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The Law and the Lady

Wilkie Collins

  Produced by John Hamm, and James Rusk


  by Wilkie Collins



  IN offering this book to you, I have no Preface to write. I have onlyto request that you will bear in mind certain established truths, whichoccasionally escape your memory when you are reading a work of fiction.Be pleased, then, to remember (First): That the actions of human beingsare not invariably governed by the laws of pure reason. (Secondly):That we are by no means always in the habit of bestowing our love onthe objects which are the most deserving of it, in the opinions ofour friends. (Thirdly and Lastly): That Characters which may not haveappeared, and Events which may not have taken place, within the limitsof our own individual experience, may nevertheless be perfectly naturalCharacters and perfectly probable Events, for all that. Having saidthese few words, I have said all that seems to be necessary at thepresent time, in presenting my new Story to your notice.

  W. C.

  LONDON, February 1, 1875.




  "FOR after this manner in the old time the holy women also who trustedin God adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands;even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose daughters ye areas long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement."

  Concluding the Marriage Service of the Church of England in thosewell-known words, my uncle Starkweather shut up his book, and looked atme across the altar rails with a hearty expression of interest on hisbroad, red face. At the same time my aunt, Mrs. Starkweather, standingby my side, tapped me smartly on the shoulder, and said,

  "Valeria, you are married!"

  Where were my thoughts? What had become of my attention? I was toobewildered to know. I started and looked at my new husband. He seemedto be almost as much bewildered as I was. The same thought had, asI believe, occurred to us both at the same moment. Was it reallypossible--in spite of his mother's opposition to our marriage--that wewere Man and Wife? My aunt Starkweather settled the question by a secondtap on my shoulder.

  "Take his arm!" she whispered, in the tone of a woman who had lost allpatience with me.

  I took his arm.

  "Follow your uncle."

  Holding fast by my husband's arm, I followed my uncle and the curate whohad assisted him at the marriage.

  The two clergymen led us into the vestry. The church was in one of thedreary quarters of London, situated between the City and the WestEnd; the day was dull; the atmosphere was heavy and damp. We were amelancholy little wedding party, worthy of the dreary neighborhood andthe dull day. No relatives or friends of my husband's were present; hisfamily, as I have already hinted, disapproved of his marriage. Exceptmy uncle and my aunt, no other relations appeared on my side. I had lostboth my parents, and I had but few friends. My dear father's faithfulold clerk, Benjamin, attended the wedding to "give me away," as thephrase is. He had known me from a child, and, in my forlorn position, hewas as good as a father to me.

  The last ceremony left to be performed was, as usual, the signing of themarriage register. In the confusion of the moment (and in the absence ofany information to guide me) I committed a mistake--ominous, in my auntStarkweather's opinion, of evil to come. I signed my married instead ofmy maiden name.

  "What!" cried my uncle, in his loudest and cheeriest tones, "you haveforgotten your own name already? Well, well! let us hope you will neverrepent parting with it so readily. Try again, Valeria--try again."

  With trembling fingers I struck the pen through my first effort, andwrote my maiden name, very badly indeed, as follows:

  Valeria Brinton

  When it came to my husband's turn I noticed, with surprise, that hishand trembled too, and that he produced a very poor specimen of hiscustomary signature:

  Eustace Woodville

  My aunt, on being requested to sign, complied under protest. "A badbeginning!" she said, pointing to my first unfortunate signature withthe feather end of her pen. "I hope, my dear, you may not live to regretit."

  Even then, in the days of my ignorance and my innocence, that curiousoutbreak of my aunt's superstition produced a certain uneasy sensationin my mind. It was a consolation to me to feel the reassuring pressureof my husband's hand. It was an indescribable relief to hear my uncle'shearty voice wishing me a happy life at parting. The good man had lefthis north-country Vicarage (my home since the death of my parents)expressly to read the service at my marriage; and he and my aunt hadarranged to return by the mid-day train. He folded me in his greatstrong arms, and he gave me a kiss which must certainly have been heardby the idlers waiting for the bride and bridegroom outside the churchdoor.

  "I wish you health and happiness, my love, with all my heart. You areold enough to choose for yourself, and--no offense, Mr. Woodville, youand I are new friends--and I pray God, Valeria, it may turn out thatyou have chosen well. Our house will be dreary enough without you; butI don't complain, my dear. On the contrary, if this change in your lifemakes you happier, I rejoice. Come, come! don't cry, or you will setyour aunt off--and it's no joke at her time of life. Besides, cryingwill spoil your beauty. Dry your eyes and look in the glass there, andyou will see that I am right. Good-by, child--and God bless you!"

  He tucked my aunt under his arm, and hurried out. My heart sank alittle, dearly as I loved my husband, when I had seen the last of thetrue friend and protector of my maiden days.

  The parting with old Benjamin came next. "I wish you well, my dear;don't forget me," was all he said. But the old days at home came backon me at those few words. Benjamin always dined with us on Sundays in myfather's time, and always brought some little present with him for hismaster's child. I was very near to "spoiling my beauty" (as my uncle hadput it) when I offered the old man my cheek to kiss, and heard him sighto himself, as if he too were not quite hopeful about my future life.

  My husband's voice roused me, and turned my mind to happier thoughts.

  "Shall we go, Valeria?" he asked.

  I stopped him on our way out to take advantage of my uncle's advice; inother words, to see how I looked in the glass over the vestry fireplace.

  What does the glass show me?

  The glass shows a tall and slender young woman of three-and-twenty yearsof age. She is not at all the sort of person who attracts attention inthe street, seeing that she fails to exhibit the popular yellow hair andthe popular painted cheeks. Her hair is black; dressed, in these laterdays (as it was dressed years since to please her father), in broadripples drawn back from the forehead, and gathered into a simple knotbehind (like the hair of the Venus de Medicis), so as to show the neckbeneath. Her complexion is pale: except in moments of violent agitationthere is no color to be seen in her face. Her eyes are of so dark a bluethat they are generally mistaken for black. Her eyebrows are well enoughin form, but they are too dark and too strongly marked. Her nose justinclines toward the aquiline bend, and is considered a little too largeby persons difficult to please in the matter of noses. The mouth, herbest feature, is very delicately shaped, and is capable of presentinggreat varieties of expression. As to the face in general, it is toonarrow and too long at the lower part, too broad and too low in thehigher regions of the eyes and the head. The whole picture, as reflectedin the glass, represents a woman of some elegance, rather too pale, andrather too sedate and serious in her moments of silence and repose--inshort, a person who fails to strike the ordinary observer at firstsight, but who gains in general estimation on a second, and sometimeson a third view. As for her dress, it studiously conceals, instead ofproclaiming, that she has been married that morning. She wears a graycashmere tunic trimme
d with gray silk, and having a skirt of thesame material and color beneath it. On her head is a bonnet to match,relieved by a quilling of white muslin with one deep red rose, as amorsel of positive color, to complete the effect of the whole dress.

  Have I succeeded or failed in describing the picture of myself which Isee in the glass? It is not for me to say. I have done my best to keepclear of the two vanities--the vanity of depreciating and the vanity ofpraising my own personal appearance. For the rest, well written or badlywritten, thank Heaven it is done!

  And whom do I see in the glass standing by my side?

  I see a man who is not quite so tall as I am, and who has the misfortuneof looking older than his years. His forehead is prematurely bald.His big chestnut-colored beard and his long overhanging mustache areprematurely streaked with gray. He has the color in the face which myface wants, and the firmness in his figure which my figure wants. Helooks at me with the tenderest and gentlest eyes (of a light brown) thatI ever saw in the countenance of a man. His smile is rare and sweet; hismanner, perfectly quiet and retiring, has yet a latent persuasiveness init which is (to women) irresistibly winning. He just halts a little inhis walk, from the effect of an injury received in past years, when hewas a soldier serving in India, and he carries a thick bamboo cane,with a curious crutch handle (an old favorite), to help himself alongwhenever he gets on his feet, in doors or out. With this one littledrawback (if it is a drawback), there is nothing infirm or old orawkward about him; his slight limp when he walks has (perhaps to mypartial eyes) a certain quaint grace of its own, which is pleasanter tosee than the unrestrained activity of other men. And last and bestof all, I love him! I love him! I love him! And there is an end of myportrait of my husband on our wedding-day.

  The glass has told me all I want to know. We leave the vestry at last.

  The sky, cloudy since the morning, has darkened while we have beenin the church, and the rain is beginning to fall heavily. The idlersoutside stare at us grimly under their umbrellas as we pass throughtheir ranks and hasten into our carriage. No cheering; no sunshine; noflowers strewn in our path; no grand breakfast; no genial speeches; nobridesmaids; no fathers or mother's blessing. A dreary wedding--thereis no denying it--and (if Aunt Starkweather is right) a bad beginning aswell!

  A _coup_ has been reserved for us at the railway station. The attentiveporter, on the look-out for his fee pulls down the blinds over the sidewindows of the carriage, and shuts out all prying eyes in that way.After what seems to be an interminable delay the train starts. Myhusband winds his arm round me. "At last!" he whispers, with love inhis eyes that no words can utter, and presses me to him gently. My armsteals round his neck; my eyes answer his eyes. Our lips meet in thefirst long, lingering kiss of our married life.

  Oh, what recollections of that journey rise in me as I write! Let me drymy eyes, and shut up my paper for the day.