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Title: John Charrington's Wedding
Author: Edith Nesbit
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0602501.tsxt
Edition: 1
Language: English
Character set encoding: Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit
Date first posted: July 2006
Date most recently updated: July 2006

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John Charrington's Wedding
Edith Nesbit

No one ever thought that May Forster would marry John Charrington; but
he thought differently, and things which John Charrington intended had
a queer way of coming to pass. He asked her to marry him before he
went up to Oxford. She laughed and refused him. He asked her again
next time he came home. Again she laughed, tossed her dainty blonde
head and again refused. A third time he asked her; she said it was
becoming a confirmed bad habit, and laughed at him more than ever.

John was not the only man who wanted to marry her: she was the belle
of our village coterie, and we were all in love with her more or less;
it was a sort of fashion, like heliotrope ties or Inverness capes.
Therefore we were as much annoyed as surprised when John Charrington
walked into our little local Club--we held it in a loft over the
saddler's, I remember--and invited us all to his wedding.

'Your wedding?'

'You don't mean it?'

'Who's the happy pair? When's it to be?'

John Charrington filled his pipe and lighted it before he replied.
Then he said:

'I'm sorry to deprive you fellows of your only joke--but Miss Forster
and I are to be married in September.'

'You don't mean it?'

'He's got the mitten again, and it's turned his head.'

'No,' I said, rising, 'I see it's true. Lend me a pistol someone--or a
first-class fare to the other end of Nowhere. Charrington has
bewitched the only pretty girl in our twenty-mile radius. Was it
mesmerism, or a love-potion, Jack?'

'Neither, sir, but a gift you'll never have--perseverance--and the
best luck a man ever had in this world.'

There was something in his voice that silenced me, and all chaff of
the other fellows failed to draw him further.

The queer thing about it was that when we congratulated Miss Forster,
she blushed and smiled and dimpled, for all the world as though she
were in love with him, and had been in love with him all the time.
Upon my word, I think she had. Women are strange creatures.

We were all asked to the wedding. In Brixham everyone who was anybody
knew everybody else who was anyone. My sisters were, I truly believe,
more interested in the trousseau than the bride herself, and I was to
be best man. The coming marriage was much canvassed at afternoon tea-
tables, and at our little Club over the saddler's, and the question
was always asked, 'Does she care for him?'

I used to ask that question myself in the early days of their
engagement, but after a certain evening in August I never asked it
again. I was coming home from the Club through the churchyard. Our
church is on a thyme-grown hill, and the turf about it is so thick and
soft that one's footsteps are noiseless.

I made no sound as I vaulted the low lichened wall, and threaded my
way between the tombstones. It was at the same instant that I heard
John Charrington's voice, and saw her. May was sitting on a low flat
gravestone, her face turned towards the full splendour of the western
sun. Its expression ended, at once and for ever, any question of love
for him; it was transfigured to a beauty I should not have believed
possible, even to that beautiful little face.

John lay at her feet, and it was his voice that broke the stillness of
the golden August evening.

'My dear, my dear, I believe I should come back from the dead if you
wanted me!'

I coughed at once to indicate my presence, and passed on into the
shadow fully enlightened.

The wedding was to be early in September. Two days before I had to run
up to town on business. The train was late, of course, for we are on
the South-Eastern, and as I stood grumbling with my watch in my hand,
whom should I see but John Charrington and May Forster. They were
walking up and down the unfrequented end of the platform, arm in arm,
looking into each other's eyes, careless of the sympathetic interest
of the porters.

Of course I knew better than to hesitate a moment before burying
myself in the booking--office, and it was not till the train drew up
at the platform, that I obtrusively passed the pair with my Gladstone,
and took the corner in a first-class smoking-carriage. I did this with
as good an air of not seeing them as I could assume. I pride myself on
my discretion, but if John were travelling alone I wanted his company.
I had it.

'Hullo, old man,' came his cheery voice as he swung his bag into my
carriage; 'here's luck; I was expecting a dull journey!'

'Where are you off to?' I asked, discretion still bidding me turn my
eyes away, though I saw, without looking, that hers were red-rimmed.

'To old Branbridge's,' he answered, shutting the door and leaning out
for a last word with his sweetheart.

'Oh, I wish you wouldn't go, John,' she was saying in a low, earnest
voice. 'I feel certain something will happen.'

'Do you think I should let anything happen to keep me, and the day
after tomorrow our wedding day?'

'Don't go,' she answered, with a pleading intensity which would have
sent my Gladstone onto the platform and me after it. But she wasn't
speaking to me. John Charrington was made differently: he rarely
changed his opinions, never his resolutions.

He only stroked the little ungloved hands that lay on the carriage

'I must, May. The old boy's been awfully good to me, and now he's
dying I must go and see him, but I shall come home in time for---' the
rest of the parting was lost in a whisper and in the rattling lurch of
the starting train.

'You're sure to come?' she spoke as the train moved.

'Nothing shall keep me,' he answered; and we steamed out. After he had
seen the last of the little figure on the platform he leaned back in
his corner and kept silence for a minute.

When he spoke it was to explain to me that his godfather, whose heir
he was, lay dying at Peasmarsh Place, some fifty miles away, and had
sent for John, and John had felt bound to go.

'I shall be surely back tomorrow,' he said, 'or, if not, the day
after, in heaps of time. Thank heaven, one hasn't to get up in the
middle of the night to get married nowadays!'

'And suppose Mr Branbridge dies?'

'Alive or dead I mean to be married on Thursday!' John answered,
lighting a cigar and unfolding The Times.

At Peasmarsh station we said 'goodbye', and he got out, and I saw him
ride off; I went on to London, where I stayed the night.

When I got home the next afternoon, a very wet one, by the way, my
sister greeted me with:

'Where's Mr Charrington?'

'Goodness knows,' I answered testily. Every man, since Cain, has
resented that kind of question.

'I thought you might have heard from him,' she went on, 'as you're to
give him away tomorrow.'

'Isn't he back?' I asked, for I had confidently expected to find him
at home.

'No, Geoffrey,' my sister Fanny always had a way of jumping to
conclusions, especially such conclusions as were least favourable to
her fellow-creatures--'he has not returned, and, what is more, you may
depend upon it he won't. You mark my words, there'll be no wedding

My sister Fanny has a power of annoying me which no other human being

'You mark my words,' I retorted with asperity, 'you had better give up
making such a thundering idiot of yourself. There'll be more wedding
tomorrow than ever you'll take the first part in.' A prophecy which,
by the way, came true.

But though I could snarl confidently to my sister, I did not feel so
comfortable when late that night, I, standing on the doorstep of
John's house, heard that he had not returned. I went home gloomily
through the rain. Next morning brought a brilliant blue sky, gold sun,
and all such softness of air and beauty of cloud as go to make up a
perfect day. I woke with a vague feeling of having gone to bed
anxious, and of being rather averse to facing that anxiety in the
light of full wakefulness.

But with my shaving-water came a note from John which relieved my mind
and sent me up to the Forsters with a light heart.

May was in the garden. I saw her blue gown through the hollyhocks as
the lodge gates swung to behind me. So I did not go up to the house,
but turned aside down the turfed path.

'He's written to you too,' she said, without preliminary greeting,
when I reached her side.

'Yes, I'm to meet him at the station at three, and come straight on to
the church.'

Her face looked pale, but there was a brightness in her eyes, and a
tender quiver about the mouth that spoke of renewed happiness.

'Mr Branbridge begged him so to stay another night that he had not the
heart to refuse,' she went on. 'He is so kind, but I wish he hadn't

I was at the station at half past two. I felt rather annoyed with
John. It seemed a sort of slight to the beautiful girl who loved him,
that he should come as it were out of breath, and with the dust of
travel upon him, to take her hand, which some of us would have given
the best years of our lives to take.

But when the three' o'clock train glided in, and glided out again
having brought no passengers to our little station, I was more than
annoyed. There was no other train for thirty-five minutes; I
calculated that, with much hurry, we might just get to the church in
time for the ceremony; but, oh, what a fool to miss that first train!
What other man could have done it?

That thirty-five minutes seemed a year, as I wandered round the
station reading the advertisements and the timetables, and the
company's bye-laws, and getting more and more angry with John
Charrington. This confidence in his own power of getting everything he
wanted the minute he wanted it was leading him too far. I hate
waiting. Everyone does, but I believe I hate it more than anyone else.
The three thirty-five was late, of course.

'Drive to the church!' I said, as someone shut the door. 'Mr
Charrington hasn't come by this train.'

I ground my pipe between my teeth and stamped with impatience as I
watched the signals. Click. The signal went down. Five minutes later I
flung myself into the carriage that I had brought for John.

Anxiety now replaced anger. What had become of the man? Could he have
been taken suddenly ill? I had never known him have a day's illness in
his life. And even so he might have telegraphed. Some awful accident
must have happened to him. The thought that he had played her false
never--no, not for a moment--entered my head. Yes, some thing terrible
had happened to him, and on me lay the task of telling his bride. I
almost wished the carriage would upset and break my head so that
someone else might tell her, not I, who--but that's nothing to do with
this story.

It was five minutes to four as we drew up at the churchyard gate. A
double row of eager onlookers lined the path from lychgate to porch. I
sprang from the carriage and passed up between them. Our gardener had
a good front place near the door. I stopped.

'Are they waiting still, Byles?' I asked, simply to gain time, for of
course I knew they were by the waiting crowd's attentive attitude.

'Waiting, sir? No, no, sir; why, it must be over by now.'

'Over! Then Mr Charrington's come?'

To the minute, sir; must have missed you somehow, and I say, sir,'
lowering his voice, 'I never see Mr John the least bit so afore, but
my opinion is he's been drinking pretty free. His clothes was all
dusty and his face like a sheet. I tell you I didn't like the looks of
him at all, and the folks inside are saying all sorts of things.
You'll see, something's gone very wrong with Mr John, and he's tried
liquor. He looked like a ghost, and in he went with his eyes straight
before him, with never a look or a word for none of us: him that was
always such a gentleman!'

I had never heard Byles make so long a speech. The crowd in the
churchyard were talking in whispers and getting ready rice and
slippers to throw at the bride and bridegroom. The ringers were ready
with their hands on the ropes to ring out the merry peal as the bride
and bride-groom should come out.

A murmur from the church announced them; out they came. Byles was
right. John Charrington did not look himself. There was dust on his
coat, his hair was disarranged. He seemed to have been in some row,
for there was a black mark above his eyebrow. He was deathly pale. But
his pallor was not greater than that of the bride, who might have been
carved in ivory--dress, veil, orange blossoms, face and all.

As they passed out the ringers stooped--there were six of them--and
then, on the ears expecting the gay wedding peal, came the slow
tolling of the passing bell.

A thrill of horror at so foolish a jest from the ringers passed
through us all. But the ringers themselves dropped the ropes and fled
like rabbits out into the sunlight. The bride shuddered, and grey
shadows came about her mouth, but the bridegroom led her on down the
path where the people stood with the handfuls of rice; but the
handfuls were never thrown, and the wedding bells never rang. In vain
the ringers were urged to remedy their mistake: they protested with
many whispered expletives that they would see themselves further

In a hush like the hush in the chamber of death the bridal pair passed
into their carriage and its door slammed behind them.

Then the tongues were loosed. A babel of anger, wonder, conjecture
from the guests and the spectators.

'If I'd seen his condition, sir,' said old Forster to me as we drove
off, 'I would have stretched him on the floor of the church, sir, by
heaven I would, before I'd have let him marry my daughter!'

Then he put his head out of the window.

'Drive like hell,' he cried to the coachman; 'don't spare the horses.'

He was obeyed. We passed the bride's carriage. I forbore to look at
it, and old Forster turned his head away and swore. We reached home
before it.

We stood in the doorway, in the blazing afternoon sun, and in about
half a minute we heard wheels crunching the gravel. When the carriage
stopped in front of the steps old Forster and I ran down.

'Great heaven, the carriage is empty! And yet---'

I had the door open in a minute, and this is what I saw . . .

No sign of John Charrington; and of May, his wife, only a huddled heap
of white satin lying half on the floor of the carriage and half on the

'I drove straight here, sir,' said the coachman, as the bride's father
lifted her out; 'and I'll swear no one got out of the carriage.'

We carried her into the house in her bridal dress and drew back her
veil. I saw her face. Shall I ever forget it? White, white and drawn
with agony and horror, bearing such a look of terror as I have never
seen since except in dreams. And her hair, her radiant blonde hair, I
tell you it was white like snow.

As we stood, her father and I, half mad with the horror and mystery of
it, a boy came up the avenue--a telegraph boy. They brought the orange
envelope to me. I tore it open.

Mr Charrington was thrown from the dogcart on his way to the station
at half past one. Killed on the spot!

And he was married to May Forster in our parish church at half past
three, in presence of half the parish.

'I shall be married, dead, or alive!'

What had passed in that carriage on the homeward drive? No one knows--
no one will ever know. Oh, May! oh, my dear!

Before a week was over they laid her beside her husband in our little
churchyard on the thyme-covered hill--the churchyard where they had
kept their love-trysts.

Thus was accomplished John Charrington's wedding.


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