No Thoroughfare, by Charles Dickens

THE CURTAIN FALLS

May-day. There is merry-making in Cripple Corner, the chimneys smoke, the patriarchal dining-hall is hung with garlands, and Mrs. Goldstraw, the respected housekeeper, is very busy. For, on this bright morning the young master of Cripple Corner is married to its young mistress, far away: to wit, in the little town of Brieg, in Switzerland, lying at the foot of the Simplon Pass where she saved his life.

The bells ring gaily in the little town of Brieg, and flags are stretched across the street, and rifle shots are heard, and sounding music from brass instruments. Streamer-decorated casks of wine have been rolled out under a gay awning in the public way before the Inn, and there will be free feasting and revelry. What with bells and banners, draperies hanging from windows, explosion of gunpowder, and reverberation of brass music, the little town of Brieg is all in a flutter, like the hearts of its simple people.

It was a stormy night last night, and the mountains are covered with snow. But the sun is bright to-day, the sweet air is fresh, the tin spires of the little town of Brieg are burnished silver, and the Alps are ranges of far-off white cloud in a deep blue sky.

The primitive people of the little town of Brieg have built a greenwood arch across the street, under which the newly married pair shall pass in triumph from the church. It is inscribed, on that side, “HONOUR AND LOVE TO MARGUERITE VENDALE!” for the people are proud of her to enthusiasm. This greeting of the bride under her new name is affectionately meant as a surprise, and therefore the arrangement has been made that she, unconscious why, shall be taken to the church by a tortuous back way. A scheme not difficult to carry into execution in the crooked little town of Brieg.

So, all things are in readiness, and they are to go and come on foot. Assembled in the Inn’s best chamber, festively adorned, are the bride and bridegroom, the Neuchatel notary, the London lawyer, Madame Dor, and a certain large mysterious Englishman, popularly known as Monsieur Zhoe-Ladelle. And behold Madame Dor, arrayed in a spotless pair of gloves of her own, with no hand in the air, but both hands clasped round the neck of the bride; to embrace whom Madame Dor has turned her broad back on the company, consistent to the last.

“Forgive me, my beautiful,” pleads Madame Dor, “for that I ever was his she-cat!”

“She-cat, Madame Dor?

“Engaged to sit watching my so charming mouse,” are the explanatory words of Madame Dor, delivered with a penitential sob.

“Why, you were our best friend! George, dearest, tell Madame Dor. Was she not our best friend?”

“Undoubtedly, darling. What should we have done without her?”

“You are both so generous,” cries Madame Dor, accepting consolation, and immediately relapsing. “But I commenced as a she-cat.”

“Ah! But like the cat in the fairy-story, good Madame Dor,” says Vendale, saluting her cheek, “you were a true woman. And, being a true woman, the sympathy of your heart was with true love.”

“I don’t wish to deprive Madame Dor of her share in the embraces that are going on,” Mr. Bintrey puts in, watch in hand, “and I don’t presume to offer any objection to your having got yourselves mixed together, in the corner there, like the three Graces. I merely remark that I think it’s time we were moving. What are YOUR sentiments on that subject, Mr. Ladle?”

“Clear, sir,” replies Joey, with a gracious grin. “I’m clearer altogether, sir, for having lived so many weeks upon the surface. I never was half so long upon the surface afore, and it’s done me a power of good. At Cripple Corner, I was too much below it. Atop of the Simpleton, I was a deal too high above it. I’ve found the medium here, sir. And if ever I take it in convivial, in all the rest of my days, I mean to do it this day, to the toast of ‘Bless ’em both.’”

“I, too!” says Bintrey. “And now, Monsieur Voigt, let you and me be two men of Marseilles, and allons, marchons, arm-in-arm!”

They go down to the door, where others are waiting for them, and they go quietly to the church, and the happy marriage takes place. While the ceremony is yet in progress, the notary is called out. When it is finished, he has returned, is standing behind Vendale, and touches him on the shoulder.

“Go to the side door, one moment, Monsieur Vendale. Alone. Leave Madame to me.”

At the side door of the church, are the same two men from the Hospice. They are snow-stained and travel-worn. They wish him joy, and then each lays his broad hand upon Vendale’s breast, and one says in a low voice, while the other steadfastly regards him:

“It is here, Monsieur. Your litter. The very same.”

“My litter is here? Why?”

“Hush! For the sake of Madame. Your companion of that day —”

“What of him?”

The man looks at his comrade, and his comrade takes him up. Each keeps his hand laid earnestly on Vendale’s breast.

“He had been living at the first Refuge, monsieur, for some days. The weather was now good, now bad.”

“Yes?”

“He arrived at our Hospice the day before yesterday, and, having refreshed himself with sleep on the floor before the fire, wrapped in his cloak, was resolute to go on, before dark, to the next Hospice. He had a great fear of that part of the way, and thought it would be worse to-morrow.”

“Yes?”

“He went on alone. He had passed the gallery when an avalanche — like that which fell behind you near the Bridge of the Ganther —”

“Killed him?”

“We dug him out, suffocated and broken all to pieces! But, monsieur, as to Madame. We have brought him here on the litter, to be buried. We must ascend the street outside. Madame must not see. It would be an accursed thing to bring the litter through the arch across the street, until Madame has passed through. As you descend, we who accompany the litter will set it down on the stones of the street the second to the right, and will stand before it. But do not let Madame turn her head towards the street the second to the right. There is no time to lose. Madame will be alarmed by your absence. Adieu!”

Vendale returns to his bride, and draws her hand through his unmainied arm. A pretty procession awaits them at the main door of the church. They take their station in it, and descend the street amidst the ringing of the bells, the firing of the guns, the waving of the flags, the playing of the music, the shouts, the smiles, and tears, of the excited town. Heads are uncovered as she passes, hands are kissed to her, all the people bless her. “Heaven’s benediction on the dear girl! See where she goes in her youth and beauty; she who so nobly saved his life!”

Near the corner of the street the second to the right, he speaks to her, and calls her attention to the windows on the opposite side. The corner well passed, he says: “Do not look round, my darling, for a reason that I have,” and turns his head. Then, looking back along the street, he sees the litter and its bearers passing up alone under the arch, as he and she and their marriage train go down towards the shining valley.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:30