Therewith things returned to their usual course, and she was beginning to feel as if all had been a dream, when one evening, about a week later, her suitor appeared to have one of those embarrassing fits of youthful ardour; her hand was passionately seized, caressed, toyed with by a warm strong hand, and kissed by lips that left a burning impression and that were no longer hairy. Surely he had been shaving! Was the time for which he bade her wait, his full recovery, and the resumption of the youthfulness that seemed to come on him in fits and starts, and then to ebb away, and leave him the grave courteous old man she had first known? And why was it always in a whisper that he spoke forth all those endearments which thrilled her with such strange emotions?
When she came into the light, she found her fourth finger encircled with an exquisite emerald ring, which seemed to bind her to her fate, and make her situation tangible. Another time she was entreated to give a lock of her hair, and she of course did so, though it was strange that it should confer any pleasure on her suitor in the dark.
CHAPTER XX. THE MUFFLED BRIDEGROOM.
This old fantastical Duke of dark
Measure for Measure.
There was some coming and going of Mr. Hargrave in the ensuing weeks; and it began to be known that Miss Delavie was to become the wife of the recluse. Mrs. Aylward evidently knew it, but said nothing; Molly preferred a petition to be her waiting maid; Jumbo grinned as if over-powered with inward mirth; the old ladies in the pew looked more sour and haughty than ever to discourage “the artful minx,” and the little girls asked all manner of absurd and puzzling questions.
My Lady was still at Bath, and Aurelia supposed that the marriage would take place on her return; and that the Major and Betty would perhaps accompany her. The former was quite in his usual health again, and had himself written to give her his blessing as a good dutiful maiden, and declare that he hoped to be with her for her wedding, and to give himself to his honoured friend.
She was the more amazed and startled when, one Sunday evening in spring, Mr. Hargrave came to her as she sat in her own parlour, saying, “Madam, you will be amazed, but under the circumstances, the parson and myself being both here, Mr. Belamour trusts you will not object to the immediate performance of the ceremony.”
Aurelia took some moments to realise what the ceremony was; and then she cried, “Oh! but my father meant to have been here.”
“Mr. Belamour thinks it better not to trouble Major Delavie to come up,” said Mr. Hargrave; and as Aurelia stood in great distress and disappointment at this disregard of her wishes, he added, “I think Miss Delavie cannot fail to understand Mr. Belamour’s wishes to anticipate my Lady’s arrival, so that he may be as little harassed as possible with display and publicity. You may rely both on his honour and my vigilance that all is done securely and legally.”