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   Chapter 47 THE WEDDING-DAY

Tom Brown at Oxford By Thomas Hughes Characters: 19979

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:05



The belfry tower rocked and reeled, as that peal rang out, now merry, now scornful, now plaintive, from whose narrow belfry windows, into the bosom of the soft south-west wind, which was playing round the old grey tower of Englebourn church. And the wind caught the peal and played with it, and bore it away over Rectory and village street, and many a homestead, and gently waving field of ripening corn, and rich pasture and water-meadow, and tall whispering woods of the Grange, and rolled it against the hill-side, and up the slope past the clump of firs on the Hawk's Lynch, till it died away on the wild stretches of common beyond.

The ringers bent lustily to their work. There had been no such ringing in Englebourn since the end of the great war. Not content with the usual peal out of church, they came back again and again in the afternoon, full of the good cheer which had been provided for them; and again and again the wedding peal rang out from the belfry in honour of their old comrade-



Such was the ungallant speech which for many generations had been attributed to the Englebourn wedding-bells; when you had once caught the words-as you would be sure to do from some wide-mouthed grinning boy, lounging over the churchyard rails to see the wedding pass-it would be impossible to persuade yourself that they did, in fact, say anything else. Somehow, Harry Winburn bore his undoing in the most heroic manner, and did his duty throughout the trying day as a non-commissioned groom should. The only part of the performance arranged by his captain which he fairly resisted, was the proposed departure of himself and Patty to the solitary post-chaise of Englebourn-a real old yellow-with a pair of horses. East, after hearing the sergeant's pleading on the subject of vehicles, at last allowed them to drive off in a tax-cart, taking a small boy with them behind, to bring it back.

As for the festivities, they went off without hitch, as such affairs will, where the leaders of the revels have their hearts in them. The children had all played, and romped, and eaten and drunk themselves into a state of torpor by an early hour of the evening. The farmers' dinner was a decided success. East proposed the health of the bride and bridegroom, and was followed by Farmer Grove and the constable. David turned out in a new blue swallow-tailed coat, with metal buttons, of his own fabulous cut, in honor of the occasion. He and the farmer spoke like the leader of the Government and the Opposition in the House of Commons on an address to the Crown. There was not a pin to choose between their speeches, and a stranger hearing them would naturally have concluded that Harry had never been anything but the model boy and young man of the parish. Fortunately, the oratorical powers of Englebourn ended here; and East, and the majority of his guests, adjourned to the green, where the cricket was in progress. Each game lasted a very short time only, as the youth of Englebourn were not experts in the noble science, and lost their wickets one after another so fast, that Tom and Hardy had time to play out two matches with them, and then to retire on their laurels, while the afternoon was yet young.

The old folks in the village school-room enjoyed their beef and pudding, under the special superintendence of Miss Winter, and then toddled to their homes, and sat about in the warmest nooks they could find, mumbling of old times, and the doings at Dr. Winter's wedding.

David devoted himself to superintending the issue of beer, swelling with importance, but so full of the milk of human kindness from the great event of the day, that nobody minded his little airs. He did his duty so satisfactorily that, with the exception of one or two regular confirmed soakers, who stuck steadily to the tap of the Red Lion, and there managed successfully to fuddle themselves, there was nothing like drunkenness. In short, it was one of those rare days when everything goes right, and everybody seems to be inclined to give and take, and to make allowances for their neighbours. By degrees the cricket flagged, and most of the men went off to sit over their pipes, and finish the evening in their own way. The boys and girls took to playing at "kissing in the ring;" and the children who had not already gone home sat in groups watching them.

Miss Winter had already disappeared, and Tom, Hardy and the Captain began to feel that they might consider their part finished. They strolled together off the green towards Hardy's lodgings, the "Red Lion" being still in possession of East's guests.

"Well, how do you think it all went off?" asked he. "Nothing could have been better," said Hardy; "and they all seem so inclined to be reasonable that I don't think we shall even have a roaring song along the street to-night when the "Red Lion" shuts up."

"And you are satisfied, Tom?"

"I should think so. I have been hoping for this day any time this four years, and now it has come, and gone off well, too, thanks to you, Harry."

"Thanks to me? Very good; I am open to any amount of gratitude."

"I think you have every reason to be satisfied with your second day's work at Englebourn, at any rate."

"So I am. I only hope it may turn out as well as the first."

"Oh, there's no doubt about that."

"I don't know. I rather believe in the rule of contraries."

"How do you mean?"

"Why, when you inveigled me over from Oxford, and we carried off the sergeant from the authorities, and defeated the yeomanry in that tremendous thunder-storm, I thought we were a couple of idiots, and deserved a week each in the lockup for our pains. That business turned out well. This time we have started with flying colours and bells ringing, and so-"

"This business will turn out better. Why not?"

"Then let us manage a third day's work in these parts as soon as possible. I should like to get to the third degree of comparison, and perhaps the superlative will turn up trumps for me somehow. Are there many more young women in the place as pretty as Mrs. Winburn? This marrying complaint is very catching, I find."

"There's my cousin Katie," said Tom, looking stealthily at Hardy; "I won't allow that there's any face in the country-side to match hers. What do you say, Jack?"

Hardy was confused by this sudden appeal.

"I haven't been long enough here to judge," he said. "I have always considered Miss Winter very beautiful. I see it is nearly seven o'clock, and I have a call or two to make in the village. I should think you ought to get some rest after this tiring day, Captain East?"

"What are you going to do, Tom?"

"Well, I was thinking of just throwing a fly over the mill tail.

There's such a fine head of water on."

"Isn't it too bright?"

"Well, perhaps it is a little; marrying weather and fishing weather don't agree. Only what else is there to do? But if you are tired," he added, looking at East, "I don't care a straw about it. I shall stay with you."

"Not a bit of it. I shall hobble down with you, and lie on the bank and smoke a cheroot."

"No, you shan't walk, at any rate. I can borrow the constable's pony, old Nibble, the quietest beast in the world. He'll stand for a week if we like, while I fish and you lie and look on. I'll be off and bring him around in two minutes."

"Then we shall meet for a clumsy tea at nine at my lodgings," said Hardy, as he went off to his pastoral duties.

Tom and East, in due time, found themselves by the side of the stream. There was only a small piece of fishable water in Englebourn. The fine stream, which, a mile or so below, in the Grange grounds, might be called a river, came into respectable existence only about two hundred yards above Englebourn Mill. Here two little chalk brooks met, and former millers had judiciously deepened the channel, and dammed the united waters back so as to get a respectable reservoir. Above the junction the little weedy, bright, creeping brooks afforded good sport for small truants groppling about with their hands, or bobbing with lob worms under the hollow banks, but were not available for the scientific angler. The parish ended at the fence next below the mill garden, on the other side of which the land was part of the Grange estate. So there was just the piece of still water above the mill, and the one field below it, over which Tom had leave. On ordinary occasions this would have been enough, with careful fishing, to last him till dark; but his nerves were probably somewhat excited by the events of the day, and East sat near and kept talking; so he got over his water faster than usual. At any rate, he had arrived for the second time at the envious fence before the sun was down. The fish were wondrous wary in the miller's bit of water-as might be expected, for they led a dog of a life there, between the miller and his men and their nets, and baits of all kinds always set. So Tom thought himself lucky to get a couple of decent fish, the only ones that were moving within his liberty; but he could not help looking with covetous eyes on the fine stretch of water below, all dimpling with rises.

"Why don't you get over and fish below?" said East, from his seat on the bank; "don't mind me. I can watch you; besides, lying on the turf on such an evening is luxury enough by itself."

"I can't go. Both sides below belong to that fellow Wurley."

"The sergeant's amiable landlord and prosecutor?"

"Yes; and the yeoman with whom you exchanged shots on the common."

"Hang it, Tom, just jump over and catch a brace of his trout.

Look how they are rising."

"No, I don't know. I never was very particular about poaching, but somehow I shouldn't like to do it on his land. I don't like him well enough."

"You're right, I believe. But just look there. There's a whopper rising not mor

e than ten yards below the rail. You might reach him, I think, without trespassing, from where you stand."

"Shall I have a shy at him?"

"Yes; it can't be poaching if you don't go on his grounds."

Tom could not resist the temptation, and threw over the rails, which crossed the stream from hedge to hedge to mark the boundaries of the parish, until he got well over the place where the fish was rising.

"There, that was at your fly," said East, hobbling up in great excitement.

"All right, I shall have him directly. There he is. Hullo! Harry, I say! Splash with your stick. Drive the brute back. Bad luck to him. Look at that!"

The fish, when hooked, had come straight up stream towards his captor, and notwithstanding East's attempts to frighten him back, he rushed in under the before-mentioned walls, which were adorned with jagged nails, to make crossing on them unpleasant for the Englebourn boys. Against one of these Tom's line severed, and the waters closed over two beauteous flies, and some six feet of lovely taper gut.

East laughed loud and merrily; and Tom, crestfallen as he was, was delighted to hear the old ring coming back into his friend's voice.

"Harry, old fellow, you're picking up already in this glorious air."

"Of course I am. Two or three more weddings and fishings will set me up altogether. How could you be so green as to throw over those rails? It's a proper lesson to you, Tom, for poaching."

"Well, that's cool. Didn't I throw down stream to please you?"

"You ought to have resisted temptation. But, I say, what are you at?"

"Putting on another cast, of course."

"Why, you're not going on to Wurley's land?"

"No; I suppose not. I must try the mill tail again."

"It's no good. You've tried it over twice, and I'm getting bored."

"Well, what shall we do then?"

"I've a mind to get up to the hill there to see the sun set-what's its name?-where I waited with the cavalry that night, you know."

"Oh! the Hawk's Lynch. Come along, then; I'm your man."

So Tom put up his rod, and caught the old pony, and the two friends were soon on their way towards the common, through lanes at the back of the village.

The wind had sunk to sleep as the shadows lengthened. There was no sound abroad except that of Nibble's hoofs on the turf,-not even the hum of insects; for the few persevering gnats, who were still dancing about in the slanting glints of sunshine that struck here and there across the lanes, had left off humming. Nothing living met them except an occasional stag-beetle, steering clumsily down the lane, and seeming like a heavy coaster, to have as much to do as he could fairly manage in keeping clear of them. They walked on in silence for some time, which was broken at last by East.

"I haven't had time to tell you about my future prospects."

"How do you mean? Has anything happened?"

"Yes. I got a letter two days ago from New Zealand, where I find I am a considerable landowner. A cousin of mine has died out there and has left me his property."

"W ell, you're not going to leave England, surely?"

"Yes, I am. The doctors say the voyage will do me good, and the climate is just the one to suit me. What's the good of my staying here? I shan't be fit for service again for years. I shall go on half-pay, and become an enterprising agriculturist at the Antipodes. I have spoken to the sergeant, and arranged that he and his wife shall go with me; so, as soon as I can get his discharge, and he has done honeymooning, we shall start. I wish you would come with us."

Tom could scarcely believe his ears; but soon found that East was in earnest, and had an answer to all his remonstrances. Indeed, he had very little to say against the plan, for it jumped with his own humour; and he could not help admitting that, under the circumstances, it was a wise one, and that, with Harry Winburn for his head man, East couldn't do better than carry it out.

"I knew you would soon come around to it," said the Captain; "what could I do dawdling about at home, with just enough money to keep me and get me into mischief? There I shall have a position and an object; and one may be of some use, and make one's mark in a new country. And we'll get a snug berth ready for you by the time you're starved out of the old country. England isn't the place for poor men with any go in them."

"I believe you're right, Harry," said Tom, mournfully.

"I know I am. And in a few years, when we've made our fortunes, we'll come back and have a look at the old country, and perhaps buy up half Englebourn and lay our bones in the old church yard."

"And if we don't make our fortunes?"

"Then we'll stay out there."

"Well, if I were my own master I think I should make one with you. But I could never leave my father and mother, or-or-"

"Oh, I understand. Of course, if matters go all right in that quarter, I have nothing more to say. But, from what you have told me, I thought you might be glad of a regular break in your life, a new start in a new world."

"Very likely I may. I should have said so myself this morning.

But somehow I feel to-night more hopeful than I have for years."

"Those wedding chimes are running in your head."

"Yes; and they have lifted a load off my heart too. Four years ago I was very near doing the greatest wrong a man can do to that girl who was married to-day, and to that fine fellow her husband, who was the first friend I ever had. Ever since then I have been doing my best to set matters straight, and have often made them crookeder. But to-day they are all straight, thank God, and I feel as if a chain were broken from off my neck. All has come right for them, and perhaps my own time will come before long."

"To be sure it will. I must be introduced to a certain young lady before we start. I shall tell her that I don't mean to give up hopes of seeing her on the other side of the world."

"Well, here we are on the common. What a glorious sunset! Come, stir up, Nibble. We shall be on the Lynch just in time to see him dip if we push on."

Nibble, the ancient pony, finding that there was no help for it, scrambled up the greater part of the ascent successfully. But his wheezings and roarings during the operation excited East's pity; so he dismounted when they came to the foot of the Hawk's Lynch, and, tying Nibble's bridle to a furze-bush-a most unnecessary precaution-set to work to scale the last and deepest bit of the ascent with the help of his stick-and Tom's strong-arm.

They paused every ten paces or so to rest and look at the sunset. The broad vale below lay in purple shadow; the soft flocks of little clouds high up over their heads, and stretching away to the eastern horizon, floated in a sea of rosy light; and the stems of the Scotch firs stood out like columns of ruddy flame.

"Why, this beats India," said East, putting up his hand to shade his eyes, which were fairly dazzled by the blaze. "What a contrast to the last time I was up here! Do you remember that awful black-blue sky?"

"Don't I? Like a night-mare. Hullo! who's here?"

"Why, if it isn't the parson and Miss Winter," said East, smiling.

True enough, there they were, standing together on the very verge of the mound, beyond the firs, some ten yards in front of the last comers, looking out into the sunset.

"I say, Tom, another good omen," whispered East; "hadn't we better beat a retreat?"

Before Tom could answer, or make up his mind what to do, Hardy turned his head and caught sight of them, and then Katie turned too, blushing like the little clouds overhead. It was an embarrassing moment. Tom stammered out that they had come up quite by chance, and then set to work, well seconded by East, to look desperately unconscious, and to expatiate on the beauties of the view. The light began to fade, and the little clouds to change again from soft pink to grey, and the evening star shone out clear as they turned to descend the hill, when the Englebourn clock chimed nine.

Katie attached herself to Tom, while Hardy helped the Captain down the steep pitch, and on to the back of Nibble. They went a little ahead. Tom was longing to speak to his cousin, but could not tell how to begin. At last Katie broke the silence;

"I am so vexed that this should have happened!"

"Are you, dear? So am not I," he said, pressing her arm to his side.

"But I mean, it seems so forward-as if I had met Mr. Hardy here on purpose. What will your friend think of me?"

"He will think no evil."

"But indeed, Tom, do tell him, pray. It was quite an accident. You know how I and Mary used to go up the Hawk's Lynch whenever we could, on fine evenings."

"Yes, dear, I know it well."

"And I thought of you both so much to-day, that I couldn't help coming up here."

"And you found Hardy? I don't wonder. I should come up to see the sun set every night, if I lived at Englebourn."

"No. He came up sometime after me. Straight up the hill. I did not see him till he was quite close. I could not run away then. Indeed, it was not five minutes before you came."

"Five minutes are as good as a year sometimes."

"And you will tell your friend, Tom, how it happened?"

"Indeed I will, Katie. May I not tell him something more?"

He looked round for an answer, and there was just light enough to read it in her eye.

"My debt is deepening to the Hawk's Lynch," he said, as they walked on through the twilight. "Blessed five minutes! Whatever else they may take with them, they will carry my thanks for ever. Look how clear and steady the light of that star is, just over the church tower. I wonder whether Mary is at a great hot dinner. Shall you write to her soon?"

"Oh, yes. To-night."

"You may tell her that there is no better Englishman walking the earth than my friend, John Hardy. Here we are at his lodgings. East and I are going to tea with him. Wish them good night, and I will see you home."

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