A Simpleton by Charles Reade
"Mr. Lusignan," said he, "the last time I was here you gave me some hopes that you might be prevailed on to trust that angel's health and happiness to my care."
"Well, Dr. Staines, I will not beat about the bush with you. My judgment is still against this marriage; you need not look so alarmed; it does not follow I shall forbid it. I feel I have hardly a right to, for my Rosa might be in her grave now but for you; and, another thing, when I interfered between you two I had no proof you were a man of ability; I had only your sweetheart's word for that; and I never knew a case before where a young lady's swan did not turn out a goose. Your rare ability gives you another chance in the professional battle that is before you; indeed, it puts a different face on the whole matter. I still think it premature. Come now, would it not be much wiser to wait, and secure a good practice before you marry a mere child? There! there! I only advise; I don't dictate; you shall settle it together, you two wiseacres. Only I must make one positive condition. I have nothing to give my child during my lifetime; but one thing I have done for her; years ago I insured my life for six thousand pounds; and you must do the same. I will not have her thrown on the world a widow, with a child or two, perhaps, to support, and not a farthing; you know the insecurity of mortal life."
"I do! I do! Why, of course I will insure my life, and pay the annual premium out of my little capital, until income flows in."
"Will you hand me over a sum sufficient to pay that premium for five years?"
"Then I fear," said the old gentleman, with a sigh, "my opposition to the match must cease here. I still recommend you to wait; but-- there! I might just as well advise fire and tow to live neighbors and keep cool."
To show the injustice of this simile, Christopher Staines started up with his eyes all aglow, and cried out, rapturously, "Oh, sir, may I tell her?"
"Yes, you may tell her," said Lusignan, with a smile. "Stop--what are you going to tell her?"
"That you consent, sir. God bless you! God bless you! Oh!"
"Yes, but that I advise you to wait."
"I'll tell her all," said Staines, and rushed out even as he spoke, and upset a heavy chair with a loud thud.
"Ah! ah!" cried the old gentleman in dismay, and put his fingers in his ears--too late. "I see," said he, "there will be no peace and quiet now till they are out of the house." He lighted a soothing cigar to counteract the fracas.
"Poor little Rosa! a child but yesterday, and now to encounter the cares of a wife, and perhaps a mother. Ah! she is but young, but young."
The old gentleman prophesied truly; from that moment he had no peace till he withdrew all semblance of dissent, and even of procrastination.
Christopher insured his life for six thousand pounds, and assigned the policy to his wife. Four hundred pounds was handed to Mr. Lusignan to pay the premiums until the genius of Dr. Staines should have secured him that large professional income, which does not come all at once, even to the rare physician, who is Capax, Efficax, Sagax.
The wedding-day was named. The bridesmaids were selected, the guests invited. None refused but Uncle Philip. He declined, in his fine bold hand, to countenance in person an act of folly he disapproved. Christopher put his letter away with a momentary sigh, and would not show it Rosa. All other letters they read together, charming pastime of that happy period. Presents poured in. Silver teapots, coffeepots, sugar-basins, cream-jugs, fruit- dishes, silver-gilt inkstands, albums, photograph-books, little candlesticks, choice little services of china, shell salt-cellars in a case lined with maroon velvet; a Bible, superb in binding and clasps, and everything but the text--that was illegible; a silk scarf from Benares; a gold chain from Delhi, six feet long or nearly; a Maltese necklace, a ditto in exquisite filagree from Genoa; English brooches, a trifle too big and brainless; apostle spoons; a treble-lined parasol with ivory stick and handle; an ivory card-case, richly carved; workbox of sandal-wood and ivory, etc. Mr. Lusignan's City friends, as usual with these gentlemen, sent the most valuable things. Every day one or two packages were delivered, and, in opening them, Rosa invariably uttered a peculiar scream of delight, and her father put his fingers in his ears; yet there was music in this very scream, if he would only have listened to it candidly, instead of fixing his mind on his vague theory of screams--so formed was she to please the ear as well as the eye.
At last came a parcel she opened and stared at, smiling and coloring like a rose, but did not scream, being too dumfounded and perplexed; for lo! a teapot of some base material, but simple and elegant in form, being an exact reproduction of a melon; and inside this teapot a canvas bag containing ten guineas in silver, and a wash-leather bag containing twenty guineas in gold, and a slip of paper, which Rosa, being now half recovered from her stupefaction, read out to her father and Dr. Staines:
"People that buy presents blindfold give duplicates and triplicates; and men seldom choose to a woman's taste; so be pleased to accept the enclosed tea-leaves, and buy for yourself. The teapot you can put on the hob, for it is nickel."
Rosa looked sore puzzled again. "Papa," said she, timidly, "have we any friend that is--a little--deranged?"
"Oh, then, that accounts."
"Why no, love," said Christopher. "I have heard of much learning making a man mad, but never of much good sense."
"What! Do you call this sensible?"
"I'll read it again," said Rosa. "Well--yes--I declare--it is not so mad as I thought; but it is very eccentric."
Lusignan suggested there was nothing so eccentric as common sense, especially in time of wedding. "This," said he, "comes from the City. It is a friend of mine, some old fox; he is throwing dust in your eyes with his reasons; his real reason was that his time is money; it would have cost the old rogue a hundred pounds' worth of time--you know the City, Christopher--to go out and choose the girl a present; so he has sent his clerk out with a check to buy a pewter teapot, and fill it with specie."
"Pewter!" cried Rosa. "No such thing! It's nickel. What is nickel, I wonder?"
The handwriting afforded no clew, so there the discussion ended: but it was a nice little mystery, and very convenient; made conversation. Rosa had many an animated discussion about it with her female friends.
The wedding-day came at last. The sun shone--actually, as Rosa observed. The carriages drove up. The bridesmaids, principally old schoolfellows and impassioned correspondents of Rosa, were pretty, and dressed alike and delightfully; but the bride was peerless; her Southern beauty literally shone in that white satin dress and veil, and her head was regal with the Crown of orange- blossoms. Another crown she had--true virgin modesty. A low murmur burst from the men the moment they saw her; the old women forgave her beauty on the spot, and the young women almost pardoned it; she was so sweet and womanly, and so sisterly to her own sex.
When they started for the church she began to tremble, she scarce knew why; and when the solemn words were said, and the ring was put on her finger, she cried a little, and looked half imploringly at her bridesmaids once, as if seared at leaving them for an untried and mysterious life with no woman near.
They were married. Then came the breakfast, that hour of uneasiness and blushing to such a bride as this; but at last she was released. She sped up-stairs, thanking goodness it was over. Down came her last box. The bride followed in a plain travelling dress, which her glorious eyes and brows and her rich glowing cheeks seemed to illumine: she was handed into the carriage, the bridegroom followed. All the young guests clustered about the door, armed with white shoes--slippers are gone by.
They started; the ladies flung their white shoes right and left with religious impartiality, except that not one of their missiles went at the object. The men, more skilful, sent a shower on to the roof of the carriage, which is the lucky spot. The bride kissed her hand, and managed to put off crying, though it cost her a struggle. The party hurrahed; enthusiastic youths gathered fallen shoes, and ran and hurled them again with cheerful yells, and away went the happy pair, the bride leaning sweetly and confidingly with both her white hands on the bridegroom's shoulder, while he dried the tears that would run now at leaving home and parent forever, and kissed her often, and encircled her with his strong arm, and murmured comfort, and love, and pride, and joy, and sweet vows of lifelong tenderness into her ears, that soon stole nearer his lips to hear, and the fair cheek grew softly to his shoulder.