The Betrothal

Amid surroundings such as I have described three years passed, and happily for me, and to my great good then and for all time. Indeed, I do not look back to any period of my life with greater pleasure, for it was filled with Constance and thoughts of her and nothing else. My bed, once too long, was now too short, yet I would not change it in any way. Lying there, the pattering rain sang of my love, and at night the sighing and chattering wind lulled me to sleep with thoughts of her.
Thus I lay one midsummer night, listening to the whir and beating of a great storm that had come up suddenly from out the south, after the day had closed. Above the roar of the wind and the splash of the water on the roof, I could plainly hear the wash of the river as it beat on our shore, and this as if to add to the strength and rhythm of the storm. If by chance the wind abated for a moment, the rain fell anew, and in torrents, as if the deluge were come again. Then, it in turn showing some pause, the wind would spring up afresh, and in such fury that the windows and logs of the house trembled as if shaken by an earthquake.
While I lay thus listening, not caring to sleep, and in such comfort of position and delight of mind that movement of any kind was like pain, there came to me above the tumult of the tempest, faintly and far off like an echo, the dull boom of the Penitent’s bell. But that could hardly be, for surely no one would venture abroad on such a night! Thinking thus, I lay still, and in a little while it came again, and plaintively, the like of which I had never heard before. There could be no mistake now; it was the Penitent’s bell calling, and nothing else! Still I did not move. The storm was too great, and no boat could live in it a minute! Then let the great tree shelter its guest, for there was no other way. Turning uneasily on my bed, the signal came again and stronger, booming above the swash of the water and the rush of the wind as if it were the voice of some one crying out in anguish of body and mind, not far off nor vaguely now, but high and resounding, as if tolling for the dead or dying. Frightened, I sat bolt upright; and soon it came to me again, and with greater stress of melancholy, if that were possible. Trembling, unable to withstand the call longer, I sprang up, and putting on my garments, quickly found my way to the floor below. Those resting there had not heard the summons, and so leaving them undisturbed, I opened the door and stepped out into the night. At this, and as if watching my coming, the wind, rising to new fury, tossed me here and there so that I could scarce keep my feet. Above, there was some glimpse of light in the leaden sky, but about me only inky darkness and the circling wind and falling rain. As I stood clutching a tree, loath to go on, the boom of the bell came again, and as if with new import and stress of haste. No longer hesitating, I hurried on, listening as I ran; and now, I know not why, stricken with a chill, as if somehow its tolling meant harm to me or those I loved.
Reaching the boat, and emptying it of water, I fixed the oars in their place, and without thought shoved it into the stream. At this, the wind and waves taking it up in their arms as if it were a plaything, hurled it back upon me, and with such force that I came nigh to being crushed with its weight. Awaiting a more favorable moment, I sprang into the boat, and doing so, pushed it into the boiling water. Little, however, could I do now that I was afloat and held the oars, for, enveloped in darkness, the waves flying before the storm so tossed me about that effort to make headway was lost in striving to keep afloat. Then the wind, veering with the windings of the river or overhanging trees, bewildering me, I was fain to sit still and wait some clew to guide me. This the stream would have done, but tossed by the wind, it lost its force, so that I could not tell which way it ran, if indeed it had any direction at all.
While thus striving to make headway, the Penitent’s bell came to me across the splashing water, but now at longer intervals and indistinctly, as if those who rang it were faint or dying. Chilled by its stroke, it yet helped to guide me, so that I struggled on the more hopefully because of it. In this way I after a while reached the middle of the stream, and now I made greater headway; but going on, the bell grew faint, and then at last ceased its tolling altogether. Filled with new fear lest losing its guidance I should after all go astray, I put forth all my strength to gain the farther shore. Of sign of it, however, or other thing, save the spray of the white-topped waves as they swept over me and across the boat, there was none. Nor could I hear any sound save the whir of the wind and the churning of the waves as they beat against the boat or fell back into the angry stream. Going on, with scarce anything to guide me, I came at last within the shadow of the forest, feeling which I gave a shout. For, listening, I could now plainly hear the water as it beat against the shore, and above it the roar of the wind as the trees bent beneath its force. Putting forth all my strength anew, the boat in a moment grated high on the shelving beach, and I was safe.
Thanking God for my deliverance, I sprang ashore, and keeping hold, stood still. Hearing nothing, I called, but to this there was no response, save the confusion and tumult of the storm. Not knowing if I were above or below the landing, I fastened my boat and hurried forward, and this fortunately; for I had gone but a little way when I came upon the beaten road that led from the shore back into the country. Springing up the bank, I stood beside the Penitent, and now for the first time some measure of fear seized me. For, save the gurgling water and the moan of the wind, as if spirits filled the air, no sound reached my waiting ear. Listening, I presently called, but without response or movement of any kind. Steadying myself, I stood still, holding the swaying rope, and doing so, a sigh came to my strained ears, and this from off the ground at my very feet. Or was it merely some trick of the storm and pushing wind? Groping about, my outstretched hands came in contact with the face of some one lying prostrate on the ground, and damp and icy cold, as if life had fled. Too agitated to speak, I knelt and lifted the body on my knees, and doing so, discovered it to be a woman. Pushing back the damp hair, I stroked her face and hands, but for a long time in vain. This until I was losing hope, when she sighed again—or was it a sob instead? Overjoyed, I put my arms about her and raised her up, crying:
“Cheer up, dear lady; help has come and you are saved!”
Upon this she gave a cry, and lifting her arms they caught about my neck, but as if life had left her with the effort.
“Oh, God, my sweet love! Constance!” I cried, half dead with fright; for it was she I held in my arms, and no one else. Bereft of my senses, I clasped her to my breast, calling to her again and again, and entreatingly, and by every pet name I could think of, but without response of any kind. This for a long time, until regaining some presence of mind, I fell to stroking her hands and face, covering them with kisses as I worked. Sighing after a while, she murmured my name, but with such faintness I thought she was dying.
“Constance, my darling, my sweet love, speak to me! You must not die now that I have come to save you.”
Struggling to regain her strength, she answered, but oh! so softly:
“How dear of you, Gilbert, to come to me.”
“Come to you, Constance; had I known you were here, the thought would have killed me.”
tumblr_ohh7ih0cxv1rae5cko1_1280“I expected Mr. Hayward would answer, and you came instead—and oh, the peril of it! When I heard your voice I thought I was dying, my happiness was so great.”
“I was never in any danger, Constance. I heard the bell, but would not stir. Then it drew me on in spite of myself, as if some danger threatened, I knew not what.”
“It was I calling, as I stood reaching out across the dark water; but at last, thinking my summons was not heard, I knew no more till I found your arms about me.”
“I ought to have reached you sooner, sweet love, but the waves tossed me about so that I thought I should never find the shore. Had I known you were lying here, I should have leaped into the river to reach you sooner.”
“How good of you, Gilbert; and you will always come to me?” she answered, softly.
“Yes, Constance, and you know why. Because I love you, love you, love you, dearest, above everything on earth, and always have and will; and you, Constance, say that you love me, for this you have never done.”
“You know I love you, Gilbert,” she answered, after a while, clinging closer about my neck; “and if you did not love me as you do, I should not want to live. I love you above everything, and you are in my thoughts day and night, you sweet boy”; and with that she took my face in her hands and drawing me to her kissed me many times.
“I am always thinking of you, too, dearest, and of what you do and say, and how you look and what will please you. Now I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear you say you love me,” I cried, covering her face and hair with my kisses, happy beyond anything I had ever dreamed of.
Thus we plighted our troth beneath the great tree, not thinking where we were, nor caring for the storm, which now, indeed, was fast dying away. Soon, however, and as if startled out of herself, she sprang up.
“Oh, Gilbert, I can never forgive myself, to have forgotten what I came for in the happiness of being with you. Quick—come with me,” she cried, saying which, she grasped my hand and drew me toward the forest.
“Why, what is it, Constance? I have never thought to ask what brought you here.”
“Nor I to tell you, Gilbert; but yesterday, papa and I going into the country, and night coming on, we thought to return by the other ferry; but reaching it, some accident to the boat prevented our crossing, and so we had to retrace our steps, and the night and the storm coming on, our horse strayed from the road, throwing us into the ditch. When I found papa he lay like one dead, nor could I bring him to, and after striving for a long time in vain, I at last thought to come here for help.”
“Oh, you sweet love, to be in such distress and I not know it!” I cried, lifting her arm and kissing the sleeve of her dress.
“Yes; but we must make greater haste,” she answered, hurrying forward.
“Is it far?” I asked, that I might hear her sweet voice. NORFLOXACIN HCL
“I don’t know; the way seemed long, but I was frightened and often strayed from the road.”
“No one but you would have had such courage, my brave little wife, for that you will be some day, sweetheart.”
To this she made no response save to press my hand as we hurried on. Now losing the road in the darkness, and regaining it only to lose it again, we made so little headway that I thought we never should reach him we sought. Going on, we after a while stopped, affrighted lest we had passed him in the darkness. While standing in this way and straining our ears to catch some sound, we heard the neighing of a horse a little way ahead. At this we went on again, and coming to the spot, were overjoyed to hear Mr. Seymour’s voice in answer to our call. Hastening to where he lay, we found him as Constance had said, but now able to speak. Kneeling and taking his head in her lap, she stroked his hair and face, and I, gathering hold of his hands and body, so rubbed and worked over them that in a little while he was able to move. Hunting up the robes, I placed them under and about him; and presently, the day breaking, we were able to do still better. In this way, through our aid and by his own efforts, Mr. Seymour was soon on his feet. For he was not much hurt, but the shock being great, had for a long time rendered him unconscious.
When he was somewhat recovered, I brought the horse, and stripping off the harness, we put Mr. Seymour on his back, and in this way, Constance and I walking on either side, we made our way to the ferry. Mr. Hayward, who was already abroad, hearing the Penitent’s summons, soon came to our aid, and great was his surprise at discovering me and the danger he imagined I had escaped. For Constance quickly told him all that had happened, adding many things that did not amount to anything, so determined was she to make the most of my adventure. This greatly disturbed Mr. Hayward, for in all things he was a very tender-hearted man indeed. In proof of this, I must tell you, I have known him many a time, when worn out with work, to go a great way to watch at night by the bedside of some poor person in distress who would not, except for him, have had any care whatever. This for many nights together, and uncomplainingly, and he worn out, as I say. Nor was he backward in giving outright when need be, and I have in this way seen a whole month’s gains from the ferry or some Specialty of ours vanish in a moment. This I tell you lest you should mistake his character from what I have said concerning him. Indeed, I have never known a man so generous or tender of heart as he.
Hastening to the boat, we quickly reached the opposite shore, and in a minute were safe in our little home. Here Mrs. Hayward taking charge of Constance, soon had her arrayed in dry garments; and if they were too long and somewhat too large, it did not matter, for never did woman look more lovely than the sweet maid as she entered the room. Indeed, I thought the quaintness of the dress, if anything, added to her beauty and the gentle modesty of her demeanor.
While Constance was being looked to in the way I say, Mr. Hayward busied himself with her father, afterward giving him some bitters with a dash of the cholera mixture, whereupon Mr. Seymour declared himself as good as new. Thus was brought to a happy ending a most eventful night, and memorable above all others because of Constance’s confession that she loved me. For there can be no doubt whatever but that the happiest moment in every man’s life is that in which the woman he loves confesses that she loves him in return. All other things, I must believe, are as naught and not worth mentioning in comparison with this sweet boon.