Read an Excerpt
By Mignon G. Eberhart
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1966 Mignon G. Eberhart
All rights reserved.
Her own image advanced and retreated in the distant pier glass.
"Slower," said Sophie. "Stop ... Now turn again."
"This way, if you please, Miss Whipple," said the fitter.
That was in March.
In January Dorcas Whipple, with her mother and Sophie in Miami Beach, was all but engaged to Ronald. In February her mother roused to the state of affairs, came home to Chicago and rallied all her cohorts. On March eleventh Dorcas stood before the mirror and looked at herself in her wedding gown, mistily through the white veil, and the image it gave back to her was unreal and ethereal in quality—as Dorcas herself was not.
It was the final and last fitting. The wedding was at noon the next day and the man she was marrying was not Ronald Drew.
She hadn't been really desperately unhappy, she thought, listening absently to the fitter and Sophie, who were rapidly reaching a point of agreement.
She had defended Ronald hotly all the way through the thing; had fought for him with increased zeal because they were all against him. Had given in finally because the proofs had to be admitted, because she could not fight against her mother's weapons, because after all, as was pointed out to her, she was twenty-four, she had known the man she was to marry all her life, it was an eminently suitable marriage and it was time she married and took over her rightful responsibilities.
What Cary Whipple hadn't said was that she wanted her daughter to be married and settled before she died but it didn't need saying, for Cary's gentleness and semi-invalidism said it for her. Only once had she come near bringing her strongest weapon into use and that was when she looked at Dorcas with her soft blue eyes and said: "I'm stronger than I look, my dear. I wouldn't want you to hurry into marriage simply because it would be a satisfaction to me—it may be years yet."
She had said no more. But it had actually, Dorcas supposed, decided the thing.
But even after her engagement had been announced Dorcas had to admit in all honesty she was not really terribly unhappy. Not, at least, until—well, when had thoughts of Ronald begun to haunt her so constantly? Just lately? When the marriage was, all at once, so near and so completely inevitable?
She looked at the slender white figure in the huge old pier glass and it seemed to look back at her enigmatically through the white veil. It was as if that distant reflection knew things Dorcas did not know—things about Dorcas Whipple, who was so soon to be Dorcas Locke.
Had she been, she wondered, quite fair to Ronald? The fitter murmured to Sophie.
"Turn again, will you, Dorcas?" said Sophie. "That back panel ..."
Dorcas pivoted. The mysterious image in the mirror vanished. Opposite her now were windows and a leaden sky and bare, wet brown trees.
It was a dark, gusty day with a raw wind off the lake.
All the way home from rehearsal at St Chrystofer's it had blown fine mist against the windows of the car and along the Drive you could see great, slate-gray waves breaking savagely in white foam against the breakwater. Dorcas had pulled her fur coat tighter about her throat and thought with incredulity of January; hot white sand, golden sun, blue sky and Ronald. They had danced such a lot, she had remembered suddenly, during those dark, tropical nights and Ronald danced as smoothly and gracefully as one of the professional adagio dancers they so often saw together at the casino.
There had been a hundred things to see to at the rehearsal; luckily all arrangements for the wedding had passed through Sophie's capable, lovely hands. Dorcas had been preoccupied with walking with suitably measured tread down the dim church aisle and toward the altar. The bridesmaids had worn their yellow gowns and Dorcas herself, in her plain blue wool street dress had looked, she felt, remarkably unbride-like. And had felt, meeting Jevan Locke before that untenanted altar, suddenly a little frightened, as if, till that moment, she hadn't comprehended the thing she was undertaking. It had made her silent; very cool and sober.
Sally Notten had ruffled her yellow chiffon train and pouted. "Dorcas is as cool as if she'd been married a dozen times. I'm lots more excited than she is right now," and had looked appealingly at Jevan, who only laughed.
Then there had been photographers; were to be, the next morning, more photographers. Sophie's account of the wedding, with all the names clearly and accurately typed, was already in the hands of the city's society editors.
All the way home through the fine, slanting rain and wind and cold Dorcas had thought of Ronald and had fought an increasing sense of panic.
It had become more and more poignant, so by the time they had turned off the South Shore Drive and wound through a gray, desolate park and reached at last, after passing glimpses of a storm-shrouded Midway, their own street, Dorcas was oddly apprehensive. Almost as if some climax, some crisis of which she had been up till then unaware, now threatened her.
They had reached the Whipple house and the car had turned in at the drive.
It was a large, ugly house built long before the North Shore became fashionable and Pennyforth Whipple had remained there along with a few others during the rapid hegira northward of the war period. During the 1920s his widow did not dream of selling the house as so many others did. It was built of red brick, huge and solid, with plate-glass windows and a black slate roof and somber chimneys hovering above it; there was a great deal of wood used in its wide ornamented doors and stairways and the cavernous central hall was paneled in wood. The rooms were large and high ceilinged and there were a great many of them. Pennyforth Whipple must have had a large and increasing family in mind when he built the house and married a young wife, but there was only Dorcas and Cary's semi-invalidism which made her in many ways so like another child to her elderly husband. Yet Cary had been thirty, fragile, and appealing in her gentle fragility, when Dorcas was born. She was now fifty-four and still rather childish and still fragile and gentle. Her eyes had faded a little; her hair was a softly waved gray; her fine skin looked a little powdery and very soft where it had lost some of its firmness. Her small hands, usually jeweled, showed blue veins; her mouth had changed a little in shape where she wore an artificial denture. Otherwise, since the years had treated her kindly, she looked very much as she had looked when Pennyforth Whipple was alive.
People always indulged Cary; always took care of her. Even her money had been left to her as an allowance from Dorcas' fortune in order to protect her. It was a large allowance, fifteen hundred a month, out of which she paid only for her own clothing and charities, gifts and theater tickets. All the household expenses—for the Chicago home and for the Lake Geneva summer place—all the travel expenses, all the taxes and incidentals were paid out of the bulk of her husband's money, which was left in trusteeship for Dorcas.
It had been Pennyforth Whipple's way of protecting Cary against fortune hunters and at the same time of insuring her comfort. It was a wise provision and it relieved Cary of responsibility for a really sizable fortune which thus belonged unconditionally to Dorcas—or would belong to her unconditionally as soon as she married, when the trusteeship would automatically dissolve. That, Dorcas thought dryly, was one of their reasons for wanting her to marry Jevan. He could manage the money. But Ronald hadn't been, as they had openly said at the last, a fortune hunter.
The car had rolled gently under the ornamented porte-cochere and stopped. Rain had whirled gustily against her cheeks as she followed her mother in at the side door.
It had then been about five o'clock and growing dark, so that lights were on here and there.
They had gone along the side hall, past the door of the room that had been Penn Whipple's study and into the main hall, its marquetry floors spacious and darkly glistening where they were not covered with long, thin oriental rugs. There was a bronze boy holding a flowered lamp at the stairway. There was a marble head of a woman—Dorcas had never known just what woman—in a niche beside the door. It was all, probably, in bad taste but it was splendidly, robustly Victorian and achieved a kind of harmony. Cary would have changed nothing. When it was built and furnished it was considered one of the most elegant homes in Chicago. It had, all of it, suited Pennyforth Whipple and the period when it was built and nothing in the Whipple house ever wore out, thus why should it be replaced?
Since Pennyforth Whipple's death the house had been closed a great deal, for Cary and Dorcas, and usually Sophie, traveled; stopped here and there for Dorcas to go to school, traveled again. They came back at intervals and opened the Chicago house and renewed their social connections. There had been no question but that the wedding should take place there, for Chicago was home. Their dearest, oldest ties were in Chicago. Their best and oldest friends.
A middle-aged maid with a full skirt which came exactly to her ankles had taken Dorcas' coat and told her the wedding dress was ready for the last fitting. It was Sophie who had been dissatisfied with the fit of the sheath-like white satin gown; Sophie who had insisted on a last alteration. Sophie had a flair for clothes; she often took things Dorcas had used, dresses that had proved to be unbecoming, chiffons that had been worn a few times, and made them over for herself and did it, with a little help for the fittings, expertly, because she so loved clothes.
Again Dorcas was vaguely aware that the fitter and Sophie were murmuring and Sophie rose gracefully, unfastened her thin brown stockings and knelt down herself beside Dorcas.
"Turn again, Dorcas," she said. "A little more ... there." Dorcas felt Sophie's expert fingers giving a little tug to her dress, a twist this way and that. A long pause while the fitter, smart in her black gown, and Sophie again scrutinized and murmured.
"Now walk a little, Dorcas. Toward the mirror ... that's right."
Again a tall white figure, inscrutable, mysterious because of the floating white veil, advanced to meet Dorcas. Tomorrow that figure was to become herself. Were all brides frightened—even brides who were making sensible, well-advised marriages? Brides who were giving up romance? Who were giving up men like Ronald Drew? She wondered again (with again a hovering sense of something curiously like apprehension) whether she had been altogether fair with Ronald. Whether—whether after all she had loved him as deeply as she was ever to love anyone.
She was terribly tired, she told herself abruptly. Absurdly taut and nervous. She wished they would finish the fitting and leave her in peace and quiet.
Almost immediately Sophie, always tactful, said: "That will do now. That's really very nice."
The fitter was anxious, placative, complimentary. She lifted the veil from Dorcas' short brown hair.
"Miss Whipple is a beautiful bride," she said. "It's been a pleasure to work on her things. I hope you'll come to us after your marriage, Miss Whipple."
Dorcas, looking into the reflection of her own face which was clearer now that the veil was removed, thought candidly that she had never looked worse in her life and thanked the woman absently.
Sophie rose lithely, pulled down her girdle and refastened her stockings, showing an expanse of handsome legs. She took off her smart hat, ran her fingers over smooth dark hair and said pleasantly: "It's all right now, I'm sure. That's all, thank you."
The fitter went away, smiling and complimenting and looking with quick side glances at the house, at the heavy old mahogany and thick green curtains; at the incongruous chintz covers; at Dorcas' wide, laden dressing table.
"I'll help you out of the dress," said Sophie. Cary came to the door, looked at her daughter with her lovely soft eyes and went away again.
Dorcas struggled out of the clinging, tight white satin and for a fantastic instant it seemed to be suffocating in its soft weight.
"I'll hang it up," said Sophie. "Here's a warm robe. For heaven's sake, don't catch cold. There's nothing so disgusting as a sniffly bride." She gave Dorcas a tailored flannel housecoat and said unexpectedly: "Are you going to see Ronald again?"
"Ronald! ... No."
"Oh," said Sophie. "Well, I suppose it's better not to."
Dorcas wrapped the flannel robe around her, kicked off her brown street pumps and leaned back in the chaise longue wearily.
"Of course it's better. That's over. I'll never see him again."
Sophie gave a competent look at some boxes of underclothing yet to be packed and sat down opposite Dorcas, crossing her legs and lighting a cigarette. She was a handsome woman of about forty-five; handsome in a rather delicate and well-bred way with fine bones, a long slim neck from which she fought wrinkles; dark hazel eyes, well made up, and a fine figure. She had been Thomas Whipple's second and younger wife. Tom Whipple was Pennyforth Whipple's brother; he had made and lost at least three fortunes and it was unfortunately during the losing of the third that he had died. Naturally Pennyforth Whipple had taken care of Sophie, settling a generous sum upon her at this death, a sum which was augmented later by an allowance given her by Dorcas.
She had social charm and grace; below that pleasant surface she was worldly and extremely practical. She said now, linking her hands around her knee: "I'll finish packing the last trunk after dinner. They'd better go tonight. I can have them sent about ten. Are there any last odds and ends to go in, Dorcas?"
"There's no hurry," said Dorcas quickly. "Tomorrow morning will be all right——"
"I suppose so. Only there are so many things to see to. I've checked the lists. By the way, I forgot the Bramtons—Cary didn't think of them either. Awful, wasn't it? I called up and lied myself black, saying the invitation must have got lost. Well, my dear, this time tomorrow you'll be married and gone and the thing will be over."
Ronald, thought Dorcas. What would he be doing then? Would he be thinking of her, needing her? He loved her; she had never doubted that; and she was marrying another man.
Sophie, as if following her thought, said suddenly: "Now, Dorcas, don't worry about Ronald. A broken heart won't kill him—men have died and worms have eaten them——"
"My dear, I'm sorry. I didn't realize you felt so deeply about it—still. How long has it been since you saw him?"
"A month. I'll never see him again of course. I mean, not the same way. I suppose I'll see him somewhere now and then."
Sophie pondered and sighed. "Poor Ronald. After all, young men will be young men. I thought myself people were a little hard on him. Since he's known you, certainly he's done nothing out of the way."
Funny how grateful she felt to Sophie.
"It's done now," she said, her voice a little husky and uncertain. "It's too late——"
Sophie rose abruptly and stood there looking thoughtfully down at Dorcas. "It soon will be too late," she said and turned toward the door. With her hand on the doorknob she paused to look back at Dorcas. "I'll finish your packing after dinner. You'd better rest now. Thank heaven there's nothing more for you to do but show up at the wedding tomorrow at twelve. Try to sleep. And forget about Ronald. Only listen, my dear; I never advise, you know that, but I'm going to now. Don't tell yourself you don't dare to see Ronald; that is admitting——"
She stopped, looking at Dorcas thoughtfully and a little remotely with her dark hazel eyes shadowed as if she were seeing someone else.
There was another small, heavy silence. Rain dashed gustily against the window beside her
Sophie's look became focused again upon Dorcas.
"Nothing," she said and went out and closed the door firmly behind her.
The room was very still after she'd gone. Still and growing darker, with only the two lights on the dressing table making little circles of cheer. Outside the rain whirled against the blackening windowpanes. Dorcas pulled an afghan over her feet and pushed the cushions so they were comfortable under her head and an hour later was still staring wide eyed at the high ceiling. Tomorrow at this time the wedding would be over. She would be on the train. Married. Going away on a honeymoon.
Excerpted from Hasty Wedding by Mignon G. Eberhart. Copyright © 1966 Mignon G. Eberhart. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.