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"I, Bertram, take thee, Billy," chanted the white-robed clergyman.
" `I, Bertram, take thee, Billy,' " echoed the tall young bridegroom, his eyes gravely tender.
"To my wedded wife."
" `To my wedded wife.' " The bridegroom's voice shook a little.
"To have and to hold from this day forward."
" `To have and to hold from this day forward.' " Now the young voice rang with triumph. It had grown strong and steady.
"For better for worse."
" `For better for worse.' "
"For richer for poorer," droned the clergyman, with the weariness of uncounted repetitions.
" `For richer for poorer,' " avowed the bridegroom, with the decisive emphasis of one to whom the words are new and significant.
"In sickness and in health."
" `In sickness and in health.' "
"To love and to cherish."
" `To love and to cherish.' " The younger voice carried infinite tenderness now.
"Till death us do part."
" `Till death us do part,' " repeated the bridegroom's lips; but everybody knew that what his heart said was: "Now, and through all eternity."
"According to God's holy ordinance."
" `According to God's holy ordinance.' "
"And thereto I plight thee my troth."
" `And thereto I plight thee my troth.' "
There was a faint stir in the room. In one corner a white-haired woman blinked tear-wet eyes and pulled a fleecy white shawl more closely about her shoulders. Then the minister's voice sounded again.
"I, Billy, take thee, Bertram."
" `I, Billy, take thee, Bertram.' "
This time the echoing voice was a feminine one, low and sweet, but clearly distinct, and vibrant with joyous confidence, on through one after another of the ever familiar, but ever impressive phrases of the service that gives into the hands of one man and of one woman the future happiness, each of the other.
The wedding was at noon. That evening Mrs. Kate Hartwell, sister of the bridegroom, wrote the following letter:
BOSTON, July 15th.
"MY DEAR HUSBAND:--Well, it's all over with, and they're married. I couldn't do one thing to prevent it. Much as ever as they would even listen to what I had to say--and when they knew how I had hurried East to say it, too, with only two hours' notice!
"But then, what can you expect? From time immemorial lovers never did have any sense; and when those lovers are such irresponsible flutterbudgets as Billy and Bertram--!
"And such a wedding! I couldn't do anything with that, either, though I tried hard. They had it in Billy's living-room at noon, with nothing but the sun for light. There was no maid of honor, no bridesmaids, no wedding cake, no wedding veil, no presents (except from the family, and from that ridiculous Chinese cook of brother William's, Ding Dong, or whatever his name is. He tore in just before the wedding ceremony, and insisted upon seeing Billy to give her a wretched little green stone idol, which he declared would bring her `heap plenty velly good luckee' if she received it before she `got married.' I wouldn't have the hideous, grinning thing around, but William says it's real jade, and very valuable, and of course Billy was crazy over it--or pretended to be). There was no trousseau, either, and no reception. There was no anything but the bridegroom; and when I tell you that Billy actually declared that was all she wanted, you will understand how absurdly in love she is--in spite of all those weeks and weeks of broken engagement when I, at least, supposed she had come to her senses, until I got that crazy note from Bertram a week ago saying they were to be married today.
"I can't say that I've got any really satisfactory explanation of the matter. Everything has been in such a hubbub, and those two ridiculous children have been so afraid they wouldn't be together every minute possible, that any really rational conversation with either of them was out of the question. When Billy broke the engagement last spring none of us knew why she had done it, as you know; and I fancy we shall be almost as much in the dark as to why she has--er--mended it now, as you might say. As near as I can make out, however, she thought he didn't want her, and he thought she didn't want him. I believe matters were still further complicated by a girl Bertram was painting, and a young fellow that used to sing with Billy--a Mr. Arkwright.
"Anyhow, things came to a head last spring, Billy broke the engagement and fled to parts unknown with Aunt Hannah, leaving Bertram here in Boston to alternate between stony despair and reckless gayety, according to William; and it was while he was in the latter mood that he had that awful automobile accident and broke his arm-- and almost his neck. He was wildly delirious, and called continually for Billy.
"Well, it seems Billy didn't know all this; but a week ago she came home, and in some way found out about it, I think through Pete--William's old butler, you know. Just exactly what happened I can't say, but I do know that she dragged poor old Aunt Hannah down to Bertram's at some unearthly hour, and in the rain; and Aunt Hannah couldn't do a thing with her. All Billy would say, was, `Bertram wants me.' And Aunt Hannah told me that if I could have seen Billy's face I'd have known that she'd have gone to Bertram then if he'd been at the top of the Himalaya Mountains, or at the bottom of the China Sea. So perhaps it's just as well--for Aunt Hannah's sake, at least--that he was in no worse place than on his own couch at home. Anyhow, she went, and in half an hour they blandly informed Aunt Hannah that they were going to be married to-day.
"Aunt Hannah said she tried to stop that, and get them to put it off till October (the original date, you know), but Bertram was obdurate. And when he declared he'd marry her the next day if it wasn't for the new license law, Aunt Hannah said she gave up for fear he'd get a special dispensation, or go to the Governor or the President, or do some other dreadful thing. (What a funny old soul Aunt Hannah is!) Bertram told me that he should never feel safe till Billy was really his; that she'd read something, or hear something, or think something, or get a letter from me (as if anything I could say would do any good-or harm!), and so break the engagement again.
"Well, she's his now, so I suppose he's satisfied; though, for my part, I haven't changed my mind at all. I still say that they are not one bit suited to each other, and that matrimony will simply ruin his career. Bertram never has loved and never will love any girl long--except to paint. But if he simply would get married, why couldn't he have taken a nice, sensible domestic girl that would have kept him fed and mended?
"Not but that I'm very fond of Billy, as you know, dear; but imagine Billy as a wife--worse yet, a mother! Billy's a dear girl, but she knows about as much of real life and its problems as-- as our little Kate. A more impulsive, irresponsible, regardless-of-consequences young woman I never saw. She can play divinely, and write delightful songs, I'll acknowledge; but what is that when a man is hungry, or has lost a button?
"Billy has had her own way, and had everything she wanted for years now--a rather dangerous preparation for marriage, especially marriage to a fellow like Bertram who has had his own way and everything he's wanted for years. Pray, what's going to happen when those ways conflict, and neither one gets the thing wanted?
"And think of her ignorance of cooking--but, there! What's the use? They're married now, and it can't be helped.
"Mercy, what a letter I've written! But I, had to talk to some one; besides, I'd promised I to let you know how matters stood as soon as I could. As you see, though, my trip East has been practically useless. I saw the wedding, to be sure, but I didn't prevent it, or even postpone it--though I meant to do one or the other, else I should never have made that tiresome journey half across the continent at two hours' notice.
"However, we shall see what we shall see. As for me, I'm dead tired. Good night.
Quite naturally, Mrs. Kate Hartwell was not the only one who was thinking that evening of the wedding. In the home of Bertram's brother Cyril, Cyril himself was at the piano, but where his thoughts were was plain to be seen--or rather, heard; for from under his fingers there came the Lohengrin wedding march until all the room seemed filled with the scent of orange blossoms, the mistiness of floating veils, and the echoing peals of far-away organs heralding the "Fair Bride and Groom."
Over by the table in the glowing circle of the shaded lamp, sat Marie, Cyril's wife, a dainty sewing-basket by her side. Her hands, however, lay idly across the stocking in her lap.
As the music ceased, she drew a long sigh.
What a perfectly beautiful wedding that was! she breathed.
Cyril whirled about on the piano stool.
"It was a very sensible wedding," he said with emphasis.
"They looked so happy--both of them," went on Marie, dreamily; "so--so sort of above and beyond everything about them, as if nothing ever, ever could trouble them--now."
Cyril lifted his eyebrows.
"Humph! Well, as I said before, it was a very sensible wedding," he declared.
This time Marie noticed the emphasis. She laughed, though her eyes looked a little troubled.
"I know, dear, of course, what you mean. I thought our wedding was beautiful; but I would have made it simpler if I'd realized in time how you--you--"
"How I abhorred pink teas and purple pageants," he finished for her, with a frowning smile. "Oh, well, I stood it--for the sake of what it brought me." His face showed now only the smile; the frown had vanished. For a man known for years to his friends as a "hater of women and all other confusion," Cyril Henshaw was looking remarkably well-pleased with himself.
His wife of less than a year colored as she met his gaze. Hurriedly she picked up her needle.
The man laughed happily at her confusion.
"What are you doing? Is that my stocking?" he demanded.
A look, half pain, half reproach, crossed her face.
"Why, Cyril, of course not! You--you told me not to, long ago. You said my darns made-- bunches.
"Ho! I meant I didn't want to wear them," retorted the man, upon whom the tragic wretchedness of that half-sobbed "bunches" had been quite lost. "I love to see you mending them," he finished, with an approving glance at the pretty little picture of domesticity before him.
A peculiar expression came to Marie's eyes.
Why, Cyril, you mean you like to have me mend them just for--for the sake of seeing me do it, when you know you won't ever wear them?"
"Sure!" nodded the man, imperturbably. Then, with a sudden laugh, he asked: "I wonder now, does Billy love to mend socks?"
Marie smiled, but she sighed, too, and shook her head.
"I'm afraid not, Cyril."
Marie laughed outright this time. The vaguely troubled look had fled from her eyes
"Oh, Billy's helped me beat eggs and butter sometimes, but I never knew her to cook a thing or want to cook a thing, but once; then she spent nearly two weeks trying to learn to make puddings--for you."
Marie puckered her lips queerly.
"Well, I supposed they were for you at the time. At all events she was trying to make them for some one of you boys; probably it was really for Bertram, though."
"Humph!" grunted Cyril. Then, after a minute, he observed: "I judge Kate thinks Billy'll never make them--for anybody. I'm afraid Sister Kate isn't pleased."
"Oh, but Mrs. Hartwell was--was disappointed in the wedding," apologized Marie, quickly. "You know she wanted it put off anyway, and she didn't like such a simple one.
"Hm-m; as usual Sister Kate forgot it wasn't her funeral--I mean, her wedding," retorted Cyril, dryly. "Kate is never happy, you know, unless she's managing things."
"Yes, I know," nodded Marie, with a frowning smile of recollection at certain features of her own wedding.
"She doesn't approve of Billy's taste in guests, either," remarked Cyril, after a moment's silence.
"I thought her guests were lovely," spoke up Marie, in quick defense. "Of course, most of her social friends are away--in July; but Billy is never a society girl, you know, in spite of the way Society is always trying to lionize her and Bertram."
"Oh, of course Kate knows that; but she says it seems as if Billy needn't have gone out and gathered in the lame and the halt and the blind."
"Nonsense!" cried Marie, with unusual sharpness for her. "I suppose she said that just because of Mrs. Greggory's and Tommy Dunn's crutches."
"Well, they didn't make a real festive-looking wedding party, you must admit," laughed Cyril; "what with the bridegroom's own arm in a sling, too! But who were they all, anyway?"
"Why, you knew Mrs. Greggory and Alice, of course--and Pete," smiled Marie. "And wasn't Pete happy? Billy says she'd have had Pete if she had no one else; that there wouldn't have been any wedding, anyway, if it hadn't been for his telephoning Aunt Hannah that night."
"Yes; Will told me."
"As for Tommy and the others--most of them were those people that Billy had at her home last summer for a two weeks' vacation-- people, you know, too poor to give themselves one, and too proud to accept one from ordinary charity. Billy's been following them up and doing little things for them ever since--sugarplums and frosting on their cake, she calls it; and they adore her, of course. I think it was lovely of her to have them, and they did have such a good time! You should have seen Tommy when you played that wedding march for Billy to enter the room. His poor little face was so transfigured with joy that I almost cried, just to look at him. Billy says he loves music--poor little fellow!"
"Well, I hope they'll be happy, in spite of Kate's doleful prophecies. Certainly they looked happy enough to-day," declared Cyril, patting a yawn as he rose to his feet. "I fancy Will and Aunt Hannah are lonesome, though, about now," he added.
"Yes," smiled Marie, mistily, as she gathered up her work. "I know what Aunt Hannah's doing. She's helping Rosa put the house to rights, and she's stopping to cry over every slipper and handkerchief of Billy's she finds. And she'll do that until that funny clock of hers strikes twelve, then she'll say `Oh, my grief and conscience--midnight!' But the next minute she'll remember that it's only half-past eleven, after all, and she'll send Rosa to bed and sit patting Billy's slipper in her lap till it really is midnight by all the other clocks."
Cyril laughed appreciatively.
"Well, I know what Will is doing," he declared.
"Will is in Bertram's den dozing before the fireplace with Spunkie curled up in his lap."
As it happened, both these surmises were not far from right. In the Strata, the Henshaws' old Beacon Street home, William was sitting before the fireplace with the cat in his lap, but he was not dozing. He was talking.
"Spunkie," he was saying, "your master, Bertram, got married to-day--and to Miss Billy. He'll be bringing her home one of these days--your new mistress. And such a mistress! Never did cat or house have a better!
"Just think; for the first time in years this old place is to know the touch of a woman's hand --and that's what it hasn't known for almost twenty years, except for those few short months six years ago when a dark-eyed girl and a little gray kitten (that was Spunk, your predecessor, you know) blew in and blew out again before we scarcely knew they were here. That girl was Miss Billy, and she was a dear then, just as she is now, only now she's coming here to stay. She's coming home, Spunkie; and she'll make it a home for you, for me, and for all of us. Up to now, you know, it hasn't really been a home, for years--just us men, so. It'll be very different, Spunkie, as you'll soon find out. Now mind, madam! We must show that we appreciate all this: no tempers, no tantrums, no showing of claws, no leaving our coats--either yours or mine--on the drawing-room chairs, no tracking in of mud on clean rugs and floors! For we're going to have a home, Spunkie--a home!"
At Hillside, Aunt Hannah was, indeed, helping Rosa to put the house to rights, as Marie had said. She was crying, too, over a glove she had found on Billy's piano; but she was crying over something else, also. Not only had she lost Billy, but she had lost her home.
To be sure, nothing had been said during that nightmare of a week of hurry and confusion about Aunt Hannah's future; but Aunt Hannah knew very well how it must be. This dear little house on the side of Corey Hill was Billy's home, and Billy would not need it any longer. It would be sold, of course; and she, Aunt Hannah, would go back to a "second-story front" and loneliness in some Back Bay boarding-house; and a second story front and loneliness would not be easy now, after these years of home--and Billy.
No wonder, indeed, that Aunt Hannah sat crying and patting the little white glove in her hand. No wonder, too, that--being Aunt Hannah-- she reached for the shawl near by and put it on, shiveringly. Even July, to-night, was cold--to Aunt Hannah.
In yet another home that evening was the wedding of Billy Neilson and Bertram Henshaw uppermost in thought and speech. In a certain little South-End flat where, in two rented rooms, lived Alice Greggory and her crippled mother, Alice was talking to Mr. M. J. Arkwright, commonly known to his friends as "Mary Jane," owing to the mystery in which he had for so long shrouded his name.
Arkwright to-night was plainly moody and ill at ease.
"You're not listening. You're not listening at all," complained Alice Greggory at last, reproachfully.
With a visible effort the man roused himself.
"Indeed I am," he maintained.
"I thought you'd be interested in the wedding. You used to be friends--you and Billy." The girl's voice still vibrated with reproach.
There was a moment's silence; then, a little harshly, the man said:
"Perhaps--because I wanted to be more than--a friend--is why you're not satisfied with my interest now."
A look that was almost terror came to Alice Greggory's eyes. She flushed painfully, then grew very white.
"Yes," he nodded dully, without looking up. "I cared too much for her. I supposed Henshaw was just a friend--till too late."
There was a breathless hush before, a little unsteadily, the girl stammered:
"Oh, I'm so sorry--so very sorry! I--I didn't know."
"No, of course you didn't. I've almost told you, though, lots of times; you've been so good to me all these weeks." He raised his head now, and looked at her, frank comradeship in his eyes.
The girl stirred restlessly. Her eyes swerved a little under his level gaze.
"Oh, but I've done nothing--n-nothing," she stammered. Then, at the light tap of crutches on a bare floor she turned in obvious relief. "Oh, here's mother. She's been in visiting with Mrs. Delano, our landlady. Mother, Mr. Arkwright is here."
Meanwhile, speeding north as fast as steam could carry them, were the bride and groom. The wondrousness of the first hour of their journey side by side had become a joyous certitude that always it was to be like this now.
"Bertram," began the bride, after a long minute of eloquent silence.
"You know our wedding was very different from most weddings."
"Of course it was!"
"Yes, but really it was. Now listen." The bride's voice grew tenderly earnest. "I think our marriage is going to be different, too."
"Yes." Billy's tone was emphatic. "There are so many common, everyday marriages where --where-- Why, Bertram, as if you could ever be to me like--like Mr. Carleton is, for instance!"
"Like Mr. Carleton is--to you?" Bertram's voice was frankly puzzled.
"No, no! As Mr. Carleton is to Mrs. Carleton, I mean."
"Oh!" Bertram subsided in relief.
"And the Grahams and Whartons, and the Freddie Agnews, and--and a lot of others. Why, Bertram, I've seen the Grahams and the Whartons not even speak to each other a whole evening, when they've been at a dinner, or something; and I've seen Mrs. Carleton not even seem to know her husband came into the room. I don't mean quarrel, dear. Of course we'd never quarrel! But I mean I'm sure we shall never get used to--to you being you, and I being I."
"Indeed we sha'n't," agreed Bertram, rapturously.
"Ours is going to be such a beautiful marriage!"
"Of course it will be."
"And we'll be so happy!"
"I shall be, and I shall try to make you so."
"As if I could be anything else," sighed Billy, blissfully. "And now we can't have any misunderstandings, you see."
"Of course not. Er--what's that?"
"Why, I mean that--that we can't ever repeat hose miserable weeks of misunderstanding. Everything is all explained up. I know, now, that you don't love Miss Winthrop, or just girls --any girl--to paint. You love me. Not the tilt of my chin, nor the turn of my head; but me."
"I do--just you." Bertram's eyes gave the caress his lips would have given had it not been for the presence of the man in the seat across the aisle of the sleeping-car.
"And you--you know now that I love you --just you?"
"Not even Arkwright?"
"Not even Arkwright," smiled Billy.
There was the briefest of hesitations; then, a little constrainedly, Bertram asked:
"And you said you--you never had cared for Arkwright, didn't you?"
For the second time in her life Billy was thankful that Bertram's question had turned upon her love for Arkwright, not Arkwright's love for her. In Billy's opinion, a man's unrequited love for a girl was his secret, not hers, and was certainly one that the girl had no right to tell. Once before Bertram had asked her if she had ever cared for Arkwright, and then she had answered emphatically, as she did now:
"I thought you said so," murmured Bertram, relaxing a little.
"I did; besides, didn't I tell you?" she went on airily, "I think he'll marry Alice Greggory. Alice wrote me all the time I was away, and-- oh, she didn't say anything definite, I'll admit," confessed Billy, with an arch smile; "but she spoke of his being there lots, and they used to know each other years ago, you see. There was almost a romance there, I think, before the Greggorys lost their money and moved away from all their friends."
"Well, he may have her. She's a nice girl-- a mighty nice girl," answered Bertram, with the unmistakably satisfied air of the man who knows he himself possesses the nicest girl of them all.
Billy, reading unerringly the triumph in his voice, grew suddenly grave. She regarded her husband with a thoughtful frown; then she drew a profound sigh.
"Whew!" laughed Bertram, whimsically. "So soon as this?"
"Bertram!" Billy's voice was tragic.
"Yes, my love." The bridegroom pulled his face into sobriety; then Billy spoke, with solemn impressiveness.
"Bertram, I don't know a thing about-- cooking--except what I've been learning in Rosa's cook-book this last week."
Bertram laughed so loud that the man across the aisle glanced over the top of his paper surreptitiously.
"Rosa's cook-book! Is that what you were doing all this week?"
"Yes; that is--I tried so hard to learn something," stammered Billy. "But I'm afraid I didn't--much; there were so many things for me to think of, you know, with only a week. I believe I could make peach fritters, though. They were the last thing I studied."
Bertram laughed again, uproariously; but, at Billy's unchangingly tragic face, he grew suddenly very grave and tender.
"Billy, dear, I didn't marry you to--to get a cook," he said gently.
Billy shook her head.
"I know; but Aunt Hannah said that even if I never expected to cook, myself, I ought to know how it was done, so to properly oversee it. She said that--that no woman, who didn't know how to cook and keep house properly, had any business to be a wife. And, Bertram, I did try, honestly, all this week. I tried so hard to remember when you sponged bread and when you kneaded it."
"I don't ever need--yours," cut in Bertram, shamelessly; but he got only a deservedly stern glance in return.
"And I repeated over and over again how many cupfuls of flour and pinches of salt and spoonfuls of baking-powder went into things; but, Bertram, I simply could not keep my mind on it. Everything, everywhere was singing to me. And how do you suppose I could remember how many pinches of flour and spoonfuls of salt and cupfuls of baking-powder went into a loaf of cake when all the while the very teakettle on the stove was singing: `It's all right--Bertram loves me--I'm going to marry Bertram!'?"
"You darling!" (In spite of the man across the aisle Bertram did almost kiss her this time.) "As if anybody cared how many cupfuls of baking-powder went anywhere--with that in your heart!"
"Aunt Hannah says you will--when you're hungry. And Kate said--"
Bertram uttered a sharp word behind his teeth.
"Billy, for heaven's sake don't tell me what Kate said, if you want me to stay sane, and not attempt to fight somebody--broken arm, and all. Kate thinks she's kind, and I suppose she means well; but--well, she's made trouble enough between us already. I've got you now, sweetheart. You're mine--all mine--" his voice shook, and dropped to a tender whisper-- " `till death us do part.' "
"Yes; `till death us do part,' " breathed Billy.
And then, for a time, they fell silent.
" `I, Bertram, take thee, Billy,' " sang the whirring wheels beneath them, to one.
" `I, Billy, take thee, Bertram,' " sang the whirring wheels beneath them, to the other. While straight ahead before them both, stretched fair and beautiful in their eyes, the wondrous path of life which they were to tread together.
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