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Authors: Allan Mallinson

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BOOK: Hervey 09 - Man Of War
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‘She has a very kind face,’ said Georgiana at length, admiringly. ‘And she looks very happy.’

Hervey had observed the same: all was revealed in the eyes, which sparkled exactly as he remembered. ‘Indeed. We were engaged to be married.’

‘And she is very beautiful.’

‘She is.’ He caught himself echoing Georgiana’s present tense, and resolved to correct it as he elaborated: ‘She was as beautiful as any I ever saw.’

Another long silence followed, in which Georgiana examined every aspect of the painting. And then she stepped back, as if to take in the whole once more. ‘But Lady Lankester is very beautiful too.’

Hervey swallowed. Georgiana’s capacity to surprise was disconcerting. ‘Indeed.’

She took two more paces back, and towards him. ‘And Lady Lankester is now to take Mama’s place. Aunt Elizabeth says that I am very fortunate to have such a mother.’

Hervey cleared his throat. ‘Fortunate . . . yes. But deserving also.’

‘What does Aunt Elizabeth think of the painting, Papa?’

Hervey’s insides twisted in the peculiar way they did when he was suddenly confronted with some dereliction: he had not even thought to tell Elizabeth of it, let alone to have her see it – and Henrietta had been her best friend. ‘I . . . I believe I wanted you to know of it first,’ he said, hopefully.

‘And Lady Lankester, does she know of it? Shall it come with us to Africa?’

‘I’m not yet resolved on that, my dear. It is, as I said, barely a month since I myself was first acquainted with the painting.’

‘I hope it does
not
make you sad, Papa. I know, of course, that I cannot feel the same as do you, because I never knew Mama, but we are now to begin a new life, are we not? We shall be together for the first time! I wish Aunt Elizabeth could be with us, but she will have her own family, new, just as ours. I hope she will be as happy as we shall be.’

Hervey was rendered speechless once more: he could not have spoken even if he had known what to say. ‘This is eloquence’, he marvelled, somewhere in his mind, echo of something he had read years ago and had forgotten what or where.
This is eloquence
. For Henrietta could be no more, and neither could their love, for ever now unrequited. Never could there
be
such love again. Yet be some sort of love there must – ay, and with it its compensations. For his family’s sake; for his own. Else he would find himself again as he was in that cell at Badajoz . . .

Presently, seeing Georgiana looking at him and not the painting, he took her hand, smiled at her, and led her from the room, unhurriedly but without speaking. Perhaps, now, the ghost was laid to rest. He could not quite tell what or how, but there was a change . . . Curiously, and possibly for the first time, he felt altogether composed for what the morning – the rest of his life – promised. He was, indeed, at peace.

XXII
AN HONOURABLE ESTATE

Next morning, Waterloo Day, 1828

The wedding was an altogether smaller affair than had been the first nuptials of either Hervey or Kezia.

Eleven years earlier, in May 1817, Captain Matthew Hervey and Lady Henrietta Lindsay, ward of the Marquess of Bath, had been joined in stately matrimony at Longleat House amid resplendent uniforms, the regimental band and a guard of honour formed by the non-commissioned officers. And but three years ago, Kezia, only daughter of Sir Delaval Rumsey, Bart, and of Lady Rumsey, and Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Ivo Lankester, Bart, had been joined in very county matrimony at Walden in Hertfordshire, the families of that and the neighbouring shires joining in the grandest of wedding breakfasts at Walden Park.

This morning, however, at St George’s church in Hanover Square, there was not a uniform to be seen, and the music was the organ’s, though a rather grand instrument on which Handel himself had played (the organist this morning played sober glees). Indeed, to Hervey’s taste, the whole church was rather too austere, singularly lacking in ornament except for the gilded names of rectors and churchwardens on the panels of the gallery, and a reredos-painting of the Last Supper, which he thought very dull compared with those he had seen in Rome. It was, however, not an unhappy interior: the late-morning sun streamed through the brilliant plain glass of the Venetian window above, and there were flowers, fashionable hats and silks.

There was an equal number, a dozen or so, on either side of the nave, some standing, some sitting in the high box pews – Hervey’s immediate family and brother officers, including Lord Holderness, and some of Kezia’s family and friends, from both town and country. Georgiana wore dark blue, and yellow ribbons, the only touch of regimental colour among the congregation (Elizabeth had taken some pains with the millinery), for even Private Johnson wore plain clothes. And there was Kat, in a turban and a magnificent pelisse of green silk, a beauty to turn every head, male and female.

If only Peto had been there – whole or in his invalid state, and Elizabeth at his side . . . Hervey, standing with Lord John Howard between the soaring Corinthian columns at the top of St George’s elegant steps, greeting the guests as they arrived, could not give up the idea of a reconciliation, even now. The thought of his friend’s lonely return to Norfolk, the inevitable if gradual rejection by society (for a man with such disfigurement, even with a Bath Star at his breast, could be no adornment to their pretty world) . . . this saddest of thoughts exercised him more each day. Indeed there were moments when he did not think he could return to the Cape, leaving his old friend thus.

As the appointed hour approached, Hervey and Lord John Howard took their places at the front of the nave. And soon after eleven o’clock, Kezia, on the arm of her father, with her attendant, a married cousin, began her decorous procession towards the chancel, the organ accompanying them with something Hervey did not recognize, nor hardly even notice. They had spoken little of the arrangements, for he had understood the difficulty, perhaps, of the undertaking: his own wedding, notwithstanding its bitter-sweet memories, was some time past, whereas Kezia’s must yet be vivid in her mind’s eye, and that of her family (although it had lately occurred to him how similar were their circumstances, each having lost a marriage partner, violently and within a year of being wed, and each with a child made at once unknowledgeable of a parent). He turned to glimpse his bride.

Kezia’s appearance was indeed arresting. She wore a dress of levantine, narrow coral stripes on cream, lowwaisted as was the fashion, the skirt spread full at the hem; and in her hair were flowers and ribbons above a lace cap. If he had been capable of admitting it, he would have owned that her appearance was in truth as pleasing to him as that of his first bride. And a curious triumphing sense overcame him, a strange notion that there advanced on him Lady Lankester, the widowed wife of a regimental hero, himself the brother of a fallen paragon, and that she would retire as Mrs Matthew Hervey . . . He could not explain it (or if he could he would not wish to), but it was as if he crossed a threshold, perhaps one that he had not before even recognized. It thrilled and invigorated him to a remarkable degree. And he wished devoutly –
no
, irreverently – for its consummation.

As the bridal procession reached the east end of the nave, Kezia turned to acknowledge her husband-to-be. It was with a look more of composure than of joy, but, he was sure, it was a look of the surest beginnings.

‘Dearly beloved,’ began the rector, the Reverend Mr Hodgson, whose ministration Kezia had been at some pains to secure since his plurality of livings made his attendance variable and by no means consistent.

Hervey now forced himself to listen with due attention to the solemn words. He had heard them many a time, and always with due regard, for as the Prayer Book said, they were gathered together in the sight of God.

The Reverend Mr Hodgson read the words with compelling weight: they were come, he announced, ‘to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church . . . and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly’ (Hervey was sure in his own advice) ‘lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding’ (he was certain that, whatever instincts were awakened, he did not marry like a brute beast without understanding); ‘but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.’

Hervey looked again at his bride, but she maintained her strictly forward gaze.

The rector reminded his congregants of the purposes of the married state: ‘First, It was ordained for the procreation of children . . .’

Hervey had not considered this in any particular, but in the natural consequence of events he imagined there would be issue.

‘Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency . . .’

This he knew to be so, and was heartily resolved upon it.

‘Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.’

This was indeed his design, the remedy he had resolved on in Badajoz, yet which he had never imagined was to be had so quickly or so favourably.

And so the ceremony proceeded. Hervey’s thoughts flitted from past to present in a dizzy tableau of his life – its joys, reverses and errors, the people who had been kind to him and those who had not, the people on whom he depended and who in their turn depended on him. What did the sacred poet say?

Freely we serve,
Because we freely love, as in our will
To love or not; in this we stand or fall.

Yes, he had lost a paradise in the white wastes of America; now he would in the largest measure possible regain it: ‘I, Matthew Paulinus, take thee . . .’

And with these words, Hervey plighted his troth.

‘I, Kezia Charlotte Marjoribanks, take thee . . .’

And thereto Lady Lankester gave him her troth.

At the wedding breakfast, at the house of Kezia’s aunt in Hanover Street, the families became acquainted in a more or less agreeable way, although Hervey’s mother – as she had feared – imagined herself addressed a deal too highly by the bride’s mother (and she some years Lady Rumsey’s senior, too), but the presence of so many of Hervey’s brother officers, and Lord Holderness, gave the happy event a more appropriate liveliness.

Hervey had eyes not only for his bride, however, but for Georgiana – somewhat anxious eyes to begin with, until by degrees he assured himself that she was as happy with the day as was he.

Even Kat appeared happy – and greatly to his joy (and no little relief). When he spoke to her in the garden she was all smiles and felicitations. ‘An adorable creature, Matthew. I perfectly see now your attachment. She will make you the finest colonel’s lady. I am certain of it!’

Hervey smiled by return (he hoped not awkwardly).

‘I have sent you both a little present. I hope it will please you.’

‘Kat, I—’

‘And I have news – received this very morning, else of course I would have told you of it before. It will delight you, I’m sure.’

Hervey looked suddenly doubtful.

‘After you told me of poor Captain Peto’s misfortune I wrote at once to my good friend George Cholmondeley at Houghton – do you know him?’

Hervey shook his head.

‘He is Marquess,’ she explained. ‘But he succeeded only last year,’ she added, as if this somehow excused her former beau his not knowing.

‘Kat, what can this possibly—’

‘He is the dearest boy – your age, I would think. He married very young, and lost his wife not long after.’

‘Kat, this is too—’

‘I told him of your old friend’s circumstances, and he replies that he will take it upon himself to receive Captain Peto at Houghton, to give him quarters there – I think it very near where you said he had taken the lease on a house, and near where he was born? – and indeed to attend to all his material and spiritual needs until such time as he is able to return to his own. Such is dear George’s patriotic admiration of his service. You need have no further anxiety on your friend’s behalf!’

Hervey was for the moment quite speechless. He recovered only with the most conscious effort. ‘Kat, the marquess does this on your recommendation alone? He does not know him?’

‘Ye-es, Matthew,’ she replied, sounding perhaps surprised at Hervey’s own surprise.

‘Kat . . . Truly, I am all astonishment. It is the most perfect thing imaginable. And come at such a time, on this day: it makes me so very happy. How shall I ever thank you? I am ever in your debt.’ He kissed her hand, smiled with such gratitude as he never imagined to possess, and took his leave of her utterly content.

At the Horse Guards, the windows full open to admit the music of the band of the Grenadiers on the parade ground, crescendo and decrescendo as they marched and counter-marched, Lord Hill was considering the military secretary’s memorandum of the bi-annual Board of General Officers. From the list marked ‘Majors certified willing and qualified to purchase’, the board had selected seventeen of the forty-three names, a process in the main derived from seniority, but some by recommendation of especial merit. The commander-in-chief nodded as he saw and approved each one, and the regiment of which they were to purchase the lieutenant-colonelcy.

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