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part, I question if such a wedding would stand good. Why you would have been the talk of the country round. And Mary such a child !”
“I am twenty, Aunt Copp," interrupted Mary. “Twenty!" scornfully ejaculated Aunt Copp. “So was I twenty, when I married my poor dead-and-gone sailor-husband, and a precious goose he found me.
I was one-and-twenty when my darling boy was born (I had a letter from him last week, girls, and he's made first mate now, through the other one going off with yellow fever; and was beating about in a calm in the Pacific, which gave him time to write), and a precious goose of a mother he found me, the innocent baby! So don't boast to me of your twenty years, Mary; go and tell it to the marines. What should three incapable girls know about the management necessary at a wedding ? Have you thought to order the cake ?"
“Oh yes, we have done that.”
“And the style of setting-out the breakfast? Have you discussed that?”
“ Not yet."
“I thought so,” groaned Aunt Copp. “No ship-shape arrangements beforehand, no consultations, no nothing. A pretty muddle you'll be in, when the morning comes! be leaving the dressing of the table to Phæby, or some such carelessness. She'll put the fowls at the side, and the custards round with the glasses, for, of all incapable headpieces, that woman's is the worst. Of course you'll have custards ?"
“ If you think it necessary, Aunt Copp,” I said, “but we do not wish any needless show or expense. Besides the clergyman and his wife, and one or two more friends, there will only be ourselves and Alfred.”
“Why you have never gone and sent for Alfred ?" snapped Aunt Copp: not that she was really ill-tempered, but she had a way of snapping people.
“Alfred is to marry me, Aunt Copp," interposed Mary.
“Lord help ye, for three thoughtless simpletons—and him for another! A poor fellow, whose living is but a hundred and seventy-five pounds a year, fees included, and his wife sick, and his children coming on as thick as blackberries, to be dragged across the country a hundred miles to marry a child! It will be four pounds out of his pocket!"
It will not be out of his pocket, Aunt Copp,” interrupted Lucy, in a nettled tone; we have taken care of that." But Aunt Copp only grunted for answer. She never would allow that we did anything right.
“And pray, Miss Lucy, is there anything of the sort a-gate for you?" she went on.
“Why, Aunt Copp!” ejaculated Lucy, laughing and blushing. “Of course not.”
“I don't see any of course,' in the matter. If Hester means to live and die an old maid, it's no reason why you should. I advise you
to set about looking out for a suitable husband. Keep your weather-eye open, and dear me! the very thing !"
This concluding exclamation, in a changed tone of voice, as if Aunt Copp had just recollected something, caused us to look at her.
“ I wish to goodness I knew where he was bound to! But, you see, when I got out, he went on in the mail.”
“What is it you are talking of, Aunt Copp?”
“Such a charming gentleman! He was my fellow-passenger. Where he came from I can't tell you, for he was in the mail when I got in. A fine man as you'd wish to see, six foot high, with a full blue
and colour like a red cabbage. He told me he was looking out for a wife, had come out, travelling, to find one, and meant to marry as soon as he had found her. It would be the very thing for Lucy! I declare, if he were within reasonable distance, I'd send my card and ask him to tea. I know I should get him for you, Lucy.”
“ Really, Aunt Copp, you are growing old and ridiculous,” responded Lucy, undecided whether to laugh or be angry.
« Old am I! Ridiculous am I !” bridled Aunt Copp, in a fury; “everybody don't think so. Why, he wanted to try it on with me, I could see he did, a handsome man like him, and not a day more than five or six-and-thirty. He did, Miss Lucy, and you need not begin grinning there. We had the mail to ourselves, or as good, for the fat farmer, who took up the opposite seat, nearly from side to side, was snoring all night. Very polite indeed he was, and very respectful, quite the gentleman in his manners, and would keep on kissing my hand. But I volunteered to tell him I had been married once, which I had found quite enough, and I did not purpose taking another, preferring to remain my own mistress, besides having a dear son, who was chief officer of a splendid two-decker, now becalmed in the Pacific (unless the wind should have got up since), and that I had no love to spare from my boy for the best second husband that could offer. Whereupon my gentleman turned sulky, and gathered himself in his corner. Old am I! Just put that window up, Mary. I'm hot.
" So we had to endure Aunt Copp's company, and make the best of it. But before Mary's wedding morning arrived, and her handsome young bridegroom came and took her away, our managing aunt had tried our patience severely.
Very dull we felt, the day after the wedding, Friday. Aunt Copp was setting things to rights in the house, and worrying Phæby in the kitchen, but I and Lucy seemed not to know what to do with ourselves. Alfred had left us early in the morning, so as to get home before Saturday, When dinner was over, Lucy proposed a walk.
“Let us go and look at the haymaking,” acquiesced Aunt Copp. “ The smell of it, coming in here at the windows, puts me in mind of my young days, when I tumbled over the haycocks with the best of them.”
Accordingly we went into the hayfield; one rented by the rector, Mr. Williams. He was there, with his wife and little boys, at work in his shirt sleeves. “ That's right, young ladies,” he called out, when he saw us; come and scatter the hay about: the more it's opened to the sun, the better, this hot afternoon. A pleasant, rural scene this, ma'am”. to Aunt Copp.
“Yes, sir. I was telling the girls that the smell made me believe myself young again. I have not been in the way of it much, Mr. Williams, since I settled in life : what with living in seaport towns, where
one's nose meets with nothing but tar and pitch, and going voyages with my husband, where one is shut up in a close ship, and never sees a field for months, or scents anything but salt brine. There, Hester!"
Aunt Copp, with her great strong arms, had seized hold of a whole haycock, and dashed it on me. That was the commencement of the sport. We laughed, and screamed, and smothered each other in hay, Mrs. Williams and Lucy being foremost in the fray.
After two hours' fun, we were leaving the field, tired, heated, and thirsty, saying we would return after tea, when Aunt Copp, who had rushed
up . to a haycock, some few of which were left intact near the entrance, intending to favour me and Lucy with a parting salute from behind, gave a great scream, which caused us both to look round.
Well done, Aunt Copp! Instead of securing the mound of hay, her arms had got entangled round the neck of a gentleman, who had stretched himself to recline on the off-side of it, and had fallen into a doze.
“Good Heavens above !" ejaculated Aunt Copp. “I beg your pardon, sir. I thought I was laying hold of nothing but the haycock."
“No offence, ma'am. I wish you'd put your arms there again. Ah, my dear regretted fellow-traveller, what, is it you! How do you find yourself by this time? I have been up and down the country ever since. I forgot, you must know, the name of the place where you stopped, so I thought I'd take all the stopping places of the mail, one by one, which I did, and came here, in rotation, this afternoon, intending to pay my. respects to you. What two delightful ladies!”
“They are my nieces," returned Aunt Copp. “Miss Halliwell, and Miss Lucy Halliwell."
“And I am Captain Kerleton—if you will allow me to introduce myself; formerly serving with my regiment in India, but the duty did not agree with me, and I sold out. Would this little spot be a pleasant part of the country to stop in, for a week or two, think you ?”
“Very,” cried Aunt Copp, impressively. “And the Seaford Arnis is an excellent inn."
" Then I'm off for it. Which is the road ?”
“There," replied aunt, pointing in the direction of the village, "about five minutes' walk. But won't you step in with us, and take a cup of tea? It will refresh you, this hot afternoon. Our house is close by. Girls,” she added, seizing a minute to whisper to us, as we were walking home, for the stranger eagerly accepted the invitation, “this is the gentleman I told you of, the one in the mail, you know, who wants a wife. So look out, Lucy.”
Lucy felt annoyed, and naturally. She was a most retiring-minded girl, and had a genuine horror of thrusting herself forward to attract the notice of gentlemen. Neither was I pleased. For it seemed to me not right of Aunt Copp to ask him to our house in that unceremonious manner. What did she know of Captain Kerleton ? He might be an adventurer, a swindler, for all she could tell to the contrary. As it turned out, he was a gentleman, of good family and fortune, but no thanks to the prudence of Aunt Copp. The fact was, Aunt Copp had been connected with seafaring people so long, that she had imbibed a touch of their free-and-easy notions, and had become almost as open-hearted in her manners as her deceased husband, the late merchant-captain.
Captain Kerleton took up his quarters at the Seaford Arms, and a gay time of it ensued. The whole neighbourhood undertook to patronise him, especially the houses which contained grown-up daughters, for his fortune, really a good one, report had magnified to one three times aslarge. Picnic parties, evening parties, haymaking parties followed close upon each other, some of which owned Aunt Copp for the projector: take it for all in all, I don't remember that our quiet village had ever been so gay. Captain Kerleton did his utmost to render himself agreeable: would run his head off to fetch and carry, at any lady's whim; dance himself lame, and sing himself hoarse; and, when once he was set on to dance and sing, there was no stopping him. On the whole, I liked his manners, and the Seaford Arms gave a pleasant account of his quiet, gentlemanly habits, but there was one trick of his which was a very strange one —that of staring. He would sometimes be seized with one of these staring fits, and then he would sit in his chair, and look somebody straight in the face for a quarter of an hour together, and never once move his eyes. Sometimes it would be Aunt Copp, sometimes me, sometimes Lucy, and sometimes others : I think it was all the same to the captain. Once it was Phæby. He had gone into the kitchen to ask her to brush his coat, which, in walking up to our house, had accidentally acquired some dust, and there he sat himself down, and stared at Phæby, till the girl got so confused that she sidled out of the kitchen . and left him to it, bolting herself in the backhouse.
One morning we were seated at the open window of our front parlour, busy over some shirts and bands for Alfred (for his
wife had enough to do with her children and her household cares, without thinking of new shirts and bands for the parson), and conversing, sadly enough, of the future prospects of myself and sister, which were anything but distinct, when some scarlet object came looming up the road in the distance. Lucy saw it first, and we all looked up, through the closed Venetian blinds. The sun shone, hot and bright, and the scarlet was intermingled with something that glittered like gold, and dazzled the sight.
“Goodness heart alive !” exclaimed Aunt Copp, after a puzzled gaze through her spectacles, “if it isn't Captain Kerleton in his regimentals !"
We had never seen the captain in his regimentals, and a very imposing sight it was. He detected us at the window, and walked straight up to it.
“Good morning, ladies," he said, putting his face close to the blind. “Is not this a blazing day?".
“Something else looks blazing, I think, captain," cried Aunt Copp. “ We did not know you."
“ You mean me in my regimentals, I suppose,” returned the captain ; “they came down last night. I should have had them before, but the servants at home made a mistake and sent my brother's. He is in Scotland-gone to look after his property—or it would not have happened. What are you working at so attentively, Miss Lucy ?"
“I am stitching a wristband, Captain Kerleton.”
“Perhaps the time may come, Miss Lucy, when you will stitch mine."
Aunt Copp gave a significant cough, and Lucy, after a surprised glance upwards, blushed deeply, and went on fast with her stitching.
“Will you walk in, captain?" said Mrs. Copp. “You will find the front door open."
“Not this morning,” replied the captain. “I only came to bring this—if you'll please to open the blind.”
Aunt Copp drew open the half of the Venetian blind, and the captain thrust in a small parcel, tied up in white paper, turning short away as soon as Aunt Copp had got it in her hands. There was no direction, and she turned it about in uncertainty.
“Captain Kerleton," she called after him, “what's this for? Is it to be opened?"
“Opened ! Of course," answered the captain, whirling his head round to speak, his legs striding away all the while, “ I did not bring it for anything else.”
What on earth should be in this parcel but a green and gold book, and a small, beautifully enamelled lady's watch, in a case. We opened the book, full of curiosity. “ Advice to Young Ladies about to enter into Housekeeping. By a Clergyman's Wife.” And on the fly-leaf was written, "For the future Mrs. Kerleton, with respectful regards." the paper enclosing the watch was written“ Miss Lucy."
Well, if ever I saw such a start as this !" uttered Aunt Copp, while Lucy's face turned of an indignant red.
"It is shameful, Aunt Copp! It is quite indecent of you! You have been saying something to him about me. I am sure of it !"
“I declare to goodness I have not,” fired Aunt Copp. “ This offer of marriage--for it's nothing less—has come from his own free will, and from no talking of mine. Shan't we have a nice time of it, getting her wedding things ready, Hester ?"
“ Aunt Copp, I always thought you were an idiot, and now I know it," retorted Lucy, struggling between tears and rage.
66 Offer of marriage, indeed! If it is an offer of marriage, you may take it to yourself. Hester, just pack the watch back again to the Seaford Arms; send Phæby with it. Thank goodness, my name was not on the book, so Aunt Copp can do as she chooses with that-keep it for herself, and tell him so.”
Lucy's tirade was cut short, for the blind was again pushed partly open, and a scarlet wrist came in.
“I beg your pardon," cried the captain's voice, “ I forgot this." Aunt Copp involuntarily stretched forth her hand, and received another packet, similar to the one which had contained the watch, the captain darting off as before, at the military pace of a forced march.
“ Miss Lucy Halliwell,” read aunt again, through her spectacles.
“I won't have it ! call him back! throw it after him!” exclaimed Lucy. But Aunt Copp told her she knew better what she was about, and opened it. A pretty gold chain, and the key of the watch.
Well, my dear,” said Aunt Copp," you are in luck." “ Luck!” irascibly uttered Lucy. “The man's a fool.”