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- A Duet - 10/46 -


four,' said he, as Hale met him.

'No, no, at eleven.'

'Quarter to four, I tell you. The vicar says so.'

'Why, it's not possible.'

'We have them at all hours.'

'Have what?'

'Buryin's.'

'But this is a marriage.'

'I'm sure I beg your pardon, sir. I thought when I looked at you as you was the party about the child's funeral.'

'Good heavens, no.'

'It was something in your expression, sir, but now that I can see the colour of your clothes, why of course I know better. There's three marriages--which was it?'

'Crosse and Selby are the names.'

The verger consulted an old crumpled notebook.

'Yes, sir, I have it here. Mr. or Miss Crosse to Mr. or Miss Selby. Eleven o'clock, sir, SHARP. The vicar's a terrible punctual man, and I should advise you to take your places.'

'Any hitch?' asked Frank nervously, as Hale returned.

'No, no.'

'What was he talking about?'

'Oh, nothing. Some little confusion of ideas.'

'Shall we go up?'

'Yes, I think that we had better.'

Their steps clattered and reverberated through the empty church as they passed up the aisle. They stood in an aimless way before the altar rails. Frank fidgeted about, and made sure that the ring was in his ticket-pocket. He also took a five-pound note and placed it where he knew he could lay his hands upon it easily. Then he sprang round with a flush upon his cheeks, for one of the side-doors had been flung open with a great bustle and clanging. A stout charwoman entered with a tin pail and a mop.

'Put up the wrong bird that time,' whispered Jack, and sniggered at Frank's change of expression.

But almost at the same instant, the Selbys entered the church at the further end. Mr. Selby, with his red face and fluffy side-whiskers, had Maude upon his arm. She looked very pale and very sweet, with downcast eyes and solemn mouth, while behind her walked her younger sister Mary and her pretty friend Nelly Sheridan, both in pink dresses with broad pink hats and white curling feathers. The bride was herself in the grey travelling-dress with which Frank was already familiar by its description in her letter. Its gentle tint and her tenderly grave expression made a charming effect. Behind them was the mother, still young and elegant, with something of Maude's grace in her figure and carriage. As the party came up the aisle, Frank was to be restrained no longer. 'Get to his head!' cried Jack to Hale in an excited whisper, but their man was already hurrying to shake hands with Maude. He walked up on her right, and they took their position in two little groups, the happy couple in the centre. At the same moment the clang of the church-clock sounded above them, and the vicar, shrugging his shoulders to get his white surplice into position, came bustling out of the vestry. To him it was all the most usual, commonplace, and unimportant thing in the world, and both Frank and Maude were filled with amazement at the nonchalant way in which he whipped out a prayer-book, and began to rapidly perform the ceremony. It was all so new and solemn and all-important to them, that they had expected something mystic and overpowering in the function, and yet here was this brisk little man, with an obvious cold in his head, tying them up in as business-like a fashion as a grocer uniting two parcels. After all, he had to do it a thousand times a year, and so he could not be extravagant in his emotions.

The singular service was read out to them, the exhortations, and the explanations, sometimes stately, sometimes beautiful, sometimes odious. Then the little vicar turned upon Frank--'Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour her, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her as long as ye both shall live?'

'I will,' cried Frank, with conviction.

'And wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him so long as ye both shall live?'

'I will,' said Maude, from her heart.

'Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?'

'I do. Mr. John Selby--her father, you know.'

And then in turn they repeated the fateful words--'I take thee to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance, and thereto I give thee my troth.'

'Ring! Ring!' said Hale.

'Ring, you Juggins!' whispered Jack Selby.

Frank thrust his hands frantically into all his pockets. The ring was in the last one which he attempted. But the bank-note was not to be found. He remembered that he had put it in some safe place. Where could it have been? Was it in his boot, or in the lining of his hat? No, surely he could not have done anything so infatuated. Again he took his pockets two at a time, while a dreadful pause came in the ceremony.

'Vestry--afterwards,' whispered the clergyman.

'Here you are!' gasped Frank. He had come upon it in a last desperate dive into his watch-pocket, in which he never by any chance kept anything. Of course it was for that very reason, that it might be alone and accessible, that he had placed it there. Ring and note were handed to the vicar, who deftly concealed the one and returned the other. Then Maude's little white hand was outstretched, and over the third finger Frank slipped the circlet of gold.

'With this ring I thee wed,' said Frank, 'and with my body I thee worship (he paused, and made a mental emendation of 'with my soul also'), and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.'

There was a prayer, and then the vicar joined the two hands, the muscular sunburned one and the dainty white one, with the new ring gleaming upon it.

'Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder,' said he. 'Forasmuch as Francis Crosse and Maude Selby have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth, either to other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a ring, and by joining of hands; I pronounce that they be man and wife together.'

There now, it was done! They were one, never more to part until the coffin-lid closed over one or the other. They were kneeling together now, and the vicar was rapidly repeating some psalms and prayers. But Frank's mind was not with the ritual. He looked slantwise at the graceful, girlish figure by his side. Her hair hung beautifully over her white neck, and the reverent droop of her head was lovely to his eyes. So gentle, so humble, so good, so beautiful, and all his, his sworn life-companion for ever! A gush of tenderness flowed through his heart for her. His love had always been passionate, but, for the instant, it was heroic, tremendous in its unselfishness. Might he bring her happiness, the highest which woman could wish for! God grant that he might do so! But if he were to make her unhappy, or to take anything from her beauty and her goodness, then he prayed that he might die now, at this supreme moment, kneeling at her side before the altar rails. So intense was his prayer that he looked up expectantly at the altar, as if in the presence of an imminent catastrophe. But every one had risen to their feet, and the service was at an end. The vicar led the way, and they all followed him, into the vestry. There was a general murmur all round them of congratulation and approval.

'Heartiest congratulations, Crosse!' said Hale.

'Bravo, Maude, you looked ripping!' cried Jack, kissing his sister. 'By Jove, it simply went with a buzz from the word "go."'

'You sign it here and here,' said the vicar, 'and the witnesses here and here. Thank you very much. I am sure that I wish you every happiness. I need not detain you by any further formality.'

And so, with a curious dream-like feeling, Frank Crosse and Maude found themselves walking down the aisle, he very proud and erect, she very gentle and shy, while the organ thundered the wedding-march. Carriages were waiting: he handed in his wife, stepped in after her, and they drove off, amidst a murmur of sympathy from a little knot of idlers who had gathered in the porch, partly from curiosity, and partly to escape the rain.

Maude had often driven alone with Frank before, but now she felt suddenly constrained and shy. The marriage-service, with all its half-understood allusions and exhortations, had depressed and frightened her. She hardly dared to glance at her husband. But he soon led her out of her graver humour.

'Name, please?' said he.

'O Frank!'

'Name, if YOU please?'


A Duet - 10/46

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