As the two reached the altar, Salome stepped to one side, and Manetho’s eye fell upon her; for a moment his gaze fixed, while a slight movement undulated through his body, as the wave travels along the cord. The old white dress, unseen for five-and-twenty years; some intangible trick of motion or attitude in the wearer; the occasion and circumstance recurring with such near similarity,—these and perhaps other trifles combined to recall long-vanished Salome. She had stood at that other wedding, just where Nurse was now,—bright, shapely, sparkling-eyed, full of love for him. What a grisly contrast was this!—Why had he thrown away that ardent, loving heart? How sweet and comfortable might life have been to-day, with Salome his wife, and sons and daughters at her side,—daughters beautiful as Gnulemah, sons tall as Balder! But Hatred had been his chosen mistress, and dismal was the progeny begotten on her! The pregnant existence that might have been his, and the scars and barrenness which had actually redounded to him, were symbolized in the remembered Salome and her of to-day.
The brief reminiscence passed, leaving Manetho face to face with his sacred duty. With the warning of the past in his ears and that of the future before his eyes, did he step unrelenting across the threshold of his crime? At all events he neither hesitated nor turned back. But there was no triumph in his eyes, and his tones and manner were heavy and mechanical; as though the Devil (having brought him thus far with his own consent and knowledge) had now to compel a frozen soul in a senseless body!
The service began, none the less hallowed for the lovers, because for Manetho it was the solemn perversion of a sacred ceremony. His voice labored through the perfumed air, and recoiled in broken echoes from gloomy corners and deep-tinted walls. The encircling lamps glowed in serried lines of various light; the fantastic incense-flame rustled softly on the altar. The four figures seemed a group of phantoms,—a momentary rich illusion of the eye. And save for their viewless souls, what were they more? Earth is a phantom; but what we cannot grasp is real and remains!—
The rite was over, the diamond gleamed from Gnulemah’s finger, and the priest with uplifted hands had bade man not part whom God had united. Husband and wife gazed at each other with freshness and wonder in their eyes; as having expected to see some change, and anew delighted at finding more of themselves than ever!
Male and female pervades the universe, and marriage is the end and fulfilment of creation. God has builded the world of love and wisdom, woman and man; truly to live they must unite, she yielding herself to his form, he moulding himself of her substance. As love unquickened by wisdom is barren, and knowledge impotent unkindled by affection, so are the unmarried lifeless.
Ill and bitter was it, therefore, for Manetho and Salome, after the married ones had departed, taking their happiness with them. The priest’s, eyes were dry and dull, as he leaned wearily against the smoking altar.