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"How then, I asked, was the bride to be seen?"
"She will show herself when she is dressed; all brides must do that. The people in the streets might otherwise tear the house down."
"I do not quite understand."
"Yet it is very simple. But I will explain that, as you do not know the Swedish customs. When persons are betrothed, their banns are published in church; and when they are to be married, it is announced from the pulpit, and put in the papers. The people then know when there is to be a wedding, and they gather at the house to look at the bride. If she did not show herself, they would call out for her: so when she is dressed for the ceremony, and has her crown on, she must stand at a window, or in the tambour, or salong, or wherever she can be seen; and then the doors are open and whoever likes comes and looks at her. It is fatiguing, for she may have to stand for two hours to be looked at; or just so long as there are people to come. They do not like this, and sometimes get away to a country church to be married in private; but this is our custom, and one cannot help it."
My desire to be allowed, as a foreigner, to share in the national practice, was made known to Mrs. Merchant up stairs, and I received an invitation to accompany Grefvinnan to the bride's apartment. My hostess came to inform me of this, and told me also that the bridegroom had taken the voning beneath us, and the bride would both equip and show herself down there, as it was more convenient than to bring the people up so high.
"Afterwards," said she, "the bride will come up through our house, so as to avoid passing the court when she is dressed; she will then return to her father's voning, where the ceremony will be performed.''
At seven o'clock in the evening, for morning marriages are extremely rare in Sweden, I put on a black silk dress to please my hostess, as it was in her opinion most suitable to the occasion; and taking the always indispensable white gloves and shawl, we descended the lower flight of stone stairs belonging to our immense mansion, and found the entrance door of the bridegroom's dwelling already crowded with persons of both sexes, but chiefly of those of the lower orders.
As we came by invitation, we penetrated through these, and entered the salong, into which those of a higher grade had found admittance; but we, being still more privileged, pushed on to the inner, or what we should term sitting-room, which was, as indeed this room in a respectable Swedish house generally is, very comfortably furnished, actually more comfortably than many English ones; and with an English carpet and window curtains too.
Here a servant brought us tea and cake, rather to the discomfiture of my companion, who said it ought to have been wine, which is more usual. Soon afterwards two gentlemen, attired in the state and evening dress of Sweden—black clothes, white neckerchiefs and waistcoats, which are worn morning as well as evening in visits of ceremony, or occasions of importance—passed through the room, carrying each a large silver branch candlestick of three lights. They bowed to us in passing, but went straight into the bridal chamber, where the bride had completed her toilet. Grifvinnan whispered—the marshals, or bridegroom's men.
Almost immediately afterwards, the door was thrown open and the marshals reappeared; one fat, fair, and jolly, with a smile all over his face; the other tall, thin, and seeming to lead a prisoner to trial, rather than a bride to exhibition. Each held the three long candles before him; and now they walked side by side, the stout fair-faced one seeming to say,—it is a very good joke; and the tall solemn-looking one appearing to answer,—it is a very serious affair.
Behind them walked the bride, attired in white watered silk—for she was rich—with a crown of the natural narrow-leaved myrtle on her head; it is formed as a crown, with bars across the top, and always worn by the middle and higher ranks. Behind her again walked three maidens, in coloured tarletine muslins.
The marshals led the bride to the salong, in the centre of which she took her stand, just before the crowds who gathered round the open door. The marshals stood one at each side; and kept raising and lowering the great branch candlesticks they held, so as to show her off to the best advantage.
She was pale as the robe she wore, and played nervously with her large bouquet, while her fingers trembled amidst its flowers. Having stood sometime facing the gazers, she turned her back; and the lights were raised and lowered again.
The people looked quietly, almost reverently, at her; the women always seem to look pityingly. A little boy stepped forward and offered her a flower, which she accepted with thanks. Thus did she stand for an hour and a half; stood until no more gazers came.
Misconduct on these occasions is very rare. I have been told that men—that is, what are falsely called gentlemen—used sometimes to go in masks to these bridal exhibitions, in order to avenge themselves by insulting the object; but the use of masks is now greatly prohibited in Stockholm. Indeed the Swedes, while the most indefatigable and patient, are the best behaved of sight-seers.
"And so," said I to my hostess, when we had re-ascended, "to go to church to be married is considered in Sweden as too public. They go to church in England, and do not show themselves."
"Ack! those droll English! they are so different from us."
"Quite different," I rejoined.
"Yes, Madame, I thought you would see that at last. Our brides are very modest."
"Therefore this exhibition must be rather painful," I responded.
"Yes—that may, perhaps, be—but it is our custom. The people will have it so, they like to see everything. To-morrow the young couple will give a great dinner party: they must do that,