Richard had arisen as Arthur was speaking, and at the word bride he put out his hand as if to keep from falling, then steadying that on Arthur’s head and laying the other on Edith’s he whispered,
“To him who saved my life when he believed I was his rival I give my singing bird, who for eleven years has been the blind man’s sunshine—give her freely, cheerfully, harboring no malice against him who takes her. My Arthur and my precious Edith, I bless and love you both.”
The nerveless hands pressed heavily for a moment upon the two bowed heads, and then Arthur led his bride away to where the carriage waited.
The ceremony was appointed for half-past eight, but long before that hour St. Luke’s was filled to overflowing, some coming even as early as six to secure seats most favorable to sight. And there they waited, until the roll of wheels was heard and the clergyman appeared in the chancel. Then seven hundred tired heads turned simultaneously toward the door through which the party came, the rich robes of the bride trailing upon the carpet and sweeping from side to side as she moved up the middle aisle. But not upon her did a single eye in all that vast assemblage linger, nor yet upon the bridegroom, nor yet upon the bridesmaid, filing in one behind the other, but upon the stooping figure which moved so slowly, blind Richard groping his way to the altar, caring nothing for the staring crowd, nothing for the sudden buzz as he came in, hearing nothing but Victor’s whispered words, “’twill soon be over.”
Yes, it would soon be over. It was commencing now, the marriage ceremony, and Richard listened in a kind of maze, until the clergyman asked,
“Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?”
As Arthur had supposed this part would, of course, be omitted, no arrangements had been made for it, and an awkward pause ensued, while all eyes involuntarily turned upon the dark man now standing up so tall, so erect, among that group of lighter, airier forms. Like some frozen statue Richard stood, and the minister, thinking he did not hear, repeated his demand. Slowly Richard moved forward, and Grace, who was next to Edith, stepped aside as he came near. Reverently he laid his hand on Edith’s head, and said aloud,
Then the hand, sliding from her head rested on her shoulder, where it lay all through that ceremony, and the weeping speculators sitting near, heard distinctly the words whispered by the white lips which dripped with the perspiration of this last dreadful agony.
“I, Richard, take thee, Birdie, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.”
He said it every word, and when it was Edith’s turn, he bent a little forward, while his hand grasped her bare shoulder so firmly as to leave a mark when she put Arthur’s name where his should have been, and the quivering lips moaned faintly,