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The Day of Their Wedding
By William Dean Howells, 1895
THE driver looked sharply round at them, and then turned about to his horses again. As he drove by the United States, and the Grand Union, and Congress Hall, and out past the Windsor, he named the different great hotels to them, and Lorenzo caught at the chance to ask him which was the best. "Well, I don't know as I could hardly make a choice between the four biggest. It depends on what you want for your money." He leaned half round, so as to converse with his passengers at his ease, and lightly controlled his slim sorrels with his left hand, while he stretched his right arm along the back of the seat. "If you want old-family business, I sh'd go to the States; and if you want all the earth can give in the way of solid comfort, I sh'd go to Congress Hall; and if you want something very tony, I sh'd go to the Windsor; but if you're in for all the life you can get, and all the distinguished visitors, and the big politicians, and style, and jewelry, and full band all the while, you want to go to the Grand Union. That's where I'd go if I was in Saratoga for a good time; but tastes differ, and there a'n't a word to say against the other big hotels, or any house in the place, as far as I've heard from 'em. Lady object to smokin'?" The driver suddenly addressed himself to Lorenzo. "Because if she don't, I'll finish my cigar." He spoke with the unlighted remnant of a cigar between his teeth.
Lorenzo looked at Althea, and she said, "Nay, I don't mind."
A smile ran up into the hard, averted cheek of the driver. He was a slim young fellow, who wore his straw hat at an impudent angle, and had a handsome face full of wicked wisdom; at the same time there was something like a struggle of conscience in the restraint from impertinence which he put upon himself. "If you'll just take these lines a second," he said, giving them into Lorenzo's hand; and then he lighted a match and exhaled his thanks with the first whiff of his cigar. "I can always talk so much better when I'm smokin', but I don't never like to smoke when my passengers object." He started up his horses briskly, and pointed out the objects of interest as he passed them. "That's Congress Park. You want to come here in the afternoon for the music--Troy band--and there's a balloon ascension there to-day; that's something you don't want to miss." He said, more especially for Althea's behoof, "Lady goes up." He let them look a moment at the pretty park with its stretch of level lawn, and its pavilion and kiosk, its fountain, and its amphitheatrical upland, with a roofage of darker and lighter green propped on tall pine and oak tree stems, and then he jerked his head towards a building on the left. "That's the Saratoga Club. Gamblin' place," he explained to their innocence. "Lots of money exchanges hands every night. German prince dropped ten thousand there one night, and he didn't take the whole night for it either. It's a gay place, if it don't look it." In fact, with its discreetlv drawn curtains, its careful keeping of grass and flowers, the club-house looked in the bright morning sun like the demure dwelling of some rich man who did not care to flaunt his riches. "Indian encampment," said the driver, with another nod to the left, a little farther up the hill. "Get your fortune told there; shooting-gallery, Punch and Judy, and a little of everything." He nodded at a splendid villa on the right, with an auctioneer's sign upon it. "One of our leadin' gamblers' house. Cost him eighty thousand dollars, and won't bring twenty under the hammer. Got caught in the panic. Took to speculatin'. Been all right if he'd stuck to the cards," he concluded, as if this were the moral.
Lorenzo's mind worked with rustic slowness through a cloud of worldly ignorance, and the driver had time to point out several other notable residences on the handsome avenue which they were passing through, and told them that it was the way to the horse-races, and that they ought to be in Saratoga for the races, before Lorenzo could get round to ask, "But a'n't it against the law to gamble?"
"It's against the gospel too, I guess," said the driver, "but you wouldn't know it in Saratoga. It's the gamblin' and the racin' that makes the place." He spoke with that pride which people feel in their local evils if they are very great. He swept his passengers with his hardy eye, as if for full enjoyment of any horror he had raised in them, and ended:
"And there a'n't but one single minister here that I ever heard of that's had the gall to say a word against hoss-racin'. That's what Saratoga is."
His point was lost to them in the thought that came into both their minds at once. Lorenzo whispered it : "Wouldn't that be the one?"
"I don't know," Althea began. Then she said, boldly, "Yee, it would. Ask who it is."
It took courage; but Lorenzo was leaning forward to put the question, when the driver turned round upon them and said, "But if it a'n't one thing it's another, and I don't suppose Saratoga's any worse than any other place in the world-outside."
He pronounced the last words slowly, hut with no apparent consciousness that they must have a peculiar effect with Lorenzo and Althea, who mutely shrank together at them. "You ought to let me fetch you here in the afternoon if you want to see life," the driver went on, carelessly. "It's a string of carriages going out one side, and a string coming in on the other. Or it is," he added, more candidly, "in the season. It's full early yet."
It was Althea who commanded herself first. When the danger of discovery seemed past Lorenzo was still silent, but she began to talk and to ask the driver questions, which he answered, "Yes, ma'am," and "No, ma'am," with a crowing stress on the opening word that seemed personal to her at first, and then only personal to himself. But it was as if he had to he held in cheek continually from taking liberties, and it tasked all the severity Althea had learned in teaching the girls' school at the Family to manage him. Lorenzo was no help to her; but she held her own, even upon ground so strange to her.
When they reached the wayside restaurant at the end of the lake, he said, Well, here they were, if they wanted to get a lemonade or anything; and he added to Lorenzo, "Be a dollar; I sha'n't charge you anything extra for showin' you round first, as I said."
"I thought," said Lorenzo to Althea, as they followed, passively, the lead of the waiter who was showing them to a table on the veranda of the house, "that it meant taking us back, too. Didn't you, Althea?"
"Yee," Althea whispered, in return. "But I'm glad it didn't. I don't believe I like him very much. We can take another carriage back."
They could see far up the lovely lake, from their table, and beyond a stretch of level the noble range of nearer uplands and farther mountains that frames the Saratoga landscape on the northward.
"It's sightly, Althea," Lorenzo murmured: and she answered in the same undertone, "Yee, it is."
She spoke vaguely, for she was noticing the people who were sitting about at the other tables, and trying to make out what kind of people they were. There was one group of rather noisy girls, who had very yellow hair and bright cheeks, and who seemed to her like a bevy of harsh, brilliant birds; their eyes shone glassily when they turned to look at her. A family party of father and mother, and children who had to be constantly checked and controlled were at another table. At another still a pair in later-middle life, who sat at their half-eaten ices, seemed to be studying the rest, and Althea could feel that Lorenzo and she were peculiarly interesting to this pair.
"They are talking about us," she said to Lorenzo.
"Well," he returned, after a long draught of his lemonade--he had ordered that because the driver had mentioned lemonade--"they can't say anything against you, Althea."
"I wonder if they live in Saratoga," she said.
"What makes you ask that?"
"I don't know," she answered, faintly, and she looked down. "Don't you think they are very nice appearing?"
"Yee, I do," said Lorenzo, after a moment. "We've got to ask somebody about a minister, I presume," he mused aloud, "sooner or later."
A quick red and white dyed and then blanched Althea's face. "There's no--hurry. I like keeping so, don't you, Lorenzo?"
"Oh yee. But we can't keep so always."
"I do declare, when that fellow spoke up so about the world-outside I didn't know which way to look. Althea, if you think those friends reside here, and it would do to ask tkem about a minister--"
"Nay," she whispered back in a sudden panic, "you mustn't!"
"Well, I won't then."
They had to pass the elderly couple in going out, and Althea heard the gentleman say to the lady: "It's quite the nun look."
"Yes. I don't understand," the lady answered. "Beautiful--lovely--pure! It's like a child's--an angel's."
They were both looking up the lake, where the little excursion steamer was coming in sight.