Authors: Mary Chase Comstock
John Winters' family had arrived several days earlier and Cat was glad that she'd been able to lodge his parents and sundry aunts, uncles, and cousins in one of the larger houses on the estate which conveniently happened to be vacant. This provided both families with a degree of privacy so necessary to the amicable beginning of a close association, as well as opportunity for the hectic wedding preparations to be carried out without too much interruption or superfluous advice.
Cat's responsibilities began almost at dawn as she directed the arrangement of the dining room and formal salons for the festivities that would follow the ceremony. Flowers had been gathered, not only from the conservatory, but from the gardens and hillsides which were blossoming profusely in the first real warmth of the season. Before long, every available surface was piled with fragrant branches of mock orange, pale rosebuds, and lilies of every description. These had to be arranged upon the tables, around the cake, woven through candelabra and twined up the banisters of the central hallway while still fresh. In the gardens, workmen were busily setting up the green-and-white-striped pavilions where the wedding guests would take their tea after the ceremony. Meanwhile, Uncle Martin anxiously conferred with Chumley, the butler, about the chilling of champagne and mixing of punch.
It was nearly nine o'clock by the time these ar
rangements had been completed and Cat took a moment to look in on Cecily before she began her own toilette. As she made her way down the paneled hallway she hastened her steps, for a confused mélange of wails and exclamations issued alarmingly from Cecily's chamber. There, in the midst of a great confusion of lace, flowers, chambermaids and Aunt Leah, stood Cecily still dressed only in her chemise.
Oh, Cat,” Cecily cried plaintively as she looked up to see her cousin. “Thank heavens you're finally up. I don't know what to do first and neither does Mother. I can't find anything. Not my pearl earbobs, not my gloves, not my prayer book. I know they were here yesterday …”
While Cat found the sight of the customarily composed Cecily and her quiet, unassuming mother struggling in a tangle of prenuptial jitters most diverting, she managed to conceal her amusement.
“Now, Aunt Leah, you sit over here out of the way for just a moment. Here are your gloves and prayer book right under your veil where we put them last night, Cecily. Now take a look in the mirror for just a moment …”
Oh, Cat,” she wailed, “You must know I've no time for that, I ... oh, my earbobs!”
Yes, they're in your ears, you goose. Now what's to be done first? Have you had tea yet?”
Oh, how beastly! I couldn't. Not this morning!” Cecily protested.
Well, I certainly could, and it looks as if you and Aunt Leah had better join me unless you feel that the service would be better accompanied by curious noises from your tummy than the pumping of the organ. In any case, between the two, we would never be able to hear John say 'I do' and that, of course, is of the utmost importance.” Then Cat turned to a maid and said, “Run and tell Cook we shall need a pot of strong tea and some scones, if she has any. Nothing too rich this morning. All right, Cecily, sit here out of the way. Now, then, let's arrange all of your finery in the order you'll need it …”
When Cat was finally able to return to her chamber to don her own wedding apparel, she did so secure in the knowledge that Cecily would be the most beautiful bride the county had ever seen. Her golden hair had been braided and coiled with white roses and sprigs of lavender. From this arrangement, a few flaxen tresses curled down onto her white shoulders. The dress itself was reminiscent of a white rose with all its layers of snowy tulle and lace. Cecily was per
fect, from the yards of misty veiling to her little satin slippers, and Cat hoped that John would sufficiently appreciate the vision they had toiled to create.
In her own chamber, Cat turned with less sat
isfaction to her image in the mirror. She wondered without much hope whether Felicia would be able to work some miracle with her disorderly dark curls. In any case, there wouldn't be a great deal of time, for the carriages were due to depart for the chapel in less than two hours. Cat sighed in resignation at the likelihood that, standing next to Cecily's glowing beauty, it was altogether doubtful whether anyone would notice if she had hair at all.
Felicia!” Cat called sweetly down the hallway. “I have a challenge for you!” Felicia, who had struggled on this battleground before, with varying degrees of success, fleetingly considered throwing herself from the nearest tower window. Nevertheless, she pushed up her sleeves and approached her mistress's tangled locks with a look of fierce determination. By the time the valiant maid had completed her task, the poor thing was on the verge of nervous exhaustion, but owned that Cat looked quite presentable.
You must have used every hair pin in four counties,” Cat exclaimed. “I shall be in luck indeed if I am not mistaken for a hedgehog!” She regarded herself critically in the mirror. At least everything looked and felt secure—for the moment. Lavender and baby's breath peeked coyly out from her curls. The charming effect was a little disconcerting, and Cat charitably hoped that none of the guests naively mistook her for the sweet creature she now appeared to be. Given the state of her nerves, the result might be disastrous. She shook herself from these musings, however, and set about completing her toilette. All that remained was to slip into her gown and wait for Felicia to assist her with the tapes.
The dress was styled on a more simple pattern than the bride's, but still had more ruffles and embroidery than anything Cat, who favored more classic styles, had ever worn before. It was lilac silk with small flowers of a deeper shade embroidered on it. Layers of lace and lilac rib
bon fell in cascades at the elbow and bodice. Around her throat, Cat tied a moss green velvet ribbon from which hung a filigreed amethyst drop, which had once belonged to her grandmother.
When Cat finally turned to meet her reflection
, she did so with some satisfaction. In spite of her reputation for being bookish, Cat enjoyed her appearance, which had become increasingly dramatic as she grew taller and her figure matured in the last two or three years. Her green eyes turned up at the corners as she smiled, and she realized that, as Cecily had often remarked, she did look very much like a pretty cat who had just figured out how to corner a tempting mouse.
That's a job and a half I've done today, Miss Cat, but I daresay you look as fine as Miss Cecily!” exclaimed Felicia, who felt her labors earned her a proprietary interest in her mistress's appearance.
Yes, I suppose I shall do all right,” Cat concurred languidly, feigning boredom. Felicia merely rolled her eyes and sighed at the mistress she adored but would never understand.
Downstairs, the air was thick with the com
bined agitation of Cecily and Aunt Leah. The bride paced back and forth wringing her hands as her mother followed, seemingly in tow as she attempted to straighten Cecily's veil and retie her satin sash.
She's already got the gentleman, Aunt Leah,” Cat called as she descended the stairs, “but she won't if we keep him waiting at the altar!” At that, Uncle Martin tut-tutted and shooed the distraught pair toward the carriage which would take them the short distance to the church.
Once the party was securely settled in the car
riage, Aunt Leah collapsed into exhausted catatonia, and Uncle Martin, not one to be effusive, surveyed his daughter and niece with pleasure and told them they were looking well. Cecily smiled as she, too, regarded Cat in secret satisfaction and squeezed her hand. Perhaps her little plot would work after all.
It was with some degree of astonishment that Cat watched Cecily sail through the rest of her wedding day with composure and serenity. Apparently, the perfection of the ceremony itself, and perhaps the sentiments it celebrated, had eliminated all the disorder and jangled nerves of the morning hours, for Cecily and John did indeed make a storybook bride and groom.
Surprisingly, it was Cat herself who spent the remainder of the day in a turmoil of emotions. Just before the ceremony was to begin, Cecily had suddenly grasped her cousin by the arm.
“Oh, Cat, I almost forgot! I wanted John to wear a rose from my bouquet in his buttonhole! I know you must think me a sentimental fool, but would you take this to him for me? I shall have Papa tell the organist to play another hymn, so you will have plenty of time.”
Overcoming her exasperation wi
th the excesses of young lovers, Cat took the flower and proceeded with haste to the sacristy door. There she found John pacing back and forth closely followed by a hovering Parson Tweedle, whose nervous complaints at such functions were well known. At the window seat lounged a tall blond man, watching with amused indolence the distress of his companions. His very composure in such a scene annoyed Cat, who hurried in and caught John's coattail as he sailed by.
Be still half a moment while I fix this flower, John. It comes fresh from Cecily's bouquet, a token of her dearest love!” Cat succeeded in smiling prettily as she delivered this little speech, although John looked at her with some suspicion. He had seen enough of her in various moods over the last several months to distrust her present tone. However, he soon recollected himself and took her by the arm.
I say, I'm glad you've come. Cat. May I present my cousin, Charles Hazelforth. He only just arrived last night and he will be standing up with me today. Hazelforth, this is Cecily's cousin, Miss Catherine Mansard.”
With some sudden interest, Hazelforth had roused himself from his perch on her entry and now bent briefly over Cat's hand, drawling smoothly,
“Your servant, Miss Mansard. John is clearly fortunate in his new family as well as in his bride.”
That is my opinion as well,” Cat returned with an icy sweetness, for the glibness of Hazelforth's compliment had ruffled her already much tested humor. It was her confirmed conviction that much of the falseness of the society she scorned was characterized by such conventions. “We shall see in time if Cecily is likewise blessed, I suppose. Though John is certainly a paragon among men, my estimation of his family is still at a formative stage.”
Cat had considered this an appropriate set-down, and was therefore dismayed when Mr. Ha
zelforth merely threw back his head and laughed heartily. Nothing could have ruffled her more, for, while she was ordinarily good-natured, she despised any mirth at her expense. As the color rose to her cheeks, she turned abruptly and hurried away to take her place in the processional. Just outside the sacristy door, however, she discovered that the silk tie on one of her slippers had come loose and, as she stooped to retie it, she heard Mr. Hazelforth's voice from the open window above her head.
Great heavens, John, however did such a creature find her way into sweet little Cecily's family? I vow I expected her to bite me any minute!”
Oh, that's just Cat's manner,” John replied affably. “I swear I was half afraid to be in the same room with her for months when I first knew Cecily. But Cat's all right, really, if she's in a good mood and not reading. If you interrupt her in the middle of a book, there's deuce all to pay.”
Really? And is she held rapt by these tiresome French novels as half society is these days?”
Well, you know I'm not much for the books,” John returned good-naturedly, “but I believe her taste pretty much runs the gamut. Burns and Burney, Richardson and Radcliffe, Cowper and the crew.”
A lady scholar! Heaven preserve us!” Hazelforth exclaimed in tones of mock horror. “Well, I suppose she must find some way to occupy her time, as she's clearly not concerned about her reception in society.”
No, I suppose our Cat is somewhat eccentric, but she's determined not to marry anyhow, so I expect it's well enough.”
She's certainly pretty enough for the London set, but within a month no house would receive her unless she behaves differently than how she just did. She'd have to be as rich as Croesus to tempt a member of the
Hazelforth went on speculatively.
She very nearly is,” replied John. “Quite likely the richest heiress in three counties, so even though she says she'll have none of London, I expect she'll continue to have offers. Watching these wags get their comeuppance is deuced good sport, though. I say, Charles, you seem uncommonly interested in our Cat. Never tell me you're thinking of having your measurements taken for the old leg shackles?”
I assure you, John,” came the quick reply, “I shall allow you to enjoy that blissful state all by yourself. Your Miss Mansard is quite a picture, but I hope you do not imagine that, after all this time, I should at last surrender my heart to
Cat felt that she had heard quite enough for the present and hurried away with their amused laughter at her heels. Odious men! They always brought out the worst in her. Oh, why couldn't she just have been quiet and kept her misanthropic thoughts to herself, she wondered in agitation? She hoped with some contrition, though, that her loose tongue and reckless manners would not hurt Cecily's reception in her new family. It was frustrating, however, to be reminded that merely speaking her mind was the source of either shocked dismay or, far worse, disdainful amusement.