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   Chapter 11 WHO GIVETH THIS WOMAN

54-40 or Fight By Emerson Hough Characters: 6582

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Woman is a miracle of divine contradictions.-Jules Michelet.

On my return to my quarters at Brown's I looked at the top of my bureau. It was empty. My friend Dandridge had proved faithful. The slipper of the baroness was gone! So now, hurriedly, I began my toilet for that occasion which to any gentleman should be the one most exacting, the most important of his life's events.

Elisabeth deserved better than this unseemly haste. Her sweetness and dignity, her adherence to the forms of life, her acquaintance with the elegancies, the dignities and conventions of the best of our society, bespoke for her ceremony more suited to her class and mine. Nothing could excuse these hurly burly ways save only my love, our uncertainty regarding my future presence, and the imperious quality of my duties.

I told none about my quarters anything of my plans, but arranged for my portmanteaus to be sent to the railway station for that evening's train north. We had not many outgoing and incoming trains in those days in Washington. I hurried to Bond's jewelry place and secured a ring-two rings, indeed; for, in our haste, betrothal and wedding ring needed their first use at the same day and hour. I found a waiting carriage which served my purpose, and into it I flung, urging the driver to carry me at top speed into Elmhurst road. Having now time for breath, I sat back and consulted my watch. There were a few moments left for me to compose myself. If all went well, I should be in time.

As we swung down the road I leaned forward, studying with interest the dust cloud of an approaching carriage. As it came near, I called to my driver. The two vehicles paused almost wheel to wheel. It was my friend Jack Dandridge who sprawled on the rear seat of the carriage! That is to say, the fleshly portion of Jack Dandridge. His mind, his memory, and all else, were gone.

I sprang into his carriage and caught him roughly by the arm. I felt in all his pockets, looked on the carriage floor, on the seat, and pulled up the dust rug. At last I found the license.

"Did you see the baroness?" I asked, then.

At this he beamed upon me with a wide smile.

"Did I?" said he, with gravity pulling down his long buff waistcoat. "Did I? Mos' admi'ble woman in all the worl'! Of course, Miss 'Lis'beth Churchill also mos' admi'ble woman in the worl'," he added politely, "but I didn't see her. Many, many congrash'lations. Mos' admi'ble girl in worl'-whichever girl she is! I want do what's right!"

The sudden sweat broke out upon my forehead. "Tell me, what have you done with the slipper!"

He shook his head sadly. "Mishtaken, my friend! I gave mos' admi'ble slipper in the worl', just ash you said, just as baroness said, to Mish Elisabeth Churchill-mos' admi'ble woman in the worl'! Proud congrash'late you both, m' friend!"

"Did you see her?" I gasped. "Did you see her father-any of her family?"

"God blesh me, no!" rejoined this young statesman. "Feelings delicacy prevented. Realized having had three-four-five-Barn Burners; washn't in fit condition to approach family mansion. Alwaysh mos' delicate. Felt m'self no condition shtan' up bes' man to mosh admi'ble man and mosh admi'ble girl in worl'. Sent packazh in by servant, from gate-turned round-drove off-found yo

u. Lo, th' bridegroom cometh! Li'l late!"

My only answer was to spring from his carriage into my own and to order my driver to go on at a run. At last I reached the driveway of Elmhurst, my carriage wheels cutting the gravel as we galloped up to the front door. My approach was noted. Even as I hurried up the steps the tall form of none other than Mr. Daniel Churchill appeared to greet me. I extended my hand. He did not notice it. I began to speak. He bade me pause.

"To what may I attribute this visit, Mr. Trist?" he asked me, with dignity.

"Since you ask me, and seem not to know," I replied, "I may say that I am here to marry your daughter, Miss Elisabeth! I presume that the minister of the gospel is already here?"

"The minister is here," he answered. "There lacks one thing-the bride."

"What do you mean?"

He put out his arm across the door.

"I regret that I must bar my door to you. But you must take my word, as coming from my daughter, that you are not to come here to-night."

I looked at him, my eyes staring wide. I could not believe what he said.

"Why," I began; "how utterly monstrous!"

A step sounded in the hall behind him, and he turned back. We were joined by the tall clerical figure of the Reverend Doctor Halford, who had, it seemed, been at least one to keep his appointment as made. He raised his hand as if to silence me, and held out to me a certain object. It was the slipper of the Baroness Helena von Ritz-white, delicate, dainty, beribboned. "Miss Elisabeth does not pretend to understand why your gift should take this form; but as the slipper evidently has been worn by some one, she suggests you may perhaps be in error in sending it at all." He spoke in even, icy tones.

"Let me into this house!" I demanded. "I must see her!"

There were two tall figures now, who stood side by side in the wide front door.

"But don't you see, there has been a mistake, a horrible mistake?" I demanded.

Doctor Halford, in his grave and quiet way, assisted himself to snuff. "Sir," he said, "knowing both families, I agreed to this haste and unceremoniousness, much against my will. Had there been no objection upon either side, I would have undertaken to go forward with the wedding ceremony. But never in my life have I, and never shall I, join two in wedlock when either is not in that state of mind and soul consonant with that holy hour. This ceremony can not go on. I must carry to you this young lady's wish that you depart. She can not see you."

There arose in my heart a sort of feeling of horror, as though something was wrong, I could not tell what. All at once I felt a swift revulsion. There came over me the reaction, an icy calm. I felt all ardor leave me. I was cold as stone.

"Gentlemen," said I slowly, "what you tell me is absolutely impossible and absurd. But if Miss Elisabeth really doubts me on evidence such as this, I would be the last man in the world to ask her hand. Some time you and she may explain to me about this. It is my right. I shall exact it from you later. I have no time to argue now. Good-by!"

They looked at me with grave faces, but made no reply. I descended the steps, the dainty, beribboned slipper still in my hand, got into my carriage and started back to the city.

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