TO WEDDING BELLS
THE sun had set, and scarlet, amber, and amethyst were the tints of the sky, blotted by the great bulk of the old house standing up alone against the horizon. She ran on, and the wedding bells of Mersea steeple chanted joyously in the summer evening air, and the notes flew over the flats like melodious wildfowl. She ran up the steps, in at the door of the hall, where sat Elijah with his finger feeling the inscription on the chimney-piece, with the red light glaring through the western window on his forehead, staining it crimson. She cast himself at his feet and placed her elbows on his knees, and her head upon them. Dimly he saw the scarlet cap like a broken poppy droop before him, and he put out his hand and it rested upon it.
She had come to the only heart that was constant, to the only soul that answered to her own, to the only mind that read her thoughts. The George of her fancy was dissolved, leaving a mean vulgar object behind from which she shrank. To him whom she had hate d she now flew as her only anchorage. She could not speak. Now and then a spasmodic sob broke from her and shook her.
"What is the matter, Mehalah! Where have you been?"
She did not answer. She did not understand the impact of his words. She saw only the falling to pieces into dust of an idol. Better had George died, and she had lived on looking upon him as her ideal of manhood, noble, straightforward, truthful, constant. She would have been content to drudge on in her weary life at Red Hall and would have borne Elijah's humours and her mother's fretfulness, if only she might still have maintained intact her image of all that was honourable and steadfast. She was like a religionist, who on lifting the purple veil of the sanctuary, has found his God, before whom he had offered prayers, to be some grovelling beast.
"Where have you been?" again asked Elijah, placing his hands on her shoulders. She raised her head, and essayed to speak but could not.
"Why do you not answer me?" he asked, no fierceness in his tone.
"Mehalah!" he said firmly, solemnly. "I have waited, and wanted to hold you, as I hold you now, firmly, fast in my strong hands. They shall never let go. Mehalah, we have old scores to wipe out. Days and weeks of blind agony in me, hours, days of horrible internal torture whilst George De Witt has been here. I hold you now and all must now be made square between us." He held her shoulders so tightly she could not move them.
"Elijah!" she said, "do with me what you will. It is all one to me."
"Where have you been?"
"I have been with him."
"I knew it. You shall never be with him again."
She sighed. She knew that he spoke truly.
"Mehalah!" he went on, and his hands shook, and shook her; "I have loved you; but now I hate and love you at the same time. You little know and less care what I have endured in my soul since George De Witt has been back."
"Elijah," she said raising her heavy head, "let me speak. George —
"No, never," he interrupted, "never shall you utter his name again." He covered her mouth with his hand.
"I could not bear it," he went on. "Mehalah — your heart has never been mine, and I will not be longer without it. He has risen out of the waters to part us. Whilst we are on the earth, we cannot be united, because he intercepts the current which runs from my heart to yours, and from yours to mine. As long as you and he are together in one orb, there is no peace for me. Your love will never flow to me and dance and sparkle about me. I must look elsewhere for peace. Lift up your head, Mehalah! I do not know what has come over you. Yes — " he said suddenly, in a louder tone. "I know what it is. You have crept to me, you have cast yourself at my feet, you have leaned your head on my knee, you lift your arms to my heart, for the consummation is at hand. Mehalah! Do you understand me?"
"We understand each other. Will you kiss me?"
He put his hand to her head, and felt it shaken in the negative.
"I did not suppose you would. You would kiss George, but not me; but you never shall belong to another but me. Hold up your face, Glory!" He peered through the haze that ever attended him.
"Glory!" he said. "Will you swear to me, if I let you go one minute, that you will place yourself here, at my feet, in my hands, as you lie now?"
"It is dark, is it not? I can see nothing, not your flaming cap. I will let you go. I can trust your lightest word. Go and kindle me a candle." He relaxed his grasp, and she staggered to her feet, and dully, in a dream obeyed. There was a candle on the chimney-piece. She took it to the hearth in the kitchen and lighted it there.
"Go upstairs," he said. "There has been no sound in the house this hour. Go and kiss your mother and come back."
She obeyed again, and crept lifelessly up the stairs; in another moment he heard a low long muffled wail. She came down bearing the light. He did not see, but the candle glittered in tears rolling down her cheeks.
"Come to your place," he ordered. "Remember you swore."
She threw herself at his feet.
"My mother! my mother!"
"She is dead," said Elijah. "I know it. I heard her feebly cry for you an hour ago, and I crept upstairs, and listened by her bed, and held my hand to her heart till it ceased."
Mehalah did not speak; her frame shook with emotion. He took the candle, raised her face with his hand and held the light close to it.
"I can see scarce anything of the dear face, of the great brown eyes I loved so well. I can see only something flame there. That is the cap." He took it off and passed his hand through her rich hair. "I think I can see the flicker of the candle flame in the eyes. I can see the mouth that I have never touched, but I see it only as a red evening cloud across the sky."
"Let me go!" she wailed. "My mother! my mother!"
"We will go together to her," he answered; "stay one moment."
He put down the candle, and once more laid his hand on her head, and now he pressed it back with his left hand. A tear ran down each of his rugged cheeks. Then he suddenly rose, and he struck her full in the forehead with his iron fist, heavy as a sledge hammer. She dropped in a heap on the floor.
"Glory! my love! my pride! my second self! my double!"
He caught her up, and she hung across his knee. He held his ear to her mouth and listened.
"Oh Glory! my own! my own!"
He stretched his hand above the mantelpiece and plucked down the chain and padlock; he secured the key. Then he cast the chain over his arm and drew the inanimate girl to him and held her in his firm grasp, and lifted her over his shoulder, and felt his way out at the door and down the steps. No one was in the yard. No one on the pasture. The sun had set some time, but there was blood and fire on the horizon, clouds seamed with flame, and streaks of burning crimson. He cautiously descended the stairs, and crossing the yard, made his way over the pasture to the landing place. He knew the path well. He could have trod it in the darkest night without error. He came to the sea-wall, and there he laid Mehalah, whilst he groped for his boat, and unloosed the rope that attached it to the shore.
He returned, and took up the still unconscious girl. He felt her feeble breath on his cheek as he carried her, but he did not see the spot of returning colour in her face. He was eager and hasty. He knew no delay, but pressed on. He carried her into the boat and took his oars and began to row, with her lying in the bottom. The tide was running out. His instinct guided him. The bells of Mersea tower were dancing a merry peal. The windows of the "Leather Bottle" were lighted up, and the topers were drinking prosperity to the married pair. George De Witt was making his way to the Mussets, little conscious that Mehalah was lying in a boat, stunned, and being carried out seaward.
Presently Elijah felt sure by the fresher breeze and increased motion that he was out of the fleet in deep water. Then he quietly shipped his oars. He lifted Mehalah, and drew her into his arms and laid her against his heart.
"My Glory! my own dearest! my only one!" he moaned. "I could not help it. There was no other way out of the tangle. Glory! we were created for each other, but a perverse fortune has separated your heart from mine here. We shall meet and unite in another world."
She stirred and opened her eyes, and drew a long breath.
"Are you waking, Glory?" he asked. "Hark, the marriage bells are ringing for you and me. Now only is our marriage! Now only, locked together shall we find rest."
He took the iron chain; and wound it round her and him, tying them together tight. He fastened the padlock and flung the key into the sea.
"Once I turned the key in the lock carelessly, and he who was bound by this chain escaped. I have fastened it firmly now; it will not fall apart for all eternity. Now we are bound together for everlasting."
"Do you hear me?" he asked. "It is well. Glory! one kiss!"
He put down his hand into the bottom of the boat, and drew out the plug, and tossed it overboard. Sea-water over-flowed his feet
"Glory!" he cried, and he folded her to his heart, and fastened his lips fiercely, ravenously to hers. He felt her heart throb, faintly.
Merrily pealed the musical bells. Cans of ale had been supplied the ringers, and they dashed the ropes about in a fever of intoxication and sympathy. Joy to the wedded pair! Long life and close union and happiness without end! The topers at the "Leather Bottle" brimmed their pewter mugs and drank the toast with three cheers. The water boiled up through the plughole, and the boat sank deeper. Life was beginning to return to Mehalah. Her eyes were open and turned seaward, to the horizon. Elijah relaxed his hold one instant.
"Elijah!" she suddenly exclaimed. "How cold!"
"Glory! Glory! It is fire! We are one!"
The bells pealed over the rolling sea — no boat was on it, only a sea-mew skimming and crying.