The Indiscretion of the Best Man

ANNE ALDEN July 1 1909

The Indiscretion of the Best Man

ANNE ALDEN July 1 1909

The Indiscretion of the Best Man

ANNE ALDEN

From Harper’s Monthly.

IF the best man had been discreet he never would have taken the maid of honor out to lunch on the very day of the Carr-Herkemer wedding. But the best man was not discreet; the maid of honor was charming; the the lunch was elaborate and protracted. It was two o’clock when he bowed his temporary adieus to her on the maid of honor’s door-step ; he then had to call at the jeweler’s for the ring—left there to be engraved—send a few telegrams, buy white ribbons and gloves, go home, change his clothes, call for the rector of All Angels, and appear with him at the bride’s home by three.

Mortal man could not accomplish all this. The carriage came for the best man while he was still fumbling with buttons and studs. After a rapid calculation of his remaining time, he sent word to the driver to call at Ardville Court for the Reverend John Honeyman and then return for him. He knew that he took a risk in adopting this course, for the rector was notoriously absent-minded, and had been known to forget engagements even after he had started out to keep them. But the best man reasoned that his family would be on the lookout for the carriage, and would put Doctor Honeyman into it; then, by the time the coachman had come back, he himself would be ready and his reputation saved.

The rector’s daughter was on the lookout for the carriage. Seeing one drive up, she ran to tell her father, assisted him into the proper overcoat

and hat, saw that he had his handerkerchief and his gloves, his surplice and his prayer-book, and escorted him to the door.

Ardville Court was one of those pretentious apartment houses so plentifully dotting the city of Washington. Beneath that spacious roof which sheltered the rector of All Angels lived also the Hon. Samuel Nixon, member of Congress from Texas, whose wife was entertaining a visiting cousin with a round of official gayeties. They had planned to devote that afternoon to calling, but Mrs. Nixon had a headache and it was decided that Jeannette must go alone. A carriage was ordered, and Nixon, Jr. flattened his nose against the window to watch for it while his cousin made herself ready for the fray.

“Here’s the carriage, Jeannette! It’s at the door now ! It’s stopped !”

“All right, Bobby. Run and give the driver his list and tell him I’ll be right down,” replied his cousin, busy with hat and veil. Bobby hastened to hand the calling-list to the coachman and to deliver his message. The man took the list and hoped the party would hurry. His horses didn’t like to stand. Bobby ran back to tell his cousin.

At this moment the Reverend Honeyman emerged from Ardville Court, advanced to the carriage, and climbed in, waving his hand to his smiling daughter on the porch. The driver looked puzzled.

“ Ain’t the lady going, sir?”

“The lady?” repeated Doctor Honeyman. Then, thinking the man meant his daughter: “No; she is coming later. It is all right. Drive or., my man.”

And the rector of All Angels was borne away into the unknown.

Miss Honeyman, on her way into Ardville Court again, passed Jeannette coming out. They chatted a moment, and the rector’s daughter wished the other a pleasant afternoon.

There was no carriage waiting when Jeannette reached the street, but one drove up just as she appeared. The coachman had a white flower in his buttonhole. It looked rather wedding-y, she thought ; but, of course, if he wanted a boutonniere, she didn’t object. She tripped down to the curb, saying, “Is this the carriage from Browney’s?” Being assured that it was, she entered it and closed the door. The carriage did not move.

“Go on, driver. No one else is going,” she said.

“Beg pardon, miss, but I thought I was to take the rector,” answered the man.

“Doctor Honeyman, miss.”

“Why no; you were to take me,” said Jeannette. “I ordered this carriage.”

Here the elevator-boy chimed in, with the information that Doctor Honeyman had gone to a weeding.

“He isn’t going with me,” declared the young lady. “You have the addresses, haven’t you? You know where to go? Drive on.”

The coachman drove on.

Jeannette occupied her time in sorting her cards, her cousin’s cards, and her cousin’s husband’s cards into little piles ready for delivery. She regretted that she had not made a duplicate calling-list, so that she would know how many cards to leave at each place. “It would have been better to keep the list myself,” she thought. “I could have told him where to go each time just as well.” She decided to ask her Jehu for the list at her first stopping-place.

This place was reached in due course. Jeannette, gathering up cardcase and muff, was preparing to get out, when a young man burst open the door, called out “Go ahead.” and entered without ceremony.

It would be hard to tell which was the more surprised—Jeannette, at his intrusion, or our best man on beholding instead of the portly doctor a vision in gray and pink. The vision congealed perceptibly in spite of its fox furs, and awaited an explanation.

“Beg pardon,” blurted out the intruder. “But where’s Doctor Honeyman ?”

This was the second time that the rector had been insisted upon, so to speak, as a travelling companion for Jeannette. Wondering, with wrath, why people should suppose she went about with that old man, she replied that she did not know anything about Doctor Honeyman ; that she had hired that carriage and was going calling. The best man pushed open the slide and communicated with the driver. That worthy’s answer seemed to reassure him. He sat down and explainto his vis-a-vis the reasons for his presence in that carriage.

They were good reasons, Jeannette had to admit. She decided that she liked this young man, and gave her own explanation. The two explanations did not, however, explain the the main point—how they both happend to be in the same vehicle. Suddenly the girl gasped: “The list! Ask him if he has my calling-list!”

No, the driver had no' list. The two young people looked at each other. Jeannette laughed hysterically.

“It’s my mistake. I’m in the wrong carriage. The rector must have taken mine and gone off in it. And I didn’t have but one list. What shall I do?” “But think of me !” her companion reproached her. “You are all right. You can call up your cousin and get another list. But there’s only one Doctor Honeyman, and I’ve lost him.”

He looked so worried that Jeannette tried to console him. “I dare say we are both nervous about noth-

ing,’’ she said. “As soon as Doctor Honeyman finds out the mistake, he’ll tell the coachman to drive to the right place. He may be there before you are. Then I’ll get into my own coach and go on. Don’t let us worry before we have to.”

The best man echoed her hopes, but his conscience troubled him, and premonitions of evil would not down. And with good, reason, for when they reached the bridal mansion the rector had not arrived. The best man parleyed with some other young men at the front door, then came back to Jeannette with furrows on his brow.

“No luck. They have been phoning around, and he left Ardville Court some time ago. Ought to have been here long before this.”

“Mercy ! What do you suppose has happened ?”

“Oh, I know what’s happened,” gloomily responded the best man. “He’s forgotten ,all about this wedding, and your man’s driving him about the city. Do you suppose you could remember your calling-list?”

“I’ll try. I do remember the first place. Perhaps we can find him,” she said, breathlessly.

“Here, Walter, catch this,” called the best man to a youth at the gate. “This” was a little white box containing the wedding-ring. “Tell them not to worry. I’ll find the dominie, if he’s above ground. If I don’t return. Walter, you might look for me in the river.”

He sprang into the carriage and they were off. The search for the Reverend John Honeyman had begun.

Upon leaving his home, Doctor Honeyman leaned back comfortably and resumed the interrupted thread of scathing discourse which he was to hurl at his congregation next Sunday. The halting of his conveyance recalled him to mundane things. He looked around absently, noticed his surplice bag and prayer-book, and remembered that he was to officiate at something. His daughter having left the book-mark at the marriage service, he recollected that it was a wedding.

Gathering together his possessions, he dismounted and approached the house.

A sudden bereavement had cancelled the first reception on Jeannette’s list. After a talk with the lackey at the door, the Reverend Doctor returned to the carriage and remarked that the driver had made a mistake.

The next house wore a festive air. Awnings were stretched from curb to door; people were coming and going. Doctor Honeyman entered with several others, was relieved of bag and book, and found himself shaking hands with an elegantly gowned dame before he realized what was happening to him. He did not know his hostess, nor she him, but she murmured the name he had given to the butler and passed him down her receivingline.

The rector of All Angels eschewed all purely social functions ; he was amazed and confounded on finding himself at a tea. He declined refreshments, repossessed himself of satchel and book, and went out to remonstrate with his coachman.

Jehu waxed indignant. He grumbled out that he could read, and he’d been told to go to these places, and if the gentleman ’d tell him where he did want to go he’d take him there. He handed Jeannette’s list to his passenger.

The rector was appalled at its length. He could not understand why he should be. expected to go to all these places. Pie did not recognize a suigle name, until, at the bottom of the slip, he spied Mrs. Wiliam Bell’s. She was one of his parishioners—she had a daughter—ves. he recollected something about her being engaged—that must be the place. Tf not. he would have to telephone to his daughter and admit his predicament. He gave the driver Mrs. Bell’s address, and again they went their way.

Before Mrs. Bell’s home more carriages. more automobiles, more guests in fine attire, but Doctor Honevman had learned caution. He inquired if Mrs. Bell was expecting him. The colored man on duty at the door, know-

ing him by sight, grinned an affirmative answer; whereupon the doctor asked to be taken to a dressing-room. The man, surprised, spoke to another servant, who led the rector up-stairs to a dressing-room, and lingered until he saw that gentleman begin to don his robes of office.

The servant descended to the parlor and informed his mistress that Doctor Honeyman was up-stairs getting ready to preach. The lady turned pale, thinking he had gone insane —at her house—at a reception, of all things! “Go and stay with him, James,” she said, “and tell them to send Mrs. Brown to me. She is in the dining-room.”

Mrs. Brown was another parishioner. She left her coffee-urn, and heard her friend’s whispered story with alarm. “Oh dear! Do you suppose his mind has turned? We must try to get him away quietly. To not have a scene here. I’ll go and think of his ending like this!”

Mrs. Brown, going up-stairs, met the rector coming down. He did not look insane, and greeted her so cordially that she felt sure there was a mistake somewhere. A few questions straightened the matter out. Mrs. Brown laughed till the tears came.

“The Carr-Herkemer wedding !” she exclaimed. “Mercy! it was to take place at three. I am going to the reception mvself at five.”

“My good lady,” replied the relieved Doctor Honeyman, “I require two things of you—Mrs. Herkemer’s address and the promise that you will let me finish the ceremony before you arrive for the reception.”

The amused Mrs. Brown granted both requests, and again the rector went his way. He reached Mrs. Herkemer’s three-quarters of an hour late, but the marriage vows had been spoken by the time the first guests arrived to congratulate the happy pair. The bride’s brother suoported the groom through the ordeal. The best man was not present.

Meanwhile Jeannette, rolling away from Mrs. Herkemer’s door in quest

of the rector, scribbled down all the names she could remember. There were nine. “I had fourteen names, but these will do for a starter,” she said. “If we don't find him, I’ll telephone to Mary for the rest. I don’t know any of these people very well, but they came to my tea last week.”

“So you are going over the freelunch route,” remarked her companion, glancing over the list. “All the newcomers do it, but it gets to be an awful bore after a while. We’ll have to look up these addresses in the directory.”

They looked up the names and hastened away to their first stop. Jeannette had remembered which one that was. At the door they were met with the news of the cancelled entertainment, and that Doctor Honeyman had called.

“You see, I was right. We will chase him all the afternoon,” said the best man, with bitterness of soul.

“All right, then, we will,” declared the young lady. She had become thoroughly interested in the adventure and determined to see it to a finish.

Alas! Jeannette had not remembered the order of her goings. The rector was not at the next house, nor yet the next. The best man called up the bride’s home, but Doctor Honeyman had not come, and the remarks made by the person at the other end of the line filled him with indignation.

“I’m doing my best to find him. I don’t know what else I can do.” he said, discouraged. “Do you think we

could be quicker about it, Miss-

Would you mind telling me your name ?”

“Jeannette Mills. Would you mind telling me yours?”

“Howard Carr. Pardon me for not introducing myself sooner,” apologized the best man. “I’m the groom’s cousin. It’s a good thing, I am, too. He can’t cut my acquaintance, no matter what happens.”

“Never mind, Mr. Carr. You are doing the best you can. We’ll find him,” said Miss Mills, trying to comfort the unhappy youth.

They planned their attacks upon the vaj.ous “at homes” with the idea of saving time. At each house Jeanette would leave her cards and go down the receiving-line, glancing about meanwhile for the rector. She would then rejoin her escort, who had 'been interviewing the servant at the door, and they would dash off for their next stop.

At last they came to Mrs. Bell’s and met Mrs. Brown coming out. She heard them ask for the rector, and had her second good laugh that day.

“He came here and I sent him away long ago. The ceremony is over by this time. Come back to the reception with me, you naughty Mr. Carr. You, too, Miss Mills. Our best man will . need all the protection we can give him when that crowd gets hold of him. Come on, both of you.”

Mrs. Brown was right. A troop of

joyous young people swirled out to meet the best man, escorted him into the house, and presented him to the bride and groom. They laughed, they guyed him, they compelled him to make a speech; he attracted more attention than the principals. The bride said she did not believe she would speak to him again ; the maid of honor wouldn’t.

“You are the only friend I have in the world,” the harassed young fellow declared to Jeannette as she prepared to continue her journeyings. “I’m not going to stay here one minute after you leave. I’m going with you to pay the rest of your calls, and then I’m going to see you home. You might just as well let me, Miss Mills, I’m going, anyhow.”

Confronted with such determination, what woman could have said him nay?