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HOW WE GOT MARRIED.
Ir is curious to reflect how the majority of married couples may be said to have drifted into the wedded state. Some chance meeting, some trifling circumstance, is in many cases the commencement of an acquaintance that ripens into a life-long union.
'That not impossible she Who shall command my heart and me' is rarely (save in France) introduced to us in orthodox form as our future wife. We stumble on our fate unexpectedly in nine cases out of ten: a visit to a country-house; a shower of rain, which induces us to lend our umbrella to a stranger; a journey by a public conveyance,-all these may be the first steps on the road that leads us into the proverbial 'lane which has no turning.'
accident of another kind. Twenty years ago I went to my first curacy. I was young then, and, except for my school and university career, had never left home before. I found myself terribly lonely at first, at Martin-on-Sands. It was a dull respectable little watering-place, on the east coast; with the usual row of white houses with green blinds facing the sea; the usual esplanade ;' the usual little shops where shell ornaments were sold. It was an intensely quiet place; its inhabitants proudly boasted that no excursionists ever came there,' indeed there was nothing to attract them. There are two types of English seaside resorts: the gay and noisy, where donkeys, bands, and niggers flourish; and the quiet spots like Martin-on-Sands, where existence is peaceful, not to say stagnant. People with large families came to us during the summer and autumn, lodgings and provisions being reasonable, and the sands affording capital playgrounds for the children; but the town was not a lively residence at the best of times. The vicar was an old man greatly afflicted with gout, and the chief work of the parish devolved on his curate; but there was not very arduous toil for either of us. Most of the townspeople had realised the Wise Man's wish, and possessed' neither poverty nor riches.' Except season visitors we had few gentry among us; small lodging-house keepers, shop-keepers, and fisher-folk making up the bulk of our population. At the same time we had hardly any actual poor. The horse, or injury in a train; but an fishers were, as a class, quiet hard
We sheltered a young lady from a shower of hail at a flowershow, and little thought then that she was the future Mrs. Brown. When we assisted that old gentleman and his daughter at the railway-station, nothing was further from our thoughts than matrimony; yet in another twelve months that young lady was standing beside us in the full glory of white satin and orange-blossoms. As for accidents, if I ever met with one by road or rail, and was conveyed to a private house for recovery (people always are, in novels), I should, if a single man, fully expect that a beautiful daughter of the house would un dertake the post of sick-nurse, and eventually become my wife.
After all, it was through an accident that I did get married. Not the orthodox fall from a
working people, and seemed able to earn enough to keep themselves and families in fair comfort. Of course there was the usual routine of parish work, church services and school, sick and aged people to visit; but I found my time certainly not too well filled. Mr. Gray, the incumbent, disliked anything new, and would not have permitted any additions to the usual round of my parochial labours; so I found plenty of leisure in which to be dull. We were a large merry family at home; and sometimes, sitting by myself in my lodgings, evening after evening, time went slowly enough. A few months after my instalment in my new post, I succeeded in persuading a married sister to come to Martin-on-Sands with her children. This was, indeed, a pleasant change for me, and nearly every evening I used to go round to her lodgings to enjoy a chat with her and a romp with the children, with whom I was a great favourite.
One dark autumn evening I had started out later than usual-a visit to a sick man had detained me; but I was anxious not to omit my usual call, as Helen was to return to London the next day. I hurried along the neat row of houses which formed the aristocratic quarter of our town, and rapped at the well-known door.
You need not announce me,' I said, passing the neat maidservant; 'I am expected;' and I hurried up-stairs. Just outside the drawing-room door lay a large blackfur rug, which I had never observed before. As I looked at it the idea struck me that I might make a brilliant entrance into the room on this farewell visit. It was past seven o'clock; all the children would be assembled in the drawing-room after their tea. I would enter in the character of a bear.
Wrapping myself in the rug, I opened the door and crawled in on all-fours, emitting sundry growling sounds. A scream greeted me-that was to be expected; but in place of the laughter that ought to have succeeded it, I was terrified to hear a shrill female voice, certainly not Helen's, exclaiming, Thieves! Murder! Rose, Maria! help, help!'
Stunned for a moment, I hastily began to disengage the bear-dress; and when I got the length of my knees with my head free, to my dismay, found myself in a strange room, with two strange ladies standing opposite; one young and very pretty, the other a much older one, who stood intrenched behind a chair, in which she had doubtless been peacefully dozing until disturbed by my abrupt entry. It must have been a shock to her to be awoke from tranquil repose by the sight of a strange animal crawling in at the door, nor was the discovery that the animal was a strange man likely to reassure her. As for myself-a German author has noted in his diary that at a certain date he behaved as a fool' I certainly passed a similar mental verdict on myself. I had evidently entered a wrong house by mistake, and played what looked like a practical joke on an entire stranger. It was a dignified and pleasant position for the curate of the parish to find himself in! If the story spread to the rector's ears! Mr. Gray was a starched specimen of the old school of frigid politeness, who abominated levity of demeanour, and I am sure would not have crawled on all-fours had his life depended upon it. I was young and shy, and my absurd position was really no joke to me. As soon as I could find breath I essayed to explain matters to the frightened and irate old lady. I apologised most hum
bly for my intrusion, explained my mistake; but my efforts were ill received. I found an ally, however, in the shape of the sweetlooking girl, who endeavoured to mollify the old lady's wrath, accepted my apologies smilingly, and joined me in every possible way in trying to soothe her angry relative.
'It's all a mistake, auntie,' she whispered. 'Don't you see it's Mr. Morley, our curate?'
'And more shame for him to play such a vulgar ungentlemanly trick!' retorted the old dame, not to be so easily mollified.
'Madam, you cannot think I intended to alarm you thus,' I stammered, wishing I could sink into the floor. 'I unfortunately mistook the house; I was intending to make a little diversion for my nephews and nieces.'
Is there not a number on my door, sir? Could you not have ascertained that you had entered the right house before commencing this buffoonery? Very unbecoming for a clergyman in any case, in my judgment.'
O auntie !' whispered the young lady, her face flushing. Then turning to me, she said gently, 'My aunt is not strong, and this has startled her; but I am sure the mistake was quite accidental on your part.'
How grateful I felt to her for those kind words!
have imagined that Mr. Gray would have selected an assistant of less levity of character. My nerves have received a severe shock, and as you are now aware that this is not the house you intended to visit, perhaps you will leave us.'
I blundered through a few more apologies, and went out terribly crestfallen, though the young lady bowed and smiled as we parted. Evidently she was not offended.
Helen received the news of my adventure with peals of laughter. Charlie, Charlie! that you should have selected old Mrs. Piggot of all people to play this trick upon! You are an unlucky fellow!
'Do you know the old lady, then?' 'Only by repute. She comes here every year, and has often lodged with my landlady. She is really a kind-hearted old soul, I believe, but has a very crusty temper.'
'I can vouch for that,' I answered ruefully.
'O, if I had only been there!' cried Helen, going off into fresh peals of laughter. Poor dear Charlie crawling in, and old Mrs. Piggot's wrath-what an introduction to one of your parishioners! I wonder if the old lady will ever forgive you.' She did one day. Probably the reader guesses the sequel of my story. I made Helen call on the offended dame next day, and she succeeded in making my peace so well that I was allowed to present my apologies in person afterwards.
Then I called occasionally; of course on each occasion seeing Miss Rose, the old lady's niece. Then, as Fate willed it, Mrs. Piggot fell ill, and took a fancy to winter at Martin-on-Sands. Of course Miss Rose and I met frequently during these months. A friendship grew up between us; friendship often ripens into a
deeper feeling. Just a year after my abrupt entrance into Mrs. Piggot's drawing-room, I married my Rose. The old lady agreed at last-I think she had her doubts about my 'steadiness of conduct;' but although only a curate I had a comfortable private income to offer Rose, who had hitherto been a pensioner on her aunt, and this circumstance may have weighed in my favour.
It is a long time since our wedding-day; but as I look back I feel grateful to the accident which was instrumental in bestowing on me the sweetest and dearest wife that ever blessed a man's home.
At the same time I would not advise my readers to enter strange houses wrapped in rugs, on the chance of finding another Rose.
A CHRISTMAS CARD.
Your lips are like berries, so red and so small-
No doubt there are women as tender and true,
You would win with hands down, pulling hard, all the way;
You have faults, I admit; but they're all of that kind
Still I love you most truly; I know there is not
Though your anger lights quickly, it soon smoulders down,
SANDY THE TINKER.
BEFORE Commencing my story, I wish to state it is perfectly true in every particular.'
We quite understand that,' said the sceptic of our party, who was wont, in the security of friendly intercourse, to characterise all such prefaces as mere introductions to
tremendous blank, blank, blank, which trio the reader can fill up at his own pleasure and leisure.
On the occasion in question, however, we had donned our best behaviour, a garment which did not sit ungracefully on some of us; and our host, who was about to draw out from the stores of memory one narrative for our entertainment, was scarcely the person before whom even Jack Hill would have cared to express his cynical and unbelieving views.
We were seated, an incongruous company of ten persons, in the best room of an old manse among the Scottish hills. Accident had thrown us together, and accident had driven us under the minister's
hospitable roof. Cold, wet, and hungry, drenched with rain, sorely beaten by the wind, we had crowded through the door opened by a friendly hand, and now, wet no longer, the pangs of hunger assuaged with smoking rashers of ham, poached eggs, and steaming potatoes, we sat around a blazing fire drinking toddy out of tumblers, whilst the two ladies who graced the assemblage partook of a modicum of the same beverage from wine-glasses.
Everything was eminently comfortable, but done upon the most correct principles. Jack could no
more have taken it upon him to shock the minister's ear with some of the opinions he aired in Fleet-street than he could have asked for more whisky with his water.
'Yes, it is perfectly true,' continued the minister, looking thoughtfully at the fire. 'I can't explain it. I cannot even try to explain it. I will tell the story exactly as it occurred, and leave you to draw your own deductions from it.'
None of us answered. We fell into listening attitudes instantly, and eighteen eyes fixed themselves by one accord upon our host.
He was an old man, but hale. The weight of eighty winters had whitened his head, but not bent it. He seemed young as any of us— younger than Jack Hill, who was a reviewer and a newspaper hack, and whose way through life had not been altogether on easy lines.
Thirty years ago, upon a certain Friday morning in August,' began the minister, I was sitting at breakfast in the room on the other side of the passage where you ate your supper, when the servant-girl came in with a letter she said a laddie, all out of breath, had brought over from Dendeldy Manse. "He was bidden rin a' the way," she went on, " and he's fairly beaten."
I told her to make the messenger sit down, and put food before him; and then, when she went to do my bidding, proceeded, I must confess with some curiosity, to break the seal of a missive forwarded in such hot haste.