’No, you are not! Is Miss Everard of age? I think not. I think she is months from being so. Eh, Miss Everard?’
‘Am I bound to tell that?’
’Certainly. At any rate you are bound to write it. Meanwhile I refuse to solemnize the service. And let me entreat you two young people to do nothing so rash as this, even if by going to some strange church, you may do so without discovery. The tragedy of marriage—’
’Certainly. It is full of crises and catastrophes, and ends with the death of one of the actors. The tragedy of marriage, as I was saying, is one I shall not be a party to your beginning with such light hearts, and I shall feel bound to put your father on his guard, Miss Everard. Think better of it, I entreat you! Remember the proverb, “Marry in haste and repent at leisure."’
Christine, spurred by opposition, almost stormed at him. Nicholas implored; but nothing would turn that obstinate rector. She sat down and reflected. By-and-by she confronted Mr. Bealand.
‘Our marriage is not to be this morning, I see,’ she said. ’Now grant me one favour, and in return I’ll promise you to do nothing rashly. Do not tell my father a word of what has happened here.’
‘I agree—if you undertake not to elope.’
She looked at Nicholas, and he looked at her. ’Do you wish me to elope, Nic?’ she asked.
‘No,’ he said.
So the compact was made, and they left the church singly, Nicholas remaining till the last, and closing the door. On his way home, carrying the well-packed bag which was just now to go no further, the two men who were mending water-carriers in the meadows approached the hedge, as if they had been on the alert all the time.
‘You said you mid want us for zummat, sir?’
‘All right—never mind,’ he answered through the hedge. ’I did not require you after all.’
At a manor not far away there lived a queer and primitive couple who had lately been blessed with a son and heir. The christening took place during the week under notice, and this had been followed by a feast to the parishioners. Christine’s father, one of the same generation and kind, had been asked to drive over and assist in the entertainment, and Christine, as a matter of course, accompanied him.
When they reached Athelhall, as the house was called, they found the usually quiet nook a lively spectacle. Tables had been spread in the apartment which lent its name to the whole building—the hall proper—covered with a fine open-timbered roof, whose braces, purlins, and rafters made a brown thicket of oak overhead. Here tenantry of all ages sat with their wives and families, and the servants were assisted in their ministrations by the sons and daughters of the owner’s friends and neighbours. Christine lent a hand among the rest.