If this dressing was a longer process than usual, and if Lucia was a little fanciful and hard to please over it, no one need be surprised. Everybody knows that at a wedding, the bridesmaids rank next in importance to the bride, and far before the bridegroom, who, for that day at least, sinks into the most miserable insignificance. But it was not only a perfect consciousness of the place in the eyes of the multitude which she was expected to fill that made Lucia whimsical; much stronger than even that, was the desire to please one,—the shy wish to be admired, to see that she was so, possibly to hear it. She wondered to herself whether she would look very awkward and rustic beside Lord Lastingham’s handsome daughters, and whether a certain Lady Adeliza, whose name had somehow reached her ears, was much more beautiful than she could ever hope to be. Poor child! her uneasiness on that point would certainly have ceased if she could have peeped into Mr. Percy’s brain and seen the two portraits he carried about with him there,—herself fresh and lovely as Psyche when she captivated Love himself, and Lady Adeliza, highly distinguished and a little faded, but, for a poor man, a very desirable match. She would have failed, probably, to understand that last qualification, or to guess how it could completely outweigh youth, beauty, and love, together; and so would have felt even more joyous and less diffident than she did, when at last the important business was finished, and she stepped into the carriage which was to take her to Mrs. Bellairs’.
There she found Bella, for once tolerably subdued, and submitting with more patience than anybody expected of her, to be dressed by her sister and Magdalen Scott. The moment she saw Lucia, however, she whirled herself round out of their hands, and vowed she would not do another thing until she had had time to look at her bridesmaids both together.
“You are perfectly charming!” she exclaimed, holding up her hands in mock ecstasy. “It’s quite useless for me to dress, Elise. Who will look at me when they are to be seen?”
“Don’t be absurd, Bella. It is time you were ready now.”
“I’m in despair, my dear. Give me any shabby old dress, and here, Lucia, put this thing on, and be the bride instead of me.”
She caught up her veil and threw it over Lucia’s head before any one could stop her.
“You must change the bridegroom as well then,” said Magdalen, rather maliciously, “and perhaps she might not object.”
“What a pity Maurice is gone! It will have to be Mr. Percy, Lucia,” cried Bella, loosing the veil to clap her hands.
“Be silent, Bella,” said Mrs. Bellairs, “and finish dressing at once, unless you intend me to leave you.”
Lucia, flushed and half angry, had by this time freed herself from the veil and smoothed her hair. Bella, a little sobered by her sister’s annoyance, returned to her toilette and was soon ready to go downstairs.