Marion’s marriage took place in the summer, at the very crown of the
year. And it was a very fine wedding in its way, according to the
fashion of the times. Nobody in Scotland thought of going to church for
this ceremony, which took place in the bride’s home, in the drawing-room
upstairs, which was the largest room in the house, and as full as it
could be with wedding-guests. There were two bridesmaids, Elsie and a
sister of Matthew’s, whose mission, however, was unimportant in the
circumstances, unless, indeed, when it happened to be the duty of one of
them to accompany the bride and bridegroom, with the aid of the best
man, upon their wedding-tour. This curious arrangement had never been
thought of in Marion’s case, for no wedding-tour was contemplated. The
wedding pair were to proceed at once to their own quiet manse, somewhere
in the centre of Fife, where they could travel comfortably in a
post-chaise; and there they were disposed of for life, with no further
fuss. There were many things, indeed, wanting in this wedding which are
indispensable now. There were, for example, no wedding-presents, or at
least very few, some pieces of silver of the massive order, a heavy
tea-service, which was indeed a “testimonial” from those who had
profited by the Rev. Matthew’s services, in his previous sphere, and a
number of pretty things sent by Willie, such as used to be sent from
India by all the absent sons, pieces of Indian muslin, embroidered and
spangled (over which Mrs. Buchanan had held up her hands, wondering what
in the world Marion could do with them), and shawls, one of them heavy
with gold embroidery, about which the same thing might be said. Willie
had been by this time about eighteen months in India, and was already
acquainted with all the ways of it, his mother believed. And he sent
such things as other young men sent to their families, without
considering whether they would be of any use. He also sent various
beautiful things in that mosaic of ivory and silver, which used to adorn
so many Scotch houses, and which made the manse parlour glorious for
years to come. On the whole, “every justice” was done to Marion. Had she
come from Mount Maitland itself, the greatest house in the
neighbourhood, or even from the Castle at Pittenweem, or Balcarres, she
could not have been better set out.
It was at this great festivity that there were first introduced to the
society at St. Rule’s two figures that were hereafter to be of great
importance to it, and to assume an importance beyond what they had any
right to, according to ordinary laws. These were Frank Mowbray and his
mother, who had very lately come to St. Rule’s, from a country vaguely
called the South, which was not, after all, any very distant or
different region, but perhaps only Dumfrieshire, or Northumberland, in
both of which they had connections, but which do not suggest any
softness of climate or exuberance of sunshine to our minds nowadays.
They had led, it was believed, a wandering life, which was a thing very
obnoxious to the public sentiment of St. Rule’s, and almost infallibly
meant minds and manners to correspond, light-headedness and levity,
especially on the part of the woman, who could thus content herself
without a settled home of her own. It was naturally upon Mrs. Mowbray
that all the criticism centred; for Frank was still very young, and, of
course, as a boy had only followed his mother’s impulse, and done what
she determined was to be done. She was not in outward appearance at all
unlike the _rôle_ which was given her by the public. She gave for one
thing much more attention to her dress than was then considered right in
St. Rule’s, or almost even decent, as if desirous of attracting
attention, the other ladies said, which indeed was probably Mrs.
Mowbray’s design. In the evening, she wore a scarf, gracefully draped
about her elbows and doing everything but cover the “bare neck,” which
it was intended to veil: and though old enough to wear a cap, which many
ladies in those days assumed, however young they might be–as soon as
they married, did not do so, but wore her hair in large bows on the top
of her head, with stray ringlets upon either cheek, which, for a woman
with a grown-up son, seemed almost an affront to public morality. And
she used a fan with much action and significance, spreading it out, and
shutting it up as it suited her conversation, with little gestures that
were like nothing in the world but a foreigner, one of the French, or
persons of that kind, that thought of nothing but showing themselves
off. It was perhaps an uncharitable judgment, but there was so much
truth in it, that Mrs. Mowbray’s object was certainly to make the most
of herself, and do herself justice which is what she would have said.
And Frank at this period was what was then called a young “dandy;” and
also thought a great deal of his own appearance, which was even more
culpable or at least more contemptible on the part of a young man than
on that of a lady. He wore a velvet collar to his coat, which came up to
his ears, and sometimes a stock so stiff that he could look neither to
the right hand nor the left, and his nankeen trousers and flowered
waistcoats were a sight to behold. Out of the high collar, and
voluminous folds of muslin which encircled his neck, a very young,
boyish face came forth, with a small whisker on either cheek, to set
forth the rosy colour of his youthful countenance, which was quite
ingenuous and simple, and had no harm in it, notwithstanding the scoffs
and sneers which his contemporaries in St. Rule’s put forth against his
airs and graces, and the scent on his handkerchief “like a lassie,”
which was the last aggravation, and called forth roars of youthful
laughter, not unmingled with disgust. The pair together made a great
commotion in the society of St. Rule’s. Mr. Anderson’s house, which was
old-fashioned but kindly, with old mahogany, so highly polished that you
could see your face in it, and old dark portraits hanging on the
panelled walls, underwent a complete revolution to please what St.
Rule’s considered the foreign tastes. She had one of those panelled
rooms covered with wall-paper, to the consternation of the whole town. I
am obliged to allow that this room is the pride of the house now, for
the paper–such things as yet being scarce in the British Islands–was
an Oriental one, of fine design and colour, which has lasted over nearly
a century, and is as fresh now as when it was put up, and the glory of
the place; but in those days, Scotch taste was all in favour of things
dark and plain, without show, which was a wicked thing. To please the
eye at all, especially with brightness and colour, was tacitly
considered wicked, at that day, in all circumstances. It was not indeed
a crime in any promulgated code, but it certainly partook of the nature
of vice, as being evidently addressed to carnal sentiments, not adapted
for confidence or long duration, or any other recognised and virtuous
purpose, but only to give pleasure which was by its very nature an
illegitimate thing. It was not indeed that these good people did not
love pleasure in their hearts. There was far more dancing in those days
than has ever been since, and parties for the purpose, at which the
young people met each other, and became engaged to each other and made
love, and married with a general persistency and universalness no longer
known among us; and there was much more drinking and singing of jovial
songs and celebration of other kinds of pleasure. But a bright
wall-paper, or a cheerful carpet, or more light in a room than was
absolutely necessary, these were frivolities almost going the length of
depravity that were generally condemned.
The new-comers were among the wedding-guests, and Mrs. Mowbray came in a
white Indian shawl, and a white satin bonnet, adorned with roses inside
its cave-like sides, as if she had been the bride herself: while Frank
had already a flower in his coat before the wedding-favour was added
which made him, in the estimation of his compeers, a most conspicuous
figure, and more “like a lassie” than ever. When the time came for
Marion and her husband to go away, it was he who drew from his pocket
the white satin slipper which landed on the top of the post-chaise, and
made the bridal pair also “so conspicuous”–to their great wrath, when
they discovered by the cheers that met them in every village what an
ensign they were carrying with them, though they had indeed a most sober
post-chaise from the old Royal: and Matthew had taken care that the
postillion took off his favour as soon as they were out of the town. To
throw an old shoe for luck was a well-understood custom, but satin
slippers were not so common in St. Rule’s in those days that they should
be used in this way, and Marion never quite forgave this breach of all
decorum, pointing her out to the world just on the day of all others
when she most desired to escape notice. But the Mowbrays did not
understand how you ever could desire to escape notice, which, for their
part, they loved. The young people who crowded about the door to see the
bride go off, the girls laughing and crying in their excitement, the
lads cheering and shouting, were, I need not say, augmented by half the
population of St. Rule’s, all as eager and as much interested as if they
too had been wedding-guests. The women about, though they had no
occasion to be specially moved, laughed and cried too, for sympathy, and
made their comments at the top of their voices, with the frankness of
their class.
“She is just as bonnie a bride as I ever saw, as I aye kent she would
be; but he’s but a poor creature beside her,” said one of the fishwives.
“Hoot, woman,” said another, “the groom, he’s aye the shaddow on the
brightness, and naithing expected from him.”
“But he’s not that ill-faured either,” said another spectator.
“She’s a bonnie creature, and he’s a wise-like man.” Elsie, who had
always an ear for what was going on, took in all these comments, and
the aspect of affairs generally without really knowing what she heard
and saw. But there was one episode which, above all, caught that half
attention which imprints a scene on the memory we cannot tell how. At
the house door, Frank Mowbray, with the slipper in his hand, very proud
of that piece of fashion and prettiness, stood stretching himself to his
full height (which was not great), and preparing for his throw. While at
the same moment she caught sight of a very different figure close to the
chaise watching the crowd, which was Johnny Wemyss, the friend for whom
Rodie her own brother had deserted her, and whom, consequently, she
regarded with no favourable eyes. He was a tall weedy boy, with long
arms growing out of his jacket-sleeves, and that look of loose-jointed
largeness which belongs to a puppy in all varieties of creation. He was
in his Sunday clothes and bareheaded, and as Marion walked across the
pavement, he stooped down and laid before the steps of the chaise a
large handful of flowers. The bride gave an astonished look, and then a
nod and a smile to the rough lad, who rose up, red as fire with the
shamefacedness of his homage, and disappeared behind the crowd. It was
only the affair of a moment, and probably very few people noticed it at
all. But Elsie saw it, and her face burned with sympathetic excitement.
She was pushed back at almost the same moment by the sudden action of
Frank, throwing his missile, and then, amid laughter, crying, and
cheers, the post-chaise drove away.
“My dear,” said Mr. Buchanan, a few minutes after, “some bairn has
dropped its flowers on the pavement, or perhaps it was Marion that let
them fall. Send one of the women out to clear them away; it has a
disorderly look before the door,” the minister said.
Elsie did not know what made her do it, but she darted out in her white
frock among the dispersing crowd, and gathered up, with her own hands,
the flowers on which Marion had set her foot. She took a rose from among
them and put it into her own belt. They were, I fear, dusty and soiled,
and only fit, as Mr. Buchanan said, to be swept away, but it was to
Elsie the only touch of poetry in the whole business. Bride and
bridegroom were very sober persons, scarcely worthy, perhaps, to tread
upon flowers, which, indeed, Mr. Matthew Sinclair had avoided by kicking
them (though gently) out of his way. But Elsie felt the unusual tribute,
if no one else did. She gave a glance round for Johnny Wemyss, and
caught him as he cast back a furtive glance from behind the shadow of a
burly fisherman. And again the boy grew red, and so did she. They had a
secret between them from that day, and everybody knows, who has ever
been sixteen, what a bond that is, a bond for life.
“Take out that dirty flower out of your belt,” said Rodie, putting out
his hand for it; “if you want a flower, you can get a fresh one out of
the garden. All the folk in the street have tramped upon it.” This word
is constantly used in Scotland, with unnecessary vehemence of utterance,
for the simpler syllable trod.
“I’ll not take it out,” said Elsie, “and only Marion put her foot upon
it. It is the bonniest thing of all that has happened; and it was your
own friend Johnny Wemyss that you are so fond of.”
“I am not fond of him,” said Rodie, ingenuously; “do you think me and
him are like a couple of lassies? Throw it away this minute.”
“No for you, nor all the fine gentlemen in the world!” cried Elsie,
holding her rose fast; and there would probably have been a scuffle over
it, Rodie at fifteen having no sense as yet that a lassie’s whims were
more to be respected than any other comrade’s, had not Mrs. Buchanan
suddenly appeared.
“Elsie,” she said half severely, “are you forgetting already that you’re
now the only girl in the house? and nobody to look after the folk
upstairs–oh, if they would only go away! but you and me.”
“I’m going, mamma,” cried Elsie, and then, though embraces were rare in
this reserved atmosphere, she threw her arms round her mother and gave
her a kiss. “I’m not so good as May, but I will try my best,” she said.
“Oh my dear, but I am tired, tired! both body and mind,” said Mrs.
Buchanan; “and awfu’ thankful to have you, to be a comfort. Rodie, run
away and divert yourself and leave her alone; there’s plenty about of
your own kind.”
It gave Elsie a pang, yet a thrill of satisfaction to see her brother,
who had deserted her, thus summarily cleared off the scene. Marion had
said regretfully, yet dispassionately, that they liked their own kind
best, which had been a revelation and a painful one to the abandoned
sister. But to have him thus sent off rather contemptuously than
otherwise to his own kind, as by no means a superior portion of the
race, gave her a new light on the subject, as well as a new sensation.
Boys, she remembered, and had always heard were sent to divert
themselves, as the only thing they were good for, when a lassie was
useful in many ways. In this manner she began to recover from the bitter
sense of the injury which the scorn of the laddies had inflicted upon
her. They might scorn away as they pleased. But the other folk, who had
more experience than they, thought otherwise; this helped Elsie to
recover her balance. She almost began to feel that even if Rodie were
lost, all would not be lost. And her exertions were great in the tired
and wavering afternoon party, which had nothing to amuse itself with,
and yet could not make up its mind to break up and go away, as the
hosts, quite worn out with the long strain, and feeling that everything
was now over, most fondly desired them to do.
“Will you come and see me?” said Mrs. Mowbray. “I have taken a great
fancy to this child, Mrs. Buchanan. She has such pretty brown eyes and
rosy cheeks.”
“Will you come and see me, Elsie? I have got no pretty daughters. Oh!
how I wish I had one to dress up and play with; Frank is all very well,
he is a good boy–but a girl would make me quite happy.”
Elsie was much disgusted with this address: to be told to her face that
she had pretty brown eyes and rosy cheeks was unpardonable! In the first
place, it was not true, for Elsie was well aware she was freckled, and
thought red cheeks very vulgar and common. In those days heroines were
always of an interesting paleness, and had black or very dark hair,
“raven tresses” in poetry. And alas, Elsie’s locks were more ruddy than
raven. She was quite aware that she was not a pretty daughter, and it
was intolerable that anyone should mock her, pretending to admire her to
her face!
Mrs. Buchanan took it much more sweetly. She looked at Elsie with
caressing eyes. “She is the only girlie at home now,” she said, with a
little sigh, “and she will have to learn to be a woman. Marion was
always the greatest help–my right hand–since she was little more than
a baby. And now Elsie will have to learn to take her place.”
“I don’t care so much for them being useful when they are ornamental,”
said Mrs. Mowbray, “for that is the woman’s part in the world is it not?
The men may do all the hard work, but they can’t do the decoration, can
they? We want the girls for that.”
“Dear me,” said Mrs. Buchanan, “I am not sure that I ever looked upon it
in that light. There is a great deal to be done, when there is a family
of laddies; you cannot expect them to do things for themselves, and when
there is only one sister, it is hard work.”
“Oh, I do not hold with that,” said the other lady. “I turn all that
over to my maid. I would not make the girls servants to their brothers:
quite the contrary. It is the boys that should serve the girls, in my
opinion. Frank would no more let a young lady do things for him!–I
consider it quite wrong for my part.”
Mrs. Buchanan was a little abashed.
“When you have plenty of servants and a small family, it is of course
quite different, but you know what the saying is, ‘a woman’s work is
never done’—-”
“My dear Mrs. Buchanan, you are simply antediluvian,” said her visitor.
(Oh, if she would only go away, instead of standing havering there!) The
minister’s wife was more tired than words could say. “Claude,” she said,
clutching at her husband’s arm as he passed her, “Mrs. Mowbray has not
seen our garden, and you know we are proud of our garden. Perhaps she
would like to take a turn and look at the view.”
“I am so glad to get you for a little to myself, Mr. Buchanan,” said
Mrs. Mowbray. “Oh yes, let us go to the garden. I have been so longing
to speak to you. There are so many things about poor Mr. Anderson’s
estate, and other matters, that I don’t understand.”