Chapter XXVII. The Wedding
 
  Life? 'Tis the story of love and troubles
  Of troubles and love that travel together
    The round world through.
  ----Joaquin Miller.

When Arthur and Jack Smeaton arrived at the Perkins home the next morning, and announced that the wedding would take place at once, Mrs. Perkins, without waiting for further details, made an emergency visit to the hen-house and slew six chickens--there could be no wedding without fried chicken. Then she came back to find out who was to be the groom.

Mr. Perkins was hurriedly despatched for Pearl Watson, who was to be the bridesmaid, and Mr. and Mrs. Watson and Aunt Kate, who were to be the guests. Mr. Perkins, who had refused to leave the house without being dressed in his "other" suit, was in the hilarious humour that went with his good clothes when he reached the Watson home.

"By golly! John," he said, "that Arthur's a game one, and don't you forget it--he's simply handed his girl over to the other fellow; and I tell you he's done it handsome, just as cool and cheerful about it as if he liked the job. The little girl there, that Thursa, she's pretty enough to make men draw their shootin'-irons on each other. I'm fifty-three year old myself, but, by jingo! I was proud to be seen walkin' down the street with her yesterday in Millford; she drove in with me, and we walked around a bit. She had a hat as big as a waggon wheel, carrying as many plumes as a hearse. Whew! You should 'a' seen the people lookin' at us. She took my arm, mind ye, John; and say, now, I can't understand Arthur bringin' that other gent right back with him. Arthur went up to find out about this fellow, if he was the straight goods, and all that--she told me the hull thing yesterday. It was a secret, she said, but she just told me and the missus and Martha--she didn't see any one else--and she was that glad to-day when she saw this 'Jack' fellow that she kissed him and kissed Arthur, too--a kind of overflow meetin' his was--I stood around handy by, but she over-looked me some way; and then her and Jack went into the parlour to decide who was goin' to be boss and a few things like that, and I'll be blessed if Arthur didn't pitch right in to help Martha and the missus to get dinner ready. Never winked an eyelash, that fellow--the English have great grit, when you get a nice one. So hurry along now, we'll have to rustle. The minister's comin' at twelve o'clock sharp, and they're goin' away on the afternoon train. He's a right smart-lookin' fellow, this Jack--the little girl's doin' well, all right, all right; he maybe hasn't got as good a pedigree as Arthur, but he'll suit her better. She won't sass back to him, I'll bet, the way she would to Arthur. She'd give Arthur a queer old time, I know, but this chap'll manage her; he's got that sort of a way with him. I could see it, though I was only speakin' a few words to him."

* * *

Pearl was dressed in her cream silk dress, and carried a bouquet of roses.

"Land sakes!" Aunt Kate exclaimed, "where does anyone get roses at this time o' year, I'd like to know?

"I lived in Ontario many a year, and that's what I never saw was roses in December. They must 'a' had a sheltered place to grow in." And every person who heard her was too loyal a Manitoban to enlighten her.

Thursa, in a trailing gown of white silk mull, came into the parlour leaning on Arthur's arm, and made the responses as demurely as the staid Aunt Prudence would have desired. Any one looking at Arthur's unmoved face would never have guessed at the tragedy that was taking place in the young man's heart.

The wedding breakfast was a very jolly meal, and everybody, Arthur included, was in the best of humour. Young Jack Smeaton clearly demonstrated that the old lawyer had expressed the truth when he said: "Jack Smeaton has a way with him." He discussed the various knitting wools with Mrs. Perkins, and told Thomas Perkins a new way of putting formalin on his seed-wheat to get rid of the smut, and how to put patches on grain bags with flour paste. Mrs. Perkins told very vividly the story of Mary Ann Corbett's wedding, where the bridegroom failed 'to appear, and she married her first love, who was acting in the capacity of best man, and the old man Corbett gave them the deed of one hundred and fifty acres of land, and a cow and a feather bed, and some other tokens of paternal affection, and they lived happy ever afterward.

While she was telling this, her husband, in his usual graphic way, told his story, which happened to be on this occasion an account of the death of his old friend, Tony Miner; which had happened the winter before.

"The last words Tony said--mind ye, he was sensible to the last--was to tell his missus not to let the undertaker do her on the price of the coffin. He was a very savin' man, was Tony, but he needn't have worried, for the old lady could see a hole in a ladder as quick as most people, and even an undertaker couldn't get ahead of her. The old lady went herself and picked out the coffin. They sent it out in a box, of course, with Tony's name on it in big black letters, and when they charged her a dollar for the box she wanted them to take it back, but they said they couldn't when it had the name on it; but I tell you, she's a savin' woman, and no wonder Tony died rich. She wasn't goin' to let the box go to waste when it cost money, so she made a door for the hen-house out of it, and there it is yet, with 'Anthony Miner' in big black letters on it. Some say she's goin' to make it answer for a headstone, but I don't know about that. She's a fine savin' woman, and no one can say she is superstitious anyway, or filled with false pride."

The two stories ran concurrently and filled in most of the time at the table. Mr. Perkins did not believe in having awkward pauses or any other kind.

Pearl could not help noticing the glow "on Martha's cheek and the sympathetic way she had of watching Arthur.

"My, but women are queer," Pea thought to her self. "Here's Martha, now, glad as glad that the other fellow has got Thursa, and still feelin' so sorry for Arthur she can't eat her vittles. Wasn't it fine that Martha had so' much good stuff cooked in the house and was able to set up such a fine meal at a minute's notice? I wonder if it ever strikes Arthur what a fine housekeeper she is? I'll bet Miss Thursa'll never be able to bake a jenny Lind cake like this, or jell red currants so you can cut them with a knife."

Thursa and Jack left on the five o'clock train. It was a heavy, misty day, the kind that brings a storm, and the loose snow that lay on the ground needed only a strong enough wind to make a real Manitoba blizzard.

The bride and groom, with Arthur and Martha, drove in the Perkins double cutter. Dr. Clay, who had not been able to come to the wedding, came out afterward, and he and Pearl drove behind.

At the station there was only time for a hurried good-bye. Thursa seemed to take a more serious view of life, now that the real parting had come. She held Arthur's hand in a close grasp. "You've behaved awfully decent, Arthur," she said earnestly.

Arthur smiled bravely and thanked her.

The last to say good-bye were Jack and Arthur. It was an embarrassing moment for both of them, but their handclasp was warm and genuine, and Jack said in a low voice: "I'll try to be worthy of her, old man, and of you."

Arthur spoke not a word.

The train pulled out of the station and made its way slowly over the long Souris bridge. They watched it wind up the steep grade until it was hidden by a turn of the hill, and even then they stood listening to the hoarse boom of the whistle that came down the misty valley. The wind, that seemed to be threatening all day, came whistling down the street, driving before it little drifts of snow as they turned away from the station platform.

Dr. Clay took Pearl over to Mrs. Francis, where she was to stay for the night. Arthur and Martha drove home in silence. When they reached the door Martha said: "Come in, Arthur, and stay; don't try to get your own supper to-night."

Arthur roused himself with an effort. "I think I'll go home, Martha, thank you."

Mr. Perkins came out and helped Arthur to put away the team. Martha stood watching him as he walked across the field to his own little lonely house. The snow was drifting in clouds across the fields, and sometimes hid him from sight, but Martha stood straining her eyes for the last glimpse of him. Her heart was full of tenderness for him, a great, almost motherly tenderness, for he was suffering, and he was lonely, and her heart's greatest desire was to help him.

Arthur went bravely back to his own desolate house--the house that he had built with such loving thoughts. The fire was dead, like his own false hopes, and the very ticking of the clock seemed to taunt him with his loss. The last time he had been here she was with him. It was there beside the window that she had told him about this man; it was there she had kissed him, and he had held her close to his heart for one sweet moment; it was there he had fought so hard to give her up. But he loved her still, and would always love her, the violet-eyed Thursa, the sweetheart of his boyish dreams.

He made an attempt to light the fire, but it would not burn--it was like everything else, he told himself, it was against him. He went out and fed his horses and made them comfortable for the night, and then came back to his deserted house, dark now, and chilly and comfortless.

With the light of his lantern he saw something white on the floor. He picked it up listlessly, and then the odour of violets came to him--it was Thursa's hand-kerchief, that she had dropped that day. He buried his face in it, and groaned.

The wind had risen since sunset, and now the snow sifted drearily against his windows. Down the chimney came the weird moaning of the storm, sobbing and pitiful sometimes, and then angry and defiant. He sat by the black stove with his overcoat on, holding the little handkerchief against his lips, while the great, bitter sobs of manhood tore their way through his heart.

All night long, while the storm raged around the little house and rattled every door and window, he sat there numb with cold and dumb with sorrow. The lantern burned out, unnoticed. At daylight he threw himself across the bed, worn out with grief and loneliness, and slept a heavy sleep, still holding the violet-scented handkerchief to his lips.

* * *

When Arthur woke the sun was pouring in through the frosted windows. He got up hastily and took off his overcoat; he was stiff and uncomfortable. He went hurriedly out to his little kitchen, thinking of the horses, which needed his care. An exclamation of surprise burst from his lips.

A bright fire was burning in the stove, and a delicious odour of frying ham came to his nostrils. His table was set with a white cloth, and on it was placed a dainty enough breakfast to tempt the appetite of any man.

He went hurriedly to the door and looked out--there were tracks through the high drifts of snow! He turned back to the table and poured himself a cup of steaming coffee. "Dear old Martha," he said, "she is a jolly good sort!"

Arthur was gloriously hungry, and ate like a hunter. It was his first square meal for more than twenty-four hours, and every bite of it tasted good to him. "I never even thanked Martha for all her kindness," he said, when he was done; "but that's the beauty of Martha, she understands without being told."