Ethelyn's Mistake (Chapter 4, page 2 of 4)

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Chapter 4

Poor, ignorant Richard! He will know more by and by of what constitutes
a fashionable lady's toilet; but now he is in blissful ignorance of
minutiae, and sees only the tout ensemble, which he pronounces perfect.
He was half afraid of her, though, she seemed so cold, so passive, so
silent, and when in the same breath Susie Granger asks if he ever saw
anyone so lovely as Ethelyn and bids him kiss her quick, he starts and
hesitates, and finally kisses Susie instead. He might, perhaps, have
done the same with Ethelyn if she had not stepped backward to avoid it,
her long train sweeping across the hearth where that morning she had
knelt in such utter desolation, and where now was lying a bit of
blackened paper, which the housemaid's broom had not found when, early
in the day, the room was swept and dusted. So Ethelyn's white satin
brushed against the gossamer thing, which floated upward for a moment,
and then settled back upon the heavy, shining folds. It was Richard who
saw it first, and Richard's hand which brushed away the skeleton of
Frank's letter from the skirts of his bride, leaving a soiled, yellowish
stain, which Susie Granger loudly deplored, while Ethelyn only drew her
drapery around her, saying coldly, that "it did not matter in the least.
She would as soon have it there as not."

It was meet, she thought, that the purity of her bridal garments should
be tarnished; for was not her heart all stained, and black, and crisp
with cruel deception? That little incident, however, affected her
strangely, bringing back so vividly the scene on the ledge of rocks
beneath the New England laurels, where Frank had sat beside her and
poured words of boyish passion into her ear. There was for a moment a
pitiful look of anguish in her eyes as they went out into the summer
night toward the huckleberry hills, where lay that ledge of massy rock,
and then come back to the realities about her. Frank saw the look of
pain, and it awoke in his own breast an answering throb as he wondered
if, after all, Ethie would not have preferred that he were standing by
her instead of the grave Judge, fitting on his gloves with an
awkwardness which said that such articles were comparative strangers to
his large, red hands.

It was time now to go down. The guests had all arrived, the clergyman
was waiting, and Captain Markham had grown very red in the face with his
impatience, which his wife tried in vain to quiet. If at this last
moment there arose in Ethelyn's bosom any wild impulse to break away
from the dreadful scene, and rush out into the darkness which lay so
softly upon the hills, she put it aside, with the thought, "too late
now--forever too late"; and taking the arm which Richard offered her,
she went mechanically down the staircase into the large parlor where the
wedding guests were assembled. Surely, surely, she did not know what she
was doing, or realize the solemn words: "I charge and require you both,
as ye shall answer at the great day, when the secrets of all hearts
shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment why ye may
not be lawfully joined together in matrimony, ye do now confess it, for
be ye well assured," and so forth. She did not even hear them; for the
numb, dead feeling which crept over her, chilling her blood, and making
her hand, which Richard took in his while he fitted the wedding ring, so
cold and clammy to the touch, that Richard felt tempted to hold and
chafe it in his own warm, broad palms; but that was not in accordance
with the ceremony, and so he let it fall, wondering that Ethelyn could
be so cold when the sweat was standing in great drops upon his own face,
and moistening his wavy hair, which clustered in short, thick curls
around his brow, making him look so handsome, as more than one maiden
thought, envying Ethelyn her good fortune, and marveling at the pallor
of her lips and the rigidity of her form.

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