Chapter 18981658

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18981658
Full Date1890-03-22
Page Number2
Corrections0
Word Count3262
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)
Trove TitleWedded to Death
article text

WEDDED TO DE&T.

CHAPTER I.

The town of Aston Royal, usually so drowsy and dead-alive, is all astir. Flags are flying, pennons are unfurled, bells are ringing merrily j and, as for its sober, hardworking population, everybody, dressed in very Sunday best, is in thfe

one street that constitutes the town. An event of no Bmall importance is taking place, nothing less than the marriage of the great man's only daughter.

The great man of Aston Royal being Sir John Meade, who owns the paper mills by the River Aste, not a quarter of a mile off, and whose house, once humble enough but now a perfect palace, is almost in the centre of the town ; for it lies behind huge iron gates that open on to the street itself.

Everybody in and near Aston Royal for milos is in the service of Sir John Meade, who, recollected by some of the inhabitants as having once been himself amere mechanic,'has risen to be the King of Aston Royal, and who is, moreover, well liked and well thought of by his dependents.

Sir John never forgot the grievances he had him- self once experienced, and, unlike, most self-made men, he was constantly striving to mitigate diffi- culty as muoh as possible for those who worked for

him.

Discontented people, of courso .there were, who found fault with him, and were ready to do him an ill turn ; but for the most part disaffection slept as, to all outward appearance, did most things in the dull old place.

This beautiful August morning, however, had wakened it up with light and gladness, for WBB not Miss Dorothy going to be married, whom they had all known, since she was a baby in long clothes ?

There were carriages dashing hither and thither, backwards and forwards from the station with arriving guests.

Country people driving in their well-appointed equipages up to the church, for Sir John was so well thought of that even the Duke of Barnecombe always shook him vigorously by the hand, and the Duchess had asked him to dinner more than once, and gave out that if she were invited to this wed- ding she intended to go.

So, of course, in due time the invitation was sent. Dorothy saw that that was done, if she was uninterested in most of the ceremonial details.

Whether Dorothy was too fine a lady to give herself any trouble, folk wondered, as they shook their heads gravely ; anyway she seemed to be a " woesome-like, listless bride."

She had been away in London all the winter, had only returned 1» Aston Royal about a fortnight before, when it was at once given out that she was engaged to the Honourable Lewis Bellingham, the eldest son of Lord Bellingham, of Bellingham Towers, and waa to be married forthwith.

"A grand match for our miss," as'the old wives

thouglit ¡ but they were disappointed, nevertheless, i

Dorothy did not smile, as, according to their ideas, a happy bride should smile.

She had always been " a bit stuck up, ye know, through prosperity loike ;" hut she was very fair to look upon, and they forgave her, because no one could long feel angry with a being so beautiful and winsome as Dorothy Meade, especially when since infancy she had been almost like their own child.

Before Dorothy went away to London to consult doctor's for Lady Meade's health, there had been several supposed suitors coming to and fro at the big house, in whom the Aston townsfolk had taken intense interest ¡ and when the news came of her engagement they were not in the least surprised, though, perhaps, -¡us* a trifle astounded that her choice for life had fallen on Mr. Bellingham.

But all speculation on the matter was set on one side this bright August morning. There was too much real stir in Aston Royal to allow of time being spent in whys and wherefores. Open mouthed, the crowd that had turned out to see gazed at the pretty toilettes with which the place abounded, and at the decorations, jn the arrange-

ment of which more than one of tbem had had a hpnd.

Rustic intelligence, owing to its usually fallow condition, is slow in grasping novelty j there had not been so much new seed sown in Aston Royal

I since the century began as was being dropped hero

and there on the morning of Dorothy Meade's

marriage ; and the people brisked up with every j fresh carriage that came into the town. j

By the time a brougham, drawn by a, pair of well-matched greys, was driven out of the iron gates, the sleepy population had been awakened into a state of positive excitement, for the relief of which they gave utterance to an unanimous hurrah. In that carriage were seated Sir John, in the brighest of blue ooats opening over a white waist coast, altogether BO beaming and smiling that he might have been mistaken for the bridegroom, and by his side the beautiful Dorothy looking down under her Brussels lace veil and toying with the bouquet of white exotics Bhe held in her hand, as though in very shame and shynes3 she dare not look any old acquaintance in the face.

" She moight a' gi'en us a nod," said one old body to another; "itwouldna' a' hurt her pride, and we'd a knawn as the lass were blithe i' her weddin' morn."

" She looks more loike sickenin' for a illness nor gettin' married. Hast ye seen the bridegroom, Mrs. Key ?"

" Ay, he coomed through the mill wi' themaister last Tuesday morn."

" And was ye pleased wi' he ?"

" 0, he's a grand gentleman. A honorable, as foks say, but he looks grave and still, as though his head was chok it up with sumraat."

" Maybe it's love."

" Ay, maybe it is so. He's gotten a white long face, with two burning eyes that seemed as though they sot ye all aflame when you looks at him."

" Bless us Ï Wonder as Miss Dorothy ain't

afraid."

" Perhap she be, and that's why she's marryin' he ; lasses loike what they're frightened on. How she could a taken up wi' this grand lord after him as was a' hanging about last Michaelmas pusüles my old brain."

"Ay, he was a man. There, if they'd tauld me he was a king hisself, I shouldn't a' said as lees

was about."

" Na ! Well, stop till ye see the bridegroom, he's different, to be sure. Isn't substantial flesh and blood like 'tother there ; he doan't look as if he belonged to this yere warld at all-and for the matter of that he doan't-he's that high j but he's sickly too-his thoughts is that hungry they is a eatin' o' his body."

" Law, he'll die early like Mr. Pawson, he as was curate down at Astedale-he was allays a' thinking

till ho thinked hisself dead." j

" Ho ain't a bit loike Pawson. He waur a little

nothin' of a chap. This yere man is big and strong, ^ only his face is white all along o' them flaming eyes. Stop till you see him, ho ain't loiko no one else I ever seed a/ore."

" Well, there's my Nina at home a-teethin' and a-whimperin' by turnB. I should be goin' but I'll

stop till the carriage a-fetches the pair back fra' the splicin'!"

Nothing but the wedding being talked of, and Dorothy Meade's prospects fully discussed, the townsfolk awaited the return from the wedding.

A slight commotion and Bwaying to- and fro of the assembled hundreds-for Aston Royal could count nigh five hundred inhabitants, and everyone was on the alert. The ceremony must be over. But it was a false alarm, the carriages were not returning yet.

A young girl was elbowing her way through the crowd, and with much rapidity and adroitness came up quite close to the iron gates near which Mrs. Key and her gossip wore standing.

" Heart alive, if it bean't Ruth Churchill !" ex- claimed the aforesaid old body when she had turned her head to see who was pushingforward with more dexterity than politeness.

" Ruth Churchill, wherever have ye coomed fra', and how ÍB it ye bean't i' the house helping MÍSB Dorothy to get through. Ye looks aa whito as if yor last restin* place was among the corpses !"

"I'm all right, Mother Key; don't fash your head about her. I've run down from the station,

that is all."

" Coomed all in a hurry bike, to see this yere

fine weddin' ?"

" Yes of course. I did not wish Miss Dorothy to

be married without me."

" The marvel to my old mind is, why wasn't you

here afore P"

" Never mind ; I am here now," And the gir laughed ; though as Mr3. Key had said, she looked as bewildered as if she had just returned

from the other world.

There was no time for further conversation.

" Here they eoomes !" was the universal cry. And Ruth Churchill, holding very tight to tie rail at the side of the iron gates, looked intently in the direction of the approaching carriage.

The first, of course, contained the bride and bridegroom.

Dorothy, now the Honorable Mrs, Bellingham, had recovered hdr spirits since the ceremony was over, and there was a flush on her oheeks that con- siderably enhanced her beauty j ßhe was bowing right and left to the delighted inhabitants of Aston Royal, while Lewis Bellingham himself, though his countenance was still absolutely colourless, yet proclaimed his happiness to everyone by means of his flaming eyes.

Altogether Aston Royal was mora satisfied by the return from the wedding than it had been at the start, and loud were the huzzas and cries of congratulation that accompanied the progress of I the newly-married pair.

Just as the carriage turned to enter the big gates Mrs. Bellingham caught sight of Ruth Churchill standing close to them. She uttered a suppressed cry, and laid her hand on her new husband's wrist as though to arrest his attention.

He leant forward at once, and his large eyes shone on Ruth, who gasped out an exclamation of

intense surprise.

The carriage was gone : its occupants had not noted her astonishment, but those around her questioned her at once as to " whether she thought as Miss Dorothy had married herself, since she seemed that 'stounded to see a bridegroom."

"Thit man-Bellingham-Miss Dorothy has married him," Ruth Churchill repeated like one speaking in a dream.

" Well, and why for not ? Did ye think it was t'other ? This one is nobler."

" Nobler ?" queried Ruth, and a smile carno over her face, indicating that had Bhe chosen she could have related volumes on that subject.

But Ruth Churchill was too wise a girl to take the Ashton Royal gossips more into her confidence than was necessary. She merely said very quietly, " I had not heard for certain who Miss Dorothy was going to marry, and I made a mistake, that

is all."

So saying she began to elbow bor way back, as she had but a few minutes ago pushed to the front.

But Ruth Churchill, though Bhe did not live there now, wau aston bred and bom. The old folk, who had known her from her childhood, had no in- tention of letting her get away quite so easily.

" Where was she gawn ? how was her feytber ?" were questions in every one's mouth. " She mann stay awhile, and tell them what luck she and hor'n had had since they went away from Aston Royal."

Ruth Churchill waa evidently no mood to be

questioned, and was a young who seldom J

allowed herself to be surprised into doing anything she did not intend to do. She had come down from London, making a journey of over fifty miles, in order to Bee for herself the marriage of Miss Dorothy Meade. She had seen it, seen far moro than sha ever expected to see, and her object now was to get home with the least possible delay.

There were very strong reasons why Aston Royal . though four years ago she had never quitted it in her life, was a thoroughly distasteful place to Ruth. Churchill, one she would never have entered again of he* own free will, had not circumstance, which is frequently stronger than free will, urged her to do

BO.

Having accomplished the mission on which her heart was set, she had now but one desire, and that was to leave Aston Royal by the very next up train.

Thosight of her had, however, awakened curiosity that it would not be easy to allay, for it spread through the entire crowd assembled in the Aston Street, usurping even the place that interest and excitement about Miss Dorothy's wedding had been holding all the morning.

The Churchills, highly respected people in Aston Royal, till fonr years ago, had left under a cloud. Dick Churchill, Ruth's father, had been, when they were boya, Sir John Meade's constant companion; I as men, though they had drifted into different

paths, the tie between them had still been strong,

¡ Dick being one of the head men at the mill. Th»

bond, too, .had extended itself to the next genera-, tion, for Dorothy and Ruth were firm friends.

Then trouble came-some trouble between Sir John and his »Id friend-no one rightly knew what it was, though manifold were the conjectures ; but tha Churchills went away to London and everyone felt there was gomo disgrace attached to the flight.

For some time past the topic had been but seldom alluded to ia Aston Royal, but the unex- pected appearance of Ruth had revived it with in- creased curiosity. Ruth Churchill had been barely sixteen when she left Aston, as she believed, for ever. Though wiseacres then foresaw the strong determined character that was slowly ripening and developing in this young girl, ordinary mortals merely regarded her as a pretty faced chit, who would " suckle fools and chronicle small beer" like any other commonplace woman.

Four years had, to a great extent, verified the predictions of the wise, though the Astonians had most assuredly not put on long-sighted glasses, or they would scarcely have assailed a girl of Ruth Churchill's proclivities with strings of questions which they might have known she had not the slightest intention of answering. Why she had chosen to come down there and watch Miss Dorothy and her new spouse return from the church waa her business, not theirs ; what she was doing in

London was also her business, and whether her father had got a situation was a question she thought they had no right to put.

Her replieB were so short, her manner so eurty that everyone decided " that things were main tight for they Churchills, and that in Lunnoa maybe they hadn't got a bit o' bread and cheese to eat, though that there gal Ruth was so stucfc up with her pride and her close fittin' bit of pink frock, wi' har white straw hat and white bows, just as if Bhe thought herBelf a leddy, while she waur no better than they."

They might have added that ahe looked one every inch of her, while in delicacy of feeling and high honourable sentiments Ruth Churchill, lowly though her origin, would outshine many a highbred dame.

"Cake and wine to drink the health of the bride and bridegroom-to be given in a tent i' the back o' the house to the whole population as chose to pass through-surely she wouldn't seek to shirk that. Why it 'ud be a insult to the town she was bom in, and turnin' o' her back 'ud bring ill luck to the wedded pair."

" Oh, I'll drink their health if you think it will do them any good, and then I leally must go," cried Ruth, who, notwithstanding her short answers, seemed to be in the very best of humours.

So to the tent she was well nigh carried by the crowd surging in that direction, under promise o£ good things to come.

In at one end of the tent and out at the other in single file-that was the order. Nearly a hundred' had passed by the time Ruth's turn arrived. By a strange coincidence, just as Bhe entered, the side of the tent behind the long table on which the refreshments were being served was raised and the bride and the bridegroom, accompanied by Sir John Meade, entered to thank the people for their kindly

wishes.

" Hurrah for Mr. and Mrs. Bellingham !" shouted' the crowd. " Long life to Mr. and Mrs. Belling-

ham !"

But Dorothy fell back when she saw Ruth, and for a moment she almost seemed as if she were about to take flight ; then, with an effort, she over- came the passing weakness, her face, however, losing all the brightness that was beaming on it when she entered; while, as for the Honourable Lewis, he scarcely seemed more pleased to see Ruth Churchill than was his wife.

But ou Rnth's side there was no bashfulness nor holding back. With the glass of wine that had been given her in her hand, she went straight to the centre of the table and said, in a clear, fall'

voioe :

"I wish you both all the happiness that yon

deserve."

She drank her wine, made a graceful curtsey, and departed.

A whisper was observed to pass round the bridal party ; then a fostruan was told to go after Ruth Churchill and say Mrs. Bellingham wished to speak to her at the house.

Lazily-too lazily-he went to do his mistrese'e bidding, for he was too late.

On leaving the tent Ruth Churchill had sped with the speed of an antelope along a path which. she knew WPII would take her by a short route to the station, and she was already in the train on nor- way to London while the somewhat stupid, sleepy flnnkey was still looking for her amongst tho-

oro wd.

(To be Continued.)

'Il ' " >?'

A serious cab aecident occurred in Melbourne about 11 on Monday night on the loop railway line between Spencer and Flinders street stations. A cab, driven by Alex. M'Row, was convoying sic passengers, thiee of whom were ladies, to South Melbourne, and attempted to cross in front of a train. The horse jibbed at the engine; the driver and two men on the front seat jumped off. The tram struck the cab, breaking both shafts. The> horse escaped, but the body of the cab was carried hythe train about 60 yards, andcompletelysmashed. Frederick Norman, aged 60, had his arm broken and seceived a shock to the system. It is feared that on account of his age he will not recover» The ladies only sustained bruises, but were greatly frightened.

READ THE OPINION OP A WBJ>L-KITOWK Grrr CLBEQYIIAN.-" I have no objection to your using my name, as one who has derived considerable

benefit from the use of Row's DAKDBIIOK BIMBEB. I have used them now for nine months, and have¡ come to the conclusion that they are an invaluahlft toa«.-THOMAS KBMMIS, St. Mark's, Darling P«?«^ April 29,1880,"