BRINGING HOME THE BRIDE

“‘Oh, mither! mither I’ve brocht hame
A bonnie bride upon my steed,
Sae lift her o’er the lintel stane,
An’brake a bannock o’er her heid.’

“‘Oh, bairnie, syn the wand began
Nane saw sic sicht o’ muckle wae,
Where gat ye, son, this witch wuman,
Wi gowden hair an’ skin o’ snaw?’

“‘Oh, mither, she’s a Chrisom lass
Wha by the Kelpie’s burn did stray,
Wi buke an’ bell an’ holy mass
I wedded her at break o’ day.’

“‘Oh, bairnie, she’s nae Chrisom child,
Sae evil glowers her een tae see,
She is a speerit fra the wild,
An brings but dule tae you an’ me.'”

Sir Guy was humming this gruesome ballad as the train neared Denfield
Station, where news of their arrival had already preceded them, and
the Errington tenantry, in a state of high excitement, were waiting to
welcome the young couple home.

Blithe and happy, with a faint roseate tinge in her pale cheeks,
arising from a natural feeling of anticipation, Alizon sat opposite to
her husband, who was gazing fondly at her, and the glint of her golden
hair and the whiteness of her skin set him thinking of that weird old
ballad, sung to him in childish days by an old Scotch nurse full of
the haunting superstitions of the North.

“What on earth are you muttering about, Guy?” asked Alizon, in a
puzzled tone, as she heard him crooning this melancholy strain.

“Only an old song about a bride’s home-coming,” he replied gaily, and
thereupon repeated to her all he remembered of the legend, the
foreboding strain of which made his wife, sensitive in a great measure
to supernatural hintings, shudder nervously.

“Don’t, Guy, don’t tell me any more,” she said apprehensively, putting
her gloved hand over his mouth. “It’s a bad omen.”

“What, are you so superstitious as that?” he replied, kissing her
hand. “Do you think you are the witch-woman of the ballad, destined to
bring woe to Errington?”

“No! No! I hope not! I trust not!” cried Lady Errington, shrinking
back with a vague dread in her eyes, “but I am a little superstitious.
I think everyone is more or less, and my family has been so terribly
unfortunate that I am afraid of bringing you bad luck.”

“Nonsense! I don’t mind the bad luck a bit, as long as you come along
with it,” said her husband, soothingly. “I wish I hadn’t put these
ideas into your foolish little head. You must have nothing but bright
thoughts to-day, my dearest, for this is your home-coming, and I hear
we are to have a great reception.”

“Tell me all about it,” asked Lady Errington, recovering herself with
an effort.

“Oh, that would take too long, besides I’m as ignorant as you are; but
there are to be banners and flowers and music and all that sort of
thing, you know, and I expect old Welstarler the Rector will read us
an address. Then, of course, everyone will have a tuck-out at the
Hall, and there is to be a dance in the evening down the village. All
Denfield’s going to have a high old time, so, for once in your life
you’ll be received like a royal personage.”

“Don’t make me nervous.”

“Pooh! there’s nothing to be nervous about. Just smile and look sweet,
I’ll do all the patter.”

“The what?”

“Patter! talk you know. I’m afraid it is slangy, but very expressive
all the same. By Jove, the train’s slowing down, we’ll soon be
home now. There’s the square tower of Denfield Church, and yonder,
Alizon!–here, quick–on the right–that white wing of a house. That’s
our place.”

Sir Guy was quite excited, and chattered like a schoolboy home for
his holidays, whilst Alizon, for once aroused from her coldness, stood
near him, leaning her head on his shoulder, and looked out of the
window at the various objects of interest, as the train steamed slowly
onward.

At last they arrived at Denfield.

The little railway station was gaudy with bunting, much to the
astonishment of the prosaic folks in the train, who could not
understand the reason of such unusual decorative splendour, and as the
train went on immediately Sir Guy and his wife alighted, they had no
time to find out what the excitement was all about, therefore departed
more in the dark than ever.

The station-master, who had known Sir Guy from boyhood, was much
flattered at being shaken hands with, and presented to Lady Errington,
to whom some children offered a charming bouquet of wild flowers.

Outside the station their carriage with four horses was waiting, and
they got in amid the cheers of the villagers, who mustered here in
strong force. Sturdy farmers, mounted in good style, labourers,
looking forward to unlimited beer, women, in the brightest of
dresses, talking shrilly among themselves of the beauty of the bride,
school-children, jubilant at an unexpected holiday, all these were
present, with banners, flags, and flowers unlimited. A proud man that
day was the old coachman, as he guided the prancing horses through the
long lane of happy faces, with his master and mistress sitting in the
carriage behind, responding to the acclamations resounding on all
sides, while from the grey, old church tower rang a peal of joy-bells.

After all, let people pretend to despise it as they may, popularity is
a very pleasant thing, and it made life appear very bright to this
young couple, receiving such an uproarious welcome, instead of
stealing homeward amid indifferent faces. Despite the howlings of
Radicals, the spread of socialism, the groanings about agricultural
depression, the bond between landlord and tenant is too kindly, and
too deeply ingrained to yield readily to the mob-shriekings for
equality and equal division of land. Sir Guy was a great favourite in
the county, and the Erringtons had been gentry at the Hall for many
centuries, so the sturdy British yeomen and kindly neighbours of the
young pair determined to make their home-coming as pleasant as
possible–and succeeded.

Driving through the quaint, narrow street of the village, followed by
a long train of horsemen, all the houses on either side were gay with
flags and flowers and handkerchiefs waving from the narrow casements.
Flowers strewed the dusty road under the feet of the horses, the
village band, in bright uniforms, playing “Home, Sweet Home,” on their
brass instruments, with mighty strength of lungs, hearty cheers from
hundreds of willing throats, loud clashings from the bells overhead,
mad with joy, and at the entrance to the Park a triumphal arch of
evergreens, with the word “Welcome” inscribed thereon.

Under this arch waited a gallant company of horsemen in pink, for Sir
Guy was a prominent member of the Hunt, and his brother Nimrods gave
him a hearty greeting to his paternal acres. Then, when the crowd
had cheered themselves hoarse, the old Rector, silver-haired and
kindly-faced, read an address to the happy pair wishing them long life
and happiness, to which Sir Guy responded in suitable terms, standing
up in the carriage, his hat off, and his bright, young face flushed
with excitement.

Up the long avenue, still followed by the huntsmen, the farmers, and
the villagers more flags overhead among the green boughs of the
beech-trees, more flowers on the dusty road below, and at length the
wide space before the house and the long façade of Errington Hall,
with its tall gables, its innumerable diamond-paned windows, its
slender turrets and weather-stained stacks of chimneys.

Cheers from the servants, waiting in two long lines to welcome their
new mistress, with whose sweet face they fell in love at once. Sir Guy
then helped his wife to alight, and they both stood on the threshold
of their new home, whilst a speech of welcome was made by the oldest
inhabitant, prompted by the village schoolmaster, to which the young
baronet responded with a few manly and straightforward words.

The band then played a noisy quick step, which inspired the villagers
to further cheering, and the gentry, having seen the Erringtons safely
home, rode off to their different residences, while the tenantry and
villagers all rejoiced and made merry on the lawn in front of the
terrace.

A blue sky above, a green earth below, happy faces all around, kindly
voices sounding in her ears, and her husband by her side, it was no
wonder that Alizon Errington, daughter of a social pariah, felt her
heart swell with gratitude towards God, who had guided her safely to
such a pleasant haven of joy and kindliness.

But it all came to an end at last, and after the tenantry had eaten
and drank as much as they possibly could at Sir Guy’s expense, they
all went down to the village to finish up the evening with dancing and
fireworks. The Erringtons, quite tired out, were left alone standing
on the terrace watching the crowd as it melted away in the coming
shadows, and the husband, putting a kindly arm round his wife, felt
that this was the brightest period of his life.

Suddenly Alizon, who looked pale and worn out with excitement, burst
into a passionate flood of tears, as she leaned against her husband’s
breast.

“My dearest,” cried Guy, in alarm, “what is the matter?”

“Nothing,” she sobbed, putting her arms round his neck, “only–only I
am so happy.”

“You’ve got a curious way of showing it,” said Guy, cheerfully,
although his own eyes were now rather wet.

“Come, come, Alizon, you must not give way like this. You are tired
after your journey and all this excitement. If Aunt Jelly were here,
I’m afraid she would prescribe her favourite port wine,” he added
jestingly.

Alizon laughed at this, dried her eyes, and they both went inside to
dress for dinner.

A very pleasant little meal they had, in the old-fashioned
dining-room, with the staid faces of the family portraits staring down
at their frivolous descendants. Guy made his wife drink some famous
champagne, which was the special pride of the Errington cellar.

“I believe in fizz myself,” he said sagely, holding his glass up to
the light. “Aunt Jelly pins her faith to port, but this is quite as
good and not so heavy. Look at all those ancestors of mine frowning
down on us, Alizon. No doubt if they could speak they would denounce
our conduct as frivolous.”

“I’m very glad they can’t speak then,” replied Lady Errington gaily.
“Perhaps, however, they appear at midnight. Do they? This place looks
like a haunted house.”

Guy shrugged his shoulders.

“No! We haven’t got a family ghost. It’s a great pity, isn’t it?
Ghosts generally run in families who have been bad lots, but the
Erringtons have always been a steady-going set, so we haven’t got even
a haunted room, or a gruesome Johnnie with a clanking chain.”

“I don’t know if that’s to be regretted,” answered his wife, as she
arose from the table; “besides, no one believes in ghosts now-a-days.”

“A good many people do not, but I firmly believe you do.”

Lady Errington laughed a little nervously.

“No! I certainly believe in presentiments, but not in ghosts–there’s
a great difference between the two. Are you coming with me now?”

“Yes! you surely do not want me to sit in solitary state over my
wine?”

“Certainly not, and as it is such a pleasant evening, let us go
outside on the terrace.”

“You must wrap yourself up, Alizon,” said Guy, anxiously, “the air is
very keen here.”

He sent a servant for her shawl, and in a few minutes they were
strolling up and down the terrace, arm in arm, not talking much, but
enjoying each other’s company and the reposeful silence of the hour.

It was an exceptional night for November, in England, being still and
restful with a moist, warm feeling in the air, and a gentle wind
stirring the distant trees. No moon, no stars were visible, as the sky
was hidden by heavy masses of clouds which seemed to press down on the
weary earth, and a kind of luminous twilight was spread around, which
made everything loom strange and spectral in its half-light.

The warm, yellow light from the drawing-room poured out through the
open windows on to the terrace, and away beyond the lawns, the flower
beds, and the great masses of beech, elm, and oak lay swallowed up in
the dusky shadows. The wind rustled the dry leaves from the trees, and
made the great boughs shiver with complaining sighs, as though they
dreaded the coming of winter, while there was a salt feeling in the
air, coming from the distant sea, and, at intervals, the dull, muffled
roar of the surf, beating on the lonely coast.

“This is not like Italy,” said Alizon to her husband, as they stood
arm in arm, peering into the shadows, “and yet there is a kind of
similarity. This is the terrace of Villa Tagni, beyond the trees are
the distant mountains and that strip of luminous ground is the lake.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t your imagination, my dear,” he answered
comically, “or, perhaps, I know the place too well, but I’ve got a
strong feeling that I’m not in Italy, but in England, and, moreover,
that I am at home.”

“It’s a very pleasant feeling.”

“Yes! I think even the most inveterate Bohemian, Eustace, for
instance, must experience a home-sickness sometimes.”

“Has your cousin any home?”

“Oh, yes! At least, he owns a kind of tumble-down old ruin about four
miles from here. It overlooks the sea, and is a most dismal place.
Eustace visits it about once in a blue moon, but I don’t think he
likes it. It’s a haunted place, if you like.”

“Haunted by what?”

“Oh, I don’t know. There’s some sort of a ghost, who makes himself
objectionable–by-the-way, I’m not sure that it isn’t a lady ghost,
with a rustling of silken skirts. But then ghosts have no sex.”

“You seem to be well up in the subject,” said his wife, a little
drily, as they re-entered the house.

“Not at all. I only know folk lore in a desultory sort of manner. But
when you get to know all the people round about here, you’ll be told
the most gruesome stories.”

“I suppose for the next few weeks we won’t have a moment of peace.”

“It’s very probable,” replied Guy coolly, “and then we’ll have to
return all the visits. It’s a deuce of a nuisance, but one must do it.
We owe it to our position.

“I never heard that last phrase till I married you,” said Lady
Errington, a little sadly.

“Why did not your father—-?”

“My father! you forget, Guy. I am the daughter of a pariah.”

He took her in his strong, young arms, and kissed her fondly.

“You are my wife, and the mistress of Errington Hall.”