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William Dean Howells (1837-1920)


The Day of Their Wedding

By William Dean Howells, 1895

XI



AT the door of the dining-room, where Lorenzo gave his hat to a man who was taking hats and putting them on long shelves, they stopped.

"My short hair will show," Althea whispered, with her hands up to the elastic that held her hat on. "Shall you mind if it makes them look?"

"Oh nay, not if you don't," and he flushed a little, thinking how pretty she was, with her hands up so.

"I presume they will think it is queer. I don't know exactly what to do, Lorenzo."

They stood staring into the vast dining-room in a hesitation that grew painful. Rows of small tables stretched away in long perspective, with one wide avenue dividing them, and aisles penetrating their multitude crosswise and lengthwise. The china and glass and silver glittered, the napery shone, and the black waiters in white linen jackets ran to and fro seating and serving the guests, who were there already in great number. They kept pressing in around Lorenzo and Althea where they stood. An old, gray-headed negro received them with severe state as they entered, and waved his hand to one of his subordinates, who beckoned to the guests and ran down the dining-hall before them to some table where he pulled out chairs for them to be seated.

"Well, well!" said Lorenzo, in vague response to Althea's perplexity; and he turned about without hope of help, but merely to gain time, when his eyes met the gay eyes of that young woman coming forward with her silent mother.

"Oh, are you going to have early dinner, too?" she called to him, and her voice made Althea turn round. "We are, just to pass away the time; we have got to do something till George comes. I've just got a despatch from him--he telegraphs twice a day--and only think! He won't be here till to-morrow morning. Isn't it a shame? I don't know what I'm going to do to live through it. Why don't you go in?" she asked Althea, as she put her hand through her arm. "We can go in together, I suppose; but there are no seats at our table, and they'll be sure to put you somewhere else, they're so obstinate. What are you waiting for?" She seemed to note something unusual now in their delay, and she addressed her question to Lorenzo.

"It's her short hair," he began; and in spite of Althea's "Oh, Lorenzo!" he went on, " It'll show so when she takes her hat off."

"Well, don't take it off, then!" cried the young woman. "Half of them are going in with their hats and bonnets on, don't you see?"

"Yee--es," said Lorenzo. "But we didn't know--"

"I guess you can do what other people do. Why did you cut it off? Was it sickness? I had a fever once when I was little, and I had to have my head shaved. George says he wishes he could have seen me." She was pressing into the room with her hand in Althea's arm, and the stately negro stopped them with a bow that made her drop her hand. "There! I suppose they'll put you off somewhere by yourselves. I think everything is too provoking to-day! But I'll see you just as soon as we're through dinner." She went gayly off with her mother, and an airy waiter went down, and in and out of the tables, in a series of dancing positions, till he had led Lorenzo and Althea almost the whole length of the hall, and pulled out two chairs for them where they were to sit, and snapped his fingers to another waiter, who came forward to wait upon them. They were red with shame and fear, but under his friendly smile they began to feel more at their ease. They did not know what to ask for, and they let him choose their dinner, which he brought in splendid profusion, and put before them with affectionate hospitality, which, after he had served their dessert, began to suffer a chill eclipse. He went and stood gloomily against the wall with folded arms.

"I can't think what it is comes over them all, Althea," said Lorenzo. "I believe I shall ask that young woman when we get back to the parlor and have a chance to speak to her."

He had not to wait so long. The young woman made her way to them from her distant table before they rose from theirs, and took a vacant seat beside Althea. When Lorenzo told how strangely the sleeping-car porter and the restaurant waiter and now this waiter had behaved towards the end, she laughed, and said, "Why, it must be the tip. Did you give them something."

"What for?"

"For waiting on you."

"I thought they were paid for that."

"Well, they are. But they always expect something extra, George says."

"Well, well!" said Lorenzo. "How much had I ought to give?"

"Well, George says--of course, I don't know anything about it myself--George says he always gives them five dollars to begin with, and that makes them pleasant; but if they don't look after him well after that he don't give them anything more."

Lorenzo took out his money, which he had all in one roll of bills, and peeled off a five-dollar note, which he held out towards the waiter. The waiter rushed upon it. When he recognized its value he burst into a joyous effervescence of thanks; he begged them to let him bring them something else, and overwhelmed them with finger-bowls and superfluous service; he went down on his knees under the table, to see if they had not dropped something; he said that he would be sure to keep those seats for them as long as they stayed; and he said he would speak to the head-waiter, so that they should not be shown elsewhere.

the waiter rushed upon it

"Yes, I guess that was it," said the young woman, when they had got away from him, and were walking up the wide avenue towards the door together. She had her hand through Althea's arm again, and she talked to Lorenzo over her pretty shoulder, which she drew a little forward as she moved. "I guess you've fixed him. And now, Mr. Weaver, I'm going to ask a great favor of you. I want you to lend me your wife a little while. I want her to go shopping with me for an hour or so. I can't think of any other way to put in the time, and if I don't do something I shall simply go stark, staring, raving mad without George here. The stores in Saratoga are awfully nice, and I've seen a lot of things that I want to get, and I know Mrs. Weaver has seen things too that she wants."

"N--no," Althea began. "I have got everything. I don't want--"

"Now that is all nonsense," said the young woman. "You tell her it is, Mr. Weaver! I know she's dying to get something; and you give her a lot of money, won't you? It's your wedding journey, you know, and of course you expect to waste a little, and then economize after you settle down. That's what George says."

"Why, Althea, there may be something you need," Lorenzo suggested.

"Now I ain't going to have it that way!" the young woman pouted. "She's going to get what she wants, whether she needs it or not. That's the way I tell George I'm going to do, and I shall make the money fly, and he had better look out to get plenty of it. It drives mamma almost crazy to hear me talk, and she always takes his part against me."

"Do you want I should go, Lorenzo?" asked Althea; but there was a latent light in her eye, that pleaded when her words would not.

"Why, yee," said Lorenzo.

"Is that your pet way of saying yes?" asked the young woman. "I think it's awfully nice to have those pet words just between yourselves. George and I, we say yep, and nop, just for fun, you know, like children. Well, now, give her the money, Mr. Weaver, and we'll be back in the parlor about four o'clock, for I'm going to make an afternoon of it, and we're not going to have you round. You can go off and sit in the park--Congress Park, right over there--and listen to the music, or you can go off shopping for yourself if you want to. Mrs. Weaver, I want you to come up to my room while I get my walking-dress on, and I want you to see my trousseau. There's one imported dress--present from George--that is the dreamiest thing! By-by!" She waved her hand over her coquettishly shrugged shoulder, and without looking at Lorenzo again she pulled Althea away with her.





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