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Sisters

CHAPTER XVII.

The starting of the fuss was thus described by the starter in her first letter to her friend:

"Oh, my dear, it is simply awful! There is not a scrap of hope. Dear old Deb is the worst, because she cries—fancy DEB crying! I don't care what Francie says and does, only, if she were not my sister, I would never speak to her again. Even Mary is antagonistic, though I don't believe she would be if it were not for that insufferable husband of hers; he thinks himself, and puts it into her head, that we are all going to fall into the bottomless pit if we let trade into the family—as if nine-tenths and more of the aristocracy of the country were not traders, and my Peter is as good as her parson any day. But I don't care, except for Deb. I do hate her to have to cry, through me, and to be so kind at the same time. She scolds Francie for being horrid—that does no good, she says, and she is quite right—and then asks me if I have any love left for her, and all that kind of thing. It makes me feel like a selfish brute; and yet it would not be unselfish to sacrifice Peter. Really, I am quite distracted. I have hardly slept a wink since I came back."

Further details followed:

"I did not know until I got a letter from him (by the gardener) that Peter came this morning to call—THE call—and was not let in. Keziah had been got at, you must know, and works against us; the old liar told him (under instructions, of course) that none of us was at home!—she that goes to church every Sunday, and pretends to be so pious. Old hypocrite! Well, as I was reading Peter's letter, the door-bell rings, and who should it be but old Daddy Breen coming to demand what we mean by it, snubbing his precious son, whom he thinks good enough for a princess (and so he is). HE was not going to be turned from the door—not he; and presently I heard him and Deb at it hammer and tongs in the drawing-room, and she came up to me afterwards simply in flames. She WAS wild. My dear, she has left off crying and started to fight. Papa Breen (I am afraid he is a bit bumptious for what she calls his class in life) turned the scale, and now she is as implacable as Francie. She says she will NOT have the house of Pennycuick disgraced (or words to that effect) while she is alive to prevent it; and when I ask her to be just to Peter, who is no more answerable for his family than I am for mine, and not to judge him off-hand before she knows a scrap about him, she simply looks at me as if she itched to box my ears. Isn't it too hard? Other girls have such a lovely time when they are engaged—everybody considering them and giving them opportunities to be together. There's not going to be anything of that sort for us, I can plainly see. Well, I shall not give him up, so they need not think it....

"I have seen my poor old boy. He was much cut up, but feels better now.... He asked me to go and see his mother.... The moment I walked in and he said, 'Mother, here she is,' the darling opened her arms, and we just hugged as if I was her daughter already. There is nobody like mothers....

"Papa Breen came home while I was there. I thought he was going to be aggrieved, but he was not with ME. If it is not a snobbish thing to say, he is rather proud of his son's choice. He was a bit too fussy and outspoken, and dear Peter got the fidgets wondering what he would say next; but I did not mind. He talked about building us a house, but Peter whispered to me that that would take too long, and that already he had one in his eye (I know it—a lovely place, with the prettiest grounds, and stables, and coach-house, and all). Nothing is too good for me. I tried to pacify the girls by telling them I should have a comfortable home; but they seem to think that the vulgarest feature of the whole affair. It may be, but it's nice. Would you condescend to come and stay with a draper's wife sometimes? We are going to have Bruce to live with us....

"Then I made Peter come home with me, and I took him in myself to see Deb. He behaved as nicely as possible, but it was no use. 'She is of age, Mr Breen,' says Deb, with that look of hers; 'she will do as she chooses, but she will never do this with my consent.' And I feel I never shall. Papa Breen sticks in her throat. If only she had seen Peter before his father came, and not after! But I daresay it would have been the same. They are too eaten up with their prejudices to begin to know him....

"It is quite hopeless! Here I live in my own home without a friend, and he is treated like a pariah, my poor dear boy! He has been to see me two or three times, as he has a perfect right to do, and they have just had him shown into the drawing-room, and left him to me, neither of them coming near. And this while Bennet Goldsworthy loafs all over the house, as if it was his own, and presumes to look at me in a superior sort of way, as if I was one of his dirty little Sunday-school children in disgrace. They bring him up into the attic even—our own private room—mine as much as theirs; they never did it before, and it is only because he is banded with them against me. Well, I wouldn't marry Bennet Goldsworthy if there was not another man in the world...

"I have my ring—SUCH diamonds! too valuable, I tell Peter; but he says nothing can be that—and I know they can't help seeing it, because the whole room flashes when I turn it this way and that, like blue lightning playing; but they all pretend not to. Since they find they cannot break our engagement, the idea is to ignore it as if it was something so low as to be beneath their notice. Perhaps they fancy that will wear me out; but it won't.... If they had been nice, and pleaded with me, and if Peter had not been so VERY dear and good, I might have caved in; but not now. And indeed, I am sure I never should anyway, only we might have agreed to differ without quarrelling, which we never did before. Oh, it is too miserable! Poor Mr and Mrs Breen must hate the very name of Pennycuick, and they will end by hating me if this goes on.... Peter has bought the house, and is asking me to hurry our marriage, to get me out of it. He says a private ceremony would not be dishonourable under the circumstances. It seems to me a mean sort of way to go to him, but—what do YOU think?"

"My dear," wrote Alice Urquhart, "I think Peter is right. Next time he asks you, you say yes. It will be a real kindness to both families, who would never know what to do with a house wedding. Besides, then you might have to be given away by B. G. Walk out quietly and unbeknown, and don't come back. Write from the Blue Mountains or somewhere—'Yours ever, Rose Breen.' And later on, when things have settled down, their hearts will melt, and they will come and see you. Let me know what day, and I will run down (to the dentist) to see fair play and sign the register.

"Now, you need not have any scruples, child, because the whole of your husband's family approve of the match (Simpsons delighted, if a little huffy for the moment to see solid worth looked down upon), and Deb and the others are certain to come round when they find it is no use doing anything else. Outsiders don't matter; and I should hate touting for wedding presents in such a mixed concern. As for your clothes, you have plenty; when you want more, you can get them cost price at the shop. It is a very good shop, I hear, and I mean to be a steady customer from this out. Oh, yes, and I will come and see you, old girl, nows and thens, when I have to go to town. And you and Peter must spend all your Christmases up here. While he is seeing his people at Bundaboo, you can camp with me, like old times."




At the last moment Rose broke down, and wept upon the breast of her favourite sister in the act of bidding her goodbye—perhaps because Frances chanced to be absent at the time.

"Oh, Debbie darling, I won't deceive you—I am not going shopping; I am going into Melbourne to get married—to get married quietly and have done with it, so as not to be a nuisance to you any more."

"Married!" gasped Deb, holding the agitated creature at arm's-length. "What—NOW? And you spring this on us without a word of warning—"

"What was the use, Deb? You know what you would have said. I have GOT to have him, dear—I really have—and this seemed the only way."

"Where is he?"

"Waiting till I'm ready. They have a carriage outside. His mother and sister are going with us. His father will join us when we get there. And Alice Urquhart, who is in town, and one of his cousins from Bundaboo—quite respectable and above-board, you see, only very quiet, so as not to trouble you and the girls and poor dear Bennet Goldsworthy more than we can help—"

"Not trouble us!" broke in Deb, her face, that had paled a moment ago, flaming scarlet. "Rose, in your wildest aberrations, I did not credit you with being capable of humiliating us to this extent."

"Ah, you always say that! If you only knew him; but some day you will, and then you will wonder how you could have set yourself against us so. I can't help it, Deb. I did it for the best. Marry him I must and will, and I am only trying to do it in a way as inoffensive to you as possible."

"You call this an inoffensive way? But those people cannot be expected to know—"

"They can—they do. Don't insult them any more. They are giving me everything they can think of to make me happy, and here I have no home—no love—no sympathy from anybody—"

Tears gushed from her eyes and Deb's as from the same spring; they were instantly locked in each other's arms.

"Poor little Rosie! Poor dear child! But you don't understand pet—you don't know what you are doing—going right out of your class—out of your world—"

"But to a good husband, Debbie, and the man I love—and that's first of all! And I must go to him now—I must not keep him waiting. Bless you, dearest! I am happy now. Never mind the others. You can tell them after I'm gone. But I felt that I must speak to YOU before I went. Oh, I am so glad I did! Goodbye, darling! I must go."

"You must NOT go," said Deb, swallowing her tears and resuming her imperious air. "Not this way, Rose, as if your family had cast you off. How can you treat us so, child? But perhaps we deserve it; only you don't see what you are doing as clearly as we do—"

"Deb, Deb, don't stop me! They are waiting. It is late now!"

The bride-elect, pale with fright, struggled in her sister's strong hands, which held her fast.

"Where is Mr Breen?" demanded Deb.

"Waiting at his house—waiting for me—"

"I must send for him."

"Oh, Deb, not now, when everything is settled, and they have had all the expense and trouble—"

"Will you fetch him, Rose, if I let you go? For one minute only. No, I won't stop it. I can't, of course; but I must go with you, Rose—I MUST."

"Oh, Debbie, WOULD you? Oh, how I wish I had known before! Yes, I'll run and bring him. We must drive faster, that's all. Oh, Deb, how happy this will make us! But—"

"Run away and fetch him—ask him, with my compliments if he will be so good—and I will get my hat on while you are gone."

How she managed it was a mystery, but by the time the bridegroom appeared, Deb was in her best walking costume, hatted and veiled, with a pair of new pale-coloured gloves in her hand.

"Mr Breen," said she, grave and stately, "I am going to ask a favour of you. Allow me to take my sister to the church and give her away."

Peter was naturally flurried, besides being a trifle overawed. He mumbled something to the effect that he was sure his family would be "quite agreeable", and that his sister would give up her place in the carriage and go by train; and Deb, facing him with the air of a duchess, thought how thoroughly "shoppy" his manner was. His splendid new clothes helped to give her that impression. Fine dressing was one of the Breens' trifling errors of taste (as drapers) which damned them in her eyes. But what would she have thought if he had not done all honour to his bride in this respect?

"WE will go by train," said she decisively. "I have already delayed you a little, and you must be there first. The train will be quicker than driving, so that we shall be quite in time." She smiled as she caught his swift glance of alarm at Rose. "No, I am not going to kidnap her; I only wish to observe the proprieties a little—for her sake."

"If the proprieties have not been observed," retorted Peter, suddenly bold, "it has not been ALL my fault, Miss Pennycuick." "Perhaps not," she said gently, for she was a generous woman—"perhaps not. At any rate," holding out her hand, "we must let bygones be bygones now. Be good to her—that is all I ask." Peter seized her hand in his superfine glove, and wrung it emotionally, while Rose embraced her sister's left arm and kissed her sleeve. Then, after a hurried consultation of timetables, the bridegroom retired, and was presently seen to clatter past the house in the bridal carriage, which had white horses to it, to Deb's disgust.

She and Rose talked little on their journey. Rose was questioned about clothes and pocket-money, and asked whether she had a safe pocket anywhere. On Rose answering that she had, Deb pressed into it a closed envelope, which she charged her sister not to open until away on her honeymoon. Rose disobeyed the order, and found a hastily scrawled cheque for one hundred pounds—money which she knew could ill be spared.

"Oh, you darling!" she murmured fondly. "But I won't take it, Deb—I WON'T. It would leave you poor for years, while I shall have heaps of everything—"

"If you don't," broke in Deb, tragically stern and determined—"if you don't take it and buy your first clothes with it, I will never forgive you as long as I live. Child, don't you see—?"

Rose saw this much—Deb's horror of the thought of being beholden to the Breens for a post-nuptial trousseau. Reluctantly she pocketed the gift.

"But I shall never want it, you know."

"I don't care about that," said Deb.

The bridegroom's relief of mind when he saw the bride coming was so great as to do away with all the usual embarrassment of a man so circumstanced.

"Ha! now we are all right," he said to Harry Simpson, cousin and best man; and forthwith acted as if the trouble were over instead of just beginning. There was nothing shoppy in his demeanour now, even to Deb's prejudiced eye.

The sisters walked up the nave to the altar, hand in hand. Deb passed the bridesmaid, Alice Urquhart, without a look—her people had brought the young pair together, and were answerable for these consequences—and similarly ignored those walking fashion-plates, Mrs and Miss Breen. She landed her charge at the appointed hassock, and quietly facing the clergyman, stood still and dry-eyed amid the usual tearful flutter, apparently the calmest of the party. But poor Deb suffered pangs unspeakable, and her excessive dignity was maintained only by the sternest effort.

In the vestry, after the ceremony, she was introduced by the bride to her new relations; and Papa Breen, with a great show of magnanimity, expressed his satisfaction at seeing Miss Pennycuick "on this suspicious occasion", and formally invited her to what he called "a little snack" at Menzies', where a gorgeous wedding breakfast had been prepared at his orders.

"Thank you very much, Mr Breen," she said affably. "It would have given me great pleasure, but if you will excuse me, I must run home to my other sisters, whom I left in ignorance of this—this event—which concerns them so nearly."

"Oh, Deb, DO come!" pleaded the bride.

No; the line had to be drawn somewhere. Deb was very kind, very polite, very plausible with her excuses; but to Menzies' with those people and their white-horsed carriage she would not go.





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