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   Chapter 42 FOR EVER AND EVER.

The End of the World: A Love Story By Edward Eggleston Characters: 9883

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

When they had all re-entered the castle, Andrew made them sit down. The old minister did not see any escape from the fatal obstacle of a lack of license, but Andrew was very mysterious.

"Virtue is its own reward," said the Philosopher, "but it often finds an incidental reward besides. Now, Julia, you are the noblest woman in these degenerate times, according to my way of thinking."

"That's true as preachin', ef you'll except one," chirped Jonas, with a significant look at his Cynthy Ann. Julia blushed, and the old minister looked inquiringly at Andrew and at Julia. This exaggerated praise from a man so misanthropic as Andrew excited his curiosity.

"Without exception," said Andrew emphatically, looking first at Jonas, then at Mr. Williams, "my niece is the noblest woman I ever knew."

"Please don't, Uncle Andrew!" begged Julia, almost speechless with shame. Praise was something she could not bear. She was inured to censure.

"Do you remember that dark night--of course you do--when you braved everything and came here to see August, who would have died but for your coming?" Andrew was now looking at Julia, who answered him almost inaudibly.

"And do you remember when we got to your gate, on your return, what you said to me?"

"Yes, sir," said Julia.

"To be sure you do, and" (turning to August) "I shall never forget her words; she said, If he should get worse, I should like him to die my husband, if he wishes it. Send for me, day or night, and I will come in spite of everything."

"Did you say that?" asked August, looking at her eagerly.

And Julia nodded her head, and lifted her eyes, glistening with brimming tears, to his.

"You do not know," said Andrew to the preacher, "how much her proposal meant, for you do not know through what she would have had to pass. But I say that God does sometimes reward virtue in this world--a world not quite worn out yet--and she is worthy of the reward in store for her."

Saying this, Andrew went into the closet leading to his secret stairway--secret no longer, since Julia had ascended by that way--and soon came down from his library with a paper in his hand.

"When you, my noble-hearted niece, proposed to make any sacrifice to marry this studious, honest, true-hearted German gentleman, who is worthy of you, if any man can be, I thought best to be ready for any emergency, and so I went the next day and procured the license, the clerk promising to keep my secret. A marriage-license is good for thirty days. You will see, Mr. Williams, that this has not quite expired."

The minister looked at it and then said, "I depend on your judgment, Mr. Anderson. There seems to be something peculiar about the circumstances of this marriage."

"Very peculiar," said Andrew.

"You give me your word, then, that it is a marriage I ought to solemnize?"

"The lady is my niece," said Andrew. "The marriage, taking place in this castle, will shed more glory upon it than its whole history beside; and you, sir, have never performed a marriage ceremony in a case where the marriage was so excellent as this."

"Except the last one," put in Jonas.

I suppose Mr. Williams made the proper reductions for Andrew's enthusiasm. But he was satisfied, and perhaps he was rather inclined to be satisfied, for gentle-hearted old men are quite susceptible to a romantic situation.

When he asked August if he would live with this woman in holy matrimony "so long as ye both shall live," August, thinking the two hours of time left to him too short for the earnestness of his vows, looked the old minister in the eyes, and said solemnly: "For ever and ever!"

"No, my son," said the old man, smiling and almost weeping, "that is not the right answer. I like your whole-hearted love. But it is far easier to say 'for ever and ever,' standing as you think you do now on the brink of eternity, than to say 'till death do us part,' looking down a long and weary road of toil and sickness and poverty and change and little vexations. You do not only take this woman, young and blooming, but old and sick and withered and wearied, perhaps. Do you take her for any lot?"

"For any lot," said August solemnly and humbly.

And Julia, on her part, could only bow her head in reply to the questions, for the tears chased one another down her cheeks. And then came the benediction. The inspired old man, full of hearty sympathy, stretched his trembling hands with apostolic solemnity over the heads of the two, and said slowly, with solemn pauses, as the words welled up out of his soul: "The peace of God--that passeth all understanding" (here his voice melted with emotion)--"keep your hearts--and minds--in the knowledge and love of God.--And now, may grace--mercy--and peace from God--the Father--and our Lord Jesus Christ--be with you--evermore--Amen!" And to the imagination of Julia the Spirit of God descended like a dove into her heart, and the grea

t mystery of wifely love and the other greater mystery of love to God seemed to flow together in her soul. And the quieter spirit of August was suffused with a great peace.

They soon left the castle to return to the mount of ascension, but they walked slowly, and at first silently, over the intervening hill, which gave them a view of the Ohio River, sleeping in its indescribable beauty and stillness in the moonlight.

Presently they heard the melodious voice of the old presiding elder, riding up the road a little way off, singing the hopeful hymns in which he so much delighted. The rich and earnest voice made the woods ring with one verse of

"Oh! how happy are they

Who the Saviour obey,

And have laid up their treasure above I

Tongue can never express

The sweet comfort and peace

Of a soul in its earliest love."

And then he broke into Watts's

"When I can read my title clear

To mansions in the skies,

I'll bid farewell to every fear

And wipe my weeping eyes!"

There seemed to be some accord between the singing of the brave old man and the peacefulness of the landscape. Soon he had reached the last stanza, and in tones of subdued but ecstatic triumph he sang:

"There I shall bathe my weary soul

In seas of heavenly rest,

And not a wave of trouble roll

Across my peaceful breast."

And with these words he passed round the hill and out of the hearing of the young people.

"August," said Julia slowly, as if afraid to break a silence so blessed, "August, it seems to me that the sky and the river and the hazy hills and my own soul are all alike, just as full of happiness and peace as they can be."

"Yes," said August, smiling, "but the sky is clear, and your eyes are raining, Julia. But can it be possible that God, who made this world so beautiful, will burn it up to-night? It used to seem a hard world to me when I was away from you, and I didn't care how quickly it burned up. But now--"

Somehow August forgot to finish that sentence. Words are of so little use under such circumstances. A little pressure on Julia's arm which was in his, told all that he meant. When love makes earth a heaven, it is enough.

"But how beautiful the new earth will be," said Julia, still looking at the sleeping river, "the river of life will be clear as crystal!"

"Yes," said August, "the Spanish version says, 'Most resplendent, like unto crystal.'"

"I think," said Julia, "that it must be something like this river. The trees of life will stand on either side, like those great sycamores that lean over the water so gracefully."

Any landscape would have seemed heavenly to Julia on this night. A venerable friend of mine, a true Christian philanthropist, whose praise is in all the churches, wants me to undertake to reform fictitious literature by leaving out the love. And so I may when God reforms His universe by leaving out the love. Love is the best thing in novels; not until love is turned out of heaven will I help turn it out of literature. It is only the misrepresentation of love in literature that is bad, as the poisoning of love in life is bad. It was the love of August that had opened Julia's heart to the influences of heaven, and Julia was to August a mediator of God's grace.

By eleven o'clock August Wehle and his wife--it gives me nearly as much pleasure as it did August to use that locution--were standing not far away from the surging crowd of those who, in singing hymns and in excited prayer, were waiting for the judgment. Jonas and Cynthy and Andrew were with them. August, though not a recognized Millerite, almost blamed himself that he should have been away these two hours from the services. But why should he? The most sacramental of all the sacraments is marriage. Is it not an arbitrary distinction of theologians, that which makes two rites to be sacraments and others not? But if the distinction is to be made at all, I should apply the solemn word to the solemnest rite and the holiest ordinance of God's, even if I left out the sacred washing in the name of the Trinity and the broken emblematic bread and the wine. These are sacramental in their solemn symbolism, that in the solemnest symbolism and the holiest reality.

August's whole attention was now turned toward the coming judgment; and as he stood thinking of the awfulness of this critical moment, the exercises of the Adventists grated on the deep peacefulness of his spirit, for from singing their more beautiful hymns, they had passed to an excited shouting of the old camp-meeting ditty whose refrain is:

"I hope to shout glory when this world's all on fire! Hallelujah!"

He and Julia hung back a moment, but Mrs. Abigail, who had recovered from her tenth trance, and had been for some time engaged in an active search for Julia, now pounced upon her, and bore her off, before she had time to think, to the place of the hottest excitement.

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