In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 33

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In the Roar of the Sea by Sabine Baring-Gould
Chapter 33

CHAPTER XXXIII.


HALF A MARRIAGE.


One request Judith had made, relative to her marriage, and one only, after she had given way about the time when it was to take place, and this request concerned the place. She desired to be married, not in the parish church of S. Minver, but in that of S. Enodoc, in the yard of which lay her father and mother, and in which her father had occasionally ministered.

It was true that no great display could be made in a building half-filled with sand, but neither Judith nor Coppinger, nor Aunt Dionysia desired display, and Jump, the sole person who wished that the wedding should be in full gala, was not consulted in the matter.

November scowled over sea and land, perverting the former into lead and blighting the latter to a dingy brown.

The wedding-day was sad. Mist enveloped the coast, wreathed the cliffs, drifted like smoke over the glebe, and lay upon the ocean, dense and motionless, like a mass of cotton-wool. Not a smile of sun, not a glimmer of sky, not a trace of outline in the haze overhead. The air was full of minute particles of moisture flying aimlessly, lost to all sense of gravity, in every direction. The mist had a fringe but no seams, and looked as if it were as unrendable as felt. It trailed over the soil, here lifting a ragged flock or tag of fog a few feet above the earth, there dropping it again and smearing water over all it touched. Vapor condensed on every twig and leaf, but only leisurely, and slowly dripped from the ends of thorns and leaves; but the weight of the water on some of the frosted and sickly foliage brought the leaves down with it. Every stone in every wall was lined with trickles of water like snail crawls. The vapor penetrated within doors, and made all articles damp, of whatever sort they were. Fires were reluctant to kindle, chimneys smoked. The grates and irons broke out into eruptions of rust, mildew appeared on walls, leaks in roofs. The slate floors became dark and moist. Forks and spoons adhered to the hands of those who touched them, and on the keys of Mr. Menaida's piano drops formed.

What smoke did escape from a chimney trailed down the roof. Decomposed leaves exhaled the scent of decay. From every stack-yard came a musty odor of wet straw and hay. Stable yards emitted their most fetid exudations that oozed through the gates and stained the roads. The cabbages in the kail-yards touched by frost announced that they were in decomposition, and the turnips that they were in rampant degeneration and rottenness. The very seaweed washed ashore impregnated the mist with a flavor of degeneration.

The new rector, the Reverend Desiderius Mules had been in residence at St. Enodoc for three months. He had received but a hundred and twenty-seven pounds four and ninepence farthing for dilapidations, and was angry, declared himself cheated, and vowed he would never employ the agent Cargreen any more. And a hundred and twenty-seven pounds four and ninepence farthing went a very little way in repairing and altering the rectory to make it habitable to the liking of the Reverend Desiderius. The Reverend Peter Trevisa and his predecessors had been West Country men, and as such loved the sun, and chose to have the best rooms of the house with a southern aspect. But the Reverend Desiderius Mules had been reared in Barbadoes, and hated the sun, and elected to have the best rooms of the house to look north. This entailed great alterations. The kitchen had to be converted into parlor, and the parlor into kitchen, the dining-room into scullery, and the scullery into study, and the library enlarged to serve as dining-room. All the down-stairs windows had to be altered. Mr. Desiderius Mules liked to have French windows opening to the ground.

In the same manner great transformations were made in the garden. Where Mr. Peter Trevisa had built up and planted a hedge there Mr. Desiderius Mules opened a gate, and where the late rector had laid down a drive there the new rector made garden beds. In the same manner shrubberies were converted into lawns, and lawns into shrubberies. The pump was now of no service outside the drawing-room window; it had to be removed to the other side of the house, and to serve the pump with water a new well had to be dug, and the old well that had furnished limpid and wholesome water was filled up. The site of the conservatory was considered the proper one for the well, and this entailed the destruction of the conservatory. Removal was intended, with a new aspect to the north, as a frigidarium, but when touched it fell to pieces, and in so doing furnished Mr. Desiderius Mules with much comment on the imposition to which he had been subjected, for he had taken this conservatory at a valuation, and that valuation had been for three pounds seven and fourpence ha'penny, whereas its real value was, so he declared, three pounds seven and fourpence without the ha'penny at the end or the three pounds before.

When the Reverend Desiderius Mules heard that Captain Coppinger and Judith Trevisa were to be married in his church, "By Jove," said he, "they shall pay me double fees as extra parochial. I shall get that out of them at all events. I have been choused sufficiently."

A post-chaise from Wadebridge conveyed Judith, Miss Trevisa, Uncle Zachie, and Jamie from Polzeath.

The bride was restless. At one moment she leaned back, then forward; her eyes turned resolutely through the window at the fog. Her hands plucked at her veil or at her gloves; she spoke not a word throughput the drive. Aunt Dionysia was also silent. Opposite her sat Mr. Menaida in blue coat with brass buttons, white waistcoat outside a colored one, and white trousers tightly strapped. Though inclined to talk, he was unable to resist the depressing influence of his vis-a-vis, Miss Trevisa, who sat scowling at him with her thin lips closed. Jamie was excited, but as no one answered him when he spoke he also lapsed into silence.

When the churchyard gate of St. Enodoc was reached, Mr. Menaida jumped out of the chaise with a sigh of relief, and muttered to himself that, had he known what to expect, he would have brought his pocket-flask with him, and have had a nip of cognac on the way.

A good number of sight-seers had assembled from Polzeath and St. Enodoc, and stood in the churchyard, magnified by the mist to gigantic size. Over the graves of drowned sailors were planted the figure-heads of wrecked vessels, and these in the mist might have been taken as the dead risen and mingling with the living to view this dreary marriage.

The bride herself looked ghostlike, or as a waft of the fog, but little condensed, blown through the graveyard toward the gap in the church wall, and blown through that also within.

That gap was usually blocked with planks from a wreck, supported by beams; when the church was to be put in requisition, then the beams were knocked away, whereupon down clattered the boards and they were tossed aside. It had been so done on this occasion, and the fragments were heaped untidily among the graves under the church wall. The clerk-sexton had, indeed, considered that morning, with his hands in his pockets, whether it would be worth his while, assisted by the five bell-ringers, to take this accumulation or wreckage and pile it together out of sight, but he had thought that, owing to the fog, a veil would be drawn over the disorder, and he might be saved this extra trouble.

Within the sacred building, over his boots in sand, stamped, and frowned, and paced, and growled the Reverend Desiderius Mules, in surplice, hood, and stole, very ill at ease and out of humor because the wedding-party arrived unpunctually, and he feared he might catch cold from the wind and fog that drifted in through the hole in the wall serving as door.

The sand within was level with the sills of the windows; it cut the tables of commandments in half; had blotted away the majority of inhibitions against marriage within blood relationship and marriage kinship. The altar-rails were below the surface. The altar-table had been fished up and set against the east wall, not on this day for the marriage, but at some previous occasion. Then the sexton had placed two pieces of slate under the feet on one side, and not having found handy any other pieces, had thought that perhaps it did not matter. Consequently the two legs one side had sunk in the sand, and the altar-table formed an incline.

A vast number of bats occupied the church, and by day hung like little moleskin purses from the roof. Complaints had been made of the disagreeableness of having these creatures suspended immediately over the head of the efficient, accordingly the sexton had knocked away such as were suspended immediately above the altar and step—a place where the step was, beneath the sand; but he did not think it necessary to disturb those in other parts of the church. If they inconvenienced others, it was the penalty of curiosity, coming to see a wedding there. Toward the west end of the church some wooden pewtops stood above the sand, and stuck into a gimlet-hole in the top rail of one was a piece of holly, dry and brown as a chip. It had been put there as a Christmas decoration the last year that the church was used for divine worship, at the feast of Noel; when that was, only the oldest men could remember. The sexton had looked at it several times with his hands in his pockets and considered whether it were worth while pulling his hands out and removing the withered fragment, and carrying it outside the church, but had arrived at the conclusion that it injured no one, and might therefore just as well remain.

There were fragments of stained glass in the windows, in the upper light of the perpendicular windows saints and angels in white and gold on ruby and blue grounds. In one window a fragment of a Christ on the cross. But all were much obscured by cobwebs. The cobwebs, after having entangled many flies, caught and retained many particles of sand, became impervious to light and obscured the figures in the painted glass. The sexton had looked at these cobwebs occasionally and mused whether it would be worth his while to sweep them down, but as he knew that the church was rarely used for divine offices, and never for regular divine worship, he deemed that there was no crying necessity for their destruction. Life was short, and time might be better employed—to whit in talking to a neighbor in smoking a pipe, in drinking a pint of ale, in larruping his wife, in reading the paper. Consequently the cobwebs remained.

Had Mr. Desiderius Mules been possessed of antiquarian tastes, he might have occupied the time he was kept waiting in studying the bosses of carved oak that adorned the wagon-roof of the church, which were in some cases quaint, in the majority beautiful, and no two the same. And he might have puzzled out the meaning of three rabbits with only three ears between them forming a triangle, or three heads united in one neck, a king a queen, a bishop and a monk, or of a sow suckling a dozen little pig's.

But Mr. Desiderius Mules had no artistic or archaeological faculty developed in him. His one object on the present occasion was to keep draught and damp from the crown of his head, where the hair was so scanty as hardly to exist at all. He did not like to assume his hat in the consecrated building, so he stamped about in the sand holding a red bandanna handkerchief on the top of his head, and grumbling at the time he was kept waiting, at the Cornish climate, at the way in which he had been "choused" in the matter of dilapidations for the chancel of the church, at the unintelligible dialect of the people, and at a good many, other causes of irritation, notably at a bat which had not reverenced his bald pate, when he ventured beyond the range of the sexton's sweeping.

Presently the clerk, who was outside, thrust in his head through the gap in the wall, and in a stage whisper announced, "They's a-coming."

The Reverend Mules growled, "There ought to be a right to charge extra when the parson is kept waiting—sixpence a minute, not a penny less. But we are choused in this confounded corner of the world in every way. Ha! there is a mildew-spot on my stole—all come of this villainous damp."

In the tower stood five men, ready to pull the ropes and sound a merry peal when the service was over, and earn a guinea. They had a firkin of ale in a corner, with which to moisten their inner clay between each round. Now that they heard that the wedding party had arrived they spat on their hands and heaved their legs out of the sand.

Through the aperture in the wall entered the bridal party, a cloud of fog blowing in with them and enveloping them. They stepped laboriously through the fine sand, at this place less firm than elsewhere, having been dug into daily by the late rector in his futile efforts to clear the church.

Mr. Mules cast a suspicious look into the rafters above him to see that no profane bat was there, and opened his book.

Mr. Menaida was to act as father to the bride, and there was no other bride's-maid than Miss Trevisa. As they waded toward the alter, Judith's strength failed, and she stood still. Then Uncle Zachie put his arm round her and half carried her over the sand toward the place where she must stand to give herself away. She turned her head and thanked him with her eyes, she could not speak. So deathly was her whiteness, so deficient in life did she seem, that Miss Trevisa looked at her with some anxiety, and a little doubt whether she would be able to go through the service.

When Judith reached her place, her eyes rested on the sand. She did not look to her left side, she could hear no steps, for the sand muffled all sound of feet, but she knew by the cold shudder that thrilled through her, that Captain Coppinger was at her side.

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here—now then order, if you please, and quiet, we are twenty-five minutes after time," said Mr. Desiderius Mules.

The first few words, seven in all were addressed to the wedding party, the rest to a number of men and women and children who were stumbling and plunging into the church through the improvised door, thrusting each other forward, with a "get along," and "out of the road," all eager to secure a good sight of the ceremony, and none able to hurry to a suitable place because of the sand that impeded every step.

"Now then—I can't stay here all day!"

Mr. Mules sniffed and applied the bandanna to his nose, as an indication that he was chilled, and that this rheum would be on the heads of the congregation, were he made ill by this delay.

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered," he began again, and he was now able to proceed.

"Cruel," said he in loud and emphatic tones, "wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her so long as ye both shall live?"

The response of Coppinger went through the heart of Judith like a knife. Then the rector addressed her. For answer she looked up at him and moved her lips. He took her hand and placed it in that of Coppinger. It was cold as ice and quivering like an aspen leaf. As Captain Coppinger held it, it seemed to drag and become heavy in his hand, whilst he pronounced the words after the rector, making oath to take Judith as his own. Then the same words were recited to her, for her to repeat in order after the priest. She began, she moved her lips, looked him pleadingly in the face, her head swam, the fog filled the whole church and settled between her and the rector. She felt nothing save the grip of Coppinger's hand, and sank unconscious to the ground.

"Go forward," said Cruel. Mr. Menaida and Aunt Dionysia caught Judith and held her up. She could neither speak nor stir. Her lips were unclosed, she seemed to be gasping for breath like one drowning.

"Go on," persisted Cruel, and holding her left hand he thrust the ring on her fourth finger, repeating the words of the formula.

"I cannot proceed," said the Reverend Desiderius.

"Then you will have to come again to-morrow."

"She is unconscious," objected the rector.

"It is momentary only," said Aunt Dionysia; "be quick and finish."

Mr. Mules hesitated a moment. He had no wish to return in like weather on another day; no wish again to be kept waiting five and twenty minutes. He rushed at the remainder of the office and concluded it at a hand gallop.

"Now," said he, "the registers are at the rectory. Come there."

Coppinger looked at Judith.

"Not to-day. It is not possible. She is ill—faint. To-morrow. Neither she nor I nor the witnesses will run away. We will come to you to-morrow."

Uncle Zachie offered to assist Judith from the church.

"No," said Cruel, peremptorily, "she is mine now."

She was able with assistance to walk, she seemed to recover for a moment in the air outside, but again lapsed into faintness on being placed in the chaise.

"To Pentyre Glaze," ordered Coppinger; "our home."