Lady Noggs, Peeress/Chapter 15
THE WEDDING GUEST
WHEN Mr. Beresford Caldecott cooled down after his visit to Stonorill, he regretted that in the outburst of fury, provoked by Mr. Borrodaile's use of the word bunco-steerer, he should have committed himself to make Violet an allowance. He had always been used to look back on those outbursts of fury with complacency; and that complacency had prevented him grasping the fact that if you apply the wild, free life of the far West to the naturally horny temperament of an English aristocrat, the result will, sooner or later, be discomfort to the possessor of that temperament. The thought of having to pay out two thousand a year, well as he could afford it, inspired into him a very acute discomfort. However, he was a man of his word; and he instructed his solicitor to make the needful settlement, to which he added what he hoped would prove a saving clause, the proviso that she should many Mr. Borrodaile within the month.
Now and again he tried to cheer himself with the conviction that the young jackanapes, as he persisted in considering Mr. Borrodaile, had only been trifling with his niece's affections; and that the settlement would make no difference to his purpose of jilting her. The conviction was not very strong; and he got but little comfort out of it. This was as well; it saved him disappointment, for two days after he had signed the deed of settlement he received a letter of warm thanks from Violet, and the day after that a letter of warmer thanks from Mr. Borrodaile himself; a letter which drove him forthwith into his beautiful, sibilant Spanish. It was fortunate, indeed, for the land of his birth that his residence in South America had made Spanish the medium in which he expressed his deeper emotions.
Violet had been pleased indeed to receive the lawyer's letter informing her of her uncle's generous provision; but the proviso troubled her not a little. She could hardly go to Mr. Borrodaile and tell him about it. Fortunately, he himself relieved her of her embarrassment. She had been pondering the matter all day without finding any solution of the difficulty; and after dinner, she was walking up and down the lawn in front of the castle still wrestling with it, when he joined her.
"It is a great comfort to me to know that yours is not a wasteful disposition," he said, with his usual assured air.
"Why?" said Violet.
"Because," said Mr. Borrodaile coolly, "I am going to purchase a special marriage license, which is an expensive document; and I know you will not be able to bring yourself to let it be wasted. I am sure you won't allow it to be wasted."
"I suppose people who have that can get married in a month," said Violet, with a somewhat mocking reflection in her voice.
"You can get married in a month with banns," said Mr. Borrodaile. "With this you can get married in a week or less.
"No one can get married in a week, "said Violet with conviction.
"They could with a little firmness," said Mr. Borrodaile.
Violet said nothing for a minute or two; then she began in a hasty fashion: "Talking about marriage I am in a somewhat awkward position. I had a letter this morning, offering me an allowance of two thousand a year, if I get married within the month."
"Who to," said Mr. Borrodaile sharply.
"Well, the odd thing about it is, it's—it's to you."
"What! Your uncle has carried out his threat!" said Mr. Borrodaile.
It is needless to dwell on the events of the next few minutes; but Violet came into the castle with a very fine flush on her face, and Mr. Borrodaile's eyes were shining. He clung to his idea of a special license, and getting quietly married in London; but when the Prime Minister was informed of their good fortune he would not hear of this plan. Violet should properly have been married from Gradesleigh, but her uncle had not made this suggestion; and she said that she devoutly hoped that he would not make it. Therefore the Prime Minister proposed, or rather insisted, that she should be married from Stonorill; declaring that after her three years direction of the education of the Lady Noggs, he looked upon her as a member of his family. She was touched by the kindly offer and accepted it gratefully.
Accordingly, the wedding was fixed to take place in three weeks; and Violet set about her preparations for it, declaring that three weeks was all too short a time for them. She was very busy with those preparations; and the Lady Noggs had the greater opportunities of enjoying the society of her two new young friends at Beauleigh.
She and Elsie showed an interest in the approaching marriage which seemed to Tinker quite out of proportion to the event, even though the Lady Noggs was to be a bridesmaid. He listened, however, to their discussions of it with exemplary patience. Then the Lady Noggs happened to let fall the statement that Mr. Beresford Caldecott was to be a wedding guest; that he had been called Tiger Jake in Arizona; and that he had described himself as a tough. At once Tinker was all interest. His wide, romantic reading enabled him to place Mr. Beresford Caldecott exactly; and he described the attributes of that bye-product of Western civilization, the tough, in terms which filled the Lady Noggs and Elsie with an admiring interest equal to his own.
At once, for them, the presence of Mr. Beresford Caldecott became by far the most important feature in the matter of the wedding ceremony, and all the other persons attending it were dwarfed into the most paltry insignificance by that interesting figure.
The discharge of her function of bridesmaid prevented the Lady Noggs pointing him out to them at the church itself; but when she came out of it, feeling considerably relieved from the strain of acting with the sedateness which her official position had demanded, she hurried to their motor-car in which they were already awaiting her, and watched with them the guests coming through the lych-gate to their carriages. At last she pointed out a dapper little man, with a very red face and a very shiny top hat, and said: "There he is. That's Tiger Jake."
Her two young companions scarcely believed their eyes; and, indeed, Mr. Beresford Caldecott did not at all correspond with the figure of the desperado their imaginations had set up for them.
Tinker sighed, and said with some bitterness: "Ah, well, it isn't what a man looks like, of course, but what he does."
"I dare say when he begins to talk to us, he'll seem quite different," said Elsie.
Their motor-car followed the carriage which carried him to the castle. Its occupants followed him closely up the steps into the hall.
Mr. Beresford Caldecott had come to enjoy himself. His generosity had made the ceremony possible, and he was not on that account, going to let it be too pleasant, if any effort of his could prevent it. He was looking forward, indeed, to a regular field-day, and hoped to get in at least half a dozen bitter quarrels before the evening.
His first act on entering the great hall, where the reception was being held, was to make his way to the bride and bridegroom, who were receiving the congratulations of their friends. He greeted Violet with some curtness, and wished her happiness in accents of sepulchral gloom, calculated to demonstrate the hopelessness of the wish; then he made his way to the bridegroom who stood a few paces off. Mr. Borrodaile greeted him with as much of the warmth due to a benefactor, as he could command by an earnest effort.
"Ha! you're married now," said Mr. Beresford Caldecott, gloating over him with infinite malevolence.
"I am indeed," said Mr. Borrodaile cheerfully.
"Yes, you're cock-a-hoop about it now; but you wait—you wait," growled Mr. Beresford Caldecott.
"Well, sir, I shall have leisure to wait," said Mr. Borrodaile with unimpaired cheerfulness.
"You'll live to regret it; mark my words. I know the Caldecott temper."
"As the head of the family it has doubtless been brought to your notice," said Mr. Borrodaile politely.
Mr. Beresford Caldecott looked at him suspiciously, and said, "I do; I know it; none better; and if you want my opinion I don't mind telling you that I am sure you will live to be sorry—"
"How do you do, Mr. Caldecott?" broke in the Lady Noggs. "I am so glad you've come. I was afraid you wouldn't care enough about weddings; so was Tinker: but let me introduce you, Tiger Jake—Miss Elsie Brand—Mr. Hildebrand Anne Beauleigh." She shook him warmly by the hand, a limp and irresponsive hand, in the heartiest good-fellowship.
Mr. Beresford Caldecott stared at her some what uncertainly. In her bridesmaid's frock she was a radiant vision indeed; but it was a vision which by no means gladdened his heart. Indeed, it somewhat dashed the joy of battle he was beginning to feel; for he entertained a clear and uncomfortable remembrance of his earlier meeting with her. Mr. Borrodaile took advantage of the diversion to withdraw with swift discreetness to Violet's side. Mr. Beresford Caldecott found himself being shaken warmly by the hand by a little girl and a small boy, who regarded him with admiring, almost reverential eyes.
"We've got a nice, long afternoon before us," said the Lady Noggs. "You'll be able to tell us lots about Arizona, and shooting people in saloons."
Mr. Beresford Caldecott cast a helpless, appealing glance round the hall, and muttered a few words under his breath. They sounded Spanish.
"Perhaps he'd like a drink first. They do," said Tinker.
At once the Lady Noggs became all hospitality. She took the unresisting wedding guest by the hand, led him to a table, and pressed refreshment upon him. She offered him the innocuous drinks his soul abhorred—hock-cup, claret-cup, champagne-cup, and cider-cup. He refused them all with great shortness, and was turning away from the table when Sir Hildebrand Wyse came up to them and greeted her. She shook hands with him, crying with joyful pride, "Oh, let me introduce you, Tiger Jake—Sir Hildebrand Wyse. He was a tough in Arizona, and used to shoot people in saloons."
Mr. Beresford Caldecott turned sharply to the table, and said in the husky voice of deep, restrained emotion, "Whisky! Whisky! Give me the bottle!"
The footman gave him the bottle; and, in spite of his training and experience, opened his eyes at the quantity Mr. Beresford Caldecott poured into the tumbler. He added to it a complimentary dash of water with a trembling hand, and turned to hear the Lady Noggs saying: "His name is Mr. Beresford Caldecott in England; but that's what they called him in Arizona. He shot people in saloons. Tinker says they do."
Mr. Beresford Caldecott glared at his new acquaintance, and looked as if, had they been in Arizona, he would have shot him.
Sir Hildebrand Wyse bowed, and said with a somewhat embarrassed air: "Pleased to meet you."
Mr. Beresford Caldecott produced an unintelligible but guttural sound from very low down in his throat, and his eyes rolled painfully. Sir Hildebrand Wyse moved hastily to the next group.
Mr. Beresford Caldecott took a feverish gulp at his whisky; then Tinker said, "There's hardly any water in it at all. Isn't it splendid to be able to drink it like that!—if you must drink whisky."
The three children watched him drink with immense admiration. When he set the glass down Tinker said, "We should be very much obliged if you'd tell us about the first man you shot."
"We should, awfully," said Elsie.
"Don't you think we ought to introduce him to some more people first?" said the Lady Noggs, whose sense of hospitality had been fully aroused. "He's a guest, you know; and I don't think we ought to keep him to ourselves altogether. Toughs are so rare in England; and there must be lots of people here who'd like to know Tiger—"
"Mr. Beresford Caldecott's dash for freedom cut her short. He went with marked haste through the serried throng of guests, across the room, to the duchess.
"I'm glad to see you've come, Beresford," she said. "I was afraid you wouldn't. Those children seem to have taken a great fancy to you. I've been watching you and them. You're coming out in a new light. I've thought that a good deal of that temper of yours was put on; and I am beginning to see I was right. It was amiable of you to secure the happiness of these two young people by that handsome allowance—quite like a Christmas story—the crusty but benevolent uncle, don't you know?"
Mr. Beresford Caldecott could scarcely restrain himself from English. He clenched his teeth, shut his lips tight, and breathed heavily through his nose.
"The money will be so useful to William in his career," the duchess continued. "And he will go far—very far—everybody says so. I suppose they'll come and stay with you at Gradesleigh after their honeymoon."
"They won't!" snapped Mr. Beresford Caldecott.
"You ought to come out of your shell," said the duchess graciously. "You ought to go about more and meet more people."
"You mind your own business, Elizabeth! And I'll mind mine!" said Mr. Beresford Caldecott, with ravening ferocity.
"I only spoke for your good, " said the duchess tartly.
"Have you done with him, aunty?" the Lady Noggs broke in. "We want him to tell us all about Arizona, and shooting people in saloons."
"Take him!" said the duchess, and she turned her back on him.
Before the hapless Mr. Beresford Caldecott could escape, the Lady Noggs had him firmly by the hand, and was leading him away to an empty comer of the hall. They hemmed him into it; and the Lady Noggs said: "Tell us about the first man you shot."
"Was it in a saloon?" said Elsie.
Mr. Beresford Caldecott freed his hand violently, and plunged into the thickest part of the throng. He went through it something after the manner of a snow-plough, and people stared after him, and asked who he was.
The three children looked at one another blankly. "It looks as if he didn't want to tell us about it," said the Lady Noggs.
"It does," said Tinker.
"Those brave men are so modest. All the books say so," said Elsie.
"I think it's grumpiness," said the Lady Noggs. "I know Violet is ever so frightened of him. "
"It's very tiresome," said Elsie.
"People who go to weddings ought to be more obliging," said the Lady Noggs.
"Well, it doesn't seem much good bothering about him. Let's go and talk to Borrodaile," said Tinker.
They joined the group round Mr. Borrodaile, and lingered there a while; but it was no use: they were drawn towards the central fascinating figure of the gathering by an invincible attraction. In spite of themselves they found themselves hovering about him; and try as he would he could not keep a thick enough section of the throng between him and them. They said nothing to him, but where he was they were; and their mere presence prevented him giving the rein to his natural disposition. He had meant to be very severe with the Prime Minister; but his mind was so full of his limpet-like attendants that the Prime Minister only found him distrait and preoccupied.
In the meantime the children had had time to grow sore at his reticence; and, at last. Tinker said thoughtfully: "I'm thinking about that hat of his—that new silk hat. You say he jumps on his hats."
The Lady Noggs nodded.
"I wonder if we could do anything," said Tinker. "If he jumped on that hat, he wouldn't be such a disappointment."
The faces of the Lady Noggs and Elsie brightened.
But we shall have to wait till he's got his hat on," said the Lady Noggs.
"It seems to me he doesn't like being introduced to people. We might do it that way, working him up by introducing people to him," said Tinker. "You see if they really called him Tiger Jake, we'd better not do anything too plain, or there might be no end of a row; and that wouldn't do at all: you can't have rows at weddings, you know."
"Let's try introducing them," said the Lady Noggs.
In the course of the next ten minutes Mr. Beresford Caldecott was introduced to three men and two ladies as Tiger Jake of Arizona. He really did not know whether he hated most those who treated the introduction as an engaging jest of the Lady Noggs and laughed heartily, or those who eyed him with gathering affright; but he broke away from the group of new acquaintances, with which his little hostess had so thoughtfully provided him, and simmering very near boiling point escaped to a refreshment table.
At this moment the Lady Noggs perceived Lord Grasthwaite, and cried: "Look, there is that horrid sneak, Lord Grasthwaite! I'll introduce him. If he does have a row with him no one'll mind much."
"Come on," said Tinker.
Without knowing exactly what was happening to him, Lord Grasthwaite was conveyed by three active and voluble children to the table at which stood a little red-faced man, with a glass in his hand, surrounded by an atmosphere of whisky; and the Lady Noggs said, with crisp distinctness, "Let me introduce you, Tiger Jake—Lord Grasthwaite. He was called Tiger Jake in Arizona because he was a tough, and used to shoot people in saloons."
The timid minister recoiled in open-mouthed dismay, but managed to stammer, "D—d—de—lighted t—t—to m—m—meet you."
Mr. Beresford Caldecott turned on him a face of an exasperated fiend, and said thickly: "I wish there were saloons in England. I wish we were in a saloon. I'd delight you, you mutton-headed gaping idiot!"
Lord Grasthwaite gasped, and staggered hastily away.
Mr. Beresford Caldecott gulped down the rest of his whisky, and turned to berate the children. For the first time in the afternoon, as it seemed to him, they were nowhere in sight.
There was a lull in the conversation and a general movement towards the door. The guests streamed out of it, gathered on the steps, or crossed the drive and grouped themselves on the lawn to see the departure of the bride and bridegroom.
Mr. Beresford Caldecott got his hat and went with them. He found the cooler open air grateful to his heated brow. The three children were standing on the lawn close to him. The bride and bridegroom came out of the door, flushed and smiling. The Lady Noggs tore herself from the vicinity of Mr. Beresford Caldecott, and ran across the drive to kiss Violet good-bye. The bride and bridegroom got into the carriage, and some one gave the Lady Noggs a shoe to throw after them. The carriage started amid a chorus of good wishes; and, by a skilful shot, the Lady Noggs struck Mr. Borrodaile a shrewd blow with the shoe. Then she ran down the steps, across the drive to Mr. Beresford Caldecott, and reached him just in time to hear Tinker saying to his father and stepmother: "Let me introduce you; Tiger Jake—Lady Beauleigh—Sir Tancred Beauteigh. They call him Tiger Jake in Arizona, because he was a tough and shot people in saloons."
Mr. Beresford Caldecott jammed his hat down over his eyes, and strode away towards the line of carriages. At the end of ten strides his feelings were too much for him; he snatched his hat from his head, dashed it to the ground, leapt into the air, and came down on it with both feet. Then he gave it a vicious, parting kick, sprang into the nearest carriage, and cried, "The Station!"
Among the amazed, enquiring throng of his fellow guests, three happy children screamed with laughter.
THE MCCLURE PRESS, NEW YORK