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The Day of Their Wedding
By William Dean Howells, 1895
IT was bright day when she came back to him from the sleeping-car, but he had not yet awakened. She stood looking down at him and smiling, and presently he started awake and stared distractedly up at her before he could pull himself together and say, "Well, well! Did you sleep pretty well?"
"I rested pretty well," she answered. "how did you?"
Lorenzo laughed. "I guess I slept pretty Well, but I don't believe I rested very much. But I've got the whole day to rest in now." Althea had Friend Ella Shewall's hat and sack both on, and she waited for him to realize the fact before she sat down. "Well, well," he said, in recognition, "that sack is nice."
"Well?" she urged, as if she felt a disappointment in his tone.
"Well, what do you think?"
"It don't seem to go exactly with the dress."
"Nay," said Lorenzo, with his laugh. "It makes you look like the world-outside one-half, and the other half Shaker."
"Yee, it does," said Althea, forlornly; her chin trembled a little, and her eyes threatened tears. "I guess it's all we're ever going to be, too, Lorenzo: half Shaker and half world-outside," she added, bitterly. "I guess I better go back into the sleeping-car and put on my old shawl and bonnet again."
"No such a thing!" cried Lorenzo. "I guess we'll see about that when we get to Saratoga--we must be pretty near there now. Set right down here, and I'll go back for your things."
"Nay, the colored man said he would bring them." Althea sank into the seat and got out the handkerchief, broad as a napkin, which she had brought from the Family with her, and wiped the tears from her eyes. Then she bowed her face into it, and her little frame shook with the sobs she smothered.
"Well! well!" groaned Lorenzo, in an anguish of tenderness.
Althea suddenly took her handkerchief away and controlled her face. "There! I am ashamed, Lorenzo."
"Nay, don't you say that, Althea. You've got just as much right to cry as anybody, and I want you should cry."
"Nay, I've got through now," said Altlica; and to prove it she smiled up into his face so radiantly that he laughed, and she laughed with him.
The porter with her bag and parcels perhaps thought he had arrived at a fortunate moment. He set the bag respectfully at her feet, and kept a smiling face on Lorenzo while he arranged the parcels almost decoratively on her lap. Then he lingered a moment; the smile died on his face, and he went mournfully away. They both felt the gloom in his manner, aud were sensible of a vague reproach in it.
"What was it, Lorenzo?" she asked.
"Well, that was just what I was going to ask you, Althea," said Lorenzo. They wondered over the incident so sadly closed, and their minds were not wholly taken from it until they drew in sight of Saratoga and the train began to slow. They ran along the backs of some simple houses whose yards and gardens were shorn off by the track, and then the vast bulks of the hotels began to show among the foliage that everywhere masses itself over the town. "This must be it," said Lorenzo, and they looked at each other in a sudden fright. "No use being scared about it now," he added, as he resolutely gathered up Althea's belongings and stood aside to let her get out of the car. The conductor who took her elbow to help her down from it let Lorenzo shift for himself, and the embarrassment they felt was relieved for them both by his dropping some of the parcels, and their having to pick them up from under the feet of the crowd thronging into the station. She made him let her keep some of them now, and they passed through the station to the street beyond, where there was a clamor of carriage drivers, and a rank of stately hacks and barouches, and light, wood-colored surreys and phaetons. The drivers swarmed upon them, but as they stood silent and motionless under their burdens the drivers dropped off one by one, like dogs that have rushed out at a passer and have failed to make the expected impression upon him. At last they were free, and they walked from the station under the flank of a mighty hotel into a wide street, where they found it one hotel of many, with sweeping piazzas and narrow pillars springing into the air like the stems of tall young trees. The street was freshly watered, and smelled of the dampened dust; it was set with elms, and under their arches stood vehicles of the same sort and variety as those at the station. Some drove slowly up and down through the sun and shadow; but their drivers, after a glance at Lorenzo and Althea struggling along under their parcels, intelligently forbore to invite them to a morning drive.
"I guess we sha'n't want to go to any hotel just yet," said Lorenzo. "We can get breakfast at an eating-house, if we can find one."
"Yee," Althea timidly assented.
They had to walk up and down a long while before they found an eating-house. Lorenzo began to be afraid there was nothing but hotels in Saratoga. They trudged along, staring at all the signs, and the shopkeepers, sweeping the dust of their floors across the pavement to the gutters, had to stop for them to get slowly by or else sweep it against them. Althea knew that Lorenzo looked well, but she was smitten with a sense of her own inadequate appearance, and she tried to shrink as much out of sight as possible.
"Here's one at last," said Lorenzo, stopping at a doorway. "Go right in, Althea," he added to her at a certain faltering she showed. "It's all right. It's just like the one Friend Nason took me to in Fitchburg."
It seemed very splendid with its mirrors and marble-topped tables and bent-wood chairs, and it overcame Althea with the surprise and then the indifference it showed in the shining black waiter who came forward after a moment, as if their custom were not expected or much wanted at that hour in the morning. But Lorenzo was not afraid. He asked if they could have something to eat; and then the waiter said he guessed so, and be took their parcels and set them against the wall by the table he chose for them. Little groups of flies had knotted themselves into rosettes on the marble where it seemed to have been imperfectly cleansed; others paraded across it in black files. There were a great many flies in the long, narrow saloon, and the air within was faint and dull, as if it were the air of the evening before, and had been up all night there. A man was wiping a marble counter with a soda fountain at one end of it. At the rear of the room a boy was taking down the chairs which stood on the tables with their legs up.Lorenzo asked Althea what she wanted for breakfast, and when she could not think he told the colored man he guessed they would have beefsteak and coffee and hot biscuit. The colored man said they had no hot biscuit yet, and he suggested hot cakes.
"Well, hot cakes, then," said Lorenzo; and he said to Althea that he guessed hot cakes would be full as well anyway.
Before he brought their breakfast the waiter spread a large napkin over the marble before them, and that forced the flies into a momentary exile. They rose into the air, but they did not go far; they remained circling round overhead and humming angrily till Lorenzo's order came, and then they settled down upon the table again, and brought with them apparently all the other flies they knew.
The steak was very juicy and tender, and when the cakes came from the place where all old negro stood frying them on a slab of soapstone with gas-jets underneath they were very good too. But the coffee was green in color when they had poured their small jugs of milk into it, and thick with grounds.
"Not much like our cocoa at the Family," said Lorenzo, for a joke.
Althea let fall a small "Nay" like a tear, and pushed her cup a little from her without seeming to know it.
But Lorenzo had seen the act of repulsion, and he called over his shoulder to the waiter, who stood behind him watching Althea, "haven't you got any cocoa?"
"Chocolate," said the waiter, impassively. "That do?"
Lorenzo saw Althea's face brighten, and he said, "Yee--yes, I should say," and then Althea and be laughed together at the joke that puzzled the waiter. They were very gay over their breakfast when he came back with the chocolate, though they were dashed a little at going when the same gloom that they had noticed in the sleeping-car porter fell upon their waiter, after Lorenzo had gathered up all the change he had brought them.
"What is it, Lorenzo, seems to come over them so at the last? He was so polite when we sat down, and took our bundles and everything, and he didn't even offer to hand them back when we left."