Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 10/Lord Oakburn's daughters - Part 11

LORD OAKBURN’S DAUGHTERS.
BY THE AUTHOR OF “EAST LYNNE.”

CHAPTER XXI.

In the very heart of South Wennock, standing a little back from the street, nearly opposite the Red Lion Inn, was the old church of St. Mark; and on the morning after the return home of Mr. Carlton and his bride, this church was invaded by more people than could conveniently get into it, for a rumour had gone forth to the town that Mr. Carlton and Lady Laura were to be re-married.

It was even so. Possibly in deference to Laura’s scruples; possibly that he himself was not willing to trust to the impromptu ceremony in Scotland, which had been of the slightest, and that he would constitute her his own beyond the power of any future quibbles of law to dispute, Mr. Carlton had returned home provided with a license in all due form. The clergyman was apprised, and nine o’clock saw Mr. Carlton and Laura at the church.

If, by fixing that early hour, their motive was to avoid gaping spectators, the precaution had utterly failed. How the news got about was a puzzle to Mr. Carlton as long as he lived. He accused the incumbent of St. Mark’s, the reverend Mr. Jones, of spreading it; he accused the curate, Mr. Lycett, to whom was deputed the duty of marrying them; he accused the clerk, who was charged to have the church open. But these functionaries, one and all, protested it had not got about through them. However it might have been, when Mr. Carlton and Laura arrived at the door in a close carriage, precisely one minute before nine, they were horror-struck to find themselves in the midst of a dense crowd, extending from the street up to the very altar-rails, and through which they had to pick their way.

“Rather a strong expression that,” sneers some genial critic. “Horror-struck!” But it really did appear to apply to Mr. Carlton. Laura wore the handsome cashmere shawl which he had given her, the light silk dress sent by Jane, and a white bonnet and veil bought somewhere on her travels. She stood at the altar with downcast eyes and blushing cheeks, just as a young bride under the circumstance might be supposed to stand, never once looking at the throng, and apparently unheedful of them. Not so Mr. Carlton. He stood with a ghastly face, into which the colour would not come by any effort of will, glancing over his shoulder perpetually, not at the offending crowd, whom Mr. Carlton regarded simply with anger and would have liked to duck wholesale in the nearest pond, but as if impelled by some imaginary fear. Did he dread the intrusion of his wife’s father, Lord Oakburn? that he would, even at that useless and tardy hour, appear and forbid the ceremony? South Wennock, who prided itself upon its discernment, said so.

The superfluities of a groomsman and a bridesmaid had not been provided by Mr. Carlton. The clerk performed the office of the one, and Laura dispensed with that of the other, The wedding ring was firmly placed upon her finger, and they turned from the altar as securely married as though them had been no previous runaway escapade. The licence had described her as Laura Chesney, otherwise Carlton, and it was so that the signed the book.

But there occurred an unlucky contretemps. The carriage waited at the church door, and Laura and Mr. Carlton had taken their seats in it on the conclusion of the ceremony, when, just as it was moving off amidst the dense mob of the gaping spectators, an open fly came from the opposite direction. It contained Lord Oakburn and his stick. The earl was on his way back to Chesney Oaks, was now being conveyed to Great Wennock to catch one of the morning trains, Pompey on the box beside the driver, and a great portmanteau between Pompey’s knees.

Perhaps nearly the only household in South Wennock to which the report of the morning’s intended ceremony had not penetrated, was that of Cedar Lodge. Even such newsmongers as milkwomen and baker’s boys were chary of telling aught there that concerned its runaway daughter. When Lord Oakburn saw the crowd round the church, therefore, he looked out at it in surprise, wondering what was agate, and then he caught sight of the inmates of the close carriage about to be driven away from its doors. His daughter’s terrified gaze met his.

Lord Oakburn’s brow flushed red with passion. In his hot temper he raised his stick with a menacing gesture, as if he would have beaten one of them, bride or bridegroom, had he been near enough; or as if he meant to throw it at the carriage, as he sometimes threw it at Pompey. It did not go, however. He let it drop on the fly seat again, with a word that was certainly not a blessing; and the fly went on, and the meeting was over.

There was no fear on Mr. Carlton’s Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/640 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/641 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/642 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/643 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/644 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/645 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/646 not like him. They returned last night, and were remarried here this morning, I understand,” she added, dropping her voice. “I fear—I do fear, that Laura will live to regret it.”

“It’s to be hoped she will,” said the countess, in just the same tone that Lord Oak burn might have wished it. “I saw my young lady just now.”

“You saw her, aunt?”

“I did,” said Lady Oakburn, nodding her head, “and she saw me. She was at the window of a house as I passed it: Mr. Carlton’s, I suppose. Mark me, Jane! she will live to repent it; these runaway matches don’t bring luck with them. Where’s Clarice?”

The concluding question was put quite as abruptly as the one had been regarding Laura. Jane lifted her eyes, and the flush of excitement stole into her cheek.

“She is where she was, I conclude, Aunt Oakburn.”

“And where’s that? You may tell me all you know of her proceedings since she left home.”

It was certainly condescending of the dowager to allow this, considering that since the departure of Clarice from her home, she had never permitted Jane to mention her in any one of her letters.

“The all is not much, aunt,” said Jane. “You know that she sent us word she had entered on a situation in the neighbourhood of Hyde Park——

“And that she had assumed a false name,” interrupted the countess, with acrimony.

“Yes, I know so much. Go on.”

“That she had changed her name,” said Jane, wincing at the plain statement of the case. “But she desired her letters to be addressed Miss Chesney; therefore I cannot see how she can have wholly dropped it.”

“Who would write to her, pray?”

“I did,” said Jane. “I thought it well that we should not all abandon her——

“Abandon her!” again interposed the countess. “I think it was she who abandoned us.”

“Well—yes, of course it was—but you know what I mean, aunt. I wrote to her occasionally, and I had a few letters from her. Papa never forbade that.”

“And what did she say in her letters?”

“Not much: they were generally short ones. I expect they were written just to tell me that she was well and safe. She gave scarcely any particulars of the family she was with, but she said she was as comfortable there on the whole, she supposed, as she could expect to be. But I have not heard from her since the beginning of the year, and I am getting uneasy about it. My two last letters have brought forth no reply: and they were letters that required one.”

“She’s coming home,” said the countess. “You’ll see.”

“I wish I could think so,” returned Jane. “But when I remember her proud spirit, a conviction comes over me that she will not make the first move. She will expect papa to do it.”

“Then she should expect, for me, were I her father,” tartly returned the dowager, as she rose and put on her bonnet. “If she has no more sense of what is due to the Earl of Oakburn, and to herself as Lady Clarice Chesney, than to be out teaching children, I’d let her stop until her senses came to her.”

Almost the same words as those used by the earl not many hours before. And the old Countess of Oakburn reiterated them again, as she said adieu to her grandnieces, and departed as abruptly as she had arrived.