The weddings that we hold are frequent and various. Runaway couples come to us, blushing and short-winded, satisfy us of their lawful age, are united, and pass into the moon, leaving a five-dollar bill behind them. We cannot quite find it in our hearts, even at this late day, to forgive those numerous candidates for felicity who hold the par value of a wedding ceremony to be no more than two dollars. Yet, though we grieve to admit it, two dollars is the average fee. At one time the negro population, anxious to be wived by a white preacher, makes inroads upon us en masse to the detriment of decorum and our carpets. We summarily shut down upon this business when we find that their fees come to but half a dollar a pair.
However, the year drifts by, and we are greatly concerned to know if it is the sentiment of Swan Neck that we shall continue its pastor another year. Old Yeasty, Margot’s father, as we are aware, feels himself slighted because we do not call upon him of Sundays to make the closing prayers; for Yeasty’s prayer is a sermon under another name, and runs the morning into twilight; but a sly compliment that we pay him in a diplomatic sermon at the end of the conference year brings him round all right, and back we go to Swan Neck.
So with burying the dead and writing their obituaries; making the babes pure with that holy sprinkling which gives them, dying early, to a Christian immortality; launching our thunders upon the bold, softening the hearts of the errant, mingling with our unbending creed the more pliable ethics of worldly graces, and, in a word, walking like Saint John on the savage border of civilization, to thrill the brutal and unlettered with the tidings of one just day to come—our itinerant lives drift on till the marble slab in the meeting-house wall writes the itinerant’s only human memorial.
We have dreamed our last. Burst from the narrow chrysalis which we would gladly rebuild again, the seething, churning sea is before us and around us; we only catch, like the strains of bells through the fog, the hum of hymns, the drowsy murmur of the buzzing Sabbath-school, and the nasal ring of the itinerant’s summer sermon. Margot is married to Chough, our whilom colleague, and makes her migration in his Bedouin train, and does not know how once she thrilled us. The tuning-fork is rusty, and the chorister in his coffin may hear, if he can, his successor stirring the birds in the roof with his sonorous melody. All are at rest, and we live on—moving, moving, moving—so deeply fastened into our natures are our early instincts; but every night we say the same parsonage prayer, and every morning look upon the wall where hangs the grave, grim features we revere—the Itinerant Preacher.
Wise is the wild duck winging
straight to thee,
River of summer! from the cold Arctic sea,
Coming, like his fathers for centuries, to seek
The sweet, salt pastures of the far Chesapeake.