The Knell at the Wedding by Charles M. Skinner
A young New Yorker had laid such siege to the heart of a certain
belle—this was back in the Knickerbocker days when people married for
love—that everybody said the banns were as good as published; but
everybody did not know, for one fine morning my lady went to church with
another gentleman—not her father, though old enough to be—and when the
two came out they were man and wife. The elderly man was rich. After the
first paroxysm of rage and disappointment had passed, the lover withdrew
from the world and devoted himself to study; nor when he learned that she
had become a widow, with comfortable belongings derived from the estate
of the late lamented, did he renew acquaintance with her, and he smiled
bitterly when he heard of her second marriage to a young adventurer who
led her a wretched life, but atoned for his sins, in a measure, by dying
soon enough afterward to leave a part of her fortune unspent.
In the lapse of time the doubly widowed returned to New York, where she
met again the lover of her youth. Mr. Ellenwood had acquired the reserve
of a scholar, and had often puzzled his friends with his eccentricities;
but after a few meetings with the object of his young affection he came
out of his glooms, and with respectful formality laid again at her feet
the heart she had trampled on forty years before. Though both of them
were well on in life, the news of their engagement made little of a
sensation. The widow was still fair; the wooer was quiet, refined, and
courtly, and the union of their fortunes would assure a competence for
the years that might be left to them. The church of St. Paul, on
Broadway, was appointed for the wedding, and it was a whim of the groom
that his bride should meet him there. At the appointed hour a company of
the curious had assembled in the edifice; a rattle of wheels was heard,
and a bevy of bridesmaids and friends in hoop, patch, velvet, silk,
powder, swords, and buckles walked down the aisle; but just as the bride
had come within the door, out of the sunlight that streamed so
brilliantly on the mounded turf and tombstones in the churchyard, the
bell in the steeple gave a single boom.
The bride walked to the altar, and as she took her place before it
another clang resounded from the belfry. The bridegroom was not there.
Again and again the brazen throat and iron tongue sent out a doleful
knell, and faces grew pale and anxious, for the meaning of it could not
be guessed. With eyes fixed on the marble tomb of her first husband, the
woman tremblingly awaited the solution of the mystery, until the door was
darkened by something that made her catch her breath—a funeral. The
organ began a solemn dirge as a black-cloaked cortege came through the
aisle, and it was with amazement that the bride discovered it to be
formed of her oldest friends,—bent, withered; paired, man and woman, as
in mockery—while behind, with white face, gleaming eyes, disordered
hair, and halting step, came the bridegroom, in his shroud.
"Come," he said,—"let us be married. The coffins are ready. Then, home to
"Cruel!" murmured the woman.
"Now, Heaven judge which of us has been cruel. Forty years ago you took
away my faith, destroyed my hopes, and gave to others your youth and
beauty. Our lives have nearly run their course, so I am come to wed you
as with funeral rites." Then, in a softer manner, he took her hand, and
said, "All is forgiven. If we cannot live together we will at least be
wedded in death. Time is almost at its end. We will marry for eternity.
Come." And tenderly embracing her, he led her forward. Hard as was the
ordeal, confusing, frightening, humiliating, the bride came through it a
"It is true," she said, "I have been vain and worldly, but now, in my
age, the truest love I ever knew has come back to me. It is a holy love.
I will cherish it forever." Their eyes met, and they saw each other
through tears. Solemnly the clergyman read the marriage service, and when
it was concluded the low threnody that had come from the organ in key
with the measured clang of the bell, merged into a nobler motive, until
at last the funeral measures were lost in a burst of exultant harmony.
Sobs of pent feeling and sighs of relief were heard as the bridal party
moved away, and when the newmade wife and husband reached the portal the
bell was silent and the sun was shining.