Punctual to his word, Bill Dennant called for Shelton at one o'clock.
"I bet old Benjy's feeling a bit cheap," said he, as they got out of their cab at the church door and passed between the crowded files of unelect, whose eyes, so curious and pitiful, devoured them from the pavement.
The ashen face of a woman, with a baby in her arms and two more by her side, looked as eager as if she had never experienced the pangs of ragged matrimony. Shelton went in inexplicably uneasy; the price of his tie was their board and lodging for a week. He followed his future brother-in-law to a pew on the bridegroom's side, for, with intuitive perception of the sexes' endless warfare, each of the opposing parties to this contract had its serried battalion, the arrows of whose suspicion kept glancing across and across the central aisle.
Bill Dennant's eyes began to twinkle.
"There's old Benjy!" he whispered; and Shelton looked at the hero of the day. A subdued pallor was traceable under the weathered uniformity of his shaven face; but the well-bred, artificial smile he bent upon the guests had its wonted steely suavity. About his dress and his neat figure was that studied ease which lifts men from the ruck of common bridegrooms. There were no holes in his armour through which the impertinent might pry.
"Good old Benjy!" whispered young Dennant; "I say, they look a bit short of class, those Casserols."
Shelton, who was acquainted with this family, smiled. The sensuous sanctity all round had begun to influence him. A perfume of flowers and dresses fought with the natural odour of the church; the rustle of whisperings and skirts struck through the native silence of the aisles, and Shelton idly fixed his eyes on a lady in the pew in front; without in the least desiring to make a speculation of this sort, he wondered whether her face was as charming as the lines of her back in their delicate, skin-tight setting of pearl grey; his glance wandered to the chancel with its stacks of flowers, to the grave, business faces of the presiding priests, till the organ began rolling out the wedding march.
"They're off!" whispered young Dermant.
Shelton was conscious of a shiver running through the audience which reminded him of a bullfight he had seen in Spain. The bride came slowly up the aisle. "Antonia will look like that," he thought, "and the church will be filled with people like this . . . . She'll be a show to them!" The bride was opposite him now, and by an instinct of common chivalry he turned away his eyes; it seemed to him a shame to look at that downcast head above the silver mystery of her perfect raiment; the modest head full, doubtless, of devotion and pure yearnings; the stately head where no such thought as "How am I looking, this day of all days, before all London?" had ever entered; the proud head, which no such fear as "How am I carrying it off?" could surely be besmirching.
He saw below the surface of this drama played before his eyes, and set his face, as a man might who found himself assisting at a sacrifice. The words fell, unrelenting, on his ears: "For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health--" and opening the Prayer Book he found the Marriage Service, which he had not looked at since he was a boy, and as he read he had some very curious sensations.
All this would soon be happening to himself! He went on reading in a kind of stupor, until aroused by his companion whispering, "No luck!" All around there rose a rustling of skirts; he saw a tall figure mount the pulpit and stand motionless. Massive and high-featured, sunken of eye, he towered, in snowy cambric and a crimson stole, above the blackness of his rostrum; it seemed he had been chosen for his beauty. Shelton was still gazing at the stitching of his gloves, when once again the organ played the Wedding March. All were smiling, and a few were weeping, craning their heads towards the bride. "Carnival of second-hand emotions!" thought Shelton; and he, too, craned his head and brushed his hat. Then, smirking at his friends, he made his way towards the door.
In the Casserols' house he found himself at last going round the presents with the eldest Casserol surviving, a tall girl in pale violet, who had been chief bridesmaid.
"Did n't it go off well, Mr. Shelton?" she was saying
"I always think it's so awkward for the man waiting up there for the bride to come."
"Yes," murmured Shelton.
"Don't you think it's smart, the bridesmaids having no hats?"
Shelton had not noticed this improvement, but he agreed.
"That was my idea; I think it 's very chic. They 've had fifteen tea-sets-so dull, is n't it?"
"By Jove!" Shelton hastened to remark.
"Oh, its fearfully useful to have a lot of things you don't want; of course, you change them for those you do."
The whole of London seemed to have disgorged its shops into this room; he looked at Miss Casserol's face, and was greatly struck by the shrewd acquisitiveness of her small eyes.
"Is that your future brother-in-law?" she asked, pointing to Bill Dennant with a little movement of her chin; "I think he's such a bright boy. I want you both to come to dinner, and help to keep things jolly. It's so deadly after a wedding."
And Shelton said they would.
They adjourned to the hall now, to wait for the bride's departure. Her face as she came down the stairs was impassive, gay, with a furtive trouble in the eyes, and once more Shelton had the odd sensation of having sinned against his manhood. Jammed close to him was her old nurse, whose puffy, yellow face was pouting with emotion, while tears rolled from her eyes. She was trying to say something, but in the hubbub her farewell was lost. There was a scamper to the carriage, a flurry of rice and flowers; the shoe was flung against the sharply drawn-up window. Then Benjy's shaven face was seen a moment, bland and steely; the footman folded his arms, and with a solemn crunch the brougham wheels rolled away. "How splendidly it went off!" said a voice on Shelton's right. "She looked a little pale," said a voice on Shelton's left. He put his hand up to his forehead; behind him the old nurse sniffed.
"Dick," said young Dennant in his ear, "this isn't good enough; I vote we bolt."
Shelton assenting, they walked towards the Park; nor could he tell whether the slight nausea he experienced was due to afternoon champagne or to the ceremony that had gone so well.
"What's up with you?" asked Dennant; "you look as glum as any m-monkey."
"Nothing," said Shelton; "I was only thinking what humbugs we all are!"
Bill Dennant stopped in the middle of the crossing, and clapped his future brother-in-law upon the shoulder.
"Oh," said he, "if you're going to talk shop, I 'm off."
Sorry, no summary available yet.