Newland Archer, at a signal from the sexton, hadcome out of the vestry and placed himself with his bestman on the chancel step of Grace Church.
The signal meant that the brougham bearing thebride and her father was in sight; but there was sure tobe a considerable interval of adjustment and consultationin the lobby, where the bridesmaids were alreadyhovering like a cluster of Easter blossoms. During thisunavoidable lapse of time the bridegroom, in proof ofhis eagerness, was expected to expose himself alone tothe gaze of the assembled company; and Archer hadgone through this formality as resignedly as through allthe others which made of a nineteenth century NewYork wedding a rite that seemed to belong to the dawnof history. Everything was equally easy--or equallypainful, as one chose to put it--in the path he wascommitted to tread, and he had obeyed the flurriedinjunctions of his best man as piously as other bridegroomshad obeyed his own, in the days when he hadguided them through the same labyrinth.
So far he was reasonably sure of having fulfilled allhis obligations. The bridesmaids' eight bouquets of whitelilac and lilies-of-the-valley had been sent in due time,as well as the gold and sapphire sleeve-links of theeight ushers and the best man's cat's-eye scarf-pin;Archer had sat up half the night trying to vary thewording of his thanks for the last batch of presentsfrom men friends and ex-lady-loves; the fees for theBishop and the Rector were safely in the pocket of hisbest man; his own luggage was already at Mrs. MansonMingott's, where the wedding-breakfast was totake place, and so were the travelling clothes into whichhe was to change; and a private compartment had beenengaged in the train that was to carry the young coupleto their unknown destination--concealment of the spotin which the bridal night was to be spent being one ofthe most sacred taboos of the prehistoric ritual.
"Got the ring all right?" whispered young van derLuyden Newland, who was inexperienced in the dutiesof a best man, and awed by the weight of his responsibility.
Archer made the gesture which he had seen so manybridegrooms make: with his ungloved right hand hefelt in the pocket of his dark grey waistcoat, and assuredhimself that the little gold circlet (engravedinside: Newland to May, April ---, 187-) was in itsplace; then, resuming his former attitude, his tall hatand pearl-grey gloves with black stitchings grasped inhis left hand, he stood looking at the door of thechurch.
Overhead, Handel's March swelled pompously throughthe imitation stone vaulting, carrying on its waves thefaded drift of the many weddings at which, with cheerfulindifference, he had stood on the same chancel stepwatching other brides float up the nave toward otherbridegrooms.
"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 sametowering ostrich feathers in her bonnet, and Mrs. Beaufortwith the same diamond earrings and the samesmile--and whether suitable proscenium seats werealready 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'ssharp with curiosity and excitement, the men'ssulky with the obligation of having to put on theirfrock-coats before luncheon, and fight for food at thewedding-breakfast.
"Too bad the breakfast is at old Catherine's," thebridegroom could fancy Reggie Chivers saying. "ButI'm told that Lovell Mingott insisted on its being cookedby his own chef, so it ought to be good if one can onlyget at it." And he could imagine Sillerton Jacksonadding with authority: "My dear fellow, haven't youheard? It's to be served at small tables, in the newEnglish fashion."
Archer's eyes lingered a moment on the left-handpew, where his mother, who had entered the church onMr. Henry van der Luyden's arm, sat weeping softlyunder her Chantilly veil, her hands in her grandmother'sermine muff.
"Poor Janey!" he thought, looking at his sister, "evenby screwing her head around she can see only thepeople in the few front pews; and they're mostly dowdyNewlands and Dagonets."
On the hither side of the white ribbon dividing offthe seats reserved for the families he saw Beaufort, talland redfaced, scrutinising the women with his arrogantstare. Beside him sat his wife, all silvery chinchilla andviolets; and on the far side of the ribbon, LawrenceLefferts's sleekly brushed head seemed to mount guardover the invisible deity of "Good Form" who presidedat the ceremony.
Archer wondered how many flaws Lefferts's keeneyes would discover in the ritual of his divinity; then hesuddenly recalled that he too had once thought suchquestions important. The things that had filled his daysseemed now like a nursery parody of life, or like thewrangles of mediaeval schoolmen over metaphysical termsthat nobody had ever understood. A stormy discussionas to whether the wedding presents should be "shown"had darkened the last hours before the wedding; and itseemed inconceivable to Archer that grown-up peopleshould work themselves into a state of agitation oversuch trifles, and that the matter should have been decided(in the negative) by Mrs. Welland's saying, withindignant tears: "I should as soon turn the reportersloose in my house." Yet there was a time when Archerhad had definite and rather aggressive opinions on allsuch problems, and when everything concerning themanners and customs of his little tribe had seemed tohim fraught with world-wide significance.
"And all the while, I suppose," he thought, "realpeople were living somewhere, and real things happeningto them . . ."
"THERE THEY COME!" breathed the best man excitedly;but the bridegroom knew better.
The cautious opening of the door of the churchmeant 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 beforemarshalling his forces. The door was softly shutagain; then after another interval it swung majesticallyopen, and a murmur ran through the church: "Thefamily!"
Mrs. Welland came first, on the arm of her eldestson. Her large pink face was appropriately solemn, andher plum-coloured satin with pale blue side-panels, andblue ostrich plumes in a small satin bonnet, met withgeneral approval; but before she had settled herselfwith a stately rustle in the pew opposite Mrs. Archer'sthe spectators were craning their necks to see who wascoming after her. Wild rumours had been abroad theday before to the effect that Mrs. Manson Mingott, inspite of her physical disabilities, had resolved on beingpresent at the ceremony; and the idea was so much inkeeping with her sporting character that bets ran highat the clubs as to her being able to walk up the naveand squeeze into a seat. It was known that she hadinsisted on sending her own carpenter to look into thepossibility of taking down the end panel of the frontpew, and to measure the space between the seat andthe front; but the result had been discouraging, and forone anxious day her family had watched her dallyingwith the plan of being wheeled up the nave in herenormous Bath chair and sitting enthroned in it at thefoot of the chancel.
The idea of this monstrous exposure of her personwas so painful to her relations that they could havecovered with gold the ingenious person who suddenlydiscovered that the chair was too wide to pass betweenthe iron uprights of the awning which extended fromthe church door to the curbstone. The idea of doingaway with this awning, and revealing the bride to themob of dressmakers and newspaper reporters who stoodoutside fighting to get near the joints of the canvas,exceeded even old Catherine's courage, though for amoment she had weighed the possibility. "Why, theymight take a photograph of my child AND PUT IT IN THEPAPERS!" Mrs. Welland exclaimed when her mother'slast plan was hinted to her; and from this unthinkableindecency the clan recoiled with a collective shudder.The ancestress had had to give in; but her concessionwas bought only by the promise that the wedding-breakfast should take place under her roof, though (asthe Washington Square connection said) with theWellands' house in easy reach it was hard to have to makea special price with Brown to drive one to the otherend of nowhere.
Though all these transactions had been widelyreported by the Jacksons a sporting minority still clungto the belief that old Catherine would appear in church,and there was a distinct lowering of the temperaturewhen she was found to have been replaced by herdaughter-in-law. Mrs. Lovell Mingott had the high colourand glassy stare induced in ladies of her age andhabit by the effort of getting into a new dress; but oncethe disappointment occasioned by her mother-in-law'snon-appearance had subsided, it was agreed that herblack Chantilly over lilac satin, with a bonnet of Parmaviolets, formed the happiest contrast to Mrs. Welland'sblue and plum-colour. Far different was the impressionproduced by the gaunt and mincing lady who followedon Mr. Mingott's arm, in a wild dishevelment of stripesand fringes and floating scarves; and as this last apparitionglided into view Archer's heart contracted andstopped beating.
He had taken it for granted that the MarchionessManson was still in Washington, where she had gonesome four weeks previously with her niece, MadameOlenska. It was generally understood that their abruptdeparture was due to Madame Olenska's desire to removeher aunt from the baleful eloquence of Dr. AgathonCarver, who had nearly succeeded in enlisting her as arecruit for the Valley of Love; and in the circumstancesno one had expected either of the ladies to return forthe wedding. For a moment Archer stood with his eyesfixed on Medora's fantastic figure, straining to see whocame behind her; but the little procession was at anend, for all the lesser members of the family had takentheir seats, and the eight tall ushers, gathering themselvestogether like birds or insects preparing for somemigratory manoeuvre, were already slipping throughthe 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 hearthad stopped beating, for the white and rosy processionwas in fact half way up the nave, the Bishop, theRector and two white-winged assistants were hoveringabout the flower-banked altar, and the first chords ofthe Spohr symphony were strewing their flower-likenotes before the bride.
Archer opened his eyes (but could they really havebeen shut, as he imagined?), and felt his heart beginningto resume its usual task. The music, the scent ofthe lilies on the altar, the vision of the cloud of tulleand orange-blossoms floating nearer and nearer, thesight of Mrs. Archer's face suddenly convulsed withhappy sobs, the low benedictory murmur of the Rector'svoice, the ordered evolutions of the eight pinkbridesmaids and the eight black ushers: all these sights,sounds and sensations, so familiar in themselves, sounutterably strange and meaningless in his new relationto them, were confusedly mingled in his brain.
"My God," he thought, "HAVE I got the ring?"--andonce more he went through the bridegroom's convulsivegesture.
Then, in a moment, May was beside him, such radiancestreaming from her that it sent a faint warmththrough his numbness, and he straightened himself andsmiled into her eyes.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here," theRector began . . .
The ring was on her hand, the Bishop's benedictionhad been given, the bridesmaids were a-poise to resumetheir place in the procession, and the organ was showingpreliminary symptoms of breaking out into theMendelssohn March, without which no newly-weddedcouple had ever emerged upon New York.
"Your arm--I SAY, GIVE HER YOUR ARM!" youngNewland nervously hissed; and once more Archer becameaware of having been adrift far off in the unknown.What was it that had sent him there, hewondered? Perhaps the glimpse, among the anonymousspectators in the transept, of a dark coil of hair under ahat which, a moment later, revealed itself as belongingto an unknown lady with a long nose, so laughably unlikethe person whose image she had evoked that he askedhimself if he were becoming subject to hallucinations.
And now he and his wife were pacing slowly downthe nave, carried forward on the light Mendelssohnripples, the spring day beckoning to them through widelyopened doors, and Mrs. Welland's chestnuts, with bigwhite favours on their frontlets, curvetting and showingoff at the far end of the canvas tunnel.
The footman, who had a still bigger white favour onhis lapel, wrapped May's white cloak about her, andArcher jumped into the brougham at her side. Sheturned to him with a triumphant smile and their handsclasped under her veil.
"Darling!" Archer said--and suddenly the same blackabyss yawned before him and he felt himself sinkinginto it, deeper and deeper, while his voice rambled onsmoothly and cheerfully: "Yes, of course I thought I'dlost the ring; no wedding would be complete if thepoor devil of a bridegroom didn't go through that. Butyou DID keep me waiting, you know! I had time tothink 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 everCAN happen now, can it, Newland, as long as we twoare together?"
Every detail of the day had been so carefully thoughtout that the young couple, after the wedding-breakfast,had ample time to put on their travelling-clothes,descend the wide Mingott stairs between laughing bridesmaidsand weeping parents, and get into the broughamunder the traditional shower of rice and satin slippers;and there was still half an hour left in which to drive tothe station, buy the last weeklies at the bookstall withthe air of seasoned travellers, and settle themselves inthe reserved compartment in which May's maid hadalready placed her dove-coloured travelling cloak andglaringly new dressing-bag from London.
The old du Lac aunts at Rhinebeck had put theirhouse at the disposal of the bridal couple, with a readinessinspired by the prospect of spending a week inNew York with Mrs. Archer; and Archer, glad to escapethe usual "bridal suite" in a Philadelphia or Baltimorehotel, 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 theeight bridesmaids to discover where their mysteriousretreat was situated. It was thought "very English" tohave a country-house lent to one, and the fact gave alast touch of distinction to what was generallyconceded to be the most brilliant wedding of the year; butwhere the house was no one was permitted to know,except the parents of bride and groom, who, whentaxed with the knowledge, pursed their lips and saidmysteriously: "Ah, they didn't tell us--" which wasmanifestly true, since there was no need to.
Once they were settled in their compartment, and thetrain, shaking off the endless wooden suburbs, hadpushed out into the pale landscape of spring, talkbecame easier than Archer had expected. May was still,in look and tone, the simple girl of yesterday, eager tocompare notes with him as to the incidents of thewedding, and discussing them as impartially as a bridesmaidtalking it all over with an usher. At first Archerhad fancied that this detachment was the disguise of aninward tremor; but her clear eyes revealed only themost tranquil unawareness. She was alone for the firsttime with her husband; but her husband was only thecharming comrade of yesterday. There was no onewhom she liked as much, no one whom she trusted ascompletely, and the culminating "lark" of the wholedelightful adventure of engagement and marriage wasto be off with him alone on a journey, like a grownupperson, like a "married woman," in fact.
It was wonderful that--as he had learned in theMission garden at St. Augustine--such depths of feelingcould coexist with such absence of imagination. Buthe remembered how, even then, she had surprised himby dropping back to inexpressive girlishness as soon asher conscience had been eased of its burden; and hesaw that she would probably go through life dealing tothe best of her ability with each experience as it came,but never anticipating any by so much as a stolenglance.
Perhaps that faculty of unawareness was what gaveher eyes their transparency, and her face the look ofrepresenting a type rather than a person; as if shemight have been chosen to pose for a Civic Virtue or aGreek goddess. The blood that ran so close to her fairskin might have been a preserving fluid rather than aravaging element; yet her look of indestructibleyouthfulness made her seem neither hard nor dull, but onlyprimitive and pure. In the thick of this meditationArcher suddenly felt himself looking at her with thestartled gaze of a stranger, and plunged into a reminiscenceof the wedding-breakfast and of Granny Mingott'simmense and triumphant pervasion of it.
May settled down to frank enjoyment of the subject."I was surprised, though--weren't you?--that auntMedora came after all. Ellen wrote that they wereneither of them well enough to take the journey; I dowish it had been she who had recovered! Did you seethe exquisite old lace she sent me?"
He had known that the moment must come sooneror later, but he had somewhat imagined that by forceof willing he might hold it at bay.
"Yes--I--no: yes, it was beautiful," he said, lookingat her blindly, and wondering if, whenever he heardthose two syllables, all his carefully built-up worldwould tumble about him like a house of cards.
"Aren't you tired? It will be good to have some teawhen we arrive--I'm sure the aunts have got everythingbeautifully ready," he rattled on, taking her handin his; and her mind rushed away instantly to themagnificent tea and coffee service of Baltimore silverwhich the Beauforts had sent, and which "went" soperfectly with uncle Lovell Mingott's trays and sidedishes.
In the spring twilight the train stopped at theRhinebeck station, and they walked along the platformto the waiting carriage.
"Ah, how awfully kind of the van der Luydens--they've sent their man over from Skuytercliff to meetus," Archer exclaimed, as a sedate person out of liveryapproached them and relieved the maid of her bags.
"I'm extremely sorry, sir," said this emissary, "that alittle accident has occurred at the Miss du Lacs': a leakin the water-tank. It happened yesterday, and Mr. vander Luyden, who heard of it this morning, sent a housemaidup by the early train to get the Patroon's houseready. It will be quite comfortable, I think you'll find,sir; and the Miss du Lacs have sent their cook over, sothat it will be exactly the same as if you'd been atRhinebeck."
Archer stared at the speaker so blankly that herepeated in still more apologetic accents: "It'll be exactlythe same, sir, I do assure you--" and May's eager voicebroke out, covering the embarrassed silence: "The sameas Rhinebeck? The Patroon's house? But it will be ahundred thousand times better--won't it, Newland?It's too dear and kind of Mr. van der Luyden to havethought of it."
And as they drove off, with the maid beside thecoachman, and their shining bridal bags on the seatbefore them, she went on excitedly: "Only fancy, I'venever been inside it--have you? The van der Luydensshow it to so few people. But they opened it for Ellen,it seems, and she told me what a darling little place itwas: she says it's the only house she's seen in Americathat she could imagine being perfectly happy in."
"Well--that's what we're going to be, isn't it?" criedher husband gaily; and she answered with her boyishsmile: "Ah, it's just our luck beginning--the wonderfulluck we're always going to have together!"