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The End of the World: A Love Story By Edward Eggleston Characters: 11579

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The religious excitement reached its culmination as the tenth and eleventh of August came on. Some made ascension-robes. Work was suspended everywhere. The more abandoned, unwilling to yield to the panic, showed its effects on them by deeper potations, and by a recklessness of wickedness meant to conceal their fears. With tin horns they blasphemously affected to be angels blowing trumpets. They imitated the Millerite meetings in their drunken sprees, and learned Mr. Hankins's arguments by heart.

The sun of the eleventh of August rose gloriously. People pointed to it with trembling, and said that it would rise no more. Soon after sunrise there were crimson clouds stretching above and below it, and popular terror seized upon this as a sign. But the sun mounted with a scorching heat, which showed that at least his shining power was not impaired. Then men said, "Behold the beginning of the fervent heat that is to melt the elements!" Night drew on, and every "shooting-star" was a new sign of the end. The meteors, as usual at this time of the year, were plentiful, and the simple-hearted country-folk were convinced that the stars were falling out of the sky.

A large bald hill overlooking the Ohio was to be the mount of ascension. Here gathered Elder Hankins's flock with that comfortable assurance of being the elect that only a narrow bigotry can give. And here came others of all denominations, consoling themselves that they were just as well off if they were Christians as if they had made all this fuss about the millennium. Here was August, too, now almost well, joining with the rest in singing those sweet and inspiring Adventist hymns. His German heart could not keep still where there was singing, and now, in gratefulness at new-found health, he was more inclined to music than ever. So he joined heartily and sincerely in the song that begins:

"Shall Simon bear his cross alone,

And all the world go free?

No, there's a cross for every one,

And there's a cross for me.

I'll bear the consecrated cross

Till from the cross I'm free,

And then go home to wear the crown.

For there's a crown for me!

Yes, there's a crown in heaven above,

The purchase of a Saviour's love.

Oh I that's the crown for me!"

When the concourse reached the lines,

"The saints have heard the midnight cry,

Go meet him in the air!"

neither August nor any one else could well resist the infection of the profound and awful belief in the immediate coming of the end which pervaded the throng. Strong men and women wept and shouted with the excitement.

Then Elder Hankins exhorted a little. He said that the time was short. But men's hearts were hard. As in the days of the flood, they were marrying and giving in marriage. Not half a mile away a wedding was at that time taking place, and a man who called himself a minister could not discern the signs of the times, but was solemnizing a marriage.

This allusion was to the marriage of Jonas, which was to take place that very evening at the castle. Mrs. Anderson had refused to have "such wicked nonsense" at her house, and as Cynthy had no home, Andrew had appointed it at the castle, partly to oblige Jonas, partly from habitual opposition to Abigail, but chiefly to express his contempt for Adventism.

Mrs. Anderson herself was in a state of complete sublimation. She had sent for Norman, that she might get him ready for the final judgment, and Norman, without the slightest inclination to be genuinely religious, was yet a coward, and made a provisional repentance, not meant to hold good if Elder Hankins's figures should fail; just such a repentance as many a man has made on what he supposed to be his death-bed. Do not I remember a panic-stricken man, converted by typhoid fever and myself, who laughed as soon as he began to eat gruel, to think that he had been "such a fool as to send for the preacher"?

Now, between Mrs. Anderson's joy at Norman's conversion, and her delight that the world would soon be at an end and she on the winning side, and her anticipation of the pleasure she would feel even in heaven in saying, "I told you so!" to her unbelieving friends, she quite forgot Julia. In fact she went from one fit of religious catalepsy to another, falling into trances, or being struck down with what was mysteriously called "the power." She had relaxed her vigilance about Julia, for there were but three more hours of time, and she felt that the goal was already gained, and she had carried her point to the very last. A satisfaction for a saint!

The neglected Julia naturally floated toward the outer edge of the surging crowd, and she and August inevitably drifted together.

"Let us go and see Jonas married," said August. "It is no harm. God can take us to heaven from one place as well as another, if we are His children."

In truth, Julia was wearied and bewildered, not to say disgusted, with her mother's peculiar religious exercises, and she gladly escaped with August to the castle and the wedding of her faithful friends.

Andrew, in a spirit of skeptical defiance, had made his castle look as flowery and festive as possible. The wedding took place in the lower story, but the library was illuminated, and the Adventists who had occasion to pass by Andrew's on their way to the rendezvous accepted this as a new fulfillment of prophecy to the very letter. They nodded one to another, and said, "See! marrying and giving in marriage, as in the days of Noah!"

August and Julia were too much awe-stricken to say much on their way to the castle. But in these last hours of a world grown old and ready for its doom, they cleaved closer together. There could be neither heaven nor millennium for one of them without the other! Loving one anoth

er made them love God the more, and love cast out all fear. If this was the Last, they would face it together, and if it proved the Beginning, they would rejoice together. At sight of every shooting meteor, Julia clung almost convulsively to August.

When they entered the castle, Jonas and Cynthy were already standing up before the presiding elder, and he was about to begin. Cynthy's face showed her sense of the awfulness of marrying at a moment of such fearful expectation, or perhaps she was troubling herself for fear that so much happiness out of heaven was to be had only in the commission of a capital sin. But, like most people whose consciences are stronger than their intellects, she found great consolation in taking refuge under the wing of ecclesiastical authority. To be married by a presiding elder was the best thing in the world next to being married by a bishop.

Whatever fear of the swift-coming judgment others might have felt, the benignant old elder was at peace. Common-sense, a clean conscience, and a child-like faith enlightened his countenance, and since he tried to be always ready, and since his meditations made the things of the other life ever present, his pulse would scarcely have quickened if he had felt sure that the archangel's trump would sound in an hour. He neither felt the subdued fear shown on the countenance of Cynthy Ann, nor the strong skeptical opposition of Andrew, whose face of late had grown almost into a sneer.

"Do you take this woman to be your lawful and wedded wife--"

And before the elder could finish it, Jonas blurted out, "You'd better believe I do, my friend."

And then when the old man smiled and finished his question down to, "so long as ye both shall live," Jonas responded eagerly, "Tell death er the jedgment-day, long or short."

And Cynthy Ann answered demurely out of her frightened but too happy heart, and the old man gave them his benediction in an apostolic fashion that removed Cynthy Ann's scruples, and smoothed a little of the primness out of her face, so that she almost smiled when Jonas said, "Well! it's done now, and it can't be undone fer all the Goshorns in Christendom er creation!"

And then the old gentleman--for he was a gentleman, though he had always been a backwoodsman--spoke of the excitement, and said that it was best always to be ready--to be ready to live, and then you would be ready for death or the judgment. That very night the end might come, but it was not best to trouble one's self about it. And he smiled, and said that it was none of his business, God could manage the universe; it was for him to be found doing his duty as a faithful servant. And then it would be just like stepping out of one door into another, whenever death or the judgment should come.

While the old man was getting ready to leave, Julia and August slipped away, fearing lest their absence should be discovered. But the peacefulness of the old elder's face had entered into their souls, and they wished that they too were solemnly pronounced man and wife, with so sweet a benediction upon their union.

"I do not feel much anxious about the day of judgment or the millennium," said August, whose idiom was sometimes a little broken. "When I was so near dying I felt satisfied to die after you had kissed my lips. But now that it seems we have come upon the world's last days, I wish I were married to you. I do not know how things will be in the new heaven and the new earth. But I should like you to be my wife there, or at least to have been my wife on earth, if only for one hour."

And then he proposed that they should be made man and wife now in the world's last hour. It was not wrong. It could not give her mother heart-disease, for she would not know of it till she should hear it in the land where there are neither marriages nor sickness. Julia could not see any sin in her disobedience under such circumstances. She did so much want to go into the New Jerusalem as the wedded wife of August "the grand," as she fondly called him.

And so in the stillness of that awful night they walked back to Andrew's castle, and found the venerable preacher, with saddle-bags on his arm, ready to mount his horse, for the presiding elder of that day had no leisure time. Jonas and Cynthy stood bidding him good-by. And the old man was saying again that if we were always ready it would be like stepping from one door into another. But he thought it as wrong to waste time gazing up into heaven to see Christ come, as it had been to gaze after Him when He went away. Even Jonas's voice was a little softened by the fearful thought ever present of the coming on of that awful midnight of the eleventh of August. All were surprised to see the two young people come back.

"Father Williams," said August, "we thought we should like to go into the New Jerusalem man and wife. Will you marry us?"

"Sensible to the last!" cried Jonas.

"According to the laws of this State," said Mr. Williams, "you can not be married without a license from the clerk of the county. Have you a license?"

"No," said August, his heart sinking.

Just then Andrew came up and inquired what the conversation was about.

"Why, Uncle Andrew," said Julia eagerly, "August and I don't want the end of the world to come without being man and wife. And we have no license, and August could not go seven miles and back to get a license before midnight. It is too bad, isn't it? If it wasn't that we think the end of the world is so near, I should be ashamed to say how much I want to be married. But I shall be proud to have been August's wife, when I am among the angels."

"You are a noble woman," said Andrew. "Come in, let us see if anything can be done." And he led the way, smiling.

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