|George Jameson and Katie Vaughan had a brilliant wedding. Everything was flawless—from the icing on the cake to the arrangement of the bride’s waterfall. Mrs. Vaughan cried just enough to redden her nose; Vaughan did the dignified pater familias to a charm; and George and Katie were so affectionate as to give the world the idea that here was a match made in heaven.The bridal breakfast over, the white moire, antique lace, and orange flowers were laid aside, and the pretty traveling suit of alpaca, with nazarine blue trimmings was donned—the sweetest love of a thing Madame D’Aubrey had made up for the season. Then there was the little bonnet of gray silk to match the dress, with its blue face trimming to match Katie’s eyes; the golden bird of paradise dropping its plumage over the crown; and it was such a fine morning, and everything looked propitious; and in the midst of congratulations and kisses, George and Katie started for the depot.They arrived just in season. The whistle sounded in the distance. George buckled up his traveling shawl and Katie grasped her parasol.“George, dearest,” said the bride, “do run out and see to the trunks! I should die if when we get to the Falls, my clothes should not be there! It would be dreadful to be obliged to go to dinner in my traveling dress? Go see to them, there’s a darling!”George vanished; the train puffing and smoking, shot into the depot. Conductor popped his head into the ladies’ room, shouting at the top of his voice.‘All aboard for Danville! Come, hurry up ladies! Five minutes behind time and another train due.’
‘Is my husband—”
‘Oh, yes, yes, all right,’ said the official, hurrying on in a way railway officials have. ‘I’ll send him right along,’ and he vanished from view in the long line of moving carriages.
Meanwhile George having seen to the baggage—a proceeding that had occupied more time than he had intended—returned to the ladies’ room to find Katie missing— searched about wildly, inquiring of every one he met, without success.
‘She’s probably already in the train, sir,’ said ticket agent of whom he made inquiry. ‘You are going to Buffalo, I think you said; that’s the train to Buffalo; you’ll likely find her there. Just starting, not a moment to lose.’
George grasped the railing of the hind car as it flew by, and, fling open the door, he rushed through car after car, but seeking in vain for Katie. She was not on the train. ‘Most likely she got on the wrong train and went by Groton,’ said the conductor. ‘Groton is a way station fifteen miles ahead. We stop there fifteen or twenty minutes for refreshments. You’ll doubtless find her there.’
The cars flew over the track. George mentally blessed the man who invented steam engines—he could reach Katie so much sooner. Dear little thing! how vexed and troubled she must be—and George grew quite lachrymose over her desolate condition.
But it seemed ages to George before they whirled up to the platform at Groton, and then he did not wait to practice any courtesy. He leaped out impetuously, knocking over an old lady with a flower pot and a bird cage in her hand, demolishing the pot and putting the birds into hysterics. The old lady was indignant, and hit George a rap with her umbrella that spoiled forever the fair proportions of his bridal beaver, but he was too much engaged in thought of his lost bride to spare a regret for his hat.
He flew through the astonished crowd mashing up a crinoline here, and knocking over a small boy there, until he reached the clerk of the station. Yes, the clerk believed there was one lady who had come alone; she had gone to the Belvidere House —She must be the one.
George waited to hear no more. He hurried up the street to the place, where the landlord assured him that no lady of Katie’s style had arrived; perhaps she had stopped at Margate, ten miles back. George seized on the hope. There was no train to Margate until the next morning, but the wretched husband could not wait all night—he would walk.
He got directions about the roads; was told that it was a straight one—for the most of the way through the woods—rather lonesome but pleasant. He set forth at once, not stopping to swallow a mouthful. Excitement had taken away his appetite. The fine day had developed into a cloudy evening—the night would go darker than usual.
George hastened on, too much excited to feel fatigue—too much agonized about Katie to notice that he had split his elegant French gaiters out at the sides.
After three or four hours hard marching he began to think that something must be wrong. He ought to be approaching the suburbs of Margate. In fact, he ought to have reached the village itself sometime before. He grew a little doubtful about his being on the right road, and began to look about him. There was no road at all, or rather, it was all road; for all vestige of fences and wheel tracks had vanished— there was forest, forest every where.
The very character of the ground beneath his feet changed at every step he took. It grew softer and softer, until he sank ankle deep in mud; and, suddenly, before he could turn about, he fell in almost to his armpits. He had stumbled into a quagmire! A swift horror came over him! People had died before now in places like this—and it would be so dreadful to die thus, and Katie had never knew what had become of him. He struggled with the strength of desperation to free himself but he might as well have taken it cooly. He was held fast.
Thus slowly the hours wore away. The night was ages long. The sun had never taken so much time to rise in; but probably it realized that nothing could be done until it was up, and was not disposed to hurry.
As soon as it was fairly light, George began to scream at the top of his voice, in the hope that someone who might be going somewhere might hear him. He amused himself in this way for an hour; and at the end of that time you could not have distinguished his voice from that of a frog close at hand, who had been doing his very best to rival our hero.
At last, just as George, was beginning to to despair, he heard a voice in the distance calling out—
‘Hallo, there, is it you or a frog?’
‘It’s me,’ cried George, ‘and I shall be dead in ten minutes! Come quick! I’m into mud up to my eyes!”
Directly an old woman appeared, a sunbonnet on her head and a basket on her arm. She was huckleberrying.
‘For land sake,’ cried she, ‘you’re in for it, ain’t ye? ‘Sarved ye right! I’m glad of it! Didn’t ye see the notice that the old man put up, that nobody must come a huckleberrying in this ere swamp?’
‘Huckleberrying!’ exclaimed George angrily. ‘You must think a fellow beside himself to come into this jungle, if he knew it! Huckleberrying, indeed, I am after my wife!’
‘Land sake! Your wife! Well of all things, I declare I never!’
‘She got on the wrong train, and so did I; and I expect she’s at Margate, and I started from Groton last night to walk there, and lost my way. Help me our, do, that’s a dear woman.
The old woman steadied herself by a tree, and being a woman of good muscles, she soon drew George out—mud from head to foot. He shook himself.
‘There, if you’ll show me the way, I’ll go right on.”
‘No you won’t, either! You’ll go right over to our house and have a cup of coffee and something to eat, and a suit of the old man’s clothes to put on while I dry yours; and I’ll send Tom over to Margate with the horse and wagon to bring your wife.’
‘Your’e a trump,’ cried George, wringing her hand. ‘God bless you! You shall be rewarded for your kindness.”
Mrs. Stark’s house was only a little way distant, and to its shelter she took George. Tom was dispatched to Margate to hunt up Mrs. Jameson; and George, arrayed in a suit of Mr. Stark’s clothes—blue swallow tailed coat, home made gray pantaloons, cow hide boots, and white hat with broad brim—for the Starks were Friends—felt like a new man.
They gave him a good breakfast, which did not come amiss; and, while Tom was absent, the old lady made him lie down on the lounge and take a nap.
Tom returned home about noon. He had scoured the whole village, but found nothing, Only one passenger had left the train at Margate on the previous day, and he was an old man with patent plasters for sale.
Poor George was frenzied. He rushed out of the house and stood looking first up and then down the road, uncertain which way to wend his course. Suddenly the train from Groton swept past, and a white handkerchief was swinging from an open window, and above the handkerchief George caught the gleam of the golden hair and blue ribbons! He cleared the fence at a bound and rushed after the flying train. He ran till he was ready to drop, when he came upon some men with a hand car, who were repairing the road. He gave them ten dollars to take him to Groton. He was sure he could find Katie there!
But no. The train had not stopped at all. This was the express for Buffalo. But a bystander informed him that a lady answering the description he gave of Katie had been seen the day before at Danville, crying, and saying she had lost her husband.
George darted off, He caught with avidity at the hope thus held out. It must be Katie! Who else had lost her husband?
A train was just leaving for Danville.— He sprang on board, and suffered an eternity during the transit, for it was an accommodation train, and everybody knows about those horrible delays at every station.
But they reached Danville at last. George inquired for the lady who had lost her husband. Yes, she was all right—she had gone to the American House to wait for him. She expected him by every train, till he came, said the ticket master.
He hurried with all speed to the American.
Yes, she was there, said the clerk; she was waiting for her husband; room 221, right hand, second flight.
George flew up stairs, burst open the door of 221, and entered without ceremony. She was sitting by the window looking for him, with her back to the door. He sprang forward, and holding her in his arms, rained kisses upon her face.
‘My Katie! my darling! my darling! have I found you at last?’
She turned her face and looked at him before she spoke, and then she set up such a scream as made the very hair stand on George’s head.
‘You are not my James! Heaven!— help! heavens! Somebody come, quick! I shall be robbed and murdered! Help!— murder!—thieves !’
George stood aghast. The lady was middle aged, with false teeth, and a decidedly snuffy looking nose—no more like the charming little Katie than she was like the Venus de Medici.
He turned to flee just as the stairway was alive with people alarmed by the cries of the woman. They tried to stop him, but he would not be stayed; he took the stairs at a leap, and landed somewhere near the bottom, among the wreck of three chambermaids, and as many white-aproned waiters.
And before any one could seize him he was rushing down over the front steps. A lady and gentleman were slowly ascending them, and George in his mad haste, ran against the lady and broke the rim of her bonnet.
‘You rascal!’ cried the gentleman with her, ‘what do you mean by treating a lady in this manner?’ and he seized our hero by the collar.
Then, for the first time, George looked at the couple before him.
“Tis Katie! Oh, Katie!’ cried he, for this time there was no mistake; it was Katie and her uncle Charles. ‘Oh, my wife! my darling!’
He tried to take her in his arms, but she fled from him in terror.
‘Take that dreadful man away,’ she cried. ‘I am sure he is insane or drunk! Only see his boots and his awful hat!’
‘I tell you I am your own George! Oh, Katie, where have you been?” exclaimed he.
Katie looked at him now, and recognizing him, began to cry.
‘O, dear! that I should have ever lived to see this day! My George that I thought so pure and good, faithless and intoxicated! Oh, Uncle Charles, what will become of me?’
‘My dear niece, be patient,’ said her uncle. ‘I think this is George, and we will hear what he has to say before condemning him. Mr. Jameson, I met your wife in the cars yesterday, and she informed me that you had deserted her at the Windham depot. Of course I could not believe that your absence was intentional, and I persuaded her to remain here while I telegraphed to the principal stations along the road for information of you. Why did I not receive an answer?’
‘Because the telegraph does not run into old Mr. Stark’s huckleberry swamp, where I had the honor of spending last night,’ said George, losing his temper.
‘But this extraordinary disguise?’
‘My clothes were muddy, and I have got on Mr. Stark’s,’ said George. And though the explanation was not particularly lucid to those who heard it, they were satisfied.
‘My dearest George!’ cried Katie, rushing into his arms; ‘and so you did not desert me, and I shan’t have to be divorced?’
‘Never, my darling! And we’ll never be separated again for a moment.’
‘No, not for all the baggage in the universe! Oh, George, you don’t know how I have suffered.’
The crowd could be kept ignorant no longer, for scores had assembled round the hotel, drawn thither by the disturbance.— Matters were explained, and cheers long and loud rent the air.
The landlord got up an impromptu wedding dinner, at which Kate presided; and George, looking very sheepish in Mr. Stark’s swallow-tail, did the honors.
They proceeded on their tour next day— and soon afterward Mr. and Mrs. Stark were delighted to receive a box by express containing the lost suit of the old gentleman, and the wherewithal to purchase him another, besides the most handsome drawn silk bonnet for Mrs. Stark that the old lady had ever seen.
‘There, old man,’ said she, turning from the glass at which she had been surveying herself in the new bonnet. ‘I allers told you that huckleberry swamp would turn to something, if it was only to raise frogs in. Guess I hit it sometimes.’