Laddie, A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter VI. The Wedding Gown
"The gay belles of fashion may boast of excelling In waltz or cotillon, at whist or quadrille; And seek admiration by vauntingly telling Of drawing and painting, and musical skill; But give me the fair one, in country or city, Whose home and its duties are dear to her heart, Who cheerfully warbles some rustical ditty, While plying the needle with exquisite art: The bright little needle, the swift-flying needle, The needle directed by beauty and art."
The next morning Miss Amelia finished the chapter--that made two for our family. Father always read one before breakfast--no wonder I knew the Bible quite well--then we sang a song, and she made a stiff, little prayer. I had my doubts about her prayers; she was on no such terms with the Lord as my father. He got right at Him and talked like a doctor, and you felt he had some influence, and there was at least a possibility that he might get what he asked for; but Miss Amelia prayed as if the Lord were ten million miles away, and she would be surprised to pieces if she got anything she wanted. When she asked the Almighty to make us good, obedient children, there was not a word she said that showed she trusted either the Lord or us, or thought there was anything between us and heaven that might make us good because we wanted to be. You couldn't keep your eyes from the big gad and ruler on her desk; she often fingered them as she prayed, and you knew from her stiff, little, sawed-out petition that her faith was in implements, and she'd hit you a crack the minute she was the least angry, same as she had me the day before. I didn't feel any too good toward her, but when the blood of the Crusaders was in the veins, right must be done even if it took a struggle. I had to live up to those little gold shells on the trinket. Father said they knew I was coming down the line, so they put on a bird for me; but I told him I would be worthy of the shells too. This took about as hard a fight for me as any Crusade would for a big, trained soldier. I had been wrong, Laddie had made me see that. So I held up my hand, and Miss Amelia saw me as she picked up Ray's arithmetic.
"What is it?"
I held to the desk to brace myself, and tried twice before I could raise my voice so that she heard.
"Please, Miss Amelia," I said, "I was wrong about the birds yesterday. Not that they don't fight--they do! But I was wrong to contradict you before every one, and on your first day, and if you'll only excuse me, the next time you make a mistake, I'll tell you after school or at recess."
The room was so still you could hear the others breathing. Miss Amelia picked up the ruler and started toward me. Possibly I raised my hands. That would be no Crusader way, but you might do it before you had time to think, when the ruler was big and your head was the only place that would be hit. The last glimpse I had of her in the midst of all my trouble made me think of Sabethany Perkins.
Sabethany died, and they buried her at the foot of the hill in our graveyard before I could remember. But her people thought heaps of her, and spent much money on the biggest tombstone in the cemetery, and planted pinies and purple phlox on her, and went every Sunday to visit her. When they moved away, they missed her so, they decided to come back and take her along. The men were at work, and Leon and I went to see what was going on. They told us, and said we had better go away, because possibly things might happen that children would sleep better not to see. Strange how a thing like that makes you bound you will see. We went and sat on the fence and waited. Soon they reached Sabethany, but they could not seem to get her out. They tried, and tried, and at last they sent for more men. It took nine of them to bring her to the surface. What little wood was left, they laid back to see what made her so fearfully heavy, and there she was turned to solid stone. They couldn't chip a piece off her with the shovel. Mother always said, "For goodness sake, don't let your mouth hang open," and as a rule we kept ours shut; but you should have seen Leon's when he saw Sabethany wouldn't chip off, and no doubt mine was as bad.
"When Gabriel blows his trumpet, and the dead arise and come forth, what on earth will they do with Sabethany?" I gasped. "Why, she couldn't fly to Heaven with wings a mile wide, and what use could they make of her if she got there?"
"I can't see a thing she'd be good for except a hitching post," said Leon, "and I guess they don't let horses in. Let's go home."
He acted sick and I felt that way; so we went, but the last glimpse of Sabethany remained with me.
As my head went down that day, I saw that Miss Amelia looked exactly like her. You would have needed a pick-ax or a crowbar to flake off even a tiny speck of her. When I had waited for my head to be cracked, until I had time to remember that a Crusader didn't dodge and hide, I looked up, and there she stood with the ruler lifted; but now she had turned just the shade of the wattles on our fightingest turkey gobbler.
"Won't you please forgive me?"
I never knew I had said it until I heard it, and then the only way to be sure was because no one else would have been likely to speak at that time.
Miss Amelia's arm dropped and she glared at me. I wondered whether I ever would understand grown people; I doubted if they understood themselves, for after turning to stone in a second-- father said it had taken Sabethany seven years--and changing to gobbler red, Miss Amelia suddenly began to laugh. To laugh, of all things! And then, of course, every one else just yelled. I was so mortified I dropped my head again and began to cry as I never would if she'd hit me.
"Don't feel badly!" said Miss Amelia. "Certainly, I'll forgive you. I see you had no intention of giving offense, so none is taken. Get out your book and study hard on another lesson."
That was surprising. I supposed I'd have to do the same one over, but I might take a new one. I was either getting along fast, or Miss Amelia had her fill of birds. I wiped my eyes as straight in front of me as I could slip up my handkerchief, and began studying the first lesson in my reader: "Pretty bee, pray tell me why, thus from flower to flower you fly, culling sweets the livelong day, never leaving off to play?" That was a poetry piece, and it was quite cheery, although it was all strung together like prose, but you couldn't fool me on poetry; I knew it every time. As I studied I felt better, and when Miss Amelia came to hear me she was good as gold. She asked if I liked honey, and I started to tell her about the queen bee, but she had no time to listen, so she said I should wait until after school. Then we both forgot it, for when we reached home, the Princess' horse was hitched to our rack, and I fairly ran in, I was so anxious to know what was happening.
I was just perfectly amazed at grown people! After all the things our folks had said! You'd have supposed that Laddie would have been locked in the barn; father reading the thirty second Psalm to the Princess, and mother on her knees asking God to open her eyes like Saul's when he tried to kick against the pricks, and make her to see, as he did, that God was not a myth, Well, there was no one in the sitting-room or the parlour, but there were voices farther on; so I slipped in. I really had to slip, for there was no other place they could be except the parlour bedroom, and Sally's wedding things were locked up there, and we were not to see until everything was finished, like I told you.
Well, this was what I saw: our bedroom had been a porch once, and when we had been crowded on account of all of us coming, father enclosed it and made a room. But he never had taken out the window in the wall. So all I had to do when I wanted to know how fast the dresses were being made, was to shove up the window above my bed, push back the blind, and look in. I didn't care what she had. I just wanted to get ahead of her and see before she was ready, to pay her for beating me. I knew what she had, and I meant to tell her, and walk away with my nose in the air when she offered to show me; but this was different. I was wild to see what was going on because the Princess was there. The room was small, and the big cherry four-poster was very large, and all of them were talking, so no one paid the slightest attention to me.
Mother sat in the big rocking chair, with Sally on one of its arms, leaning against her shoulder. Shelley and May and the sewing woman were crowded between the wall and the footboard, and the others lined against the wall. The bed was heaped in a tumble of everything a woman ever wore. Seemed to me there was more stuff there than all the rest of us had, put together. The working dresses and aprons had been made on the machine, but there were heaps and stacks of hand-made underclothes. I could see the lovely chemise mother embroidered lying on top of a pile of bedding, and over and over Sally had said that every stitch in the wedding gown must be taken by hand. The Princess stood beside the bed. A funny little tight hat like a man's and a riding whip lay on a chair close by. I couldn't see what she wore--her usual riding clothes probably--for she had a nip in each shoulder of a dress she was holding to her chin and looking down at. After all, I hadn't seen everything! Never before or since have I seen a lovelier dress than that. It was what always had been wrapped in the sheet on the foot of the bed and I hadn't got a peep at it. The pale green silk with tiny pink moss roses in it, that I had been thinking was the wedding dress, looked about right to wash the dishes in, compared with this.
This was a wedding dress. You didn't need any one to tell you. The Princess had as much red as I ever had seen in her cheeks, her eyes were bright, and she was half-laughing and half-crying.
"Oh you lucky, lucky girl!" she was saying. "What a perfectly beautiful bride you will be! Never have I seen a more wonderful dress! Where did you get the material?"
Now we had been trained always to wait for mother to answer a visitor as she thought suitable, or at least to speak one at a time and not interrupt; but about six of those grown people told the Princess all at the same time how our oldest sister Elizabeth was married to a merchant who had a store at Westchester and how he got the dress in New York, and gave it to Sally for her wedding present, or she never could have had it.
The Princess lifted it and set it down softly. "Oh look!" she cried. "Look! It will stand alone!"
There it stood! Silk stiff enough to stand by itself, made into a little round waist, cut with a round neck and sleeves elbow length and flowing almost to where Sally's knees would come. It was a pale pearl-gray silk crossed in bars four inches square, made up of a dim yellow line almost as wide as a wheat straw, with a thread of black on each side of it, and all over, very wide apart, were little faint splashes of black as if they had been lightly painted on. The skirt was so wide it almost filled the room. Every inch of that dress was lined with soft, white silk. There was exquisite lace made into a flat collar around the neck, and ruffled from sight up the inside of the wide sleeves. That was the beginning. The finish was something you never saw anything like before. It was a trimming made of white and yellow beads. There was a little heading of white beads sewed into a pattern, then a lacy fringe that was pale yellow beads, white inside, each an inch long, that dangled, and every bead ended with three tiny white ones. That went around the neck, the outside of the sleeves, and in a pattern like a big letter V all the way around the skirt. And there it stood-- alone!
The Princess, graceful as a bird and glowing like fire, danced around it, and touched it, and lifted the sleeves, and made the bead fringe swing, and laughed, and talked every second. Sally, and mother, and all of them had smiled such wide smiles for so long, their faces looked almost as set as Sabethany's, but of course far different. Being dead was one thing, getting ready for a wedding another.
And it looked too as if God might be a myth, for all they cared, so long as the Princess could make the wedding dress stand alone, and talk a blue streak of things that pleased them. It was not put on either, for there stood the dress, shimmering like the inside of a pearl-lined shell, white as a lily, and the tinkly gold fringe. No one could have said enough about it, so no matter what the Princess said, it had to be all right. She kept straight on showing all of them how lovely it was, exactly as if they hadn't seen it before, and she had to make them understand about it, as if she felt afraid they might have missed some elegant touch she had seen.
"Do look how the lace falls when I raise this sleeve! Oh how will you wear this and think of a man enough to say the right words in the right place?"
Mother laughed, and so did all of them.
"Do please show me the rest," begged the Princess. "I know there are slippers and a bonnet!"
Sally just oozed pride. She untied the strings and pushed the prettiest striped bag from a lovely pink bandbox and took out a dear little gray bonnet with white ribbons, and the yellow bead fringe, and a bunch of white roses with a few green leaves. These she touched softly, "I'm not quite sure about the leaves," she said.
The Princess had the bonnet, turning and tilting it.
"Perfect!" she cried. "Quite perfect! You need that touch of colour, and it blends with everything. How I envy you! Oh why doesn't some one ask me, so I can have things like these? I think your brother is a genius. I'm going to ride to Westchester tomorrow and give him an order to fill for me the next time he goes to the city. No one shows me such fabrics when I go, and Aunt Beatrice sends nothing from London I like nearly so well. Oh! Oh!"
She was on her knees now, lifting the skirt to set under little white satin slippers with gold buckles, and white bead buttons. When she had them arranged to suit her, she sat on the floor and kept straight on saying the things my mother and sisters seemed crazy to hear. When Sally showed her the long white silk mitts that went with the bonnet, the Princess cried: "Oh do ride home with me and let me give you a handkerchief Aunt Beatrice sent me, to carry in your hand!"
Then her face flushed and she added without giving Sally time to say what she would do: "Or I can bring it the next time I come past. It belongs with these things and I have no use for it. May I?"
"Please do! I'll use it for the thing I borrow."
"But I mean it to be a gift," said the Princess. "It was made to go with these lace mitts and satin slippers. You must take it!"
"Thank you very much," said Sally. "If you really want me to have it, of course I'd love to."
"I'll bring it to-morrow," promised the Princess. "And I wish you'd let me try a way I know to dress hair for a wedding. Yours is so beautiful."
"You're kind, I'm sure," said Sally. "I had intended to wear it as I always do, so I would appear perfectly natural to the folks; but if you know a more becoming way, I could begin it now, and they would be familiar with it by that time."
"I shan't touch it," said the Princess, studying Sally's face. "Your idea is right. You don't want to commence any new, unfamiliar style that would make you seem different, just at a time when every one should see how lovely you are, as you always have been. But don't forget to wear something blue, and something borrowed for luck, and oh do please put on one of my garters!"
"Well for mercy sake!" cried my mother. "Why?"
"So some one will propose to me before the year is out," laughed the Princess. "I think it must be the most fun of all, to make beautiful things for your very own home, and lovely dresses, and be surrounded by friends all eager to help you, and to arrange a house and live with a man you love well enough to marry, and fix for little people who might come----"
"You know perfectly there isn't a single man in the county who wouldn't propose to you, if you'd let him come within a mile of you," said Shelley.
"When the right man comes I'll go half the mile to meet him? you may be sure of that; won't I, Mrs. Stanton?" the Princess turned to mother.
"I have known girls who went even farther," said my mother rather dryly.
"I draw the line at half," laughed the Princess. "Now I must go; I have been so long my people will be wondering what I'm doing."
Standing in the middle of the room she put on her hat, picked up her whip and gloves, and led the way to the hitching rack, while all of us followed. At the gate stood Laddie as he had come from the field. His old hat was on the back of his head, his face flushed, his collar loosened so that his strong white neck showed, and his sleeves were rolled to the elbow, as they had been all summer, and his arms were burned almost to blisters. When he heard us coming he opened the gate, went to the rack, untied the Princess' horse and led it beside the mounting block. As she came toward him, he took off his hat and pitched it over the fence on the grass.
"Miss Pryor, allow me to make you acquainted with my son," said mother.
I felt as if I would blow up. I couldn't keep my eyes from turning toward the Princess. Gee! I could have saved my feelings. She made mother the prettiest little courtsey I ever set eyes on, and then turned and made a deeper one to Laddie.
"I met your son in one of the village stores some time ago," she said. "Back her one step farther, please!"
Laddie backed the horse, and quicker than you could see how it was done, she flashed up the steps and sat the saddle; but as she leaned over the horse's neck to take the rein from Laddie, he got one level look straight in the eyes that I was sure none of the others saw, because they were not watching for it, and I was. Laddie bowed from the waist, and put the reins in her fingers all in one movement. He caught the glance she gave him too; I could almost feel it like a band passing between them. Then she called a laughing good-bye to all of us at once, and showed us how to ride right, as she flashed toward the Little Hill. That was riding, you may believe, and mother sighed as she watched her.
"If I were a girl again," she said, "I would ride as well as that, or I'd never mount a horse."
"She's been trained from her cradle, and her father deals in horses. Half the battle in riding is a thoroughbred," said Laddie. "No such horse as that ever stepped these roads before."
"And no such girl ever travelled them," said my mother, folding her hands one over the other on top of a post of the hitching rack. "I must say I don't know how this is coming out, and it troubles me."
"Why, what's up?" asked Laddie, covering her hands with his and looking her in the eyes.
"Just this," said my mother. "She's more beautiful of face and form than God ought to allow any woman to be, in mercy to the men who will be forced to meet her. Her speech is highly cultured. Her manners are perfect, and that is a big and unusual thing in a girl of her age. Every word she said, every move she made to- day, was exactly as I would have been proud to hear, and to see a daughter of mine speak and move. If I had only myself to consider, I would make her my friend, because I'm seasoned in the ways of the world, and she could influence me only as I chose to allow her. With you youngsters it is different. You'll find her captivating, and you may let her ways sway you without even knowing it. All these outward things are not essential; they are pleasing, I grant, but they have nothing to do with the one big, elemental fact that a Godless life is not even half a life. I never yet have known any man or woman who attempted it who did not waste life's grandest opportunities, and then come crawling and defeated to the foot of the cross in the end, asking God's mercy where none was deserved or earned. It seems to me a craven way. I know all about the forgiveness on the cross! I know God is big enough and merciful enough to accept even death-bed repentance, but what is that to compare with laying out your course and running it a lifetime without swerving? I detest and distrust this infidel business. I want no child of mine under its influence, or in contact with it."
"But when your time comes, if you said just those things to hers and won her, what a triumph, little mother!"
"`If!'" answered mother. "That's always the trouble! One can't be sure! `If' I knew I could accomplish that, I would get on my knees and wrestle with the Lord for the salvation of the soul of a girl like that, not to mention her poor, housebound mother, and that man with the unhappiest face I ever have seen, her father. It's worth trying, but suppose I try and fail, and at the same time find that in bringing her among us she has influenced some of mine to the loss of their immortal souls then, what will I have done?"
"Mother," said Laddie; "mother, have you such a poor opinion of the things you and father have taught us, and the lives you've lived before us, that you're really afraid of a slip of a girl, almost a stranger?"
"The most attractive girl I ever have seen, and mighty willing to be no longer a stranger, Lad."
"Well, I can't promise for the others," said Laddie, "but for myself I will give you my word of honour that I won't be influenced the breadth of one hair by her, in a doctrinal way."
"Humph!" said my mother. "And it is for you I fear. If a young man is given the slightest encouragement by a girl like that, even his God can't always hold him; and you never have made a confession of faith, Laddie. It is you she will be most likely to captivate."
"If you think I have any chance, I'll go straight over and ask her father for her this very evening," said Laddie, and even mother laughed; then all of us started to the house, for it was almost supper time. I got ready and thought I'd take one more peep at the dress before Sally pinned it in the sheet again, and when I went back, there all huddled in a bunch before it stood Miss Amelia, the tears running down her cheeks.
"Did Sally say you might come here?" I asked.
"No," said Miss Amelia, "but I've been so crazy to see I just slipped in to take a peep when I noticed the open door. I'll go this minute. Please don't tell her."
I didn't say what I would do, but I didn't intend to.
"What are you crying about?" I inquired.
"Ah, I too have known love," sobbed Miss Amelia. "Once I made a wedding dress, and expected to be a happy bride."
"Well, wasn't you?" I asked, and knew at once it was a silly question, for of course she would not be a miss, if she had not missed marrying.
"He died!" sobbed Miss Amelia.
If he could have seen her then, I believe he'd have been glad of it; but maybe he looked as bony and dejected as she did before he went; and he may have turned to stone afterward, as sometimes happens. Right then I heard Sally coming, so I grabbed Miss Amelia and dragged her under the fourposter, where I always hid when caught doing something I shouldn't. But Sally had so much stuff she couldn't keep all of it on the bed, and when she stooped and lifted the ruffle to shove a box under, she pushed it right against us, and knelt to look, and there we were.
"Well upon my soul!" she cried, and sat flat on the floor, holding the ruffle, peering in. "Miss Amelia! And in tears! Whatever is the trouble?"
Miss Amelia's face was redder than any crying ever made it, and I saw she wanted to kill me for getting her into such a fix, and if she became too angry probably she'd take it out on me in school the next day, so I thought I'd better keep her at work shedding tears.
"`He died!'" I told Sally as pathetically as ever I could.
Sally dropped the ruffle instantly, but I saw her knees shake against the floor. After a while she lifted the curtain and offered Miss Amelia her hand.
"I was leaving my dress to show you before putting it away," she said.
I didn't believe it; but that was what she said. Maybe it was an impulse. Mother always said Sally was a creature of impulse. When she took off her flannel petticoat and gave it to poor little half-frozen Annie Hasty, that was a good impulse, but it sent Sally to bed for a week. And when she threw a shovel of coals on Bill Ramsdell's dog, because Bill was a shiftless lout, and the dog was so starved it all the time came over and sucked our eggs, that was a bad impulse, because it didn't do Bill a particle of good, and it hurt the dog, which would have been glad to suck eggs at home, no doubt, if Bill hadn't been too worthless to keep hens.
That was a good impulse she had then, for she asked Miss Amelia to help her straighten the room, and of course that meant to fold and put away wedding things. Any woman would have been wild to do that. Then she told Miss Amelia that she was going to ask father to dismiss school for half a day, and allow her to see the wedding, and she asked her if she would help serve the breakfast.
Miss Amelia wiped her eyes, and soon laughed and was just beaming. I would have been willing to bet my three cents for lead pencils the next time the huckster came, that Sally never thought of wanting her until that minute; and then she arranged for her to wait on table to keep her from trying to eat with the wedding party, because Miss Amelia had no pretty clothes for one thing, and for another, you shouldn't act as if you were hungry out in company, and she ate every meal as if she were breaking a forty days' fast. I wondered what her folks cooked at home.
After supper Peter came, and the instant I saw him I thought of something, and it was such a teasing thought I followed around and watched him harder every minute . At last he noticed me, and put his arms around me.
"Well, what is it, Little Sister?" he asked.
I did wish he would quit that. No one really had a right to call me that, except Laddie. Maybe I had to put up with Peter doing it when I was his sister by law, but before, the old name the preacher baptized on me was good enough for Peter. I was thinking about that so hard, I didn't answer, and he asked again.
"I have seen Sally's wedding dress," I told him.
"But that's no reason why you should stare at me."
"That's just exactly the reason," I answered. "I was trying to see what in the world there is about you to be worth a dress like that."
Peter laughed and laughed. At last he said that he was not really worth even a calico dress; and he was so little worthy of Sally that he would button her shoes, if she would let him. He got that mixed. The buttons were on her slippers: her shoes laced. But it showed a humble spirit in Peter. Not that I care for humble spirits. I am sure the Crusaders didn't have them. I don't believe Laddie would lace even the Princess' shoes, at least not to make a steady business of it. But maybe Peter and Sally had an agreement to help each other. She was always fixing his tie, and straightening his hair. Maybe that was an impulse, though, and mother said Sally would get over being so impulsive when she cut her eye teeth.