Chapter Thirty Three.


“Hear the mellow wedding bells,
Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously swells!”
                    Edgar Poe.

Merrily, merrily, rang out the sweet bells of Orton-on-the-Sea; more merrily than they ever rang before; so merrily that it seemed as if they would concentrate into every single clash and clang of their joyous peal a tumult of inexpressible happiness greater than they would ever be able to enjoy again. If you look up at the belfry, you will see them swing and dance in a very delirium of ecstasy, such as made everybody laugh while he listened, and chased away the possibility of sorrow, and thrilled the very atmosphere with an impression of hilarity and triumph.

All Orton is a-stir. Mr Kennedy is the squire of the parish, and the villagers may well love him as they do. The son and daughter of the squire are not often married on the same day; and besides the double wedding with its promise of an evening banquet, and dance on the hall lawn to all the people of Orton, Eva and Edward are known well to every cottager, and loved as well as known.

The hall is quite full, and the village inn is quite full, and all the neighbouring gentry who are invited, are hospitably entertaining such members of the two families as can find room nowhere else. Never had Orton seen such grand doings; the very stables and coach-houses are insufficient to receive the multitude of carriages.

Several Saint Wernerians are invited; and, (as both Julian and Kennedy prefer to be alone on that morning), Lillyston, who has visited the place before, is lionising them in the neighbourhood, and with Willie, Kennedy’s orphan cousin, rows them over to the little islet in the bay. As they come back, the hour for the wedding approaches, and Lillyston says to Owen—“How I wish De Vayne were here!”

“But he is in Florence, is he not?” says Owen.

They have hardly spoken when a carriage with a coronet on the panels dashes up to the Lion Inn; a young man alights, hands out a lady, and enters the inn.

“Surely that must be De Vayne himself,” says Suton running forward. Meanwhile the young man, after taking the lady into a private room, asks if he may see Mr Home or Mr Kennedy, and is showed up to the parlour in which they are sitting.

“De Vayne!” they both exclaim in surprise.

“Yes, Julian!” he answered cheerily; “I only returned from Florence two days ago, heard of your marriage from the Ildown people, and determined to come with my mother a self-invited guest.”

“Don’t fear for my feelings,” he continued, turning to Kennedy. “Nothing is so useless or dangerous as to nurse a hopeless love, like the flame burning in the hearts of the banqueters, at the feast of Eblis. No, Kennedy, I love Violet, but only as a sister now, and you must not be afraid if I claim one kiss after the marriage from the bride. You shall have the same privilege some day soon.”

“Your coming is the completion of my happiness,” said Kennedy, cordially shaking his hand. “I will run and tell Violet at once, lest she should be alarmed by seeing you.”

“Yes, and to show her why we may continue to have communion as friends, tell her that there is a gentle Florentine girl, with dark eyes, and dark hair, and a sweet voice, who, as my mother will bear witness, has promised in a year’s time to leave her Casa d’oro for Other Hall,” he said smiling.

They took him down to see the others, who rejoiced to see him nearly as much as they did, and the time sped on for the wedding to be performed. The carriages had already started to convey the bridegrooms and their friends to church, when another carriage drove rapidly along the street, carrying another most unexpected guest.

It had been arranged that Cyril and Frank should come down to Orton on the morning of the ceremony, as there was a difficulty in finding room for them. It was very late, and they were beginning to be afraid that the boys had missed a train, and would not arrive till after the ceremony, when they made their triumphant entry into Orton in a carriage by the side of—Lady Vinsear!

Only imagine! Being left almost alone at Ildown while the others had gone to Orton to make arrangements for the marriage, Cyril had audaciously proposed to his brother that, as it was through them that Lady Vinsear’s wrath had been kindled against Julian, they should go over and see whether the old lady would admit them into her presence or in any way suffer herself to be pacified. The proposal was quite a sudden one, and the thought had only come into Cyril’s head because he had nothing else to do. But he had no sooner thought of it than he determined to carry it out. He felt certain that Lady Vinsear could not be so totally unlike his late father as to have become wholly ill-natured and implacable, and he was sure that no harm could result from his visit even if no good were done.

So the boys drove over in a pony-chaise to Lonstead Abbey, and knocking at the door, asked if Lady Vinsear was at home.

“Yes,” said the old servant, opening his eyes in astonishment at the apparition of the two boys, whom he had only seen as children four years before.

“Then, ask if she will see Mr Cyril and Master Frank Home. Stop, though; is Miss Sprong at home?”

“Oh, no, Master Cyril; bless you, Miss Sprong, sir, has gone and married Farmer Jones this year gone.”

“Has she indeed? Oh, then, take my message, please, James.”

They had come at the right moment. In the large drawing-room of Lonstead Abbey, Lady Vinsear was sitting with no companion but the orphan girl of a villager, to whom she gave a home, and who was amusing herself with a picture-book on a low stool by the fire; for though it was summer, the fire was lighted to give cheerfulness to the room. When Miss Sprong married a neighbouring farmer, Lady Vinsear had given her a handsome dowry, and refused ever to see her again, being in fact heartily tired of her malice and sycophancy, and above all, resenting the new breach which she had caused between herself and her brother’s family. Ever since her quarrel with Julian, Lady Vinsear had bitterly regretted the violence which had cut off from her that natural affection to which she had looked as the stay of her declining years. She had grown sadder as she grew older, and the loneliness of her life weighed heavily on her heart, yet in her obstinate pride she made an unutterable resolve never to take the initiative in restoring Julian to her favour.

And as she sat there by the fire, longing in her secret soul for the society and love of some young hearts of her own kith and kin, she glanced away from the uninteresting little girl whom she had taken as a protégée to the likeness of Julian’s bright and thoughtful boyish features, (which still, in spite of Miss Sprong, had retained a place over the mantel-piece), and remembered the foolish little incident which had led to her rejection of him as her heir. The tears started to her eyes as she thought of it, and wished with all her heart that the two gay and merry boys whose frolic had caused the fracas were with her once more. How much she should now enjoy the pleasant sound of their young voices, and how gladly she would join in their unrestrained and innocent laughter.

So when the bewildered James asked in his never-varying voice, “whether Master Cyril and Frank Home might see her,” Lady Vinsear fancied that she was seeing in a dream the fulfilment of her unexpressed wishes, and rubbed her eyes to see if she could really be wide awake.

“What’s all this, James?—are you James, or am I in a dream?”

“James, your ladyship.”

“And do you really mean to tell me that my nephews are outside?”

“Yes, please your ladyship.”

“Well, then, don’t keep them there a minute longer, James. Run along, Annie,” she said to the little girl, “it is time for you to be in bed.”

Annie had hardly retired, when—a little shyly—the boys entered, uncertain of their reception. But Lady Vinsear started from her seat, and embraced them with the utmost affection.

“My dear Cyril,” she said, kissing him again; “how tall and handsome you have grown; and Frankie, too, you are the image of Julian when he was your age.”

The boys were amazed at the heartiness with which she welcomed them, as though nothing had happened, and after she had given them a capital supper, she said to them, “Now, boys, I see you are rather puzzled at me. Never mind that; don’t think of what has happened. We mean all to be friends now. And now tell me all about Julian.”

They found, however, that Lady Vinsear knew a good deal about his college career from her neighbour Lord De Vayne, who had kept her acquainted with all his successes and honours up to the period when De Vayne left Other Hall. Since then she had not been able to gain much information about him, and had not heard the news either of his fellowship, his approaching marriage, or his acceptance of a college living.

She listened eagerly to the intelligence, and finally asked if he knew of their visit.

“No,” said Cyril, laughing; “neither he nor any of them. Now, Aunt Vinsear, you really must do me a favour. You know Vi is to be married at Orton on the same day as Julian; won’t you come with us to the wedding, and surprise them all? If you were to start by an early train, and take the carriage with you, we should drive up in time for the ceremony, and it would be such a happy joke for all concerned.”

The old lady was delighted with the plan. Meeting on such an occasion, when the minds of all were so much occupied, would avert the necessity of anything approaching to a scene, which of all things she most dreaded. She felt a flood of new interests, occupations, and hopes; she made the boys stay with her until the appointed day, and looked forward to Cyril’s triumph with a delight which made her happier than she had been for many a long year.

And thus it was that Cyril and Frank drove into the town in gallant style, accompanied by Lady Vinsear! They stopped at the door of the Lion, and hearing that Julian had started, got white favours placed at the horses’ heads, and dashed on to the church. The brides had not arrived, but they were expected every moment; and Mr Vere, (who had most kindly come to perform the ceremony), was putting on his surplice in the vestry, while Julian and Kennedy, with Owen, Lillyston, and De Vayne, were strolling up and down a pretty, retired laurel walk behind the church. Hearing where they were, the boys, accompanied by their aunt, boldly invaded their privacy, and reached the end of the walk just as the gentlemen were approaching to enter the church.

“Good gracious! Lady Vinsear!” said De Vayne.

“Hush, hush!” she said. “Come here, Julian, and kiss your old aunt, and welcome her on your wedding-day, and don’t think of bygones. I am proud to see you, my boy;” and he felt a tear on his cheek as the old lady drew down his head to kiss him.

“And now,” she said, “don’t tell any of the rest that I have come till after the marriage. I hear the sound of wheels. Put me in some pew near the altar, Julian, that I may have a good long look at your bride, and Violet’s bridegroom.”

They had just time to fulfil her wish when the carriages drove up, and the bridal procession formed, and, followed by their bride’s-maids, Violet and Eva passed up the aisle, in all their loveliness, with wreaths of myrtle and orange-flower round their fair foreheads, and long, graceful veils, and simple ornaments of pearl.

Beautiful to see! A bride always looks beautiful, but these two were radiant and exquisite in their loveliness. Which was the fairest? I cannot tell. Most men would have given the golden apple to Eva, with the sweet, tender grace that played about her young features, almost infantile in their delicacy, and with those bright, beaming, laughter-loving eyes, of which the light could not be hid though she bent her face downwards to hide the bridal blush that tinged it; but yet they would have doubted about the decision when they turned from her to the full flower of Violet’s beauty, and gazed on her perfect face, so enchanting in its meekness, and on that one tress of golden hair that played upon her neck.

De Vayne, as he looked on the perfect scene, took out a piece of paper, and wrote on it Spenser’s lines:—

“Behold, while she before the altar stands,
Hearing the holy priest that to her speaks
And blesses her with his two happy hands,
How the red roses flush up in her cheeks
And the pure snow with golden vermeil stain,
Like crimson dyed in grain.”

He handed the lines to Lillyston and Owen, and they saw from the happy smile upon his face that no touch of regret or envy marred his present meditations.

Has life any pleasure—any deep, unspoken happiness—comparable to that which fills a young’s man whole soul when he stands beside the altar with such a bride as Violet or Eva was?—when he thinks that the fair, blushing girl, whose white hand trembles in his own, is to be the star of his home, the mother of his children, the sunbeam shining steadily on all his life? Verily he who hath experienced such a joy has found a jewel richer:

“Than twenty seas though all their sands were pearl,
Their waters crystal, and their rocks pure gold.”

The service was over, and in those few moments, four young souls had passed over the marble threshold of married life. Violet felt that the presence of De Vayne removed the only alloy to that deep happiness that spoke in the eloquent lustre of her eye, and she told him so as he bent to kiss her hand, and as Lady De Vayne clasped her to her heart with an affectionate embrace. All the people of the village awaited them at the porch, and as they passed along the path, the village children, lining the way, and standing heedless on the green mounds that covered the crumbling relics of mortality, scattered under their happy feet a thousand flowers. One passing thought, perhaps, about the lesson which those green mounds told, flitted through the minds of the bridal party as they left the trodden blossoms to wither on the churchyard path, but if so, it was but as the shadow of a summer cloud, and it vanished, as with a sudden clash the bells rang out again, thrilling the tremulous air with their enthusiasm of happy auguries, and the sailor boys of Orton gave cheer on cheer while brides and bridegrooms entered their carriages, and drove from under the umbrage of the churchyard yews to the elms and oaks and lime-tree avenues of the hall.

Oh that happy day! The wedding breakfast had been laid in a large tent on the lawn, whence you could catch bright glimpses of the blue sea, and the islet, and the passing ships, while on all sides around it the garden glowed a paradise of blossom, and the fragrance of sweet flowers floated to them through the golden air. Rich fruits and gorgeous bouquets covered the table, and the whole tent was gay with wreaths and anadems. And then, what ringing laughter, what merry jests, what earnest happy talk! Let us not linger there too long, and from this scene I bid avaunt to the coarse cynical reader; who is too strong-minded to believe in love.

Only let the gentle reader fancy for himself how beautiful were the few words with which Mr Vere proposed the health of the brides, and how long they remembered his earnest wish, that though the truest love is often that which has been sanctified by sorrow, yet that they might be spared the sorrow, and enjoy the truest love. And he will fancy how admirably Julian and Kennedy replied—Julian in words of poetic feeling and thoughtful power, Kennedy with quick flashes of picturesque expression, both with the eloquence of sincere and deep emotion; and how gracefully De Vayne proposed the health of the bridesmaids, for whom Cyril and Lillyston replied. Then, too quickly, came the hour of separation; the old shoe was flung after the carriages, the bridal couples departed for a tour among the lakes, and the villagers danced and feasted till twilight on the lawn.

Six weeks are over since the marriage day, and there, in Southampton harbour, lies the Valleyfield, which is to convey Kennedy and Violet to Calcutta. They have just spoken the last, long, lingering farewell to Eva and Julian, who are standing in deep tearful silence on the pier, and are watching the little boat which is conveying their only brother and only sister to the ship. The boat is but a few moments in reaching the Valleyfield, and, when they are on board, the vessel weighs anchor, and ruffles her white plumage, and flings her pennons to the breeze, and begins to dash the blue water into foam about her prow. Violet and her husband are standing at the stern, and as long as the vessel is in sight they wave their hands in token of farewell. It is but a short time, and then the Valleyfield grows into a mere dot on the horizon, and Eva and Julian, heedless of the crowds around them, do not check the tears as they flow, and speak to each other in voices broken by sorrow as they slowly turn away.

That evening Violet and Kennedy knelt side by side in their little cabin to join in common prayer, and Julian led his Eva over the threshold of their quiet and holy home.

And their path thenceforth was “as the shining light, shining more and more to the perfect day.”

The End.

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