The June roses over the porch were awake bright and early on that morning, rejoicing with all their hearts in the cloudless sunshine, like friendly little neighbors, as they were. Quite flushed with excitement were their ruddy faces, as they swung in the wind, whispering to one another what they had seen; for some peeped in at the dining-room windows, where the feast was spread, some climbed up to nod and smile at the sisters as they dressed the bride, others waved a welcome to those who came and went on various errands in garden, porch, and hall, and all, from the rosiest full-blown flower to the palest baby-bud, offered their tribute of beauty and fragrance to the gentle mistress who had loved and tended them so long.
Meg looked very like a rose herself; for all that was best and sweetest in heart and soul seemed to bloom into her face that day, making it fair and tender, with a charm more beautiful than beauty. Neither silk, lace, nor orange-flowers would she have. “I don’t want to look strange or fixed up to-day,” she said. “I don’t want a fashionable wedding, but only those about me whom I love, and to them I wish to look and be my familiar self.”
So she made her wedding gown herself, sewing into it the tender hopes and innocent romances of a girlish heart. Her sisters braided up her pretty hair, and the only ornaments she wore were the lilies of the valley, which “her John” liked best of all the flowers that grew.
“You do look just like our own dear Meg, only so very sweet and lovely that I should hug you if it wouldn’t crumple your dress,” cried Amy, surveying her with delight, when all was done.
“Then I am satisfied. But please hug and kiss me, every one, and don’t mind my dress; I want a great many crumples of this sort put into it to-day;” and Meg opened her arms to her sisters, who clung about her with April faces for a minute, feeling that the new love had not changed the old.
“Now I’m going to tie John’s cravat for him, and then to stay a few minutes with father quietly in the study;” and Meg ran down to perform these little ceremonies, and then to follow her mother wherever she went, conscious that, in spite of the smiles on the motherly face, there was a secret sorrow hid in the motherly heart at the flight of the first bird from the nest.
As the younger girls stand together, giving the last touches to their simple toilet, it may be a good time to tell of a few changes which three years have wrought in their appearance; for all are looking their best just now.
Jo’s angles are much softened; she has learned to carry herself with ease, if not grace. The curly crop has lengthened into a thick coil, more becoming to the small head atop of the tall figure. There is a fresh color in her brown cheeks, a soft shine in her eyes, and only gentle words fall from her sharp tongue to-day.
Beth has grown slender, pale, and more quiet than ever; the beautiful, kind eyes are larger, and in them lies an expression that saddens one, although it is not sad itself. It is the shadow of pain which touches the young face with such pathetic patience; but Beth seldom complains, and always speaks hopefully of “being better soon.”
Amy is with truth considered “the flower of the family;” for at sixteen she has the air and bearing of a full-grown woman—not beautiful, but possessed of that indescribable charm called grace. One saw it in the lines of her figure, the make and motion of her hands, the flow of her dress, the droop of her hair,—unconscious, yet harmonious, and as attractive to many as beauty itself. Amy’s nose still afflicted her, for it never would grow Grecian; so did her mouth, being too wide, and having a decided chin. These offending features gave character to her whole face, but she never could see it, and consoled herself with her wonderfully fair complexion, keen blue eyes, and curls, more golden and abundant than ever.
All three wore suits of thin silver gray (their best gowns for the summer), with blush-roses in hair and bosom; and all three looked just what they were,—fresh-faced, happy-hearted girls, pausing a moment in their busy lives to read with wistful eyes the sweetest chapter in the romance of womanhood.
There were to be no ceremonious performances, everything was to be as natural and homelike as possible; so when Aunt March arrived, she was scandalized to see the bride come running to welcome and lead her in, to find the bridegroom fastening up a garland that had fallen down, and to catch a glimpse of the paternal minister marching upstairs with a grave countenance, and a wine-bottle under each arm.
“Upon my word, here’s a state of things!” cried the old lady, taking the seat of honor prepared for her, and settling the folds of her lavender moire with a great rustle. “You oughtn’t to be seen till the last minute, child.”
“I’m not a show, aunty, and no one is coming to stare at me, to criticise my dress, or count the cost of my luncheon. I’m too happy to care what any one says or thinks, and I’m going to have my little wedding just as I like it. John, dear, here’s your hammer;” and away went Meg to help “that man” in his highly improper employment.
Mr. Brooke didn’t even say “Thank you,” but as he stooped for the unromantic tool, he kissed his little bride behind the folding-door, with a look that made Aunt March whisk out her pocket-handkerchief, with a sudden dew in her sharp old eyes.
A crash, a cry, and a laugh from Laurie, accompanied by the indecorous exclamation, “Jupiter Ammon! Jo’s upset the cake again!” caused a momentary flurry, which was hardly over when a flock of cousins arrived, and “the party came in,” as Beth used to say when a child.
“Don’t let that young giant come near me; he worries me worse than mosquitoes,” whispered the old lady to Amy, as the rooms filled, and Laurie’s black head towered above the rest.
“He has promised to be very good to-day, and he can be perfectly elegant if he likes,” returned Amy, gliding away to warn Hercules to beware of the dragon, which warning caused him to haunt the old lady with a devotion that nearly distracted her.
There was no bridal procession, but a sudden silence fell upon the room as Mr. March and the young pair took their places under the green arch. Mother and sisters gathered close, as if loath to give Meg up; the fatherly voice broke more than once, which only seemed to make the service more beautiful and solemn; the bridegroom’s hand trembled visibly, and no one heard his replies; but Meg looked straight up in her husband’s eyes, and said, “I will!” with such tender trust in her own face and voice that her mother’s heart rejoiced, and Aunt March sniffed audibly.
Jo did not cry, though she was very near it once, and was only saved from a demonstration by the consciousness that Laurie was staring fixedly at her, with a comical mixture of merriment and emotion in his wicked black eyes. Beth kept her face hidden on her mother’s shoulder, but Amy stood like a graceful statue, with a most becoming ray of sunshine touching her white forehead and the flower in her hair.
It wasn’t at all the thing, I’m afraid, but the minute she was fairly married, Meg cried, “The first kiss for Marmee!” and, turning, gave it with her heart on her lips. During the next fifteen minutes she looked more like a rose than ever, for every one availed themselves of their privileges to the fullest extent, from Mr. Laurence to old Hannah, who, adorned with a head-dress fearfully and wonderfully made, fell upon her in the hall, crying, with a sob and a chuckle, “Bless you, deary, a hundred times! The cake ain’t hurt a mite, and everything looks lovely.”
Everybody cleared up after that, and said something brilliant, or tried to, which did just as well, for laughter is ready when hearts are light. There was no display of gifts, for they were already in the little house, nor was there an elaborate breakfast, but a plentiful lunch of cake and fruit, dressed with flowers. Mr. Laurence and Aunt March shrugged and smiled at one another when water, lemonade, and coffee were found to be the only sorts of nectar which the three Hebes carried round. No one said anything, however, till Laurie, who insisted on serving the bride, appeared before her, with a loaded salver in his hand and a puzzled expression on his face.
“Has Jo smashed all the bottles by accident?” he whispered, “or am I merely laboring under a delusion that I saw some lying about loose this morning?”
“No; your grandfather kindly offered us his best, and Aunt March actually sent some, but father put away a little for Beth, and despatched the rest to the Soldiers’ Home. You know he thinks that wine should be used only in illness, and mother says that neither she nor her daughters will ever offer it to any young man under her roof.”
Meg spoke seriously, and expected to see Laurie frown or laugh; but he did neither, for after a quick look at her, he said, in his impetuous way, “I like that! for I’ve seen enough harm done to wish other women would think as you do.”
“You are not made wise by experience, I hope?” and there was an anxious accent in Meg’s voice.
“No; I give you my word for it. Don’t think too well of me, either; this is not one of my temptations. Being brought up where wine is as common as water, and almost as harmless, I don’t care for it; but when a pretty girl offers it, one doesn’t like to refuse, you see.”
“But you will, for the sake of others, if not for your own. Come, Laurie, promise, and give me one more reason to call this the happiest day of my life.”
A demand so sudden and so serious made the young man hesitate a moment, for ridicule is often harder to bear than self-denial. Meg knew that if he gave the promise he would keep it at all costs; and, feeling her power, used it as a woman may for her friend’s good. She did not speak, but she looked up at him with a face made very eloquent by happiness, and a smile which said, “No one can refuse me anything to-day.” Laurie certainly could not; and, with an answering smile, he gave her his hand, saying heartily, “I promise, Mrs. Brooke!”
“I thank you, very, very much.”
“And I drink ‘long life to your resolution,’ Teddy,” cried Jo, baptizing him with a splash of lemonade, as she waved her glass, and beamed approvingly upon him.
So the toast was drunk, the pledge made, and loyally kept, in spite of many temptations; for, with instinctive wisdom, the girls had seized a happy moment to do their friend a service, for which he thanked them all his life.
After lunch, people strolled about, by twos and threes, through house and garden, enjoying the sunshine without and within. Meg and John happened to be standing together in the middle of the grass-plot, when Laurie was seized with an inspiration which put the finishing touch to this unfashionable wedding.
“All the married people take hands and dance round the new-made husband and wife, as the Germans do, while we bachelors and spinsters prance in couples outside!” cried Laurie, promenading down the path with Amy, with such infectious spirit and skill that every one else followed their example without a murmur. Mr. and Mrs. March, Aunt and Uncle Carrol, began it; others rapidly joined in; even Sallie Moffat, after a moment’s hesitation, threw her train over her arm, and whisked Ned into the ring. But the crowning joke was Mr. Laurence and Aunt March; for when the stately old gentleman chasséed solemnly up to the old lady, she just tucked her cane under her arm, and hopped briskly away to join hands with the rest, and dance about the bridal pair, while the young folks pervaded the garden, like butterflies on a midsummer day.
Want of breath brought the impromptu ball to a close, and then people began to go.
“I wish you well, my dear, I heartily wish you well; but I think you’ll be sorry for it,” said Aunt March to Meg, adding to the bridegroom, as he led her to the carriage, “You’ve got a treasure, young man, see that you deserve it.”
“That is the prettiest wedding I’ve been to for an age, Ned, and I don’t see why, for there wasn’t a bit of style about it,” observed Mrs. Moffat to her husband, as they drove away.
“Laurie, my lad, if you ever want to indulge in this sort of thing, get one of those little girls to help you, and I shall be perfectly satisfied,” said Mr. Laurence, settling himself in his easy-chair to rest, after the excitement of the morning.
“I’ll do my best to gratify you, sir,” was Laurie’s unusually dutiful reply, as he carefully unpinned the posy Jo had put in his button-hole.
The little house was not far away, and the only bridal journey Meg had was the quiet walk with John, from the old home to the new. When she came down, looking like a pretty Quakeress in her dove-colored suit and straw bonnet tied with white, they all gathered about her to say “good-by,” as tenderly as if she had been going to make the grand tour.
“Don’t feel that I am separated from you, Marmee dear, or that I love you any the less for loving John so much,” she said, clinging to her mother, with full eyes, for a moment. “I shall come every day, father, and expect to keep my old place in all your hearts, though I am married. Beth is going to be with me a great deal, and the other girls will drop in now and then to laugh at my housekeeping struggles. Thank you all for my happy wedding-day. Good-by, good-by!”
They stood watching her, with faces full of love and hope and tender pride, as she walked away, leaning on her husband’s arm, with her hands full of flowers, and the June sunshine brightening her happy face,—and so Meg’s married life began.