Champagne is often pleasant at lunch, it is always delightful at dinner, and it is an absolute necessity, if one is to talk freely about oneself afterwards, at a dance supper. But champagne for tea is horrible. Perhaps this is why a wedding always finds me melancholy next morning. “She has married the wrong man,” I say to myself. “I wonder if it is too late to tell her.”
The trouble of answering the invitation and of thinking of something to give more original than a toast rack should, one feels, have its compensations. From each wedding that I attend I expect an afternoon’s enjoyment in return for my egg stand. For one thing I have my best clothes on. Few people have seen me in them (and these few won’t believe it), so that from the very beginning the day has a certain freshness. It is not an ordinary day. It starts with this advantage, that in my best clothes I am not difficult to please. The world smiles upon me.
Once I am in church, however, my calm begins to leave me. As time wears on, and the organist invents more and more tunes, I tremble lest the bride has forgotten the day. The choir is waiting for her; the bridegroom is waiting for her. I–I also–wait. What if she has changed her mind at the last minute? But no. The organist has sailed into his set piece; the choir advances; follows the bride looking so lonely that I long to comfort her and remind her of my egg stand; and, last of all, the pretty bridesmaids. The clergyman begins his drone.
You would think that, reassured by the presence of the bride, I could be happy now. But there is still much to bother me. The bridegroom is showing signs of having forgotten his part, the bride can’t get her glove off, one of the bridesmaids is treading on my hat. Worse than all this, there is a painful want of unanimity among the congregation as to when we stand up and when we sit down. Sometimes I am alone and sitting when everybody else is standing, and that is easy to bear; but sometimes I find myself standing when everybody else is sitting, and that is very hard.
They have gone to the vestry. The choir sings an anthem to while away the kissing-time, and, right or wrong, I am sitting down, comforting my poor hat. There was a time when I, too, used to go into the vestry; when I was something of an authority on weddings, and would attend weekly in some minor official capacity. Any odd jobs that were going seemed to devolve on me. If somebody was wanted suddenly to sign the register, or kiss the bride’s mother, or wind up the going-away car, it used to be taken for granted that I was the man to do it. I wore a white flower in my button-hole to show that I was available. I served, I may say, in an entirely honorary capacity, except in so far as I was expected to give the happy pair a slightly larger present than the others. One day I happened to suggest to an intending groom that he had other friends more ornamental, and therefore more suitable for this sort of work, than I; to which he replied that they were all married, and that etiquette demanded a bachelor for the business. Of course, as soon as I heard this I got married too.
Here they come. “Doesn’t she look sweet?” We hurry after them and rush for the carriages. I am only a friend of the bridegroom’s; perhaps I had better walk.
It must be very easy to be a guest at a wedding reception, where each of the two clans takes it for granted that all the extraordinary strangers belong to the other clan. Indeed, nobody with one good suit, and a stomach for champagne and sandwiches, need starve in London. He or she can wander safely in wherever a red carpet beckons. I suppose I must put in an appearance at this reception, but if I happen to pass another piece of carpet on the way to the house, and the people going in seem more attractive than our lot, I shall be tempted to join them.
This is, perhaps, the worst part of the ceremony, this three hundred yards or so from the hymn-sheets to the champagne. All London is now gazing at my old top-hat. When the war went on and on and on, and it seemed as though it were going on for ever, I looked back on peace much as those old retired warriors at the end of last century looked back on their happy Crimean days; and in the same spirit as that in which they hung their swords over the baronial fireplace, I decided to suspend my old top-hat above the mantel-piece in the drawing-room. In the years to come I would take my grandchildren on my knee and tell them stories of the old days when grandfather was a civilian, of desperate charges by church-wardens and organists, and warm receptions; and sometimes I would hold the old top-hat reverently in my hands, and a sudden gleam would come into my eyes, so that those watching me would say to each other, “He is thinking of that tea-fight at Rutland Gate in 1912.” So I pictured the future for my top-hat, never dreaming that in 1920 it would take the air again.
For I went into the war in order to make the world safe for democracy, which I understood to mean (and was distinctly informed so by the press) a world safe for those of us who prefer soft hats with a dent in the middle. “The war,” said the press, “has killed the top-hat.” Apparently it failed to do this, as it failed to do so many of the things which we hoped from it. So the old veteran of 1912 dares the sunlight again. We are arrived, and I am greeted warmly by the bride’s parents. I look at the mother closely so that I shall know her again when I come to say good-bye, and give her a smile which tells her that I was determined to come down to this wedding although I had a good deal of work to do. I linger with the idea of pursuing this point, for I want them to know that they nearly missed me, but I am pushed on by the crowd behind me. The bride and bridegroom salute me cordially but show no desire for intimate gossip. A horrible feeling goes through me that my absence would not have been commented upon by them at any inordinate length. It would not have spoilt the honeymoon, for instance.
I move on and look at the presents. The presents are numerous and costly. Having discovered my own I stand a little way back and listen to the opinions of my neighbours upon it. On the whole the reception is favourable. The detective, I am horrified to discover, is on the other side of the room, apparently callous as to the fate of my egg stand. I cannot help feeling that if he knew his business he would be standing where I am standing now; or else there should be two detectives. It is a question now whether it is safe for me to leave my post and search for food… Now he is coming round; I can trust it to him.
On my way to the refreshments I have met an old friend. I like to meet my friends at weddings, but I wish I had not met this one. She has sowed the seeds of disquiet in my mind by telling me that it is not etiquette to begin to eat until the bride has cut the cake. I answer, “Then why doesn’t somebody tell the bride to cut the cake?” but the bride, it seems, is busy. I wish now that I had not met my friend. Who but a woman would know the etiquette of these things, and who but a woman would bother about it?
The bride is cutting the cake. The bridegroom has lent her his sword, or his fountain-pen, whatever is the emblem of his trade–he is a stockbroker–and as she cuts, we buzz round her, hoping for one of the marzipan pieces. I wish to leave now, before I am sorry, but my friend tells me that it is not etiquette to leave until the bride and bridegroom have gone. Besides, I must drink the bride’s health. I drink her health; hers, not mine.
Time rolls on. I was wrong to have had champagne. It doesn’t suit me at tea. However, for the moment life is bright enough. I have looked at the presents and my own is still there. And I have been given a bagful of confetti. The weary weeks one lives through without a handful of anything to throw at anybody. How good to be young again. I take up a strong position in the hall.
They come… Got him–got him! Now a long shot–got him! I feel slightly better, and begin the search for my hostess….
I have shaken hands with all the bride’s aunts and all the bridegroom’s aunts, and in fact all the aunts of everybody here. Each one seems to me more like my hostess than the last. “Good-bye!” Fool–of course–there she is. “Good-Bye!”
My hat and I take the air again. A pleasant afternoon; and yet to-morrow morning I shall see things more clearly, and I shall know that the bridegroom has married the wrong girl. But it will be too late then to save him.