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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesForeigner - Chapter 3. The Marriage Of Anka
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Foreigner - Chapter 3. The Marriage Of Anka Post by :angiecook Category :Long Stories Author :Ralph Connor Date :May 2012 Read :1553

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Foreigner - Chapter 3. The Marriage Of Anka


The withdrawing of Mrs. Fitzpatrick from Paulina's life meant a serious diminution in interest for the unhappy Paulina, but with the characteristic uncomplaining patience of her race she plodded on with the daily routine at washing, baking, cleaning, mending, that filled up her days. There was no break in the unvarying monotony of her existence. She gave what care she could to the two children that had been entrusted to her keeping, and to her baby. It was well for her that Irma, whose devotion to the infant became an absorbing passion, developed a rare skill in the care of the child, and it was well for them all that the ban placed by Mrs. Fitzpatrick upon Paulina's house was withdrawn as far as Irma and the baby were concerned, for every day the little maid presented her charge to the wise and watchful scrutiny of Mrs. Fitzpatrick.

The last days of 1884, however, brought an event that cast a glow of colour over the life of Paulina and the whole foreign colony. This event was none other than the marriage of Anka Kusmuk and Jacob Wassyl, Paulina's most popular lodger. A wedding is a great human event. To the principals the event becomes the pivot of existence; to the relatives and friends it is at once the consummation of a series of happenings that have absorbed their anxious and amused attention, and the point of departure for a new phase of existence offering infinite possibilities in the way of speculation. But even for the casual onlooker a wedding furnishes a pleasant arrest of the ordinary course of life, and lets in upon the dull grey of the commonplace certain gleams of glory from the golden days of glowing youth, or from beyond the mysterious planes of experience yet to be.

All this and more Anka's wedding was to Paulina and her people. It added greatly to Paulina's joy and to her sense of importance that her house was selected to be the scene of the momentous event. For long weeks Paulina's house became the life centre of the colony, and as the day drew nigh every boarder was conscious of a certain reflected glory. It is no wonder that the selecting of Paulina's house for the wedding feast gave offence to Anka's tried friend and patron, Mrs. Fitzpatrick. To that lady it seemed that in selecting Paulina's house for her wedding Anka was accepting Paulina's standard of morals and condoning her offences, and it only added to her grief that Anka took the matter so lightly.

"I'm just affronted at ye, Anka," she complained, "that ye can step inside the woman's dure."

"Ah, cut it out!" cried Anka, rejoicing in her command of the vernacular. "Sure, Paulina is no good, you bet; but see, look at her house--dere is no Rutenian house like dat, so beeg. Ah!" she continued rapturously, "you come an' see me and Jacob dance de 'czardas,' wit Arnud on de cymbal. Dat Arnud he's come from de old country, an' he's de whole show, de whole brass band on de park."

To Anka it seemed an unnecessary and foolish sacrifice to the demands of decency that she should forego the joy of a real czardas to the music of Arnud accompanying the usual violins.

"Ye can have it," sniffed Mrs. Fitzpatrick with emphatic disdain; all the more emphatic that she was conscious, distinctly conscious, of a strong desire to witness this special feature of the festivities. "I've nothing agin you, Anka, for it's a good gurrl ye are, but me and me family is respectable, an' that Father Mulligan can tell ye, for his own mother's cousin was married till the brother of me father's uncle, an' niver a fut of me will go beyant the dure of that scut, Paulina." And Mrs. Fitzpatrick, resting her hands upon her hips, stood the living embodiment of hostility to any suggested compromise with sin.

But while determined to maintain at all costs this attitude toward Paulina and her doings, her warm-hearted interest in Anka's wedding made her very ready with offers of assistance in preparing for the feast.

"It's not much I know about y're Polak atin'," she said, "but I can make a batch of pork pies that wud tempt the heart of the Howly Moses himsilf, an' I can give ye a bilin' of pitaties that Timothy can fetch to the house for ye."

This generous offer Anka gladly accepted, for Mrs. Fitzpatrick's pork pies, she knew from experience, were such as might indeed have tempted so respectable a patriarch as Moses himself to mortal sin. The "bilin' of pitaties," which Anka knew would be prepared in no ordinary pot, but in Mrs. Fitzpatrick's ample wash boiler, was none the less acceptable, for Anka could easily imagine how effective such a contribution would be in the early stages of the feast in dulling the keen edge of the Galician appetite.

The preparation for the wedding feast, which might be prolonged for the greater part of three days, was in itself an undertaking requiring careful planning and no small degree of executive ability; for the popularity of both bride and groom would be sufficient to insure the presence of the whole colony, but especially the reputed wealth of the bride, who, it was well known, had been saving with careful economy her wages at the New West Hotel for the past three years, would most certainly create a demand for a feast upon a scale of more than ordinary magnificence, and Anka was determined that in providing for the feast this demand should be fully satisfied.

For a long time she was torn between two conflicting desires: on the one hand she longed to appear garbed in all the glory of the Western girl's most modern bridal attire; on the other she coveted the honour of providing a feast that would live for years in the memory of all who might be privileged to be present. Both she could not accomplish, and she wisely chose the latter; for she shrewdly reasoned that, while the Western bridal garb would certainly set forth her charms in a new and ravishing style, the glory of that triumph would be short-lived at best, and it would excite the envy of the younger members of her own sex and the criticism of the older and more conservative of her compatriots.

She was further moved to this decision by the thought that inasmuch as Jacob and she had it in mind to open a restaurant and hotel as soon as sufficient money was in hand, it was important that they should stand well with the community, and nothing would so insure popularity as abundant and good eating and drinking. So to the preparation of a feast that would at once bring her immediate glory and future profit, Anka set her shrewd wits. The providing of the raw materials for the feast was to her an easy matter, for her experience in the New West Hotel had taught her how to expend to the best advantage her carefully hoarded wages. The difficulty was with the cooking. Clearly Paulina could not be expected to attend to this, for although her skill with certain soups and stews was undoubted, for the finer achievements of the culinary art Paulina was totally unfitted. To overcome this difficulty, Anka hit upon the simple but very effective expedient of entrusting to her neighbours, who would later be her guests, the preparing of certain dishes according to their various abilities and inclinations, keeping close account in her own shrewd mind of what each one might be supposed to produce from the materials furnished, and stimulating in her assistants the laudable ambition to achieve the very best results. Hence, in generous quantities she distributed flour for bread and cakes in many varieties, rice and beans and barley, which were to form the staple portion of the stews, cabbage and beets and onions in smaller measure--for at this season of the year the price was high--sides of pork, ropes of sausages, and roasts of beef from neck and flank. Through the good offices of the butcher boy that supplied the New West Hotel, purchased with Anka's shyest smile and glance, were secured a considerable accumulation of shank bones and ham bones, pork ribs and ribs of beef, and other scraps too often despised by the Anglo-Saxon housekeeper, all of which would prove of the greatest value in the enrichment of the soups. For puddings there were apples and prunes, raisins and cranberries. The cook of the New West Hotel, catching something of Anka's generous enthusiasm, offered pies by the dozen, and even the proprietor himself, learning of the preparations and progress, could think of nothing so appropriate to the occasion as a case of Irish whiskey. This, however, Anka, after some deliberation, declined, suggesting beer instead, and giving as a reason her experience, namely, that "whiskey make too quick fight, you bet." A fight was inevitable, but it would be a sad misfortune if this necessary part of the festivities should occur too early in the programme.

Gradually, during the days of the week immediately preceding the ceremony, there began to accumulate in the shacks about, viands of great diversity, which were stored in shelves, in cupboards,--where there were any,--under beds, and indeed in any and every available receptacle. The puddings, soups and stews, which, after all, were to form the main portion of the eating, were deposited in empty beer kegs, of which every shack could readily furnish a few, and set out to freeze, in which condition they would preserve their perfect flavour. Such diligence and such prudence did Anka show in the supervision of all these arrangements, that when the day before the feast arrived, on making her final round of inspection, everything was discovered to be in readiness for the morrow, with the single exception that the beer had not arrived. But this was no over-sight on the part of Jacob, to whom this portion of the feast had been entrusted. It was rather due to a prudence born of experience that the beer should be ordered to be delivered at the latest possible hour. A single beer keg is an object of consuming interest to the Galician and subjects his sense of honour to a very considerable strain; the known presence of a dray load of beer kegs in the neighbourhood would almost certainly intensify the strain beyond the breaking point. But as the shadows of evening began to gather, the great brewery dray with its splendid horses and its load of kegs piled high, drew up to Paulina's door. Without loss of time, and under the supervision of Rosenblatt and Jacob himself, the beer kegs were carried by the willing hands of Paulina's boarders down to the cellar, piled high against the walls, and carefully counted. There they were safe enough, for every man, not only among the boarders but in the whole colony, who expected to be present at the feast, having contributed his dollar toward the purchase of the beer, constituted himself a guardian against the possible depredations of his neighbours. Not a beer keg from this common store was to be touched until after the ceremony, when every man should have a fair start. For the preliminary celebrations during the evening and night preceding the wedding day the beer furnished by the proprietor of the New West Hotel would prove sufficient.

It was considered a most fortunate circumstance both by the bride and groom-elect, that there should have appeared in the city, the week before, a priest of the Greek Catholic faith, for though in case of need they could have secured the offices of a Roman priest from St. Boniface, across the river, the ceremonial would thereby have been shorn of much of its picturesqueness and efficacy. Anka and her people had little regard for the services of a Church to which they owed only nominal allegiance.

The wedding day dawned clear, bright, and not too cold to forbid a great gathering of the people outside Paulina's house, who stood reverently joining with those who had been fortunate enough to secure a place in Paulina's main room, which had been cleared of all beds and furniture, and transformed for the time being into a chapel. The Slav is a religious man, intensely, and if need be, fiercely, religious; hence these people, having been deprived for long months of the services of their Church, joined with eager and devout reverence in the responses to the prayers of the priest, kneeling in the snow unmoved by and apparently unconscious of the somewhat scornful levity of the curious crowd of onlookers that speedily gathered about them. For more than two hours the religious part of the ceremony continued, but there was no sign of abating interest or of waning devotion; rather did the religious feeling appear to deepen as the service advanced. At length there floated through the open window the weirdly beautiful and stately marriage chant, in which the people joined in deep-toned guttural fervour, then the benediction, and the ceremony was over. Immediately there was a movement toward the cellar, where Rosenblatt, assisted by a score of helpers, began to knock in the heads of the beer kegs and to hand about tin cups of beer for the first drinking of the bride's health. Beautiful indeed, in her husband's eyes and the eyes of all who beheld her, appeared Anka as she stood with Jacob in the doorway, radiant in the semi-barbaric splendour of her Slavonic ancestry.

This first formal health-drinking ceremony over, from within Paulina's house and from shacks roundabout, women appeared with pots and pails, from which, without undue haste, but without undue delay, men filled tin cups and tin pans with stews rich, luscious, and garlic flavoured. The feast was on; the Slav's hour of rapture had come. From pot to keg and from keg to pot the happy crowd would continue to pass in alternating moods of joy, until the acme of bliss would be attained when Jacob, leading forth and up and down his lace-decked bride, would fling the proud challenge to one and all that his bride was the fairest and dearest of all brides ever known.

Thus with full ceremonial, with abundance of good eating, and with multitudinous libations, Anka was wed.

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