Sylvia was awakened on her wedding morning by a curious choking sound, and starting up found Prue crying over her as if her heart were broken.
"What has happened? Is Geoffrey ill? Is all the silver stolen? Can't the Bishop come?" she asked, wondering what calamity could move her sister to tears at such a busy time.
Prue took Sylvia in her arms, and rocking to and fro as if she were still a baby, poured forth a stream of words and tears together.
"Nothing has happened; I came to call you, and broke down because it was the last time I should do it. I've been awake all night, thinking of you and all you've been to me since I took you in my arms nineteen years ago, and said you should be mine. My little Sylvia, I've been neglectful of so many things, and now I see them all; I've fretted you with my ways, and haven't been patient enough with yours; I've been selfish even about your wedding, and it won't be as you like it; you'll reproach me in your heart, and I shall hate myself for it when you are gone never to be my care and comfort any more. And--oh, my dear, my dear, what shall I do without you?"
This unexpected demonstration from her prosaic sister touched Sylvia more than the most sentimental lamentations from another. It brought to mind all the past devotion, the future solitude of Prue's life, and she clung about her neck tearless but very tender.
"I never shall reproach you, never cease to love and thank you for all you've been to me, my dear old girl. You mustn't grieve over me, or think I shall forget you, for you never shall be forsaken; and very soon I shall be back, almost as much your Sylvia as ever. Mark will live on one side, I shall live on the other, and we'll be merry and cosy together. And who knows but when we are both out of your way you will learn to think of yourself and marry also."
At this Prue began to laugh hysterically, and exclaimed, with more than her usual incoherency--
"I must tell you, it was so very odd! I didn't mean to do so, because you children would tease me; but now I will to make you laugh, for it's a bad omen to cry over a bride, they say. My dear, that gouty Mr. MacGregor, when I went in with some of my nice broth last week (Hugh slops so, and he's such a fidget, I took it myself), after he had eaten every drop before my eyes, wiped his mouth and asked me to marry him."
"And you would not, Prue?"
"Bless me, child, how could I? I must take care of my poor dear father, and he isn't pleasant in the least, you know, but would wear my life out in a week. I really pitied him, however, when I refused him, with a napkin round his neck, and he tapped his waistcoat with a spoon so comically, when he offered me his heart, as if it were something good to eat."
"How very funny! What made him do it, Prue?"
"He said he'd watched the preparations from his window, and got so interested in weddings that he wanted one himself, and felt drawn to me I was so sympathetic. That means a good nurse and cook, my dear. I understand these invalid gentlemen, and will be a slave to no man so fat and fussy as Mr. Mac, as my brother calls him. It's not respectful, but I like to refresh myself by saying it just now."
"Never mind the old soul, Prue, but go and have your breakfast comfortably, for there's much to be done, and no one is to dress me but your own dear self."
At this Prue relapsed into the pathetic again, and cried over her sister as if, despite the omen, brides were plants that needed much watering.
The appearance of the afflicted Maria, with her face still partially eclipsed by the chamomile comforter, and an announcement that the waiters had come and were "ordering round dreadful," caused Prue to pocket her handkerchief and descend to turn the tables in every sense of the word.
The prospect of the wedding breakfast made the usual meal a mere mockery. Every one was in a driving hurry, every one was very much excited, and nobody but Prue and the colored gentlemen brought anything to pass. Sylvia went from room to room bidding them good-by as the child who had played there so long. But each looked unfamiliar in its state and festival array, and the old house seemed to have forgotten her already. She spent an hour with her father, paid Mark a little call in the studio where he was bidding adieu to the joys of bachelorhood, and preparing himself for the jars of matrimony by a composing smoke, and then Prue claimed her.
The agonies she suffered during that long toilet are beyond the powers of language to portray, for Prue surpassed herself and was the very essence of fussiness. But Sylvia bore it patiently as a last sacrifice, because her sister was very tender-hearted still, and laughed and cried over her work till all was done, when she surveyed the effect with pensive satisfaction.
"You are very sweet, my dear, and so delightfully calm, you really do surprise me. I always thought you'd have hysterics on your wedding-day, and got my _vinaigrette_ all ready. Keep your hands just as they are, with the handkerchief and bouquet, it looks very easy and rich. Dear me, what a spectacle I've made of myself! But I shall cry no more, not even during the ceremony as many do. Such displays of feeling are in very bad taste, and I shall be firm, perfectly firm, so if you hear any one sniff you'll know it isn't me. Now I must go and scramble on my dress; first, let me arrange you smoothly in a chair. There, my precious, now think of soothing things, and don't stir till Geoffrey comes for you."
Too tired to care what happened just then, Sylvia sat as she was placed, feeling like a fashion-plate of a bride, and wishing she could go to sleep. Presently the sound of steps as fleet as Mark's but lighter, waked her up, and forgetting orders, she rustled to the door with an expression which fashion-plates have not yet attained.
"Good morning, little bride."
"Good morning, bonny bridegroom."
Then they looked at one another, and both smiled. But they seemed to have changed characters, for Moor's usually tranquil face was full of pale excitement; Sylvia's usually vivacious one, full of quietude, and her eyes wore the unquestioning content of a child who accepts some friendly hand, sure that it will lead it right.
"Prue desires me to take you out into the upper hall, and when Mr. Deane beckons, we are to go down at once. The rooms are full, and Jessie is ready. Shall we go?"
"One moment: Geoffrey, are you quite happy now?"
"Then it shall be the first duty of my life to keep you so," and with a gesture soft yet solemn, Sylvia laid her hand in his, as if endowing him with both gift and giver. He held it fast and never let it go until it was his own.
In the upper hall they found Mark hovering about Jessie like an agitated bee, about a very full-blown flower, and Clara Deane flapping him away, lest he should damage the effect of this beautiful white rose. For ten minutes, ages they seemed, the five stood together listening to the stir below, looking at one another, till they were tired of the sight and scent of orange blossoms, and wishing that the whole affair was safely over. But the instant a portentous "Hem!" was heard, and a white glove seen to beckon from the stair foot, every one fell into a flutter. Moor turned paler still, and Sylvia felt his heart beat hard against her hand. She herself was seized with a momentary desire to run away and say "No" again; Mark looked as if nerving himself for immediate execution, and Jessie feebly whispered--
"Oh, Clara, I'm going to faint!"
"Good heavens, what shall I do with her? Mark, support her! My darling girl, smell this and bear up. For mercy sake do something, Sylvia, and don't stand there looking as if you'd been married every day for a year."
In his excitement, Mark gave his bride a little shake. Its effect was marvellous. She rallied instantly, with a reproachful glance at her crumpled veil and a decided--
"Come quick, I can go now."
Down they went, through a wilderness of summer silks, black coats, and bridal gloves. How they reached their places none of them ever knew; Mark said afterward, that the instinct of self preservation led him to the only means of extrication that circumstances allowed. The moment the Bishop opened his book, Prue took out her handkerchief and cried steadily through the entire ceremony, for dear as were the proprieties, the "children" were dearer still.
At Sylvia's desire, Mark was married first, and as she stood listening to the sonorous roll of the service falling from the Bishop's lips, she tried to feel devout and solemn, but failed to do so. She tried to keep her thoughts from wandering, but continually found herself wondering if that sob came from Prue, if her father felt it very much, and when it would be done. She tried to keep her eyes fixed timidly upon the carpet as she had been told to do, but they would rise and glance about against her will.
One of these derelictions from the path of duty, nearly produced a catastrophe. Little Tilly, the gardener's pretty child, had strayed in from among the servants peeping at a long window in the rear, and established herself near the wedding group, looking like a small ballet girl in her full white frock and wreath pushed rakishly askew on her curly pate. As she stood regarding the scene with dignified amazement, her eye met Sylvia's. In spite of the unusual costume, the baby knew her playmate, and running to her, thrust her head under the veil with a delighted "Peep a bo!" Horror seized Jessie, Mark was on the brink of a laugh, and Moor looked like one fallen from the clouds. But Sylvia drew the little marplot close to her with a warning word, and there she stayed, quietly amusing herself with "pooring" the silvery dress, smelling the flowers and staring at the Bishop.
After this, all prospered. The gloves came smoothly off, the rings went smoothly on; no one cried but Prue, no one laughed but Tilly; the brides were admired, the grooms envied; the service pronounced impressive, and when it ended, a tumult of congratulations arose.
Sylvia always had a very confused idea of what happened during the next hour. She remembered being kissed till her cheeks burned, and shaken hands with till her fingers tingled; bowing in answer to toasts, and forgetting to reply when addressed by the new name; trying to eat and drink, and discovering that everything tasted of wedding cake; finding herself up stairs hurrying on her travelling dress, then down stairs saying good by; and when her father embraced her last of all, suddenly realizing with a pang, that she was married and going away, never to be little Sylvia any more.
Prue _was_ gratified to her heart's content, for, when the two bridal carriages had vanished with handkerchiefs flying from their windows, in answer to the white whirlwind on the lawn, Mrs. Grundy, with an approving smile on her aristocratic countenance, pronounced this the most charming affair of the season.