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    Chapter 6

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    Chapter 6
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    TWO SOLOS AND A DUET

    The night before the wedding, Frank Crosse and his best man, Rupton Hale, dined at the Raleigh Club with Maude's brother, Jack Selby, who was a young lieutenant in a Hussar regiment. Jack was a horsy, slangy young sportsman who cared nothing about Frank's worldly prospects, but had given the match his absolute approval from the moment that he realised that his future brother had played for the Surrey Second. 'What more can you want?' said he. 'You won't exactly be a Mrs. W. G., but you will be on the edge of first-class cricket.' And Maude, who rejoiced in his approval, without quite understanding the grounds for it, kissed him, and called him the best of brothers.

    The marriage was to be at eleven o'clock at St. Monica's Church, and the Selbys were putting up at the Langham. Frank stayed at the Metropole, and so did Rupton Hale. They were up early, their heads and nerves none the better for Jack Selby's hospitality of the night before.

    Frank could eat no breakfast, and he shunned publicity in his wedding-garments, so they remained in the upstairs sitting-room. He stood by the window, drumming his fingers upon the pane, and looking down into Northumberland Avenue. He had often pictured this day, and associated it with sunshine and flowers and every emblem of joy. But Nature had not risen to the occasion. A thick vapour, half smoke half cloud, drifted along the street, and a thin persistent rain was falling steadily. It pit-patted upon the windows, splashed upon the sills, and gurgled in the water-pipes. Far down beneath him on the drab-coloured slimy road stood the lines of wet cabs, looking like beetles with glistening backs. Round black umbrellas hurried along the shining pavements. A horse had fallen at the door of the Constitutional Club, and an oil-skinned policeman was helping the cabman to raise it. Frank watched it until the harness had been refastened, and it had vanished into Trafalgar Square. Then he turned and examined himself in the mirror. His trim black frock-coat and pearl grey trousers set off his alert athletic figure to advantage. His glossy hat, too, his lavender gloves, and dark-blue tie, were all absolutely irreproachable. And yet he was not satisfied with himself. Maude ought to have something better than that. What a fool he had been to take so much wine last night! On this day of all days in their lives she surely had a right to find him at his best. He was restless, and his nerves were all quivering. He would have given anything for a cigarette, but he did not wish to scent himself with tobacco. He had cut himself in shaving, and his nose was peeling from a hot day on the cricket-field. What a silly thing to expose his nose to the sun before his wedding! Perhaps when Maude saw it she would--well, she could hardly break it off, but at least she might be ashamed of him. He worked himself into a fever over that unfortunate nose.

    'You are off colour, Crosse,' said his best man.

    'I was just thinking that my nose was. It's very kind of you to come and stand by me.'

    'That's all right. We shall see it through together.'

    Hale was a despondent man, though the most loyal of friends, and he spoke in a despondent way. His gloomy manner, the London drizzle, and the nervousness proper to the occasion, were all combining to make Frank more and more wretched. Fortunately Jack Selby burst like a gleam of sunshine into the room. The sight of his fresh-coloured smiling face--or it may have been some reminder of Maude which he found in it--brought consolation to the bridegroom.

    'How are you, Crosse? How do, Hale? Excuse my country manners! The old Christmas-tree in the hall wanted to send for you, but I knew your number. You're looking rather green about the gills, old chap.'

    'I feel a little chippy to-day.'

    'That's the worst of these cheap champagnes. Late hours are bad for the young. Have a whisky and soda with me. No? Hale, you must buck him up, for they'll all be down on you if you don't bring your man up to time in the pink of condition. We certainly did ourselves up to the top hole last night. Couldn't face your breakfast, eh? Neither could I. A strawberry and a bucket of soda-water.'

    'How are they all at the Langham?' asked Frank eagerly.

    'Oh, splendid! At least I haven't seen Maude. She's been getting into parade order. But mother is full of beans. We had to take her up one link in the curb, or there would have been no holding her.'

    Frank's eyes kept turning to the slow-moving minute-hand. It was not ten o'clock yet.

    'Don't you think that I might go round to the Langham and see them?'

    'Good Lord, no! Clean against regulations. Stand by his head, Hale! Wo, boy, steady!'

    'It won't do, Crosse, it really won't!' said Hale solemnly.

    'What rot it is! Here am I doing nothing, and I might be of some use or encouragement to her. Let's get a cab!'

    'Wo, laddie, wo then, boy! Keep him in hand, Hale! Get to his head.'

    Frank flung himself down into an armchair, and muttered about absurd conventions.

    'It can't be helped, my boy. It is correct.'

    'Buck up, Crosse, buck up! We'll make the thing go with a buzz when we do begin. Two of our Johnnies are coming, regular fizzers, and full of blood both of them. We'll paint the Langham a fine bright solferino, when the church parade is over.'

    Frank sat rather sulkily watching the slow minute-hand, and listening to the light-hearted chatter of the boy-lieutenant, and the more deliberate answers of his best man. At last he jumped up and seized his hat and gloves.

    'Half-past,' said he. 'Come on. I can't wait any longer. I must do SOMETHING. It is time we went to the church.'

    'Fall in for the church!' cried Jack. 'Wait a bit! I know this game, for I was best man myself last month. Inspect his kit, Hale. See that he's according to regulations. Ring? All right. Parson's money? Right oh! Small change? Good! By the right, quick march!'

    Frank soon recovered his spirits now that he had something to do. Even that drive through the streaming streets, with the rain pattering upon the top of their four-wheeler, could not depress him any longer. He rose to the level of Jack Selby, and they chattered gaily together.

    'Ain't we bringing him up fighting fit?' cried Jack exultingly. 'Shows that all the care we have taken of him in the last twenty-four hours has not been wasted. That's the sort I like--game as a pebble! You can't buy 'em, you have to breed 'em. A regular fizzer HE is, and full of blood. And here we are on the ground.'

    It was a low, old-fashioned, grey church, with a Gothic entrance and two niches on either side, which spoke of pre-Lutheran days. Cheap modern shops, which banked it in, showed up the quaint dignity of the ancient front. The side-door was open, and they passed into its dim- lit interior, with high carved pews, and rich, old, stained glass. Huge black oak beams curved over their heads, and dim inscriptions of mediaeval Latin curled and writhed upon the walls. A single step seemed to have taken them from the atmosphere of the nineteenth to that of the fifteenth century.

    'What a ripping old church!' Jack whispered.

    'You can't buy 'em. But it's as festive as an ice-house. There's a friendly native coming down the aisle. He's your man, Hale, if you want the news.'

    The verger was not in the best of tempers. 'It's at a quarter to four,' said he, as Hale met him.

    'No, no, at eleven.'

    'Quarter to four, I tell you. The vicar says so.'

    'Why, it's not possible.'

    'We have them at all hours.'

    'Have what?'

    'Buryin's.'

    'But this is a marriage.'

    'I'm sure I beg your pardon, sir. I thought when I looked at you as you was the party about the child's funeral.'

    'Good heavens, no.'

    'It was something in your expression, sir, but now that I can see the colour of your clothes, why of course I know better. There's three marriages--which was it?'

    'Crosse and Selby are the names.'

    The verger consulted an old crumpled notebook.

    'Yes, sir, I have it here. Mr. or Miss Crosse to Mr. or Miss Selby. Eleven o'clock, sir, SHARP. The vicar's a terrible punctual man, and I should advise you to take your places.'

    'Any hitch?' asked Frank nervously, as Hale returned.

    'No, no.'

    'What was he talking about?'

    'Oh, nothing. Some little confusion of ideas.'

    'Shall we go up?'

    'Yes, I think that we had better.'

    Their steps clattered and reverberated through the empty church as they passed up the aisle. They stood in an aimless way before the altar rails. Frank fidgeted about, and made sure that the ring was in his ticket-pocket. He also took a five-pound note and placed it where he knew he could lay his hands upon it easily. Then he sprang round with a flush upon his cheeks, for one of the side-doors had been flung open with a great bustle and clanging. A stout charwoman entered with a tin pail and a mop.

    'Put up the wrong bird that time,' whispered Jack, and sniggered at Frank's change of expression.

    But almost at the same instant, the Selbys entered the church at the further end. Mr. Selby, with his red face and fluffy side-whiskers, had Maude upon his arm. She looked very pale and very sweet, with downcast eyes and solemn mouth, while behind her walked her younger sister Mary and her pretty friend Nelly Sheridan, both in pink dresses with broad pink hats and white curling feathers. The bride was herself in the grey travelling-dress with which Frank was already familiar by its description in her letter. Its gentle tint and her tenderly grave expression made a charming effect. Behind them was the mother, still young and elegant, with something of Maude's grace in her figure and carriage. As the party came up the aisle, Frank was to be restrained no longer. 'Get to his head!' cried Jack to Hale in an excited whisper, but their man was already hurrying to shake hands with Maude. He walked up on her right, and they took their position in two little groups, the happy couple in the centre. At the same moment the clang of the church-clock sounded above them, and the vicar, shrugging his shoulders to get his white surplice into position, came bustling out of the vestry. To him it was all the most usual, commonplace, and unimportant thing in the world, and both Frank and Maude were filled with amazement at the nonchalant way in which he whipped out a prayer-book, and began to rapidly perform the ceremony. It was all so new and solemn and all-important to them, that they had expected something mystic and overpowering in the function, and yet here was this brisk little man, with an obvious cold in his head, tying them up in as business-like a fashion as a grocer uniting two parcels. After all, he had to do it a thousand times a year, and so he could not be extravagant in his emotions.

    The singular service was read out to them, the exhortations, and the explanations, sometimes stately, sometimes beautiful, sometimes odious. Then the little vicar turned upon Frank--'Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour her, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her as long as ye both shall live?'

    'I will,' cried Frank, with conviction.

    'And wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him so long as ye both shall live?'

    'I will,' said Maude, from her heart.

    'Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?'

    'I do. Mr. John Selby--her father, you know.'

    And then in turn they repeated the fateful words--'I take thee to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance, and thereto I give thee my troth.'

    'Ring! Ring!' said Hale.

    'Ring, you Juggins!' whispered Jack Selby.

    Frank thrust his hands frantically into all his pockets. The ring was in the last one which he attempted. But the bank-note was not to be found. He remembered that he had put it in some safe place. Where could it have been? Was it in his boot, or in the lining of his hat? No, surely he could not have done anything so infatuated. Again he took his pockets two at a time, while a dreadful pause came in the ceremony.

    'Vestry--afterwards,' whispered the clergyman.

    'Here you are!' gasped Frank. He had come upon it in a last desperate dive into his watch-pocket, in which he never by any chance kept anything. Of course it was for that very reason, that it might be alone and accessible, that he had placed it there. Ring and note were handed to the vicar, who deftly concealed the one and returned the other. Then Maude's little white hand was outstretched, and over the third finger Frank slipped the circlet of gold.

    'With this ring I thee wed,' said Frank, 'and with my body I thee worship (he paused, and made a mental emendation of 'with my soul also'), and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.'

    There was a prayer, and then the vicar joined the two hands, the muscular sunburned one and the dainty white one, with the new ring gleaming upon it.

    'Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder,' said he. 'Forasmuch as Francis Crosse and Maude Selby have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth, either to other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a ring, and by joining of hands; I pronounce that they be man and wife together.'

    There now, it was done! They were one, never more to part until the coffin-lid closed over one or the other. They were kneeling together now, and the vicar was rapidly repeating some psalms and prayers. But Frank's mind was not with the ritual. He looked slantwise at the graceful, girlish figure by his side. Her hair hung beautifully over her white neck, and the reverent droop of her head was lovely to his eyes. So gentle, so humble, so good, so beautiful, and all his, his sworn life-companion for ever! A gush of tenderness flowed through his heart for her. His love had always been passionate, but, for the instant, it was heroic, tremendous in its unselfishness. Might he bring her happiness, the highest which woman could wish for! God grant that he might do so! But if he were to make her unhappy, or to take anything from her beauty and her goodness, then he prayed that he might die now, at this supreme moment, kneeling at her side before the altar rails. So intense was his prayer that he looked up expectantly at the altar, as if in the presence of an imminent catastrophe. But every one had risen to their feet, and the service was at an end. The vicar led the way, and they all followed him, into the vestry. There was a general murmur all round them of congratulation and approval.

    'Heartiest congratulations, Crosse!' said Hale.

    'Bravo, Maude, you looked ripping!' cried Jack, kissing his sister. 'By Jove, it simply went with a buzz from the word "go."'

    'You sign it here and here,' said the vicar, 'and the witnesses here and here. Thank you very much. I am sure that I wish you every happiness. I need not detain you by any further formality.'

    And so, with a curious dream-like feeling, Frank Crosse and Maude found themselves walking down the aisle, he very proud and erect, she very gentle and shy, while the organ thundered the wedding-march. Carriages were waiting: he handed in his wife, stepped in after her, and they drove off, amidst a murmur of sympathy from a little knot of idlers who had gathered in the porch, partly from curiosity, and partly to escape the rain.

    Maude had often driven alone with Frank before, but now she felt suddenly constrained and shy. The marriage-service, with all its half-understood allusions and exhortations, had depressed and frightened her. She hardly dared to glance at her husband. But he soon led her out of her graver humour.

    'Name, please?' said he.

    'O Frank!'

    'Name, if YOU please?'

    'Why, you know.'

    'Say it.'

    'Maude.'

    'That all?'

    'Maude Crosse--O Frank!'

    'You blessing! How grand it sounds! O Maude, what a jolly old world it is! Isn't it pretty to see the rain falling? And aren't the shining pavements lovely? And isn't everything splendid, and am I not the luckiest--the most incredibly lucky of men. Dear girlie, give me your hand! I can feel IT under the glove. Now, sweetheart, you are not frightened, are you?'

    'Not now.'

    'You were?'

    'Yes, I was a little. O Frank, you won't tire of me, will you? I should break my heart if you did.'

    'Tire of you! Good heavens! Now you'll never guess what I was doing while the parson was telling us about what Saint Paul said to the Colossians, and all the rest of it.'

    'I know perfectly well what you were doing. And you shouldn't have done it.'

    'What was I doing, then?'

    'You were staring at me.'

    'Oh, you saw that, did you?'

    'I felt it.'

    'Well, I was. But I was praying also.'

    'Were you, Frank?'

    'When I saw you kneeling there, so sweet and pure and good, I seemed to realise how you had been given into my keeping for life, and I prayed with all my heart that if I should ever injure you in thought, or word, or deed, I might drop dead now before I had time to do it.'

    'O Frank, what a dreadful prayer!'

    'But I felt it and I wished it, and I could not help it. My own darling, there you are just a living angel, the gentlest, most sensitive, and beautiful living creature that walks the earth, and please God I shall keep you so, and ever higher and higher if such a thing is possible, and if ever I say a word or do a deed that seems to lower you, then remind me of this moment, and send me back to try to live up to our highest ideal again. And I for my part will try to improve myself and to live up to you, and to bridge more and more the gap that is between us, that I may feel myself not altogether unworthy of our love. And so we shall act and re-act upon each other, ever growing better and wiser, and dating what is best and brightest in our minds and souls from the day that we were married. And that's MY idea of a marriage-service, and here endeth the first lesson, and the windows are blurred with rain, and hang the coachman, and it's hard lines if a man may not kiss his own wife--you blessing!'

    A broad-brimmed hat with a curling feather is not a good shape for driving with an ardent young bridegroom in a discreetly rain-blurred carriage. Frank demonstrated the fact, and it took them all the way to the Langham to get those pins driven home again. And then after an abnormal meal, which was either a very late breakfast or a very early lunch, they drove on to Victoria Station, from which they were to start for Brighton. Jack Selby and the two regimental fizzers, who had secured immortality for the young couple, if the deep and constant drinking of healths could have done it, had provided themselves with packages of rice, old slippers, and other time- honoured missiles. On a hint from Maude, however, that she would prefer a quiet departure, Frank coaxed the three back into the luncheon-room with a perfectly guileless face, and then locking the door on the outside, handed the key and a half-sovereign to the head- waiter, with instructions to release the prisoners when the carriage had gone--an incident which in itself would cause the judicious observer to think that, given the opportunity, Mister Frank Crosse had it in him to go pretty far in life. And so, quietly and soberly, they rolled away upon their first journey--the journey which was the opening of that life's journey, the goal of which no man may see.
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