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Mini's Marriage by Grace E. King

 

This how she told about it, sitting in her little room,—her bridal chamber,—not larger, really not larger than sufficed for the bed there, the armoire here, the bureau opposite, and the washstand behind the door, the corners all touching. But a nice set of furniture, quite comme il faut,—handsome, in fact,—as a bride of good family should have. And she was dressed very prettily, too, in her long white negligee, with plenty of lace and ruffles and blue ribbons,—such as only the Creole girls can make, and brides, alas! wear,—the pretty honeymoon costume that suggests, that suggests—well! to proceed. “The poor little cat!” as one could not help calling her, so mignonne, so blond, with the pretty black eyes, and the rosebud of a mouth,—whenever she closed it,—a perfect kiss.

“But you know, Louise,” she said, beginning quite seriously at the beginning, “papa would never have consented, never, never—poor papa! Indeed, I should never have asked him; it would only have been one humiliation more for him, poor papa! So it was well he was dead, if it was God's will for it to be. Of course I had my dreams, like everybody. I was so blond, so blond, and so small; it seemed like a law I should marry a brun, a tall, handsome brun, with a mustache and a fine barytone voice. That was how I always arranged it, and—you will laugh—but a large, large house, and numbers of servants, and a good cook, but a superlatively good cuisine, and wine and all that, and long, trailing silk dresses, and theater every night, and voyages to Europe, and—well, everything God had to give, in fact. You know, I get that from papa, wanting everything God has to give! Poor papa! It seemed to me I was to meet him at any time, my handsome brun. I used to look for him positively on my way to school, and back home again, and whenever I would think of him I would try and walk so prettily, and look so pretty! Mon Dieu! I was not ten years old yet! And afterward it was only for that that I went into society. What should girls go into society for otherwise but to meet their brun or their blond? Do you think it is amusing, to economize and economize, and sew and sew, just to go to a party to dance? No! I assure you, I went into society only for that; and I do not believe what girls say—they go into society only for that too.

“You know at school how we used to tirer la bonne aventure. [1] Well, every time he was not brun, riche, avenant, Jules, or Raoul, or Guy, I simply would not accept it, but would go on drawing until I obtained what I wanted. As I tell you, I thought it was my destiny. And when I would try with a flower to see if he loved me,— Il m'aime, un peu, beaucoup, passionement, pas du tout,—if it were pas du tout, I would always throw the flower away, and begin tearing off the leaves from another one immediately. Passionement was what I wanted, and I always got it in the end.

[Footnote 1: La bonne aventure is or was generally a very much battered foolscap copy-book, which contained a list of all possible elements of future (school-girl) happiness. Each item answered a question, and had a number affixed to it. To draw one's fortune consisted in asking question after question, and guessing a number, a companion volunteering to read the answers. To avoid cheating, the books were revised from time to time, and the numbers changed.]

“But papa, poor papa, he never knew anything of that, of course. He would get furious when any one would come to see me, and sometimes, when he would take me in society, if I danced with a 'nobody,'—as he called no matter whom I danced with,—he would come up and take me away with such an air—such an air! It would seem that papa thought himself better than everybody in the world. But it went worse and worse with papa, not only in the affairs of the world, but in health. Always thinner and thinner, always a cough; in fact, you know, I am a little feeble-chested myself, from papa. And Clementine! Clementine with her children—just think, Louise, eight! I thank God my mama had only me, if papa's second wife had to have so many. And so naughty! I assure you, they were all devils; and no correction, no punishment, no education—but you know Clementine! I tell you, sometimes on account of those children I used to think myself in 'ell [making the Creole's attempt and failure to pronounce the h], and Clementine had no pride about them. If they had shoes, well; if they had not shoes, well also.

[Illustration]

“'But Clementine!' I would expostulate, I would pray—

“'But do not be a fool, Mimi,' she would say. 'Am I God? Can I do miracles? Or must I humiliate your papa?'

“That was true. Poor papa! It would have humiliated papa. When he had money he gave; only it was a pity he had no money. As for what he observed, he thought it was Clementine's negligence. For, it is true, Clementine had no order, no industry, in the best of fortune as in the worst. But to do her justice, it was not her fault this time, only she let him believe it, to save his pride; and Clementine, you know, has a genius for stories. I assure you, Louise, I was desperate. I prayed to God to help me, to advise me. I could not teach—I had no education; I could not go into a shop—that would be dishonoring papa—and enfin, I was too pretty. 'And proclaim to the world,' Clementine would cry, 'that your papa does not make money for his family.' That was true. The world is so malicious. You know, Louise, sometimes it seems to me the world is glad to hear that a man cannot support his family; it compliments those who can. As if papa had not intelligence, and honor, and honesty! But they do not count now as in old times, 'before the war.'

“And so, when I thought of that, I laughed and talked and played the thoughtless like Clementine, and made bills. We made bills—we had to—for everything; we could do that, you know, on our old name and family. But it is too long! I am sure it is too long and tiresome! What egotism on my part! Come, we will take a glass of anisette, and talk of something else—your trip, your family. No? no? You are only asking me out of politeness! You are so aimable, so kind. Well, if you are not ennuyee—in fact, I want to tell you. It was too long to write, and I detest a pen. To me there is no instrument of torture like a pen.

“Well, the lady next door, she was an American, and common, very common, according to papa. In comparison to us she had no family whatever. Our little children were forbidden even to associate with her little children. I thought that was ridiculous—not that I am a democrat, but I thought it ridiculous. But the children cared; they were so disobedient and they were always next door, and they always had something nice to eat over there. I sometimes thought Clementine used to encourage their disobedience, just for the good things they got to eat over there. But papa was always making fun of them; you know what a sharp tongue he had. The gentleman was a clerk; and, according to papa, the only true gentlemen in the world had family and a profession. We did not dare allow ourselves to think it, but Clementine and I knew that they, in fact, were in more comfortable circumstances than we.

“The lady, who also had a great number of children, sent one day, with all the discretion and delicacy possible, and asked me if I would be so kind as to—guess what, Louise! But only guess! But you never could! Well, to darn some of her children's stockings for her. It was God who inspired her, I am sure, on account of my praying so much to him. You will be shocked, Louise, when I tell you. It sounds like a sin, but I was not in despair when papa died. It was a grief,—yes, it seized the heart, but it was not despair. Men ought not to be subjected to the humiliation of life; they are not like women, you know. We are made to stand things; they have their pride,—their orgueil, as we say in French,—and that is the point of honor with some men. And Clementine and I, we could not have concealed it much longer. In fact, the truth was crying out everywhere, in the children, in the house, in our own persons, in our faces. The darning did not provide a superfluity, I guarantee you!

“Poor papa! He caught cold. He was condemned from the first. And so all his fine qualities died; for he had fine qualities—they were too fine for this age, that was all. Yes; it was a kindness of God to take him before he found out. If it was to be, it was better. Just so with Clementine as with me. After the funeral—crack! everything went to pieces. We were at the four corners for the necessaries of life, and the bills came in—my dear, the bills that came in! What memories! what memories! Clementine and I exclaimed; there were some bills that we had completely forgotten about. The lady next door sent her brother over when papa died. He sat up all night, that night, and he assisted us in all our arrangements. And he came in afterward, every evening. If papa had been there, there would have been a fine scene over it; he would have had to take the door, very likely. But now there was no one to make objections. And so when, as I say, we were at the four corners for the necessaries of life, he asked Clementine's permission to ask me to marry him.

“I give you my word, Louise, I had forgotten there was such a thing as marriage in the world for me! I had forgotten it as completely as the chronology of the Merovingian dynasty, alas! with all the other school things forgotten. And I do not believe Clementine remembered there was such a possibility in the world for me. Mon Dieu! when a girl is poor she may have all the beauty in the world—not that I had beauty, only a little prettiness. But you should have seen Clementine! She screamed for joy when she told me. Oh, there was but one answer according to her, and according to everybody she could consult, in her haste. They all said it was a dispensation of Providence in my favor. He was young, he was strong; he did not make a fortune, it was true, but he made a good living. And what an assistance to have a man in the family!—an assistance for Clementine and the children. But the principal thing, after all, was, he wanted to marry me. Nobody had ever wanted that before, my dear!

“Quick, quick, it was all arranged. All my friends did something for me. One made my peignoirs for me, one this, one that—ma foi! I did not recognize myself. One made all the toilet of the bureau, another of the bed, and we all sewed on the wedding-dress together. And you should have seen Clementine, going out in all her great mourning, looking for a house, looking for a servant! But the wedding was private on account of poor papa. But you know, Loulou, I had never time to think, except about Clementine and the children, and when I thought of all those poor little children, poor papa's children, I said 'Quick, quick,' like the rest.

“It was the next day, the morning after the wedding, I had time to think. I was sitting here, just as you see me now, in my pretty new negligee. I had been looking at all the pretty presents I have shown you, and my trousseau, and my furniture,—it is not bad, as you see,—my dress, my veil, my ring, and—I do not know—I do not know—but, all of a sudden, from everywhere came the thought of my brun, my handsome brun with the mustache, and the bonne aventure, ricke, avenant, the Jules, Raoul, Guy, and the flower leaves, and 'il m'aime, un pen, beaucoup, pas du tout,' passionnement, and the way I expected to meet him walking to and from school, walking as if I were dancing the steps, and oh, my plans, my plans, my plans,—silk dresses, theater, voyages to Europe,—and poor papa, so fine, so tall, so aristocratic. I cannot tell you how it all came; it seized my heart, and, mon Dieu! I cried out, and I wept, I wept, I wept. How I wept! It pains me here now to remember it. Hours, hours it lasted, until I had no tears in my body, and I had to weep without them, with sobs and moans. But this, I have always observed, is the time for reflection—after the tears are all out. And I am sure God himself gave me my thoughts. 'Poor little Mimi!' I thought, 'fi done! You are going to make a fool of yourself now when it is all over, because why? It is God who manages the world, and not you. You pray to God to help you in your despair, and he has helped you. He has sent you a good, kind husband who adores you; who asks only to be a brother to your sisters and brothers, and son to Clementine; who has given you more than you ever possessed in your life—but because he did not come out of the bonne aventure—and who gets a husband out of the bonne aventure?—and would your brun have come to you in your misfortune?' I am sure God inspired those thoughts in me.

[Illustration: “I wept, I wept, I wept.”]

“I tell you, I rose from that bed—naturally I had thrown myself upon it. Quick I washed my face, I brushed my hair, and, you see these bows of ribbons,—look, here are the marks of the tears,—I turned them. He, Loulou, it occurs to me, that if you examined the blue bows on a bride's negligee, you might always find tears on the other side; for do they not all have to marry whom God sends? and am I the only one who had dreams? It is the end of dreams, marriage; and that is the good thing about it. God lets us dream to keep us quiet, but he knows when to wake us up, I tell you. The blue bows knew! And now, you see, I prefer my husband to my brun; in fact, Loulou, I adore him, and I am furiously jealous about him. And he is so good to Clementine and the poor little children; and see his photograph—a blond, and not good-looking, and small!

“But poor papa! If he had been alive, I am sure he never would have agreed with God about my marriage.”

 
 
 

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