These days of preparation were happy days for Isabel. As Hagar, the gipsy, had prophesied, she was moving now towards her polar star, and was looking neither to right nor left. At Christmas she went to Yorkshire to visit relatives, Sir Clifford and Lady Constable at Burton Constable. There she decided to await Richard's coming.
"The memory of her husband was always with Lady Burton. . . . Until death claimed her, her sole ambition was to reveal him to the world as the true, honourable, and noble man whom she had known and loved "
Photo, W. S. Stuart
She had not been in the house long, however, before she happened to pick up a copy of the "Times," which had just arrived. She glanced at the paper casually, and there, to her astonishment, saw a paragraph which announced that Captain Burton had returned that morning from America.
"I was unable," she wrote, "except by great resolution, to continue what I was doing. I soon retired to my room, and sat up all night, packing, and conjecturing how 1 should get away - all my numerous plans tending to a 'bolt' next morning - should I get an affectionate letter from Richard."
She received two letters, and, within twelve hours, contrived also to receive a wire summoning her to London on important business. There Burton met her. His manner was severe and firm. " Now you must make up your mind," he said, " . . . if you choose me, we marry and I stay; if not, I go back to India, or on other explorations, and I return no more. Is your answer ready ?"
"Quite," Isabel answered. ' I marry you this day three weeks, let who will say nay."
But of this date Burton did not approve. Wednesday the 23rd and Friday the 13th, he said, were their unlucky days. The wedding must take place on Tuesday, January 22. And so it was arranged.
Isabel went to acquaint her parents with this decision. "I consent with all my heart," the father said, " if your mother consents." And with this Isabel's brothers and sisters agreed, but Mrs. Arundell was obdurate; she refused to yield an inch.
Isabel, therefore, consulted Cardinal Wise-man, and laid all the facts of the case before him. He listened sympathetically, and, when she had finished her story, told her to leave the matter in his hands. Then he sent for Burton, and questioned him closely. "Practise her religion, indeed ! " said the latter, undaunted by the cross-examination. "I should rather think she shall. A man without a religion may be excused, but a woman without a religion is not the woman for me."
This answer amused the Cardinal, but it also convinced him that Burton was, at least, sincere. He offered, therefore, himself to perform the marriage ceremony, and undertook to procure from Rome a special dispensation.
On the following day the family met to devise some course of action. It was obviously imperative that, at the time, Mrs. Arundell should hear nothing of the wedding. Accordingly, it was deemed best that Isabel should be married from the house of friends, and that friends only should attend the ceremony. Ostensibly, therefore, she made preparations to pay a visit in the country.
"At nine o'clock on Tuesday, January 22, 1861," she wrote, "my cab was at the door, with my box on it. 1 had to go and wish my father and mother good-bye before leaving. I went downstairs with a beating heart. ... I was so nervous, I could scarcely stand. ... I then ran downstairs, and quickly got into the cab, and drove to the house .... where I changed my clothes, and . . . drove to the Bavarian Catholic Church, Warwick Street. When assembled, we were altogether a party of eight. ... As the 10.30 Mass was about to begin we were called into the sacristy, and we found that the Cardinal, in the night, had been seized with an acute attack of illness . . . and had deputed Dr. Hearne, his vicar-general, to be his proxy.
"After the ceremony was over . . . we went back to the house of our friends, Dr. Bird and his sister Alice . . . where we had our wedding-breakfast. . . . We then went to Richard's bachelor lodgings, where he had a bedroom, dressing-room, and sitting-room; and we had a very few pounds to bless ourselves with, but we were as happy as it is given to any mortals out of heaven to be."
Their joint income was only £350 a year, but they were utterly contented, and, owing to Isabel's tact and irresistible influence, immediately they were able to assume a prominent position in society. Isabel was determined to prevent Burton's brilliance from rusting in obscurity. And she succeeded admirably. The Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, gave a dinner-party specially to honour the newly wedded couple. And even Queen Victoria, contrary to all precedents, allowed the bride of a runaway marriage to be presented to her at Court.
Three months after her marriage, moreover, Isabel secured for her husband official recognition. It was only a humble appointment which the Government offered him, it is true, the consulate of Fernando Po, a deadly spot on the West Coast of Africa. No white woman could live in such a place. But, none the less, Burton accepted the offer, and went out alone. Isabel allowed him no alternative. It was her wish, she declared, to be a help to him, not a handicap. Besides, she maintained, to climb the official ladder, it was necessary to begin on the lowest rung.
For the sake of his career, therefore, she cheerfully sacrificed immediate happiness. Only to herself did she admit the bitterness of her disappointment. "One's husband in a place where I am not allowed to go, and I living with my mother like a girl," she wrote in her diary. "I am neither maid nor wife nor widow." It was intolerable. But one thing was very clear. Another position must be found for Burton. And she found it. Indeed, she gave Lord Russell, the Foreign Secretary, no peace, until at last, in desperation, he offered to Burton a consulate in Brazil.
There Isabel could join him. And henceforth she was never away from him for long. Wherever he went, there was she working with him or working for him. And she did for him what he could never have done for himself; she forced England to appreciate his greatness. " You will have seen from the papers," she wrote to a friend in 1886, that the Conservatives on going out made Dick Sir Richard Burton, K.c.m.g. . The Queen's recognition of Dick's forty-four years of service was sweetly done at last, sent for our silver wedding, and she fold a friend of mine that she was pleased to confer something which would include both husband and wife."
There is a splendid tone of triumph in this letter. Success had been slow in coming, and now, well-deserved though it was, it came almost too late. Even Burton's iron constitution had been shattered, and although he lingered on until 1890, .his health was failing fast. He died on the morning of October 20. "By the clasp of the hand, and a little trickle of blood running under the finger," wrote Isabel, " I judged that there was a little life until seven, and then I knew that. . . I was alone and desolate for ever."
But his memory was always with her. And henceforth, until death claimed her, too, her sole ambition was to reveal Burton to the world as the true, honourable, and noble man whom she had known and loved. During his lifetime he had been misunderstood and cruelly misjudged. There were many stains upon his memory. These must be removed. Certainly more must not be added, and it was for this reason that his wife destroyed the pages of " The Scented Garden," his last unpublished manuscript. Many might read the book, but only a very few would appreciate it or understand. Therefore she burned it, page by page, and robbed the world of a masterpiece of literature. A publisher offered her £6,000 for the manuscript before he had ever seen it. And £6,000 meant much to Lady Burton. She had been left very scantily provided for. But she refused the offer. In her eyes there was something more precious than fame or wealth, and that something was her husband's memory - his memory and his good name.