Read CHAPTER IV of Her Ladyship's Elephant , free online book, by David Dwight Wells, on


From what has been said it may be imagined that Mrs. Scarsdale, nee Vernon, was an excellent hand at light and amusing conversation; and so pleasantly did she receive the Consul, and so amusingly rally him on the events of the day, that he scarcely seemed to have been with her a minute, when a slight jolt caused him to look up and out, only to perceive the Basingstoke Station sliding rapidly past the windows. Allingford’s first impulse was to dash from the carriage, a dangerous experiment when one remembers the rapidity with which a light English train gets under way. In this, however, he was forestalled by Mrs. Scarsdale, who clung to his coat-tails, declaring that he should not desert her; so that by the time he was able to free himself the train had attained such speed as to preclude any longer the question of escape. The sensations which Mr. Allingford and Mrs. Scarsdale experienced when they realised that they were being borne swiftly away, the one from his wife and the other from her husband, may be better imagined than described. The deserted bride threw herself into the farthest corner of the carriage and began to laugh hysterically, while the Consul plunged his hands into his pockets and gave vent to a monosyllabic expletive, of which he meant every letter.

After the first moments of astonishment and stupefaction both somewhat recovered their senses, and mutual explanations and recriminations began forthwith.

“How has this dreadful thing happened?” demanded Mrs. Scarsdale, in a voice quavering with suppressed emotion.

“I’m afraid it’s my fault,” said Allingford ruefully. “The guard told me we had ten minutes.”

“That was for your division of the train, stupid!” exclaimed the lady wrathfully.

“I didn’t know that,” explained the Consul, “and so I told your husband we had ten minutes, which probably accounts for his being left.”

“Then I’ll never, never forgive you,” she cried, and burst into tears, murmuring between her sobs: “Poor, dear Harold! what will he do?”

“Do!” exclaimed the Consul, “I should think he had done enough, in all conscience. Why, confound him, he’s gone off with my wife!”

“Don’t you call my husband names!” sobbed Mrs. Scarsdale.

“Well, he certainly has enough of his own, that’s a fact.”

“If you were a man,” retorted the disconsolate bride, “you would do something, instead of making stupid jokes about my poor Stanley. I’m a distressed American citizen

“No, you’re not; you became a British subject when you married Scarsdale,” corrected Allingford.

“Well, I won’t be, so there! I tell you I’m an American woman in distress, and you are my Consul and you’ve got to help me.”

“I’ll help you with the greatest pleasure in the world. I’m quite as anxious to recover my wife as you can be to find your husband.”

“Then what do you advise?” she asked.

“We are going somewhere at a rapid rate,” he replied. “When we arrive, we will leave the train and return to Basingstoke as soon as possible. Now do you happen to know our next stop?”

“Yes: Salisbury.”

“How long before we get there?”

“About three quarters of an hour.”

“That will at least give us time,” he said, “to consider what is best to be done. Have you a railway guide?”

“I think there is a South Western time-table in the pocket of dear Malcolm’s coat,” she said, indicating a garment on the seat beside her.

“Why don’t you call him St. Hubart and be done with it?” queried Allingford, as he searched for and found the desired paper. “You’ve given him all his other names.”

“I reserve that for important occasions,” she replied; “it sounds so impressive.”

Mabel Scarsdale, it will be noticed, was fast regaining her composure, now that a definite course of action had been determined upon. But she could not help feeling depressed, for it must be admitted that it is disheartening to lose your husband before you have been married a day. What would he do, she wondered, when he found that the train had gone? Had he discovered its departure soon enough to warn Mrs. Allingford to leave her carriage? and if not, where had she gone, and had he accompanied her? The event certainly afforded ample grounds for speculation; but her reverie was interrupted by the Consul, who had been deeply immersed in the time-table.

“There is no train back to Basingstoke before ten to-night,” he said, “so we must spend the evening in Salisbury and telegraph them to await our return.”

“Possibly my husband may have chased the train and caught the rear carriage. I have seen people do that,” she ventured.

“The guard’s van, you mean,” he explained. “In that case he is travelling down with us and will put in an appearance directly we reach Salisbury, though I don’t think it’s likely. However, there’s nothing to worry about, and I must beg you not to do so, unless you wish to make me more miserable than I already am for my share in this deplorable blunder.”

“You don’t think they would follow us to Salisbury?”

“No; that is” and he plunged into the intricacies of the time-table once more “they couldn’t; besides, they would receive our telegram before they could leave Basingstoke.”

“Could they have gone off on the other train?”

“Impossible,” he replied. “By Jove, they neither of them know where they are bound for!”

“Quite true,” she said, “they do not. We had tickets for Exeter; but as a joke I never let my husband see them.”

“We were going to Bournemouth, and here are my tickets,” he returned, holding them up, “but my wife doesn’t know it.”

“You think there is no question that they are waiting for us at Basingstoke?” she asked.

“Not a doubt of it; and so we have nothing to do but kill time till we can rejoin them, which won’t be hard in your society,” he replied.

“I’m sorry I can’t be so polite,” she returned, “but I want my husband, and if you talk to me much more I shall probably cry.”

The Consul at this made a dive for an adjacent newspaper, in which he remained buried till the train slowed down for Salisbury.

“I suppose,” he said apologetically, as they drew up at their destination, “that you won’t object to my appropriating Scarsdale’s coat and hat? I dare say he is sporting mine.”

A tearful sniff was the only reply as he gathered up the various impedimenta with which the carriage was littered, and assisted his fair though doleful companion to alight. Returning a few moments later from the arduous duty of rescuing her luggage, which was, of course, labelled for Exeter, he found her still alone, there being no sign of Scarsdale in or out of the train, and no telegram for them from Basingstoke a chance on which Allingford had counted considerably, though he had not thought it wise to mention it. Indeed, the fact that no inquiry had been made for them puzzled and worried him greatly, for it seemed almost certain that were their deserted partners still at Basingstoke, their first action would have been to telegraph to the fugitives. However, he put the best face he could on the matter, assured Mrs. Scarsdale that everything must be all right, and despatched his telegram back to their point of separation. Under the most favourable circumstances they could not receive an answer under half an hour, and with this information the Consul was forced to return to the disconsolate bride.

“There is no use in loafing around here,” he said. “Suppose we go and see the cathedral? It will be something to do, and may distract our thoughts.”

“I don’t think mine could well be more distracted than they are now,” replied she; “besides, we might miss the telegram.”

“Oh, I’ll fix that,” he returned; “I’ll have it sent up after us. Come, you had better go. You can’t sit and look at that pea-green engine for thirty minutes; it is enough to give you a fit of the blues.”

“Well, just as you please,” she said, and they started up into the town, and made their way to the cathedral.

It is not to the point of this narrative to discourse on the beauties of that structure; the finest shaft of Purbec marble it contains would prove cold consolation to either a bride or a bridegroom deserted on the wedding day. But the cool quiet of the great building seemed unconsciously to soothe their troubled spirits, though when they each revisited the spot in after years they discovered that it was entirely new to them, and that they possessed not the faintest recollection of its appearance, within or without.

At last, after having consulted their watches for the hundredth time, they began to stroll down the great central aisle, towards the main entrance. Suddenly Mrs. Scarsdale clutched the Consul’s arm, and pointed before her to where a messenger-boy, with a look of expectancy on his face and an envelope in his hand, stood framed in a Gothic doorway. Then they made a wild, scrambling rush down the church, the bride reaching the goal first, and snatching the telegram from its astonished bearer.

“For Mr. Allingford,” he began, but she had already torn open the envelope and was devouring its contents.

For a moment the words seemed to swim before her eyes, then, as their meaning became clear to her, she gave a frightened gasp, dropped the message on the floor, sat down hard on the tomb of a crusader, and burst into tears.

Allingford gazed at her silently for a moment, and meditatively scratched his head; then he paid and dismissed the amazed boy, and finally picked up the crumpled bit of paper. It was from the station-master at Basingstoke, and read as follows:

Parties mentioned left in second division for Southampton and
South Coast Resorts. Destination not known.

It was incomprehensible, but he had expected it. If Mr. Scarsdale had remained at Basingstoke he would certainly have telegraphed them from there at their first stop, Salisbury. Evidently he, too, had been carried away on the train; but where? It was some relief to know that his wife was not wholly alone, but he did not at all like the idea of her going off into space with another man, and the fact that he had done the same thing himself was no consolation. Then his mind reverted to Mrs. Scarsdale, who still wept on the tomb of the crusader. What in thunder was he going to do with her? To get her back to her aunt in London at that time of night was out of the question; but where else could he take her?

This point, however, was settled at once, and in an unexpected manner, by the lady herself. Drying her eyes, she remarked suddenly: “I’m a little fool!”

“Not at all,” he replied; “your emotion is quite natural under the circumstances.”

“But crying won’t get us out of this awful predicament.”

“Unfortunately no, or we should have arrived at a solution long ago.”

“That,” remarked the lady, “is merely another way of making a statement which you just now disputed. I am a little fool, and I mean to dry my eyes and attend strictly to business. Tell me exactly what this message implies.”

“It means,” said the Consul, “that it is impossible for you to rejoin your husband to-night.”

Her lip quivered dangerously; but she controlled herself sufficiently to exclaim: “But what are we to do?”

“Well,” he replied, “I should advise remaining here. There is a good hotel.”

“But we can’t. Don’t you see I must not remain with you?” She spoke the last words with an effort.

“Yes,” he rejoined. “It is awkward; but you can’t spend the night in the streets; you must have somewhere to sleep.”

“Let us go back to Basingstoke, then.”

“I can’t see that that would help matters,” he said gloomily; “we would have to spend the night there just the same. Besides, I think it is going to rain.” They were standing outside the church by this time. “No,” he continued, “our best course, our only course, in fact, is to stay here to-night, return to Basingstoke to-morrow morning, and wait for them there. You may be sure they are having quite as bad a time as we are. If I only knew some one here

“Bravo!” she interrupted, clapping her hands, “I believe you have solved the problem. Look: do you see that carriage over there? What coat of arms has it? Quick! your eyes are better than mine.”

In the gathering twilight he saw driving leisurely by, with coachman and footman on the box, a handsome barouche, on the panels of which a coat of arms was emblazoned.

“Well,” he said, gazing hard at it, “there is a helmet with a plume, balanced on a stick of peppermint candy

“Yes, yes!” she cried, “the crest. Go on!”

“Down on the ground-storey,” he continued, “there is a pink shield divided in quarters, with the same helmet in the north-east division, and a lot of silver ticket-punchers in the one below it.”

“Spurs,” she interjected.

“Well, perhaps they are,” he admitted. “Then there are a couple of two-tailed blue lions swimming in a crimson lake

“The Melton arms!” she cried. “I looked them up in ‘Burke’s Peerage’ when that old catawampus refused to come to our wedding. We will spend to-night with Lady Diana!”

“But I thought” began the Consul, when his companion interrupted him, exclaiming:

“Chase that carriage as hard as you know how, and bring it here!”

Allingford felt that this was a time for action and not for speech. The days of his collegiate triumphs, when he had put his best foot foremost on the cinder-track, rose to his mind, and he fled across the green and into the gathering gloom, which had now swallowed up her ladyship’s chariot, with a swiftness that caused his companion to murmur: “Well, he can sprint!”

Presently the equipage was seen returning with the heated and triumphant Consul inside. It drew up before her, and the footman alighted and approached questioningly.

“Is this Lady Melton’s carriage?” she asked.

“Yes, madam.”

“Then you may drive this gentleman and me to Melton Court.”

“But, madam

“I am Mrs. Scarsdale, Lady Diana’s great-niece,” she said quietly. The footman touched his hat.

“Was her ladyship expecting you? We were sent to meet this next train, but

“No, we are here unexpectedly ourselves; but I dare say there will be room for all, as the carriage holds four.”

“There will only be Lord Cowbray, madam, and his lordship may not arrive till the nine-thirty. If you would not mind driving to the station?”

“It is just what we wish,” she replied, and calmly stepped into the carriage and seated herself by the Consul’s side, who was so amazed at the turn affairs had taken that he remained speechless.

“Shall I see to your luggage, madam?” inquired the footman as they drew up opposite the waiting-room door.

“No,” she replied, stepping out on the platform. “We will attend to it ourselves; it will only be necessary to take up our hand-bags for to-night.”

Accompanied by the Consul she went in search of their belongings, and at her suggestion he took a Gladstone belonging to the absent Scarsdale, and a dressing-case which she designated as her own property.

“I was anxious to have a word alone with you,” she said as they emerged once more on the platform, “and we can’t talk on personal matters during the drive to the Court. You see my position is a little peculiar.”

“Excuse me for asking the question,” he replied, “but are your relations with your husband’s great-aunt quite cordial?”

“On the contrary, they are quite the reverse. She detests all Americans, and was very much put out at poor Harold for marrying me. Her refusal to be present at our wedding was almost an insult,” she returned.

“That doesn’t seem to promise a pleasant reception at Melton Court,” he said.

“Far from it; but any port is acceptable in a storm, and she can hardly refuse us shelter. After all I’ve done nothing to be ashamed of in marrying my husband or being carried off with you.”

“Oh, I’ll trust you to hold your own with any dowager in the United Kingdom; but where do I come in?”

“You are my Consul, and under the circumstances my national protector; I can’t do without you.”

“I am not at all sure that her ladyship will see it in that light; but, as you say, it is better than nothing, and our position can’t be worse than it is at present.”

“Then it is agreed we stand by each other through thick and thin?”

“Exactly,” he replied, and shook her extended hand. At this moment the train came in, and they returned to the carriage.

Lord Cowbray did not put in an appearance, and they were soon under way for Melton Court, which was some miles distant from the town. By the time they entered the grounds it was quite dark, and they could only see that the park was extensive, and that the Court seemed large and gloomy and might have dated from the Elizabethan period.

On entering the central hall they at once saw evidences of a large house-party, whose presence did not tend to put them more at their ease, and Mrs. Scarsdale lost no time in sending a message to Lady Melton, to the effect that her great-niece had arrived unexpectedly and would much appreciate a few words with her in private.

They were shown into a little reception-room, and the footman returned shortly to say that her ladyship would be with them soon. After what seemed an endless time, but was in reality barely fifteen minutes, their hostess entered. She was a fine-looking woman of sixty or over, with a stern, hard face, and a set expression about her thin lips, that boded little good to offenders, whatever their age or sex. She looked her guests over through her gold eye-glasses, and, after waiting a moment for them to speak, said coldly:

“I think there is some mistake. I was told that my niece wished to see me.”

“I said your great-niece,” returned Mrs. Scarsdale.

“Oh, my great-niece. Well? I do not recognise you.”

“It would be strange if you did, Lady Melton,” returned the bride, “as you’ve never seen me. I am the wife of your great-nephew, Harold Stanley Malcolm St. Hubart Scarsdale.”

“I do not see your husband present,” said her ladyship, directing an icy glare at the unfortunate Consul.

“No,” replied her niece, “I’ve lost him.”

“Lost him!”

“Yes, at Basingstoke. He went to speak to a lady in another part of the train. I could make it clearer to you, I think, by saying that she was Sir Peter Steele’s youngest daughter.”

“I never thought of knowing the Steeles when I was in London,” commented her hostess, “but St. Hubart was always liberal in his tastes.” A remark which caused the Consul to flush with pent-up wrath.

“Oh, he didn’t know her,” interjected Mabel, hastening to correct the unfortunate turn which the conversation had taken. “She was this gentleman’s wife.”

Her ladyship bowed very, very slightly in the Consul’s direction, to indicate that his affairs, matrimonial or otherwise, could have for her no possible interest.

“And that is the last we have heard of them,” continued the bride, “except for a telegram from the station-master at Basingstoke, which says they went to Southampton

“Do I understand you to say,” broke in their hostess, betraying the first sign of interest she had so far evinced, “that my nephew has eloped with?”

“No, no!” cried Mrs. Scarsdale, “you do not in the least comprehend the true state of affairs,” and she poured forth a voluble if disconnected account of their adventures.

“Pardon me,” exclaimed the old lady when she had finished, “but what is all this rigmarole? A most surprising affair, I must say, and quite worthy of your nationality. I was averse to my nephew’s marrying you from the first; but I hardly expected to be justified on his wedding day.”

“In that case,” said Mrs. Scarsdale, “the sooner we leave your house the better.”

“You will do nothing of the sort,” replied her great-aunt. “Your coming to me is the only wise thing you have done. Of course you will remain here till your husband can be found. As for this person” indicating Allingford.

“This gentleman,” said his partner in misfortune, coming to his rescue, “is Mr. Robert Allingford, United States Consul at Christchurch. As my husband had gone off with his wife, I thought the least I could do was to take him with me.”

“I can hardly see the necessity of that course,” commented her hostess.

“Now that I have seen Mrs. Scarsdale in safe hands, I could not think of trespassing longer upon your hospitality,” put in the Consul; but his companion intervened.

“I am not going to be deserted twice in a day!” she cried. “If you go, I go with you!”

“About that,” said her ladyship frigidly, “there can be no question,” and she rang the bell.

“You will conduct this lady and this gentleman,” she continued to the footman who answered her summons, “to the green room and the tower room respectively.” Then, turning to her unwilling guests, she added: “As my dinner-table is fully arranged for this evening, and my guests are now awaiting me, you will pardon it if I have your dinner served in my private sitting-room. We will discuss your affairs at length to-morrow morning; but now I must bid you good-night,” and with an inclination of her head she dismissed them from her presence.