Rhoda Broughton.

Nancy online

. (page 5 of 29)
Online LibraryRhoda BroughtonNancy → online text (page 5 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

"If there were," reply I, smiling broadly, a smile which greatly widens
my mouth, and would show my dimples if I had any, "I should _indeed_ be
susceptible! The two curates that you saw the other night - the one who
tore his gloves into strips, you know, and the other who ate so
much - Toothless Jack - these are the sort of men among whom my lines have
lain. Do you think I am likely to be very much in love with any of

My speech does not seem so altogether reassuring as I had expected.

"I am very suspicious," he says, half apologetically, "but you have seen
so little of the world, you have led such a nun's life! how can you
answer for it that hereafter out in the world you may not meet some one
more to your liking? You are a dear little, kindly, tender-hearted sort,
and you do not tell me so, but you do not like me _much_, Nancy! Indeed,
dear, I could far better do without you now, than see you by-and-by
wishing me away and yet be unable to rid you of me."

"People can help falling in love," say I, with matter-of-fact
common-sense. "If I belonged to you, of course I should never think of
any one else in that way."

"Are you sure - ?"

"I wish that you would not ask me any more questions," say I,
interrupting him with a pout. "I am quite sure of every thing you can
possibly think of."

"I will only ask _one_ more - are you quite sure that it is not for your
brothers' and sisters' sakes - not your own - that you are doing this? Do
you remember" (with a smile half playful, half sad) "what you told me
about your views of marriage on that first day when I found you in the

"I hope to Heaven that you did not think I was _hinting_," say I,
growing crimson; "it certainly sounded very like it, but I really and
truly was not. I was thinking of a _young_ man! I assure you" (speaking
with great earnestness) "that I had as much idea of marrying you as of
marrying _father_!"

Looking back with mature reflection at this speech, I think that it may
be safely reckoned among my unlucky things.

"No," he says, wincing a little, a very little. "I know you had not;
but - you have not answered my question."

For a moment I look down irresolute, then, through some fixed belief in
him, I look up and tell him the plain, bare truth.

"I _did_ think that it would be a nice thing for the boys," I say, "and
so it will, there is no doubt; you will be as good as a fa - , as a
brother to them; but - I like you _myself_ besides, you may believe it or
not as you please, but it is quite, _quite_, QUITE true."

As I speak, the tears steal into my eyes.

"And _I_ like _you_!" he answers very simply, and so saying, stoops, and
with a sort of diffidence, kisses me.

* * * * *

"Well, how did it go off?" cries Bobby, curiously, when I next rejoin my
compeers. "Did you laugh?"

"_Laugh!_" I echo, with lofty anger, "I do not know what you mean! I
never felt in the least inclined." Then seeing my brethren look rather
aghast at this sudden change in the wind, I add gayly: "Bobby, you must
never again breathe a word about Sir Roger's having been at school with
father; let it be supposed that he did without education."


This is my wooing: thus I am disposed of. Without a shadow of previous
flirtation with any man born of woman - without any of the ups and downs,
the ins and outs of an ordinary love-affair, I place my fate in Sir
Roger's hands. Henceforth I must have done with all girlish
speculations, as to the manner of man who is to drop from the clouds to
be my wooer. Well, I have not many day-dreams to relinquish. When I have
built Spanish castles - in a large family, one has not time for many - a
lover for myself has been less the theme of my aspirations than a
benefactor for the family. One, who will exercise a wholesomely
repressive influence over father, has been more than any thing the theme
of my longings; on the unlikely hypothesis of my marrying at all. For, O
friends, it has seemed to me _most_ unlikely; I dare say that I might
not have been over-difficult - might have thankfully and heartily loved
some one not quite a Bayard, but one cannot love _any thing_ - any odd
and end - and, say what you will, the choice of a country girl, with a
little dowry and a plain face, is but small. For - do not dislike me for
it if you can help - I _am_ plain. I know it by the joint and honest
testimony of all my brethren. I have had no trouble in gathering the
truth from them. A hundred times they have volunteered it, with that
healthy disregard of any sickly sensitiveness which arms one against
blows to one's vanity through all after-life. Yes: I am plain; not
offensively so, not largely, fatly, staringly plain, but in a small,
blond, harmless way. However, Sir Roger thinks me pretty. Did not he say
so, in unmistakable English? I have tried darkly to hint this to the
boys, but have been so decisively pooh-poohed that I resolve not to
allude to the subject again. Not only am I plain now, but I shall remain
plain to my life's end. Unlike the generality of ugly heroines, you will
not see me develop and effloresce into beauty toward the end of my

The interval between my betrothal and my marriage is but short. On April
22d, I put my hand into Sir Roger's. On May 20th, I am to put it into
his for good. When the bridegroom is forty-seven, and the bride one of
six, why should there be any delay? Why should a man keep and lodge his
daughter any longer than he can help, when he has found some one else
willing to do it for him? This, I think, is father's view. And,
meanwhile, father himself is more like an _angel_ than a man. Not once
do we hear the terrible polite voice that chills the marrow of our
bones. Not once is his nose more than becomingly hooked. Not once does
he look like a hawk. _Another_ long bill comes in for Algy, and is
dismissed with the benevolent comment that you cannot put gray heads
upon green shoulders. I dine every day now; and father and I converse
agreeably upon indifferent topics. Once - oh, prodigious! - we take a walk
round the Home Farm together, and he consults me about the Berkshire
pigs. Then comes a mad rush for clothes. I am involved in a whirlwind of
haberdashery, Brussels lace, diamonds. It feels very odd - the becoming
possessed of a great number of stately garments, to which Barbara has no
fellows - Barbara and I, who hitherto have been always stitch for stitch
alike. And meanwhile I see next to nothing of my future husband. This is
chiefly my own doing.

"You will not mind," I say, standing before him one day in the
drawing-room window, and speaking rather bashfully - somehow I do not
feel so comfortably easy and outspoken with him as I did before the
catastrophe - "you will not mind if I do not see much of you - do not go
out walking - do not talk to you very much till - till _it_ is over!"

"And why am I not to mind?" he asks, half jestingly, and yet a little
gravely, too.

"You will have quite enough - _too much_ of me afterward," I say, with a
shy laugh, "and _they_ - they will never have much of me again - never so
much, at least - and" (with rather a tremble in my voice) "we have had
_such_ fun together!"

And so Sir Roger keeps away. Whether his self-denial costs him much, I
cannot say. It never occurs to me at the time that it does. He may think
me a very nice little girl, and that I shall be a great comfort to him,
but he cannot care much about having any very long conversations with
me - he that has seen so many lands, and known so many great and clever
people, and read so many books. He has always been _most_
undemonstrative to me. At _his_ age, no doubt, he does not care much for
the foolish endearments of lovers; so, with an easy conscience, I devote
myself, for my short space, to the boys, to Barbara, to Vick, and the
jackdaw. Once, indeed - just once - I have a little talk with him, and
afterward I almost wish that I had not had it. We are sitting under a
horse-chestnut-tree in the garden - a tree that, under the handling of
the warm air, is breaking into a thousand tender faces. We did not begin
by being _tête-à-tête_; indeed, several lately-occupied chairs intervene
between us, but first one and then another has slipped away, and we are

"Nancy!" says Sir Roger, his eyes following the Brat, who is lightly
tripping up the stone steps, looking very small and agile in his
white-flannel cricketing things, "what is that boy's real name? Why do
you call him 'the Brat'?"

"Because he _is_ such a _Brat_," reply I, fondly, picking up from the
grass a green chestnut-bud that the squirrels or the rooks have untimely
nipped. "Did you ever see any thing so little, so white and pert? He has
sadly mistaken his vocation in life: he ought to have been a street

"One gets rather sick of one's surname," says my companion. "Except your
father, hardly any one calls me Roger now! I should be glad to answer to
it again."

He turns and looks at me with a kind of appeal as he says this. If he
were not forty-seven and a man, I should say that he was coloring a
little. After all, blushing is confined to no age. I have seen a veteran
of sixty-five redden violently.

"Do you mean to say," cry I, looking rather aghast, and speaking, as
usual, without thinking, "that you mean _me_ to call you _Roger_!
indeed, I could not think of such a thing! it would sound so - so
_disrespectful_! I should as soon think of calling my father _James_."

"Should you?" he answers, turning away his face toward the garden-beds,
where the blue forget-me-not is unrolling her sky-colored sheet, and the
double daisies are stiffly parading their tight pink buttons. "Then call
me what you like!"

I am not learned in the variations of his voice, as I am in those of
father and Algy, in either of which I can at once detect each fine
inflection of anger, contest, or pain; but, comparatively unversed as I
am in it, there sounds to me a slight, carefully smothered, yet still
perceptible, intonation of disappointment - mortification. I wish that
the air would give me back my words; but that it never yet was known to

"I will try if you like," say I, cheerfully, but a little shyly, as,
like the March Hare and the Hatter in the "Mad Sea Party," I move up
past the empty chairs to the one next him. "I do not see, after all, why
I should not get quite used to it in time! Roger! Roger! it is a name I
have always been very partial to until" (laughing a little) "the
Claimant threw discredit on all Rogers!"

He is looking at me again. After all, I must have been mistaken. There
is no shadow of disappointment or mortification near him. He is smiling
with some friendliness.

"You must never mind what _I_ say," I continue, dragging my wicker chair
along the shortly-shorn sward a little nearer to him. "_Never!_ nobody
ever does; I am a proverb and a by-word for my malapropos speeches.
Mother always _trembles_ when she hears me talking to a stranger. The
first day that I dined after you came, Algy made me a list of things
that I was not to talk about to you."

"A list of sore subjects?" says my lover, laughing. "But how did the boy
know what _were_ my sore subjects? What were they, Nancy?"

"Oh, I do not know! I have forgotten," reply I, in some confusion. "I've
made some very bad shots."

And so we slip away from the subject; but, all the same, I wish that I
had not said it.

We have come to the day before the wedding. My spirits, which held up
bravely during the first two weeks of my engagement, have now
fallen - fallen, like a wind at sundown. I am as limp, lachrymose, and
lamentable, a young woman as you would find between the three seas. I
have cried with loud publicity in full school-room conclave; I have
cried with silent privacy in bed. I have cried over the jackdaw. I have
cried over the bear. I have not cried over Vick, as I am to take her
with me. To-day we have _all_ cried - boys and all; and have moistened
the bun-loaf and the gooseberry-jam at tea with our tears. Our spirits
being now temporarily revived, I am undergoing the operation of trying
my wedding-dress. I am having a private rehearsal, in fact, in mother's
boudoir, with only mother, Barbara, and the maid, for audience.

"Mine is the most hopeless kind of ugliness," say I, with an admirable
dispassionateness, as if I were talking of some one else, as, armed in
full panoply, I stand staring at my white reflection in a long mirror
let into the wall - staring at myself from top to toe - from the highest
jasmine star of my wreath to the lowest edge of my Brussels flounce. "If
I were very fat, I might fine down; if I were very thin, I might plump
up; if I were very red, I might grow pale; if I were - hush! here are the
boys. I would not for worlds that they should see me!"

So saying, I run behind the folding-screen - the screen which, through so
many winter evenings, we have adorned with gay and ingenious pictures,
and which, after having worked openly at it under her nose for a year
and a half, we presented to mother _as a surprise_, on her last

"Come out, ostrich!" cries Algy, laughing. "Do you suppose that you are
hidden? Did it never occur to you that we could see your reflection in
the glass?"

Thus adjured, I reissue forth.

"Did you ever see such a fool as I look?" say I, feeling very sneaky,
and going through a few uncouth antics to disguise my confusion.

"Talk of _me_ being a Brat," cries the Brat, triumphantly. "I am not
half such a brat as you are! You look about ten years old!"

"Mark my words!" cries Bobby. "Wherever you go, on the Continent, you
will be taken for a good little girl making a tour with her grandpapa!"

Bobby is speaking at the top of his voice; as, indeed, we have all of us
rather a bad habit of doing. Bobby has the most excuse for it, as, being
a sailor, I suppose that he has to bellow a good deal at the
blue-jackets. In the present case, he has _one_ more listener than he
thinks. Sir Roger is among us. The door has been left ajar, and he,
hearing the merry clamor, and having always the _entrée_ to mother's
room, has entered. By the pained smile on his face, I can see that he
has heard.

"You are right, my boy," he says, quite gently, looking kindly at the
unfortunate Bobby; "she _does_ look very - _very_ young!"

"I shall mend of that!" cry I, briskly, putting my arm through his, in
anxious amends for Bobby's hapless speech. "We are a family who age
particularly early. I have a cousin whose hair was gray at
five-and-twenty, and I am sure that any one who did not know father,
would say that he was sixty, if he was a day - would not they, mother?"


The preparations are ended; the guests are come; no great number. A few
unavoidable Tempests, a few necessary Greys (I have told you, have not
I, that my name is Grey?). The heels have been amputated from a large
number of white satin slippers, preparatory to their being thrown after
us. The school-children have had their last practice at the

I have resolved to rise at five o'clock on my wedding-morning, so as to
make a last gloomy progress round every bird and beast and
gooseberry-bush on the premises. I have exacted - binding her by many
stringent oaths - a solemn promise from Barbara to make me, if I do not
do so of my own accord, at the appointed hour. I am sunk in heavy sleep,
and wake only very gradually, to find her, in conformity with her
engagements, giving my shoulder reluctant and gentle pushes, and softly
calling me.

"Is it five?" say I, sitting up and yawning. Then as the recollection of
my position flashes across my mind, "I will _not_ be married!" I cry,
turning round, and burying all my face in my pillow again. "Nobody shall
induce me! Let some one go and tell Sir Roger so."

"Sir Roger is not awake," replied Barbara, laughing rather sleepily,
"you forget that."

And by the time he is awake, I have come to a saner mind. We dress, for
the last time, _alike_. The thought that never again shall I have a
holland frock like Barbara's is nearly too much for us both. We run
quietly down-stairs, and out into as August a morning as God ever gave
his poor pensioners.

We walk along soberly and silently, hand-in-hand, as we used to do when
we were little children. My heart is very, _very_ full. I may be going
to be happy in my new life. I fully expect to be. At nineteen, happiness
seems one's right, one's matter of course; but it will not be in the
same way. _This_ chapter of my life is ended, and it has been _such_ a
good chapter, so full of love, of healthy, strong affection, of
interchanged, kind offices, and little glad self-denials, so abounding
in good jokes and riotous laughter, in little pleasures that - looked
back on - seem great; in little wholesome pains that - in retrospect - seem
joys. And, as we walk, the birds

"Prefer soft anthems to the ears of men
To woo them from their beds, still murmuring
That men can sleep while they their matins sing.
Most divine service, whose so early lay
Prevents the eyelids of the blushing day."

The old singers have said many a fine and lovely thing about lusty
spring. From their pages there seems to come a whiff of clean and
healthy perfume from many dead Mays. In sweet and matterful verse they
have sung their praises; but, oh! no singer, old or new - none, at least,
that was but human - none but a God-intoxicated man could tell the
glories of that serenely shining and suave morn.

One so seldom sees the best part of a summer day! Buried in swinish
slumber, with window-curtains heedfully drawn, and shutters closely
fastened, between us and it, we know nothing of the stately pageant
spread outside our doors.

It is wasted; nay, not wasted, for the birds have it. It is so early,
that the gardening-men are not yet come to their work. Every thing is as
wet as though there had been a shower, but there has been none.

Talk of the earth moving round the sun - he himself the while stupidly
stock-still - let _them_ believe it who like; is not he now placidly
sailing through the turquoise sea? Below, the earth is unfolding all her
freshened meadows, bravely pied with rainbow flowers. There is a very
small soft wind, that comes in honeyed puffs and little sighs, that wags
the lilac-heads, and the long droop of the laburnum-blooms. The grass is
so wet - so wet - as we swish through it, every blade a separate green
sparkle. The young daisies give our feet little friendly knocks as we

All round the old flowering thorn there is a small carpet, milk-white
and rose-red, of strewn petals. Every flower that has a cup, is holding
it brimful of cool dew. Vick is sitting on the top of the stone steps,
her ears pricked, and her little black nose working mysteriously as she
sniffs the morning air.

On the bright gravel walk stands the jackdaw, looking rather a funereal
object in his black suit, on this gaudy-colored day; his gray head very
much on one side, his round, sly eyes turned upward in dishonest
meditation. A worse bird than Jacky does not hop. His life is one long
course of larceny, and I know that if he had the gift of speech, he
would also be a consummate liar. I kneel on the walk, and, holding out a
bit of cake, call him softly and clearly, "Jacky! Jacky!" He snatches it
rudely, with a short hoarse caw, puts one black foot on it, and begins
to peck.

"Jacky! Jacky!" say I, sorrowfully, "I am going to be married! Oh, you
know that? You may thank your stars that you are not."

As I speak, my tears fall on his sleek black wings and his dear gray
head. I try to kiss him; but he makes such a spiteful peck at my nose,
that I have to give up the idea. Thus one of my good-byes is over. By
the time that they are all ended, and we have returned to the house, I
am drowned in tears, and my appearance for the day is irretrievably
damaged. My nose is certainly _very_ red. It surprises even myself, who
have known its capabilities of old. Bobby, always prosaic, suggests that
I shall hold it in the steam of boiling water, to reduce the
inflammation. But I have not the heart to try this remedy. It may be sky
blue, for all I care. Nose or no nose, I am dressed now.

Instead of the costly artificial wreath that Madame Elise sent me,
Barbara has made a little natural garland of my own flowers - my Nancies.
I smell them all the time that I am being married. I have no female
friends - Barbara has always been friend enough for me - so I have
stipulated that I shall have no other bridesmaids but her and Tou Tou.
They are not much to brag of in the way of a match. Algy indeed
suggested that in order to bring them into greater harmony, Tou Tou
shall clothe her thin legs with long petticoats, or Barbara abridge her
garments to Tou Tou's length; but the proposition has met with as little
favor in the family's eyes as did Squire Thornhill's proposal, that
every gentleman should sit on a lady's lap, in the Vicar of Wakefield.

The guests are all off to the church. I follow with my parents. Mother
is inclined to cry, until snubbed and withered into dry-eyedness by her
consort. He is, however, all benignity to me. I catch myself wondering
whether I _can_ be his own daughter; whether I am not one of the train
of neighboring misses who have sometimes made me the depository of their
raptures about him.

We reach the church. I am walking up the aisle on red cloth: the
wedding-hymn is in my ears, gayly and briskly sung, though it _is_ a
hymn, and not an _Epithalamium_: a vague idea of many people is in my
head. I am standing before the altar - the altar smothered in flowers.
The old vicar who christened me is to marry me. I have declined the
intervention of all strange bishops and curates whatsoever. He is a
clergyman of the old school, and spares us not a word of the ritual.

Truly in no squeamish age was the marriage-service composed! I
know - that is, I could have told you if you had asked me - that I am
standing beside a large and stately person, to whom, if neither God nor
man interpose to prevent it, I shall, within five minutes, be lawfully
wed; but I do not in the least degree realize it.

Now and again a strong sense of the ludicrous rushes over me. There
seems to me something acutely ridiculous in the idea of myself standing
here, so finely dressed - of the boys, demure and prim in their tall hats
and Sunday coats, gathered to see _me_ married - _me_ of all people!

Like lightning-flash there darts into my head the recollection of the
_last time that I was married_! when, long ago we were little children,
one wet Sunday afternoon, for want of a job, I had espoused Bobby; and
Algy, standing on a chair, with his night-gown on for a surplice, had
married us. It is over now. I am aware that several persons of different
genders have kissed me. I have signed my name. I am walking down the
church-yard path, the bells jangling gayly above my head, drowning the
sweet thrushes; and the school-children flinging bountiful garden
flowers before my feet. It seems to me a sin to tread upon them. It goes
to my heart. We reach the house. Vick comes out to meet us in a
crawling, groveling manner, which owes its birth to the _shame_ caused
in her mind by the huge favor which my maid has tied round her little
neck. We go into breakfast and feed - the _women_ with easy minds; the
_men_, with such appetites as the fear of impending speeches, of
horrible shattered commonplaces leaves them.

I suppose that, despite my change of name, I cannot yet be wholly a
Tempest; for, while I remain perfectly serene and calm during Sir
Roger's few plain words, I am one red misery while Algy is returning
thanks for the bridesmaids, which he does in so appallingly lame,
stammering, and altogether agonizing a manner, that I have serious
thoughts of slipping from my bridegroom's side under the friendly shade
of the table, among its sheltering legs.

Thank God it is over, and I am gone to put on my traveling-dress! The
odious parting moment has come. The carriage is at the door: the maid
and valet are in the dickey. What a pity that they are not bride and
bridegroom too! Vick has jumped in - alert and self-respecting again now
that she has bitten off her favor.

I have begun my voluminous farewells. I have kissed them all round once,
and am beginning again. How can one make up one's mind where to stop?
with whom to end?

"Never you marry, Barbara!" say I, in a sobbing whisper, as I clasp her
in my last embrace, greatly distorting my new bonnot, "it is _so_

We are off, followed by a tornado of shoes - one, aimed with dexterous

Online LibraryRhoda BroughtonNancy → online text (page 5 of 29)