Lavender and Old Lace by Myrtle Reed
Hepsey had been gone an hour before Mrs. Ball realised that she had sent away one of the witnesses of her approaching wedding. "It don't matter," she said to Ruth, "I guess there's others to be had. I've got the dress and the man and one of 'em and I have faith that the other things will come."
Nevertheless, the problem assumed undue proportions. After long study, she decided upon the minister's wife. "If 'twa'nt that the numskulls round here couldn't understand two weddin's," she said, "I'd have it in the church, as me and James first planned."
Preparations for the ceremony went forward with Aunt Jane's customary decision and briskness. She made a wedding cake, assisted by Mr. Ball, and gathered all the flowers in the garden. There was something pathetic about her pleasure; it was as though a wedding had been laid away in lavender, not to see the light for more than thirty years.
Ruth was to assist in dressing the bride and then go after the minister and his wife, who, by Aunt Jane's decree, were to have no previous warning. "'T ain't necessary to tell 'em beforehand, not as I see," said Mrs. Ball. "You must ask fust if they're both to home, and if only one of 'em is there, you'll have to find somebody else. If the minister's to home and his wife ain't gaddin', he'll get them four dollars in James's belt, leavin' an even two hundred, or do you think two dollars would be enough for a plain marriage?"
"I'd leave that to Uncle James, Aunty."
"I reckon you're right, Ruth--you've got the Hathaway sense."
The old wedding gown was brought down from the attic and taken out of its winding sheet. It had been carefully folded, but every crease showed plainly and parts of it had changed in colour. Aunt Jane put on her best "foretop," which was entirely dark, with no softening grey hair, and was reserved for occasions of high state. A long brown curl, which was hers by right of purchase, was pinned to the hard, uncompromising twist at the back of her neck.
Ruth helped her into the gown and, as it slipped over her head, she inquired, fiom the depths of it: "Is the front door locked?" "Yes, Aunty, and the back door too."
"Did you bring up the keys as I told you to?"
"Yes, Aunty, here they are. Why?"
There was a pause, then Mrs. Ball said solemnly: "I've read a great deal about bridegrooms havin' wanderin' fits immediately before weddin's. Does my dress hike up in the back, Ruth?"
It was a little shorter in the back than in the front and cleared the floor on all sides, since she had grown a little after it was made, but Ruth assured her that everything was all right. When they went downstairs together, Mr. Ball was sitting in the parlour, plainly nervous.
"Now Ruth," said Aunt Jane, "you can go after the minister. My first choice is Methodis', after that Baptis' and then Presbyterian. I will entertain James durin' your absence."
Ruth was longing for fresh air and gladly undertook the delicate mission. Before she was half way down the hill, she met Winfield, who had come on the afternoon train.
"You're just in time to see a wedding," she said, when the first raptures had subsided.
"Whose wedding, sweetheart? Ours?"
"Far from it," answered Ruth, laughing. "Come with me and I'll explain."
She gave him a vivid description of the events that had transpired during his absence, and had invited him to the wedding before it occurred to her that Aunt Jane might not be pleased. "I may be obliged to recall my invitation," she said seriously, "I'll have to ask Aunty about it. She may not want you."
"That doesn't make any difference," announced Winfield, in high spirits, "I'm agoin' to the wedding and I'm a-goin' to kiss the bride, if you'll let me."
Ruth smothered a laugh. "You may, if you want to, and I won't be jealous. Isn't that sweet of me?"
"You're always sweet, dear. Is this the abode of the parson?"
The Methodist minister was at home, but his wife was not, and Ruth determined to take Winfield in her place. The clergyman said that he would come immediately, and, as the lovers loitered up the hill, they arrived at the same time.
Winfield was presented to the bridal couple, but there was no time for conversation, since Aunt Jane was in a hurry. After the brief ceremony was over, Ruth said wickedly:
"Aunty, on the way to the minister's, Mr. Winfield told me he was going to kiss the bride. I hope you don't mind?"
Winfield looked unutterable things at Ruth, but nobly fulfilled the obligation. Uncle James beamed upon Ruth in a way which indicated that an attractive idea lay behind it, and Winfield created a diversion by tipping over a vase of flowers. "He shan't," he whispered to Ruth, "I'll be darned if he shall!"
"Ruth," said Aunt Jane, after a close scrutiny of Winfield, "if you' relayin' out to marry that awkward creeter, what ain't accustomed to a parlour, you'd better do it now, while him and the minister are both here."
Winfield was willing, but Ruth said that one wedding at a time was enough in any family, and the minister, pledged to secrecy, took his departure. The bride cut the wedding cake and each solemnly ate a piece of it. It was a sacrament, rather than a festivity.
When the silence became oppressive, Ruth suggested a walk.
"You will set here, Niece Ruth," remarked Aunt Jane, "until I have changed my dress."
Uncle James sighed softly, as she went upstairs. "Well," he said, "I'm merried now, hard and fast, and there ain't no help for it, world without end."
"Cheer up, Uncle," said Winfield, consolingly, "it might be worse."
"It's come on me all of a sudden," he rejoined. "I ain't had no time to prepare for it, as you may say. Little did I think, three weeks ago, as I set in my little store, what was wuth four or five hundred dollars, that before the month was out, I'd be merried. Me! Merried!" he exclaimed, "Me, as never thought of sech!"
When Mrs. Ball entered, clad in sombre calico, Ruth, overcome by deep emotion, led her lover into the open air. "It's bad for you to stay in there, "she said gravely, "when you are destined to meet the same fate."
"I've had time to prepare for it," he answered, "in fact, I've had more time than I want."
They wandered down the hillside with aimless leisure, and Ruth stooped to pick up a large, grimy handkerchief, with "C. W." in the corner. "Here's where we were the other morning," she said.
"Blessed spot," he responded, "beautiful Hepsey and noble Joe! By what humble means are great destinies made evident! You haven't said you were glad to see me, dear."
"I'm always glad to see you, Mr. Winfield," she replied primly.
"Mr. Winfield isn't my name," he objected, taking her into his arms.
"Carl," she whispered shyly, to his coat collar.
"That isn't all of it."
"Carl--dear--" said Ruth, with her face crimson.
"That's more like it. Now let's sit down--I've brought you something and you have three guesses."
"No, you said they were all in."
"Another piece of Aunt Jane's wedding cake?"
"No, guess again."
"Who'd think you were so stupid," he said, putting two fingers into his waistcoat pocket.
"Oh--h!" gasped Ruth, in delight.
"You funny girl, didn't you expect an engagement ring? Let's see if it fits."
He slipped the gleaming diamond on her finger and it fitted exactly. "How did you guess?" she asked, after a little.
"It wasn't wholly guess work, dearest." From another pocket, he drew a glove, of grey suede, that belonged to Ruth's left hand.
"Where did you get that?"
"By the log across the path, that first day, when you were so cross to me."
"I wasn't cross!"
"Yes you were--you were a little fiend."
"Will you forgive me?" she pleaded, lifting her face to his.
"Rather!" He forgave her half a dozen times before she got away from him. "Now let's talk sense," she said.
"We can't--I never expect to talk sense again."
"Pretty compliment, isn't it?" she asked. "It's like your telling me I was brilliant and then saying I wasn't at all like myself." "Won't you forgive me?" he inquired significantly.
"Some other time," she said, flushing, "now what are we going to do?"
"Well," he began, "I saw the oculist, and he says that my eyes are almost well again, but that I mustn't use them for two weeks longer. Then, I can read or write for two hours every day, increasing gradually as long as they don't hurt. By the first of October, he thinks I'll be ready for work again. Carlton wants me to report on the morning of the fifth, and he offers me a better salary than I had on The Herald."
"We'll have to have a flat in the city, or a little house in the country, near enough for me to get to the offce."
"For us to get to the office," supplemented Ruth.
"What do you think you're going to do, Miss Thorne?"
"Why--I'm going to keep right on with the paper," she answered in surprise.
"No you're not, darling," he said, putting his arm around her. "Do you suppose I'm going to have Carlton or any other man giving my wife an assignment? You can't any way, because I've resigned your position for you, and your place is already filled. Carlton sent his congratulations and said his loss was my gain, or something like that. He takes all the credit to himself."
"I'm not a wretch--you said yourself I was nice. Look here, Ruth," he went on, in a different tone, "what do you think I am? Do you think for a minute that I'd marry you if I couldn't take care of you?"
"'T isn't that," she replied, freeing herself from his encircling arm, "but I like my work and I don't want to give it up. Besides-- besides--I thought you'd like to have me near you."
"I do want you near me, sweetheart, that isn't the point. You have the same right that I have to any work that is your natural expression, but, in spite of the advanced age in which we live, I can't help believing that home is the place for a woman. I may be old-fashioned, but I don't want my wife working down town--I've got too much pride for that. You have your typewriter, and you can turn out Sunday specials by the yard, if you want to. Besides, there are all the returned manuscripts--if you have the time and aren't hurried, there's no reason why you shouldn't do work that they can't afford to refuse."
Ruth was silent, and he laid his hand upon hers. "You understand me, don't you, dear? God knows I'm not asking you to let your soul rust out in idleness, and I wouldn't have you crave expression that was denied you, but I don't want you to have to work when you don't feel like it, nor be at anybody's beck and call. I know you did good work on the paper--Carlton spoke of it, too--but others can do it as well. I want you to do something that is so thoroughly you that no one else can do it. It's a hard life, Ruth, you know that as well as I do, and I--I love you."
His last argument was convincing. "I won't do anything you don't want me to do, dear," she said, with a new humility.
"I want you to be happy, dearest," he answered, quickly. "Just try my way for a year--that's all I ask. I know your independence is sweet to you, but the privilege of working for you with hand and brain, with your love in my heart; with you at home, to be proud of me when I succeed and to give me new courage when I fail, why, it's the sweetest thing I've ever known."
"I'll have to go back to town very soon, though," she said, a little later, "I am interrupting the honeymoon."
"We'll have one of our own very soon that you can't interrupt, and, when you go back, I'm going with you. We'll buy things for the house."
"We need lots of things, don't we?" she asked.
"I expect we do, darling, but I haven't the least idea what they are. You'll have to tell me."
"Oriental rugs, for one thing," she said, "and a mahogany piano, and an instrument to play it with, because I haven't any parlour tricks, and some good pictures, and a waffle iron and a porcelain rolling pin."
"What do you know about rolling pins and waffle irons?" he asked fondly.
"My dear boy," she replied, patronisingly, "you forget that in the days when I was a free and independent woman, I was on a newspaper. I know lots of things that are utterly strange to you, because, in all probability, you never ran a woman's department. If you want soup, you must boil meat slowly, and if you want meat, you must boil it rapidly, and if dough sticks to a broom straw when you jab it into a cake, it isn't done."
He laughed joyously. "How about the porcelain rolling pin?"
"It's germ proof," she rejoined, soberly.
"Are we going to keep house on the antiseptic plan?"
"We are--it's better than the installment plan, isn't it? Oh, Carl!" she exclaimed, "I've had the brightest idea!"
"Spring it!" he demanded.
"Why, Aunt Jane's attic is full of old furniture, and I believe she'll give it to us!"
His face fell. "How charming," he said, without emotion.
"Oh, you stupid," she laughed, "it's colonial mahogany, every stick of it! It only needs to be done over!"
"Ruth, you're a genius."
"Wait till I get it, before you praise me. Just stay here a minute and I'll run up to see what frame of mind she's in."
When she entered the kitchen, the bride was busily engaged in getting supper. Uncle James, with a blue gingham apron tied under his arms, was awkwardly peeling potatoes. "Oh, how good that smells!" exclaimed Ruth, as a spicy sheet of gingerbread was taken out of the oven.
Aunt Jane looked at her kindly, with gratified pride beaming from every feature. "I wish you'd teach me to cook, Aunty," she continued, following up her advantage, "you know I'm going to marry Mr. Winfield."
"Why, yes, I'll teach you--where is he?"
"He's outside--I just came in to speak to you a minute."
"You can ask him to supper if you want to."
"Thank you, Aunty, that's lovely of you. I know he'll like to stay."
"James," said Mrs. Ball, "you're peelin' them pertaters with thick peelins'and you'll land in the poorhouse. I've never knowed it to fail."
"I wanted to ask you something, Aunty," Ruth went on quickly, though feeling that the moment was not auspicious, "you know all that old furniture up in the attic?"
"Well, what of it?"
"Why--why--you aren't using it, you know, and I thought perhaps you'd be willing to give it to us, so that we can go to housekeeping as soon as we're married."
"It was your grandmother's," Aunt Jane replied after long thought, "and, as you say, I ain't usin' it. I don't know but what you might as well have it as anybody else. I lay out to buy me a new haircloth parlour suit with that two hundred dollars of James's--he give the minister the hull four dollars over and above that--and--yes, you can have it," she concluded.
Ruth kissed her,with real feeling. "Thank you so much, Aunty. It will be lovely to have something tlhat was my grandmother's."
When she went back to Winfield, he was absorbed in a calculation he was making on the back of an envelope.
"You're not to use your eyes," she said warningly, "and, oh Carl! It was my grandmother's and she's given us every bit of it, and you're to stay to supper!"
"Must be in a fine humour," he observed. "I'm ever so glad. Come here, darling, you don't know how I've missed you."
"I've been earning furniture," she said, settling down beside him. "People earn what they get from Aunty--I won't say that, though, because it's mean."
"Tell me about this remarkable furniture. What is it, and how much of it is destined to glorify our humble cottage?"
"It's all ours," she returned serenely, "but I don't know just how much there is. I didn't look at it closely, you know, because I never expected to have any of it. Let's see--there's a heavy dresser, and a large, round table, with claw feet--that's our dining-table, and there's a bed, just like those in the windows in town, when it's done over, and there's a big old-fashioned sofa, and a spinning-wheel--"
"Are you going to spin?"
"Hush, don't interrupt. There are five chairs--dining-room chairs, and two small tables, and a card table with a leaf that you can stand up against the wall, and two lovely rockers, and I don't know what else."
"That's a fairly complete inventory, considering that you 'didn't look at it closely.' What a little humbug you are!"
"You like humbugs, don't you?"
"Some, not all."
There was a long silence, and then Ruth moved away from him. "Tell me about everything," she said. "Think of all the years I haven't known you!"
"There's nothing to tell, dear. Are you going to conduct an excavation into my 'past?'"
"Indeed, I'm not! The present is enough for me, and I'll attend to your future myself."
"There's not much to be ashamed of, Ruth," he said, soberly. "I've always had the woman I should marry in my mind--'the not impossible she,' and my ideal has kept me out of many a pitfall I wanted to go to her with clean hands and a clean heart, and I have. I'm not a saint, but I'm as clean as I could be, and live in the world at all."
Ruth put her hand on his. "Tell me about your mother."
A shadow crossed his face and he waited a moment before speaking. "My mother died when I was born," he said with an effort. "I can't tell you about her, Ruth, she--she--wasn't a very good woman."
"Forgive me, dear," she answered with quick sympathy, "I don't want to know!"
"I didn't know about it until a few years ago," he continued, "when some kindly disposed relatives of father's gave me full particulars. They're dead now, and I'm glad of it. She--she--drank."
"Don't, Carl!" she cried, "I don't want to know!"
"You're a sweet girl, Ruth," he said, tenderly, touching her hand to his lips. "Father died when I was ten or twelve years old and I can't remember him very well, though I have one picture, taken a little while before he was married. He was a moody, silent man, who hardly ever spoke to any one. I know now that he was broken-hearted. I can't remember even the tones of his voice, but only one or two little peculiarities. He couldn't bear the smell of lavender and the sight of any shade of purple actually made him suffer. It was very strange.
"I've picked up what education I have," he went on. "I have nothing to give you, Ruth, but these--" he held out his hands--"and my heart."
"That's all I want, dearest--don't tell me any more!"
A bell rang cheerily, and, when they went in, Aunt Jane welcomed him with apparent cordiality, though a close observer might have detected a tinge of suspicion. She liked the ring on Ruth's finger, which she noticed for the first time. "It's real pretty, ain't it, James?" she asked.
"Yes'm, 't is so."
"It's just come to my mind now that you never give me no ring except this here one we was married with. I guess we'd better take some of that two hundred dollars you've got sewed up in that unchristian belt you insist on wearin' and get me a ring like Ruth's, and use the rest for furniture, don't you think so?"
"Yes'm," he replied. "Ring and furniture--or anythin' you'd like."
"James is real indulgent," she said to Winfield, with a certain modest pride which was at once ludicrous and pathetic.
"He should be, Mrs. Ball," returned the young man, gallantly.
She looked at him closely, as if to discover whether he was in earnest, but he did not flinch. "Young feller," she said, "you ain't layin' out to take no excursions on the water, be you?"
"Not that I know of," he answered, "why?"
"Sea-farin' is dangerous," she returned.
"Mis' Ball was terrible sea sick comin' here," remarked her husband. "She didn't seem to have no sea legs, as you may say."
"Ain't you tired of dwellin' on that?" asked Aunt Jane, sharply. "'T ain't no disgrace to be sea sick, and I wan't the only one."
Winfield came to the rescue with a question and the troubled waters were soon calm again. After supper, Ruth said: "Aunty, may I take Mr. Winfield up to the attic and show him my grandmother's things that you've just given me?"
"Run along, child. Me and James will wash the dishes."
"Poor James, "said Winfield, in a low tone, as they ascended the stairs. "Do I have to wash dishes, Ruth?"
"It wouldn't surprise me. You said you wanted to work for me, and I despise dishes."
"Then we'll get an orphan to do 'em. I'm not fitted for it, and I don't think you are."
"Say, isn't this great!" he exclaimed, as they entered the attic. "Trunks, cobwebs, and old furniture! Why have I never been here before?"
"It wasn't proper," replied Ruth, primly, with a sidelong glance at him. "No, go away!"
They dragged the furniture out into the middle of the room and looked it over critically. There was all that she had described, and unsuspected treasure lay in concealment behind it. "There's almost enough to furnish a flat!" she cried, in delight.
He was opening the drawers of a cabinet, which stood far back under the eaves. "What's this, Ruth?"
"Oh, it's old blue china--willow pattern! How rich we are!"
"Is old blue willow-pattern china considered beautiful?"
"Of course it is, you goose! We'll have to have our dining-room done in old blue, now, with a shelf on the wall for these plates."
"Why can't we have a red dining-room?"
"Because it would be a fright. You can have a red den, if you like."
"All right," he answered, "but it seems to me it would be simpler and save a good deal of expense, if we just pitched the plates into the sad sea. I don't think much of 'em."
"That's because you're not educated, dearest," returned Ruth, sweetly. "When you're married, you'll know a great deal more about china--you see if you don't."
They lingered until it was so dark that they could scarcely see each other's faces. "We'll come up again to-morrow," she said. "Wait a minute."
She groped over to the east window, where there was still a faint glow, and lighted the lamp, which stood in its accustomed place, newly filled.
"You're not going to leave it burning, are you?" he asked.
"Yes, Aunt Jane has a light in this window every night."
"Why, what for?"
"I don't know, dearest. I think it's for a lighthouse, but I don't care. Come, let's go downstairs."