The Little Colonel Maid of Honor, Chapter 12: The Wedding

THE LITTLE COLONEL MAID OF HONOR
by Annie Fellows Johnston
(1863-1931)

Published 1906

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

CHAPTER XII.
THE WEDDING

LUNCH was served on the porch, for the tables for the wedding supper were already spread in the dining-room, and Alec had locked the doors that nothing might disturb its perfect order.

"I think we are really going to be able to avoid that last wild rush which usually accompanies home weddings," said Mrs. Sherman, as they sat leisurely talking over the dessert. "Usually the bridesmaids' gloves are missing, or the bride's slippers have been packed into one of the trunks and sent on ahead to the depot. But this time I have tried to have everything so perfectly arranged that the wedding will come to pass as quietly and naturally as a flower opens. I want to have everything give the impression of having bloomed into place."

"Eliot and Mom Beck are certainly doing their part to make such an impression," said Eugenia.

"Eliot has already counted over every article I am to wear, a dozen times, and they're all laid out in readiness, even to the 'something blue.'"

"Oh, that reminds me!" began Lloyd, then stopped abruptly. Nobody noticed the exclamation, however, but Mary, and, with swift intuition, she guessed what the something blue had suggested to the maid of honor. It was that bit of turquoise that caused the only scramble in the preparations, for Lloyd could not remember where she had put it.

"I was suah I dropped it into one of the boxes in my top bureau drawer," she said to herself on the way up-stairs. Then, with her finger on her lip, she stopped on the threshold of the sewing-room to consider. She remembered that when she gave up her room to the guests, all the boxes had been taken out of that drawer. Some of them had been put in the sewing-room closet, and some carried to a room at the end of the back hall, where trunks and hampers were stored.

Now, while Betty was down-stairs, helping with a few last details, Lloyd took advantage of her absence to search all the boxes in the closet and drawers of the sewing-room, but the missing turquoise was not in any of them.

"I know I ought to be taking a beauty sleep," she thought, "so I'll be all fresh and fine for the evening, but I must find it, for I promised Phil I'd wear it."

In the general shifting of furniture to accommodate so many guests, several articles had found their way back among the trunks. Among them was an old rocking-chair. It was drawn up to the window now, and, as Lloyd pushed open the door, to her surprise she found Mary Ware half-hidden in its roomy depths. She was tilted back in it with a book in her hands.

Mary was as surprised as Lloyd. She had been so absorbed in the story that she did not hear the knob turn, and as the hinges suddenly creaked, she started half out of her chair.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, settling back when she saw it was only Lloyd. "You frightened me nearly out of my wits. I didn't know that anybody ever came in here." Then she seemed to feel that some explanation of her presence was necessary.

"I came in here because our room is full of clothes, spread out ready to wear. They're all over the room, --- mine on one side and Joyce's on the other. I was so afraid I'd forget and flop down on them, or misplace something, that I came in here to read awhile. It makes the afternoon go faster. Seems to me it never will be time to dress."

Lloyd stood looking at the shelves around the room, then said: "If time hangs so heavy on yoah hands, I believe I'll ask you to help me hunt for something I have lost. It's just a trifle, and maybe it is foolish for me to try to find it now, when everything is in such confusion, but it is something that I want especially."

"I'd love to help hunt," exclaimed Mary, putting down her book and holding out her arms to take the boxes which Lloyd vas reaching down from the shelves. One by one she piled them on a packing-trunk behind her, and then climbed up beside them, sitting Turk fashion in their midst, and leaving the chair by the window for Lloyd.

"It's just a scrap of unset turquoise," explained Lloyd, as she unwrapped a small package," no larger than one of the beads on this fan-chain. I was in a big hurry when I dropped it into my drawer, and I didn't notice which box I put it in. So we'll have to take out all these ribbons and laces and handkerchiefs and sachet-bags."

It was the first time during her visit that Mary had been entirely alone with her adored Princess, and to be with her now in this intimate way, smoothing her dainty ribbons, peeping into her private boxes, and handling her pretty belongings, gave her a pleasure that was indescribable.

"Shall I open this, too?" she asked, presently, picking up a package wrapped in an old gauze veil.

Lloyd glanced up. "Yes; although I haven't the slightest idea what it can be."

A faint, delicious odor stole out as Mary unwound the veil, an odor of sandalwood, that to her was always suggestive of the "Arabian Nights," of beautiful Oriental things, and of hidden treasures in secret panels of old castles.

"I've hunted for that box high and low!" cried Lloyd, reaching forward to take it. "Mom Beck must have wrapped it so, to keep the dust out of the carving. I nevah thought of looking inside that old veil for anything of any account. I think moah of what it holds than any othah ornament I own."

Mary watched her curiously as she threw back the lid and lifted out a necklace of little Roman pearls. Lloyd dangled it in front of her, lifting the shining string its full length, then letting it slip back into her palm, where it lay a shimmering mass of tiny lustrous spheres. Regarding it intently, she said, with one of those unaccountable impulses which sometimes seize people

"Mary, I've a great mind to tell you something I've nevah yet told a soul, --- how it was I came to make this necklace. I believe I'll weah it when I stand up at the altah with Eugenia. It seems the most appropriate kind of a necklace that a maid of honah could weah."

The story of Ederyn and the king's tryst was fresh in Mary's mind, for Betty had told it at the lunch-table half an hour before, in answer to Doctor Bradford's question about the motto of Warwick Hall; the motto which Betty declared was a surer guide-post to the silver leaf of the magic shamrock than the one Abdallah followed.

"I can't undahstand," began Lloyd," why I should be telling this to a little thing like you, when I hid it from Betty as if it were a crime. I knew she would think it a beautiful idea, --- marking each day with a pearl when its duties had been well done, but I was half-afraid that she would think it conceited of me --- conceited for me to count that any of my days were perfect enough to be marked with a pearl. But it wasn't that I thought them so. It was only that I tried my hardest to make the most of them, --- in my classes and every way, you know."

As Lloyd went on, telling of the times she had failed and times she had succeeded, Mary felt as if she were listening to the confessions of a white Easter lily. It seemed perfectly justifiable to her that Lloyd should have had tantrums, and stormed at the doctor when he forbade her going back to school after the Christmas vacation, and that she should have cried and moped and made everybody around her miserable for days. Mary's overweening admiration for the Princess carried her to the point of feeling that everybody ought to be miserable when she was unhappy. In Mary's opinion it was positively saintly of her the way she took up her rosary again after awhile, trying to string it with tokens of days spent unselfishly at home; days unstained by regrets and tears and idle re-pinings for what could not be helped.

Mary laughed over the story of one hard-earned pearl, the day spent in making pies and cleaning louse for the disagreeable old Mrs. Perkins, who didn't want to be reformed, and who wouldn't stay clean.

"I haven't the faintest idea why I told you all this." said Lloyd at last, once more lifting the string to watch the light shimmer along its lustrous length. "But now you see why I prize this little rosary so highly. It was what lifted me out of my dungeon of disappointment."

Afterward Mary thought of a dozen things she wished she had said to Lloyd while they were there together in the privacy of the trunk-room. She wished she had let her know in some way how much she admired her, and longed to be like her, and how she was going to try all the rest of her life to be a real maid of honor, worthy in every way of her love and confidence. But some shy, unusual feeling of constraint crowded the unspoken words back into her throbbing little throat, and the opportunity passed.

Clasping the pearls around her neck, Lloyd picked up the sandalwood box again and shook it. "Heah's a lot of loose beads of all kinds, with as many colahs as a kaleidoscope. You do bead-work, don't you, Mary? You may have these if you can use them."

In response to her eager acceptance. Lloyd looked around for something to pour the beads into.

"There's an empty cologne bottle on that shelf above yoah head. If you will reach it down, I'll poah them into that."

Beads of various sizes and colors, from garnet to amber, poured in a rainbow stream from the box to the wide-necked bottle. Here and there was the glint of cut steel and the gleam of crystal, and several times Mary noticed a little Roman pearl like those on the rosary, and thought with a thrill of the necklace she intended to begin making that very day. Suddenly Lloyd gave an exclamation and reversed the gay-colored stream, pouring it slowly back into the box from the bottle.

"I thought I saw that turquoise," she cried. "I remembah now, it was in my hand when I took off my necklace, and I must have dropped them in heah togethah."

She parted the beads with a cautious forefinger, pushing them aside one at a time. Presently a bit of blue rolled uppermost, and she looked tip triumphantly. "There it is!"

Mary flushed guiltily at sight of the turquoise, wondering what Lloyd would think if she knew that she had overheard what Phil had said about that bit of something blue. She went back to her chair and her book by the window after Lloyd left, but the book lay unopened in her lap. She had many things to think of while she slowly turned the bottle between herself and the light and watched its shifting colors. Several times a black bead appeared among the others.

"I'd have had to use black beads more than once," she reflected, "if I had been making a rosary, for there's the day I was so rude to Girlie Dinsmore, and the awful time when I got so interested that I eavesdropped."

      

The wedding was all that Mrs. Sherman had planned, everything falling into place as beautifully and naturally as the unfolding of a flower. The assembled guests seated in the great bower of roses heard a low, soft trembling of harp-strings deepen into chords. Then to this accompaniment two violins began the wedding-march, and the great gate of roses swung wide. As Stuart and his best man entered from a side door and took their places at the altar in front of the old minister, the rest of the bridal party came down the stairs: Betty and Miles Bradford first. Joyce and Rob, then the maid of honor walking alone with her armful of roses. After her came the bride with her hand on her father's arm.

Just at that instant some one outside drew back the shutters in the bay-window, and a flood of late afternoon sunshine streamed across the room, the last golden rays of the perfect June day snaking a path of light from the gate of roses to the white altar. It shone full across Eugenia's face, down on the long-trained shimmering satin, the little gleaming slippers, the filmy veil that enveloped her, the pearls that glimmered white on her white throat.

Eliot, standing in a corner, nervously watching every movement with twitching lips, relaxed into a smile. "It's a good omen!" she said, half under her breath, then gave a startled glance around to see if any one had heard her speak at such an improper time.

The music grew softer now, so faint and low it seemed the mere shadow of sound. Above the rare sweetness of that undertone of harp and violins rose the words of the ceremony: "I, Stuart, take thee, Eugenia, to be my wedded wife."

Mary, standing at her post by the rose gate, felt a queer little chill creep over her. It was so solemn, so very much more solemn than she had imagined it would be. She wondered how she would feel if the time ever came for her to stand in Eugenia's place, and plight her faith to some man in that way --- "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death us do part."

Eliot was crying softly in her corner now. Yes, getting married was a terribly solemn thing. It didn't end with the ceremony and the pretty clothes and the shower of congratulations. That was only the beginning. "For better, for worse," --- that might mean all sorts of trouble and heartache. "Sickness and death," --- it meant to be bound all one's life to one person, morning, noon, and night. How very, very careful one would have to be in choosing, --- and then suppose one made a mistake and thought the man she was marrying was good and honest and true, and he wasn't! It would be all the same, for "for better, for worse," ran the vow, "until death us do part."

Then and there, holding fast to the gate of roses, Mary made up her mind that she could never, never screw her courage up to the point of taking the vows Eugenia was taking, as she stood with her hand clasped in Stuart's, and the late sunshine of the sweet June day streaming down on her like a benediction.

"It's lots safer to be an old maid," thought Mary. "I'll take my chances getting the diamond leaf some other way than marrying. Anyhow, if I ever should make a choice, I'll ask somebody else's opinion, like I do when I go shopping, so I'll be sure I'm getting a real prince, and not an imitation one."

It was all over in another moment. Harp and violins burst into the joyful notes of Mendelssohn's march, and Stuart and Eugenia turned from the altar to pass through the rose gate together. Lloyd and Phil followed, then the other attendants in the order of their entrance. On the wide porch, screened and canopied with smilax and roses, a cool green out-of-doors reception-room had been made. Here they stood to receive their guests.

Mary, in all the glory of her pink chiffon dress and satin slippers, stood at the end of the receiving line, feeling that this one experience was well worth the long journey from Arizona. So thoroughly did she delight in her part of the affair, and so heartily did she enter into her duties, that more than one guest passed on, smiling at her evident enjoyment.

"I wish this wedding could last a week," she confided to Lieutenant Logan, when he paused beside her. "Don't you know, they did in the fairytales, some of them. There was 'feasting and merrymaking for seventy days and seventy nights.' This one is going by so fast that it will soon be train-time. I don't suppose they care." she added, with a nod toward the bride, "for they're going to spend their honeymoon in a Gold of Ophir rose-garden, where there are goldfish in the fountains, and real orange-blossoms. It's out in California, at Mister Stuart's grandfather's. Elsie, his sister, couldn't come, so they're going out to see her, and take her a piece of every kind of cake we have to-night, and a sample of every kind of bonbon. Don't you wonder who'll get the charms in the bride's cake? That's the only reason I am glad the clock is going so fast. It will soon be time to cut the cake, and I'm wild to see who gets the things in it."

The last glow of the sunset was still tinting the sky with a tender pink when they were summoned to the dining-room, but indoors it had grown so dim that a hundred rose-colored candles had been lighted. Again the music of harp and violins floated through the rose-scented rooms. As Mary glanced around at the festive scene, the tables gleaming with silver and cut glass, the beautiful costumes, the smiling faces, a line from her old school reader kept running through her mind:  "And all went merry as a marriage-bell! And all went merry as a marriage-bell!"

It repeated itself over and over, through all the gay murmur of voices as the supper went on, through the flowery speech of the old Colonel when he stood to propose a toast, through the happy tinkle of laughter when Stuart responded, through the thrilling moment when at last the bride rose to cut the mammoth cake. In her nervous excitement, Mary actually began to chant the line aloud, as the first slice was lifted from the great silver salver: "all went merry---" Then she clapped her hand over her mouth, but nobody had noticed, for Allison had drawn the wedding-ring, and a chorus of laughing congratulations was drowning out every other sound.

As the cake passed on from guest to guest, Betty cried out that she had found the thimble. Then Lloyd held up the crystal charm, the one the bride had said was doubly lucky, because it held imbedded in its centre a four-leaved clover. Nearly every slice had been crumbled as soon as it was taken, in search of a hidden token, but Mary, who had not dared to hope that she might draw one, began leisurely eating her share. Suddenly her teeth met on something hard and flat, and glancing down, she saw the edge of a coin protruding from the scrap of cake she held.

"Oh, it's the shilling!" she exclaimed, in such open-mouthed astonishment that every one laughed, and for the next few moments she was the centre of the congratulations. Eugenia took a narrow white ribbon from one of the dream-cake boxes, and passed it through the hole in the shilling, so that she could hang it around her neck.

"Destined to great wealth!" said Rob, with mock solemnity. "I always did think I'd like to marry an heiress. I'll wait for you, Mary."

"No," interrupted Phil, laughing, "fate has decreed that I should be the lucky man. Don't you see that it is Philip's head with Mary's on that shilling?"

"Whew!" teased Kitty. "Two proposals in one evening, Mary. See what the charm has done for you already!"

Mary knew that they were joking, but she turned the color of her dress, and sat twiddling the coin between her thumb and finger, too embarrassed to look up. They sat so long at the table that it was almost train-time when Eugenia went up-stairs to put on her travelling-dress. She made a pretty picture, pausing midway up the stairs in her bridal array, the veil thrown back, and her happy face looking down on the girls gathered below. Leaning far over the banister with the bridal bouquet in her hands, she called:

"Now look, ye pretty maidens, standing all a-row,
The one who catches this, the next bouquet shall throw."

There was a laughing scramble and a dozen hands were outstretched to receive it." Oh, Joyce caught it! Joyce caught it!" cried Mary, dancing up and down on the tips of her toes, and clapping her hands over her mouth to stifle the squeal of delight that had almost escaped." Now, some day I can be maid of honor."

"So that's why you are so happy over your sister's good fortune, is it?" asked Phil, bent on teasing her every time opportunity offered.

"No," was the indignant answer. "That is some of the reason, but I'm gladdest because she didn't get left out of everything. She didn't get one of the cake charms, so I hoped she would catch the bouquet."

When the carriage drove away at last, a row of shiny black faces was lined up each side of the avenue. All the Gibbs children were there, and Aunt Cindy's other grandchildren, with their hands full of rice.

"Speed 'em well, chillun!" called old Cindy, waving her apron. The rice fell in showers on the top of the departing carriage, and two little white slippers were sent flying along after it; with such force that they nearly struck Eliot, sitting beside the coachman. Tired as she was, she turned to smile approval, for the slippers were a good omen, too, in her opinion, and she was happy to think that everything about her Miss Eugenia's wedding had been carried out properly, down to this last propitious detail.

As the slippers struck the ground, quick as a cat, M'haley darted forward to grab them. "Them slippahs is mates!" she announced, gleefully, "and I'm goin' to tote 'em home for we-all's wedding. I kain't squeeze into 'em myself, but Ca'line Allison suah kin."

Once more, and for the last time, Eugenia leaned out of the carriage to look back at the dear faces she was leaving. But there was no sadness in the farewell. Her prince was beside her, and the Gold of Ophir rose-garden lay ahead.

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