THE WEDDING-DAY—ENORMOUS EXCITEMENT IN THE VILLAGE—PREPARATIONS FOR THE EVENT—THE CONDUCT OF BOB PARKER—THE CEREMONY AT THE CHURCH, AND THE COMPANY AT MAGRUDER'S—A LAST LOOK AT SOME OLD FRIENDS—DEPARTURE OF THE BRIDE AND GROOM—SOME UNCOMMONLY SOLEMN REFLECTIONS, AND THEN THE END.
ESTERDAY was the day of the wedding. I suppose no one can hope to describe accurately the sensation that is created by such an event in a little community like. ours. It has supplied the ladies of the village with material for discussion for several weeks past, and the extraordinary interest manifested in it has constantly grown stronger until it culminated in a blaze of excitement which made calmness upon the part of any New Castilian upon the great day a wholly impossible condition. My own wife has introduced the subject in her conversation with me at every available opportunity; and when I have grown weary of hearing about the preparations for the wedding, about the purchases made by the Magruders for Bessie, about the presents given to the bride by her friends, about the future prospects of the pair, and about other matrimonial things innumerable, the excellent partner of my joys, still with unabated enthusiasm, has turned from so dull a listener, and seizing her bonnet and shawl, has darted off to visit Mrs. Jones or Mrs. Hopkins, and has found them eager to participate in conversation upon these subjects. During the past month this sympathetic woman has called at Magruder's at least three times a day to ascertain the latest facts respecting the situation, and to give advice and assistance to the busy workers who have been preparing the multitude of articles which a girl must have before she is married. Every woman in the village was familiar, long ago, with the minutest details of the arrangements, and all of them were so deeply absorbed in the preparations and in contemplation of the approaching catastrophe that they cared for nothing else. If there had been revolutions, if thrones had tottered to their fall, if hurricanes had swept over the land and the nations had been stricken by the scourge, I verily believe that these devoted women of New Castle would have regarded these calamities with steadfast composure, and would have excluded them from a place in the social debates wherein the wedding of Bessie Magruder was the one great subject of discussion.
There is nothing more intense in nature than the interest felt by a woman in the marriage of another woman. The fanatic fury of a Hindoo devotee is mere icy indifference in comparison to it.
It was entertaining to watch Bob Parker upon the evening before the wedding and upon the morning of the great day itself. He had everything ready a week before the time, and upon the last night of his bachelor life he had nothing to do but to sit at home with us and think. And so, while I read my book and while Mrs. Adeler finished the bonnet that she had made for the occasion from old material (the dexterous economy of that woman, by the way, is simply phenomenal), Bob fidgeted about. He pretended to read the paper; he threw himself upon the lounge and counterfeited sleep; he darted suddenly up stairs to see if he had put a sufficient number of collars in his trunk; he darted down again and tried on his new hat for the fiftieth time; he stood by the fire and expressed his fear, often repeated during the day, that there would be rain on the morrow; he tried to wind up his watch four times, and he examined his pocketbook over and over again to ascertain if the ring was safe. At a ridiculously early hour he said he was tired and must go to bed; but when I ascended the stairs about midnight, I could hear him still moving about. He was nervous, excited and anxious.
Before daylight dawned Bob was out of bed and down stairs smoking and guessing at the weather. When we descended, he was in extreme agitation lest the man should not come with the bouquets. When the flowers did arrive, they looked so much like business that he immediately flew up to his room and put on his wedding suit.
Then we had to wait nearly two hours for the carriages, and Bob was harassed by doubts as to the correctness of the appearance of his neck-tie. Three times Mrs. Adeler applied thread and needle to that article of adornment, and at last Bob threw it away and assumed another. He seemed to have a strong conviction that the eyes of the entire assembly would be concentrated upon that white tie. Then he put on his gloves and sat, flushed and uncomfortable in his new clothing, waiting for the moment of his departure. Presently he discovered that he had lost one of his gold shirt buttons; and after a very long and very warm search for it, he thought he felt it in his boot. I procured a boot jack for him; and when the button was found, he had to remove his gloves again in order to pull his boot on. He was beginning to be acutely miserable when, at last, the carriages arrived. Then Mrs. Adeler came down; and when I had buttoned her gloves with a hair-pin and criticised the appearance of her dress, we went out to the street and drove away. When we reached Magruder's, the doorway was surrounded by quite a throng of persons. The excitement had reached even the lower classes, and a crowd composed of slatternly women with babies in their arms, of truant servant-girls, of unclean children, of idle men and noisy boys, stood upon the pavement waiting for the bride to come out. As we descended from the carriages, Bob was the chief object of interest, and while the women eyed him with admiration the boys made very unpleasant remarks concerning his clothing, particularly his "claw-hammer coat." When we entered the house, Bob ascended to some mysterious region above to wait for Bessie, while we examined the bridal gifts and conversed with the paternal Magruder, who was plainly uncomfortable in his wedding garments.
Then the bride descended amid exclamations of admiration from the servants and their friends, who were collected in a knot at the rear of the hall. She did look very sweet and pretty, that little maiden, in her lovely white dress, with orange blossoms in her dark hair, with a radiant light in her brown eyes and with a faint glow warming her cheek. Bob Parker had good reason to feel proud as he led the fair girl to the altar; and he was proud, despite his trepidation.
And when our salutations were over, when the satins and silks were all arranged and the bridesmaids and groomsmen were ready, we marched through the critical assembly outside the door and drove swiftly to the church. At the gate we found, awaiting the wedding party, another throng of spectators, among them that gloomy undertaker, with his chin hooked upon the wall, and his mind still brooding over his wrongs.
Then we heard the organ playing the Coronation March, and as the bridal party entered the church and swept up the aisle the Wedding March burst forth. There was a fluttering and a turning of heads in the pews; then silence, and then the ceremony began. Bob was pale as a ghost, and his replies could hardly be heard, but Bessie spoke with perfect distinctness. It is strange that women on these occasions should always be more composed than men.
And when the solemn words were said, Bob kissed his wife gallantly, and then, as the organ uttered Mendelssohn's lovely melody "I waited for the Lord," the two turned about and in the aisle met hosts of friends eager to congratulate them. At any other time Bob might have been mortified that he was a person of secondary importance. It was the bride that the people looked at, and not the groom. But now he was too happy and too ready to forget himself. He was too glad to have his wife greeted warmly to think of any other thing. By the time the church porch was reached every woman present had the details of Bessie's costume fixed indelibly in her mind, ready for description and explanation to her friends; and while the bell in the steeple rang out a merry peal, we returned to the Magruder mansion, where, in the company of friends, we passed the few hours before the departure of Mr. and Mrs. Parker.
Rev. Dr. Hopkins was there, beaming at the guests through his gold spectacles, and making himself very comfortable with the oysters and terrapin and chicken salad. He even had a smile for Colonel Bangs, who was discussing with Mr. Magruder the probable effect upon the railway interests of the country of an article in the Argus of that morning upon "Our Grinding Monopolies." It was interesting to listen to the colonel.
"I tell you," said he, with vehemence, "the time has come, for the overthrow of these gigantic railroad corporations; the time has come for a free press to open its batteries upon the monopolies which are trampling the rights of the people beneath their feet. There will be a bitter fight, sir, mark me; it will be a battle to the death. But the Argus enters the lists boldly and without fear. The article of to-day unsheaths the sword; it warns the railway tyrants that the battle has begun."
"I am sure it will alarm them," said Mr. Magruder. "And you, I suppose, are willing to give up everything for the cause? How about your annual free pass to Philadelphia?"
"Oh, ah! as for that," exclaimed the colonel, "you perhaps observed that I expressly excepted our own road and complimented its officers. A man must not go to extremes in these matters, Magruder. And then there's the advertising, you know! No, sir; we must proceed, as it were, cautiously at first. Precipitate action might ruin everything."
Dr. Tobias Jones also had overcome his professional animosity to Mrs. Magruder, and he was not only present, but he was conversing pleasantly with that lady, probably upon the subjects of bilious fever and aneurisms. Benjamin P. Gunn was there, bustling around among the guests and paying especial attention to Bob. When I saw Gunn in earnest conversation with the groom and caught the words, "in favor of your wife, you know," I became aware of the fact that Benjamin was improving the festive hour with an attempt to do a bit of business. Even Judge Pitman was present, for Mr. Magruder liked the old man and was in a gracious mood upon that day. I welcomed the judge heartily when, dressed in a swallow-tail coat of a surprising pattern, he came up to me and said,
"Splendid send-off for them young folks, ain't it? I tell you, they didn't do things this way when me an' Harriet consolidated! We lived down yer in Kent; an' when we were married by the squire, I give him fifty cents an' then went out an' borrowed a waggin so's me an' Harriet could take a little drive. We come up yer to New Cassel an' stayed two days at the tavern, an then drove back an' begun work agin, jes' 's if nothin' oncommon had happened." "It was not the custom then, I suppose, to make a display on such occasions?" "No, sir! People hadn't no money to git up sich fodderin' as this yer. They had to go slower. Still,". mused the judge, "it's all right—it's all right. Gittin' married 's a big event; an' if you kin make a fuss over it, you ought to. If my daughter ever tries it, I'll give her the best I kin buy. A weddin' like this is nice all 'round, but the wimmen in partickler is amazin' fond of sich things. If you'll excuse me, I believe I'll try another fried oyster."
There was another exciting time when Bessie, at last, came down in her traveling dress and stood with Bob ready to depart. While the cabman carried the trunks to the carriage, Bessie said her farewells. There was a good-bye for mother, uttered with tears in the eyes of both of them, a tender adieu to father, kisses for the women and a shake of the hand for the men, and then they entered the carriage. We flung an old shoe or two after them and waved our hands, and Cooley's boy gave them a parting salute with a stone that shivered the carriage window. We watched them as they went down the street, and saw, now and then, a handkerchief fluttered toward us; then they turned a corner and disappeared.
It was a little lonely in the cottage upon that evening with Bob no longer a member of the family. We shall miss him, with his sprightliness and fun; and we shall half incline to regret that the little drama we have watched so long with eager interest is ended, even though the prince, after all his suffering, has found the princess and wedded her, and though at last they have gone "across the hills and far away "beyond "the utmost purple, rim of that new world, which is the old."
We sat in the old room in silence for a while, both looking at the fire and both thinking, not so much of the events of the day as of the promise of the future for those two voyagers into the golden regions of delight. Then Mrs. Adeler said, with half a sigh:
"I do hope they will be happy!"
"And so do I; and I really believe they will be, for both of them have sweet tempers and good common sense; those are the qualities that are likely to ensure the felicity of married folks."
"But it is a great risk for Bob to run; and for Bessie too, for that matter."
"So it is; but it is a risk that may fairly be taken when the judgment gives approval to the choice of the heart. Lovers do not bother themselves, however, a great deal with the possibilities of the future. They have only sunshine now, and it seems as if so clear a sky could never breed cloud and storm. It is a happy thing for them, as well as for the rest of us, that no human ingenuity can lift the veil that shuts from our eyes the mysteries of the years to come. Think what a journey it is that began to-day! Separate and apart they have come thus far; but now they are to travel during all their lives together, over rough places as well as where the way is smooth. The power of each over the happiness of the other is infinite. He can make her wholly miserable, and she can utterly destroy his peace. A violent demonstration is not required. A little indifference at first, a harsh word, then a growing coldness, then neglect, and for ever afterward complete separation of heart and soul and feeling, though outwardly they seem united.
"And even if they should be as happy as the most blessed of us, it is well that their imaginations should throw about the future a glamour which will hide the reality. A tried and well-proved love will hardly bear the shock when misfortune and poverty come; it sometimes permits an almost fatal display of ill-temper when there are sleepless nights with sick and peevish children, when the soul is vexed with the cares of business, with the smaller trials of life, and with the myriad petty annoyances that are encountered in the path of every man. There are few of us who are heroes among the troubles of common life. Perhaps we bear the heavy blows courageously enough; but we cry out when we are stung by the pigmy arrows that are shot at us every day, at home and in the world. The truly great man is he who is patient and forbearing beneath small vexations. The real hero is he who bears the burden of his life, with its swarm of minor troubles, with calm, sweet evenness of temper and with steadfast courage. The peevish and the irritable are the enemies of peace in this world. Our lad and lass, we may hope, will find a place for themselves among those who wisely choose the better part.
"And now, Mrs. Adeler, would it not be well to close our record, as the hero and the heroine depart? It is the custom in the novel and upon the stage, to end the story when the knight and the lady who have loved and suffered through all the pages and all the acts are made man and wife. We have not done much with our pair; but it is enough that we have told a simple story of an old passion in still another form, and that we have given the chronicles of the village with what quality of humor we could infuse into them, but without malice or vulgarity and without irreverence. I have no patience with those who seek to find amusement by committing these faults. There is matter enough in harmless things for sportiveness; and rather than try to excite mirth by hurting the feelings of my neighbors, by stooping to coarseness, or by speaking with levity of things that are sacred, I would consent to write only books that should be as solemn as tragedy itself. We have had some strange experiences since the record began, and we should be very dull indeed if we had not learned something from them. Of one thing we are completely convinced: it is that a man who is made miserable because his neighbors will not do as he wishes them to do had better not come to this or any other village with the intent to be made happy. The man who voluntarily becomes a hermit is a fool. A man of sense must necessarily desire to live with his fellows and to enjoy their society, their sympathy and the comforts that can be obtained with their assistance. He can have these only by making sacrifices for them. He must not only give up some of his natural rights as an individual, but he must make up his mind to endure patiently disagreeable things that are done by his neighbors. He may flee from the city to escape the professor of music who hammers a piano ceaselessly, but in his new home he will certainly find a compensating nuisance of some kind. Until all men learn to think and act alike, he will find everywhere in the world those who are fond of the things that he hates, and who will do things that he thinks should be left undone. The man, therefore, who comes to the village in pursuit of perfect peace and quiet of course will not find them. He will encounter the disagreeable practices and peculiarities of other people precisely as he did in the city; he will be called upon to endure annoyances as aggravating as any of those from which he has flown. He can have comparative contentment and repose in either place only by determining to have them despite his neighbors. It is probable that men will always have in this world sharp corners and rough surfaces with which they will jag and tear each other as they roll onward in the swift current of life. Perhaps we shall have smoothness and evenness when we enter Paradise. I hope so, at any rate. And meantime let us all stop growling about evils which cannot be cured.
"And now I will conclude our meek little story. Perhaps regretfully I will close the door through which the public has been suffered to peep in upon the movements of out quiet life at home and in the village, and thus will end the spectacle. That life will continue, but it shall be sacred to ourselves, and the events that give it interest, shall go unrecorded."