Chapter XIII. Cyril and a Wedding
 

The twelfth was a beautiful day. Clear, frosty air set the blood to tingling and the eyes to sparkling, even if it were not your wedding day; while if it were--

It was Marie Hawthorn's wedding day, and certainly her eyes sparkled and her blood tingled as she threw open the window of her room and breathed long and deep of the fresh morning air before going down to breakfast.

"They say `Happy is the bride that the sun shines on,' " she whispered softly to an English sparrow that cocked his eye at her from a neighboring tree branch. "As if a bride wouldn't be happy, sun or no sun," she scoffed tenderly, as she turned to go down-stairs.

As it happens, however, tingling blood and sparkling eyes are a matter of more than weather, or even weddings, as was proved a little later when the telephone bell rang.

Kate answered the ring.

"Hullo, is that you, Kate?" called a despairing voice.

"Yes. Good morning, Bertram. Isn't this a fine day for the wedding?"

"Fine! Oh, yes, I suppose so, though I must confess I haven't noticed it--and you wouldn't, if you had a lunatic on your hands."

"A lunatic!"

"Yes. Maybe you have, though. Is Marie rampaging around the house like a wild creature, and asking ten questions and making twenty threats to the minute?"

"Certainly not! Don't be absurd, Bertram. What do you mean?"

"See here, Kate, that show comes off at twelve sharp, doesn't it?"

"Show, indeed!" retorted Kate, indignantly. "The wedding is at noon sharp--as the best man should know very well."

"All right; then tell Billy, please, to see that it is sharp, or I won't answer for the consequences."

"What do you mean? What is the matter?"

"Cyril. He's broken loose at last. I've been expecting it all along. I've simply marvelled at the meekness with which he has submitted himself to be tied up with white ribbons and topped with roses."

"Nonsense, Bertram!"

"Well, it amounts to that. Anyhow, he thinks it does, and he's wild. I wish you could have heard the thunderous performance on his piano with which he woke me up this morning. Billy says he plays everything--his past, present, and future. All is, if he was playing his future this morning, I pity the girl who's got to live it with him."

"Bertram!"

Bertram chuckled remorselessly.

"Well, I do. But I'll warrant he wasn't playing his future this morning. He was playing his present--the wedding. You see, he's just waked up to the fact that it'll be a perfect orgy of women and other confusion, and he doesn't like it. All the samee,{sic} I've had to assure him just fourteen times this morning that the ring, the license, the carriage, the minister's fee, and my sanity are all O. K. When he isn't asking questions he's making threats to snake the parson up there an hour ahead of time and be off with Marie before a soul comes."

"What an absurd idea!"

"Cyril doesn't think so. Indeed, Kate, I've had a hard struggle to convince him that the guests wouldn't think it the most delightful experience of their lives if they should come and find the ceremony over with and the bride gone."

"Well, you remind Cyril, please, that there are other people besides himself concerned in this wedding," observed Kate, icily.

"I have," purred Bertram, "and he says all right, let them have it, then. He's gone now to look up proxy marriages, I believe."

"Proxy marriages, indeed! Come, come, Bertram, I've got something to do this morning besides to stand here listening to your nonsense. See that you and Cyril get here on time--that's all!" And she hung up the receiver with an impatient jerk.

She turned to confront the startled eyes of the bride elect.

"What is it? Is anything wrong--with Cyril?" faltered Marie.

Kate laughed and raised her eyebrows slightly.

"Nothing but a little stage fright, my dear."

"Stage fright!"

"Yes. Bertram says he's trying to find some one to play his role, I believe, in the ceremony."

"Mrs. Hartwell!"

At the look of dismayed terror that came into Marie's face, Mrs. Hartwell laughed reassuringly.

"There, there, dear child, don't look so horror- stricken. There probably never was a man yet who wouldn't have fled from the wedding part of his marriage if he could; and you know how Cyril hates fuss and feathers. The wonder to me is that he's stood it as long as he has. I thought I saw it coming, last night at the rehearsal--and now I know I did."

Marie still looked distressed.

"But he never said--I thought--" She stopped helplessly.

"Of course he didn't, child. He never said anything but that he loved you, and he never thought anything but that you were going to be his. Men never do--till the wedding day. Then they never think of anything but a place to run," she finished laughingly, as she began to arrange on a stand the quantity of little white boxes waiting for her.

"But if he'd told me--in time, I wouldn't have had a thing--but the minister," faltered Marie.

"And when you think so much of a pretty wedding, too? Nonsense! It isn't good for a man, to give up to his whims like that!"

Marie's cheeks grew a deeper pink. Her nostrils dilated a little.

"It wouldn't be a `whim,' Mrs. Hartwell, and I should be glad to give up," she said with decision.

Mrs. Hartwell laughed again, her amused eyes on Marie's face.

"Dear me, child! don't you know that if men had their way, they'd--well, if men married men there'd never be such a thing in the world as a shower bouquet or a piece of wedding cake!"

There was no reply. A little precipitately Marie turned and hurried away. A moment later she was laying a restraining hand on Billy, who was filling tall vases with superb long-stemmed roses in the kitchen.

"Billy, please," she panted, "couldn't we do without those? Couldn't we send them to some--some hospital?--and the wedding cake, too, and--"

"The wedding cake--to some hospital!"

"No, of course not--to the hospital. It would make them sick to eat it, wouldn't it?" That there was no shadow of a smile on Marie's face showed how desperate, indeed, was her state of mind. "I only meant that I didn't want them myself, nor the shower bouquet, nor the rooms darkened, nor little Kate as the flower girl--and would you mind very much if I asked you not to be my maid of honor?"

"Marie!"

Marie covered her face with her hands then and began to sob brokenly; so there was nothing for Billy to do but to take her into her arms with soothing little murmurs and pettings. By degrees, then, the whole story came out.

Billy almost laughed--but she almost cried, too. Then she said:

"Dearie, I don't believe Cyril feels or acts half so bad as Bertram and Kate make out, and, anyhow, if he did, it's too late now to--to send the wedding cake to the hospital, or make any other of the little changes you suggest." Billy's lips puckered into a half-smile, but her eyes were grave. "Besides, there are your music pupils trimming the living-room this minute with evergreen, there's little Kate making her flower-girl wreath, and Mrs. Hartwell stacking cake boxes in the hall, to say nothing of Rosa gloating over the best china in the dining-room, and Aunt Hannah putting purple bows into the new lace cap she's counting on wearing. Only think how disappointed they'd all be if I should say: `Never mind--stop that. Marie's just going to have a minister. No fuss, no feathers!' Why, dearie, even the roses are hanging their heads for grief," she went on mistily, lifting with gentle fingers one of the full-petalled pink beauties near her. "Besides, there's your--guests."

"Oh, of course, I knew I couldn't--really," sighed Marie, as she turned to go up-stairs, all the light and joy gone from her face.

Billy, once assured that Marie was out of hearing, ran to the telephone.

Bertram answered.

"Bertram, tell Cyril I want to speak to him, please."

"All right, dear, but go easy. Better strike up your tuning fork to find his pitch to-day. You'll discover it's a high one, all right."

A moment later Cyril's tersely nervous "Good morning, Billy," came across the line.

Billy drew in her breath and cast a hurriedly apprehensive glance over her shoulder to make sure Marie was not near.

"Cyril," she called in a low voice, "if you care a shred for Marie, for heaven's sake call her up and tell her that you dote on pink roses, and pink ribbons, and pink breakfasts--and pink wedding cake!"

"But I don't."

"Oh, yes, you do--to-day! You would--if you could see Marie now."

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing, only she overheard part of Bertram's nonsensical talk with Kate a little while ago, and she's ready to cast the last ravelling of white satin and conventionality behind her, and go with you to the justice of the peace."

"Sensible girl!"

"Yes, but she can't, you know, with fifty guests coming to the wedding, and twice as many more to the reception. Honestly, Cyril, she's broken-hearted. You must do something. She's --coming!" And the receiver clicked sharply into place.

Five minutes later Marie was called to the telephone. Dejectedly, wistful-eyed, she went. Just what were the words that hummed across the wire into the pink little ear of the bride-to-be, Billy never knew; but a Marie that was anything but wistful-eyed and dejected left the telephone a little later, and was heard very soon in the room above trilling merry snatches of a little song. Contentedly, then, Billy went back to her roses.

It was a pretty wedding, a very pretty wedding. Every one said that. The pink and green of the decorations, the soft lights (Kate had had her way about darkening the rooms), the pretty frocks and smiling faces of the guests all helped. Then there were the dainty flower girl, little Kate, the charming maid of honor, Billy, the stalwart, handsome best man, Bertram, to say nothing of the delicately beautiful bride, who looked like some fairy visitor from another world in the floating shimmer of her gossamer silk and tulle. There was, too, not quite unnoticed, the bridegroom; tall, of distinguished bearing, and with features that were clear cut and-to-day-rather pale.

Then came the reception--the "women and confusion "of Cyril's fears--followed by the going away of the bride and groom with its merry warfare of confetti and old shoes.

At four o'clock, however, with only William and Bertram remaining for guests, something like quiet descended at last on the little house.

"Well, it's over," sighed Billy, dropping exhaustedly into a big chair in the living-room.

"And well over," supplemented Aunt Hannah, covering her white shawl with a warmer blue one.

"Yes, I think it was," nodded Kate. "It was really a very pretty wedding."

"With your help, Kate--eh?" teased William.

"Well, I flatter myself I did do some good," bridled Kate, as she turned to help little Kate take the flower wreath from her head.

"Even if you did hurry into my room and scare me into conniption fits telling me I'd be late," laughed Billy.

Kate tossed her head.

"Well, how was I to know that Aunt Hannah's clock only meant half-past eleven when it struck twelve?" she retorted.

Everybody laughed.

"Oh, well, it was a pretty wedding," declared William, with a long sigh.

"It'll do--for an understudy," said Bertram softly, for Billy's ears alone.

Only the added color and the swift glance showed that Billy heard, for when she spoke she said:

"And didn't Cyril behave beautifully? 'Most every time I looked at him he was talking to some woman."

"Oh, no, he wasn't--begging your pardon, my dear," objected Bertram. "I watched him, too, even more closely than you did, and it was always the woman who was talking to Cyril!"

Billy laughed.

"Well, anyhow," she maintained, "he listened. He didn't run away."

"As if a bridegroom could!" cried Kate.

"I'm going to," avowed Bertram, his nose in the air.

"Pooh!" scoffed Kate. Then she added eagerly: "You must be married in church, Billy, and in the evening."

Bertram's nose came suddenly out of the air. His eyes met Kate's squarely.

"Billy hasn't decided yet how she does want to be married," he said with unnecessary emphasis.

Billy laughed and interposed a quick change of subject.

"I think people had a pretty good time, too, for a wedding, don't you?" she asked. "I was sorry Mary Jane couldn't be here--'twould have been such a good chance for him to meet our friends."

"As--Mary Jane?" asked Bertram, a little stiffly.

"Really, my dear," murmured Aunt Hannah, "I think it would be more respectful to call him by his name."

"By the way, what is his name?" questioned William.

"That's what we don't know," laughed Billy.

"Well, you know the `Arkwright,' don't you?" put in Bertram. Bertram, too, laughed, but it was a little forcedly. "I suppose if you knew his name was `Methuselah,' you wouldn't call him that--yet, would you?"

Billy clapped her hands, and threw a merry glance at Aunt Hannah.

"There! we never thought of `Methuselah,' " she gurgled gleefully. "Maybe it is `Methuselah,' now--`Methuselah John'! You see, he's told us to try to guess it," she explained, turning to William; "but, honestly, I don't believe, whatever it is, I'll ever think of him as anything but `Mary Jane.' "

"Well, as far as I can judge, he has nobody but himself to thank for that, so he can't do any complaining," smiled William, as he rose to go. "Well, how about it, Bertram? I suppose you're going to stay a while to comfort the lonely--eh, boy?"

"Of course he is--and so are you, too, Uncle William," spoke up Billy, with affectionate cordiality. "As if I'd let you go back to a forlorn dinner in that great house to-night! Indeed, no!"

William smiled, hesitated, and sat down.

"Well, of course--" he began.

"Yes, of course," finished Billy, quickly. "I'll telephone Pete that you'll stay here--both of you."

It was at this point that little Kate, who had been turning interested eyes from one brother to the other, interposed a clear, high-pitched question.

"Uncle William, didn't you want to marry my going-to-be-Aunt Billy?"

"Kate!" gasped her mother, "didn't I tell you--" Her voice trailed into an incoherent murmur of remonstrance.

Billy blushed. Bertram said a low word under his breath. Aunt Hannah's "Oh, my grief and conscience!" was almost a groan.

William laughed lightly.

"Well, my little lady," he suggested, "let us put it the other way and say that quite probably she didn't want to marry me."

"Does she want to marry Uncle Bertram?" "Kate!" gasped Billy and Mrs. Hartwell together this time, fearful of what might be coming next.

"We'll hope so," nodded Uncle William, speaking in a cheerfully matter-of-fact voice, intended to discourage curiosity.

The little girl frowned and pondered. Her elders cast about in their minds for a speedy change of subject; but their somewhat scattered wits were not quick enough. It was little Kate who spoke next.

"Uncle William, would she have got Uncle Cyril if Aunt Marie hadn't nabbed him first?"

"Kate!" The word was a chorus of dismay this time.

Mrs. Hartwell struggled to her feet.

"Come, come, Kate, we must go up-stairs--to bed," she stammered.

The little girl drew back indignantly.

"To bed? Why, mama, I haven't had my supper yet!"

"What? Oh, sure enough--the lights! I forgot. Well, then, come up--to change your dress," finished Mrs. Hartwell, as with a despairing look and gesture she led her young daughter from the room.