THE NICEST WEDDING IN THE WORLD
Ione and Keith were married in the little old parish church on the north side of the river, past which the barges creep and the swift penny boats shoot on their way to Putney and Hampton Court.
"Let's spend our last dollar on a special license, and do the thing in style," said Ione.
"Well, you know, there's the house furniture, since we are too high and mighty to go into lodgings!" Keith suggested, perceiving for the first time in his life that he was becoming practical.
"Well, I do admire to hear you grumbling," echoed Ione, with the joyous mood which sat so well on her these days; "much you have to do with this wedding! You ain't a-running of this show, not as I knows on — not even taking the money at the door. So don't go stirring up the animals and making it hard sledding for the Lion Queen. All the furniture you need is just a table, a chair, a pennyworth of ink, a quill, and some writing paper. Then you sit yourself down and write about candle-ends and beeswax like a little man till I get back. And that's what you've got to do, Mr. Man!"
And so he did. And Keith's essay on "Candle-ends, considered from a moral standpoint," was the first of a series of charming and popularly illustrated articles in the Red Magazine.
It could hardly be called a quiet wedding either, for Idalia and Marcus were there, and (by special request of the bride) Seth Livingston was best man. He had, for purely decorative purposes as he affirmed, brought his mother. Of course Jane Allen was bridesmaid, no other being possible. Tom Adair brought her, and never once looked at the bride. Near the door stood Mrs. Adair all in a fluttering fervour of admiration, which made up for the discourtesy of her son.
The service itself was staid and decorous, some said even dull. The old clergyman muttered and murmured, lost his place and found it again, till, as the bridegroom confessed afterwards, he stood in mortal terror lest the bride should forget where she was and prompt him.
"And I declare I should have done it too, if I could have remembered the words," said Ione viciously. "Slow old thing! I thought I was never going to be real downright sure of you!"
"Were you in such a hurry to be married, Ione?" said Keith tenderly.
"Of course I was," she answered with postnuptial freedom; "you were such a dear desirable old thing, you see, that I wanted you all for my very own, right then! And I'm noways ashamed of it neither."
But all the time her heart within her was thudding low to itself, "Eighteen months! Eighteen months! Can I make up to him for all the after pain in eighteen months? Can I make him great in eighteen months?"
“Do you know, folks, I think this is the very nicest wedding I was ever at! And Keith he thinks so too," affirmed Ione, as soon as the party found themselves back again on the pavement, and the chill wind from the river whipped the colour back into their faces.
"I think so too," cried Idalia, breaking through her new-found sedateness. "It's certainly better than running away and being married in an old dominie's study, with the cat on the hearthrug and the hired buggy horse eating off the top of the minister's golden-rod one minute, and trying to pull up stakes and run home the next. Marcus, do you remember undertaking the solemn vows with one eye squinting out of the window to see what that beast was after? ‘I, Marcus Hardy, take thee -- whoa, you brute, where are you coming to! — Idalia Judd to be my true and — oh, hang that horse, it will have that old post down in a couple of shakes!'"
At this Marcus smiled, and intimated that the scene owed something to his wife's well-known preference for works of the imagination.
"Now for the wedding breakfast," said Ione. "We had just five-and-eight left to do it on, so please think of that, all you greedy people. But I know a milk shop, the nicest place. It's just round the corner. We can get Scotch scones almost as good as yours, Mrs. Adair — do you remember, Jane?"
Jane Allen nodded happily. Time was when she had scoffed at marriage and the faithfulness of men, but like all women she softened when the hated ceremony approached her in the person of her dearest friend. Also, it was pleasant to have Tom Adair bring her — though, of course, it was dreadfully silly of him to look all the time at her, and never at Ione, who was so much prettier!
"Good-morning, Mrs. Dunn," said Ione to the woman in the shop. "Can you let us have some milk, and brew a pot or two of tea? What lovely scones and butter! Help yourselves — call for anything you like, ladies and gentlemen. And if it isn't here — why, then you must do without it, unless you go out and get it. But with the aforesaid five-and-eightpenny limitation, the world of the milkshop is yours!"
It was very simple fooling, but not too simple for happy people.
But Idalia looked a little concerned sometimes, and glanced once or twice meaningly at her husband. She had never seen Ione in such spirits, and somehow the mood seemed unnatural. After a time she could not help telling her friend frankly of her wonder.
"Well," Ione answered with equal frankness, "you know, you've never seen me married before. That's the way it takes me. It has made you grave and matronly." (Here Idalia made a grimace of disclaimer.) "You never flirt - "
Marcus's tea choked him at this point.
"You have, in fact, given up all frivolity of every sort, and there are to be no more Aurania Tommies and City-of-Paris Jonathans. Now with me it acts the other way. I am going to run the frivolity branch of this business, while Keith stays at home and scrubs floors."
Then Ione turned quickly on Seth Livingston.
"I am sorry to see that you have fallen into bad company."
"Bad company! On the contrary, I never was in better in my life. Mother and I are at your wedding," said the prompt Seth.
"Well, I saw you going down Northumberland Avenue the other day, arm in arm with Forgan of the Red Magazine."
"Well, what's the matter with Forgan? He's all right, ain't he? His cigarettes are, anyway."
"Right? Well, not much!" retorted Ione, as promptly. "Why, he owes my husband nearly two hundred pounds, and has owed it him for nearly a year. And I saw you go into a club with him, too — drinking, I wager; helping that man to throw away my hard-earned money at a bar — like as not!"
Seth Livingston scratched his head in humorous perplexity.
"Well," he said slowly, "I guess the Red Magazine ain't exactly a gold mine; nor the financing of it on all fours with a picnic."
"It would be if they had the sense to print my husband's stories every month."
"Ione!" ventured Keith reproachfully. He was blushing with happy shame in which mingled an intense secret joy. Never (he thought) had he seen his wife so daringly bewitching. He wished that the others would go away in order that he might tell her so.
"Now, Keith," she went on, nodding at him fiercely, almost as if she had absorbed the former manner of Mrs. Marcus Hardy; "be good enough to sit tight and say nothing! You've been a whole year without collecting a penny of that money. But to-morrow, having a family to support, your wife is going after it. Now you tell your friend, Forgan, Mr. Livingston, that if he doesn't pay up smart, I'm coming right along to interview him. See this!" Suddenly she displayed a tiny revolver. "Cylinder jammed, trigger won't act, pencil wads up the barrel, generally 'Willie won't work'; but for all that, the finest weapon in the world. Now you tell your editing man that Ione Harford is a little Texas Wonder with the six-shooter, and that she is out looking for him!"
"I guess that's about the last thing in the world to make Forgan pay up," commented Seth. "To tell him a pretty girl is coming to call on him if he don't! All the same, I’ll see to it that you get your money from the Red Magazine. I'm a sort of director, anyway!"
"Yes; and besides, he has to take ever so many more things that we are going to write. We are starting in full speed to-morrow morning. Keith is to work in the parlour. I'm going to honeymoon in the kitchen, playing with the new range!"
The party now adjourned, but even then Ione's spirits did not desert her.
“Does any lady at this marriage breakfast say 'Champagne Cup'? Any gent fancy 1800 Cognac? Because if so, there's the Buckingham Hotel just across the way, and they can have them by paying! "
The company smiled upon this most unconventional of brides.
"Nobody; then that's all right!" she went on. “Now let's go and view the new house."
Idalia and Ione walked together ahead of the others, and their talk grew whispered and mysterious. Nothing but Ione's last words have been preserved.
"No, dear; I can't let you. It wouldn't be good for either of us. Let us fight it through on this line. It will do us both all the good in the world. If I need really, I'll come and borrow from you like a shot."
And with this conditional acceptance Mrs. Marcus Hardy had perforce to rest content.
The wedding guests reached the new house. Ione took the key from her pocket and unlocked the door with pride. It was a plain workman's dwelling, similar to the Adair's, but somewhat smaller. It stood at the corner of the street next but three to Battersea Park.
"We are poor, but so far honest," said Ione. "We can't give you chairs all round — not just yet. There's only one each for us, and the coal-box for visitors. But as to that we have spared no expense, and had it specially imported. The overflow meeting can stand around anywhere, or go into the bedroom and sit on the bed. But I present to you this remarkable table. Do look at that table! Now at this little table the greatest works of the century are going to be written. And up there on the wall is where the tablet is to be placed in after years by the 'Society for the Commemoration of Famous Men.' Gracious, what a nice article it will make! I think you must write it up now, Keith, and send it to the Red Magazine. Just fancy, the lovely chapter headings, 'So happy and so poor!' 'The Struggles of Genius'; 'He Sleeps in the Scullery'; 'He Red-bricks the Lobby Tiles!' 'He Sweeps the Front Steps while his Wife goes to the Bake-house for the Four-pound Cottage Loaf, and Rows the Baker if it ain't properly riz!' That's rather long, but the rest are all right!
"Now," continued Ione, after they had seen everything upstairs and down. "You've all got to go home, for Keith and I are going on our wedding-trip. It wouldn't be nice of you to come along. It is in a 'bus all the way to the British Museum, where I am going to watch Keith look up some stuff to help along the masterpiece of fiction we are going to begin to-morrow at nine sharp."
But when the mistress of the house said good-bye to her guests at the door, some of the latter were perilously near tears, and even Idalia grew distinctly pathetic. Ione, however, waved her hand gaily, and cried as a last word, "Say, folks, hasn't this been the nicest wedding you were ever at? I think so, and Keith — well, he'd better think so, too!"
Yet, when Harford closed the door and turned to kiss his wife for the first time in their own home, there were tears in her eyes, and she was swallowing down a hard lump in her throat.
“Ione,” he said anxiously; "what is the matter, dearest? You are tired?"
"Nothing," she said; "only they never put down any red cloth for us at the church door, and there will be no list of the wedding presents in the Morning Post. That's why I am crying just the least little bit!"
First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.