Read CHAPTER TEN - THE WEDDING DAY. of A Question of Marriage , free online book, by Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey, on ReadCentral.com.

Jean Goring and Robert Gloucester were married in the early days of October, after a bare three months’ engagement.  They themselves found the period one of ideal happiness, but, as is usually the case, it was somewhat trying to their relations and friends.  Jean, in her gay young beauty, had filled the centre of the stage for many friends, who were bound to suffer when the light shone no more upon them, and Jean had neither eyes, ears, nor heart for any one but her fiance.  Mr Goring gave his consent to the engagement with a readiness which was largely based upon the affection which his prospective son-in-law had already awakened.

“He’s a splendid fellow-a man in a thousand.  Thank Heaven you’ve chosen a man who won’t bore me to death hanging about the house.  It’s a poor match in a worldly sense, but that’s your affair.  You had chances of rich men before now, and wouldn’t look at them.  I believe in letting people live their own lives, in their own way.  I’ll give you a good trousseau, and allow you two hundred a year; but I can’t do more.  There’s the boys’ education coming on.”

“Oh, thank you, father.  That’s sweet of you.  I never expected so much.  We shall be poor, of course, but I shan’t mind.  It will be rather fun living in a small house and playing at housekeeping.  I never cared much for money.”

Mr Goring grimaced expressively.  Jean had not cared for money, simply because she had never realised its value.  Every want had been supplied, and there had been a comfortable certainty of a lenient parent in the background when her own generous allowance ran short.  Graceless mortals never realise the value of the blessings which are theirs in abundance.  Jean had enjoyed easy means and perfect health all her life, and took them as much for granted as light and air.

“Hadn’t you better take some cooking lessons, or something?” asked her father uneasily.  It crossed his mind at that moment that he had not done his duty by the man whom Jean was about to marry, in allowing his girl to grow up in absolute ignorance of her work in the world.  “Gloucester doesn’t strike me as a man likely to make money, and you ought to be trained.  Talk to Miggles.  Ask her.  She has about as good an idea of running a house as any woman I know.  It’s a good thing you are going to live within reach of home.  I’m thankful Gloucester thinks of settling in town.”

“Yes, oh, yes!  Of course, if they gave him a really good offer for India-I should rather like to live in India!”

Jean smiled into space, blissfully unconscious of the pain on her father’s face.  He was not a demonstrative man, and no one but himself knew how he had loved and cherished this child of his youth-the daughter who had inherited the beauty and charm of the girl-wife with whom he had spent the golden year of his life.  To his own heart he acknowledged that Jean was his dearest possession-dearer than wife, dearer than sons, dearer than life itself, and Jean could leave him without a pang-would “rather like” to put the width of the world between them!

“India’s a long way off, Jean.  I should miss you if you went.”

“But we’d come home, father.  We’d have a long holiday every five years.”

Well! well!  Mr Goring reminded himself that in his own youth he had been equally callous.  He recalled the day of his first marriage, and saw again the twisted face of his mother as she bade him adieu at the door.  He had known a pang of regret at the sight, regret for her suffering, her loss; not for his own.  For himself, the moment had been one of unalloyed triumph; he had heaved a sigh of relief as the carriage bore him away and he was alone with his bride.  It was natural that it should be so-natural and right; but when one came to stand in the parent’s place, how it hurt!  He set his teeth in endurance.

Mrs Goring regarded the engagement and prospective marriage primarily as a disagreeable upset to domestic routine, and did not rest until she had secured Vanna’s consent to prolong her visit until the bride had departed.

“There will be so much to arrange, endless letters to write, and people to see.  Jean will be worse than useless, and poor dear Miss Miggs is not fit to rush about.  If you would stay and help, my dear, I should be unutterably grateful.  When you undertake a thing it is always well done.”

“I should like to stay,” replied Vanna simply.  The first days of Jean’s rapturous happiness had been hard for her friend.  It was not in human nature to avoid a feeling of loss, of loneliness, of hopeless longing for such happiness for herself, but it was a comfort to know that she could be of real practical help.  Jean, of course, had declared in words that nothing, no, nothing, could ever lessen the warmth of her friendship, and Vanna had faith to believe that in the years to come the love between them would increase rather than diminish.  In the meantime, however, she must needs stand aside, and be content to be neglected, ignored, regarded at times as an unwelcome intruder-a difficult lesson to learn.

At the very first meeting after the engagement the difference of relationship had made itself felt, for Jean had shown a distinct annoyance when Vanna referred to the prophecy of the rose.

“He had told you-you knew?  He talked about it to you afterwards.  You knew how he felt-” Her face flushed with resentment; there was a cool aloofness in her glance, as though a friend whom she had trusted had been discovered prying into hidden treasures.  “Please don’t speak of it again; don’t let any one else know.  Promise me never to mention it.”  That was all, but her manner said as plainly as words, “It is our secret-Robert’s and mine.  What right have you on our holy ground?”

Vanna was by nature just and reasonable, and she told herself that in Jean’s place she might have felt the same irritation, though perhaps she would have been more chary about showing it.  She held herself in check, and was careful never again to refer to the forbidden topic.

On another occasion, when called to give her advice on a matter in consultation between the lovers, Robert had addressed his fiancee as “Rose” when Vanna, looking up quickly, surprised a swift glance of reproach on Jean’s face.

“You have forgotten,” said that look.  “We are not alone.  That name is not for the ears of a stranger.  It is for use only between you and me, when we are alone in our own kingdom, with the world shut out.”

The lonely ones of the world smart under many darts planted by these wordless arrows.

And Piers Rendall?  Vanna was perplexed and mystified by his reception of the news.  She had dreaded to see him amazed, broken down, despairing, and when he arrived at the Cottage the day after the great event, had felt her heart throb with a sympathy that was painful in its intensity.  They were seated in the hall drinking tea, a happy family group, the lovers side by side on an old oak settle, when the gate clicked, and Piers’s tall figure was seen walking up the path.  He looked anxiously towards the open door, and Vanna felt convinced that he had noticed the absence of the couple the afternoon before, and had a premonition of the news which lay in store.  She lowered her eyes, and braced herself, as if it had been upon her own shoulders that the blow were about to fall.

“Oh, it’s Piers!  I must tell Piers!” cried Jean gaily.  Now that the deed was done, her former reserve had given way to an abandon of light-hearted joy.  She told the great news to every one she met; it was her great joy to tell it, her regret that there were so few to listen.

Now, at sight of her old friend, she sprang from her seat.

“Robert, come,” she cried, stretching out a beckoning hand, and standing proudly linked together, the lovers met the unconscious Piers on the threshold.

“Piers!  Piers!  I’m so glad you came.  I did so want to see you.  Guess what has happened!  Guess-quick!  We are so happy-so ridiculously happy.  Guess!”

Piers stood still, looking from one to the other with a swift, questioning glance.  Despite herself, despite her dread, Vanna felt it impossible to restrain from one look at his face.  She turned shrinking eyes upon him, but what she saw was strangely, wonderfully different from what she had expected.

Piers stood looking from one to the other of the triumphant lovers, and for the first time since she had known him, Vanna saw his face illumined with happiness and content.  It seemed incredible, but it was true.  The dark eyes had lost their hard, irritable brilliance, and shone deep and soft; the discontent of the mouth was turned into a happy smile.

“You mean-you mean-” he stammered incredulously.  “By Jove! you are engaged-you two!  Is it really possible?”

“Yes!  Yes!” Jean jumped on her feet, like a small excited child.  “You’ve guessed it; it’s true.  Congratulate us, Piers.  We love to be congratulated.”

“By Jove!” ejaculated Piers once more.  Jean’s assumption of haughtiness had evidently put him off the scent, for the news appeared to take him completely by surprise.  “By Jove, I do congratulate you.  You deserve congratulations.  Gloucester, you are the luckiest man on earth.  Jean, he is the only man I have ever met who is worthy of you.  You’re a wise girl; you’ve done the right thing.  I do congratulate you with all my heart.”

Jean jumped again, while Robert looked down at her, his soul in his eyes.

“Oh, you nice Piers!  How nicely you say it.  I knew you would be pleased.  Come in, come in; we’re having tea.  Come and congratulate the family.”

Piers duly went the round, repeating his congratulations in more formal manner to Mr and Mrs Goring; but it was not until tea was over and they had adjourned into the garden that he and Vanna had any conversation together.  He was still overflowing with excitement and pleasure, and eager to discuss the great news with Jean’s chosen friend.

“I saw that he admired her, of course-every one does; but she was so off-hand and casual that I never imagined that things were near a denouement.  I’ve seen her more encouraging to half a dozen other fellows.  But it’s splendid; the best news I’ve heard for an age.  Jean and Gloucester-those two together-it’s poetry, romance, the ideal!  He is a man in a thousand; she will be safe with him.  Humanly speaking, her future is assured.  You feel that, don’t you-the absolute goodness and sincerity of the fellow?”

“Oh, yes!  I told you so once before.  It was of him that I spoke when we were discussing temperaments, and I told you of a man I had just met whose `aura’ was so radiantly attractive-that afternoon in the glen.”

“The Happy Land,” he corrected, looking down at her with a smile.  “So that was Gloucester, and we agree in our estimate of his character.  That’s good!  Dear little Jean, I’m so glad of her happiness.”

Vanna laughed, an inexplicable sense of relief sending her spirits racing upwards.

“And I’m so glad that you’re glad.  I was so afraid that this would give you pain.  I expected-I imagined-I thought you also were in love with Jean.”

His face sobered swiftly.

“And so did I; but it was only imagination.  It gave me no pain to hear this news, and if it had, I should deserve no pity.  I’ve known her for years; I had my chance, but I never took it; was never even sure that I wanted to take it; was contented to drift.  Gloucester carried the camp in fourteen days.”  The old shadow of discontent was clouding his face once more; he was seeing in imagination Robert’s face as he looked at Jean, and telling himself drearily:  “Love is a gift, as much as other great powers.  It is not in every nature to rise to a wonderful, transforming passion.  He can, that man.  One can read it in his face.  He has not frittered away his gift; it was all there, unused, unsullied, waiting for Jean, until she should appear.  He has a genius for loving, and like all geniuses he makes his power felt.  Jean felt it.  It is that that has drawn her to him.  To gain Jean in a fortnight, while I, poor weakling, wavered for years, asking myself if I loved her! Love!  I don’t understand the meaning of the word.  I never shall.  It’s the same there as in everything else:  I only half-way-never to the end...”

Vanna was doubly relieved to be assured of Piers’s well-being when the family returned to town, and she saw Edith Morton’s suffering behind her gallant assumption of content.  Can anything be more pitiful than the position of a woman who loves, and finds herself passed over in favour of a chosen friend?  She cannot escape to distant scenes, as a man may do in a similar strait; her pride forbids her to withdraw from accustomed pursuits; day by day, night by night, she must smile while her heart is torn, while her eyes smart with the tears she dare not shed, while her soul cries out for the sympathy she may not ask.

Vanna’s heart ached for Edith during those weeks, when every conversation turned upon preparations for the forthcoming wedding, and the lovers were blissfully engaged in the finding and furnishing of their home; but Jean herself exhibited a curious volte-face.

“We were quite mistaken about Edith,” she informed Vanna casually one day.  “Robert and she have been like brother and sister all their lives; there was never any question of sentiment on either side.  I can’t think why we imagined anything so foolish.”

Vanna did not reply.  She divined, what was indeed the truth, that Jean’s disbelief was the result, not of conviction, but of deliberate intent.  She simply did not choose to allow a painful thought to disturb the unclouded sunshine of her day.  She was selfish-frankly, openly, designedly selfish, as young things are apt to be to whom love comes before suffering has taught it lessons; to whom it appears a right, a legitimate inheritance, rather than a gift to be received with awe, to be held with trembling.

And so the weeks passed.  Summer turned into autumn, and one October morning Jean and Robert stood side by side before the altar of a dim old church, and spoke the words which made them one for life, while Vanna Strangeways and Edith Morton stood among the group of white-robed bridesmaids, hiding the ache in their hearts behind smiling faces.  To one was given the best gift of life; from the others was taken away, by the saddest of ironies, that which they had never possessed.

The church and the house were crowded with guests; the paraphernalia of a “smart wedding” was duly and ceremoniously enacted.  The newly married pair stood backed against the drawing-room fireplace to receive their guests, who passed by in a line, thence defiling into the library to regard a glittering display of gifts; thence again to the dining-room to partake of the formal, sit-down luncheon which was the fashion of the day.  The bride and bridegroom sat at the top of the horseshoe table with the bridesmaids and their attendant groomsmen ranged on either side, Vanna and Piers Rendall, as foremost couple, occupying the place of honour.  At the conclusion of the meal Jean stood up in her place, her gauze-like veil floating behind her, and cut the great white cake, while the spectators broke into cheers of applause.  There were certain points at which it was the custom to cheer at these wedding feasts-this was one of them; another, perhaps the most popular, was when it came to the turn of the stammering bridegroom to return thanks for the speech in which his health had been proposed.  It was at the point when the inevitable reference was made to the newly made partner that the laughter was timed to break out; but no one laughed when Robert Gloucester pronounced for the first time those magic words “My wife!”

Down the length of the long tables more than one of the elder guests hurriedly glanced aside, or bit at the end of a moustache, hearing in that voice a magic note which wafted them back through the long years of prose and difficulty to the day when they, too, stood upon the glad threshold of life.

Later on Jean disappeared to died her bridal trappings, and came down half an hour later in hat and coat, to run the blockade of the assembled guests in the hall, en route to the carriage at the door.  Her cheeks were pink, her eyes were shining; as each hand was stretched out she pressed it warmly in her own; to each good wish she returned a gracious acknowledgment; when a face was held forward expectantly she was ready with a kiss and a caress.  Every one praised her graciousness, her affectionate remembrance of old friends.  “She kissed me so lovingly.”  “She said goodbye to me so sweetly.”  A buzz of appreciation followed her as she went; but in reality Jean had walked in a dream, seeing an indistinct blur of faces, hearing a meaningless babble of words, conscious only of Robert’s figure waiting for her at the door.

Mr Goring had escaped from the crowd and bustle to stand bare-headed on the pavement, whence he could catch a last glimpse of his daughter as she drove away from the house which had been her home.  His face looked pinched and worn in the keen autumn air; he smiled and joked with the men by his side, but his eyes were restless, and kept turning back to the door through which Jean would pass for the last time as a daughter of the house.  Another moment and she was there; the crowd surged after her on to the pavement.  He stood before her, and held out his hand.  She held up her cheek, smiled, and leapt lightly into the carriage, the door of which Robert was holding open.  He sprang to his seat, there was a vision of two heads bent forward, of two radiant, illumined faces; the coachman flicked up his horses-they had passed out of sight.

Mr Goring shivered, and turned back to the house.

“The happiest moment of my wedding day?” answered Jean to a question put to her some months later.  “The happiest moment of all was when the carriage drove off from the door, and left you all behind!”