PART I. PARADISE LOST.
CHAPTER I. THE BRIDE'S MISTAKE.
"FOR after this manner in the old time the holy
women also who trusted in God adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands; even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose daughters ye are as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement
Concluding the Marriage Service of the Church of England in those well-known words, my uncle Starkweather shut up his book, and looked at me across the altar
rails with a hearty expression
on his broad
, red face. At the same time my aunt, Mrs. Starkweather, standing by my side, tapped me smartly on the shoulder, and said,
"Valeria, you are married!"
Where were my thoughts? What had become of my attention
? I was too bewildered
to know. I started and looked at my new husband
. He seemed to be almost as much bewildered
as I was. The same thought
had, as I believe, occurred to us both at the same moment
. Was it really possible-in spite
of his mother's opposition
to our marriage
-that we were Man and Wife? My aunt Starkweather settled the question by a second tap on my shoulder.
"Take his arm!" she whispered, in the tone
of a woman who had lost
I took his arm.
"Follow your uncle."
Holding fast by my husband
's arm, I followed my uncle and the curate
who had assisted him at the marriage
The two clergymen led us into the vestry. The church was in one of the dreary
quarters of London, situated between the City and the West End; the day was dull
; the atmosphere
was heavy and damp
. We were a melancholy
little wedding party, worthy
of the dreary neighborhood
and the dull
day. No relatives or friends of my husband
's were present; his family, as I have already hinted, disapproved of his marriage
. Except my uncle and my aunt, no other relations appeared on my side. I had lost
both my parents, and I had but few friends. My dear father's faithful
, Benjamin, attended the wedding to "give me away," as the phrase
is. He had known me from a child, and, in my forlorn
position, he was as good as a father to me.
The last ceremony
left to be performed was, as usual, the signing of the marriage register
. In the confusion
of the moment
(and in the absence
of any information
me) I committed
a mistake-ominous, in my aunt Starkweather's opinion
, of evil
to come. I signed my married instead of my maiden
"What!" cried my uncle, in his loudest and cheeriest tones, "you have forgotten your own name already? Well, well! let us hope you will never repent
parting with it so readily. Try again, Valeria-try again."
"I wish you health
, my love, with all my heart
. You are old enough to choose for yourself, and-no offense
, Mr. Woodville, you and I are new friends-and I pray
God, Valeria, it may turn out that you have chosen well. Our house will be dreary
enough without you; but I don't complain
, my dear. On the contrary
, if this change in your life makes you happier, I rejoice
. Come, come! don't cry, or you will set your aunt off-and it's no joke at her time of life. Besides, crying will spoil
your beauty. Dry your eyes and look in the glass there, and you will see that I am right
. Good-by, child-and God bless you!"
He tucked my aunt under his arm, and hurried out. My heart
sank a little, dearly as I loved my husband
, when I had seen the last of the true friend and protector of my maiden
The parting with old Benjamin came next. "I wish you well, my dear; don't forget
me," was all he said. But the old days at home came back on me at those few words. Benjamin always dined with us on Sundays in my father's time, and always brought some little present with him for his master
's child. I was very near to "spoiling my beauty" (as my uncle had put it) when I offered the old man my cheek to kiss, and heard him sigh
to himself, as if he too were not quite hopeful
about my future
's voice roused me, and turned my mind
to happier thoughts.
"Shall we go, Valeria?" he asked.
I stopped him on our way out to take advantage
of my uncle's advice
; in other words, to see how I looked in the glass over the vestry fireplace.
What does the glass show me?
The glass shows a tall and slender
young woman of three-and-twenty years of age. She is not at all the sort of person who attracts attention
in the street, seeing that she fails to exhibit
yellow hair and the popular
painted cheeks. Her hair is black; dressed, in these later days (as it was dressed years since to please her father), in broad
ripples drawn back from the forehead, and gathered into a simple
knot behind (like the hair of the Venus de Medicis), so as to show the neck beneath. Her complexion
: except in moments of violent agitation
there is no color to be seen in her face. Her eyes are of so dark a blue that they are generally mistaken
for black. Her eyebrows are well enough in form, but they are too dark and too strongly marked
. Her nose just inclines toward the aquiline
bend, and is considered
a little too large by persons difficult
to please in the matter
of noses. The mouth, her best feature
, is very delicately shaped, and is capable
of presenting great varieties of expression
. As to the face in general
, it is too narrow
and too long at the lower part, too broad
and too low in the higher regions of the eyes and the head. The whole picture, as reflected in the glass, represents a woman of some elegance
, rather too pale
, and rather too sedate
in her moments of silence
and repose-in short, a person who fails to strike
observer at first sight
, but who gains in general estimation
on a second, and sometimes on a third view. As for her dress, it studiously conceals, instead of proclaiming, that she has been married that morning. She wears a gray cashmere tunic
trimmed with gray silk
, and having a skirt of the same material
and color beneath it. On her head is a bonnet
by a quilling of white muslin
with one deep red rose, as a morsel
color, to complete
of the whole dress.
Have I succeeded or failed in describing the picture of myself which I see in the glass? It is not for me to say. I have done my best to keep clear of the two vanities-the vanity
of depreciating and the vanity
of praising my own personal appearance
. For the rest, well written or badly written, thank Heaven it is done!
And whom do I see in the glass standing by my side?
I see a man who is not quite so tall as I am, and who has the misfortune
of looking older than his years. His forehead is prematurely bald
. His big chestnut-colored beard and his long overhanging mustache are prematurely streaked with gray. He has the color in the face which my face wants, and the firmness in his figure
which my figure
wants. He looks at me with the tenderest and gentlest eyes (of a light brown) that I ever saw in the countenance
of a man. His smile is rare
and sweet; his manner, perfectly quiet and retiring
, has yet a latent
persuasiveness in it which is (to women) irresistibly winning. He just halts a little in his walk, from the effect
of an injury
received in past years, when he was a soldier
serving in India, and he carries a thick bamboo
cane, with a curious crutch handle
(an old favorite
), to help himself along whenever he gets on his feet, in doors or out. With this one little drawback
(if it is a drawback
), there is nothing infirm
or old or awkward
about him; his slight limp
when he walks has (perhaps to my partial
eyes) a certain quaint grace
of its own, which is pleasanter to see than the unrestrained
activity of other men. And last and best of all, I love him! I love him! I love him! And there is an end of my portrait
of my husband
on our wedding-day.
The glass has told me all I want to know. We leave the vestry at last.
The sky, cloudy since the morning, has darkened while we have been in the church, and the rain is beginning to fall heavily
. The idlers outside stare
at us grimly under their umbrellas as we pass through
their ranks and hasten
into our carriage
. No cheering; no sunshine; no flowers strewn in our path; no grand breakfast; no genial
speeches; no bridesmaids; no fathers or mother's blessing. A dreary
wedding-there is no denying it-and (if Aunt Starkweather is right
) a bad beginning as well!
has been reserved
for us at the railway station
. The attentive porter
, on the look-out for his fee pulls down the blinds over the side windows of the carriage
, and shuts out all prying eyes in that way. After what seems to be an interminable delay
starts. My husband
winds his arm round me. "At last!" he whispers, with love in his eyes that no words can utter
, and presses me to him gently. My arm steals round his neck; my eyes answer his eyes. Our lips meet in the first long, lingering kiss of our married life.
Oh, what recollections of that journey
rise in me as I write! Let me dry my eyes, and shut up my paper for the day.