A TALK ON THE DOORSTEPS.
It was one of those afternoons in late April which are as mild and balmy as any June day. The air was full of the chirps and twitters of nest-building birds, and of sweet indefinable odors from half-developed leaf-buds and cherry and pear blossoms. The wisterias overhead were thickly starred with pointed pearl-colored sacs, growing purpler with each hour, which would be flowers before long; the hedges were quickening into life, the long pensile willow-boughs and the honey-locusts hung in a mist of fine green against the sky, and delicious smells came with every puff of wind from the bed of white violets under the parlor windows.
Katy and Clover Carr, sitting with their sewing on the door-steps, drew in with every breath the sense of spring. Who does not know the delightfulness of that first sitting out of doors after a long winter’s confinement? It seems like flinging the gauntlet down to the powers of cold. Hope and renovation are in the air. Life has conquered Death, and to the happy hearts in love with life there is joy in the victory. The two sisters talked busily as they sewed, but all the time an only half-conscious rapture informed their senses,—the sympathy of that which is immortal in human souls with the resurrection of natural things, which is the sure pledge of immortality.
It was nearly a year since Katy had come back from that too brief journey to Europe with Mrs. Ashe and Amy, about which some of you have read, and many things of interest to the Carr family had happened during the interval. The “Natchitoches” had duly arrived in New York in October, and presently afterward Burnet was convulsed by the appearance of a tall young fellow in naval uniform, and the announcement of Katy’s engagement to Lieutenant Worthington.
It was a piece of news which interested everybody in the little town, for Dr. Carr was a universal friend and favorite. For a time he had been the only physician in the place; and though with the gradual growth of population two or three younger men had appeared to dispute the ground with him, they were forced for the most part to content themselves with doctoring the new arrivals, and with such fragments and leavings of practice as Dr. Carr chose to intrust to them. None of the old established families would consent to call in any one else if they could possibly get the “old” doctor.
A skilful practitioner, who is at the same time a wise adviser, a helpful friend, and an agreeable man, must necessarily command a wide influence. Dr. Carr was “by all odds and far away,” as our English cousins would express it, the most popular person in Burnet, wanted for all pleasant occasions, and doubly wanted for all painful ones.
So the news of Katy’s engagement was made a matter of personal concern by a great many people, and caused a general stir, partly because she was her father’s daughter, and partly because she was herself; for Katy had won many friends by her own merit. So long as Ned Worthington stayed, a sort of tide of congratulation and sympathy seemed to sweep through the house all day long. Tea-roses and chrysanthemums, and baskets of pears and the beautiful Burnet grapes flooded the premises, and the door-bell rang so often that Clover threatened to leave the door open, with a card attached,—”Walk straight in. He is in the parlor!”
Everybody wanted to see and know Katy’s lover, and to have him as a guest. Ten tea-drinkings a week would scarcely have contented Katy’s well-wishers, had the limitations of mortal weeks permitted such a thing; and not a can of oysters would have been left in the place if Lieutenant Worthington’s leave had lasted three days longer. Clover and Elsie loudly complained that they themselves never had a chance to see him; for whenever he was not driving or walking with Katy, or having longtête-à-têtes in the library, he was eating muffins somewhere, or making calls on old ladies whose feelings would be dreadfully hurt if he went away without their seeing him.
“Sisters seem to come off worst of all,” protested Johnnie. But in spite of their lamentations they all saw enough of their future brother-in-law to grow fond of him; and notwithstanding some natural pangs of jealousy at having to share Katy with an outsider, it was a happy visit, and every one was sorry when the leave of absence ended, and Ned had to go away.
A month later the “Natchitoches” sailed for the Bahamas. It was to be a six months’ cruise only; and on her return she was for a while to make part of the home squadron. This furnished a good opportunity for her first lieutenant to marry; so it was agreed that the wedding should take place in June, and Katy set about her preparations in the leisurely and simple fashion which was characteristic of her. She had no ambition for a great trousseau, and desired to save her father expense; so her outfit, as compared with that of most modern brides, was a very moderate one, but being planned and mostly made at home, it necessarily involved thought, time, and a good deal of personal exertion.
Dear little Clover flung herself into the affair with even more interest than if it had been her own. Many happy mornings that winter did the sisters spend together over their dainty stitches and “white seam.” Elsie and Johnnie were good needle-women now, and could help in many ways. Mrs. Ashe often joined them; even Amy could contribute aid in the plainer sewing, and thread everybody’s needles. But the most daring and indefatigable of all was Clover, who never swerved in her determination that Katy’s “things” should be as nice and as pretty as love and industry combined could make them. Her ideas as to decoration soared far beyond Katy’s. She hem-stitched, she cat-stitched, she feather-stitched, she lace-stitched, she tucked and frilled and embroidered, and generally worked her fingers off; while the bride vainly protested that all this finery was quite unnecessary, and that simple hems and a little Hamburg edging would answer just as well. Clover merely repeated the words, “Hamburg edging!” with an accent of scorn, and went straight on in her elected way.
As each article received its last touch, and came from the laundry white and immaculate, it was folded to perfection, tied with a narrow blue or pale rose-colored ribbon, and laid aside in a sacred receptacle known as “The Wedding Bureau.” The handkerchiefs, grouped in dozens, were strewn with dried violets and rose-leaves to make them sweet. Lavender-bags and sachets of orris lay among the linen; and perfumes as of Araby were discernible whenever a drawer in the bureau was pulled out.
So the winter passed, and now spring was come; and the two girls on the doorsteps were talking about the wedding, which seemed very near now.
“Tell me just what sort of an affair you want it to be,” said Clover.
“It seems more your wedding than mine, you have worked so hard for it,” replied Katy. “You might give your ideas first.”
“My ideas are not very distinct. It’s only lately that I have begun to think about it at all, there has been so much to do. I’d like to have you have a beautiful dress and a great many wedding-presents and everything as pretty as can be, but not so many bridesmaids as Cecy, because there is always such a fuss in getting them nicely up the aisle in church and out again,—that is as far as I’ve got. But so long as you are pleased, and it goes off well, I don’t care exactly how it is managed.”
“Then, since you are in such an accommodating frame of mind, it seems a good time to break my views to you. Don’t be shocked, Clovy; but, do you know, I don’t want to be married in church at all, or to have any bridesmaids, or anything arranged for beforehand particularly. I should like things to be simple, and to just happen.”
“But, Katy, you can’t do it like that. It will all get into a snarl if there is no planning beforehand or rehearsals; it would be confused and horrid.”
“I don’t see why it would be confused if there were nothing to confuse. Please not be vexed; but I always have hated the ordinary kind of wedding, with its fuss and worry and so much of everything, and just like all the other weddings, and the bride looking tired to death, and nobody enjoying it a bit. I’d like mine to be different, and more—more—real. I don’t want any show or processing about, but just to have things nice and pretty, and all the people I love and who love me to come to it, and nothing cut and dried, and nobody tired, and to make it a sort of dear, loving occasion, with leisure to realize how dear it is and what it all means. Don’t you think it would really be nicer in that way?”
“Well, yes, as you put it, and ‘viewed from the higher standard,’ as Miss Inches would say, perhaps it would. Still, bridesmaids and all that are very pretty to look at; and folks will be surprised if you don’t have them.”
“Never mind folks,” remarked the irreverent Katy. “I don’t care a button for that argument. Yes; bridesmaids and going up the aisle in a long procession and all the rest are pretty to look at,—or were before they got to be so hackneyed. I can imagine the first bridal procession up the aisle of some early cathedral as having been perfectly beautiful. But nowadays, when the butcher and baker and candlestick-maker and everybody else do it just alike, the custom seems to me to have lost its charm. I never did enjoy having things exactly as every one else has them,—all going in the same direction like a flock of sheep. I would like my little wedding to be something especially my own. There was a poetical meaning in those old customs; but now that the custom has swallowed up so much of the meaning, it would please me better to retain the meaning and drop the custom.”
“I see what you mean,” said Clover, not quite convinced, but inclined as usual to admire Katy and think that whatever she meant must be right. “But tell me a little more. You mean to have a wedding-dress, don’t you?” doubtfully.
“Have you thought what it shall be?”
“Do you recollect that beautiful white crape shawl of mamma’s which papa gave me two years ago? It has a lovely wreath of embroidery round it; and it came to me the other day that it would make a charming gown, with white surah or something for the under-dress. I should like that better than anything new, because mamma used to wear it, and it would seem as if she were here still, helping me to get ready. Don’t you think so?”
“It is a lovely idea,” said Clover, the ever-ready tears dimming her happy blue eyes for a moment, “and just like you. Yes, that shall be the dress,—dear mamma’s shawl. It will please papa too, I think, to have you choose it.”
“I thought perhaps it would,” said Katy, soberly. “Then I have a wide white watered sash which Aunt Izzy gave me, and I mean to have that worked into the dress somehow. I should like to wear something of hers too, for she was really good to us when we were little, and all that long time that I was ill; and we were not always good to her, I am afraid. Poor Aunt Izzy! What troublesome little wretches we were,—I most of all!”
“Were you? Somehow I never can recollect the time when you were not a born angel. I am afraid I don’t remember Aunt Izzy well. I just have a vague memory of somebody who was pretty strict and cross.”
“Ah, you never had a back, and needed to be waited on night and day, or you would recollect a great deal more than that. Cousin Helen helped me to appreciate what Aunt Izzy really was. By the way, one of the two things I have set my heart on is to have Cousin Helen come to my wedding.”
“It would be lovely if she could. Do you suppose there is any chance?”
“I wrote her week before last, but she hasn’t answered yet. Of course it depends on how she is; but the accounts from her have been pretty good this year.”
“What is the other thing you have set your heart on? You said ‘two.'”
“The other is that Rose Red shall be here, and little Rose. I wrote to her the other day also, and coaxed hard. Wouldn’t it be too enchanting? You know how we have always longed to have her in Burnet; and if she could come now it would make everything twice as pleasant.”
“Katy, what an enchanting thought!” cried Clover, who had not seen Rose since they all left Hillsover. “It would be the greatest lark that ever was to have the Roses. When do you suppose we shall hear? I can hardly wait, I am in such a hurry to have her say ‘Yes.'”
“But suppose she says ‘No’?”
“I won’t think of such a possibility. Now go on. I suppose your principles don’t preclude a wedding-cake?”
“On the contrary, they include a great deal of wedding-cake. I want to send a box to everybody in Burnet,—all the poor people, I mean, and the old people and the children at the Home and those forlorn creatures at the poor-house and all papa’s patients.”
“But, Katy, that will cost a lot,” objected the thrifty Clover.
“I know it; so we must do it in the cheapest way, and make the cake ourselves. I have Aunt Izzy’s recipe, which is a very good one; and if we all take hold, it won’t be such an immense piece of work. Debby has quantities of raisins stoned already. She has been doing them in the evenings a few at a time for the last month. Mrs. Ashe knows a factory where you can get the little white boxes for ten dollars a thousand, and I have commissioned her to send for five hundred.”
“Five hundred! What an immense quantity!”
“Yes; but there are all the Hillsover girls to be remembered, and all our kith and kin, and everybody at the wedding will want one. I don’t think it will be too many. Oh, I have arranged it all in my mind. Johnnie will slice the citron, Elsie will wash the currants, Debby measure and bake, Alexander mix, you and I will attend to the icing, and all of us will cut it up.”
“Alexander. He is quite pleased with the idea, and has constructed an implement—a sort of spade, cut out of new pine wood—for the purpose. He says it will be a sight easier than digging flower-beds. We will set about it next week; for the cake improves by keeping, and as it is the heaviest job we have to do, it will be well to get it out of the way early.”
“Sha’n’t you have a floral bell, or a bower to stand in, or something of that kind?” ventured Clover, timidly.
“Indeed I shall not,” replied Katy. “I particularly dislike floral bells and bowers. They are next worst to anchors and harps and ‘floral pillows’ and all the rest of the dreadful things that they have at funerals. No, we will have plenty of fresh flowers, but not in stiff arrangements. I want it all to seem easy and to be easy. Don’t look so disgusted, Clovy.”
“Oh, I’m not disgusted. It’s your wedding. I want you to have everything in your own way.”
“It’s everybody’s wedding, I think,” said Katy, tenderly. “Everybody is so kind about it. Did you see the thing that Polly sent this morning?”
“No. It must have come after I went out. What was it?”
“Seven yards of beautiful nun’s lace which she bought in Florence. She says it is to trim a morning dress; but it’s really too pretty. How dear Polly is! She sends me something almost every day. I seem to be in her thoughts all the time. It is because she loves Ned so much, of course; but it is just as kind of her.”
“I think she loves you almost as much as Ned,” said Clover.
“Oh, she couldn’t do that; Ned is her only brother. There is Amy at the gate now.”
It was a much taller Amy than had come home from Italy the year before who was walking toward them under the budding locust-boughs. Roman fever had seemed to quicken and stimulate all Amy’s powers, and she had grown very fast during the past year. Her face was as frank and childlike as ever, and her eyes as blue; but she was prettier than when she went to Europe, for her cheeks were pink, and the mane of waving hair which framed them in was very becoming. The hair was just long enough now to touch her shoulders; it was turning brown as it lengthened, but the ends of the locks still shone with childish gold, and caught the sun in little shining rings as it filtered down through the tree branches.
She kissed Clover several times, and gave Katy a long, close hug; then she produced a parcel daintily hid in silver paper.
“Tanta,” she said,—this was a pet name lately invented for Katy,—”here is something for you from mamma. It’s something quite particular, I think, for mamma cried when she was writing the note; not a hard cry, you know, but just two little teeny-weeny tears in her eyes. She kept smiling, though, and she looked happy, so I guess it isn’t anything very bad. She said I was to give it to you with her best, best love.”
Katy opened the parcel, and beheld a square veil of beautiful old blonde. The note said:
This was my wedding-veil, dearest Katy, and my mother wore it before me. It has been laid aside all these years with the idea that perhaps Amy might want it some day; but instead I send it to you, without whom there would be no Amy to wear this or anything else. I think it would please Ned to see it on your head, and I know it would make me very happy; but if you don’t feel like using it, don’t mind for a moment saying so to
“Katy opened the parcel, and beheld a square veil of beautiful old blonde.”
Katy handed the note silently to Clover, and laid her face for a little while among the soft folds of the lace, about which a faint odor of roses hung like the breath of old-time and unforgotten loves and affections.
“Shall you?” queried Clover, softly.
“Why, of course! Doesn’t it seem too sweet? Both our mothers!”
“There!” cried Amy, “you are going to cry too, Tanta! I thought weddings were nice funny things. I never supposed they made people feel badly. I sha’n’t ever let Mabel get married, I think. But she’ll have to stay a little girl always in that case, for I certainly won’t have her an old maid.”
“What do you know about old maids, midget?” asked Clover.
“Why, Miss Clover, I have seen lots of them. There was that one at the Pension Suisse; you remember, Tanta? And the two on the steamer when we came home. And there’s Miss Fitz who made my blue frock; Ellen said she was a regular old maid. I never mean to let Mabel be like that.”
“I don’t think there’s the least danger,” remarked Katy, glancing at the inseparable Mabel, who was perched on Amy’s arm, and who did not look a day older than she had done eighteen months previously. “Amy, we’re going to make wedding-cake next week,—heaps and heaps of wedding-cake. Don’t you want to come and help?”
“Why, of course I do. What fun! Which day may I come?”
The cake-making did really turn out fun. Many hands made light work of what would have been a formidable job for one or two. It was all done gradually. Johnnie cut the golden citron quarters into thin transparent slices in the sitting-room one morning while the others were sewing, and reading Tennyson aloud. Elsie and Amy made a regular frolic of the currant-washing. Katy, with Debby’s assistance, weighed and measured; and the mixture was enthusiastically stirred by Alexander, with the “spade” which he had invented, in a large new wash-tub. Then came the baking, which for two days filled the house with spicy, plum-puddingy odors; then the great feat of icing the big square loaves; and then the cutting up, in which all took part. There was much careful measurement that the slices might be an exact fit; and the kitchen rang with bright laughter and chat as Katy and Clover wielded the sharp bread-knives, and the others fitted the portions into their boxes, and tied the ribbons in crisp little bows. Many delicious crumbs and odd corners and fragments fell to the share of the younger workers; and altogether the occasion struck Amy as so enjoyable that she announced—with her mouth full—that she had changed her mind, and that Mabel might get married as often as she pleased, if she would have cake like that every time,—a liberality of permission which Mabel listened to with her invariable waxen smile.
When all was over, and the last ribbons tied, the hundreds of little boxes were stacked in careful piles on a shelf of the inner closet of the doctor’s office to wait till they were wanted,—an arrangement which naughty Clover pronounced eminently suitable, since there should always be a doctor close at hand where there was so much wedding-cake. But before all this was accomplished, came what Katy, in imitation of one of Miss Edgeworth’s heroines, called “The Day of Happy Letters.”
Categories: English Literature