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William Dean Howells (1837-1920)


The Day of Their Wedding

By William Dean Howells, 1895

VIII



THEY blinked in the strong sunshine, and walked dizzily down the bit of brick pavement to the gate, and then down the quiet street.

"I don't know what you'll say to me, Lorenzo," Althea began.

Without looking round at her he answered, "You done right, Althea."

"Oh, do you think so?" she quavered. "I did for the best; I thought we ought to talk it over more, and look into our minds and ask ourselves-- I'm not sure that I see all these things in the light he did."

"Seemed to me he gave us a pretty solemn talk," said Lorenzo--"more than he'd any need to. Well, he said as much himself; I a'n't criticisin' him. I thought we had our minds made up. But I could see how he unsettled you by some of the things he said, and if you don't think he made it out so very clear, after all, I want you should feel just right about it every way, Althea. We can come back this afternoon."

"Lorenzo, if you say so, we will go back now--this minute!" she cried, passionately. "I didn't draw back on my account any more than yours."

"Nay, we'll wait now awhile--or, any rate, till we see it in the right light. But I'll tell you what, Althea: I think we've thought enough about it, and more than enough. What we want to do now is to think of something else, and let our marryin' alone awhile. It's like this, the way I view it it's like a sum that you can't do or work out anyhow; and you can beat yourself against it all day, and you can't do it. But let it alone a spell, and come back after your mind's rested, and you'll find it's done itself."

"I do believe it's so, Lorenzo," said Althea, with a potential joy in her tone.

"Yee. And, Althea, I say, let's forget all about it, and go round and enjoy ourselves. It's about as fine a day as I ever saw, and it a'n't likely we shall be back in Saratoga very soon again. There's no use makin' a poor mouth, and I don't see as there's any reason. You was feelin' well enough before we went in there, and I guess nothing's really happened to make us downhearted."

He leaned over from his loftier height with a smile, and his shoulder touched hers. At the contact her hand glided out upon his arm, as if without her will, and rested there. She did not answer, but in a moment she halted him with a little pull. "Where are we going?"

He looked round and laughed. "Well, well! I declare if I thought. I guess we came down the street because it was easier than to go up."

"I hope that isn't going to be the way with us through life!" she said, and she looked round with a laughing face.

A young man driving a pair of light sorrels in a wood-colored surrey drew up in the middle of the road, and held his whip towards them. "Carriage?" he called out.

"Nay, we don't want to ride," Lorenzo began.

"Well, then," said the driver, and he guided his team closer to them on the corner where they stood, "I guess I shall have to get that dollar from you." He smiled benignly at the bewildered look Lorenzo gave him, and then laughed at his dawning consciousness.

"Well, well! I forgot all about it!" Lorenzo put his hand in his pocket, while Althea drew her hand from his arm; he took out the note and handed it to the driver.

"Dominie made it all right for you, then?"

Lorenzo tried to withdraw with dignity from the confidential ground taken with him. "I guess so," he said, with dry evasion.

"Well, I thought so," the driver exulted, "when you come out; and when I see her take your arm, I knowed there wasn't a doubt about it. Say, why don't you get in and let me take you to your hotel? It sha'n't cost you a cent. You want to pull up at the Grand Union in style, if that's where you're goin'."

Althea shrank in dismay from these preternatural intuitions, but it seemed to Lorenzo, though he felt her reluctance, that it would be better to accept the offer, and get rid of the fellow at the hotel door. He was afraid that otherwise he might follow them the whole way, and perhaps give a mortifying publicity to their adventure by trying to talk with them about it from the middle of the street. Besides, he did not know where the Grand Union was, and it seemed settled that they were to go there.

"I guess we better, Althea," he suggested.

"Well, if you say so, Lorenzo."

"Well, that's right! Get right in," said the driver. When they were seated and he turned about to arrange the linen lap-cloth over their knees, he laughed, for Althea's pleasure, and said, "'Now you're married, you must obey, and mind your husband night and day,' as the song says. Well, that's the way it works for a while, anyhow. Then it's the husband's turn, and he takes a hack at obeyin'. Well, it's all in a lifetime, as I tell my wife. Didn't think I was married? How did you suppose I was on to you so quick? Been there myself. Got the nicest little wife in this town. But I guess I should ha' known what you was after, anyway. Lots o' couples come to Saratoga to get married in a hurry. It's all right! Did the dominie ask you some hard questions? He does oftentimes, and if he can't feel just right about it, he won't splice you. I've had to take more than one couple to another shop. But he's all right, the dominie is! Tell him what you was?"

"We no need to feel ashamed of anything," said Lorenzo, resentfully.

"Well, that's so. That's what the dominie likes. I could tell you some pretty tough stories about the couples I've had to hunt round for a minister with."

Lorenzo wished to say something that would put a stop to the fellow's talk, but Althea pressed his arm as a sign for him not to answer, and he forbore.

The driver seemed to interpret their silence aright. "Well," he said, "it's a pleasure to strike the right sort of couple, and I guess that's what the dominie thought too. He's all right. Didn't I tell you he was a white man? Well, he is." Though his words ran so freely, the driver suffered from a poverty of ideas which now seemed to make itself apparent even to himself, and he fell silent before they reached the hotel. "Here we are," he said, when he pulled up in front of it at last.

Lorenzo and Althea sat staring at the great hostelry's facade, with the upward sweep of its portico in front of them, the wide stretch of its verandas southward, and northward the glitter of the shops and offices under it. Men were going and coming up and down the steps of the portico, and they thronged the office within, and stretched in groups along the verandas, with their feet on the railing; they were smoking and talking together. Here and there one sat alone, with his cigar sloped upward and his hat-brim sloped downward almost to the point of meeting.

There were very few women to be seen, and Lorenzo hesitated, with a glance at Althea. The driver tried to encourage him.

"You want to go right through the inside piazza, and get the rest of the concert; it a'n't over yet. And you can register just as well afterwards; you won't have any trouble about rooms so early in the season." They dismounted anxiously, and stood looking up into the hotel. "There!" said the driver. "I guess they're goin' in. You just follow them, and you'll be all right." he pointed at a group of ladies who were mounting the steps, and then drove away. The ladies pushed fearlessly into the hotel, and Althea followed with Lorenzo. The place was full of men talking and smoking, like those outside, and she missed the shelter of the deep Shaker bonnet where she could have hid her face from the glances that seemed to seek it from all sides. She knew that her cropped hair must look strange under her gay hat, and she wanted to ask Lorenzo whether it looked so very strange; but he was intent upon finding a way between the groups and keeping those ladies in sight. The noise of shuffling feet and rippling dresses confused her, and the vastness of the place awed her; through a doorway on one hand she caught a glimpse of a long room with splendors of upholstery and furnishing, under shining chandeliers and deep mirrors; and then suddenly they reached a wide open doorway, and at the same moment there burst through upon them a joyous tide of music that seemed to Althea almost to sweep her from her feet, and made her cling closer to Lorenzo.

On either side of the doorway beautifully dressed women sat listening, or whispered with the haughty-looking men beside them, and before her tall, slim pines shot up from the levels of a wide lawn, and a fountain, set round with broad-leaved plants, gushed into the sunshine that their boughs sifted upon it. On the pathways that intersected each other under the trees nearer and farther pairs of young men and women strayed together to the limits of the high, many-windowed walls that enclosed the landscape.

"Lorenzo, Lorenzo!" she murmured, as they found places among the company that they seemed to be an accepted part of, "do you believe that we're awake?"

'Lorenzo, Lorenzo! Do you believe that we're awake?'

"Yee, I guess we are at last, Althea. Do you like it?" he whispered back, with a lover's pleasure in her pleasure; he involuntarily took credit for it as if he had created it.

"I feel as if I had just come to life," she whispered. "Oh, how could it all have been, and we not know it!"

"I guess," he exulted, "there are a good many things in the world-outside that are never heard of in the Family. Do you feel now as if it was wrong?"

She saw the same look in his eyes that she knew he saw in hers. "Nay, that's all gone. I shall never think so any more."

Her hand found his at their side, and they sat with their fingers knitted together in the shelter of her drapery that flowed over them. The music that thrilled from the viols and violins, and breathed cool and piercing from the flutes and flageolets, seemed to claim Althea for the earth, and to fill her heart with a bliss of living. It liberated her from the fear that had been lurking in the bottom of her heart. It silenced that dull nether ache of doubt; it flattered and promised; it lured her out of the prison of herself, and invited her to be of its own ecstasy.





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