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Book II



Chapter XIX

The day was fresh, with a lively spring wind full of
dust. All the old ladies in both families had got out
their faded sables and yellowing ermines, and the smell
of camphor from the front pews almost smothered the
faint spring scent of the lilies banking the altar.

Newland Archer, at a signal from the sexton, had
come out of the vestry and placed himself with his best
man on the chancel step of Grace Church.

The signal meant that the brougham bearing the
bride and her father was in sight; but there was sure to
be a considerable interval of adjustment and consultation
in the lobby, where the bridesmaids were already
hovering like a cluster of Easter blossoms. During this
unavoidable lapse of time the bridegroom, in proof of
his eagerness, was expected to expose himself alone to
the gaze of the assembled company; and Archer had
gone through this formality as resignedly as through all
the others which made of a nineteenth century New
York wedding a rite that seemed to belong to the dawn
of history. Everything was equally easy--or equally
painful, as one chose to put it--in the path he was
committed to tread, and he had obeyed the flurried
injunctions of his best man as piously as other bridegrooms
had obeyed his own, in the days when he had
guided them through the same labyrinth.

So far he was reasonably sure of having fulfilled all
his obligations. The bridesmaids' eight bouquets of white
lilac and lilies-of-the-valley had been sent in due time,
as well as the gold and sapphire sleeve-links of the
eight ushers and the best man's cat's-eye scarf-pin;
Archer had sat up half the night trying to vary the
wording of his thanks for the last batch of presents
from men friends and ex-lady-loves; the fees for the
Bishop and the Rector were safely in the pocket of his
best man; his own luggage was already at Mrs. Manson
Mingott's, where the wedding-breakfast was to
take place, and so were the travelling clothes into which
he was to change; and a private compartment had been
engaged in the train that was to carry the young couple
to their unknown destination--concealment of the spot
in which the bridal night was to be spent being one of
the most sacred taboos of the prehistoric ritual.

"Got the ring all right?" whispered young van der
Luyden Newland, who was inexperienced in the duties
of a best man, and awed by the weight of his responsibility.

Archer made the gesture which he had seen so many
bridegrooms make: with his ungloved right hand he
felt in the pocket of his dark grey waistcoat, and assured
himself that the little gold circlet (engraved
inside: Newland to May, April ---, 187-) was in its
place; then, resuming his former attitude, his tall hat
and pearl-grey gloves with black stitchings grasped in
his left hand, he stood looking at the door of the
church.

Overhead, Handel's March swelled pompously through
the imitation stone vaulting, carrying on its waves the
faded drift of the many weddings at which, with cheerful
indifference, he had stood on the same chancel step
watching other brides float up the nave toward other
bridegrooms.

"How like a first night at the Opera!" he thought,
recognising all the same faces in the same boxes (no,
pews), and wondering if, when the Last Trump sounded,
Mrs. Selfridge Merry would be there with the same
towering ostrich feathers in her bonnet, and Mrs. Beaufort
with the same diamond earrings and the same
smile--and whether suitable proscenium seats were
already prepared for them in another world.

After that there was still time to review, one by one,
the familiar countenances in the first rows; the women's
sharp with curiosity and excitement, the men's
sulky with the obligation of having to put on their
frock-coats before luncheon, and fight for food at the
wedding-breakfast.

"Too bad the breakfast is at old Catherine's," the
bridegroom could fancy Reggie Chivers saying. "But
I'm told that Lovell Mingott insisted on its being cooked
by his own chef, so it ought to be good if one can only
get at it." And he could imagine Sillerton Jackson
adding with authority: "My dear fellow, haven't you
heard? It's to be served at small tables, in the new
English fashion."

Archer's eyes lingered a moment on the left-hand
pew, where his mother, who had entered the church on
Mr. Henry van der Luyden's arm, sat weeping softly
under her Chantilly veil, her hands in her grandmother's
ermine muff.

"Poor Janey!" he thought, looking at his sister, "even
by screwing her head around she can see only the
people in the few front pews; and they're mostly dowdy
Newlands and Dagonets."

On the hither side of the white ribbon dividing off
the seats reserved for the families he saw Beaufort, tall
and redfaced, scrutinising the women with his arrogant
stare. Beside him sat his wife, all silvery chinchilla and
violets; and on the far side of the ribbon, Lawrence
Lefferts's sleekly brushed head seemed to mount guard
over the invisible deity of "Good Form" who presided
at the ceremony.

Archer wondered how many flaws Lefferts's keen
eyes would discover in the ritual of his divinity; then he
suddenly recalled that he too had once thought such
questions important. The things that had filled his days
seemed now like a nursery parody of life, or like the
wrangles of mediaeval schoolmen over metaphysical terms
that nobody had ever understood. A stormy discussion
as to whether the wedding presents should be "shown"
had darkened the last hours before the wedding; and it
seemed inconceivable to Archer that grown-up people
should work themselves into a state of agitation over
such trifles, and that the matter should have been decided
(in the negative) by Mrs. Welland's saying, with
indignant tears: "I should as soon turn the reporters
loose in my house." Yet there was a time when Archer
had had definite and rather aggressive opinions on all
such problems, and when everything concerning the
manners and customs of his little tribe had seemed to
him fraught with world-wide significance.

"And all the while, I suppose," he thought, "real
people were living somewhere, and real things happening
to them . . ."

"THERE THEY COME!" breathed the best man excitedly;
but the bridegroom knew better.

The cautious opening of the door of the church
meant only that Mr. Brown the livery-stable keeper
(gowned in black in his intermittent character of sexton)
was taking a preliminary survey of the scene before
marshalling his forces. The door was softly shut
again; then after another interval it swung majestically
open, and a murmur ran through the church: "The
family!"

Mrs. Welland came first, on the arm of her eldest
son. Her large pink face was appropriately solemn, and
her plum-coloured satin with pale blue side-panels, and
blue ostrich plumes in a small satin bonnet, met with
general approval; but before she had settled herself
with a stately rustle in the pew opposite Mrs. Archer's
the spectators were craning their necks to see who was
coming after her. Wild rumours had been abroad the
day before to the effect that Mrs. Manson Mingott, in
spite of her physical disabilities, had resolved on being
present at the ceremony; and the idea was so much in
keeping with her sporting character that bets ran high
at the clubs as to her being able to walk up the nave
and squeeze into a seat. It was known that she had
insisted on sending her own carpenter to look into the
possibility of taking down the end panel of the front
pew, and to measure the space between the seat and
the front; but the result had been discouraging, and for
one anxious day her family had watched her dallying
with the plan of being wheeled up the nave in her
enormous Bath chair and sitting enthroned in it at the
foot of the chancel.

The idea of this monstrous exposure of her person
was so painful to her relations that they could have
covered with gold the ingenious person who suddenly
discovered that the chair was too wide to pass between
the iron uprights of the awning which extended from
the church door to the curbstone. The idea of doing
away with this awning, and revealing the bride to the
mob of dressmakers and newspaper reporters who stood
outside fighting to get near the joints of the canvas,
exceeded even old Catherine's courage, though for a
moment she had weighed the possibility. "Why, they
might take a photograph of my child AND PUT IT IN THE
PAPERS!" Mrs. Welland exclaimed when her mother's
last plan was hinted to her; and from this unthinkable
indecency the clan recoiled with a collective shudder.
The ancestress had had to give in; but her concession
was bought only by the promise that the wedding-
breakfast should take place under her roof, though (as
the Washington Square connection said) with the
Wellands' house in easy reach it was hard to have to make
a special price with Brown to drive one to the other
end of nowhere.

Though all these transactions had been widely
reported by the Jacksons a sporting minority still clung
to the belief that old Catherine would appear in church,
and there was a distinct lowering of the temperature
when she was found to have been replaced by her
daughter-in-law. Mrs. Lovell Mingott had the high colour
and glassy stare induced in ladies of her age and
habit by the effort of getting into a new dress; but once
the disappointment occasioned by her mother-in-law's
non-appearance had subsided, it was agreed that her
black Chantilly over lilac satin, with a bonnet of Parma
violets, formed the happiest contrast to Mrs. Welland's
blue and plum-colour. Far different was the impression
produced by the gaunt and mincing lady who followed
on Mr. Mingott's arm, in a wild dishevelment of stripes
and fringes and floating scarves; and as this last apparition
glided into view Archer's heart contracted and
stopped beating.

He had taken it for granted that the Marchioness
Manson was still in Washington, where she had gone
some four weeks previously with her niece, Madame
Olenska. It was generally understood that their abrupt
departure was due to Madame Olenska's desire to remove
her aunt from the baleful eloquence of Dr. Agathon
Carver, who had nearly succeeded in enlisting her as a
recruit for the Valley of Love; and in the circumstances
no one had expected either of the ladies to return for
the wedding. For a moment Archer stood with his eyes
fixed on Medora's fantastic figure, straining to see who
came behind her; but the little procession was at an
end, for all the lesser members of the family had taken
their seats, and the eight tall ushers, gathering themselves
together like birds or insects preparing for some
migratory manoeuvre, were already slipping through
the side doors into the lobby.

"Newland--I say: SHE'S HERE!" the best man whispered.

Archer roused himself with a start.

A long time had apparently passed since his heart
had stopped beating, for the white and rosy procession
was in fact half way up the nave, the Bishop, the
Rector and two white-winged assistants were hovering
about the flower-banked altar, and the first chords of
the Spohr symphony were strewing their flower-like
notes before the bride.

Archer opened his eyes (but could they really have
been shut, as he imagined?), and felt his heart beginning
to resume its usual task. The music, the scent of
the lilies on the altar, the vision of the cloud of tulle
and orange-blossoms floating nearer and nearer, the
sight of Mrs. Archer's face suddenly convulsed with
happy sobs, the low benedictory murmur of the Rector's
voice, the ordered evolutions of the eight pink
bridesmaids and the eight black ushers: all these sights,
sounds and sensations, so familiar in themselves, so
unutterably strange and meaningless in his new relation
to them, were confusedly mingled in his brain.

"My God," he thought, "HAVE I got the ring?"--and
once more he went through the bridegroom's convulsive
gesture.

Then, in a moment, May was beside him, such radiance
streaming from her that it sent a faint warmth
through his numbness, and he straightened himself and
smiled into her eyes.

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here," the
Rector began . . .

The ring was on her hand, the Bishop's benediction
had been given, the bridesmaids were a-poise to resume
their place in the procession, and the organ was showing
preliminary symptoms of breaking out into the
Mendelssohn March, without which no newly-wedded
couple had ever emerged upon New York.

"Your arm--I SAY, GIVE HER YOUR ARM!" young
Newland nervously hissed; and once more Archer became
aware of having been adrift far off in the unknown.
What was it that had sent him there, he
wondered? Perhaps the glimpse, among the anonymous
spectators in the transept, of a dark coil of hair under a
hat which, a moment later, revealed itself as belonging
to an unknown lady with a long nose, so laughably unlike
the person whose image she had evoked that he asked
himself if he were becoming subject to hallucinations.

And now he and his wife were pacing slowly down
the nave, carried forward on the light Mendelssohn
ripples, the spring day beckoning to them through widely
opened doors, and Mrs. Welland's chestnuts, with big
white favours on their frontlets, curvetting and showing
off at the far end of the canvas tunnel.

The footman, who had a still bigger white favour on
his lapel, wrapped May's white cloak about her, and
Archer jumped into the brougham at her side. She
turned to him with a triumphant smile and their hands
clasped under her veil.

"Darling!" Archer said--and suddenly the same black
abyss yawned before him and he felt himself sinking
into it, deeper and deeper, while his voice rambled on
smoothly and cheerfully: "Yes, of course I thought I'd
lost the ring; no wedding would be complete if the
poor devil of a bridegroom didn't go through that. But
you DID keep me waiting, you know! I had time to
think of every horror that might possibly happen."

She surprised him by turning, in full Fifth Avenue,
and flinging her arms about his neck. "But none ever
CAN happen now, can it, Newland, as long as we two
are together?"


Every detail of the day had been so carefully thought
out that the young couple, after the wedding-breakfast,
had ample time to put on their travelling-clothes,
descend the wide Mingott stairs between laughing bridesmaids
and weeping parents, and get into the brougham
under the traditional shower of rice and satin slippers;
and there was still half an hour left in which to drive to
the station, buy the last weeklies at the bookstall with
the air of seasoned travellers, and settle themselves in
the reserved compartment in which May's maid had
already placed her dove-coloured travelling cloak and
glaringly new dressing-bag from London.

The old du Lac aunts at Rhinebeck had put their
house at the disposal of the bridal couple, with a readiness
inspired by the prospect of spending a week in
New York with Mrs. Archer; and Archer, glad to escape
the usual "bridal suite" in a Philadelphia or Baltimore
hotel, had accepted with an equal alacrity.

May was enchanted at the idea of going to the country,
and childishly amused at the vain efforts of the
eight bridesmaids to discover where their mysterious
retreat was situated. It was thought "very English" to
have a country-house lent to one, and the fact gave a
last touch of distinction to what was generally
conceded to be the most brilliant wedding of the year; but
where the house was no one was permitted to know,
except the parents of bride and groom, who, when
taxed with the knowledge, pursed their lips and said
mysteriously: "Ah, they didn't tell us--" which was
manifestly true, since there was no need to.

Once they were settled in their compartment, and the
train, shaking off the endless wooden suburbs, had
pushed out into the pale landscape of spring, talk
became easier than Archer had expected. May was still,
in look and tone, the simple girl of yesterday, eager to
compare notes with him as to the incidents of the
wedding, and discussing them as impartially as a bridesmaid
talking it all over with an usher. At first Archer
had fancied that this detachment was the disguise of an
inward tremor; but her clear eyes revealed only the
most tranquil unawareness. She was alone for the first
time with her husband; but her husband was only the
charming comrade of yesterday. There was no one
whom she liked as much, no one whom she trusted as
completely, and the culminating "lark" of the whole
delightful adventure of engagement and marriage was
to be off with him alone on a journey, like a grownup
person, like a "married woman," in fact.

It was wonderful that--as he had learned in the
Mission garden at St. Augustine--such depths of feeling
could coexist with such absence of imagination. But
he remembered how, even then, she had surprised him
by dropping back to inexpressive girlishness as soon as
her conscience had been eased of its burden; and he
saw that she would probably go through life dealing to
the best of her ability with each experience as it came,
but never anticipating any by so much as a stolen
glance.

Perhaps that faculty of unawareness was what gave
her eyes their transparency, and her face the look of
representing a type rather than a person; as if she
might have been chosen to pose for a Civic Virtue or a
Greek goddess. The blood that ran so close to her fair
skin might have been a preserving fluid rather than a
ravaging element; yet her look of indestructible
youthfulness made her seem neither hard nor dull, but only
primitive and pure. In the thick of this meditation
Archer suddenly felt himself looking at her with the
startled gaze of a stranger, and plunged into a reminiscence
of the wedding-breakfast and of Granny Mingott's
immense and triumphant pervasion of it.

May settled down to frank enjoyment of the subject.
"I was surprised, though--weren't you?--that aunt
Medora came after all. Ellen wrote that they were
neither of them well enough to take the journey; I do
wish it had been she who had recovered! Did you see
the exquisite old lace she sent me?"

He had known that the moment must come sooner
or later, but he had somewhat imagined that by force
of willing he might hold it at bay.

"Yes--I--no: yes, it was beautiful," he said, looking
at her blindly, and wondering if, whenever he heard
those two syllables, all his carefully built-up world
would tumble about him like a house of cards.

"Aren't you tired? It will be good to have some tea
when we arrive--I'm sure the aunts have got everything
beautifully ready," he rattled on, taking her hand
in his; and her mind rushed away instantly to the
magnificent tea and coffee service of Baltimore silver
which the Beauforts had sent, and which "went" so
perfectly with uncle Lovell Mingott's trays and sidedishes.

In the spring twilight the train stopped at the
Rhinebeck station, and they walked along the platform
to the waiting carriage.

"Ah, how awfully kind of the van der Luydens--
they've sent their man over from Skuytercliff to meet
us," Archer exclaimed, as a sedate person out of livery
approached them and relieved the maid of her bags.

"I'm extremely sorry, sir," said this emissary, "that a
little accident has occurred at the Miss du Lacs': a leak
in the water-tank. It happened yesterday, and Mr. van
der Luyden, who heard of it this morning, sent a housemaid
up by the early train to get the Patroon's house
ready. It will be quite comfortable, I think you'll find,
sir; and the Miss du Lacs have sent their cook over, so
that it will be exactly the same as if you'd been at
Rhinebeck."

Archer stared at the speaker so blankly that he
repeated in still more apologetic accents: "It'll be exactly
the same, sir, I do assure you--" and May's eager voice
broke out, covering the embarrassed silence: "The same
as Rhinebeck? The Patroon's house? But it will be a
hundred thousand times better--won't it, Newland?
It's too dear and kind of Mr. van der Luyden to have
thought of it."

And as they drove off, with the maid beside the
coachman, and their shining bridal bags on the seat
before them, she went on excitedly: "Only fancy, I've
never been inside it--have you? The van der Luydens
show it to so few people. But they opened it for Ellen,
it seems, and she told me what a darling little place it
was: she says it's the only house she's seen in America
that she could imagine being perfectly happy in."

"Well--that's what we're going to be, isn't it?" cried
her husband gaily; and she answered with her boyish
smile: "Ah, it's just our luck beginning--the wonderful
luck we're always going to have together!"





The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Category:
General Fiction
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