THE NIGHT BEFORE THE WEDDING
THE TALE OF A BRIDE-ELECT
The next day we all hung about the garden, except the Youngster, who disappeared on his wheel early in the day, and only came back, hot and dusty, at tea-time. He waved a hand at us as he ran through the garden crying: “I’ll change, and be with you in a moment,” and leapt up the outside staircase that led to the gallery on which his room opened, and disappeared.
I found an opportunity to go up the other staircase a little later–the Youngster was an old pet of mine, and off and on, I had mothered him. I tapped at the door.
“Can’t come in!” he cried.
“Where’ve you been?”
“Wait there a minute–and mum–. I’ll tell you.”
So I went and sat in the window looking down the road, until he came, spick and span in white flannels, with his head not yet dried from the douching he had taken.
“See here,” he whispered, “I know you can keep a secret. Well, I’ve been out toward Cambrai–only sixty miles–and I am tuckered. There was a battle there last night–English driven back. They are only two days’ march away, and oh! the sight on the roads. Don’t let’s talk of it.”
In spite of myself, I expect I went white, for he exclaimed: “Darn it, I suppose I ought not to have told you. But I had to let off to some one. I don’t want to tell the Doctor. In fact, he forbade my going again.”
“Is it a real German victory?” I asked.
“If it isn’t I don’t know what you’d call it, though such of the English as I saw were in gay enough spirits, and there was not an atmosphere of defeat. Fact is–I kept out of sight and only got stray impressions. Go on down now, or they’ll guess something. I’m not going to say a word–yet. Awful sorry now I told you. Force of habit.”
I went down. I had hard work for a few minutes to throw the impression off. But the garden was lovely, and tea being over, we all busied ourselves in rifling the flowerbeds to dress the dinner table. If we were going in two days, where was the good of leaving the flowers to die alone? I don’t suppose that it was strange that the table conversation was all reminiscent. We talked of the old days: of ourselves when we were boys and girls together: of old Papanti, and our first Cotillion, of Class Days, and, I remembered afterward, that not one of us talked of ourselves except in the days of our youth.
When the coffee came out, we looked about laughing to see which of the three of us left was to tell the story. The Lawyer coughed, tapped himself on his chest, and crossed his long legs.
* * * * *
It was a cold December afternoon.
The air was piercing.
There had been a slight fall of snow, then a sudden drop in the thermometer preceded nightfall.
Miss Moreland, wrapped in her furs, was standing on a street corner, looking in vain for a cab, and wondering, after all, why she had ventured out.
It was somewhat later than she had supposed, and she was just conventional enough, in spite of her pose to the exact contrary, to hope that none of her friends would pass. She knew her set well enough to know that it would cause something almost like a scandal if she were seen out alone, on foot, on the very eve of her wedding day, when all well bred brides ought to be invisible–repenting their sins, and praying for blessings on the future in theory, but in reality, fussing themselves ill over belated finery.