What a morning! It always seemed a sort of nightmare recollection to Emily. Guests of the clan came early—Emily welcomed them until she felt that the smile must be frozen on her face. There were endless wedding-gifts to unwrap and arrange. Ilse, before she dressed, came to look them over indifferently.
"Who sent in that afternoon tea-set?" she asked.
"Perry," said Emily. She had helped him choose it. A dainty service in a quaint old-fashioned rose design. A card with Perry's black forcible handwriting. "To Ilse with the best wishes of her old friend Perry."
Ilse deliberately picked up piece after piece and dashed it in fragments on the floor before the transfixed Emily could stop her.
"Ilse! Have you gone crazy?"
"There! What a glorious smash! Sweep up the fragments, Emily. That was just as good as screaming on the floor. Better. I can go through with it now."
Emily disposed of the fragments just in time—Mrs. Clarinda Mitchell came billowing in, in pale-blue muslin and cherry-hued scarf. A sonsy, smiling, good-hearted cousin-by-marriage. Interested in everything. Who gave this?—Who had sent that?
"She'll be such a sweet bride, I'm sure," gushed Mrs. Clarinda. "And Teddy Kent is such a splendid fellow. It's really an ideal marriage, isn't it? One of those you read about! I love weddings like this. I thank my stars I didn't lose my interest in youthful things when I lost my youth. I've lots of sentiment in me yet—and I'm not afraid to show it. And did Ilse's wedding stockings really cost fourteen dollars?"
Aunt Isabella Hyslop, nee Mitchell, was gloomy. Offended because her costly present of cut sherbet glasses had been placed beside Cousin Annabel's funny set of old-fashioned crocheted doilies. Inclined to take a dark view of things.
"I hope everything will go off well. But I've got an uneasy feeling that trouble is coming—a presentiment, so to speak. Do you believe in signs? A big black cat ran right across the road in front of us down in the hollow. And right on that tree as we turned in at the lane was the fragment of an old election poster, 'Blue Ruin,' in black letters three inches long staring us in the face."
"That might mean bad luck for you, but hardly for Ilse."
Aunt Isabella shook her head. She would not be comforted.
"They say the wedding dress is like nothing ever seen on Prince Edward Island. Do you think such extravagance proper, Miss Starr!"
"The expensive part of it was a present from Ilse's old great-aunts in Scotland, Mrs. Mitchell. And most of us are married only once."
Whereupon Emily remembered that Aunt Isabella had been married three times and wondered if there wasn't something in black cat magic.
Aunt Isabella swept coldly off, and later on was heard to say that "that Starr girl is really intolerable since she got a book published. Thinks herself at liberty to insult any one."
Emily, before she had time to thank the Fates for her freedom, fell into the clutches of more Mitchell relatives. This aunt did not approve of another aunt's gift of a pair of ornate Bohemian glass vases.
"Bessie Jane never had much sense. A foolish choice. The children will be sure to unhook the prisms and lose them."
"Why, the children they will have, of course."
"Miss Starr will put that in a book, Matilda," warned her husband, chuckling. Then he chuckled again and whispered to Emily:
"Why aren't you the bride to-day? How come Ilse to cut you out, hey?"
Emily was thankful when she was summoned upstairs to help Ilse dress. Though even here aunts and cousins kept bobbing in and out, saying distracting things.
"Emily, do you remember the day of our first summer together when we fought over the honour of playing bride in one of our dramatic stunts? Well, I feel as if I were just playing bride. This isn't real."
Emily felt, too, as if it were not real. But soon—soon now—it would be all over and she could be blessedly alone. And Ilse when dressed was such an exquisite bride that she justified all the fuss of the wedding. How Teddy must love her!
"Doesn't she look just like a queen?" whispered Aunt Laura adoringly.
Emily having slipped into her own harebell blue kissed the flushed maiden face under the rose-point cap and pearls of its bridal veil.
"Ilse dear, don't think me hopelessly Victorian if I say I hope you'll be happy 'ever after.'"
Ilse squeezed her hand, but laughed a little too loudly.
"I hope it isn't Queen Victoria Aunt Laura thinks I resemble," she whispered. "And I have the most horrible suspicion that Aunt Janie Milburn is praying for me. Her face betrayed her when she came in to kiss me. It always makes me furious to suspect that people are praying for me. Now, Emily, do me one last favour. Herd everybody out of this room—everybody. I want to be alone, absolutely alone, for a few minutes."
Somehow Emily managed it. The aunts and cousins fluttered downstairs. Dr. Burnley was waiting impatiently in the hall.
"Won't you soon be ready? Teddy and Halsey are waiting for the signal to go into the drawing-room."
"Ilse wants a few minutes alone. Oh, Aunt Ida, I'm so glad you got here"—to a stout lady who was coming pantingly up the stairs. "We were afraid something had happened to prevent you."
"Something did," gasped Aunt Ida—who was really a second-cousin. In spite of her breathlessness Aunt Ida was happy. She always liked to be the first to tell a piece of news—especially unpleasant news. "And the doctor couldn't come at all—I had to get a taxi. That poor Perry Miller—you know him, don't you? Such a clever young chap—was killed in a motor collision about an hour ago."
Emily stifled a shriek, with a frantic glance at Ilse's door. It was slightly ajar. Dr. Burnley was saying:
"Perry Miller killed. Good God, how horrible!"
"Well, as good as killed. He must be dead by this time—he was unconscious when they dragged him out of the wreck. They took him to the Charlottetown hospital and 'phoned for Bill, who dashed right off, of course. It's a mercy Ilse isn't marrying a doctor. Have I time to take off my things before the ceremony?"
Emily, crushing her anguish over Perry, showed Aunt Ida to the spare room and returned to Dr. Burnley.
"Don't let Ilse know about this," he cautioned needlessly. "It would spoil her wedding—she and Perry were old cronies. And hadn't you better hurry her up a little? It's past the time."
Emily, with more of a nightmare feeling than ever, went down the hall and knocked on Ilse's door. There was no answer. She opened the door. On the floor in a forlorn heap lay the bridal veil and the priceless bouquet of orchids which must have cost Teddy more than any Murray or Burnley bride had ever paid before for her whole trousseau, but Ilse was nowhere to be seen. A window was open, the one over the kitchen stoop.
"What's the matter?" exclaimed Dr. Burnley impatiently, coming up behind Emily. "Where's Ilse?"
"She's—gone," said Emily stupidly
"To Perry Miller." Emily knew it quite well. Ilse had heard Aunt Ida and—
"Damn!" said Dr. Burnley.