind.

Parson Scriven, as became his amiable casual character, was not at all
disconcerted by such an informality.

"Pooh and faugh!" says he. "Banns and licence, John, stuff and
nonsense! Why should an honest couple be hedged about in this way? If
they have no licence, upon my soul I will marry them without."

The clerk was scandalized. The parson, however, would hear no
argument. He was not the person to allow his head to interfere with
the dictates of his heart.

"Parson's main obstinate," said the clerk, scratching his head. "And I
do believe he cares no more for law an' regulation than the gypsies on
the common. It won't be legal, this won't, but bless you what'll
parson care!"

So long as we could get this awkward business over we cared as little
for law and regulation as this singular old clergyman. Therefore, when
he disdained the opinions of the clerk, and reiterated his intention to
marry us, we breathed again.

At last all was ready, and the parson came out of the vestry with his
book and his gown, and smiled upon us with benevolent self-possession.
We strung ourselves for the great ordeal. Yet as a preliminary we were
confronted with one that we found vastly the more awkward of the two,
and one that we had not anticipated either. How we both came to
overlook it, I know not, unless the palpitation that our minds were in
was the secret of it. It had never occurred to us that the parson
could not marry us unless he was informed of our names. But when he
made that very obvious and natural stipulation it came upon us as a
thunderbolt. What a pair of arrant fools we were, not to have thought
of that contingency, and to have provided for it!

When the parson bluntly demanded this of us, we stood staring
open-mouthed at one another, a pair of zanies. I pursued a bold
course, however. To give our own was out of the question in that
public place, and more particularly as the newspaper had just
acquainted the reverend gentleman of my black history. Therefore, says
I, with an impudent assurance:

"John Smith and Jane Jones."

"How truly national!" says the officiating clergyman in a rapture of
sentiment. "How exquisitely English are these names, to be sure!"

I durst not look at my poor little Cynthia. But somehow I felt that
she was trembling and deadly pale, and ready to sink to the ground
under this humiliation to her native delicacy. I fear that I was of a
much coarser grain. I had suffered too much from the world already to
be easily bowed with a sense of shame. "Needs must when the devil
drives," was a good enough motto for me. We were in a pretty tight
corner, and if we ever came out of it at all, we must expect to lose a
little of our tender skins in doing so.

My little one was most monstrous brave. Having recovered the
possession of herself, she set her teeth and went through the thing
gallantly. I'faith she was of a good mettle. In spite of Mrs.
Blodgett's opinion of my worth, my little miss answered the
all-important query in such a clear affirmative voice as never was
heard, and entered into vows of a sort that argued some degree of
rashness on her part. Even at the time I was inclined to raise a doubt
of her ability to be the equal of them. Nor hath aught subsequently
transpired to cause me to forego this estimate of the matter. When we
had been duly put through these trials, we were led into the vestry to
write our names in the marriage register.

"Oh, Jack," whispers Cynthia, as we went, "whatever shall we do? I am
sure it cannot be legal."

"I am sure I don't know," says I. "What a folly of mine not to have
thought of it sooner!"

"It was my place to think of it," says Cynthia. "The folly is mine."

"No, not at all," says I. "What have you to do with it, a chit as you
are? The folly is mine, I tell you."

"Then I tell you it's not," says Cynthia flatly, and stamping her
petulant shoe on the very steps of the altar.



I am sure it is expected of me to improve this occasion with a few sage
remarks, for could anything have been more ominous to the prosperity of
our married life? But I hope I have too much chivalry in me to say to
what extent this evil presage has been borne out since, and I dare Mrs.
Cynthia to do so. _Revenons à nos moutons_, a phrase I think that
always looks better in French. We got through all these important
matters at last, even to the forging of the honoured names of Jane
Jones and John Smith, or Jane Smith and John Jones, I forget precisely
which, in the parish register. Then having vailed the clerk with the
parson's two-shilling-bit, and having thanked and bid farewell to our
kind benefactors, we moved out of the church amid the acclamation of
the whole female and juvenile population of the village, and got us
with some speed upon our wedding-tour.

Now we had made about half-a-mile along the highway at a round pace,
when Cynthia to her great concern discovered that she had carried away
upon her finger the ring that Mrs. Blodgett had borrowed from a

"Oh, this will never do," says she. "We can never rob such kind honest

"I suppose we cannot," says I, "but the value of that ring will come in
wonderfully apt this evening when we desire a lodging for our

"Oh, Jack, how can you!" says she. "We must take it back at once."

And willy-nilly with never another word my pretty one, with a fine

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe Wayfarers → online text (page 7 of 18)