Godey's Lady's Book, July, 1855, pp. 29-32

The Milliner's Dream; or, the Wedding-Bonnet


"Something entirely unique--you understand?" said Miss Costar to the obsequious Frenchwoman at her side.

"Yes, mademoiselle."

"Plenty of blond, you know; a demi-voile perhaps, and rose-buds and orange-blossoms inside and out; the whole thing as light as possible," added Mrs. Costar.

"Yes, madame."

"And the shape; let it be as new and elegant as possible. Have you the last Moniteur? There's something in that style!"

"That is velours espingle, madame, our heaviest material."

"Oh, but that need make no difference, you now! It's the style, not the material; crape, of course."

"Mais madame"--

"No buts, I beg; there's a good creature; and send in the whole of your bill at once, the travelling-hat and all. And ten, at latest, recollect; the ceremony is punctually at twelve, and the Newport boat leaves an hour earlier this week."

"Permit me, mademoiselle," said the bland Madame Millefleurs, touching the brim of the bonnet worn by the haughty-looking bride elect, and shaping it habitually and rapidly with her practiced fingers.

"Oh, it's not of the slightest consequence how I look to-day!" she said, coldly. "The carriage-blinds are down, and no one would dream of seeing me out, at any rate. It is only the disappointment--the fear of disappointment, I should say--that brought me out at all."

Miss Costar had caught a warning look from her maternal relative. Madame Millefleurs, in anticipation of "her whole bill," and the respectable addition which she intended the wedding-bonnet should prove, did not think best to see it in the tall cheval glass before which she stood, or to be assured that some great disappointment was the occasion of her being consulted, literally at the eleventh hour, on an affair so important as the wedding-hat, when the trousseau of the bride had been the subject of conversation and speculation in her own circle for two months past; in fact, ever since her engagement to Augustus Brevont has announced. Truth was, the steamer by which the ordered gem of French millinery was expected had not even been telegraphed up to the present hour, and while wives and mothers began to give place to uneasy thought as to the safety of their household treasures, Mrs. Costar and her daughter had wearied the patience of the male members of the family by incessant questions and wonderings, and mourning over the non-arrival of the Humboldt--now in her fifteenth day--from Havre.

Miss Costar would willingly have put off the wedding, only for her mother's representations of "how people would talk." Not that she was to be married in the bonnet! It was to be a full-dress wedding at Grace Church, under the superintendence of the immortal BROWNE; a full-dress wedding, with a real Brussels veil, and six bridesmaids, and carriages enough in attendance to block up the whole square. But then, there was the first appearance at Newport to be considered, and it would never do to leave New York, trusting to the probable arrival of the steamer, and the possible fidelity of Adams & Co.

It is just possible that the elated bridegroom, then inspecting for the last time the elegant suit of diamonds at Tiffany's before their transient seclusion in the rich satin-lined cases provided for them, might have considered his plans and wishes of some consequence, of more than a bonnet, if he had been consulted. Fortunately, he did not know how nearly they were jeoparded, or that he passed his charming bride of the morrow in the commonplace livery-stable establishment, with the curtains down, which was just leaving Madame Millefleurs' door as he stepped out upon the pavement. Not even he, supposed to be the sharer of every anxiety, and repository of all secrets, great and small, was to know that the fashionable Miss Costar sinned so far against conventional rule as to be "out" on the day preceding her wedding. BROWNE would have freely entered into her feelings as she shrank back into the corner, and threw a blue bar&eagu;ge veil over her face instead of eagerly arresting him as she recognized his colored coat and cinnamon-colored gloves; he, BROWNE, would hardly have undertaken the affair such an expos&eagu;, in consideration of his reputation, and Martel might be pardoned for refusing to dress her hair if it ever should get abroad.

But leaving Miss Costar to make her escape to the regions of Fourteenth Street as best she may, our interests recall us to the private room of Madame Millefleurs' large establishment, which she had just quitted; and here we find the patient-looking shop-girl, who has been a witness of the whole interview from behind the muslin curtains, in deep consultation with her employer.

"You hear, mademoiselle; it must be done by ten, at latest, to-morrow morning."

"Impossible," began Mademoiselle Alice.

The look, which was all the reply she received, recalled to her mind the quick determination which Madame Millefleurs kept the workroom in order, the really high wages which she received, and the difficulty of procuring another situation at this season of the year. So, she stood still again to hear.

"Mademoiselle Alice understands. It is necessary; it must be accomplished. It will be done; a triumph, if you please, mademoiselle, a chef d'oeuvre--all grace, and lightness, and elegance; a miracle of art, in fact," added the incautious madame, forgetting for an instant, in the presence of her assistant, what by long practice she never suffered to escape before a customer, that she was Madame Millefleurs, the celebrated Parisian artiste, and not Miss Flower, the driving New York milliner, originally of Division Street. The foreign shrug and accent had done wonders for "madame."

It was three o'clock on a stifling August day, to be sure, and Alice Leary, whose exquisite taste and skill had promoted her to the head of the work room, had busily been employed since early breakfast in directing, arranging, urging, and checking the careless idlers already at work on the fall importations for the early September opening, strength, patience, and invention alike exhausted. Besides, it was Wednesday, and Wednesday evening somebody always came to walk home with her from the shop, and talk over certain plans and prospects they had in common, though, to be sure, they were along way from being realized.

Somehow, they seemed further off and more hopeless than ever when she returned to her niche in the work-room, and tried to fix her mind on the unexpected and unwelcome task. The sun glared so from the white marble front of the opposite range of stores; the air so hot and dusty; the roll of carriages, drays, and omnibuses, the ring of feet and voices from the pavement below, so deafening and incessant! She turned over the delicate materials which she had wearily gathered around her, hoping in vain that the gauze crape or half-blown orange-blossoms would suggest one original thought or even arrangement of a trimming for this "miracle of art;" but it was all in vain. Her mind would wander; her fingers only reproduced ideas already wrought out in every material and color. It was very hard certainly to be so at the beck and nod of an exacting task-mistress, who never seemed to have any scruples with regard to truth, or, in fact, to the employment of every atom of time, strength, and cleverness she considered bound to her, or made over to her for the sum of four dollars weekly. Eighteen or twenty dollars would be the very least Madame Millefleurs would think of charging for the bonnet, which she would never have in her hand except to criticize. The materials might cost seven or eight. Where was the justice of such gains? And then the bride, Miss Costar; the young milliner had often seen her before, and had heard of little else of late from their customers in the same circle, until she was familiar with all her plans and possessions, and knew that from the time she had been the spoiled tyrant of the nursery nothing had ever seemed denied to her by fate or fortune. There had been no obstacle to her marriage, this bright creature of fashion! No sick mother or little sister to provide for; no hoards to be slowly accumulated before the two rooms could be taken and scantily furnished for the home so far off, yet so longed and toiled for. This other maiden had but to speak, and love and luxury awaited her, an endless prospect of unalloyed happiness. Yet Alice, as she glanced to the little oval mirror, knew that her own face was not less lovely in its clear oval outline, shaded by luxuriant bands of soft black hair, and her figure, slight and stooping as it was, had no less grace and elegance in reality, though owing nothing to the gray stuff dress and black silk apron which she always wore.

It was discontent that whispered in her heart as she leaned forward wearily, only conscious of the murmur of voices in the adjoining room, the noise and glare of the street below, her strained, exhausted fancy, and "a dim, dilating pain," sure precursor of one of those racking headaches that care, and confinement, and incessant application had made habitual, but not the less dreaded.

So it was, that, notwithstanding the hot afternoon sun journeyed on, and her task was as yet scarcely commenced, the exhausted girl fell asleep, pursued even in dreams by her waking thoughts. Goblin bonnets of every age and shape flitted before her, and jeered her lack of invention. They floated their tags and streams gayly in her face; they peered curiously at her from over her shoulder, or, joining hands, danced through the air in mocking pantomime.

"Nothing new, nothing new," seemed to be the burden of their mimic shapes and gestures, while a crushed, frayed, and faded apparition, arrayed in a mode long since forgotten, whispered in a shrill, melancholy voice--

"All is vanity and vexation of spirit."

And while the rest of the goblin shapes chattered and danced around her, Alice seemed to be looking into a vision, as it were, of the real life of the young girl she had so envied. The wedding-day had come; the rich toilets, the glittering pageantry of the ceremony all passed before her; but with this new gift of sight, there was visible to her the frivolity of thoughts that then, if ever, should have turned heavenward, as the solemn vows for life or death were pronounced, and the heartless mockery of the congratulations offered with smiling faces, and hearts full of envy and detraction. The very bride, and the new-made husband so little realizing the new relation in which they stood to each other and the world; she still dreaming of admiration and conquest, an undisturbed reign as heretofore, to which his wealth and position were to minister; and he deceiving himself with a belief in his own sincerity of purpose, as he vowed to "love and cherish," to leave all others for her sake. That it would be resting upon them to make these promises true through evil as well as good report--through poverty, sickness, and death,

"For the house and grave,
And for something higher"--

seemed never to have deepened loving tones or looks between them, or even to thrill their hearts now, sweeping from the alter back to the world for which both had lived heretofore, the selfish, aimless lives of those who have never known want or care, or the chastening of even household sorrows.

"So she saw in her dream," as did the chronicler of the good pilgrim of old. How the fair, unclouded future changed and darkened before them! That each grew secretly to weary of the bonds they had so lightly assumed, and then how the stream of their life divided into two separate channels of interest and occupation! They who never learned the meaning of the word home ceased even to respect its sanctity, and upbraiding took the place of flattery; neglect followed the wilful exactions and senseless homage of courtship. The world gave censure for congratulations, and the end was doubt, distrust, and openly acknowledged dissension. Luxury and boundless leisure palled instead of satisfying, and the husband found abroad the interest, and at least apparent, sympathy that he looked for in vain in the society of his wife.

Then the little withered figure drew near again, and whispered her old burden: "Vanity and vexation of spirit."

But the dream, and the spectres of fashion of this world long since passed away, vanished together as a gentle, yet strong hand was laid upon her shoulder, and she raised her head, startled and bewildered, to find twilight already come, the hum from the work-room hushed. The street lamps threw a fitful light upon the dainty materials gathered before her, reminding her, with a sudden start, of the yet unattempted task, and the disastrous train of consequences that would be sure to follow any disappointment.

But nothing was a hardship with those dear eyes looking down into her own, yet troubled and dreary in expression, while that deep voice chid her for the careless exposure of health so necessary to his life and happiness.

Yes, it was Wednesday evening, and somebody had come to walk with her through the now cool and more quiet streets to the home whose comforts were of her own earning, and where her presence was a blessing. The threatened headache was dispelled by the sauntering walk in the coolness of the evening air, and Alice could lean on that strong arm, and talk merrily of her dream and the gay wedding of to-morrow, though she would have to be at the shop by daylight to make up for lost time. How fortunate that she had the key!

And then they subsided upon their never-ending plans for the future, and she heard that he had great hopes of a most important advance to his slender salary, which would shorten their probation by years perhaps, and she must let him share in the pleasant task of caring for the invalid mother and delicate little sister.

"Both shall be welcome in our home," he said, with a lingering, loving emphasis on those last words, that told how long and how fondly they had looked forward to sharing it together.

The words and the tone came back many a time the next busy morning as the young milliner's slender hands fluttered among the pure laces, and ribbons, and blossoms of which she shaped the wedding-bonnet, and, if their loving cadence could have been inwrought, no fairer, purer fancy could have been embodied that which was triumphantly carried to madame in the appointed season, and almost consoled the bride for the non arrival of the long-watched-for steamer.

Transcribed from the original, Godey's Lady's Book, July 1855, pp. 29 32 by Hope Greenberg. 11/21/95. Copy freely as long as this notice is attached.