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    Chapter 19

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    Chapter 19
    Previous Chapter
    Book II, XIX.

    The day was fresh, with a lively spring wind full of
    dust. All the old ladies in both families had got out
    their faded sables and yellowing ermines, and the smell
    of camphor from the front pews almost smothered the
    faint spring scent of the lilies banking the altar.

    Newland Archer, at a signal from the sexton, had
    come out of the vestry and placed himself with his best
    man on the chancel step of Grace Church.

    The signal meant that the brougham bearing the
    bride and her father was in sight; but there was sure to
    be a considerable interval of adjustment and consultation
    in the lobby, where the bridesmaids were already
    hovering like a cluster of Easter blossoms. During this
    unavoidable lapse of time the bridegroom, in proof of
    his eagerness, was expected to expose himself alone to
    the gaze of the assembled company; and Archer had
    gone through this formality as resignedly as through all
    the others which made of a nineteenth century New
    York wedding a rite that seemed to belong to the dawn
    of history. Everything was equally easy--or equally
    painful, as one chose to put it--in the path he was
    committed to tread, and he had obeyed the flurried
    injunctions of his best man as piously as other bridegrooms
    had obeyed his own, in the days when he had
    guided them through the same labyrinth.

    So far he was reasonably sure of having fulfilled all
    his obligations. The bridesmaids' eight bouquets of white
    lilac and lilies-of-the-valley had been sent in due time,
    as well as the gold and sapphire sleeve-links of the
    eight ushers and the best man's cat's-eye scarf-pin;
    Archer had sat up half the night trying to vary the
    wording of his thanks for the last batch of presents
    from men friends and ex-lady-loves; the fees for the
    Bishop and the Rector were safely in the pocket of his
    best man; his own luggage was already at Mrs. Manson
    Mingott's, where the wedding-breakfast was to
    take place, and so were the travelling clothes into which
    he was to change; and a private compartment had been
    engaged in the train that was to carry the young couple
    to their unknown destination--concealment of the spot
    in which the bridal night was to be spent being one of
    the most sacred taboos of the prehistoric ritual.

    "Got the ring all right?" whispered young van der
    Luyden Newland, who was inexperienced in the duties
    of a best man, and awed by the weight of his responsibility.

    Archer made the gesture which he had seen so many
    bridegrooms make: with his ungloved right hand he
    felt in the pocket of his dark grey waistcoat, and assured
    himself that the little gold circlet (engraved
    inside: Newland to May, April ---, 187-) was in its
    place; then, resuming his former attitude, his tall hat
    and pearl-grey gloves with black stitchings grasped in
    his left hand, he stood looking at the door of the
    church.

    Overhead, Handel's March swelled pompously through
    the imitation stone vaulting, carrying on its waves the
    faded drift of the many weddings at which, with cheerful
    indifference, he had stood on the same chancel step
    watching other brides float up the nave toward other
    bridegrooms.

    "How like a first night at the Opera!" he thought,
    recognising all the same faces in the same boxes (no,
    pews), and wondering if, when the Last Trump sounded,
    Mrs. Selfridge Merry would be there with the same
    towering ostrich feathers in her bonnet, and Mrs. Beaufort
    with the same diamond earrings and the same
    smile--and whether suitable proscenium seats were
    already prepared for them in another world.

    After that there was still time to review, one by one,
    the familiar countenances in the first rows; the women's
    sharp with curiosity and excitement, the men's
    sulky with the obligation of having to put on their
    frock-coats before luncheon, and fight for food at the
    wedding-breakfast.

    "Too bad the breakfast is at old Catherine's," the
    bridegroom could fancy Reggie Chivers saying. "But
    I'm told that Lovell Mingott insisted on its being cooked
    by his own chef, so it ought to be good if one can only
    get at it." And he could imagine Sillerton Jackson
    adding with authority: "My dear fellow, haven't you
    heard? It's to be served at small tables, in the new
    English fashion."

    Archer's eyes lingered a moment on the left-hand
    pew, where his mother, who had entered the church on
    Mr. Henry van der Luyden's arm, sat weeping softly
    under her Chantilly veil, her hands in her grandmother's
    ermine muff.

    "Poor Janey!" he thought, looking at his sister, "even
    by screwing her head around she can see only the
    people in the few front pews; and they're mostly dowdy
    Newlands and Dagonets."

    On the hither side of the white ribbon dividing off
    the seats reserved for the families he saw Beaufort, tall
    and redfaced, scrutinising the women with his arrogant
    stare. Beside him sat his wife, all silvery chinchilla and
    violets; and on the far side of the ribbon, Lawrence
    Lefferts's sleekly brushed head seemed to mount guard
    over the invisible deity of "Good Form" who presided
    at the ceremony.

    Archer wondered how many flaws Lefferts's keen
    eyes would discover in the ritual of his divinity; then he
    suddenly recalled that he too had once thought such
    questions important. The things that had filled his days
    seemed now like a nursery parody of life, or like the
    wrangles of mediaeval schoolmen over metaphysical terms
    that nobody had ever understood. A stormy discussion
    as to whether the wedding presents should be "shown"
    had darkened the last hours before the wedding; and it
    seemed inconceivable to Archer that grown-up people
    should work themselves into a state of agitation over
    such trifles, and that the matter should have been decided
    (in the negative) by Mrs. Welland's saying, with
    indignant tears: "I should as soon turn the reporters
    loose in my house." Yet there was a time when Archer
    had had definite and rather aggressive opinions on all
    such problems, and when everything concerning the
    manners and customs of his little tribe had seemed to
    him fraught with world-wide significance.

    "And all the while, I suppose," he thought, "real
    people were living somewhere, and real things happening
    to them . . ."

    "THERE THEY COME!" breathed the best man excitedly;
    but the bridegroom knew better.

    The cautious opening of the door of the church
    meant only that Mr. Brown the livery-stable keeper
    (gowned in black in his intermittent character of sexton)
    was taking a preliminary survey of the scene before
    marshalling his forces. The door was softly shut
    again; then after another interval it swung majestically
    open, and a murmur ran through the church: "The
    family!"

    Mrs. Welland came first, on the arm of her eldest
    son. Her large pink face was appropriately solemn, and
    her plum-coloured satin with pale blue side-panels, and
    blue ostrich plumes in a small satin bonnet, met with
    general approval; but before she had settled herself
    with a stately rustle in the pew opposite Mrs. Archer's
    the spectators were craning their necks to see who was
    coming after her. Wild rumours had been abroad the
    day before to the effect that Mrs. Manson Mingott, in
    spite of her physical disabilities, had resolved on being
    present at the ceremony; and the idea was so much in
    keeping with her sporting character that bets ran high
    at the clubs as to her being able to walk up the nave
    and squeeze into a seat. It was known that she had
    insisted on sending her own carpenter to look into the
    possibility of taking down the end panel of the front
    pew, and to measure the space between the seat and
    the front; but the result had been discouraging, and for
    one anxious day her family had watched her dallying
    with the plan of being wheeled up the nave in her
    enormous Bath chair and sitting enthroned in it at the
    foot of the chancel.

    The idea of this monstrous exposure of her person
    was so painful to her relations that they could have
    covered with gold the ingenious person who suddenly
    discovered that the chair was too wide to pass between
    the iron uprights of the awning which extended from
    the church door to the curbstone. The idea of doing
    away with this awning, and revealing the bride to the
    mob of dressmakers and newspaper reporters who stood
    outside fighting to get near the joints of the canvas,
    exceeded even old Catherine's courage, though for a
    moment she had weighed the possibility. "Why, they
    might take a photograph of my child AND PUT IT IN THE
    PAPERS!" Mrs. Welland exclaimed when her mother's
    last plan was hinted to her; and from this unthinkable
    indecency the clan recoiled with a collective shudder.
    The ancestress had had to give in; but her concession
    was bought only by the promise that the wedding-
    breakfast should take place under her roof, though (as
    the Washington Square connection said) with the
    Wellands' house in easy reach it was hard to have to make
    a special price with Brown to drive one to the other
    end of nowhere.

    Though all these transactions had been widely
    reported by the Jacksons a sporting minority still clung
    to the belief that old Catherine would appear in church,
    and there was a distinct lowering of the temperature
    when she was found to have been replaced by her
    daughter-in-law. Mrs. Lovell Mingott had the high colour
    and glassy stare induced in ladies of her age and
    habit by the effort of getting into a new dress; but once
    the disappointment occasioned by her mother-in-law's
    non-appearance had subsided, it was agreed that her
    black Chantilly over lilac satin, with a bonnet of Parma
    violets, formed the happiest contrast to Mrs. Welland's
    blue and plum-colour. Far different was the impression
    produced by the gaunt and mincing lady who followed
    on Mr. Mingott's arm, in a wild dishevelment of stripes
    and fringes and floating scarves; and as this last apparition
    glided into view Archer's heart contracted and
    stopped beating.

    He had taken it for granted that the Marchioness
    Manson was still in Washington, where she had gone
    some four weeks previously with her niece, Madame
    Olenska. It was generally understood that their abrupt
    departure was due to Madame Olenska's desire to remove
    her aunt from the baleful eloquence of Dr. Agathon
    Carver, who had nearly succeeded in enlisting her as a
    recruit for the Valley of Love; and in the circumstances
    no one had expected either of the ladies to return for
    the wedding. For a moment Archer stood with his eyes
    fixed on Medora's fantastic figure, straining to see who
    came behind her; but the little procession was at an
    end, for all the lesser members of the family had taken
    their seats, and the eight tall ushers, gathering themselves
    together like birds or insects preparing for some
    migratory manoeuvre, were already slipping through
    the side doors into the lobby.

    "Newland--I say: SHE'S HERE!" the best man whispered.

    Archer roused himself with a start.

    A long time had apparently passed since his heart
    had stopped beating, for the white and rosy procession
    was in fact half way up the nave, the Bishop, the
    Rector and two white-winged assistants were hovering
    about the flower-banked altar, and the first chords of
    the Spohr symphony were strewing their flower-like
    notes before the bride.

    Archer opened his eyes (but could they really have
    been shut, as he imagined?), and felt his heart beginning
    to resume its usual task. The music, the scent of
    the lilies on the altar, the vision of the cloud of tulle
    and orange-blossoms floating nearer and nearer, the
    sight of Mrs. Archer's face suddenly convulsed with
    happy sobs, the low benedictory murmur of the Rector's
    voice, the ordered evolutions of the eight pink
    bridesmaids and the eight black ushers: all these sights,
    sounds and sensations, so familiar in themselves, so
    unutterably strange and meaningless in his new relation
    to them, were confusedly mingled in his brain.

    "My God," he thought, "HAVE I got the ring?"--and
    once more he went through the bridegroom's convulsive
    gesture.

    Then, in a moment, May was beside him, such radiance
    streaming from her that it sent a faint warmth
    through his numbness, and he straightened himself and
    smiled into her eyes.

    "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here," the
    Rector began . . .

    The ring was on her hand, the Bishop's benediction
    had been given, the bridesmaids were a-poise to resume
    their place in the procession, and the organ was showing
    preliminary symptoms of breaking out into the
    Mendelssohn March, without which no newly-wedded
    couple had ever emerged upon New York.

    "Your arm--I SAY, GIVE HER YOUR ARM!" young
    Newland nervously hissed; and once more Archer became
    aware of having been adrift far off in the unknown.
    What was it that had sent him there, he
    wondered? Perhaps the glimpse, among the anonymous
    spectators in the transept, of a dark coil of hair under a
    hat which, a moment later, revealed itself as belonging
    to an unknown lady with a long nose, so laughably unlike
    the person whose image she had evoked that he asked
    himself if he were becoming subject to hallucinations.

    And now he and his wife were pacing slowly down
    the nave, carried forward on the light Mendelssohn
    ripples, the spring day beckoning to them through widely
    opened doors, and Mrs. Welland's chestnuts, with big
    white favours on their frontlets, curvetting and showing
    off at the far end of the canvas tunnel.

    The footman, who had a still bigger white favour on
    his lapel, wrapped May's white cloak about her, and
    Archer jumped into the brougham at her side. She
    turned to him with a triumphant smile and their hands
    clasped under her veil.

    "Darling!" Archer said--and suddenly the same black
    abyss yawned before him and he felt himself sinking
    into it, deeper and deeper, while his voice rambled on
    smoothly and cheerfully: "Yes, of course I thought I'd
    lost the ring; no wedding would be complete if the
    poor devil of a bridegroom didn't go through that. But
    you DID keep me waiting, you know! I had time to
    think of every horror that might possibly happen."

    She surprised him by turning, in full Fifth Avenue,
    and flinging her arms about his neck. "But none ever
    CAN happen now, can it, Newland, as long as we two
    are together?"

    Every detail of the day had been so carefully thought
    out that the young couple, after the wedding-breakfast,
    had ample time to put on their travelling-clothes,
    descend the wide Mingott stairs between laughing bridesmaids
    and weeping parents, and get into the brougham
    under the traditional shower of rice and satin slippers;
    and there was still half an hour left in which to drive to
    the station, buy the last weeklies at the bookstall with
    the air of seasoned travellers, and settle themselves in
    the reserved compartment in which May's maid had
    already placed her dove-coloured travelling cloak and
    glaringly new dressing-bag from London.

    The old du Lac aunts at Rhinebeck had put their
    house at the disposal of the bridal couple, with a readiness
    inspired by the prospect of spending a week in
    New York with Mrs. Archer; and Archer, glad to escape
    the usual "bridal suite" in a Philadelphia or Baltimore
    hotel, had accepted with an equal alacrity.

    May was enchanted at the idea of going to the country,
    and childishly amused at the vain efforts of the
    eight bridesmaids to discover where their mysterious
    retreat was situated. It was thought "very English" to
    have a country-house lent to one, and the fact gave a
    last touch of distinction to what was generally
    conceded to be the most brilliant wedding of the year; but
    where the house was no one was permitted to know,
    except the parents of bride and groom, who, when
    taxed with the knowledge, pursed their lips and said
    mysteriously: "Ah, they didn't tell us--" which was
    manifestly true, since there was no need to.

    Once they were settled in their compartment, and the
    train, shaking off the endless wooden suburbs, had
    pushed out into the pale landscape of spring, talk
    became easier than Archer had expected. May was still,
    in look and tone, the simple girl of yesterday, eager to
    compare notes with him as to the incidents of the
    wedding, and discussing them as impartially as a bridesmaid
    talking it all over with an usher. At first Archer
    had fancied that this detachment was the disguise of an
    inward tremor; but her clear eyes revealed only the
    most tranquil unawareness. She was alone for the first
    time with her husband; but her husband was only the
    charming comrade of yesterday. There was no one
    whom she liked as much, no one whom she trusted as
    completely, and the culminating "lark" of the whole
    delightful adventure of engagement and marriage was
    to be off with him alone on a journey, like a grownup
    person, like a "married woman," in fact.

    It was wonderful that--as he had learned in the
    Mission garden at St. Augustine--such depths of feeling
    could coexist with such absence of imagination. But
    he remembered how, even then, she had surprised him
    by dropping back to inexpressive girlishness as soon as
    her conscience had been eased of its burden; and he
    saw that she would probably go through life dealing to
    the best of her ability with each experience as it came,
    but never anticipating any by so much as a stolen
    glance.

    Perhaps that faculty of unawareness was what gave
    her eyes their transparency, and her face the look of
    representing a type rather than a person; as if she
    might have been chosen to pose for a Civic Virtue or a
    Greek goddess. The blood that ran so close to her fair
    skin might have been a preserving fluid rather than a
    ravaging element; yet her look of indestructible
    youthfulness made her seem neither hard nor dull, but only
    primitive and pure. In the thick of this meditation
    Archer suddenly felt himself looking at her with the
    startled gaze of a stranger, and plunged into a reminiscence
    of the wedding-breakfast and of Granny Mingott's
    immense and triumphant pervasion of it.

    May settled down to frank enjoyment of the subject.
    "I was surprised, though--weren't you?--that aunt
    Medora came after all. Ellen wrote that they were
    neither of them well enough to take the journey; I do
    wish it had been she who had recovered! Did you see
    the exquisite old lace she sent me?"

    He had known that the moment must come sooner
    or later, but he had somewhat imagined that by force
    of willing he might hold it at bay.

    "Yes--I--no: yes, it was beautiful," he said, looking
    at her blindly, and wondering if, whenever he heard
    those two syllables, all his carefully built-up world
    would tumble about him like a house of cards.

    "Aren't you tired? It will be good to have some tea
    when we arrive--I'm sure the aunts have got everything
    beautifully ready," he rattled on, taking her hand
    in his; and her mind rushed away instantly to the
    magnificent tea and coffee service of Baltimore silver
    which the Beauforts had sent, and which "went" so
    perfectly with uncle Lovell Mingott's trays and sidedishes.

    In the spring twilight the train stopped at the
    Rhinebeck station, and they walked along the platform
    to the waiting carriage.

    "Ah, how awfully kind of the van der Luydens--
    they've sent their man over from Skuytercliff to meet
    us," Archer exclaimed, as a sedate person out of livery
    approached them and relieved the maid of her bags.

    "I'm extremely sorry, sir," said this emissary, "that a
    little accident has occurred at the Miss du Lacs': a leak
    in the water-tank. It happened yesterday, and Mr. van
    der Luyden, who heard of it this morning, sent a housemaid
    up by the early train to get the Patroon's house
    ready. It will be quite comfortable, I think you'll find,
    sir; and the Miss du Lacs have sent their cook over, so
    that it will be exactly the same as if you'd been at
    Rhinebeck."

    Archer stared at the speaker so blankly that he
    repeated in still more apologetic accents: "It'll be exactly
    the same, sir, I do assure you--" and May's eager voice
    broke out, covering the embarrassed silence: "The same
    as Rhinebeck? The Patroon's house? But it will be a
    hundred thousand times better--won't it, Newland?
    It's too dear and kind of Mr. van der Luyden to have
    thought of it."

    And as they drove off, with the maid beside the
    coachman, and their shining bridal bags on the seat
    before them, she went on excitedly: "Only fancy, I've
    never been inside it--have you? The van der Luydens
    show it to so few people. But they opened it for Ellen,
    it seems, and she told me what a darling little place it
    was: she says it's the only house she's seen in America
    that she could imagine being perfectly happy in."

    "Well--that's what we're going to be, isn't it?" cried
    her husband gaily; and she answered with her boyish
    smile: "Ah, it's just our luck beginning--the wonderful
    luck we're always going to have together!"
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