The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall

Chapter Forty-nine

On a fine June day Adèle married her Jean in the church of Notre–Dame-desVictoires — the shrine of innumerable candles and prayers, of the bountiful Virgin who bestows many graces. From early dawn the quiet old house in the Rue Jacob had been in a flutter — Pauline preparing the déjeuner de noces, Pierre garnishing and sweeping their sitting-room, and both of them pausing from time to time to embrace the flushed cheeks of their happy daughter.

Stephen had given the wedding dress, the wedding breakfast and a sum of money; Mary had given the bride her lace veil, her white satin shoes and her white silk stockings; David had given a large gilt clock, purchased for him in the Palais Royal; while Burton’s part was to drive the bride to the church, and the married pair to the station.

By nine o’clock the whole street was agog, for Pauline and Pierre were liked by their neighbours; and besides, as the baker remarked to his wife, from so grand a house it would be a fine business.

‘They are after all generous, these English,’ said he; ‘and if Mademoiselle Gordon is strange in appearance, one should not forget that she served la France and must now wear a scar as well as ribbon.’ Then remembering his four sons slain in the war, he sighed — sons are sons to a king or a baker.

David, growing excited, rushed up and downstairs with offers to help which nobody wanted, least of all the flustered and anxious bride at the moment of putting on tight satin slippers.

‘Va donc! Tu ne peux pas m’aider, mon chou, veux to to taire, alors!’ implored Adèle.

In the end Mary had had to find collar and lead and tie David up to the desk in the study, where he brooded and sucked his white satin bow, deciding that only the four-legged were grateful. But at long last Adèle was arrayed to be wed, and must show herself shyly to Mary and Stephen. She looked very appealing with her good honest face; with her round, bright eyes like those of a blackbird. Stephen wished her well from the bottom of her heart, this girl who had waited so long for her mate — had so patiently and so faithfully waited.

2

In the church were a number of friends and relations; together with those who will journey for miles in order to attend a funeral or wedding. Poor Jean looked his worst in a cheap dress suit, and Stephen could smell the pomade on his hair; very greasy and warm it smelt, although scented. But his hand was unsteady as he groped for the ring, because he was feeling both proud and humble; because, loving much, he must love even more and conceive of himself as entirely unworthy. And something in that fumbling, unsteady hand, in that sleekly greased hair and those ill-fitting garments, touched Stephen, so that she longed to reassure, to tell him how great was the gift he offered — security, peace, and love with honour.

The young priest gravely repeated the prayers — ancient, primitive prayers, yet softened through custom. In her mauve silk dress Pauline wept as she knelt; but Pierre’s handkerchief was spread out on the stool to preserve the knees of his new grey trousers. Next to Stephen were sitting Pauline’s two brothers, one in uniform, the other retired and in mufti, but both wearing medals upon their breasts and thus worthily representing the army. The baker was there with his wife and three daughters, and since the latter were still unmarried, their eyes were more often fixed upon Jean in his shoddy dress suit than upon their Missals. The greengrocer accompanied the lady whose chickens it was Pauline’s habit to prod on their breastbones; while the cobbler who mended Pierre’s boots and shoes sat ogling the buxom and comely young laundress.

The Mass drew to its close. The priest asked that a blessing might be accomplished upon the couple; asked that these two might live to behold, not only their own but their children’s children, even unto the third and fourth generation. Then he spoke of their duty to God and to each other, and finally moistened their bowed young heads with a generous sprinkling of holy water. And so in the church of Notre–Dame-desVictoires — that bountiful Virgin who bestows many graces — Jean and his Adèle were made one flesh in the eyes of their church, in the eyes of their God, and as one might confront the world without flinching.

Ann in arm they passed out through the heavy swing doors and into Stephen’s waiting motor. Burton smiled above the white favour in his coat; the crowd, craning their necks, were also smiling. Arrived back at the house, Stephen, Mary and Burton must drink the health of the bride and bridegroom. Then Pierre thanked his employer for all she had done in giving his daughter so splendid a wedding. But when that employer was no longer present, when Mary had followed her into the study, the baker’s wife lifted quizzical eyebrows.

‘Quel type! On dirait plutôt un homme; ce n’est pas celle-là qui trouvera un mari!’

The guests laughed. ‘Mais oui, elle est joliment bizarre’; and they started to make little jokes about Stephen.

Pierre flushed as he leaped to Stephen’s defence. ‘She is good, she is kind, and I greatly respect her and so does my wife — while as for our daughter, Adèle here has very much cause to be grateful. Moreover she gained the Croix de Guerre through serving our wounded men in the trenches.’

The baker nodded. ‘You are quite right, my friend — precisely what I myself said this morning.’

But Stephen’s appearance was quickly forgotten in the jollification of so much fine feasting — a feasting for which her money had paid, for which her thoughtfulness had provided. Jokes there were, but no longer directed at her — they were harmless, well meant if slightly broad jokes made at the expense of the bashful bridegroom. Then before even Pauline had realized the time, there was Burton strolling into the kitchen, and Adèle must rush off to change her dress, while Jean must change also, but in the pantry.

Burton glanced at the clock. Faut dépêcher vous, ‘urry, if you’re going to catch that chemin de fer,’ he announced as one having authority. ‘It’s a goodish way to the Guard de Lions.’

3

That evening the old house seemed curiously thoughtful and curiously sad after all the merry-making. David’s second white bow had come untied and was hanging in two limp ends from his collar. Pauline had gone to church to light candles; Pierre, together with Pauline’s niece who would take Adèle’s place, was preparing dinner. And the sadness of the house flowed out like a stream to mingle itself with the sadness in Stephen. Adèle and Jean, the simplicity of it . . . they loved, they married, and after a while they would care for each other all over again, renewing their youth and their love in their children. So orderly, placid and safe it seemed, this social scheme evolved from creation; this guarding of two young and ardent lives for the sake of the lives that might follow after. A fruitful and peaceful road it must be. The same road had been taken by those founders of Morton who had raised up children from father to son, from father to son until the advent of Stephen; and their blood was her blood — what they had found good in their day seemed equally good to their descendant. Surely never was outlaw more law-abiding at heart than this, the last of the Gordons.

So now a great sadness took hold upon her, because she perceived both dignity and beauty in the coming together of Adèle and Jean, very simply and in accordance with custom. And this sadness mingling with that of the house, widened into a flood that compassed Mary and through her David, and they both went and sat very close to Stephen on the study divan. As the twilight gradually merged into dusk, these three must huddle even closer together — David with his head upon Mary’s lap, Mary with her head against Stephen’s shoulder.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 20:51