“You have helped it very long,” I said at last, quietly. “But now I must know—would you love me anywhere, in any circumstances, in spite of all? I love you because you are You, not because you are here. I must be loved in the same way, always.”
She looked at me now silently, and I leaned and kissed her full on the mouth.
She did not rebel or draw away, but there was that on her face, I say, which left me only reverent. Her hand fell into mine. We sat there, plighted, plighted in our rags and misery and want and solitude. Though I should live twice the allotted span of man, never should I forget what came into my soul that hour.
After a time I turned from her, and from the hills, and from the sky, and looked about us at the poor belongings with which we were to begin our world. All at once my eye fell upon one of our lighter robes, now fairly white with much working. I drew it toward me, and with her still leaning against my shoulder, I took up a charred stick, and so, laboriously, I wrote upon the surface of the hide, these words of our covenant:
“I, John Cowles, take thee, Ellen Meriwether, to be my lawful, wedded wife, in sickness, and in health, for better of for worse, till death do us part.”
And I signed it; and made a seal after my name.
“Write,” said I to her. “Write as I have written.”
She took a fresh brand, blackened at the end, and in lesser characters wrote slowly, letter by letter:
“I, Ellen Meriwether, take thee, John Cowles, to be my lawful, wedded husband—” She paused, but I would not urge her, and it was moments before she resumed—“in sickness and in health, for better or for worse—” Again she paused, thinking, thinking—and so concluded, “till death do us part.”
“It means,” she said to me, simply as a child, “until we have both gone back into the flowers and the trees.”
I took her hand in mine. Mayhap book and bell and organ peal and vestured choir and high ceremony of the church may be more solemn; but I, who speak the truth from this very knowledge, think it could not be.
“When you have signed that, Ellen,” I said to her at last, “we two are man and wife, now and forever, here and any place in the world. That is a binding ceremony, and it endows you with your share of all my property, small or large as that may be. It is a legal wedding, and it holds us with all the powers the law can have. It is a contract.”
“Do not talk to me of contracts,” she said. “I am thinking of nothing but our—wedding.”
Still mystical, still enigma, still woman, she would have it that the stars, the mountains—–the witnesses—and not ourselves, made the wedding. I left it so, sure of nothing so much as that, whatever her way of thought might be, it was better than my own.