n the meantime great preparations were going on down in Suffolk for the marriage of that happiest of lovers, John Crumb. John Crumb had been up to London, had been formally reconciled to Ruby,—who had submitted to his floury embraces, not with the best grace in the world, but still with a submission that had satisfied her future husband,—had been intensely grateful to Mrs. Hurtle, and almost munificent in liberality to Mrs. Pipkin, to whom he presented a purple silk dress, in addition to the cloak which he had given on a former occasion. During this visit he had expressed no anger against Ruby, and no indignation in reference to the baronite. When informed by Mrs. Pipkin, who hoped thereby to please him, that Sir Felix was supposed to be still "all one mash of gore," he blandly smiled, remarking that no man could be much the worse for a "few sich taps as them." He only stayed a few hours in London, but during these few hours he settled everything. When Mrs. Pipkin suggested that Ruby should be married from her house, he winked his eye as he declined the suggestion with thanks. Daniel Ruggles was old, and, under the influence of continued gin and water, was becoming feeble. John Crumb was of opinion that the old man should not be neglected, and hinted that with a little care the five hundred pounds which had originally been promised as Ruby's fortune, might at any rate be secured. He was of opinion that the marriage should be celebrated in Suffolk,—the feast being spread at Sheep's Acre farm, if Dan Ruggles could be talked into giving it,—and if not, at his own house. When both the ladies explained to him that this last proposition was not in strict accordance with the habits of the fashionable world, John expressed an opinion that, under the peculiar circumstances of his marriage, the ordinary laws of the world might be suspended. "It ain't jist like other folks, after all as we've been through," said he,—meaning probably to imply that having had to fight for his wife, he was entitled to give a breakfast on the occasion if he pleased. But whether the banquet was to be given by the bride's grandfather or by himself,—he was determined that there should be a banquet, and that he would bid the guests. He invited both Mrs. Pipkin and Mrs. Hurtle, and at last succeeded in inducing Mrs. Hurtle to promise that she would bring Mrs. Pipkin down to Bungay, for the occasion.
Then it was necessary to fix the day, and for this purpose it was of course essential that Ruby should be consulted. During the discussion as to the feast and the bridegroom's entreaties that the two ladies would be present, she had taken no part in the matter in hand. She was brought up to be kissed, and having been duly kissed she retired again among the children, having only expressed one wish of her own,—namely, that Joe Mixet might not have anything to do with the affair. But the day could not be fixed without her, and she was summoned. Crumb had been absurdly impatient, proposing next Tuesday,—making his proposition on a Friday. They could cook enough meat for all Bungay to eat by Tuesday, and he was aware of no other cause for delay. "That's out of the question," Ruby had said decisively, and as the two elder ladies had supported her Mr. Crumb yielded with a good grace. He did not himself appreciate the reasons given because, as he remarked, gowns can be bought ready made at any shop. But Mrs. Pipkin told him with a laugh that he didn't know anything about it, and when the 14th of August was named he only scratched his head and, muttering something about Thetford fair, agreed that he would, yet once again, allow love to take precedence of business. If Tuesday would have suited the ladies as well he thought that he might have managed to combine the marriage and the fair, but when Mrs. Pipkin told him that he must not interfere any further, he yielded with a good grace. He merely remained in London long enough to pay a friendly visit to the policeman who had locked him up, and then returned to Suffolk, revolving in his mind how glorious should be the matrimonial triumph which he had at last achieved.
Before the day arrived, old Ruggles had been constrained to forgive his granddaughter, and to give a general assent to the marriage. When John Crumb, with a sound of many trumpets, informed all Bungay that he had returned victorious from London, and that after all the ups and downs of his courtship Ruby was to become his wife on a fixed day, all Bungay took his part, and joined in a general attack upon Mr. Daniel Ruggles. The cross-grained old man held out for a long time, alleging that the girl was no better than she should be, and that she had run away with the baronite. But this assertion was met by so strong a torrent of contradiction, that the farmer was absolutely driven out of his own convictions. It is to be feared that many lies were told on Ruby's behalf by lips which had been quite ready a fortnight since to take away her character. But it had become an acknowledged fact in Bungay that John Crumb was ready at any hour to punch the head of any man who should hint that Ruby Ruggles had, at any period of her life, done any act or spoken any word unbecoming a young lady; and so strong was the general belief in John Crumb, that Ruby became the subject of general eulogy from all male lips in the town. And though perhaps some slight suspicion of irregular behaviour up in London might be whispered by the Bungay ladies among themselves, still the feeling in favour of Mr. Crumb was so general, and his constancy was so popular, that the grandfather could not stand against it. "I don't see why I ain't to do as I likes with my own," he said to Joe Mixet, the baker, who went out to Sheep's Acre Farm as one of many deputations sent by the municipality of Bungay.
"She's your own flesh and blood, Mr. Ruggles," said the baker.
"No; she ain't;—no more than she's a Pipkin. She's taken up with Mrs. Pipkin jist because I hate the Pipkinses. Let Mrs. Pipkin give 'em a breakfast."
"She is your own flesh and blood,—and your name, too, Mr. Ruggles. And she's going to be the respectable wife of a respectable man, Mr. Ruggles."
"I won't give 'em no breakfast;—that's flat," said the farmer.
But he had yielded in the main when he allowed himself to base his opposition on one immaterial detail. The breakfast was to be given at the King's Head, and, though it was acknowledged on all sides that no authority could be found for such a practice, it was known that the bill was to be paid by the bridegroom. Nor would Mr. Ruggles pay the five hundred pounds down as in early days he had promised to do. He was very clear in his mind that his undertaking on that head was altogether cancelled by Ruby's departure from Sheep's Acre. When he was reminded that he had nearly pulled his granddaughter's hair out of her head, and had thus justified her act of rebellion, he did not contradict the assertion, but implied that if Ruby did not choose to earn her fortune on such terms as those, that was her fault. It was not to be supposed that he was to give a girl, who was after all as much a Pipkin as a Ruggles, five hundred pounds for nothing. But, in return for that night's somewhat harsh treatment of Ruby, he did at last consent to have the money settled upon John Crumb at his death,—an arrangement which both the lawyer and Joe Mixet thought to be almost as good as a free gift, being both of them aware that the consumption of gin and water was on the increase. And he, moreover, was persuaded to receive Mrs. Pipkin and Ruby at the farm for the night previous to the marriage. This very necessary arrangement was made by Mr. Mixet's mother, a most respectable old lady, who went out in a fly from the inn attired in her best black silk gown and an overpowering bonnet, an old lady from whom her son had inherited his eloquence, who absolutely shamed the old man into compliance,—not, however, till she had promised to send out the tea and white sugar and box of biscuits which were thought to be necessary for Mrs. Pipkin on the evening preceding the marriage. A private sitting-room at the inn was secured for the special accommodation of Mrs. Hurtle,—who was supposed to be a lady of too high standing to be properly entertained at Sheep's Acre Farm.
On the day preceding the wedding one trouble for a moment clouded the bridegroom's brow. Ruby had demanded that Joe Mixet should not be among the performers, and John Crumb, with the urbanity of a lover, had assented to her demand,—as far, at least, as silence can give consent. And yet he felt himself unable to answer such interrogatories as the parson might put to him without the assistance of his friend, although he devoted much study to the matter. "You could come in behind like, Joe, just as if I knew nothin' about it," suggested Crumb.
"Don't you say a word of me, and she won't say nothing, you may be sure. You ain't going to give in to all her cantraps that way, John?" John shook his head and rubbed the meal about on his forehead. "It was only just something for her to say. What have I done that she should object to me?"
"You didn't ever go for to—kiss her,—did you, Joe?"
"What a one'er you are! That wouldn't 'a set her again me. It is just because I stood up and spoke for you like a man that night at Sheep's Acre, when her mind was turned the other way. Don't you notice nothing about it. When we're all in the church she won't go back because Joe Mixet's there. I'll bet you a gallon, old fellow, she and I are the best friends in Bungay before six months are gone."
"Nay, nay; she must have a better friend than thee, Joe, or I must know the reason why." But John Crumb's heart was too big for jealousy, and he agreed at last that Joe Mixet should be his best man, undertaking to "square it all" with Ruby, after the ceremony.
He met the ladies at the station and,—for him,—was quite eloquent in his welcome to Mrs. Hurtle and Mrs. Pipkin. To Ruby he said but little. But he looked at her in her new hat, and generally bright in subsidiary wedding garments, with great delight. "Ain't she bootiful now?" he said aloud to Mrs. Hurtle on the platform, to the great delight of half Bungay, who had accompanied him on the occasion. Ruby, hearing her praises thus sung, made a fearful grimace as she turned round to Mrs. Pipkin, and whispered to her aunt, so that those only who were within a yard or two could hear her; "He is such a fool!" Then he conducted Mrs. Hurtle in an omnibus up to the Inn, and afterwards himself drove Mrs. Pipkin and Ruby out to Sheep's Acre; in the performance of all which duties he was dressed in the green cutaway coat with brass buttons which had been expressly made for his marriage. "Thou'rt come back then, Ruby," said the old man.
"I ain't going to trouble you long, grandfather," said the girl.
"So best;—so best. And this is Mrs. Pipkin?"
"Yes, Mr. Ruggles; that's my name."
"I've heard your name. I've heard your name, and I don't know as I ever want to hear it again. But they say as you've been kind to that girl as 'd 'a been on the town only for that."
"Grandfather, that ain't true," said Ruby with energy. The old man made no rejoinder, and Ruby was allowed to take her aunt up into the bedroom which they were both to occupy. "Now, Mrs. Pipkin, just you say," pleaded Ruby, "how was it possible for any girl to live with an old man like that?"
"But, Ruby, you might always have gone to live with the young man instead when you pleased."
"You mean John Crumb."
"Of course I mean John Crumb, Ruby."
"There ain't much to choose between 'em. What one says is all spite; and the other man says nothing at all."
"Oh Ruby, Ruby," said Mrs. Pipkin, with solemnly persuasive voice, "I hope you'll come to learn some day, that a loving heart is better nor a fickle tongue,—specially with vittels certain."
On the following morning the Bungay church bells rang merrily, and half its population was present to see John Crumb made a happy man. He himself went out to the farm and drove the bride and Mrs. Pipkin into the town, expressing an opinion that no hired charioteer would bring them so safely as he would do himself; nor did he think it any disgrace to be seen performing this task before his marriage. He smiled and nodded at every one, now and then pointing back with his whip to Ruby when he met any of his specially intimate friends, as though he would have said, "See, I've got her at last in spite of all difficulties." Poor Ruby, in her misery under this treatment, would have escaped out of the cart had it been possible. But now she was altogether in the man's hands and no escape was within her reach. "What's the odds?" said Mrs. Pipkin as they settled their bonnets in a room at the Inn just before they entered the church. "Drat it,—you make me that angry I'm half minded to cuff you. Ain't he fond o' you? Ain't he got a house of his own? Ain't he well to do all round? Manners! What's manners? I don't see nothing amiss in his manners. He means what he says, and I call that the best of good manners."
Ruby, when she reached the church, had been too completely quelled by outward circumstances to take any notice of Joe Mixet, who was standing there, quite unabashed, with a splendid nosegay in his button-hole. She certainly had no right on this occasion to complain of her husband's silence. Whereas she could hardly bring herself to utter the responses in a voice loud enough for the clergyman to catch the familiar words, he made his assertions so vehemently that they were heard throughout the whole building. "I, John,—take thee Ruby,—to my wedded wife,—to 'ave and to 'old,—from this day forrard,—for better nor worser,—for richer nor poorer—;" and so on to the end. And when he came to the "worldly goods" with which he endowed his Ruby, he was very emphatic indeed. Since the day had been fixed he had employed all his leisure-hours in learning the words by heart, and would now hardly allow the clergyman to say them before him. He thoroughly enjoyed the ceremony, and would have liked to be married over and over again, every day for a week, had it been possible.
And then there came the breakfast, to which he marshalled the way up the broad stairs of the inn at Bungay, with Mrs. Hurtle on one arm and Mrs. Pipkin on the other. He had been told that he ought to take his wife's arm on this occasion, but he remarked that he meant to see a good deal of her in future, and that his opportunities of being civil to Mrs. Hurtle and Mrs. Pipkin would be rare. Thus it came to pass that, in spite of all that poor Ruby had said, she was conducted to the marriage-feast by Joe Mixet himself. Ruby, I think, had forgotten the order which she had given in reference to the baker. When desiring that she might see nothing more of Joe Mixet, she had been in her pride;—but now she was so tamed and quelled by the outward circumstances of her position, that she was glad to have some one near her who knew how to behave himself. "Mrs. Crumb, you have my best wishes for your continued 'ealth and 'appiness," said Joe Mixet in a whisper.
"It's very good of you to say so, Mr. Mixet."
"He's a good 'un; is he."
"Oh, I dare say."
"You just be fond of him and stroke him down, and make much of him, and I'm blessed if you mayn't do a'most anything with him,—all's one as a babby."
"A man shouldn't be all's one as a babby, Mr. Mixet."
"And he don't drink hard, but he works hard, and go where he will he can hold his own." Ruby said no more, and soon found herself seated by her husband's side. It certainly was wonderful to her that so many people should pay John Crumb so much respect, and should seem to think so little of the meal and flour which pervaded his countenance.
After the breakfast, or "bit of dinner," as John Crumb would call it, Mr. Mixet of course made a speech. "He had had the pleasure of knowing John Crumb for a great many years, and the honour of being acquainted with Miss Ruby Ruggles,—he begged all their pardons, and should have said Mrs. John Crumb,—ever since she was a child." "That's a downright story," said Ruby in a whisper to Mrs. Hurtle. "And he'd never known two young people more fitted by the gifts of nature to contribute to one another's 'appinesses. He had understood that Mars and Wenus always lived on the best of terms, and perhaps the present company would excuse him if he likened this 'appy young couple to them two 'eathen gods and goddesses. For Miss Ruby,—Mrs. Crumb he should say,—was certainly lovely as ere a Wenus as ever was; and as for John Crumb, he didn't believe that ever a Mars among 'em could stand again him. He didn't remember just at present whether Mars and Wenus had any young family, but he hoped that before long there would be any number of young Crumbs for the Bungay birds to pick up. 'Appy is the man as 'as his quiver full of 'em,—and the woman too, if you'll allow me to say so, Mrs. Crumb." The speech, of which only a small sample can be given here, was very much admired by the ladies and gentlemen present,—with the single exception of poor Ruby, who would have run away and locked herself in an inner chamber had she not been certain that she would be brought back again.
“The happy bridegroom” Lionel Grimston Fawkes. Wood-engraving. [Click on image to enlarge it.]
In the afternoon John took his bride to Lowestoft, and brought her back to all the glories of his own house on the following day. His honeymoon was short, but its influence on Ruby was beneficent. When she was alone with the man, knowing that he was her husband, and thinking something of all that he had done to win her to be his wife, she did learn to respect him. "Now, Ruby, give a fellow a buss,—as though you meant it," he said, when the first fitting occasion presented itself.
"Oh, John,—what nonsense!"
"It ain't nonsense to me, I can tell you. I'd sooner have a kiss from you than all the wine as ever was swallowed." Then she did kiss him, "as though she meant it;" and when she returned with him to Bungay the next day, she had made up her mind that she would endeavour to do her duty by him as his wife.
Last modified 24 September 2014