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William Dean Howells (1837-1920)


The Day of Their Wedding

By William Dean Howells, 1895

XIV



ON their way back to the hotel they were silent till Lorenzo took out the money he had put loosely into his pocket, and folded it more neatly. He turned the notes over, and then felt in his other pockets, as if he thought he might have misplaced some of them. Althea did not seem to notice what he was doing. She walked rapidly a little ahead of him.

"Althea," he said, gently, and a little timidly, "I don't know as we better stay in Saratoga--well, not a great deal longer." She looked round. "I--I--the money seems to be nearly all gone. I guess we ha'n't got much more than enough to pay for our tickets back to Fitchburg."

She appeared not to understand at first. Then she said, passionately, "Let us go at once then! I shall be glad to go. Don't let's stay a minute longer. It's dreadful to me here!"

"Just as you say, Althea," he returned, submissively. "I presume we might full as well stay till after supper. We've paid for it, and the cars don't--"

"Go and see if there isn't an earlier train--if there isn't one that starts right off. I want to start now."

"Why, Althea--"

"Don't try to speak to me, Lorenzo!"

"Nay, I won't, then. But I got to take you to the hotel, and get them to show you where the room is."

"Well!"

"And then I'll go round to the depot and find out about the cars."

As they mounted the steps of the hotel porch a girlish figure in light blue came flying towards them from the end of the long veranda. It was young Mrs. Cargate; she waved a telegram in the air. "Oh, he's coming!" she called to them. "He's coming to-night! He'll be here on the seven o'clock train! Oh, it seems as if I could fly, I'm so glad! I could just hug everybody! I must hug somebody; I must kiss--" She ran upon Althea, and flung her arms round her, and put up her pouted lips.

Althea pulled away, and, with her head thrown back, "Nay," she said, icily, "we don't kiss."

The young woman released her. "You don't kiss? Well, if that isn't the best joke yet! When I tell George about this! Why, what do you and Mr. Wea--"

"It's against our religion," said Lorenzo, sternly, and his face was the face of an ascetic as he spoke.

The young woman gasped, and retreated from them, staring at them as she paced slowly backward. She turned and ran, with a cry of laughter, towards the black figure of her silent mother at the end of the veranda.

At the door of their room Lorenzo left Althea. "I will go and see about the cars now. You get the things all ready, so that we needn't lose any time if the cars start anyways soon." He spoke with an austerity which was like something left of the tone he had used in rebuking that young woman. It was gone when he came back, and called gently, on the outside of the door, "Althea!"

"Yee, Lorenzo," her voice answered, come in!"

He opened the door, and stood staring at her from the threshold. She sat dressed in her garb of Shakeress--the plain, straight gown of drab, the drab shawl crossed upon her breast, the close collar that came up to her chin; her face was hidden in the depths of the Shaker bonnet.

"Well, well!" he murmured, huskily.

"Sit down, Lorenzo," she said.

"There ain't much time, Althea. The cars start in about half an hour, and--" he glanced about the room, where, on chairs and sofas, were strewn the finery that Althea had worn during the day; the packages of her afternoon purchases had been torn open, and their contents scattered about on the floor. His eye caught upon a fashionable gown of gray stuff. "That your travelling-dress, Althea?" he asked, feebly.

"I have got on my travelling-dress, Lorenzo. I am going back to the Family."

"Yee," he vaguely assented.

"I tried to put that dress on," she continued; "I couldn't." She paused, as if for him to say something, but he did not say anything. "I have thought it all out at last, Lorenzo. I don't blame the earthly order; it's the best thing there is in the world-outside. But we have known the heavenly order, and if--even if--we were to be very happy together--"

She stopped, and he said," Yee."

"Or, that isn't it, either. They may be all wrong in what they taught us in the Family."

Lorenzo cleared his throat. "It did seem so--for a spell."

"But whether it was right or whether it was wrong, whether it was true or whether it was false, it's too strong for me now, and it would be too strong as long as I lived. I have got to go back."

"Have you thought what they will say?"

"Haven't I thought what they would say every minute since I stole out of the Family house like a thief and ran away? But I don't care what they will say. They will take me back, I know that, and that is all I care for."

"Yee."

"I want you should let me go as far as Fitchburg with you, and then I can easily get to Harshire."

He stared at her. "Althea, do you think I am going to let you go back alone?" he asked, solemnly. "I am going back to Harshire with you."

"Nay, Lorenzo, I have thought that out too. I blame myself for getting married to you."

"I wanted to full as much as you did, Althea. It was my fault too."

"I thought--I thought if it was over I should feel differently, and see it as folks do in the world-outside."

"Yea, I knew that, Althea. I wouldn't have let you if I hadn't understood it so. I could see how your mind was workin'."

"But I can't see it so, Lorenzo! The more I look at it the worse it seems for us!"

"It's strange," he mused, aloud, "that we can't look at it in their light. Is it a sin for all the world?"

"It isn't a sin for the world, for the world hasn't the same light as ours. But we should be shutting our eyes to the light!"

"Yee," he assented, sadly.

"But, Lorenzo," she entreated, passionately, "if you say for me to stay in the world-outside with you and be your wife, I will do it! Do you say so? Do you say so?" She came towards him with her hands clasped, and her face wild in the depths of her Shaker bonnet, where her tears shone dimly. "I'm nothing! What do I care for myself? It's only the truth I care for, and the light! But if you say so, Lorenzo, the light of the world shall be my light, the darkness shall be my light!"

There was a moment before he answered, "Nay, I don't say so, Althea!"

"Oh!" She fell back in her chair and began to sob.

"Do you think," he asked, "that I could be anyways comfortable knowin' that you wanted to live the angelic life, and I was draggin' you down to the earthly?"

"The angelic life wouldn't be anything without you, Lorenzo," she said, tenderly, but with a confusion of purpose which was not, perhaps, apparent even to herself.

"Nor the earthly order without you," he answered, solemnly. He added, with that mixture of commonplace which was an element in his nature, "I presume, if I wanted to stay in the world-outside, I could get a divorce easy enough; but if I can't have you, I don't want to stay. If you can't feel that it's right for you to live in the earthly order, I know it can't be right for me either. We can do like so many of them have done: we can go back to the Family, and live there separate. It will be a cross, but it won't be any more of a cross for us than it is for the others that have separated; and maybe--maybe we ought to bear a cross."

"Don't try to make me cry, Lorenzo!"

He looked round the room again, disordered with the pretty things she had flung about. "I declare," he said, dreamily, "that hat's got to look like you."

"Lorenzo!"

"If you've got on everything you need, Althea, we'll leave these things here. We sha'n't want 'em any more where we're goin'." He stopped,, and they stood looking at each other. "Althea, we have got to tell them everything we've done when we get back."

"Yee."

"Do you believe, Althea," he said, in a voice that came like a thick whisper from his throat, "that they would think any the worse of you if I was to--kiss you?"

"I don't know, Lorenzo."

"It would be for good-bye, just once; and it would be my fault, and not yours."

"I don't want you should bear the blame. If you were to do it, it would be--because I let you."

He caught her to his breast; she laid her arms tenderly about his neck; their heads were both hidden in her Shaker bonnet.

"Now come," he said.





They walked along towards the station rapidly, Lorenzo some paces ahead of Althea, and they looked as if they did not belong together. A young fellow in a light wood-colored surrey, with a pair of slender sorrels, drew up to the sidewalk, and called to Lorenzo, "Carriage! Want a ca---" His eye strayed from Lorenzo to the figure of Althea in her Shaker dress. He pushed up his hat, and the cigar which he was smoking dropped from his parting lips. They passed him without looking up, but his head was drawn round after them, as if by a magnetic attraction, and he remained staring at them over his shoulder till they were lost to sight at the corner turning to the station.



THE END





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