Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/How I came to be somebody's bridesmaid
HOW I CAME TO BE SOMEBODY’S BRIDESMAID.
It had from early childhood, been my great ambition to be somebody’s bridesmaid—not some particular body’s, but some indefinite body’s—anybody’s in short. The desire was so strong within me that I exacted promises from a whole bevy of my school companions (I never had a sister), to elect me to the delightful office, so soon as the time should come for any of them to appear in the character of bride. As for being a bride myself, truly I rarely, if ever, thought of that; a bridesmaid’s seemed in my imagination so much the more interesting, the more felicitous destiny. A bride, so I argued, had to leave the home and friends of her childhood; some tear, some faint sigh of regret must mingle with her strange, new, untried happiness; whereas a bridesmaid, she had no call for anything but smiles unclouded, and pleasure unalloyed. Accordingly Julia Davis, Mary Hunter, Fanny Powell, and Barbara Hemming, all promised, if they were married before me (as I was certain they would be—were they not, every one of them, a thousand times prettier, and nicer, and more pleasing than I?)—each of them promised to make me her bridesmaid. I thought myself sure of the expected bliss; but, alas! in all these four cases the cup has slipped from my lip.
Pretty, blooming Julia Davis took the smallpox directly after she left school, and was so disfigured by it that nobody knew her again, and everybody seems to consider her chances of marriage gone for ever. How I should like to remind those foolish men that beauty is but skin deep, and that Julia has an infinite number of imperishable virtues, which would ensure her husband happiness tenfold more than any of them deserve.
Mary Hunter, the second friend I named, lost her only surviving parent, also about the epoch of her leaving school, and had to go out to join her brother in India, where she married within a twelvemonth. India was, however, I considered, too far off for me to claim the fulfilment of her promise.
Fanny Powell, dear, silly, sentimental little creature, had a disappointment at seventeen: and—it is four years ago—has continued ever since to protest she shall never marry. It was only the other day she told me, with a world of emphasis, nobody must ever look to be her bridesmaid now.
And Barbara Hemming, my last, best card,—for though perhaps not the most beautiful, I always thought her the most charming of all my friends,—she was, as I was sure she would be, very early engaged. I am still her chosen friend, and should be her first bridesmaid, only—only the lovers are both so poor that matrimony is at present out of the question. I, for my part, could have waited patiently for this forlorn hope of bridesmaidship, but that I have to combat somebody else’s impatience, for—it can no longer be kept a secret—before I had ever thought of such a thing, I was myself engaged to be married. I don’t know how it came to pass, but Henry is really a very nice fellow, and I could not well refuse him only because I had never yet been a bridesmaid. Almost my first confidence reposed in him was, however, this secret wish of mine, and I could not help feeling hurt that he treated it so lightly.
“Have you any sisters, dear?” I asked one day.
“Three, dearest,” was his reply.
“Oh! then,” I continued, “one of them must be going to be married, and I know, darling, that you will persuade her to ask me to be one of her bridesmaids.”
It was such a cruel disappointment when he told me all his sisters were married. I said he ought to have opposed such early marriages.
“Why, they were all older than you at the time,” returned he, laughing.
“Oh!” I said, “but I am not going to be married for several years yet. I am determined to be Barbara Hemming’s bridesmaid first.”
Whereat he laughed again shamefully, and protested he had no intention of waiting until Barbara’s betrothed should hear of something to his advantage.
“He has been a curate on 80l. a-year,” said Henry, “for the last ten years, always hoping for something better, and never getting it.”
I now proposed that Henry, who had more money than he knew what to do with, should buy him a living, representing it to come from some unknown friend and benefactor. But, though I had never before thought meanness one of his faults, Henry declined to do this. Ah! we had many lovers’ quarrels, and this was always the fatal cause. At length my parents took part against me, blamed my obstinacy, and declared my nonsense unreasonable. In my despair, I now thought I should be obliged to yield, when my wish was gratified in a most unexpected and extraordinary manner.
One morning my mother received a letter by the post, stating that grandmamma was very ill, and desiring that either mamma or I would go to her at once. We never thought very much of grandmamma’s illnesses: she cried out so frequently, that we could not help recalling to mind the boy and the wolf in the fable. Nevertheless, she had never before sent us an immediate summons of this kind, and even if it could be proved ever so unnecessary grandmamma must not be offended—the call must be obeyed. Mamma could not very well leave home on so short a notice: I must be the one to go.
In a couple of hours my things were packed, and I was ready to start by the next train. It was a long journey, and in its latter part new to me, grandmamma having changed her residence since I had last visited her. Her present abode was quite in the country, about three miles from S—— railway station, where, she had written, her carriage should be waiting to meet the traveller. I found the journey tedious: the scenery, my chance companions, the book I had brought with me for amusement, all alike dull and uninteresting, and before I reached S—— I was thoroughly tired and sleepy. I had my senses, however, sufficiently about me to jump out at the right time and place. S—— was an inconsiderable village station, and I the only passenger who alighted. There, sure enough, stood grandmamma’s carriage, and advancing towards me was her servant, not the same she had when I was last with her, I thought; but it was almost dark, and I was not sure. Having pointed out to him my luggage, “How is grandmamma?” was my question.
“Pretty much as usual, miss,” answered the man, touching his hat respectfully.
“Pretty much as usual!”
The words made me quite indignant. So grandmamma had summoned me all this way, had hurried me from home at a moment’s notice, on a cold, miserable, November day, for just no reason at all. However, the deed was done. Here I was, and wishing myself back again would not transport me thither; there was nothing for it but to make the best of present circumstances. It was, I reflected, very wicked and unnatural of me to be sorry at hearing my venerable relative was no worse than usual, such news ought to be a cause of rejoicing.
Having seen my trunk safely stowed on the box, I stepped inside the carriage, the man mounted, cracked his whip, and we sped along merrily. There was no moon, and the twilight was too far advanced for anything to be gained by gazing out of the window; so, leaning back in one corner, and making myself as comfortable as I could, I had leisure, feeling now no longer sleepy, to indulge my own reflections. What would Henry say when he heard of my sudden journey? I must write by to-morrow’s post to tell him, and perhaps he would come in a few days to fetch me home. If grandmamma was as well as usual, there could be no occasion for my staying long, and it was always dreadfully dull at her house. What should I do with myself? Perhaps there might be some nice people in her new neighbourhood who would take pity on my forlorn estate; but this idea gave me small comfort, since grandmamma always made a point of declaring she invited me to amuse her and not myself. I should have to pet the cat, and talk to her—grandmamma I mean; it was a tom cat, so there is no real ambiguity in the pronoun—and to read aloud all the trials for murder in the newspapers. Grandmamma had a decided taste for murders: manslaughter was insipid twaddle to her, but there was some excitement in a. downright determined murder. What a great deal of embroidery, too, I might get done, only I hated embroidery, and, as I was not going to be married until after Barbara Hemming, there was no occasion to hurry with that set of cambric handkerchiefs.
These and similar thoughts occupied my mind until the coachman descended to open a gate, and I immediately after became aware we had entered the drive up to the house. Dear me! what a blaze of light shone through the windows—they must have thought to honour my arrival by an illumination extraordinary. Grandmamma’s soul must be opening to liberality in her latter days, I thought, as I recollected the solitary candle which, in former times, was all the light vouchsafed to our darkness in the gloomy room, with the old oak furniture, where we used to spend our evenings. Astonishment yet greater was to follow. The carriage was now close to the house, and I could hear distinctly the sound of many voices mingled with merry laughter. Had grandmamma, reported dangerously ill in the morning, assembled a party in the evening to welcome her expected guest? Astounding indeed—the nearest approach to a party I had ever witnessed under her roof, having been the arrival of the clergyman and his wife to partake of a solemn cup of tea, an event signalised by the appearance of two candles instead of one, and an extra plate of bread-and-butter,—otherwise I always found such evenings duller than when grandmamma and I were tête-à-tête together. In my bewilderment I was beginning to feel a great dread lest my aged relation should have suddenly lost her senses—lest this should be the sound of maniac laughter, and all these chattering people but an embassy from an asylum, striving, vainly perhaps, to confine her in a strait-jacket. Before the fear had, however, time to shape itself distinctly (thought is swift, and what it has taken some time to relate, passed through my mind like lightning), the house-door opened ere the bell was rung, the sound of our wheels having been heard inside, and hurrying past the servants, who came forward to assist me to alight, appeared two young and pretty girls whom I had never seen before in my life. Was I dreaming? They seemed to know me quite well—seemed to be eagerly expecting me.
“How are you, dear?” said one; and “A thousand welcomes, darling!” exclaimed the other; and they both threw their arms round me and kissed me warmly before I was well out of the carriage. The next moment, however, all seemed not quite right to them. Both the girls stared hard at me as I stood full under the light of the lamp in the hall. Their arms suddenly relaxed their affectionate embrace; again they stared, yet harder than before, then shot like two arrows from my side, opened the door of the room whence I had heard the sounds of merriment proceeding, and called “Mamma!”
A lady, elderly, but still handsome, and of a particularly sweet and prepossessing countenance, immediately answered the summons. I had hitherto remained tongue-tied, dumb with surprise and astonishment,—now was the time that I must speak.
“I am afraid there is some mistake,” I began, “and that I am not at Myrtle Grove.” Such was the name of my grandmamma’s residence.
I often wondered afterwards over its singular inappropriateness. One does not expect to find literal groves of myrtle in our northern clime, but grandmamma’s garden was destitute of the veriest twig thereof, and nothing like a plantation or grove of any description of trees was to be seen for miles.
In reply to my question the elder lady informed me that I was indeed not at Myrtle Grove, but at Crofton Manor. In great embarrassment I then began my story, how I had left the train at S—— station, expecting to find grandmamma’s carriage waiting to convey me to her house—how I had seen a carriage, had at once concluded it to be hers—how the servant had offered no remonstrance, but had straightway transported myself and luggage, like an expected cargo, to the place where I now found myself.
“Was there no other young lady besides yourself who left the train at S—— station?” inquired Mrs. Horton—such I shortly afterwards learnt was the name of the mistress of Crofton Manor.
“No, madam,” I replied, “I am quite sure I was the only person.”
“This is singular,” pursued she; “we were expecting a young friend. To-morrow is my daughter’s wedding-day, and her cousin was to come to be one of her bridesmaids. Our coachman has not been with us long, has never seen the young lady, consequently he not unnaturally supposed you to be our expected guest. But poor Fanny Heath,” she said, turning to her daughters, “must have missed the train; there is, however, one later which stops at S——, the carriage must meet that, and after he has brought Fanny here, Thomas can drive this young lady to Myrtle Grove.”
I here apologised for my mistake, and the trouble I was occasioning.
“Don’t mention it,” said kind Mrs. Horton, “it was a very natural mistake, and you are not to blame at all. I hope you will make yourself comfortable here until we are able to forward you to your destination.”
She then told her daughters to conduct me upstairs to take off my things, and afterwards to the drawing-room.
Lucy and Mary Horton were such nice girls I felt to like them from the first moment, and the attraction must, I think, have been reciprocal; they could not have been kinder or more attentive to me if I had in reality been the “dear darling” cousin they were expecting. They remained pleasantly chatting beside me till I was ready to go downstairs. I had meanwhile learnt that Myrtle Grove was three miles on the other side of S——, and nearly six miles from Crofton Manor; that they knew grandmamma slightly, and would call to see me some day at her house.
“I should think you will find it rather dull there,” said Lucy, the elder Miss Horton.
“Indeed, I know I shall,” I replied dolorously, and again they promised to come and see me.
“We have a grandmamma here at home,” said Mary Horton, “you will see her when you go down; she is such a dear, delightful old lady, everybody loves grandmamma.”
“Oh, then she must be your cousin, Miss Heath’s grandmamma too,” I said; “that accounts for it;” and I told them how I had asked the coachman after grandmamma’s health, and how his reply had somewhat surprised me, never dreaming he could be speaking of anybody else’s grandmamma than my own. Both the girls laughed pleasantly.
“I am glad of the mistake, since it has made us get to know you,” they exclaimed together.
My travelling dress was not at all suited for a début in a drawing-room on the eve of a wedding, as I remarked to the Miss Hortons, and I proposed they should leave me to remain in the bed-room, where a bright fire was burning, and which was furnished luxuriously, quite like a little drawing-room. But they would not hear of such a thing, declared I looked very nice—transparent flattery this—and one on each side they almost carried me down stairs.
Mrs. Horton rose to meet me as I entered the drawing-room; she had told my story beforehand, and everybody seemed to feel for my position, and to try to make me feel as comfortable and as much at home as possible. Though a large, they were entirely a family party, with the exception of two young ladies who were to officiate as bridesmaids on the morrow. There was grandmamma, who looked all that her young relatives had declared her; there was Mr. Horton père, a tall, stout, grave, but benevolent-looking-gentleman; there were a brace of sons, the two daughters I had already seen, and a third, the bride elect, seated by the side of her fiancé. My eye did not at first take in all the rest of the group, but there were about half a dozen others, more distant relatives.
“I hope you don’t feel very tired after your journey,” inquired kind Mrs. Horton. “Has it been a long one?” And when she heard it was nearly 200 miles, she persisted in seating me in an easy-chair, and in making me take some immediate refreshment. Tea would be brought in half an hour, she said, but I must take something first. I had a glass of wine and a biscuit in my hand, and was beginning to feel quite at my ease, when the sound was heard of a horse’s hoofs on the drive outside, followed immediately by a loud ring at the door. “Can this be Fanny arrived on horseback?” exclaimed one of the Mr. Hortons junior.
“Nonsense!” began his sister Lucy, which word was scarcely out of her mouth, when a servant entered the room, and gave a paper into Mrs. Horton’s hand.
“A telegram!” exclaimed that lady, turning pale, “do you read it,” she added, reaching it to her husband, who opened it, glanced at it for a moment, and said:
“Nothing that need alarm you, my dear, but still a disappointment to you all. He then read aloud:—
FROM FANNY HEATH TO MRS. HORTON.
Dear Aunt,—Sprained my ankle this morning, getting into the carriage—so sorry I cannot come to the wedding.
They did all look disappointed, and Arthur (the young gentleman who had suggested the possibility of Fanny’s coming on horseback) vented his disappointment loudly in words.
“Can’t we put off the wedding?” was his very likely proposal.
“Indeed, I think Augusta can better do with five bridesmaids instead of six,” replied the indignant bridegroom elect.
Hereupon Lucy looked at me, and whispered something to her mamma.
“My daughter proposes,” said the latter to me, “that you should be Augusta’s bridesmaid instead of her cousin. What do you say to her idea?”
Before I could answer the sisters loudly urged the request: “Oh, do,” said one; “An odd number is so unlucky,” cried another; “You really seem sent by a kind Fate in Fanny’s place,” asserted a third. “And we shall be so glad to have you,” they all chorussed.
Here was an opportunity—how unlooked for!—of gratifying my long cherished wish, of calming the ruffled surface of Henry’s and my own course of true love, of removing the one hitherto insurmountable barrier to our union. But I had no bridesmaid’s dress. This hindrance I brought forward.
“Fanny’s dress is here, all ready,” cried the eager Lucy. “Our dressmaker took her measure, and made all the dresses that they might be exactly alike. And you are just Fanny’s height and figure, it was that made Mary and me take you for her the first minute. Do come upstairs, and let us try the dress on at once, and then if any alteration is required, our maid will have time for it before the morning.” She drew me, nothing loath, from the room, Mary following. “White tarlatan with blue trimmings, and a wreath of convolvuluses to match—it will be the very thing to suit your complexion, and you will look lovely,” continued nonsense-talking Lucy, as we went upstairs.
It was a pretty dress, and really could not have fitted better had it been made for me. The maid had nothing to alter when it was tried on. The sisters would have me go down to show myself, and all the ladies agreed it fitted perfectly. The gentlemen, of course, were not allowed to have an opinion on the subject.
“So that is settled,” said Mrs. Horton.
“Thank you; indeed I should like it so much, but grandmamma—” I faltered.
“Oh,” continued she, “I don’t think Mrs. Meredith could object. One of the grooms shall ride over to-night to let her know where you are, and to bid her not expect you till the day after the wedding.”
“But if she is very ill—” I began.
“That she is not,” interrupted Mr. Horton. “I am her physician: I saw her this morning, and can set your mind at rest on that score. Besides, she deserves to lose you for a day, for not having sent her carriage in time to meet you.”
I made no more objections; indeed I was very glad at heart. The coachman, who was just about to proceed to the station a second time, had his drive countermanded. The groom was despatched to Myrtle Grove, and I gave myself up to enjoyment.
The wedding was a very pretty one, the beauty of the bride and bridesmaids—of course I am not supposed to speak of myself, whatever I may think—eclipsed that of their dresses; the bridegroom and his men were also sufficiently well-looking. I think I fared the worst in this respect, not but that Arthur, my groomsman, was as handsome as any, but his thoughts happened to be a good deal with Fanny of the sprained ankle, so that I found him only a dull companion.
Yet, in spite of this, I enjoyed it all. Yes, I think I enjoyed it all nearly, if not quite as much as I had expected. There were six clergymen to tie the nuptial knot. After the service in church—from “Dearly beloved,” down to “Amazement”—there was a splendid wedding-breakfast, then the bride and bridegroom left us, en route for Paris, and in the evening we had a ball, by which time Arthur had nearly recovered his spirits, and proved not at all a bad partner. He danced remarkably well, by-the-way.
The next morning, not very early,–for we were up late after the ball,—I was forwarded to Myrtle Grove, where I found grandmamma almost convalescent, and not particularly angry with me for my little escapade. She had sent her carriage to meet me on the evening in question, but it had reached the station five minutes after the train had passed, when I was already on my way to the Hortons. It was very stupid of me to mistake the latter’s handsome equipage and horses for grandmamma’s shabby turn-out, though, as it happened, I had cause only to congratulate myself on my want of observation.
My visit to grandmamma’s was less dull than usual, owing to the kindness of the Hortons. Henry, my betrothed, came to fetch me home at the end of three weeks, and, as I have had my wish, and been somebody’s bridesmaid, I suppose now I may be a bride before Barbara Hemming.