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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part One - Chapter 1
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Together - Part One - Chapter 1 Post by :endbay Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :1983

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Together - Part One - Chapter 1


She stood before the minister who was to marry them, very tall and straight. With lips slightly parted she looked at him steadfastly, not at the man beside her who was about to become her husband. Her father, with a last gentle pressure of her arm, had taken his place behind her. In the hush that had fallen throughout the little chapel, all the restless movement of the people who had gathered there this warm June morning was stilled, in the expectation of those ancient words that would unite the two before the altar. Through the open window behind the altar a spray of young woodbine had thrust its juicy green leaves and swayed slowly in the air, which was heavy with earthy odors of all the riotous new growth that was pushing forward in the fields outside. And beyond the vine could be seen a bit of the cloudless, rain-washed sky.

There before the minister, who was fumbling mechanically at his prayer-book, a great space seemed to divide the man and the woman from all the others, their friends and relatives, who had come to witness the ceremony of their union. In the woman's consciousness an unexpected stillness settled, as if for these few moments she were poised between the past of her whole life and the mysterious future. All the preoccupations of the engagement weeks, the strange colorings of mood and feeling, all the petty cares of the event itself, had suddenly vanished. She did not see even him, the man she was to marry, only the rugged face of the old minister, the bit of fluttering vine, the expanse of blue sky. She stood before the veil of her life, which was about to be drawn aside.

This hushed moment was broken by the resonant tones of the minister as he began the opening words of the sacrament that had been said over so many millions of human beings. Familiar as the phrases were, she did not realize them, could not summon back her attention from that depth within of awed expectancy. After a time she became aware of the subdued movements in the chapel, of people breaking into the remote circle of her mystery,--even here they must needs have their part--and of the man beside her looking intently at her, with flushed face. It was this man, this one here at her side, whom she had chosen of all that might have come into her life; and suddenly he seemed a stranger, standing there, ready to become her husband! The woodbine waved, recalling to her flashing thoughts that day two years before when the chapel was dedicated, and they two, then mere friends, had planted this vine together. And now, after certain meetings, after some surface intercourse, they had willed to come here to be made one...

"And who gives this woman in marriage?" the minister asked solemnly, following the primitive formula which symbolizes that the woman is to be made over from one family to another as a perpetual possession. She gave herself of course! The words were but an outgrown form...

There was the necessary pause while the Colonel came forward, and taking his daughter's hand from which the glove had been carefully turned back, laid it gently in the minister's large palm. The father's lips twitched, and she knew he was feeling the solemnity of his act, that he was relinquishing a part of himself to another. Their marriage--her father's and mother's--had been happy,--oh, very peaceful! And yet--hers must be different, must strike deeper. For the first time she raised her shining eyes to the man at her side...

"I, John, take thee Isabelle for my wedded wife, to have and to hold ... in sickness and in health ... until death us do part ... and hereby I plight thee my troth."

Those old words, heard so many times, which heretofore had echoed without meaning to her,--she had vaguely thought them beautiful,--now came freighted with sudden meaning, while from out the dreamlike space around sounded the firm tones of the man at her side repeating slowly, with grave pauses, word by word, the marriage oath. "I, John, take thee Isabelle," that voice was saying, and she knew that the man who spoke these words in his calm, grave manner was the one she had chosen, to whom she had willed to give herself for all time,--presently she would say it also,--for always, always, "until death us do part." He was promising it with tranquil assurance,--fidelity, the eternal bond, throughout the unknown years, out of the known present. "And hereby I plight thee my troth." Without a tremor the man's assured voice registered the oath--before God and man.

"I, Isabelle," and the priest took up with her this primal oath of fidelity, body and soul. All at once the full personal import of the words pierced her, and her low voice swelled unconsciously with her affirmation. She was to be for always as she was now. They two had not been one before: the words did not make them so now. It was their desire. But the old divided selves, the old impulses, they were to die, here, forever.

She heard herself repeating the words after the minister. Her strong young voice in the stillness of the chapel sounded strangely not her own voice, but the voice of some unknown woman within her, who was taking the oath for her in this barbaric ceremony whereby man and woman are bound together. "And hereby I plight thee my troth,"--the voice sank to a whisper as of prayer. Her eyes came back to the man's face, searching for his eyes.

There were little beads of perspiration on his broad brow, and the shaven lips were closely pressed together, moulding the face into lines of will,--the look of mastery. What was he, this man, now her husband for always, his hand about hers in sign of perpetual possession and protection? What beneath all was he who had taken with her, thus publicly, the mighty oath of fidelity, "until death us do part"? Each had said it; each believed it; each desired it wholly. Perversely, here in the moment of her deepest feeling, intruded the consciousness of broken contracts, the waste of shattered purposes. Ah, but _theirs was different! This absolute oath of fidelity one to the other, each with his own will and his own desire,--this irredeemable contract of union between man and woman,--it was not always a binding sacrament. Often twisted and broken, men and women promising in the belief of the best within them what was beyond their power to perform. There were those in that very chapel who had said these words and broken them, furtively or legally... With them, of course, it would be different, would be the best; for she conceived their love to be of another kind,--the enduring kind. Nevertheless, just here, while the priest of society pronounced the final words of union, something spoke within the woman's soul that it was a strange oath to be taking, a strange manner of making two living beings one!

"And I pronounce you man and wife," the words ran. Then the minister hastened on into his little homily upon the marriage state. But the woman's thought rested at those fateful words,--"man and wife,"--the knot of the contract. There should fall a new light in her heart that would make her know they were really one, having now been joined as the book said "in holy wedlock." From this sacramental union of persons there should issue to both a new spirit...

Her husband was standing firm and erect, listening with all the concentration of his mind to what the minister was saying--not tumultuously distracted--as though he comprehended the exact gravity of this contract into which he was entering, as he might that of any other he could make, sure of his power to fulfil all, confident before Fate. She trembled strangely. Did she know him, this other self? In the swift apprehension of life's depths which came through her heightened mood she perceived that ultimate division lying between all human beings, that impregnable fortress of the individual soul.... It was all over. He looked tenderly at her. Her lips trembled with a serious smile,--yes, they would understand now!

The people behind them moved more audibly. The thing was done; the priest's words of exhortation were largely superfluous. All else that concerned married life these two would have to find out for themselves. The thing was done, as ordained by the church, according to the rules of society. Now it was for Man and Wife to make of it what they would or--could.

The minister closed his book in dismissal. The groom offered his arm to the bride. Facing the chapelful she came out of that dim world of wonder whither she had strayed. Her veil thrown back, head proudly erect, eyes mistily ranging above the onlookers, she descended the altar steps, gazing down the straight aisle over the black figures, to the sunny village green, beyond into the vista of life! ... Triumphant organ notes beat through the chapel, as they passed between the rows of smiling faces,--familiar faces only vaguely perceived, yet each with its own expression, its own reaction from this ceremony. She swept on deliberately, with the grace of her long stride, her head raised, a little smile on her open lips, her hand just touching his,--going forward with him into life.

Only two faces stood out from the others at this moment,--the dark, mischievous face of Nancy Lawton, smiling sceptically. Her dark, little eyes seemed to say, 'Oh, you don't know yet!' And the other was the large, placid face of a blond woman, older than the bride, standing beside a stolid man at the end of a pew. The serene, soft eyes of this woman were dim with tears, and a tender smile still lingered on her lips. She at least, Alice Johnston, the bride's cousin, could smile through the tears--a smile that told of the sweetness in life.....

At the door the frock-coated young ushers formed into double line through which the couple passed. The village green outside was flooded with sunshine, checkered by drooping elm branches. Bells began to ring from the library across the green and from the schoolhouse farther down. It was over--the fine old barbaric ceremony, the passing of the irredeemable contract between man and woman, the public proclamation of eternal union. Henceforth they were man and wife before the law, before their kind--one and one, and yet not two.

Thus together they passed out of the church.

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