Selina Everest and the Mayor were married.
On one of the loveliest of autumn mornings, the somewhat mature bride had been united in the holy bonds of matrimony to the somewhat mature bridegroom, and now, in the old family mansion of the Everests, they were receiving the congratulations of their numerous friends. Selina had had a church wedding. That she insisted on, greatly to the distress and confusion of her modest husband. He had walked up the aisle of the church as if to his hanging. One minute he went from red to purple, from purple to violent perspiration, the next he became as if wrapped in an ice-cold sheet, and not until then could he recover himself.
But now it was all over. This congratulatory business was nothing compared to the agonizing experience of being in a crowded church, the shrinking target for hundreds of criticizing, shining, awful eyes.
Yes, he was in an ecstasy to think the ordeal was over. Selina never would have made him go through it, if she had had the faintest conception of what his sufferings would be.
She had enjoyed it. All women enjoy that sort of thing. They are not awkward. How can they be, with their sweeping veils and trailing robes? He had felt like a fence-post, a rail—anything stiff, and ugly, and uncomfortable, and in his heart of hearts he wondered that all those well-dressed men and women had not burst into shouts of laughter at him.
Well, it was over—over, thank fortune. He never had been so glad to escape from anything in his life, as he had been to get out of the church and away from the crowd of people. That alone made him blissfully happy, and then, in addition, he had Selina.
He looked at her, and mechanically stretched out a hand to an advancing guest. Selina was his now. He not only was out of that church and never would have to go into it again for such a purpose as he had gone this morning, but Selina Everest was Mrs. Peter Jimson.
He smiled an alarming smile at her, a smile so extraordinarily comprehensive, that she hurriedly asked under her breath if he were ill.
“No,” he said, and, in so saying, clasped the hand of the advancing friend with such vigour, that the unhappy man retreated swiftly with his unspoken congratulations on his lips.
“I’m not ill,” he muttered. “I’m only a little flustered, Selina.”
“Here’s Mrs. Short,” she said, hastily, “be nice to her. She’s a particular friend of mine.”
“A fine day, ma’am,” murmured the Mayor; “yes, the crops seem good—ought to have rain, though.”
Over by a French window opening on the lawn, Berty and Tom were watching the people and making comments.
“Always get mixed up about a bride and groom,” volunteered Tom. “Always want to congratulate her, and hope that he’ll be happy. It’s the other way, isn’t it?”
“I suppose so,” murmured Berty. “Oh, isn’t it a dream to think that they’re both happy?”
“Makes one feel like getting married oneself,” said Tom.
“Yes, doesn’t it? A wedding unsettles me. All the rest of the day I wish I were a bride.”
“Do you?” exclaimed Tom, eagerly.
“Yes, and then the next day I think what a goose I am. Being married means slavery to some man. You don’t have your own way at all.”
“Men never being slaves to their wives,” remarked Tom.
“Men are by nature lordly, overbearing, proud-spirited, self-willed, tyrannical and provoking,” said Berty, sweepingly.
But Tom’s thoughts had been diverted. “Say, Berty, where do those Tomkins girls get money to dress that way? They’re visions in those shining green things.”
“They spend too much of their father’s money on dress,” replied Berty, severely. “Those satins came from Paris. They are an exquisite new shade of green. I forget what you call it.”
“I guess old Tomkins is the slave there,” said Tom; then, to avoid controversy, he went on, hastily, “You look stunning in that white gown.”
“I thought perhaps Selina would want me for a bridesmaid,” said Berty, plaintively, “but she didn’t.”
“Too young and foolish,” said Tom, promptly; “but, I say, Berty, where did you get the gown?”
“Margaretta gave it to me. I was going to wear muslin, but she said I shouldn’t.”
“What is it anyway?” said Tom, putting out a cautious finger to touch the soft folds.
“It’s silk, and if you knew how uncomfortable I am in it, you would pity me.”
“Uncomfortable! You look as cool as a cucumber.”
“I’m not. I wish I had on a serge skirt and a shirt-waist.”
“Let me get you something to eat,” he said, consolingly. “That going to church and standing about here are tiresome.”
“Yes, do,” said Berty. “I hadn’t any breakfast, I was in such a hurry to get ready.”
“Here are sandwiches and coffee to start with,” he said, presently coming back.
“Thank you—I am so glad Selina didn’t have a sit-down luncheon. This is much nicer.”
“Isn’t it! You see, she didn’t want speeches. On an occasion like this, the Mayor would be so apt to get wound up that he would keep us here till midnight.”
Berty laughed. “And they would have lost their train.”
“There isn’t going to be any train,” said Tom, mysteriously.
“Aren’t they going to New York?”
“No—Jimson says he isn’t going to frizzle and fry in big cities in this lovely weather, unless Selina absolutely commands, and she doesn’t command, so he’s going to row her up the river to the Cloverdale Inn.”
Berty put down her cup and saucer and began to laugh.
“Where are those sandwiches?” asked Tom, trying to peer round the cup.
“Gone,” said Berty, meekly.
He brought her a new supply, then came cake, jellies, sweets, and fruit in rapid succession.
Berty, standing partly behind a curtain by the open window, kept her admirer so busy that at last he partly rebelled.
“‘A RIVER STREET DELEGATION,’ SAID TOM”
“Look here, Berty,” he remarked, firmly, “I don’t want to be suspicious, but it’s utterly impossible for a girl of your weight and education to dispose of so much provender at a single standing. You’re up to some tricks with it. Have you got some River Street rats with you?”
“Yes,” she said, smilingly. “Hush, don’t tell,” and, slightly pulling aside the curtain, she showed him four little heads in a clump of syringa bushes outside.
“Newsboy Jim, and Johnny-Boy, and the two girls, Biddy Malone and Glorymaroo, as we call her, from her favourite exclamation,” continued Berty; “they wanted to see something of the Mayor’s marriage, and I let them come. I’ve been handing out ‘ruffreshments’ to them. Don’t scold them, Tom.”
“Come right in, youngsters,” said the young man, heartily. “I’m sure Mr. Jimson is your Mayor as well as ours.”
Without the slightest hesitation, the four grinning children stepped in, and, marshalled by Tom, trotted across the long room to the alcove where Selina and the Mayor stood.
“A River Street delegation,” said Tom, presenting them, “come to offer congratulations to the chief executive officer of the city.”
Selina shook hands with them. The Mayor smiled broadly, patted their heads, and the other guests, who had been bidden, without an exception kindly surveyed the unbidden, yet welcome ones.
The introduction over, Tom examined them from head to foot. The little rats were in their Sunday clothes. Their heads were sleek and wet from recent washing. There was a strong smell of cheap soap about them.
“This way, gentlemen and ladies,” he said, and he led them back to a sofa near Berty. “Sit down there in a row. Here are some foot-stools for you.
“Waiter,” and he hailed a passing black-coated man, “bring the best you have to these children, and, children, you eat as you never ate before.”
Berty stood silently watching him. “Tom Everest,” she remarked, slowly, “I have two words to say to you.”
“I’d rather have one,” he muttered.
“Hush,” she said, severely, “and listen. The two words are, ‘Thank you.’”
“You’re welcome,” returned Tom, “or, as the French say, ‘There is nothing of what—’ Hello, Bonny, what’s the joke?”
Bonny, in a gentlemanly convulsion of laughter, was turning his face toward the wall in their direction.
The lad stopped, and while Berty and Tom stood silently admiring his almost beautiful face, which was just now as rosy as a girl’s, he grew composed.
“I call you to witness, friends,” he said, slightly upraising one hand, “that I never in my life before have laughed at dear Grandma.”
“You’ve been cross with her,” said Berty.
“Cross, yes, once or twice, but Grandma isn’t a person to laugh at, is she?”
“Well, not exactly,” said Berty. “I never saw anything funny about Grandma.”
“Well, she nearly finished me just now,” said Bonny. “I was standing near Selina, when gradually there came a break in the hand-shaking. The guests’ thoughts began to run luncheon-ward. Grandma was close to the bridal pair, and suddenly Selina turned and said, impulsively, ‘Mrs. Travers, you have had a great deal of experience. I want you to give me a motto to start out with on my wedding-day. Something that will be valuable to me, and will make me think of you whenever I repeat it.’ The joke of it was that Grandma didn’t want to give her a motto. She didn’t seem to have anything handy, but Selina insisted. At last Grandma said, in a shot-gun way, ‘Don’t nag!’ then she moved off.”
“Selina stared at the Mayor, and the Mayor stared over her shoulder at me. She didn’t see anything funny in it. We did. At last she said, meekly, ‘Peter, do you think I am inclined to nag?’
“He just rushed out a sentence at her—‘Upon my life I don’t!’
“‘Do you, Bonny?’ she asked, turning suddenly round on me.
“‘No, Selina, I don’t,’ I told her, but I couldn’t help laughing.
“Jimson grinned from ear to ear, and I started off, leaving Selina asking him what he was so amused about.”
Tom began to chuckle, but Berty said, “Well—I don’t see anything to laugh at.”
“She doesn’t see anything to laugh at,” repeated Bonny, idiotically, then he drew Tom out on the lawn where she could hear their bursts of laughter.
Presently the Mayor came strolling over to the low chair where Berty sat watching her little River Street friends.
“Is it all right for me to leave Selina for a few minutes?” he asked, in an anxious voice. “I can’t ask her, for she is talking to some one. I never was married before, and don’t know how to act.”
“Oh, yes,” said Berty, carelessly. “It’s an exploded fancy that a man must always stay close to his wife in general society. At home you should be tied to your wife’s apron-strings, but in society she takes it off.”
“You don’t wear aprons in your set,” said the Mayor, quickly. “I’ve found that out. You leave them to the maids.”
“I don’t like aprons,” said Berty. “If I want to protect my dress, I tuck a towel under my belt.”
“You’ve odd ways, and I feel queer in your set,” pursued the Mayor, in a meditative voice. “Maybe I’ll get used to you, but I don’t know. Now I used to think that the upper crust of this city would be mighty formal, but you don’t even say, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ and ‘No, ma’am,’ to each other. You’re as off-hand as street urchins, and downright saucy sometimes I’d say.”
“We’re not as formal as our grandparents were,” said Berty, musingly—“there’s everything in environment. We’re nothing but a lot of monkeys, anyway—see those children how nicely they are eating. If they were on River Street, they would drop those knives and forks, and have those chicken bones in their fingers in a jiffy.”
“Do you ever feel inclined to eat with your fingers?” asked Mr. Jimson, in a low voice, and looking fearfully about him.
“Often, and I do,” said Berty, promptly. “Always at picnics.”
“My father hated fuss and feathers,” remarked Mr. Jimson. “He always went round the house with his hat on, and in his shirt-sleeves.”
“The men on River Street do that,” replied Berty. “I can see some reason for the shirt-sleeves, but not for the hat.”
“Mr. Jimson,” said Walter Everest, suddenly coming up to him. “It’s time to go. Selina’s up-stairs changing her gown, the two suit-cases are in the hall.”
Ten minutes later, Mr. and Mrs. Everest, with their children and their friends, stood on the front steps calling parting good wishes after Selina and the Mayor.
There were many speculations as to their destination, the greater part of the guests imagining a far-away trip, as Berty had done.
“You’re all wrong,” observed Tom. “My boat is at Mrs. Travers’s wharf for them to go to Cloverdale, and it’s cram jam full of flowers with bows of white ribbon on each oar.”
Roger Stanisfield burst out laughing. “You’re sold, Tom, my boy, do you suppose the Mayor would trust a joker like you? He has my boat.”
Bonny was in an ecstasy. “Get out, you two old fellows,” he exclaimed, slapping his brother-in-law on the shoulder. “Mr. Jimson is going to row his beloved up the river in my boat.”
“No, he isn’t,” said Walter Everest. “He’s got mine.”
“I believe he’s fooled us all,” said Tom, ruefully. “Did you have any flowers in your boat, Stanisfield?”
“Margaretta put a little bit of rice in,” said Roger, “just a handful, where no one would see it but themselves.”
“Did you trim your boat, Bonny?” asked Roger.
“Yes,” said the boy, “with old shoes. I had a dandy pair chained to the seat, so they couldn’t be detached, unless Jimson had a hatchet along.”
“Whose boat has he got, for the land’s sake?” inquired Walter Everest. “He’s asked us all, and we’ve all pledged secrecy and good conduct, and we’ve all broken our word and decorated.”
“He’s got nobody’s boat, my friends,” said old Mr. Everest, who was shaking with silent laughter. “Don’t you know Peter Jimson better than to imagine that he would exert himself by rowing up the river this warm day?”
“Well, what are his means of locomotion?” asked Tom.
“My one-hoss shay, my son. It was waiting round the corner of the road for him.”
“I say,” ejaculated Tom, “let’s make up a party to call on them to-morrow. We can take the flowers and other trifles.”
“Hurrah,” said Bonny. “I’ll go ask Margaretta to get up a lunch.”
“Will you go to-morrow, Berty?” asked Tom, seeking her out, and speaking in a low voice.
He explained to her.
“Yes, if you will tell me why you laughed so much at what Grandma said to Selina.”
Tom looked puzzled. “It’s mighty hard to explain, for there isn’t anything hidden in it. It just sounded kind of apt.”
“You men think women talk too much.”
“Some women,” replied Tom, guardedly.
“You want them to do as the old philosopher said, ‘Speak honey and look sunny,’ and, ‘The woman that maketh a good pudding in silence is better than one that maketh a tart reply.’”
“That’s it exactly,” said Tom, with a beaming face. “Now will you go to-morrow?”
“Probably,” said Berty, with an oracular frown. “If I am not teased too much.”
“May I come in this evening and see how you feel about it?”
“How long do you plan to stay?”
“Then you may come,” she said, graciously.