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The Day of Their Wedding
By William Dean Howells, 1895
THE train, which had started long before, advanced by smooth leaps through the dark, and the rhythmical clangor of the wheels upon the rails lost itself in Lorenzo's tones while he talked on and mapped out the future to Althea. Already, though he had been so few days in the world-outside, he knew many things unknown to her, and he looked at everything from a point of view that she could not yet imagine. He used words that she had never heard before, and he used familiar phrases in a new sense. He spoke low, and not to lose anything he said she had to turn her deep bonnet towards him, and peer up into his face with eyes so still and solemn in their fixity that at last he laughed out.
"What are you laughing at?" she half grieved.
"Oh, nothing. Your eyes down there in that old bonnet made me think of a rabbit that I got into a hole once, and it kept looking up at me. What is there to scare anybody, anyway, Althea?"
"Nothing. I'm not scared now."
"Well, I believe it's that bonnet, after all. Why don't you take the old thing off?"
"I don't know. They would look."
She glanced round the car at their fellow-passengers, and Lorenzo did so too. "Well, let them look!" He said, with a petulant impulse; and then, as if he had given way too far, he added, "They've all got their backs turned, anyway."
"So they have!" said Althea. "I took this seat at the end of the car on purpose, so they wouldn't notice me so much. I forgot about that."
Still she did not offer to remove her bonnet, and he repeated, "Why don't you take the old thing off?"
"Do you truly want me to?"
"Yee; I want to see how you'll look."
"Why, you know already how I look with my cap on."
"Got that on too?"
"Oh, what's the use of yeeing and naying it all the time, Althea? We've got to say yes and no after this."
"You said yee yourself half a minute ago."
"Did I?" asked Lorenzo; and after a moment's thought, he said, "Well, so I did," and he laughed at himself. "But it's all that old bonnet makes me do it. I say yes to other folks straight enough. Do take it off!"
"Well, I will, if you want I should so very much," said Althea, and she kept watching his face while she began to undo the bonnet strings.
"Want I should help you any?"
"Nay; I guess I can get along."
"There's that nay again!" said Lorenzo, desperately, and they both laughed. " Take off your cap, too. Wouldn't you just as lives?"
"Yee, if you say so."
"There it goes again!" And they laughed together, but very softly, so that the other passengers should not notice. The woman with the child was making up a bed on the seat in front of her for the little one; she looked over her shoulder a moment, but she did not seem to take them in with her vague glance. Althea stopped untying her bonnet-strings, and then went on. She lifted the drab tunnel from her head at last, and showed the wire-framed gauze cap, closely fitted to her head. "Now the cap," said the young man, and she untied that too, and took it off, and turned her face full upon him.
She looked like a pretty boy, with her dark hair cropped to her head all round, and her severe turn-down collar, which came so high up on her throat that her soft round chin almost touched it. She had dark eyes, very tender and truthful, a little straight nose, and a mouth that smiled unspeakable question at the young man with its red lips; delicate brows arched themselves above her dovelike eyes, and her forehead was a smooth and white wall to the edge of her hair. The ugly bonnet had served well to keep her complexion fair; its indoors pallor had now a faint flush in it.
Lorenzo caught his breath, and turned his face with a slight cough.
"What is the matter? Have you got a cold?" she asked.
"Nay. It seemed as if my heart skipped a beat. I guess it was the surprise."
"Do I surprise you very much, Lorenzo?" her pretty lips entreated, fondly. "Do I look so very funny? You made me do it!"
"Nay, nay! You look--beautiful, Althea. I don't know as I ought to say it, Althea, but I didn't know how beautiful you was before."
He stared at her so helplessly and awe-strickenly that she could not help laughing.
"You're fine-appearing, too, Lorenzo. I noticed it when you came into the car. I presume it's my hair that makes me look so funny. But it isn't half as short as yours," she said, with an arch glance at his hair as far as it showed itself under his hat. He took his hat off, and she pressed her hand against her mouth to keep from laughing too loud. "I guess we're a pair of them!"
He still sat embarrassed, looking at her, and studying every little motion of her head and face as she put her cap inside her bonnet, and made as if to tie the string of the bonnet over both. "But maybe," she said, "you want I should put them on again?"
"Nay," he began, and she mocked him with "Nay? There it is again!" But he would not laugh.
"Althea, I don't hardly feel as if I had any right to you. It's all well enough to talk, but I didn't know that till you looked--the way you do look; and if you say, I'll give up right now."
"And what shall I do if you give up now?" she asked, with eyes full of laughter.
"That's true," he sighed.
"I didn't know how well you looked, either, till I saw you with that suit of clothes on."
"Do you like them?" he asked, with a proud glance at the sleeves of his coat and the legs of his trousers. "I had to pay twenty dollars for the suit. Friend Nason thought it was a good deal--he went with me--but he said he guessed I better have them if I was going off with you; I'd get more comfort out of them than what I would a cheaper suit."
"Yee," said Althea, thoughtfully. " If we're in the world-outside we have got to do the same as the rest." She drew a little away from him to add, with a touch of tender reproach, "But I began to feel foolish about you, Lorenzo, long before I saw you in that suit of clothes--as foolish as I ever could."
"And I felt foolish about you when I couldn't hardly see your face in the bottom of that bonnet, let alone know what a pretty head you had, or anything. It was something the way you walked--I d' know--and your--your waist, Althea--"
She turned away from him to take up the parcel on the other side. She put it in her lap, and asked. "Do you want I should show you the sack Friend Ella lent me?"
"Why, yee; of course!"
"She said it was quite the fashion." Althea undid it and held it up and whirled it about, so that the jet trimming would show, and she made him feel the texture of the silk. "Now, I'll try it on if you want I should." She flung it across his knees, and unpinned the Shaker shawl from over her breast, and let it fall from her shoulders. She stopped suddenly with a fiery flush.
"What is it?" asked Lorenzo. He looked in the direction of her eyes, and saw one of the men passengers coming straight down the car towards them; but the man went on to the water-cooler in the corner just beyond them, and after he had solemnly filled himself up from the tank there he lumbered back to his place again at the other end of the car. They looked at each other as people do who have had a narrow escape. Althea pulled the shawl up on her shoulders again. "I guess I'll wait till morning to put it on."
"Yee, just as well," said Lorenzo, and he could not have seen the filmy shade of disappointment that passed over her face. "What are you going to do with that old thing?"
He touched her Shaker bonnet, and she glanced down at it. "Oh, keep it, I presume," she sighed--"keep it always. Any rate, I shall keep it till morning." She tied it up with the paper that had wrapped her sack.
Lorenzo rose from the seat and stood beside it. "Look here, Althea, I'm going back into the sleeping-car here to get a place for you, so you can rest comfortable. I don't want you should sit up here all night."
"What are you going to do?"
"Oh, I can set up well enough--"
"Then so can I, too! And I'm going to stay here with you."
"Now, Althea, you just let me have my own way about this. I took the place for you before the car reached Fitchburg, and it's paid for, and you might as well use it."
She would have protested further, but he had already left her, and she vainly appealed to him with her entreating eyes when he looked back at her over his shoulder.
While he was gone she unwrapped the hat that she had borrowed from Friend Ella Shewall, and put it on at the little mirror by the water-cooler. Then she dropped her Shaker shawl over her arm, and sat down again to wait.
When Lorenzo came back he started at sight of her. "Well, well!" he said.
"Do you like it?" she cooed back at him.
"Well, I should think so!"
He began to pick up her bundles, and she stood outside of the seat to give him a chance. "I thought I wouldn't like to have them see me in my Family shawl and my short hair," she explained.
"I guess they wouldn't noticed much," said Lorenzo. "There a'n't anybody up but the porter. Well, it's all ready." He stopped, and let some of the parcels fall back into the seat, and stood staring at her.
"What is it?"
"Nothing," he answered; and then he said, thickly, " I was just thinking how you would look in a dress that I saw a girl have on at Fitchburg to-day." She felt his eyes on her waist, but she did not mind; she laughed for pleasure; she liked to know he thought she had a pretty waist; he might just as well. He affected to turn it off with a practical remark:
"That dress looks a little Shaker yet. Perhaps it won't when you've got the sack on over it. Anyway, we can get something ready-made at Saratoga. I don't believe you'll ever get anything that'll fit you much better," he gasped, in helpless adoration.
The girl's face fell a little. "Yee. Sister Miranda made it. She said she was afraid she took almost too much pride in it. I did hate to leave without saying good-bye to her!"
"Yee," said the young fellow, gravely.
The black porter from the sleeping-car came in briskly, and after a glance up and down their car to make sure of his passenger he came and took Althea's bags and parcels from Lorenzo's passive hands. "This way, lady," he said.
She looked at Lorenzo, and he nodded. "I guess he can show you."
"Good-night," she said, following the porter out.
"Well, good-night," answered Lorenzo. He sat down in the seat now empty of her form, and pulled his hat over his eyes.