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William Dean Howells (1837-1920)

The Day of Their Wedding

By William Dean Howells, 1895


WHEN the piece ended a sweet, high pipe of a voice behind them said, "Won't you have a programme?" and Althea was aware of a little white hand dangling a printed leaf at her shoulder. She looked round and confronted a young girl, with bright, joyful eyes, and a smile of radiant happiness on her lips. she was very fair, with hair of pale yellow, which loosed itself from the mass in rings and tendrils at her temples and about her neck, and sunnily misted her uncovered head. She wore a light-blue dress, and in her lap lay a hat of yellow straw, with blue cornflowers knotted among its ribbons. "Mamma has one," she explained to Althea's look of question and reluctance, "and we don't need them both;" and she glanced at the elder lady in black beside her, who nodded a silent assent.

Althea took the programme provisionally, with some halting thanks, and the girl showed, with a deeply jewelled finger, where the musicians had got in it. She included Lorenzo, who was looking round at her, too, in the same hospitable smile. At the end of the next piece Althea offered to restore the programme, but she made her keep it, and she began to talk to her. She asked her if she did not think the music was too lovely for anything, and whether she had heard the music at the other hotels. She contended that it did not sound half so well there, and that it was everything to hear it in such a beautiful place. She asked Althea if she ever saw such a beautiful place, and she said that she did not believe that there was such a beautiful place anywhere. She made her look at the fountain, and while Althea was looking at it she knew the girl was looking at her hat and her dress.

At the end of the second piece she seemed to have gone much further with Althea in her mind. She leaned forward to ask, "Don't you just love Saratoga? We've been here a week, and I don't believe we can ever get enough of it. You won't mind my talking to you, will you, without being introduced? When you came through the door, I said to mamma, 'Well, there's one person that I have simply got to know; and when you came and sat down right in front of us, it did seem too much! Of course it must seem very unceremonious, and I shouldn't do so to every one. Do you mind?"

Althea contrived to get in that she did not, between this question and the next, but the girl seemed not to care much for her answers. "Have you ever been in Saratoga before? I think everything is so romantic here, and perfect. We didn't expect to stay so long, but"--she put on a sudden state as she said so--"we've been detained by business. My husband had to go back to New York on business. He's with Stroud & Malkim there." She looked at Althea as if for an effect of the firm's name npon her, and added, "Curtains, you know. We did intend to go up to Lake George and Lake Champlain and to Montreal, but I shouldn't care if we spent every bit of the time in Saratoga. Are you staying in this hotel?"

Althea looked at Lorenzo. "Yee--es. We are going to as soon as--"

The music began again; it was the last piece, and when it ended most of the people about them rose and dispersed; but certain of them waited till they could get away without being crowded, and her new friend leaned forward to advise Althea to wait till the jam was over.

Lorenzo said, "I guess you better, Althea, and I might as well go aud register. I won't be gone but a little while, and if you'll stay right here I can easily find you again."

"Just as you say, Lorenzo," said Althea, but she looked up at him a little wistfully.

"Oh, we'll chaperon her!" cried their new friend, gayly; and as soon as Lorenzo left his chair she laid her hat upon her own, and slipped into the place next Althea. "Now you needn't tell me if you don't want to, but I just know you're on your wedding journey! When you first came in, arm in arm, I told mamma I bet you were." She curled her lip in over her teeth, and questioned Althea with her gay eyes; then she flashed out: "You are, I know it! Oh, I wish George was here! George--that's my husband, and he's the nicest fellow! Well, I wish you could see him; he'll be here to-night, too. I should like our husbands to get acquainted. I think yours is awfully nice-looking; he ought to have a mustache; he would look splendid in a mustache. I tell George his mustache is too big for anything. There he is!" She pulled a little watch from her belt, and sprung it open; on the inside of the case was the head of a young man, which filled it so full that the ends of his mustache extended invisibly into space beyond it. "Don't you think he's good-looking?"

"Yee, I do," said Althea; but she did not think him so good-looking as Lorenzo.

The young wife did not wait for an answer; she pressed the pictured face to her lips, snapped the case to, and tucked the watch back in her belt. "It's taken right on the case; they do that now, and it's so much nicer than pasting the photograph. George gave it to me before we were married. Well, he had to hurry up; we didn't have a very long courtship. We got acquainted on the cars, and he said that the minute he set eyes on me he knew I was the girl he was going to marry. It was a perfect novel, from beginning to end; and I don't care what they say, but I know that the course of true love does run smooth, sometimes. It didn't have a single hitch with us ; but I didn't suppose we should be separated this way, right in the first week of our honeymoon. George says it's good practice, though; he's got to be on the road so much; and I've got to be left with mamma, and I might us well begin early; I've almost talked her to death about him already." She seemed to be reminded to look round for her mother; the older woman had made her escape for the moment. "Oh, there she is, by the fountain. She's just as fond of George as I am, and she's going to live with us when we get our flat in New York; we're going to board awhile first. Is your husband travelling?" She had to explain that her own husband went about over the country getting orders for the house of Stroud & Malkim, and she apparently forgot what she asked, for she followed her question up with another, not waiting for an answer. "Have you been to any of the stores in Saratoga yet? They have lovely things, and so cheap." She looked hard at Althea's costume.

"I got this dress and hat here this morning," Althea said.

The other clapped her hands. "I just told mamma you did! Did you get them at that place under the hotel, a little way up?"

"I guess so," Althea assented. "I didn't notice exactly."

"Well, if I ever knew anything like it! I do believe it's the very dress George and I looked at yesterday, and I know I saw that hat in the window. They're real imported, the woman said, and they're dreams, both of them. George would have got them for me if they'd been my style. They're killing on you."

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