Children played with their hoops, raced each other, even had a nibble or two in the shade on this sunny day. The town was abuzz with talk and excitement, but even from down on the dusty street could the children hear a couple shouting about just what had everyone all in a tizzy. A few challenged each other to go see what the ruckus was all about, but they all knew none of them would go through with it. Horace Vandergelder, the well known half-a-millionaire, had made certain that no child should enter into his establishment unless accompanied by an adult, and by the tone of his voice come thundering through the window, none of them were willing to venture a toe onto the porch of the most prominent hay and feed business in Yonkers.
“Dolly, I am not going to dance at her wedding!” He huffed as he sat himself down in his armchair. Despite their argument, he did his best to sit as angrily as possible while refraining from wrinkling his trousers. This suit had been chosen for him by Dolly, and he did appreciate it - even if he didn’t appreciate her meddling now.
“Horace, Ermengarde is your niece!” Dolly Levi, his fiancee, stood before him with hat in hand as her fists sat comfortably in irritation at her waist. “She is your ward for goodness sake! You have to dance at her wedding!”
“I’m too old to dance!”
Horace tossed his head and stood from his chair with irritation stuck to his skin like sweat. He cared for Dolly, deeply, but did she need to test him on today of all days? Seeking calm, he looked out the window at the people milling about. Some of them were heading to the church already as they ought to be if someone hadn’t insisted on things he didn’t want. His fists clenched and chest tight, he avoided her gaze. He didn’t want to enjoy Ermengarde’s wedding, didn’t want to be a part of it. She was marrying an artist. An artist! An artist who makes something that nobody needs, never! He’d promised his sister that he’d see to it that Ermengarde was well taken care of, and that boy couldn’t possibly do any of that, but no one had listened to him. He could see how they looked at each other, but you couldn’t eat love or make a home out of sweet words. It had only been just last night when he’d settled in himself that he’d give a gift of cash for their wedding. But it won’t last. Money never lasts. Horace had been barely able to sleep with images of the child he’d raised growing up to be a woman struggling to feed herself and her family. Would she have to work? He knew that his niece would do anything to prove him wrong, but she shouldn’t have to. Dolly had made mention that she wouldn’t mind having someone along for putting together social introductions, but it was a sticky business and he knew Ermengarde would take it personally should her couples not make it to the altar.
“You dance just fine with me, Horace.”
Dolly’s voice was quiet, gentle. Placing a hand onto his arm as she went to stand by him, she hoped to coax him out of the melancholy cloud around him. She could understand how Ambrose was, perhaps, not the ideal candidate to marry his one and only niece, but in his upset she didn’t think he was able to see all the potential that love had to give to a new couple. They were young yet, and learning together what challenges life had to offer would bring them close. There was so much to be had when the future was uncertain and you were with the one you loved. Could he not see that? He refused to look at her even now with the time for the wedding drawing ever nearer and she worried how his attitude would make poor Ermengarde feel. The girl was sweet and sensitive, and although she knew that Ermengarde was quite used to her uncle’s temperament, she also knew that Ermengarde would be looking to him for support on one of the most important days of her life. When she’d been marrying Ephraim all those years ago, despite how much she adored him, she’d needed her family. Horace was all that Ermengarde had today, the absence of his approval might make the whole experience far more terrifying than it need be for their girl. Her hand soothed over the material of his suit and she hoped, hoped he’d try.
“I don’t like this, Dolly.” The words finally came, hard, as he covered her hand with his and dropped his chin to his chest.
“I know, but she needs you.” Pressing her brow against his shoulder for a moment, she looked up into his face with the smallest of smiles. “Save a dance for me, please?”
“Fine.” His voice was rough as he gave in, sending a prayer to his sister that she forgive him for having not prevented this. “Go and help Ermengarde finish getting ready.”
With a nod and a chaste graze of her lips against his cheek, Dolly swept out of the room in a vision of blue. She’d expected that Ermengarde would need her today, but it had seemed her fiance would need her just as much. Guilt didn’t look good on him. Doing as she’d promised, Dolly peeked into Ermengarde’s room, and seeing that the darling was having troubles, offered her help. Positioning the young girl’s veil this way and that for her soon to be niece to see in the glass, her heart sighed a little. Oh, but how lovely it was to see two people come together in love as Ermengarde and Ambrose would very shortly. Making matches for the people of New York had been a lucrative business venture, but her father had always told her to do what she loved. It had come easily to her in that time after Ephraim when she was sorting out her affairs and worrying over what she’d do with herself now that her husband was gone. Her connections through her parents and Ephraim had given her a network of businesses and people, it was only a matter of making sure that those she paired would be happy together. The business had put her mind at ease, even as her heart ached and healed. Yet, it was only in a few months’ time that she would be married once again herself. Finally finding the perfect position for the veil, Dolly pinned it in place.
“There! Pretty as a picture,” Dolly exclaimed with a lift of her shoulders and a fist on her hip.
The young girl blushed at the compliment, a bubbling laugh nervously parting her lips. “Oh, Mrs. Levi…”
Inclining her head in good humor and a stern brow offset by a smile, she tutted. “Ah, ah, ah, none of this ‘Mrs. Levi’ anymore, Ermengarde. I’m to be your aunt, so do call me Dolly.”
“Well, Aunt Dolly,” Ermengarde glanced down at her feet, “As my aunt then, may I ask you something?”
“Of course, dear!” She led the bride to sit down, helping her to arrange her skirts before she sat. “What is it?”
“It was only - well, I was just wondering,” she said her words within a breath, eyes flicking across the room. Ermengarde didn’t meet her gaze, and it was only too obvious to her what the girl’s stammering was all about. “I’m sorry to ask you this. I mean, I don’t really have a mother-like figure in my life and well…” Her voice trailed off as she looked up hopefully.
“I completely understand.” Unpinning her hat, Dolly placed it in her lap ready to listen. “What is it that you want to know?”
Her nervousness shone on her face, but there was a familiarity there that Dolly remembered of herself. “Is it as—scary, as all the girls say? The wedding night?”
“For some, it is, yes,” Dolly told her truthfully. This was her niece, or a girl nearly about to be anyway. She’d never had to have this conversation as she’d no children of her own, but if she could be of some assistance to Ermengarde, she would be. “But I’ve no doubt that you’ll be fine. You and Ambrose are so in love, I feel like everything will turn out well. You need only trust each other and remember that there’s no need to rush. You’ve your whole lives in front of you.” Ermengarde smiled, a hint of relief peeking through. “Does that help?”
“Yes, thank you… Aunt Dolly.” They smiled at each other, and Dolly prayed all truly would be well.
“Are you ready to face your future husband?” She asked, getting up and holding her hand out to help her niece stand. With an eager nod, Ermengarde picked up her skirts. “Good, because if you can’t face yours, I can’t face mine!” The two laughed as they walked out of the house, making sure to take care with the silken cloud that was Ermengarde’s skirts.
After a moment or so, Dolly could feel uneasiness settle once more on to the girl as they walked out onto the street. “...is Uncle still very mad?”
“He isn’t mad, darling, he’s only worried.”
“I - I know that artists don’t make as much as businessmen, but I don’t want many things, truly. Everything I could think I’d need I already have and will be taking with me. I only want - ” Ermengarde caught herself and sighed. Was it so much to ask for her Uncle’s blessing?
“He’ll come around, you’ll see.” Dolly took the bride’s lace gloved hand into hers and gave it a squeeze. “It might not be today or tomorrow, but he does love you, Ermengarde. I’m sorry he isn’t in better spirits for your wedding, but he will be soon, I promise. You can count on me.” Ermengarde laughed at her aunt’s hearty wink and felt a corner of her heavy heart start to lift. “If I could count on anyone to get him to come around, it would be you.”
“It’s a bit of a specialty of mine, if I do say so myself,” Dolly replied loftily as she waved at a few neighbors on the way to the church.
The rest of their conversation was hushed whispers of Dolly’s own experience with married life that had the girl in stitches as they reached the lawn surrounding the church. Dolly’s smile stretched and spread seeing Ermengarde once more her carefree self as the doors of the church loomed larger and larger. Ermengarde’s many friends came up to her as they crested the hill, talking excitedly and wishing her well. Dolly excused herself quietly as the girls all fussed over her niece and left looking for her seat in the church. She’d been pleasantly surprised at how well maintained it had been considering how very old it was. Of course, it had been restored a decade ago, but with all the parts that were true to the original building, it was still one of the most beautiful parts of Yonkers she’d seen. It was doubly beautiful now with all the flowers and decorations nearly making the walls sag with their weight, and Dolly was near floating as she walked. In a few months, she would be the one coming down the aisle. Scanning the pews for her fiance, she found Horace in deep conversation with a very nervous looking Ambrose. She quickened her step hoping to save Ambrose from her fuming future husband.
“Ambrose, has he been scaring you?” Dolly slipped her arm around Horace’s and squeezed herself to his side for a moment with her voice full of song trying to break the tension between the two.
“Not…” the boy gulped, “Not at all, Mrs. Levi.”
“Well, I just came to tell you both that Ermengarde is here and ready. Shall we get on with it and have these two married?” Horace huffed and went to find Ermengarde, still none too happy with her choice of husband.
The organ player began the wedding march and in they walked. Ambrose had a naturally happy temperament, but he had never smiled wider than when he first saw his Ermengarde walking towards him on their wedding day. His breath caught in his throat, and the congregation joined in a chuckle at the way he pushed a hand through his hair in his awe and excitement. Oh, they’ll do well together, Dolly thought as Ermengarde waved to him with her bouquet shyly. Giving his niece to her beau, Horace sat down and the ceremony proceeded with Dolly giving him a pointed look any time he huffed until he eventually sat in silence.
Horace’s gaze followed his niece and her new husband as they danced from his seat at the table for the wedding party. Painters, he thought unhappily, he best provide for her, talentless drudge that he is. He fiddled with his hat as his own bride to be came and reclaimed her seat next to him. All thought ran from his mind as he took in the sight of her. She was beautiful, that much was certain, and the blue dress she wore so effortlessly made her look absolutely dazzling. Was it a coincidence that the gray feathers in her hat were the same color as his get up? Knowing her as he did, he highly doubted it. Dolly took off her hat and placed it next to Horace’s with her own brand of flair. All too aware of his eyes on her, she did her best not to smile too widely at his attention. He did his best to hide it, she knew, but sometimes he did forget himself and she basked in it. It filled her heart to be so admired again, and it didn’t hurt that she knew he had a fondness for her wit as well - even if she did best him most times. Lowering herself gracefully into the seat beside him, Dolly blew kisses to Ermengarde who’d waved over to them as she was spun under Ambrose’s arm. She rested her chin in her hand and thought on how Horace must be fighting with himself to come to terms that his niece was finally married. Dolly leaned in to be heard over the din of those gathered and reminded him of what he’d promised her with her voice as silky as a rose.
“I do still expect that dance, Mr. Vandergelder.” She smiled as he became uncomfortable, shifting in his seat.
“Yes, I remember. Not now though, later.” He pulled a bit as his collar in the hopes that Dolly would let this go, just this once.
“Oh, but, Horace!” Dolly pouted with her head tilted just so, her hand finding home on the arm of his chair with the backs of her gloved hand barely brushing his wrist.
“If you dance with me now, you needn’t dance with me later when you might be more tired than you are now.”
“If I dance with you later, then I can tell other people that I can’t dance with them because I promised you a dance.” It was a ploy he’d thought of during the ceremony and one he’d been quite proud of.
Hand clutched to her heart as she looked around as if to see who else had heard the scandal of his words, Dolly’s feigned shock was ingrained in her tone. “You would dance with other women?” She dropped her voice, a near threat in each syllable. “Horace James Vandergelder, if I didn’t know any better, I would think that you had a wandering eye.”
Backpedaling as fast as he could, Horace grasped for words that would hold the right weight with her. “Dolly, I didn’t…”
“What? Didn’t mean it? But you said it!” She tossed her head, pressed her fingers against her brow. It was too easy to tease him.
“Just because I said it, doesn’t mean…”
“You meant it?” She gasped and Horace was mortified to see heads turned towards them. “Are you not a man of your word, Horace Vandergelder?”
“I am a man of my word!”
She batted her eyelashes at him knowing she’d won. “Then dance with me.”
“Dolly Levi…” Horace growled out, hating that he’d been taken in so easily.
“Soon to be Dolly Vandergelder.” She smirked as she ran her eyes over him, her fiance.
“Stop that. I’ll dance with you, if only to keep my word and not to play into your hands.” He stood up and offered his hand to her which she took. Horace lead her out on to the dance floor muttering as the band struck up a new song. “Scheming, conniving, insufferable woman - ”
“If I were anything less, you wouldn’t marry me.” Her tone was playful, husky, teasing, as she turned under his arm. Mr. Vandergelder wisely chose to say nothing, but continued to dance. Taking her waist, he guided them around the floor.Though he despised dancing, he could appreciate the way it allowed him to have Dolly so close. She was such a natural dancer and he knew he plodded around, but it didn’t seem as though she minded. Horace remembered the first time he danced with her and pushed back his grin. It was in the store after they had become officially engaged. She wore pink that day, he reminisced. Horace looked down at Dolly, who had been watching him this entire time with a slight furrow to her brow.
“Penny for your thoughts, Horace?” She gave him a warm smile as they turned to avoid colliding with another couple.
“Keep your money, Dolly. We both know I don’t need it.” He’d not intended to make a joke, but he did enjoy her little chuckle, the way her laughter felt under his hand. “I was just thinking about that pink dress you were wearing the first time we danced.”
“Is that so?” She gave him a coy smile, squeezed his hand a bit.
“As a matter of fact, yes.” He paused in thought, considering just how much he did happen to think of her. “Especially when you’re being an annoyance.”
“I can live with that. After all, you think I’m annoying most of the time.” He grunted a response and she laughed again, the jewels at her ears winking in his eyes. “Oh, I've just remembered - I’ll be asking Ermengarde to be my Matron of Honor after they come back from their honeymoon.”
“I suppose I ought to find a Best Man then,” Horace wondered aloud, unsure if there was anyone he was particularly close to to fill the role.
“You know, I have the perfect idea for that. Why don’t you - ” he interrupted her, his brows communicating just how much he already despised the idea brewing in her mind.
“Don’t even think about asking me to make that ridiculous painter my Best Man!”
“I wouldn’t dream of it, Horace.” Her smile was too sweet for him to believe her.