Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo
Book III. The Departure of the Cashmere.
III. The Forethought of Self-Sacrifice
IT struck ten as they entered the church.
By reason of the early hour, and also on account of the desertion of the town that day the church was empty.
At the farther end, however, near the table which in the reformed church fulfils the place of the altar, there were three persons. They were the Dean, his evangelist, and the registrar. The Dean, who was the Reverend Jaquemin Herode, was seated; the evangelist and the registrar stood beside him.
A book was open upon the table.
Beside him, upon a credence-table, was another book. It was the parish register, and also open; and an attentive eye might have remarked a page on which was some writing, of which the ink was not yet dry. By the side of the register were a pen and a writing-desk.
The Reverend Jaquemin Herode rose on perceiving Caudray.
"I have been expecting you," he said. "All is ready."
The Dean, in fact, wore his officiating robes.
Caudray looked towards Gilliatt.
The Reverend Doctor added, "I am at your service, brother;" and he bowed.
It was a bow which neither turned to right or left. It was evident from the direction of the Dean's gaze that he did not recognise the existence of any one but Caudray, for Caudray was a clergyman and a gentleman. Neither Deruchette, who stood aside, nor Gilliatt, who was in the rear, was included in the salutation. His look was a sort of parenthesis in which none but Caudray were admitted. The observance of these little niceties constitutes an important feature in the maintenance of order and the preservation of society.
The Dean continued, with a graceful and dignified urbanity,-
"I congratulate you, my colleague, from a double point of view. You have lost your uncle, and are about to take a wife; you are blessed with riches on the one hand and happiness on the other. Moreover, thanks to the boat which they are about to rebuild, Mess Lethierry will also be rich; which is as it should be. Miss Lethierry was born in this parish; I have verified the date of her birth in the register. She is of age, and at her own disposal. Her uncle too, who is her only relative, consents. You are anxious to be united immediately on account of your approaching departure. This I can understand; but this being the marriage of the rector of the parish, I should have been gratified to have seen it associated with a little more solemnity. I will consult your wishes by not detaining you longer than necessary. The essentials will be soon complied with. The form is already drawn up in the register, and it requires only the names to be filled in. By the terms of the law and custom, the marriage may be celebrated immediately after the inscription. The declaration necessary for the licence has been duly made. I take upon myself a slight irregularity, for the application for the licence ought to have been registered seven days in advance; but I yield to necessity and the urgency of your departure. Be it so, then. I will proceed with the ceremony. My evangelist will be the witness for the bridegroom; as regards the witness for the bride--"
The Dean turned towards Gilliatt. Gilliatt made a movement of his head.
That is sufficient," said the Dean.
Caudray remained motionless; Deruchette was happy, but no less powerless to move.
"Nevertheless," continued the Dean, "there is still an obstacle."
The Dean continued,-
"The representative here present of Mess Lethierry applied for the licence for you. and has signed the declaration on the register." And with the thumb of his left hand the Dean pointed to Gilliatt; which prevented the necessity of his remembering his name. "The messenger from Mess Lethlerry," he added, "has informed me this morning that being too much occupied to come in person, Mess Lethierry desired that the marriage should take place immediately. This desire, expressed verbally, is not sufficient. In consequence of having to grant the licence, and of the irregularity which I take upon myself, I cannot proceed so rapidly without informing myself from Mess Lethierry personally, unless some one can produce his signature. Whatever might be my desire to serve you, I cannot be satisfied with a mere message. I must have some written document.'
"That need not delay us," said Gilliatt. And he presented a paper to the Dean. The Dean took it, perused it by a glance, seemed to pass over some lines as unimportant, and read aloud: "Go to the Dean for the licence. I wish the marriage to take place as soon as possible. Immediately would be better."
He placed the paper on the table, and proceeded,-
"It is signed Lethierry. It would have been more respectful to have addressed himself to me. But since I am called on to serve a colleague, I ask no more."
Caudray glanced again at Gilliatt. There are moments when mind and mind comprehend each other. Caudray felt that there was some deception; he had not the strength of purpose, perhaps he had not the idea of revealing it. Whether in obedience to a latent heroism, of which he had begun to obtain a glimpse, or whether from a deadening of the conscience, arising from the suddenness of the happiness placed within his reach, he uttered no word.
The Dean took the pen, and aided by the clerk, filled up the spaces in the page of the register; then he rose, and by a gesture invited Caudray and Deruchette to approach the table.
The ceremony commenced. It was a strange moment. Caudray and Deruchette stood beside each other before the minister. He who has ever dreamed of a marriage in which he himself was chief actor may conceive something of the feeling which they experienced.
Gilliatt stood at a little distance in the shadow of the pillars.
Deruchette, on rising in the morning, desperate, thinking only of death and its associations, had dressed herself in white. Her attire, which had been associated in her mind with mourning, was suited to her nuptials. A white dress is all that is necessary for the bride.
A ray of happiness was visible upon her face. Never had she appeared more beautiful. Her features were remarkable for prettiness rather than what is called beauty. Their fault, if fault it be, lay in a certain excess of grace. Deruchette in repose-that is, neither disturbed by passion or grief-was graceful above all. The ideal virgin is the transfiguration of a face like this. Deruchette, touched by her sorrow and her love, seemed to have caught that higher and more holy expression. It was the difference between the field daisy and the lily.
The tears had scarcely dried upon her cheeks; one perhaps still lingered in the midst of her smiles. Traces of tears indistinctly visible form a pleasing but sombre accompaniment of joy.
The Dean, standing near the table, placed his finger upon the open book, and asked in a distinct voice whether they knew of any impediment to their union.
There was no reply.
"Amen!" said the Dean.
Caudray and Deruchette advanced a step or two towards the table.
"Joseph Ebenezer Caudray, wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife?"
Caudray replied, "I will."
The Dean continued,-
"Durande Deruchette Lethierry, wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded husband?"
Deruchette, in an agony of soul, springing from her excess of happiness, murmured rather than uttered,-
Then followed the beautiful form of the Anglican marriage service. The Dean looked around, and in the twilight of the church uttered the solemn words,-
"Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?' Gilliatt answered, "I do!"
There was an interval of silence. Caudray and Deruchette felt a vague sense of oppression in spite of their joy.
The Dean placed Deruchette's right hand in Caudray's, and Caudray repeated after him,-
"I take thee, Durande Deruchette, to be my wedded wife for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part; and thereto I plight thee my troth."
The Dean then placed Caudray's right hand in that of Deruchette, and Deruchette said after him,-
"I take thee to be my wedded husband for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part; and thereto I plight thee my troth."
The Dean asked, "Where is the ring? " The question took them by surprise. Caudray had no ring; but Gilliatt took off the gold ring which he wore upon his little finger. It was probably the wedding-ring which had been sold that morning by the jeweller in the Commercial Arcade.
The Dean placed the ring upon the book; then handed it to Caudray, who took Deruchette's little trembling left hand, passed the ring over her fourth finger, and said,-
"With this ring I thee wed!"
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," continued the Dean.
"Amen," said his evangelist.
Then the Dean said, "Let us pray."
Caudray and Deruchette turned towards the table, and knelt down.
Gilliatt, standing by, inclined his head.
So they knelt before God; while he seemed to bend under the burden of his fate.