Laddie, A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter VII. When Sally Married Peter
"Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, Be it ever so humble there's no place like home! A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there, Which, seek through the world, is ne'er met with elsewhere."
When they began arranging the house for the wedding, it could be seen that they had been expecting it, and getting ready for a long time. From all the closets, shelves and chests poured heaps of new things. First, the walls were cleaned and some of them freshly papered, then the windows were all washed long before regular housecleaning time, the floors were scrubbed and new carpet put down. Mother had some window blinds that Winfield had brought her from New York in the spring, and she had laid them away; no one knew why, then. We all knew now. When mother was ready to put them up, father had a busy day and couldn't help her, and she was really provoked. She almost cried about it, when Leon rode in bringing the mail, and said Hannah Dover had some exactly like ours at her windows, that her son had sent from Illinois. Father felt badly enough then, for he always did everything he could to help mother to be first with everything; but so she wouldn't blame him, he said crosslike that if she had let him put them up when they came, as he wanted to, she'd have been six months ahead.
When they finally got ready to hang the blinds no one knew how they went. They were a beautiful shiny green, plain on one side, and on the other there was a silver border across the bottom and one pink rose as big as a pie plate. Mother had neglected to ask Winfield on which side the rose belonged. Father said from the way the roll ran, it went inside. Mother said they were rolled that way to protect the roses, and that didn't prove anything. Laddie said he would jump on a horse and ride round the section, and see how Hannah Dover had hers, and exactly opposite would be right. Everyone laughed, but no one thought he meant it. Mother had father hold one against the window, and she stepped outside to see if she could tell from there. When she came in she said the flower looked mighty pretty, and she guessed that was the way, so father started hanging them. He had only two up when Laddie came racing down the Big Hill bareback, calling for him to stop.
"I tell you that's not right, mother!" he said as he hurried in.
"But I went outside and father held one, and it looked real pretty," said mother.
"One! Yes!" said Laddie. "But have you stopped to consider how two rows across the house are going to look? Nine big pink roses, with the sun shining on them! Anything funnier than Dovers' front I never saw. And look here!"
Laddie picked up a blind. "See this plain back? It's double coated like a glaze. That is so the sun shining through glass won't fade it. The flowers would be gone in a week. They belong inside, mother, sure as you live."
"Then when the blinds are rolled to the middle sash in the daytime no one can see them," wailed mother, who was wild about pink roses.
"But at night, when they are down, you can put the curtains back enough to let the roses show, and think how pretty they will look then."
"Laddie is right!" said father, climbing on the barrel to take down the ones he had fixed.
"What do you think, girls?" asked mother.
"I think the Princess is coming down the Little Hill," said Shelley. "Hurry, father! Take them down before she sees! I'm sure they're wrong."
Father got one all right, but tore the corner of the other. Mother scolded him dreadfully cross, and he was so flustered he forgot about being on the barrel, so he stepped back the same as on the floor, and fell crashing. He might have broken some of his bones, if Laddie hadn't seen and caught him.
"If you are sure the flowers go inside, fix one before she comes!" cried mother.
Father stepped too close the edge of the chair, and by that time he didn't know how to hang anything, so Laddie climbed up and had one nailed before the Princess stopped. She came to bring Sally the handkerchief, and it was the loveliest one any of us ever had seen. There was a little patch in the middle about four inches square, and around it a wide ruffle of dainty lace. It was made to carry in a hand covered with white lace mitts, when you were wearing a wedding gown of silver silk, lined with white. Of course it wouldn't have been the slightest use for a funeral or with a cold in your head. And it had come from across the sea! From the minute she took it by a pinch in the middle, Sally carried her head so much higher than she ever had before, that you could notice the difference.
Laddie went straight on nailing up the blinds, and every one he fixed he let down full length so the Princess could see the roses were inside; he was so sure he was right. After she had talked a few minutes she noticed the blinds going up. Laddie, in a front window, waved to her from the barrel. She laughed and answered with her whip, and then she laughed again.
"Do you know," she said, "there is the funniest thing at Dovers'. I rode past on the way to Groveville this morning and they have some blinds like those you are putting up."
"Indeed?" inquired my mother. "Winfield sent us these from New York in the spring, but I thought the hot summer sun would fade them, so I saved them until the fall cleaning. The wedding coming on makes us a little early but----"
"Well, they may not be exactly the same," said the Princess. "I only saw from the highway." She meant road; there were many things she said differently. "Have yours big pink roses and silver scrolls inside?"
"Yes," said mother.
The Princess bubbled until it made you think one of those yellow oriole birds had perched on her saddle. "That poor woman has gone and put hers up wrong side out. The effect of all those big pink roses on her white house front is most amusing. It looks as if the house were covered with a particularly gaudy piece of comfort calico. Only fancy!"
She laughed again and rode away. Mother came in just gasping.
"Well, for all His mercies, large and small, the Lord be praised!" she cried piously, as she dropped into the big rocking chair. "That is what I consider escaping by the skin of your teeth!"
Then father and Laddie laughed, and said they thought so too. When the blinds were up, the outside looked well, and you should have seen the inside! The woodwork was enamelled white, and the wall paper was striped in white and silver. Every so far on the silver there was a little pink moss rose having green leaves. The carpet was plum red and green in wide stripes, and the lace curtains were freshly washed, snowy, and touched the floor. The big rocker, the straight-backed chairs, and the sofa were beautiful red mahogany wood, and the seats shining haircloth. If no one happened to be looking, you could sit on a sofa arm, stick your feet out and shoot off like riding down a haystack; the landing was much better. On the sofa you bounced two feet high the first time; one, the second; and a little way the third. On the haystack, maybe you hit a soft spot, and maybe you struck a rock. Sometimes if you got smart, and tried a new place, and your feet caught in a tangle of weeds and stuck, you came up straight, pitched over, and landed on your head. Then if you struck a rock, you were still, quite a while. I was once. But you never dared let mother see you--on the sofa, I mean; she didn't care about the haystack.
There were pictures in oval black frames having fancy edges, and a whatnot where all our Christmas and birthday gifts, almost too dainty to handle, were kept. You fairly held your breath when you looked at the nest of spun green glass, with the white dove in it, that George Washington Mitchell gave to Shelley. Of course a dove's nest was never deep, and round, and green, and the bird didn't have red eyes and a black bill. I thought whoever could blow glass as beautifully as that, might just as easy have made it right while he was at it; but anyway, it was pretty. There were pitchers, mugs, and vases, almost too delicate to touch, and the cloth-covered box with braids of hair coiled in wreaths from the heads of the little fever and whooping cough sisters.
Laddie asked Sally if she and Peter were going to have the ceremony performed while they sat on the sofa. Seemed the right place. They had done all their courting there, even on hot summer days; but I supposed that was because Sally didn't want to be seen fixing Peter's tie until she was ready. She made no bones about it then. She fixed it whenever she pleased; likewise he held her hand. Shelley said that was disgusting, and you wouldn't catch her. Leon said he bet a dollar he would; and I said if he knew he'd get beaten as I did, I bet two dollars he wouldn't tell what he saw. The mantel was white, with vases of the lovely grasses that grew beside the stream at the foot of the Big Hill. Mother gathered the fanciest every fall, dried them, and dipped them in melted alum coloured with copperas, aniline, and indigo. Then she took bunches of the colours that went together best and made bouquets for the big vases. They were pretty in the daytime, but at night you could watch them sparkle and shimmer forever.
I always thought the sitting-room was nicer than the parlour. The woodwork was white enamel there too, but the bureau and chairs were just cherry and not too precious to use. They were every bit as pretty. The mantel was much larger. I could stand up in the fireplace, and it took two men to put on an everyday log, four the Christmas one. On each side were the book shelves above, and the linen closets below. The mantel set between these, and mother always used the biggest, most gorgeous bouquets there, because she had so much room. The hearth was a slab of stone that came far into the room. We could sit on it and crack nuts, roast apples, chestnuts, and warm our cider, then sweep all the muss we made into the fire. The wall paper was white and pale pink in stripes, and on the pink were little handled baskets filled with tiny flowers of different colours. We sewed the rags for the carpet ourselves, and it was the prettiest thing. One stripe was wide, all gray, brown, and dull colours, and the other was pink. There were green blinds and lace curtains here also, and nice braided rugs that all of us worked on of winter evenings. Everything got spicker and spanner each day.
Mother said there was no use in putting down a carpet in a dining-room where you constantly fed a host, and the boys didn't clean their feet as carefully as they should in winter; but there were useful rags where they belonged, and in our bedroom opening from it also. The dining-room wall paper had a broad stripe of rich cream with pink cabbage roses scattered over it and a narrow pink stripe, while the woodwork was something perfectly marvellous. I didn't know what kind of wood it was, but a man who could turn his hand to anything, painted it. First, he put on a pale yellow coat and let it dry. Then he added wood brown, and while it was wet, with a coarse toothed comb, a rag, and his fingers, he imitated the grain, the even wood, and knotholes of dressed lumber, until many a time I found myself staring steadily at a knot to see if a worm wouldn't really come working out. You have to see a thing like that to understand how wonderful it is. You couldn't see why they washed the bedding, and took the feathers from the pillows and steamed them in mosquito netting bags and dried them in the shade, when Sally's was to be a morning wedding, but they did. I even had to take a bucket and gather from around the walls all the little heaps of rocks and shells that Uncle Abraham had sent mother from California, take them out and wash and wipe them, and stack them back, with the fanciest ones on top. He sent her a ring made of gold he dug himself. She always kept the ring in a bottle in her bureau, and she meant to wear it at the wedding, with her new silk dress. I had a new dress too. I don't know how they got everything done. All of them worked, until the last few days they were perfect cross patches.
When they couldn't find another thing indoors to scour, they began on the yard, orchard, barn and road. Mother even had Leon stack the wood pile straighter. She said when corded wood leaned at an angle, it made people seem shiftless; and she never passed a place where it looked that way that her fingers didn't just itch to get at it. He had to pull every ragweed on each side of the road as far as our land reached, and lay every rail straight in the fences. Father had to take spikes and our biggest maul and go to the bridges at the foot of the Big and the Little Hill, and see that every plank was fast, so none of them would rattle when important guests drove across. She said she just simply wouldn't have them in such a condition that Judge Pettis couldn't hear himself think when he crossed; for you could tell from his looks that it was very important that none of the things he thought should be lost. There wasn't a single spot about the place inside or out that wasn't gone over; and to lots of it you never would have known anything had been done if you hadn't seen, because the place was always in proper shape anyway; but father said mother acted just like that, even when her sons were married at other people's houses; and if she kept on getting worse, every girl she married off, by the time she reached me, we'd all be scoured threadbare and she'd be on the verge of the grave. May and I weeded the flowerbeds, picked all the ripe seed, and pulled up and burned all the stalks that were done blooming. Father and Laddie went over the garden carefully; they scraped the walks and even shook the palings to see if one were going to come loose right at the last minute, when every one would be so flustrated there would be no time to fix it.
Then they began to talk about arrangements for the ceremony, whether we should have our regular minister, or Presiding Elder Lemon, and what people they were going to invite. Just when we had planned to ask every one, have the wedding in the church, and the breakfast at the house, and all drive in a joyous procession to Groveville to give them a good send-off in walked Sally. She had been visiting Peter's people, and we planned a lot while she was away.
"What's going on here?" she asked, standing in the doorway, dangling her bonnet by the ties.
She never looked prettier. Her hair had blown out in little curls around her face from riding, her cheeks were so pink, and her eyes so bright.
"We were talking about having the ceremony in the church, so every one can be comfortably seated, and see and hear well," answered mother.
Sally straightened up and began jerking the roses on her bonnet far too roughly for artificial flowers. Perhaps I surprised you with that artificial word, but I can spell and define it; it's easy divided into syllables. Goodness knows, I have seen enough flowers made from the hair of the dead, wax, and paper, where you get the shape, but the colour never is right. These of Sally's were much too bright, but they were better than the ones made at our house. Hers were of cloth and bought at a store. You couldn't tell why, but Sally jerked her roses; I wished she wouldn't, because I very well knew they would be used to trim my hat the next summer, and she said: "Well, people don't have to be comfortable during a wedding ceremony; they can stand up if I can, and as for seeing and hearing, I'm asking a good many that I don't intend to have see or hear either one!"
"My soul!" cried mother, and she dropped her hands and her mouth fell open, like she always told us we never should let ours, while she stared at Sally.
"I don't care!" said Sally, straightening taller yet; her eyes began to shine and her lips to quiver, as if she would cry in a minute; "I don't care----!"
"Which means, my child, that you do care, very much," said father. "Suppose you cease such reckless talk, and explain to us exactly what it is that you do want."
Sally gave her bonnet an awful jerk. Those roses would look like sin before my turn to wear them came, and she said: "Well then, I do care! I care with all my might! The church is all right, of course; but I want to be married in my very own home! Every one can think whatever they please about their home, and so can I, and what I think is, that this is the nicest and the prettiest place in all the world, and I belong here----"
Father lifted his head, his face began to shine, and his eyes to grow teary; while mother started toward Sally. She put out her hand and held mother from her at arm's length, and she turned and looked behind her through the sitting-room and parlour, and then at us, and she talked so fast you never could have understood what she said if you hadn't known all of it anyway, and thought exactly the same thing yourself.
"I have just loved this house ever since it was built," she said, "and I've had as good times here as any girl ever had. If any one thinks I'm so very anxious to leave it, and you, and mother, and all the others, why it's a big mistake. Seems as if a girl is expected to marry and go to a home of her own; it's drummed into her and things fixed for her from the day of her birth; and of course I do like Peter, but no home in the world, not even the one he provides for me, will ever be any dearer to me than my own home; and as I've always lived in it, I want to be married in it, and I want to stay here until the very last second----"
"You shall, my child, you shall!" sobbed mother.
"And as for having a crowd of men that father is planning to ask, staring at me, because he changes harvest help and wood chopping with them, or being criticised and clawed over by some women simply because they'll be angry if they don't get the chance, I just won't--so there! Not if I have to stand the minister against the wall, and turn our backs to every one. I think----"
"That will do!" said father, wiping his eyes. "That will do, Sally! Your mother and I have got a pretty clear understanding of how you feel, now. Don't excite yourself! Your wedding shan't be used to pay off our scores. You may ask exactly whom you please, want, and feel quite comfortable to have around you----"
Then Sally fell on mother's neck and every one cried a while; then we wiped up, Leon gave Sally his slate, and she came and sat beside the table and began to make out a list of those she really wanted to invite. First she put down all of our family, even many away in Ohio, and all of Peter's, and then his friends, and hers. Once in the list of girls she stopped and said: "If I take that beautiful imported handkerchief from Pamela Pryor, I have just got to invite her "
"And she will outdress and outshine you at your own wedding," put in Shelley.
"Let her, if she can!" said Sally calmly. "She'll have to hump herself if she beats that dress of mine; and as for looks, I know lots of people who think gray eyes, pink cheeks, and brown curls far daintier and prettier than red cheeks and black eyes and curls. If she really is better looking than I am, it isn't her fault; God made her that way, and He wouldn't like us to punish her for it; and it would, because any one can see she wants to be friends; don't you think, mother?"--mother nodded--"and besides, I think she's better looking than I am, myself!"
Sally said that, and wrote down the Princess' name in big letters, and no one cheeped.
Then she began on our neighbourhood, thinking out loud and writing what she thought. So all of us were as still, and held our breath in softly and waited, and Sally said slow and musing like, "Of course we couldn't have anything at this house without Sarah Hood. She dressed most of us when we were born, nursed us when we were sick, helped with threshing, company, and parties, and she's just splendid anyway; we better ask all the Hoods"; so she wrote them down. "And it will be lonely for Widow Willis and the girls to see every one else here--we must have them; and of course Deams--Amanda is always such splendid help; and the Widow Fall is so perfectly lovely, we want her for decorative purposes; and we could scarcely leave out Shaws; they always have all of us everything they do; and Dr. Fenner of course; and we'll want Flo and Agnes Kuntz to wait on table, so their folks might as well come too----"
So she went on taking up each family we knew, and telling what they had done for us, or what we had done for them; and she found some good reason for inviting them, and pretty soon father settled back in his chair and never took his eyes from Sally's shining head as she bent over the slate, and then he began pulling his lower lip, like when it won't behave, and his eyes danced exactly as I've seen Leon's. I never had noticed that before.
Sally went straight on and at last she came to Freshetts. "I am going to have all of them, too," she said. "The children are good children, and it will help them along to see how things are done when they are right; and I don't care what any one says, I like Mrs. Freshett. I'll ask her to help work, and that will keep her from talking, and give the other women a chance to see that she's clean, and human, and would be a good neighbour if they'd be friendly. If we ask her, then the others will."
When she finished--as you live--there wasn't a soul she had left out except Bill Ramsdell, who starved his dog until it sucked our eggs, and Isaac Thomas, who was so lazy he wouldn't work enough to keep his wife and children dressed so they ever could go anywhere, but he always went, even with rags flying, and got his stomach full just by talking about how he loved the Lord. To save me I couldn't see Isaac Thomas without beginning to myself:
"'Tis the voice of the sluggard; I hear him complain, You have waked me too soon, I must slumber again. I passed by his garden, I saw the wild brier, The thorn, and the thistle, grow broader and higher; The clothes that hang on him are turning to rags; And his money he wastes, till he starves or he begs."
That described Isaac to the last tatter, only he couldn't waste money; he never had any. Once I asked father what he thought Isaac would do with it, if by some unforeseen working of Divine Providence, he got ten dollars. Father said he could tell me exactly, because Isaac once sold some timber and had a hundred all at once. He went straight to town and bought Mandy a red silk dress and a brass breastpin, when she had no shoes. He got the children an organ, when they were hungry; and himself a plug hat. Mandy and the children cried because he forgot candy and oranges until the last cent was gone. Father said the only time Isaac ever worked since he knew him was when he saw how the hat looked with his rags. He actually helped the men fell the trees until he got enough to buy a suit, the remains of which he still wore on Sunday. I asked father why he didn't wear the hat too, and father said the loss of that hat was a blow, from which Isaac never had recovered. Once at camp-meeting he laid it aside to pray his longest, most impressive prayer, and an affectionate cow strayed up and licked the nap all off before Isaac finished, so he never could wear it again.
Sally said: "I'll be switched if I'll have that disgusting creature around stuffing himself on my wedding day; but if you're not in bed, when it's all over, mother, I do wish you'd send Mandy and the children a basket."
Mother promised, and father sat and looked on and pulled his lower lip until his ears almost wiggled. Then Sally said she wanted Laddie and Shelley to stand at the parlour door and keep it tight shut, and seat every one in the sitting-room except a special list she had made out to send in there. She wanted all our family and Peter's, and only a few very close friends, but it was enough to fill the room. She said when she and Peter came downstairs every one could see how they looked when they crossed the sitting-room, and for all the difference the door would make, it could be left open then; she would be walled in by people she wanted around her, and the others could have the fun of being there, seeing what they could, and getting all they wanted to eat. Father and mother said that was all right, only to say nothing about the plan to shut the door; but when the time came just to close it and everything would be satisfactory.
Then Sally took the slate upstairs to copy the list with ink, so every one went about something, while mother crossed to father and he took her on his lap, and they looked at each other the longest and the hardest, and neither of them said a word. After a while they cried and laughed, and cried some more, and it was about as sensible as what a flock of geese say when they are let out of the barn and start for the meadow in the morning. Then father, all laughy and criey, said: "Thank God! Oh, thank God, the girl loves the home we have made for her!"
Just said it over and over, and mother kept putting in: "It pays, Paul! It pays!"
Next day Sally put on her riding habit and fixed herself as pretty as ever she could, and went around to have a last little visit with every one, and invited them herself, and then she wrote letters to people away. Elizabeth and Lucy came home, and every one began to work. Father and mother went to the village in the carriage and brought home the bed full of things to eat, and all we had was added, and mother began to pack butter, and save eggs for cakes, and the day before, I thought there wouldn't be a chicken left on the place. They killed and killed, and Sarah Hood, Amanda Deam, and Mrs. Freshett picked and picked.
"I'll bet a dollar we get something this time besides ribs and neck," said Leon. "How do you suppose thigh and breast would taste?"
"I was always crazy to try the tail," I said.
"Much chance you got," sniggered Leon. "'Member the time that father asked the Presiding Elder, `Brother Lemon, what piece of the fowl do you prefer?' and he up and said: `I'm partial to the rump, Brother Stanton.' There sat father bound he wouldn't give him mother's piece, so he pretended he couldn't find it, and forked all over the platter and then gave him the ribs and the thigh. Gee, how mother scolded him after the preacher had gone! You notice father hasn't asked that since. Now, he always says: `Do you prefer light or dark meat?' Much chance you have of ever tasting a tail, if father won't even give one to the Presiding Elder!"
"But as many as they are killing----"
"Oh this time," said Leon with a flourish, "this time we are going to have livers, and breast, and thighs, and tails, if you are beholden to tail."
"I'd like to know how we are?"
"Well, since you have proved that you can keep your mouth shut, for a little while, anyway, I'm going to take you in on this," said Leon. "You keep your eyes on me. When the wedding gets going good, you watch me, and slip out. That's all! I'll be fixed to do the rest. But mind this, get out when I do."
"All right," I promised.
They must have wakened about four o'clock on the wedding day; it wasn't really light when I got up. I had some breakfast in my night dress, and then I was all fixed up in my new clothes, and made to sit on a chair, and never move for fear I would soil my dress, for no one had time to do me over, and there was only one dress anyway. There was so much to see you could keep interested just watching, and I was as anxious to look nice before the boys and girls, and the big people, as any one.
Every mantel and table and bureau was covered with flowers, and you could have smelled the kitchen a mile away, I know. The dining table was set for the wedding party, our father and mother, and Peter's, and the others had to wait. You couldn't have laid the flat of your hand on that table anywhere, it was so covered with things to eat. Miss Amelia, in a dress none of us ever had seen before, a real nice white dress, pranced around it and smirked at every one, and waved the peacock feather brush to keep the flies from the jelly, preserves, jam, butter, and things that were not cooked.
For hours Mrs. Freshett had stood in the kitchen on one side of the stove frying chicken and heaping it in baking pans in the oven, and Amanda Deam on the other, frying ham, while Sarah Hood cooked other things, and made a wash boiler of coffee. Everything was ready by the time it should have been. I had watched them until I was tired, when Sally came through the room where I was, and she said I might come along upstairs and see her dressed. When we reached the door I wondered where she would put me, but she pushed clothing together on a bed, and helped me up, and that was great fun.
She had been bathed and had on her beautiful new linen underclothing that mother punched full of holes and embroidered in flowers and vines, and Shelley was brushing her hair when some one called out: "The Princess is coming!"
I jumped for the window, and all of them, even Sally, crowded behind. Well, talk about carriages! No one ever had seen that one before. It was a carriage. And such horses! The funny "'orse, 'ouse" man who made the Pryor garden was driving. He stopped at the gate, got out and opened a door, and the Princess' father stepped down, tall and straight, all in shiny black. He turned around and held out his hand, bowing double, and the Princess laid her hand in his and stepped out too. He walked with her to the gate, made another bow, kissed her hand, and stepped back, and she came down the walk alone. He got in the carriage, the man closed the door, and they drove away.
Sally must have arranged before that the Princess was to come early, for she came straight upstairs. She wore a soft white silk dress with big faded pink roses in it, and her hair was fastened at each ear with a bunch of little pink roses. She was lovely, but she didn't "outdress or outshine" Sally one bit, and she never even glanced at the mirror to see how she looked; she began helping with Sally's hair, and to dress her. When Bess Kuntz prinked so long she made every one disgusted, the Princess said: "Oh save your trouble. No one will look at you when there's a bride in the house."
There was a roll almost as thick as your arm of garters that all the other girls wanted Sally to wear for them so they would get a chance to marry that year, and Agnes Kuntz's was so large it went twice around, and they just laughed about it. They put a blue ribbon on Sally's stays for luck, and she borrowed Peter's sister Mary's comb to hold her back hair. They had the most fun, and when she was all ready except her dress they went away, and Sally stood in the middle of the room trembling a little. Outside you could hear carriage wheels rolling, the beat of horses' hoofs, and voices crying greetings. "There was a sound of revelry," by day. Mother came in hurriedly. She wore her new brown silk, with a lace collar pinned at the throat with the pin that had a brown goldstone setting in it, and her precious ring was on her finger. She was dainty and pretty enough to have been a bride herself. She turned Sally around slowly, touching her hair a little and her skirts; then she went to the closet, took out the wedding dress, put the skirt over Sally's head, and she came up through the whiteness, pink and glowing. She slipped her arms into the sleeves, and mother fastened it, shook out the skirt, saw that the bead fringe hung right, and the lace collar lay flat, then she took Sally in her arms, held her tight and said: "God bless you, dear, and keep you always. Amen."
Then she stepped to the door, and Peter, all shining and new, came in. He hugged Sally and kissed her like it didn't make the least difference whether she had on calico or a wedding dress, and he just stared, and stared at her, and never said a word, so at last she asked: "Well Peter, do you like my dress?"
And the idiot said: "Why Sally, I hadn't even seen it!"
Then both of them laughed, and the Presiding Elder came.
I never liked to look at him very well because something had happened, and he had only one eye. I always wondered if he had "plucked it out" because it had "offended" him; but if you could forget his eye, and just listen to his voice, it was like the sweetest music. He married those two people right there in the bedroom, all but about three words at the end. I heard and saw every bit of it. Then Sally said it was time for me to go to mother, but she followed me into the boys' room and shut the door. Then she knelt in her beautiful silver dress, and put her arms around me and said: "Honest, Little Sister, aren't you going to kiss me goodbye?"
"Oh I can if you want me to," I said, but I didn't look at her; I looked out of the window.
She laughed a breathless little catchy sort of laugh and said: "That's exactly what I do want."
"You didn't even want me, to begin with," I reminded her.
"There isn't a doubt but whoever told you that, could have been in better business," said Sally, angry-like. "I was much younger then, and there were many things I didn't understand, and it wasn't you I didn't want; it was just no baby at all. I wouldn't have wanted a boy, or any other girl a bit more. I foolishly thought we had children enough in this house. I see now very plainly that we didn't, for this family never could get along without you, and I'm sorry I ever thought so, and I'd give anything if I hadn't struck you and----"
"Oh be still, and go on and get married!" I said. I could just feel a regular beller coming in my throat. "I was only fooling to pay you up. I meant all the time to kiss you good-bye when the others did. I'll nearly die being lonesome when you're gone----"
Then I ran for downstairs, and when I reached the door, where the steps went into the sitting-room, I stopped, scared at all the people. It was like camp-meeting. You could see the yard full through the windows. Just as I was thinking I'd go back to the boys' room, and from there into the garret, and down the back stairway, Laddie went and saw me. He came over, led me to the parlour door, put me inside, and there mother took my hand and held me tight, and I couldn't see Leon anywhere.
I was caught, but they didn't have him. Mother never hung on as she did that day. I tried and tried to pull away, and she held tight. It was only a minute until the door opened, people crowded back, and the Presiding Elder, followed by Sally and Peter, came into the room, and they began being married all over again.
If it hadn't grown so solemn my mother sprung a tear, I never would have made it. She just had to let me go to sop her face, because tears are salty, and they would turn her new brown silk front yellow. The minute my hand was free, I slipped between the people and looked at the parlour door. It was wedged full and more standing on chairs behind them. No one could get out there.
I thought I would fail Leon sure, and then I remembered the parlour bedroom. I got through that door easy as anything, and it was no trick at all to slip behind the blind, raise the window, and drop into mother's room from the sill. From there I reached the back dining-room door easy enough, went around to the kitchen, and called Leon softly. He opened the door at once and I slipped in. He had just got there. We looked all around and couldn't see where to begin at first. There was enough cooked food there to load two wagons.
An old pillow-case that had dried sage in it was lying across a chair and Leon picked it up and poured the sage into the wood- box, and handed the case to me. He went over and knelt before the oven, while I followed and held open the case. Leon rolled his eyes to the ceiling and said so exactly like father when he is serving company that not one of us could have told the difference: "Which part of the fowl do you prefer, Brother Lemon?"
It was so funny it made me snigger, but I straightened up and answered as well as I could: "I'm especially fond of the rump, Brother Stanton."
Leon stirred the heap and piled four or five tails in the case. I thought that was all I could manage before they would spoil, so I said: "Do you prefer light or dark meat, Sister Abigail?"
"I wish to choose breast," said Leon, simpering just like that silly Abigail Webster. He put in six breasts. Then we found them hidden away back in the oven in a pie pan, for the bride's table, I bet, and we took two livers apiece; we didn't dare take more for fear they had been counted. Then he threw in whatever he came to that was a first choice big piece, until I was really scared, and begged him to stop; but he repeated what the fox said in the story of the "Quarrelsome Cocks"--"Poco was very good, but I have not had enough yet," so he piled in pieces until I ran away with the pillow-case; then he slid in a whole plateful of bread, another of cake, and put the plates in a tub of dishes under the table. Then we took some of everything that wasn't too runny. Just then the silence broke in the front part of the house, and we scooted from the back door, closing it behind us, ran to the wood house and climbed the ladder to the loft over the front part. There we were safe as could be, we could see to the road, hear almost everything said in the kitchen, and "eat our bites in peace," like Peter Justice told the Presiding Elder at the church trial that he wanted his wife to, the time he slapped her. Before very long, they began calling us, and called, and called. We hadn't an idea what they wanted, so we ate away. We heard them first while I was holding over a back to let Leon taste kidney, and it made him blink when he got it good.
"Well my soul!" he said. "No wonder father didn't want to feed that to another man when mother isn't very well, and likes it! No wonder!"
Then he gave me a big bite of breast. It was sort of dry and tasteless; I didn't like it.
"Why, I think neck or back beats that all to pieces!" I said in surprise.
"Fact is, they do!" said Leon. "I guess the people who `wish to choose breast,' do it to get the biggest piece."
I never had thought of it before, but of course that would be the reason.
"Allow me, Sister Stanton," said Leon, holding out a piece of thigh.
That was really chicken! Then we went over the backs and picked out all the kidneys, and ate the little crusty places, and all the cake we could swallow; then Leon fixed up the bag the best he could, and set it inside an old cracked churn and put on the lid.
He said that would do almost as well as the cellar, and the food would keep until to-morrow. I wanted to slip down and put it in the Underground Station; but Leon said father must be spending a lot of money right now, and he might go there to get some, so that wouldn't be safe. Then he cleaned my face, and I told him when he got his right, and we slipped from the back door, crossed the Lawton blackberry patch, and went to the house from the orchard. Leon took an apple and broke it in two, and we went in eating as if we were starving. When father asked us where in this world we had been, Leon told him we thought it would be so awful long before the fourth or fifth table, and we hadn't had much breakfast, and we were so hungry we went and hunted something to eat.
"If you'd only held your horses a minute," said father; "they were calling you to take places at the bride's table."
Well for land's sake! Our mouths dropped open until it's a wonder the cake and chicken didn't show, and we never said a word. There didn't seem to be anything to say, for Leon loved to be with grown folks, and to have eaten at the bride's table would have been the biggest thing that ever happened to me. At last, when I could speak, I asked who had taken our places, and bless your heart if it wasn't that mealy-faced little sister of Peter's, and one of the aunts from Ohio. They had finished, and Sally was upstairs putting on her travelling dress, while the guests were eating, when I heard Laddie ask the Princess to ride with him and Sally's other friends, who were going to escort her to the depot.
"You'll want all your horses. What could I ride?"
"If I find you a good horse and saddle will you go?"
"I will. I think it would be fine sport."
Laddie turned and went from sight that minute. The Princess laughed and kept on making friends with every one, helping wait on people, thinking of nice things to do, and just as the carriage was at the gate for father and mother, and Sally and Peter, and every one else was untying their horses to ride in the procession to the village, from where I was standing on the mounting block I saw something coming down the Little Hill. I took one look, ran to the Princess, and almost dragged her.
Up raced Laddie, his face bright, his eyes snapping with fun. He rode Flos, was leading the Princess' horse Maud, and carrying a big bundle under his arm. He leaped from the saddle and fastened both horses.
"Gracious Heaven! What have you done?" gasped the Princess.
"Brought your mount," said Laddie, quite as if he were used to going to Pryors' after the sausage grinder or the grain sacks. But the Princess was pale and trembling. She stepped so close she touched him, and he immediately got a little closer. You couldn't get ahead of Laddie, and he didn't seem to care who saw, and neither did she.
"Tell me exactly what occurred," she said, just as father does when he means to whale us completely.
"I rapped at the front door," said Laddie.
"And who opened it?" cried the Princess.
"Yes, your father!" said Laddie. "And because I was in such a hurry, I didn't wait for him to speak. I said: `Good morning, Mr. Pryor. I'm one of the Stanton boys, and I came for Miss Pryor's mount and habit. All the young people who are on horseback are going to ride an escort to the village, around my sister's bridal carriage, and Miss Pryor thinks she would enjoy going. Please excuse such haste, but we only this minute made the plan, and the train won't wait.'"
"He said: `Surely! Hold one minute.' I stood on the step and waited, and I could hear him give the order to some one to get your riding habit quickly, and then he blew a shrill whistle, and your horse was at the gate the fastest of anything I ever saw."
"Did he do or say----"
"Nothing about `clods, and clowns, and grossness!' Every other word he spoke was when I said, `Thank you, and good morning,' and was turning away. He asked: `Did Miss Pryor say whether she preferred to ride home, or shall I escort her in the carriage?'"
"`She did not,' I answered. `The plan was so sudden she had no time to think that far. But since she will have her horse and habit, why not allow my father to escort her?' So you see, I'm going to take you home," exulted Laddie.
"But you told him your father," said the Princess.
"And thereby created the urgent necessity," said Laddie with a flourish, "for speaking to him again, and telling him that my father had visitors from Ohio, and couldn't leave them. We will get all the fun from the day that we can; but before dusk, too early for them to have any cause for cavil, `the gross country clod' is going to take you home!"
One at a time, Laddie pounded those last words into the hitching post, with his doubled fist.
"Suppose he sets the dogs on you! You know he keeps two dreadful ones."
Laddie just roared. He leaned closer.
"Beaucheous Lady," he said, "I have fed those same dogs and rubbed their ears so many nights lately, he'll get the surprise of his life if he tries that."
The Princess drew away and stared at Laddie the funniest.
"On my life!" she said at last. "Well for a country clod----!"
Then she turned with the habit bundle, and ran into the house. Father and mother came from the front door arm in arm and walked to the carriage, and Sally and Peter followed. My, but they looked fine! The Princess had gone to the garden and gathered flowers and lined all the children in rows down each side of the walk. They were loaded with blooms to throw at Sally; but when she came out, in her beautiful gray poplin travelling dress, trimmed in brown ribbon, the same shade as her curls, her face all pink, her eyes shining, and the ties of her little brown bonnet waving to her waist, she was so perfectly beautiful, every single child watched her open mouthed, gripped its flowers, and forgot to throw them at all.
And this you scarcely will believe after what she had said the day she made her list, and when all of us knew her heart was all torn up, Sally just swept along smiling at every one and calling "good-bye" to those who had no way to ride to the village, as if leaving didn't amount to much. At the carriage, a little white, but still smiling, she turned and took one long look at everything, and then she got in and called for me, right out loud before every one, so I got to hold up my head as high as it would go, and step in too, and ride all the way to Groveville between her and Peter, and instead of holding his hand, she held mine, just gripped it tight. She gripped so hard she squeezed all the soreness at her from my heart, and when she kissed me good-bye the very last of all, I whispered in her ear that I wouldn't ever be angry any more, and I wasn't, because after she had explained I saw how it had been. It wasn't me she didn't want; it was just no baby.
After our carriage came Peter's people, then one father borrowed for the Ohio relatives, then the other children, and all the neighbours followed, and when we reached the high hill where you turn beside the woods, I saw father gather up the lines and brace himself, for Ned and Jo were what he called "mettlesome." "Then came a burst of thunder sound," as it says in "Casablanca," and the horseback riders came sweeping around us, Laddie and the Princess leading. These two rode ahead of us, and the others lined three deep on either side, and the next carriage dropped back and let them close in behind, so Sally and Peter were "in the midst thereof." Instead of throwing old shoes, as always had been done, the Princess coaxed them to throw rice and roses, and every other flower pulled from the bouquets at home, and from the gardens we had passed. Every one was out watching us go by, and when William Justus rode beside the fences crying, "Flowers for the bride! Give us flowers for the bride!" some of the women were so excited they pulled things up by the roots and gave him armloads, and he rode ahead and supplied Laddie and the Princess, and they kept scattering them in the road until every foot of the way to Groveville was covered with flowers, "the fair young flowers that lately sprang and stood." He even made side-cuts into swampy places and gathered armloads of those perfectly lovely, fringy blue gentians, caught up, and filled the carriage and scattered them in a wicked way, because you should only take a few of those rare, late flowers that only grow from seed.
Sally looked just as if she had come into her own and was made for it; I never did see her look so pretty, but Peter sweated and acted awful silly. Father had a time with the team. Ned and Jo became excited and just ranted. They simply danced. Laddie had braided their manes and tails, and they waved like silken floss in the sunshine, and the carriage was freshly washed and the patent leather and brass shone, and we rode flower-covered. Ahead, Laddie and the Princess fairly tried themselves. She hadn't put on her hat or habit after all. When Laddie told her they were going to lead, she said: "Very well! Then I shall go as I am. The dress makes no difference. It's the first time I've had a chance to spoil one since I left England."
When the other girls saw what she was going to do, nearly every one of them left off their hats and riding skirts. Every family had saddle horses those days, and when the riders came racing up they looked like flying flowers, they were all laughing, bloom ladened, singing and calling jokes. Ahead, Laddie and the Princess just plain showed off. Her horse came from England with them, and Laddie said it had Arab blood in it, like the one in the Fourth Reader poem, "Fret not to roam the desert now, With all thy winged speed," and the Princess loved her horse more than that man did his. She said she'd starve before she'd sell it, and if her family were starving, she'd go to work and earn food for them, and keep her horse. Laddie's was a Kentucky thoroughbred he'd saved money for years to buy; and he took a young one and trained it himself, almost like a circus horse. Both of them could ride; so that day they did. They ran those horses neck and neck, right up the hill approaching Groveville, until they were almost from sight, then they whirled and came sweeping back fast as the wind. The Princess' eyes were like dead coals, and her black curls streamed, the thin silk dress wrapped tight around her and waved back like a gossamer web such as spiders spin in October. Laddie's hair was blowing, his cheeks and eyes were bright, and with one eye on the Princess-- she didn't need it--and one on the road, he cut curves, turned, wheeled, and raced, and as he rode, so did she.
"Will they break their foolish necks?" wailed mother.
"They are the handsomest couple I ever have seen in my life!" said father.
"Yes, and you two watch out, or you'll strike trouble right there," said Sally, leaning forward.
I gave her an awful nudge. It made me so happy I could have screamed to see them flying away together like that.
"Well, if that girl represents trouble," said father, "God knows it never before came in such charming guise."
"You can trust a man to forget his God and his immortal soul if a sufficiently beautiful woman comes along," said my mother dryly, and all of them laughed.
She didn't mean that to be funny, though. You could always tell by the set of her lips and the light in her eyes.
Just this side of Groveville we passed a man on horseback. He took off his hat and drew his horse to one side when Laddie and the Princess rode toward him. He had a big roll of papers under his arm, to show that he had been for his mail. But I knew, so did Laddie and the Princess, that he had been compelled to saddle and ride like mad, to reach town and come that far back in time to watch us pass; for it was the Princess' father, and watch was exactly what he was doing; he wanted to see for himself. Laddie and the Princess rode straight at him, neck and neck, and then both of them made their horses drop on their knees and they waved a salute, and then they were up and away. Of course father and mother saw, so mother bowed, and father waved his whip as we passed. He sat there like he'd turned the same on horseback as Sabethany had in her coffin; but he had to see almost a mile of us driving our best horses and carriages, wearing our wedding garments and fine raiment, and all that "cavalcade," father called it, of young, reckless riders. You'd have thought if there were a hint of a smile in his whole being it would have shown when Sally leaned from the carriage to let him see that her face and clothes were as good as need be and smiled a lovely smile on him, and threw him a rose. He did leave his hat off and bow low, and then Shelley, always the very dickens for daring, rode right up to him and laughed in his face, and she leaned and thrust a flower into his bony hands; you would have thought he would have been simply forced to smile then, but he looked far more as if he would tumble over and roll from the saddle. My heart ached for a man in trouble like that. I asked the Lord to preserve us from secrets we couldn't tell the neighbours!
At the station there wasn't a thing those young people didn't do.
They tied flowers and ribbons all over Sally's satchel and trunk.
They sowed rice as if it were seeding time in a wheatfield. They formed a circle around Sally and Peter and as mushy as ever they could they sang, "As sure as the grass grows around the stump, You are my darling sugar lump," while they danced. They just smiled all the time no matter what was done to them. Some of it made me angry, but I suppose to be pleasant was the right way. Sally was strong on always doing the right thing, so she just laughed, and so did all of us. Going home it was wilder yet, for all of them raced and showed how they could ride.
At the house people were hungry again, so the table was set and they ate up every scrap in sight, and Leon and I ate with them that time and saved ours. Then one by one the carriages, spring wagons, and horseback riders went away, all the people saying Sally was the loveliest bride, and hers had been the prettiest wedding they'd ever seen, and the most good things to eat, and Laddie and the Princess went with them. When the last one was gone, and only the relatives from Ohio were left, mother pitched on the bed, gripped her hands and cried as if she'd go to pieces, and father cried too, and all of us, even Mrs. Freshett, who stayed to wash up the dishes. She was so tickled to be there, and see, and help, that mother had hard work to keep her from washing the linen that same night. She did finish the last dish, scrub the kitchen floor, black the stove, and pack all the borrowed china in tubs, ready to be taken home, and things like that. Mother said it was a burning shame for any neighbourhood to let a woman get so starved out and lonesome she'd act that way. She said enough was enough, and when Mrs. Freshett had cooked all day, and washed dishes until the last skillet was in place, she had done as much as any neighbour ought to do, and the other things she went on and did were a rebuke to us.
I felt sore, weepy, and tired out. It made me sick to think of the sage bag in the cracked churn, so I climbed my very own catalpa tree in the corner, watched up the road for Laddie, and thought things over. If I ever get married I want a dress, and a wedding exactly like that, but I would like a man quite different from Peter; like Laddie would suit me better. When he rode under the tree, I dropped from a limb into his arms, and went with him to the barn. He asked me what was going on at the house, and I told him about Mrs. Freshett being a rebuke to us; and Laddie said she was, and he didn't believe one word against her. When I told him mother was in bed crying like anything, he said: "I knew that had to come when she kept up so bravely at the station.
Thank the Lord, she showed her breeding by holding in until she got where she had a right to cry if she pleased."
Then I whispered for fear Leon might be around: "Did he set the dogs on you?"
"He did not," said Laddie, laughing softly.
"Did he call you names again?"
"He did!" said Laddie, "but I started it. You see, when we got there, Thomas was raking the grass and he came to take the Princess' horse. Her father was reading on a bench under a tree.
I helped her down, and walked with her to the door and said good- bye, and thanked her for the pleasure she had added to the day for us, loudly enough that he could hear; then I went over to him and said: `Good evening, Mr. Pryor. If my father knew anything about it, he would very much regret that company from Ohio detained him and compelled me to escort your daughter home. He would greatly have enjoyed the privilege, but I honestly believe that I appreciated it far more than he could.'"
"Oh Laddie, what did he say?"
"He arose and glared at me, and choked on it, and he tried several times, until I thought the clods were going to fly again, but at last he just spluttered: `You blathering rascal, you!' That was such a compliment compared with what I thought he was going to say that I had to laugh. He tried, but he couldn't keep from smiling himself, and then I said: `Please think it over, Mr. Pryor, and if you find that Miss Pryor has had an agreeable, entertaining day, won't you give your consent for her to come among us again? Won't you allow me to come here, if it can be arranged in such a way that I intrude on no one?'"
"He exploded in a kind of a snarl that meant, I'll see you in the Bad Place first. So I said to him: `Thank you very much for to- day, anyway. I'm sure Miss Pryor has enjoyed this day, and it has been the happiest of my life--one to be remembered always. Of course I won't come here if I am unwelcome, but I am in honour bound to tell you that I intend to meet your daughter elsewhere, whenever I possibly can. I thought it would be a better way for you to know and have us where you could see what was going on, if you chose, than for us to meet without your knowledge."
"Oh Laddie," I wailed, "now you've gone and ruined everything!"
"Not so bad as that, Little Sister," laughed Laddie. "Not half so bad! He exploded in another growl, and he shook his walking stick at me, and he said--guess what he said."
"That he would kill you," I panted, clinging to him.
"Right!" said Laddie. "You have it exactly. He said: `Young man, I'll brain you with my walking stick if ever I meet you anywhere with my daughter, when you have not come to her home and taken her with my permission.'"
"What!" I stammered. "What! Oh Laddie, say it over! Does it mean----?"
"It means," said Laddie, squeezing me until I was near losing my breath, "it means, Little Sister, that I shall march to his door and ask him squarely, and if it is anywhere the Princess wants to go, I shall take her."
"Like, `See the conquering hero comes?'"
"Exactly!" laughed Laddie.
"What will mother say?"
"She hasn't made up her mind yet," answered Laddie.
"Do you mean----?" I gasped again.
"Of course!" said Laddie. "I wasn't going to let a girl get far ahead of me. The minute I knew she had told her mother, I told mine the very first chance."
"Mother knows that you feel about the Princess as father does about her?"
"Mother knows," answered Laddie, "and so does father. I told both of them."
Both of them knew! And it hadn't made enough difference that any one living right with them every day could have told it. Time and work will be needed to understand grown people.