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The Day of Their Wedding
By William Dean Howells, 1895
THEY were out on the sidewalk again, and were pushing aimlessly ahead under their burdens. The air felt fresher outside, and a breeze had begun to stir. "I don't know," said Lorenzo. "I guess they're rather changeable, that's all. Now, Althea, I can see that you're troubled about that dress of yours, and I want you should go into some of these stores with me and see if we can't match your sack better."
"Do you truly, Lorenzo?" she returned, in a flutter of pleasure. "Well!"
"Yee, I want to see you in something a little more seasonable. It's summer, and I'd like you to have--well, a white dress, I believe."
"But that wouldn't go any better with the sack than this one."
"Well, I guess we can find a sack that it will go with, then," said Lorenzo. "I always heard that they got married in white, anyway. I want you should look like other folks."
"Yee," Althea assented, a little faint with her consciousness.
They passed a good many stores where there were dresses hanging at the doors or in the windows, but Lorenzo showed himself very fastidious; and though Althea thought some of them would do, he would only say that they could come back if they did not see anything that suited them better.
"I saw some dresses in a store under that big hotel down yonder a piece, and I want to ask about them first. Didn't you notice them?"
"Yee, I did. But isn't it rather of a fashionable place?"
"That's just what I'm looking for," said Lorenzo, and Althea laughed tremulously.
When they came down opposite the hotel he boldly led the way across the street, and would not let her falter at the shop door. "Now you come right in, Althea. I know more about the wor1d-outside than you do," he said, in an imperative whisper.
He was blushing, too, though, when he set their things down on the floor, and a tall, handsome woman came flowingly forward to meet them, between counters gay with hats and bonnets, and clothes-trees with sacks and jackets, and figure-frames with gowns that swept the floor with silken trains. The shop-woman looked at them with a blush as bright as their own or brighter, but subdued to a softer effect by the film of powder that had got a little into her eyebrows.
She glanced inquiringly from one to the other, and at Althea's vain gasp she said to Lorenzo, as if he were an old man of the world, and they could understand each other perhaps better, "Is there something I could show madam?"
"Yee, there is," said Lorenzo. "We wanted to get some kind of a dress, if they a'n't all too dear."
"We have all prices," said the woman, and she touched different gowns as she spoke. "Seventy-five dollars, one fifty, sixty-two and a half, forty-five."
"You wanted something in cotton goods, didn't you, Althea?" asked Lorenzo, artfully, so as both to escape from the offer of these garments, which he did not wish to discredit by refusing them, and to bring Althea into the transaction.
"Yee, I did." And when Lorenzo whispered, "Yes--don't say yee," she promptly retorted, in undertone, "You keep saying it too." And as if she had plucked up courage from inculpating him, she added to the shopwoman, "I should like something that would go with this sack and hat."
"Oh, well, then," said the shopwoman, as if she now understood exactly, and in a tone that transferred her allegiance instantly from Lorenzo to Althea, "I have something here very pretty and very cheap," and she took up from a heap of dainty dresses thrown across a table a frock of white muslin, trimmed with ends and knots of cherry ribbon, and fluttered over with lace and ruching and ruffling. "This is very cheap," she said, looking at the tag on it, and then drawing it over her arm with her right hand and holding it out to survey it with a glance of her sidelong head, in which there was an eye that studied both the young lovers. "It is quite a dream--and imported. It would fit you perfectly, madam. We're about at the end of our season for summer things now, and you could have this--it's marked thirty-five--for twenty-five."
Lorenzo stood agape, but Althea did not seem to know that he was even there. She was rapt in the ecstasy of the pretty dress. "Could--would you let me try it on first?"
"Why, certainly, madam. Just come with me."
Althea followed like one led by a spell. Lorenzo sat down on one of the revolving stools before a show-case filled with ribbons, with Althea's bags and parcels at his feet. It seemed to him that he sat there a long time. While he waited the shopwoman drifted in twice--once to fetch away a coquettish cape from one of the clothes-trees, and once to take a gauze hat from a peg. Then nothing happened for a time; and he had begun to wonder what was keeping Althea when he lifted his downcast eyes and beheld a vision.
It was Althea and it was not Althea. It was Althea as she would look, he suddenly thought, in the spirit-life, if spirits could be as beautiful as people on the earth, and have some of the danger in them. He could only deeply murmur, "Well, well!" and stare and stare.
"Will it do?" she entreated, with a smile that had a heavenly splendor in it.
He shut his mouth and swallowed, and then opened it again, but he could not speak.
"I think," said the shopwoman, "that madam looks superb in that dress, and she must have the cape with it. Her black sack is very nice, but it's a little out of style, and it's rather more of a spring and fall garment. Don't you think the hat is very becoming, too? The ribbon is the same as that on the dress." She touched a knot of it on the hat, and another knot of it on Althea's breast, and Lorenzo felt as if his own heart were under the place. "As the season is passing I can let you have them at the same reduction as the dress. I should have wanted twenty-five for the cape at the beginning of the month, and fifteen for the hat. You can have them both now for twenty-five--just fifty in all. And there isn't a stitch needed in any of them."
"They do seem to fit," said Lorenzo.
"She could wear them into the street this moment," said the woman.
Althea said nothing. She let her eyes fall.
"I guess we shall have to take them," said Lorenzo, and he got his pocket-book out.
Althea turned suddenly upon him. "Don't you do it unless you feel you'd ought to, Lorenzo. If it isn't right, I don't want you should do it."
"Oh, I guess it's all right," said Lorepzo, and the shopwoman confirmed him in the opinion.
"It would be simply wicked for madam not to have them."
"Yee, it would" said Lorenzo more heartily, and he paid the bills over on the counter.The woman took them with an absent air, as if she too were bewitched with the beauty she had adorned. "The hat would look ever so much better, of course," she said, "if madam's hair was the natural length. You must come back when it's grown out, and let me show you another."
It seemed a joke, and they laughed. Lorenzo said, boldly, "Yee, we will." And then he said, to help get away, "Well, Althea, I guess we must be going."
"Oh, then, madam will wear the things at once? Well, that is right. Where did you say I should send the old ones?"
The shopwoman addressed Lorenzo, and he blushed--he did not know why. "Well, we haven't gone to any hotel yet. Could--could we leave them here a little while?"
"Certainly, by all means," said the woman.
"Well," said Lorenzo, and he thought a moment, "I guess you better just put Lorenzo Weaver on."
"Very well," said the shopwoman, and she wrote it down on a piece of paper which she pinned to the sack Friend Ella Shewall had lent Althea. In the midst of all that finery it now looked very common and shabby. Lorenzo said he would come round for the things a little later, and she said, politely, "Oh, any time!" and she followed them to the door. "I wish," she said," I could have seen madam with her hair long. It's such a pretty shade. Cut off in sickness, I suppose."
"Yee," said Lorenzo; and as they issued upon the sidewalk he was aware that Althea shrank from him, perhaps rather spiritually than corporeally, and yet really. "I know," he pleaded, "that I oughtn't to have said that, Althea, and I hated to do it as much as you would. But what could I do?"
"Nay, we seem to have to tell lies whenever folks speak to us," said Althea, sadly.
"Well, it a'n't lying exactly, or it a'n't so considered in the world-outside. It's considered just the same as putting folks off. I suppose we've got to conform in such things."
"Oh, yee," she sighed.
They walked along in an unhappy silence till Lorenzo said, "Those shoes, Althea, don't seem to go exactly with the rest." he looked down at the little feet which flatly patted the ground in the roomy gear of the Family.
She looked down at them too, and she assented in a rueful "Nay."
"I want to see if we can't find you something a little more like," he said ; and he laughed to see a slight lift come at once into Althea's gait.
The young man in the shoe-store made Althea sit down for him to unlace her shoe, and then when he had put on the russet ties, which he said were the thing she wanted, felt her foot all over, to see that the fit was perfect, Lorenzo thought that they ought to have a woman for that, and he could see Althea blushing and shrinking, as if she thought so too; but he noticed another young woman trying on pair after pair of shoes under the same conditions, and he decided to say nothing about what was so plainly the custom of the world-outside. The shoes were certainly very pretty, and when Althea suffered him to see the points, the very sharp points of them, beyond her skirt, it seemed to him that her feet had gone to nothing in them. "A'n't they a little tight, Althea? No use getting shoes that will hurt you."
"They don't feel so," said Althea, conscientiously.
"You'll find more room in a sharp-pointed shoe, lady," said the shopman, ignoring Lorenzo in the matter, "than you will in a broad-pointed. Keep them on? All right. Where shall I send the old ones?"
Lorenzo explained, as he had to the modiste, that they had not got a hotel yet, and he asked if he might not call for the shoes later, and he had them marked with his name. "Seems to me you're a good deal taller than you were before, Althea," he said, when they were out on the sidewalk again.
"Yee; these shoes have got heels, and they seem to be pretty high." She no longer swung forward with the free gait he had always thought so beautiful, but walked mincingly, like the fashionably dressed ladies of the world-outside, whom they now began to meet more and more. He thought Althea was as well dressed as any of them, and he made her come into a gay little shop with him and choose a parasol. "Got to have something to keep the sun off, now your old bonnet's gone." And Althea laughed with him at the thought of it. She chose a white parasol with white silk fringe, and when the shopwoman suggested gloves she chose a pair of white ones, which the woman put on for her. Lorenzo bought her a lace handkerchief, and the woman showed her how to tuck it in at the waist of her dress, where she said handkerchiefs were worn now.
"Lorenzo," Althea said, with coquettish severity, when they were in the street again, "I'm not going another step with you unless you get something for yourself now."
"What do you want I should get?" he asked, fondly, with his heart in his throat.
"You ought to know," she returned, almost pertly.
"Well," said Lorenzo, "I been thinking I'd look full better in this hot weather with a straw hat."
"Yee, you would," said Althea; and they went into a men's furnishing store, where the shopman advised a straw hat with a very low crown and a very wide brim, and a deep ribbon with vertical stripes of red and blue. Lorenzo took it, and he took a necktie of white silk, which he was advised was the latest style, and he put it on at a little mirror in the back of the store. When he came forward with his new hat on a little slanted, he could see the glow of pride in his looks which came into Althea's face.
"Like it?" he asked. But it seemed as if she were too full to speak, and he resumed, carelessly, after he had given the shopman his name, and promised to call for his old hat and tie, "I don't know but we'd full as well go to some hotel now, Althea, and get our things sent there."
"Well, if you say so, Lorenzo," she answered, demurely.
"I declare, I don't know which one to go to, though," said Lorenzo. " We sha'n't be here often, I presume, and I should like to go to the very best; but if we asked anybody we shouldn't know whether they were right or not about it."
They stopped and stood looking up and down the street at the different hotels as they showed themselves in the perspective, but they could not make a choice.
"I wish we had asked that woman at the dress-store," said Lorenzo, dreamily; and Althea assented with an anxious, "Yee, she could have told."
"We might go and ask her now," said Lorenzo, "and yet I kind of hate to."
The driver of a gay, wood-colored surrey, who was slowly walking his horses up and down with an eye abroad for custom, placed his own interpretation on the wistful air of the young couple standing at the edge of the sidewalk and looking into the street. He pulled up beside them before they were aware. "Carriage? Take you to the Lake for a dollar! Drive?"
Lorenzo hastily whispered Althea, "We could ask him which is the best, on the way. And--and, Althea, we have got to ask somebody about a minister!" She questioned his meaning with her eyes, and he added, "To marry us."
She flushed and looked down, and admitted, faintly, "Yee."
"The driver could take us to a good one."
The driver waited patiently for the end of their conference, though they had not yet answered a word. He suggested, "Take you through the principal streets first, and not charge you anything more."
"I guess we better, Althea," said Lorenzo; and she let him help her into the surrey with a soft "Well."