Jean asked him laughingly if Wilfred the Gazelle would live up to its name this run, but Stark received the pleasantry coldly, having no use for archness in any form.
It was wonderful to rush through the morning air still sharp from a touch of frost in the night, ascending higher and higher into the hills. Mhor sang to himself in sheer joy of heart, and though no one knew what were the words he sang, and Jock thought poorly of the tune, Peter snuggled up to him and seemed to understand and like it.
The day grew hot and dusty as they ran down from the Lake district, and they were glad to have their lunch beside a noisy little burn in a green meadow, from the well-stocked luncheon-basket provided by the Penrith inn. Then they dipped into the black country, where tall chimneys belched out smoke, and car-lines ran along the streets, and pale-faced, hurrying people looked enviously at the big car with its load of youth and good looks. Everything was grim and dirty and spoiled. Mhor looked at the grimy place and said solemnly:
"It reminds me of hell."
"Haw, haw!" laughed Jock. "When did you see hell last?"
"In the Pilgrim's Progress," said Mhor.
One of the black towns provided tea in a cafe which purported to be Japanese, but the only things about it that recalled that sunny island overseas were the paper napkins, the china, and two fans nailed on the wall; the linoleum-covered floor, the hard wooden chairs, the fly-blown buns being peculiarly and bleakly British.
Before evening the grim country was left behind. In the soft April twilight they crossed wide moorlands (which Jock was inclined to resent as being "too Scots to be English") until, as it was beginning to get dark, they slid softly into Shrewsbury.
The next day was as fine as ever. "Really," said Jean, as they strolled before breakfast, watching the shops being opened and studying the old timbered houses, "it's getting almost absurd: like Father's story of the soldier who greeted his master every morning in India with 'Another hot day, sirr.' We thought if we got one good day out of the three we were to be on the road we wouldn't grumble, and here it goes on and on.... We must come back to Shrewsbury, Davie. It deserves more than just to be slept in...."
"Aren't English breakfasts the best you ever tasted?" David asked as they sat down to rashers of home-cured ham, corpulent brown sausages, and eggs poached to a nicety.
So far David had made an excellent guide. They had never once diverged from the road they meant to take, but this third day of the run turned out to be somewhat confused. They started off almost at once on the wrong road and found themselves riding up a deep green lane into a farmyard. Out again on the highway David found the number of cross-roads terribly perplexing. Once he urged Stark to ask directions from a cottage. Stark did so and leapt back into his seat.
"Which road do we take?" David asked, as five offered themselves.
"Didna catch what they said," Stark remarked as he chose a road at random.
"Didna catch it," was Stark's favourite response to everything. Later on they came to the top of a steep hill ornamented by an enormous warning-post with this alarming notice—"Cyclists dismount. Many accidents. Some fatal." Stark went on unconcernedly, and Jean shouted at him, holding desperately to the side of the car, as if her feeble strength would help the brakes. "Stark! Stark! Didn't you see that placard?"
"Didna catch it," said Stark, as he swung light-heartedly down an almost perpendicular hill into the valley of the Severn.
"I do think Stark's a fool," said Jean bitterly, wrathful in the reaction from her fright. "He does no damage on the road, and of course I'm glad of that. I've seen him stop dead for a hen, and the wayfaring man, though a fool, is safe from him; but he cares nothing for what happens to the poor wretched people inside the car. As nearly as possible he had us over the parapet of that bridge."
And later, when they found from the bill at lunch-time that Stark's luncheon had consisted of "one mineral," she thought that the way he had risked all their lives must have taken away his appetite.
The car ran splendidly that day—David said it was getting into its stride—and they got to Oxford for tea and had time to go and see David's rooms before they left for Stratford. But David would let them see nothing else. "No," he said; "it would be a shame to hurry over your first sight. You must come here after Stratford. I'll take rooms for you at the Mitre. I want to show you Oxford on a May morning."
It was quite dark when they reached Stratford. To Jean it seemed strange and delicious thus to enter Shakespeare's own town, the Avon a-glimmer under the moon, the kingcups and the daisies asleep in the meadows.
The lights of the Shakespeare Hotel shone cheerily as they came forward. A "boots" with a wrinkled, whimsical face came out to help them in. Shaded lights and fires (for the evenings were chilly) made a bright welcome, and they were led across the stone-paved hall with its oaken rafters, gate-legged tables, and bowls of spring flowers, up a steep little staircase hung with old prints of the plays, down winding passages to the rooms allotted to them. Jean looked eagerly at the name on her door.
"Hurrah! I've got 'Rosalind.' I wanted her most of all."
Jock and Mhor had a room with two beds, rather incongruously called "Anthony and Cleopatra." Jock was inclined to be affronted, and said it was a silly-looking thing to put him in a room called after such an amorous couple. If it had been Touchstone or Mercutio, or even Shylock, he would not have minded, but the pilgrims of love got scant sympathy from that sturdy misogynist.
"It was a lover and his lass, With a hey and a ho, and a hey nonino, That o'er the green corn-fields did pass, In the spring-time, the only pretty ring time...."
As You Like It.
Next morning Jean's eyes wandered round the dining-room as if looking for someone, but there was no one she had ever seen before among the breakfasters at the little round tables in the pretty room with its low ceiling and black oak beams. To Jean, unused to hotel life and greatly interested in her kind, it was like a peep into some thrilling book. She could hardly eat her breakfast for studying the faces of her neighbours and trying to place them.
Were they all Shakespeare lovers? she wondered.
The people at the next table certainly looked as if they might be: a high-browed, thin-faced clergyman with a sister who was clever (from her eye-glasses and the way her hair was done, Jean decided she must be very clever), and a friend with them who looked literary—at least he had a large pile of letters and a clean-shaven face; and they seemed, all three, like Lord Lilac, to be "remembering him like anything."
There were several clergymen in the room; one, rather fat, with a smug look and a smartly dressed wife, Jean decided must have married an heiress; another, with very prominent teeth and kind eyes, was accompanied by an extremely aged mother and two lean sisters.
One family party attracted Jean very much: a young-looking father and mother, with two girls, very pretty and newly grown up, and a boy like Davie. They were making plans for the day, deciding what to see and what to leave unseen, laughing a great deal, and chaffing each other, parents and children together. They looked so jolly and happy, as if they had always found the world a comfortable place. They seemed rather amused to find themselves at Stratford among the worshippers. Jean concluded that they were of those "not bad of heart" who "remembered Shakespeare with a start."
Jock and Mhor were in the highest spirits. It seemed to them enormous fun to be staying in a hotel, and not an ordinary square up-and-down hotel, but a rambling place with little stairs in unexpected places, and old parts and new parts, and bedrooms owning names, and a long, low-roofed drawing-room with a window at the far end that opened right out to the stable-yard through which pleasantries could be exchanged with grooms and chauffeurs. There was a parlour, too, off the hall—the cosiest of parlours with cream walls and black oak beams and supports, two fireplaces round which were grouped inviting arm-chairs, tables with books and papers, many bowls of daffodils. And all over the house hung old prints of scenes in the plays; glorious pictures, some of them—ghosts and murders over which Mhor gloated.
They went before luncheon to the river and sailed up and down in a small steam-launch named The Swan of Avon. Jean thought privately that the presence of such things as steam-launches were a blot on Shakespeare's river, but the boys were delighted with them, and at once began to plan how one might be got to adorn Tweed.
In the afternoon they walked over the fields to Shottery to see Anne Hathaway's cottage.
Jean walked in a dream. On just such an April day, when shepherds pipe on oaten straws, Shakespeare himself must have walked here. It would be different, of course; there would be no streets of little mean houses, only a few thatched cottages. But the larks would be singing as they were to-day, and the hawthorn coming out, and the spring flowers abloom in Anne Hathaway's garden.
She caught her breath as they went out of the sunshine into the dim interior of the cottage.
This ingle-nook ... Shakespeare must have sat here on winter evenings and talked. Did he tell Anne Hathaway wonderful tales? Perhaps, when he was not writing and weaving for himself a garment of immortality, he was just an everyday man, genial with his neighbours, interested in all the small events of his own town, just Master Shakespeare whom the children looked up from their play to smile at as he passed.
"Oh, Jock," Jean said, clutching her brother's sleeve. "Can you really believe that he sat here?—actually in this little room? Looked out of the window—isn't it wonderful, Jock?"
Jock, like Mr. Fearing, ever wakeful on the enchanted ground, rolled his head uncomfortably, sniffed, and said, "It smells musty!" Both he and Mhor were frankly much more interested in the fact that ginger-beer and biscuits were to be had in the cottage next door.
They mooned about all afternoon vastly content, and had tea in the garden of a sort of enchanted cottage (with a card in the window which bore the legend, "We sell home-made lemonade, lavender, and pot-pourri "), among apple trees and spring flowers and singing birds, and ate home-made bread and honey, and cakes with orange icing on them. A girl in a blue gown, who might have been Sweet Anne Page, waited on them, and Jean was so distressed at the amount they had eaten and at the smallness of the bill presented that she slipped an extra large tip under a plate, and fled before it could be discovered.
It was a red-letter day for all three, for they were going to the theatre that night for the first time. Jean had once been at a play with her father, but it was so long ago as to be the dimmest memory, and she was as excited as the boys. Their first play was to be As You Like It. Oh, lucky young people to see, for the first time on an April evening, in Shakespeare's own town, the youngest, gayest play that ever was written!
They ran up to their rooms to dress, talking and laughing. They could not be silent, their hearts were so light. Jean sang softly to herself as she laid out what she meant to wear that evening. Pamela had made her promise to wear a white frock, the merest wisp of a frock made of lace and georgette, with a touch of vivid green, and a wreath of green leaves for the golden-brown head. Jean had protested. She was afraid she would look overdressed: a black frock would be more suitable; but Pamela had insisted and Jean had promised.
As she looked in the glass she smiled at the picture she made. It was a pity Pamela couldn't see how successful the frock was, for she had designed it.... Lord Bidborough had never seen her prettily dressed. Why did Pamela never mention him? Jean realised the truth of the old saying, "Speak weel o' ma love, speak ill o' ma love, but aye speak o' him."
She looked into the boys' room when she was ready and found them only half dressed and engaged in a game of cock-fighting. Having admonished them she went down alone. She went very slowly down the last flight of stairs (she was shy of going into the dining-room)—a slip of a girl crowned with green leaves. Suddenly she stopped. There, in the hall watching her, alone but for the "boots" with the wrinkled, humorous face and eyes of amused tolerance, was Richard Plantagenet.
Behind her where she stood hung a print of Lear—the hovel on the heath, the storm-bent trees, the figure of the old man, the shivering Fool with his "Poor Tom's a-cold." Beside her, fastened to the wall, was a letter-box with a glass front full of letters and picture-cards waiting to be taken to the evening post. Tragedy and the commonplace things of life—but Jean, for the moment, was lifted far from either. She was seeing a new heaven and a new earth. Words were not needed. She looked into Richard Plantagenet's eyes and knew that he wanted her, and she put her hands out to him like a trusting child.
* * * * *
When Jock and Mhor reached the dining-room and found Richard Plantagenet seated beside Jean they were rapturous in their greetings, pouring questions on him, demanding to know how long he meant to stay.
"As long as you stay," he told them.
"Oh, good," Jock said. "Are you fearfully keen on Shakespeare? Jean's something awful. It gives me a sort of hate at him to hear her."
"Oh, Jock," Jean protested, "surely not. I'm not nearly as bad as some of the people here. I don't haver quite so much.... I was in the drawing-room this morning and heard two women talking, an English woman and an American. The English woman remarked casually that Shakespeare wasn't a Christian, and the American protested, 'Oh, don't say. He had a great White Soul.'"
"Gosh, Maggie!" said Jock. "What a beastly thing to say about anybody! If Shakespeare could see Stratford now I expect he'd laugh—all the shops full of little heads, and pictures of his house, and models of his birthplace ... it's enough to put anybody off being a genius."
"I was dreadfully snubbed in a shop to-day," said Jean, smiling at her lover. "It was a very nice mixed-up shop with cakes and crucifixes and little stucco figures, presided over by a dignified lady with black lace on her head. I remembered Mrs. Jowett's passion for stucco saints in her bedroom, and picked one up, remarking that it would be a nice remembrance of Stratford. 'Oh, surely not, madam,' said the shocked voice of the shop-lady, 'surely a nobler memory'—and I found it was a figure of Christ."
"Jean simply rushed out of the shop," said Jock, "and she hadn't paid, and I had to go in again with the money."
"See what I've got," Mhor said, producing a parcel from his pocket. He unwrapped it, revealing a small bust of Shakespeare.
"It's a wee Shakespeare to send to Mrs. M'Cosh—and I've got a card for Bella Bathgate—a funny one, a pig. Read it."
He handed the card to Lord Bidborough, who read aloud the words issuing from the mouth of the pig:
"You may push me, You may shove, But I never will be druv From Stratford-on-Avon."
"Excellent sentiment, Mhor—Miss Bathgate will be pleased."
"Yes," said Mhor complacently. "I thought she'd like a pig better than a Shakespeare one. She said she wondered Jean would go and make a fuss about the place a play-actor was born in. She says she wouldn't read a word he wrote, and she didn't seem to like the bits I said to her.... This isn't the first time, Richard Plantagenet, I've sat up for dinner."
"No. I did it at Penrith and Shrewsbury and last night here."
"By Jove, you're a man of the world now, Mhor."
"It mustn't go on," said Jean, "but once in a while...."
"And d'you know where I'm going to-night?" Mhor went on. "To a theatre to see a play. Yes. And I shan't be in bed till at least eleven o'clock. It's the first time in my life I've ever been outside after ten o'clock, and I've always wanted to see what it was like then."
"No different from any other time," Jock told him. But Mhor shook his head. He knew better. After-ten-o'clock Land must be different....
"This is a great night for us all," Jean said. "Our first play. You have seen it often, I expect. Are you going?"
"Of course I'm going. I wouldn't miss Jock's face at a play for anything.... Or yours," he added, leaning towards her. "No, Mhor. There's no hurry. It doesn't begin for another half-hour ... we'll have coffee in the other room."
Mhor was in a fever of impatience, and quite ten minutes before the hour they were in their seats in the front row of the balcony. Oddly enough, Lord Bidborough's seat happened to be adjoining the seats taken by the Jardines, and Jean and he sat together.
It was a crowded house, for the play was being played by a new company for the first time that night. Jean sat silent, much too content to talk, watching the people round her, and listening idly to snatches of conversation. Two women, evidently inhabitants of the town, were talking behind her.
"Yes," one woman was saying; "I said to my sister only to-day, 'What would we do if there was a sudden alarm in the night?' If we needed a doctor or a policeman? You know, my dear, the servants are all as old as we are. I don't really believe there is anyone in our road that can run."
The other laughed comfortably and agreed, but Jean felt chilled a little, as if a cloud had obscured for a second the sun of her happiness. In this gloriously young world of unfolding leaves and budding hawthorns and lambs and singing birds and lovers, there were people old and done who could only walk slowly in the sunshine, in whom the spring could no longer put a spirit of youth, who could not run without being weary. How ugly age was! Grim, menacing: Age, I do abhor thee....
The curtain went up.
The youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys, the young Orlando, "a youth unschooled and yet learned, full of noble device, of all sorts enchantingly beloved," talked to old Adam, and then to his own most unnatural brother. The scene changed to the lawn before the Duke's palace. Lord Bidborough bade Jean observe the scenery and dresses. "You see how simple it is, and vivid, rather like Noah's Ark scenery? And the dresses are a revolt against the stuffy tradition that made Rosalind a sort of principal boy.... Those dresses are all copied from old missals.... I rather like it. Do you approve?"
Jean was not in a position to judge, but said she certainly approved.
Rosalind and Celia were saying the words she knew so well. Touchstone had come in—that witty knave; Monsieur le Beau, with his mouth full of news; and again, the young Orlando o'er-throwing more than his enemies.
And now Rosalind and Celia are planning their flight.... It is the Forest of Arden. Again Orlando and Adam speak together, and Adam, with all his years brave upon him, assures his master, "My age is as a lusty winter, frosty but kindly."
The words came to Jean with a new significance. How Shakespeare knew ... why should she mourn because Age must come? Age was beautiful and calm, for the seas are quiet when the winds give o'er. Age is done with passions and discontents and strivings. Probably those women behind her who had sighed comfortably because nobody in their road could run, whom she pitied, wouldn't change with her to-night. They had had their life. It wasn't sad to be old, Jean told herself, for as the physical sight dims, the soul sees more clearly, and the light from the world to come illumines the last dark bit of the way....
They went out between the acts and walked by the river in the moonlight and talked of the play.
Jock and Mhor were loud in their approval, only regretting that Touchstone couldn't be all the time on the stage. Lord Bidborough asked Jean if it came up to her expectations.
"I don't know what I expected.... I never imagined any play could be so vivid and gay and alive.... I've always loved Rosalind, and I didn't think any actress could be quite my idea of her, but this girl is. I thought at first she wasn't nearly pretty enough, but she has the kind of face that becomes more charming the more you look at it, and she is so graceful and witty and impertinent."
"And Rabelaisian," added her companion. "It really is a very good show. There is a sort of youthful freshness about the acting that is very engaging. And every part is so competently filled. Jaques is astonishingly good, don't you think? I never heard the 'seven ages' speech so well said."
"It sounded," Jean said, "as if he were saying the words for the first time, thinking them as he went along."
"I know what you mean. When the great lines come on it's a temptation to the actor to draw himself together and clear his throat, and rather address them to the audience. This fellow leaned against a tree and, as you say, seemed to be thinking them as he went along. He's an uncommonly good actor ... I don't know when I enjoyed a show so much."
The play wore on to its merry conclusion; all too short the Jardines found it. Jock's wrath at the love-sick shepherd knew no bounds, but he highly approved of Rosalind because, he said, she had such an impudent face.
"Who did you like best, Richard Plantagenet?" Mhor asked as they came down the steps.
"Well, I think, perhaps the most worthy character was 'the old religious man' who converted so opportunely the Duke Frederick."
"Yes," Jean laughed. "I like that way of getting rid of an objectionable character and enriching a deserving one. But Jaques went off to throw in his lot with the converted Duke. I rather grudged that."
"To-morrow," said Mhor, who was skipping along, very wide awake and happy in After-ten-o'clock Land—"to-morrow I'm going to take Peter to the river and let him snowk after water-rats. I think he's feeling lonely—a Scots dog among so many English people."
"Stark's lonely too," said Jock. "He says the other chauffeurs have an awful queer accent and it's all he can do to understand them."
"Oh, poor Stark!" said Jean. "I don't suppose he would care much to see the plays."
"He told me," Jock went on, "that one of the other chauffeurs had asked him to go with him to a concert called Macbeth. When I told him what it was he said he'd had an escape. He says he sees enough of Shakespeare in this place without going to hear him. He's at the Pictures to-night, and there's a circus coming—"
"And oh, Jean," cried Mhor, "it's the very one that came to Priorsford!"
"Take a start, Mhor," said Jock, "and I'll race you back."
Lord Bidborough and Jean walked on in silence.
At the garden where once had stood New Place—that "pretty house in brick and timber"—the shadow of the Norman church lay black on the white street and beyond it was the velvet darkness of the old trees.
"This," Jean said softly, "must be almost exactly as it was in Shakespeare's time. He must have seen the shadow of the tower falling like that, and the trees, and his garden. Perhaps it was on an April night like this that he wrote:
On such a night Stood Dido with a willow in her hand Upon the wild sea-banks and waft her lover To come again to Carthage."
They had both stopped, and Jean, after a glance at her companion's face, edged away. He caught her hands and held her there in the shadow.
"The last time we were together, Jean, it was December, dripping rain and mud, and you would have none of me. To-night—in such a night, Jean, I come again to you. I love you. Will you marry me?"
"Yes," said Jean—"for I am yours."
For a moment they stood caught up to the seventh heaven, knowing nothing except that they were together, hearing nothing but the beating of their own hearts.
Jean was the first to come to herself.
"Everyone's gone home. The boys'll think we are lost.... Oh, Biddy, have I done right? Are you sure you want me? Can I make you happy?"
"Can you make me happy? My blessed child, what a question! Don't you know that you seem to me almost too dear for my possessing? You are far too good for me, but I won't give you up now. No, not though all the King's horses and all the King's men come in array against me. My Jean ... my little Jean."
Jock's comment on hearing of his sister's engagement was that he did think Richard Plantagenet was above that sort of thing. Later on, when he had got more used to the idea, he said that, seeing he had to marry somebody, it was better to be Jean than anybody else.
Mhor, like Gallio, cared for none of these things.
He merely said, "Oh, and will you be married and have a bridescake? What fun!... You might go with Peter and me to the station and see the London trains pass. Jock went yesterday and he says he won't go again for three days. Will you, Jean? Oh, please—"
David, at Oxford, sent his sister a letter which she put away among her chiefest treasures. Safely in his room, with a pen in his hand, he would write what he was too shy and awkward to say: he could call down blessings on his sister in a letter, when face to face with her he would have been dumb.
Pamela, on hearing the news, rushed down from London to congratulate Jean and her Biddy in person. She was looking what Jean called "fearfully London," and seemed in high spirits.
"Of course I'm in high spirits," she told Jean. "The very nicest thing in the world has come to pass. I didn't think there was a girl living that I could give Biddy to without a grudge till I saw you, and then it seemed much too good to be true that you should fall in love with each other."
"But," said Jean, "how could you want him to marry me, an ordinary girl in a little provincial town?—he could have married anybody."
"Lots of girls would have married Biddy, but I wanted him to have the best, and when I found it for him he had the sense to recognise it. Well, it's all rather like a fairy-tale. And I have Lewis! Jean, you can't think how different life in London seems now—I can enjoy it whole-heartedly, fling myself into it in a way I never could before, not even when I was at my most butterfly stage, because now it isn't my life, it doesn't really matter, I'm only a stranger within the gates. My real life is Lewis, and the thought of the green glen and the little town beside the Tweed."
"You mean," said Jean, "that you can enjoy all the gaieties tremendously because they are only an episode; if it was your life-work making a success of them you would be bored to death."
"Yes. Before I came to Priorsford they were all I had to live for, and I got to hate them. When are you two babes in the wood going to be married? You haven't talked about it yet? Dear me!"
"You see," Jean said, "there's been such a lot to talk about."
"Philanthropic schemes, I suppose?"
Jean started guiltily.
"I'm afraid not. I'd forgotten about the money."
"Then I'm sorry I reminded you of it. Let all the schemes alone for a little, Jean. Biddy will help you when the time comes. I see the two of you reforming the world, losing all your money, probably, and ending up at Laverlaw with Lewis and me. I don't want to know what you talked about, my dear, but whatever it was it has done you both good. Biddy looks now as he looked before the War, and you have lost your anxious look, and your curls have got more yellow in them, and your eyes aren't like moss-agates now; they are almost quite golden. You are infinitely prettier than you were, Jean, girl.... Now, I'm afraid I must fly back to London. Jock and Mhor will chaperone you two excellently, and we'll all meet at Mintern Abbas in the middle of May."
One sunshine day followed another. Wilfred the Gazelle and the excellent Stark carried the party on exploring expeditions all over the countryside. In one delicious village they wandered, after lunch at the inn, into the little church which stood embowered among blossoming trees. The old vicar left his garden and offered to show them its beauties, and Jean fell in love with the simplicity and the feeling of homeliness that was about it.
"Biddy," she whispered, "what a delicious church to be married in. You could hardly help being happy ever after if you were married here."
Later in the day, when they were alone, he reminded her of her words.
"Why shouldn't we, Penny-plain? Why shouldn't we? I know you hate a fussy marriage and dread all the letters and presents and meeting crowds of people who are strangers to you. Of course, it's frightfully good of Mrs. Hope to offer to have it at Hopetoun, but that means waiting, and this is the spring-time, the real 'pretty ring-time.' I would rush up to London and get a special licence. I don't know how in the world it's done, but I can find out, and Pam would come, and David, and we'd be married in the little church among the blossoms. Let's say the thirtieth. That gives us four days to arrange things...."
"Four days," said Jean, "to prepare for one's wedding!"
"But you don't need to prepare. You've got lovely clothes, and we'll go straight to Mintern Abbas, where it doesn't matter what we wear. I tell you what, we'll go to London to-morrow and see lawyers and things—do you realise you haven't even got an engagement ring, you neglected child? And tell Pam—Mad? Of course, it's mad. It's the way they did in the Golden World. It's Rosalind and Orlando. Be persuaded, Penny-plain."
"Priorsford will be horrified," said Jean. "They aren't used to such indecorous haste, and oh, Biddy, I couldn't be married without Mr. Macdonald."
"I was thinking about that. He certainly has the right to be at your wedding. If I wired to-day, do you think they would come? Mrs. Macdonald's such a sportsman, I believe she would hustle the minister and herself off at once."
"I believe she would," said Jean, "and having them would make all the difference. It would be almost like having my own father and mother...."
So it was arranged. They spent a hectic day in London which almost reduced Jean to idiocy, and got back at night to the peace of Stratford. Pamela said she would bring everything that was needed, and would arrive on the evening of the 29th with Lewis and David. The Macdonalds wired that they were coming, and Lord Bidborough interviewed the vicar of the little church among the blossoms and explained everything to him. The vicar was old and wise and tolerant, and he said he would feel honoured if the Scots minister would officiate with him. He would, he said, be pleased to arrange things exactly as Jean and her minister wanted them.
By the 29th they had all assembled.
Pamela arriving with Lewis Elliot and Mawson and a motor full of pasteboard boxes found Jean just home from a picnic at Broadway, flushed with the sun and glowing with health and happiness.
"Well," said Pamela as she kissed her, "this is a new type of bride. Not the nerve-shattered, milliner-ridden creature with writer's cramp in her hand from thanking people for useless presents! You don't look as if you were worrying at all."
"I'm not," said Jean. "Why should I? There will be nobody there to criticise me. There are no preparations to make, so I needn't fuss. Biddy's right. It's the best way to be married."
"I needn't ask if you are happy, my Jean girl?"
Jean flung her arms round Pamela's neck.
"After having Biddy for my own, the next best thing is having you for a sister. I owe you more than I can ever repay."
"Ah, my dear," said Pamela, "the debt is all on my side. You set the solitary in families...."
Mhor here entered, shouting that the car was waiting to take them to the station to meet the Macdonalds, and Jean hurried away.
An hour later the whole party met round the dinner-table. Mhor had been allowed to sit up. Other nights he consumed milk and bread and butter and eggs at 5.30, and went to bed an hour later, leaving Jock to change his clothes and descend to dinner and the play, an arrangement that caused a good deal of friction. But to-night all bitterness was forgotten, and Mhor beamed on everyone.
Mrs. Macdonald was in great form. She had come away, she told them, leaving the spring cleaning half done. "All the study chairs in the garden and Agnes rubbing down the walls, and Allan's men beating the carpet.... In came the telegram, and after I got over the shock—I always expect the worst when I see a telegraph boy—I said to John, 'My best dress is not what it was, but I'm going,' and John was delighted, partly because he was driven out of his study, and he's never happy in any other room, but most of all because it was Jean. English Church or no English Church he'll help to marry Jean. But," turning to the bride to be, "I can hardly believe it, Jean. It's only ten days since you left Priorsford, and to-morrow you're to be married. I think it was the War that taught us such hurried ways...." She sighed, and then went on briskly: "I went to see Mrs. M'Cosh before I left. She had had your letter, so I didn't need to break the news to her. She was wonderfully calm about it, and said that when people went away to England you might expect to hear anything. She said I was to tell Mhor that the cat was asking for him. And she is getting on with the cleaning. I think she said she had finished the dining-room and two bedrooms, and she was expecting the sweep to-day. She said you would like to know that the man had come about the leak in the tank, and it's all right. I saw Bella Bathgate as I was leaving The Rigs. She sent you and Lord Bidborough her kind regards.... She has a free way of expressing herself, but I don't think she means to be disrespectful."
"Has she got lodgers just now?" Pamela asked.
"Oh yes, she told me about them. One she dismissed as 'an auldish, impident wumman wi' specs'; and the other as 'terrible genteel.' Both of them 'a sair come-down frae Miss Reston.' Now you are gone you are on a pedestal."
"I wasn't always on a pedestal," said Pamela, "but I shall always have a tenderness for Bella Bathgate and her parlour." She smiled to Lewis Elliot as she said it.
Jean, sitting beside Mr. Macdonald, thanked him for coming.
"Happy, Jean?" he asked.
"Utterly happy," said Jean. "So happy that I'm almost afraid. Isn't it odd how one seems to cower down to avoid drawing the attention of the Fates to one's happiness, saying, 'It is naught, it is naught,' in case disaster follows?"
"Don't worry about the Fates, Jean," Mr. Macdonald advised. "Rejoice in your happiness, and God grant that the evil days may never come to you.... What, Jock? Am I going to the play? I never went to a play in my life and I'm too old to begin."
"Oh, but, Mr. Macdonald," Jean broke in eagerly, "it isn't like a real theatre; it's all Shakespeare, and the place is simply black with clergymen, so you wouldn't feel out of place. You know you taught me first to care for Shakespeare, and I'd love to sit beside you and see a play acted."
Mr. Macdonald shook his head at her.
"Are you tempting your old minister, Jean? I've lived for sixty-five years without seeing a play, and I think I can go on to the end. It's not that it's wrong or that I think myself more virtuous than the rest of the world because I stay away. It's prejudice if you like, intolerance perhaps, narrowness, bigotry—"
"Well, I think you and Mrs. Macdonald are better to rest this evening after your journey," Pamela said.
"Wouldn't you rather we stayed at home with you?" Jean asked. "We're only going to the play for something to do. We thought Davie would like it."
"It's Romeo and Juliet," Jock broke in. "A silly love play, but there's a fine scene at the end where they all get killed. If you're sleeping, Mhor, I'll wake you up for that."
"I would like to stay with you," Jean said to Mrs. Macdonald.
"Never in the world. Off you go to your play, and John and I will go early to bed and be fresh for to-morrow. When is the wedding?"
"At twelve o'clock in the church at Little St. Mary's," Lord Bidborough told her. "It's about ten miles from Stratford. I'm staying at the inn there to-night, and I trust you to see that they are all off to-morrow in good time." He turned to Mr. Macdonald. "It's most extraordinarily kind, sir, of you both to come. I knew Jean would never feel herself properly married if you were not there. And we wondered, Mrs. Macdonald, if you and your husband would add to your kindness by staying on here for a few days with the boys? You would see the country round, and then you would motor down with them and join us at Mintern Abbas for another week. D'you think you can spare the time? Jean would like you to see her in her own house, and I needn't say how honoured I would feel."
"Bless me," said Mrs. Macdonald. "That would mean a whole fortnight away from Priorsford. You could arrange about the preaching, John, but what about the spring cleaning? Agnes is a good creature, but I'm never sure that she scrubs behind the shutters; they're the old-fashioned kind, and need a lot of cleaning. However," with a deep sigh, "it's very kind of you to ask us, and at our age we won't have many more opportunities of having a holiday together, so perhaps we should seize this one. Dear me, Jean, I don't understand how you can look so bright so near your wedding. I cried and cried at mine. Have you not a qualm?"
Jean shook her head and laughed, and Mr. Macdonald said:
"Off with you all to your play. It's an odd thing to choose to go to to-night—
"'For never was there such a tale of woe As this of Juliet and her Romeo.'"
Mrs. Macdonald shook her head and sighed.
"I can't help thinking it's a poor preparation for a serious thing like marriage. I often don't feel so depressed at a funeral. There at least you know you've come to the end—nothing more can happen." Then her eyes twinkled and they left her laughing.
"'My lord, you nod: you do not mind the play.' "'Yes, by Saint Anne, do I.... Madam lady.... Would 'twere done!'"
The Taming of the Shrew.
Jean awoke early on her wedding morning and lay and thought over the twenty-three years of her life, and wondered what she had done to be so blessed, for, looking back, it seemed one long succession of sunny days. The dark spots seemed so inconsiderable looking back as to be hardly worth thinking about.
Her window faced the east, and the morning sun shone in, promising yet another fine day. Through the wall she could hear Mhor, who always woke early, busy at some game—possibly wigwams with the blankets and sheets—already the chamber-maid had complained of finding the sheets knotted round the bed-posts. He was singing a song to himself as he played. Jean could hear his voice crooning. The sound filled her with an immense tenderness. Little Mhor with his naughtiness and his endearing ways! And beloved Jock with his gruff voice and surprised blue eyes, so tender hearted, so easily affronted. And David—the dear companion of her childhood who had shared with her all the pleasures and penalties of life under the iron rule of Great-aunt Alison, who understood as no one else could ever quite understand, not even Biddy.... But as she thought of Biddy, she sprang out of bed, and leaning out of the window she turned her face to Little St. Mary's, where her love was, and where presently she would join him.
Five hours later she would stand with him in the church among the blossoms, and they would be made man and wife, joined together till death did them part. Jean folded her hands on the window-sill She felt solemn and quiet and very happy. She had not had much time for thinking in the last few days, and she was glad of this quiet hour. It was good on her wedding morning to tell over in her mind, like beads on a rosary, the excellent qualities of her dear love. Could there be another such in the wide world? Pamela was happy with Lewis Elliot, and Lewis was kind and good and in every way delightful, but compared with Richard Plantagenet—In this pedestrian world her Biddy had something of the old cavalier grace. Also, he had more than a streak of Ariel. Would he be content always to be settled at home? He thought so now, but—Anyway, she wouldn't try to bind him down, to keep him to domesticity, making an eagle into a barndoor fowl; she would go with him where she could go, and where she would be a burden she would send him alone and keep a high heart, till she could welcome him home.
But it was high time that she had her bath and dressed. It would be a morning of dressing, for about 10.30 she would have to dress again for her wedding. The obvious course was to breakfast in bed, but Jean had rejected the idea as "stuffy." To waste the last morning of April in bed with crumbs of toast and a tray was unthinkable, and by 9.30 Jean was at the station giving Mhor an hour with his beloved locomotors.
"You will like to come to Mintern Abbas, won't you, Mhor?" she said.
"I would have liked it better," he confessed, "if there had been a railway line quite near. It was silly of whoever built it to put it so far away."
"When Mintern Abbas was built railways hadn't been invented."
"I'm glad I wasn't invented before railways," said Mhor. "I would have been very dull."
"You'll have a pony at Mintern Abbas. Won't that be nice?"
"Yes. Oh! there's the signal down at last. That'll be the express to London. I can hear the roar of it already."
Pamela's idea of a wedding garment for Jean was a soft white cloth coat and skirt, and a close-fitting hat with Mercury wings. Everything was simple, but everything was exquisitely fresh and dainty.
Pamela dressed her, Mrs. Macdonald looking on, and Mawson fluttering about, admiring but incompetent.
"'Something old and something new, Something borrowed and something blue,'"
Mrs. Macdonald quoted. "Have you got them all, Jean?"
"I think so. I've got a lace handkerchief that was my mother's—that's old. And blue ribbon in my under-things. And I've borrowed Pamela's prayer-book, for I haven't one of my own. And all the rest of me's new."
"And the sun is shining," said Pamela, "so you're fortified against ill-luck."
"I hope so," said Jean gravely. "I must see if Mhor has washed his face this morning. I didn't notice at breakfast, and he's such an odd child, he'll wash every bit of himself and neglect his face. Perhaps you'll remember to look, Mrs. Macdonald, when you are with him here."
Mrs. Macdonald smiled at Jean's maternal tone.
"I've brought up four boys," she said, "so I ought to know something of their ways. It will be like old times to have Jock and Mhor to look after."
Mhor went in the car with Jean and Pamela and Mrs. Macdonald. The others had gone on in Lord Bidborough's car, as Mr. Macdonald wanted to see the vicar before the service. The vicar had asked Jean about the music, saying that the village schoolmistress who was also the organist, was willing to play. "I don't much like 'The Voice that breathed o'er Eden,'" Jean told him, "but anything else would be very nice. It is so very kind of her to play."
Mhor mourned all the way to church about Peter being left behind. "There's poor Peter who is so fond of marriages—he goes to them all in Priorsford—tied up in the yard; and he knows how to behave in a church."
"It's a good deal more than you do," Mrs. Macdonald told him. "You're never still for one moment. I know of at least one person who has had to change his seat because of you. He said he got no good of the sermon watching you bobbing about."
"It's because I don't care about sermons," Mhor replied, and relapsed into dignified silence—a silence sweetened by a large chocolate poked at him by Jean.
They walked through the churchyard with its quiet sleepers, into the cool church where David was waiting to give his sister away. Some of the village women, with little girls in clean pinafores clinging to their skirts, came shyly in after them and sat down at the door. Lord Bidborough, waiting for his bride, saw her come through the doorway winged like Mercury, smiling back at the children following ... then her eyes met his.
The first thing that Jean became aware of was that Mr. Macdonald was reading her own chapter.
"The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them: and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose....
"And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The Way of Holiness: the unclean shall not pass over it: but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein....
"No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.
"And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."
The schoolmistress had played the wedding march from Lohengrin, and was prepared to play Mendelssohn as the party left the church, but when the service was over Mrs. Macdonald whispered fiercely in Jean's ear, "You can't be married without 'O God of Bethel,'" and ousting the schoolmistress from her place at the organ she struck the opening notes.
They knew it by heart—Jean and Davie and Jock and Mhor and Lewis Elliot—and they sang it with the unction with which one sings the songs of Zion by Babylon's streams.
"Through each perplexing path of life Our wandering footsteps guide; Give us each day our daily bread, And raiment fit provide.
O spread Thy covering wings around Till all our wanderings cease, And at our Father's loved abode Our souls arrive in peace."
Out in the sunshine, among the blossoms, Jean stood with her husband and was kissed and blessed.
"Jean, Lady Bidborough," said Pamela.
"Gosh, Maggie!" said Jock, "I quite forgot Jean would be Lady Bidborough. What a joke!"
"She doesn't look any different," Mhor complained.
"Surely you don't want her different," Mrs. Macdonald said.
"Not very different," said Mhor, "but she's pretty small for a Lady—not nearly as tall as Richard Plantagenet."
"As high as my heart," said Lord Bidborough. "The correct height, Mhor."
The vicar lunched with them at the inn. There were no speeches, and no one tried to be funny.
Jock rebuked Jean for eating too much. "It's not manners for a bride to have more than one help."
"It's odd," said Jean, "but the last time I was married the same thing happened. D'you remember Davie? You were the minister and I was the bride, and I had my pinafore buttoned down the front to look grown up, and Tommy Sprott was the bridegroom. And Great-aunt Alison let us have a cake and some shortbread, and we made strawberry wine ourselves. And at the wedding-feast Tommy Sprott suddenly pointed at me and said, 'Put that girl out; she's eating all the shortbread.' Me—his new-made bride!"
* * * * *
The whole village turned out to see the newly-married couple leave, including the blacksmith and three dogs. It hurt Mhor afresh to see the dogs barking happily while Peter, who would so have enjoyed a fight with them, was spending a boring day in the stable-yard, but Jean comforted him with the thought of Peter's delight at Mintern Abbas.
"Will Richard Plantagenet mind if he chases rabbits?"
"You won't, will you, Biddy?" Jean said.
"Not a bit. If you'll stand between me and the wrath of the keepers Peter may do any mortal thing he likes."
As they drove away through the golden afternoon Jean said: "I've always wondered what people talked about when they went away on their wedding journey?"
"They don't talk: they just look into each other's eyes in a sort of ecstasy, saying, 'Is it I? Is it thou?'"
"That would be pretty silly," said Jean. "We shan't do that anyway."
Her husband laughed.
"You are really very like Jock, my Jean.... D'you remember what your admired Dr. Johnson said? 'If I had no duties I would spend my life in driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman, but she should be one who could understand me and would add something to the conversation.' Wise old man! Tell me, Penny-plain, you're not fretting about leaving the boys? You'll see them again in a few days. Are you dreading having me undiluted?"
"My dear, you don't suppose the boys come first now, do you? I love them as dearly as ever I did, but compared with you—it's so different, absolutely different—I can't explain. I don't love you like people in books, all on fire, and saying wonderful things all the time. But to be with you fills me with utter content. I told you that night in Hopetoun that the boys filled my life. And then you went away, and I found that though I had the boys my life and my heart were empty. You are my life, Biddy."
"My blessed child."
* * * * *
About four o'clock they came home.
An upland country of pastures and shallow dales fell quietly to the river levels, and on a low spur that was its last outpost stood Mintern Abbas, a thing half of the hills and half of the broad valleys. At its back, beyond the home-woods, was a remote land of sheep walks and forgotten hamlets; at its feet the young Thames in lazy reaches wound through water-meadows. Down the slopes of old pasture fell cascades of daffodils, and in the fringes of the coppices lay the blue haze of wild hyacinths. The house was so wholly in tune with the landscape that the eye did not at once detect it, for its gables might have been part of wood or hillside. It was of stone, and built in many periods and in many styles which time had subtly blended so that it seemed a perfect thing without beginning, as long descended as the folds of downs which sheltered it. The austere Tudor front, the Restoration wing, the offices built under Queen Anne, the library added in the days of the Georges, had by some alchemy become one. Peace and long memories were in every line of it, and that air of a home which belongs only to places that have been loved for generations. It breathed ease and comfort, but yet had a tonic vigour in it, for while it stood knee-deep in the green valley its head was fanned by moorland winds.
Jean held her breath as she saw it. It seemed to her the most perfect thing that could be imagined.
She walked in shyly, winged like Mercury, to be greeted respectfully by a row of servants. Jean shook hands with each one, smiling at them with her "doggy" eyes, wishing all the time for Mrs. M'Cosh, who was not specially respectful, but always homely and humorous.
Tea was ready in a small panelled room with a view of the lawns and the river.
"I asked them to put it here," Lord Bidborough said. "I thought you might like to have this for your own sitting-room. It's just a little like the room at The Rigs."
"Oh, Biddy, it is. I saw it when I came in. May I really have it for my own? It feels as if people had been happy in it. It has a welcoming air. And what a gorgeous tea!" She sat down at the table and pulled off her gloves. "Isn't life frightfully well arranged? Every day is so full of so many different things, and meals are such a comfort. No, I'm not greedy, but what I mean is that it would be just a little 'stawsome' if you had nothing to do but love all the time."
"I'm Scots, partly, but I'm not so Scots as all that. What does 'stawsome' mean exactly?"
"It means," Jean began, and hesitated—"I'm afraid it means—sickening."
Her husband laughed as he sat down beside her.
"I'm willing to believe that you mean to be more complimentary than you sound. I'm very certain you would never let love-making become 'stawsome.' ... There are hot things in that dish—or would you rather have a sandwich? This is the first time we've ever had tea alone, Jean."
"I know. Isn't it heavenly to think that we shall be together now all the rest of our lives? Biddy, I was thinking ... if—if ever we have a son I should like to call him Peter Reid. Would you mind?"
"It wouldn't go very well with the Quintins and the Reginalds and all the other names, but it would be a sort of Thank you to the poor rich man who was so kind to me."
"All the same, I sometimes wish he hadn't left you all that money. I would rather have given you everything myself."
"Like King Cophetua. I've no doubt it was all right for him, but it can't have been much fun for the beggar maid. No matter how kind and generous a man is, to be dependent on him for every penny can't be nice. It's different, I think, when the man is poor. Then they both work, the man earning, the woman saving and contriving.... But what's the good of talking about money? Money only matters when you haven't got any."
"O wise young Judge!"
"No, it's really quite a wise statement when you think of it.... Let's go outside. I want to see the river near." She turned while going out at the door and looked with great satisfaction on the room that was to be her own.
"I am glad of this room, Biddy. It has such a kind feeling. The other rooms are lovely, but they are meant for crowds of people. This says tea, and a fire and a book and a friend—the four nicest things in the world."
They walked slowly down to the river.
"Swans!" said Jean, "and a boat!"
"In Shelley's dreams of Heaven there are always a river and a boat—I read that somewhere.... Well, what do you think of Mintern Abbas? Did I overpraise?"
Jean shook her head.
"That wouldn't be easy. It's the most wonderful place ... like a dream. Look at it now in the afternoon light, pale gold like honey. And the odd thing is it's in the very heart of England, and yet it might almost be Scotland."
"I thought that would appeal to you. Will you learn to love it, do you think?"
"I shan't have to learn. I love it already."
"And feel it home?"
"Yes ... but, Biddy, there's just one thing. I shall love our home with all my heart and be absolutely content here if you promise me one thing—that when I die I'll be taken to Priorsford.... I know it's nonsense. I know it doesn't matter where the pickle dust that was me lies, but I don't think I could be quite happy if I didn't know that one day I should lie within sound of Tweed.... You're laughing, Biddy."
"My darling, like you I've sometimes wondered what people talked about on their honeymoon, but never in my wildest imaginings did I dream that they talked of where they would like to be buried."
Jean hid an abashed face for a moment against her husband's sleeve; then she looked up at him and laughed.
"It sounds mad—but I mean it," she said.
"It's all the fault of your Great-aunt Alison. Tell me, Jean, girl—no, I'm not laughing—how will this day look from your death-bed?"
Jean looked at the river, then she looked into her husband's eyes, and put both her hands into his.
"Ah, my dear love," she said softly, "if that day leaves me any remembrance of what I feel to-day, I'll be so glad to have lived that I'll go out of the world cheering."