The Beloved Stranger - By Grace Livingston Hill

Chapter 1

1930s Eastern America

Sherrill stood before the long mirror and surveyed herself critically in her bridal array.

Rich creamy satin shimmering, sheathing her slender self, drifting down in luscious waves across the old Chinese blue of the priceless rug on which she stood! Misty white veil like a cloud about her shoulders, caught by the frosty cap of rare lace about her sweet forehead, clasped by the wreath of orange blossoms in their thick green and white perfection, flowers born to nestle in soft mists of tulle and deepen the whiteness, the only flower utterly at home with rich old lace.

Sherrill stooped to the marble shelf beneath the tall mirror and picked up a hand mirror, turning herself this way and that to get a glimpse of every side. There seemed to be no possible fault to be found anywhere. The whole outfit was a work of art.

“It’s lovely, isn’t it, Gemmie?” she said brightly to the elderly woman who had served her aunt for thirty years as maid. “Now, hand me the bouquet. I want to see how it all looks together. It isn’t fair not to be able to get the effect of one’s self after taking all this trouble to make it a pleasant sight for other people.”

The old servant smiled.

“What quaint things you do say, Miss Sherry!” she said as she untied the box containing the bridal bouquet. “But don’t you think maybe you should leave the flowers in the box till you get to the church? They might get a bit crushed.”

“No, Gemmie, I’ll be very careful. I want to see how pretty they look with the dress and everything. Aren’t they lovely?”

She took the great sheaf of roses gracefully on one arm and posed, laughing brightly into the mirror, the tip of one silver shoe advancing beneath the ivory satin, her eyes like two stars, her lips in the curves of a lovely mischievous child; then, advancing the other silver-shod foot, she hummed a bar of the wedding march.

“Now, am I quite all right, Gemmie?” she asked again.

“You are the prettiest bride I ever set eyes on,” said the woman, looking at the sweet, fair girl wistfully. “Ef I’d had a daughter, I could have asked no better for her than that she should look like you in her wedding dress,” and Gemmie wiped a furtive tear from one corner of her eye over the thought of the daughter she never had had.

“There, there, Gemmie, don’t go to getting sentimental!” cried Sherrill with a quick little catch in her own breath, and a sudden wistful longing in her breast for the mother she never had known. “Now, I’m quite all right, Gemmie, and you’re to run right down and get Stanley to take you over to the church. I want you to be sure and get the seat I picked out for you, where you can see everything every minute. I’m depending on you, you know, to tell me every detail afterward—and Gemmie, don’t forget the funny things, too. I wouldn’t want to miss them, you know. Be sure to describe how Miss Hollister looks in her funny old bonnet with the ostrich plume.”

“Oh now, Miss Sherrill, I couldn’t be looking after things like that when you was getting married,” rebuked the woman.

“Oh yes, you could, Gemmie, you’ve got the loveliest sense of humor! And I want to know everything! Nobody else will understand, but you do, so now run away quick!”

“But I couldn’t be leaving you alone,” protested the woman with distress in her voice. “It’ll be plenty of time for me to be going after you have left. Your aunt Pat said for me to stay by you.”

“You have, Gemmie; you’ve stayed as long as I had need of you, and just everything is done. You couldn’t put another touch to me anywhere, and I’d rather know you are on your way to that nice seat I asked the tall, dark usher to put you in. So please go, Gemmie, right away!

The fact is, Gemmie, I’d really like just a few minutes alone all by myself before I go. I’ve been so busy I couldn’t get calm, and I need to look into my own eyes and say good-bye to myself before I stop being a girl and become a married woman. It really is a kind of scary thing, you know, Gemmie, now that I’m this close to it. I don’t know how I ever had the courage to promise I’d do it!”