‘Upstairs in bed, daddy, with the whooping-cough something horrid.’
‘Wot a infant!’ commented the groom proudly. ’I never see such a offspring for his age—never. Whoopin’-cough something horrid? Well, well!’
For a full minute he reflected with such apparent satisfaction on his son and heir’s vulnerability to human ailments that there is no telling when he would have left off, if his reverie had not been broken by his wife placing a pipe in his hands and a bowl on the table.
‘It was always waiting on you, daddy,’ said the good woman. ’I sez to Wellington, “That’s his favourite, it is, and we’ll always have it ready for him when he comes home."’
Without any display of emotion or undue haste, the old groom filled the pipe, lit it, drew a long breath of smoke, and slowly blew it into the air, regarding his good partner throughout with a look that clearly showed the importance he attached to the experiment.
He took a second puff, raised his eyes from hers to the ceiling, and his broad face crinkled into a grin, the like of which his wife had never seen before on his countenance.
‘Old girl,’ he said, ’when I sees you first I sez, “There’s the filly for my money;” and so you was. And, by Criky! you and me hevn’t reached the last jump yet—no, sir. Give me a kiss. . . . Thar—that’s werry “bon,” as them queer-spoke Frenchies would say. M’ dear, I hev some nooz for you now.’
He puffed tantalisingly at the pipe, and surveyed his wife’s intense curiosity with studied approbation.
‘When Milord come to see me last week,’ he said, measuring the words slowly, ’he tells me as how he won’t go for to hev no more hosses, and conseckens o’ me bein’ all bunged up by them sausage-eaters, he sez as how would I like to be the landlord o’ “The Hares and Fox” in the village, him havin’ bought the same, and would I go for to tell you as a surprise, likewise and sim’lar?’
‘Heavenly hope!’ cried the good woman, bursting into tears; ’if that ain’t marvellous grand!’
‘That,’ said Mathews, beckoning for her to hand him his crutches, ’is what Milord has done for you and me. And, missus, as long as there’s a drop in the cellar none o’ the soldier-lads in the village will go for to want a pint o’ bitter nohow. Now, old girl, if you’ll give a leg up we’ll go and see how the infant is lookin’.’
A few days later, in the chapel decked with flowers, the marriage of Selwyn and Elise took place.
In spite of her disappointment that Elise was not marrying a title, Lady Durwent rose superbly to the occasion. She led the weeping and the laughing with the utmost heartiness, and recalled her own wedding so eloquently and vividly that those who didn’t know about the Ironmonger supposed she must have been the daughter of a marchioness at least, and was probably related to royalty.