|Chapter Title||EVEN AT THE ALTAR|
|Newspaper Title||The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)|
|Trove Title||Love and Passion|
BVHN AT TUB ALTAB.
Craik went the music, pealing forth the thrilling strains of the "Wedding Bells," as a prelude to the ceremony which was soon to take place. The bride maids, in their pretty white toilets, with knots of purple heart's-ease looping the soft drapery, and nestling in braids and curls, and at round, white throats, flitted airily about the stately mansion, and then, like a flock of startled doves, fluttered together up the broad staircase, into the apartment adjoining that occupied by the bride, in her wedding-robes. A bride werth looking at. With her lovely, dusky Spanish beauty; eyes like wells of lustrous light, perfect features, and creamy complexion, the small head crowned by a coronal of nature's own-a mass of blue-black hair, which shone like satin. The grace of the Andalueian was betrayed in every sinu- ous, undulating movement, and she walked as only a Spanish woman can.
A whole year had gone slice that burial at sea sinee Essica Valdez had been left a lonely orphan in the hands ef Geoffrey Lawrence-and now it is her wedding-day,
She stood before the mirror in her own chamber on that lovely summer morning, the 26th of June. She is not likely to forget that day. She will hare reasea, bitter reason, to remember it to the latat hour of her life. Her small, white hands were foldld upon the marble slab at the base of the mirror, aid her gloriaos dark eyes earnestiyTfudied the ra*
flection of her face.
" How happy I am I" she murmured, half aloud. "All my happiness seems like a glorious dream I To think that, in an hour's time, I shall be his wife; no longer friendless Essica Valdez, but the bride of him who is far dearer to me than life itself. And yet there is a sbadew on my sunshine," she went on, clasping hsr small hands convulsively. " Ob, why is there always a sting to every joy : a thorn amid the sweetest roses ; for I cannot shut out the memory of my mother's pale, sad face-poor, wronged, utt- ering mother-nor forget the words she spoke before she died. They cast a cloud upon my heart, eren upon this, my weddiag-day ! I remember it all ao well. She had taken my hands in hers, cold with approaching death, and her great sad eyes were fixed
" 'Enies,'she faltered slowly,' through one nan's perfidy came all the misery of my life. Never live ; or if ii a fatal moment you Bhould yield to the de- lirium which Is almost certain to wreck a woman's happiaeei, pans« befare it is too late. There is a curse upon our race, Essica. Every woman of our race has suffered through the treachery of nan. Tben shan Uve, my child, as you would a resil-
" I remember every word ; yet, how conld I help loving Guy Rossiter, when hi saved me from a dread- ful death, Yet,' I think, I believe that I had leirned
te care for bim befare. Aid, sometimei-the thought strikes a strang» chill to my heart I amost faicy that Alicia cared for hi», I cannot wonler if ihe did,lor she his knew» him long; bnt ef nurse all that is past mw. I love him, I bave a ritht to his «very thought, aad I kaow that he has roan for no otbiri» his heart; My darling, my king nnong mia ; And ia one heur-in one tingle little hoir, we will belong to each other ; And no pawer on earth can separate us."
She tumid away front the miner and beran to pace slawly up and dawn the room, her costly white satia rebe trailing aft« hir, all loaped and itarred with dlamiads (hir sole inheritance from her mittl- er), panting at last te listen for the sound of a Min- ing carriage.
Staading thire alone, in her elegant, bridal atti», the looked a woman to be eavied» Young, boaul ful, and beloved; tha world all before her. Bia draws a long breath of exquisite rapture, and tia two small hands are pressed aver her throbbiat heart, while the fiama of cilour flashes like a banner across the creamy cheeki.
" My last day under Geoffrey Lawrence's roof I* she murmurs. " Oh, Heaven ! how thankful I am! How I have hated to stay here a recipient of hil bounty. My cold, stern undo ! I often wonder if hi really bas a drop of our blood in his veins. Ani Alicia; She has never been a companion to me ; there is something about her that" (she shivered slightly) "makes me afraid. My existence here has been dreary enough, but that will soon bo over sow, tbaak Heaven ! I would net change peaitiona with a crowned queen V
And yet, an hour later, that haughty head was bowed in utter shsme and humiliation ; her happi- ness was ended, and love, hope, joy, dead and
A gentle knock at the door aroused her from her blissful reverie ; the silver knob turned slowly, and the bride-maids fluttered in : that is, all but one, five pretty, laughing maidens, whose lives had never
known a care.
fi We don't knew where te find Alicia," began the foremost of the flock, a flaxen-haired beauty, Miss Ponryth, by name. " She's net in hore, is she, El- sie P Oh, yo« beautiful oreatare ! Girls, she is just the loveliest bride in the whole South !"
And then they all crowded about her, aid there were dainty finishing touches put to the exquisite toilet, the loig, misty veil was re-arranged, the dia mondB admired, aid Essica sscretly envied ; and so the minutes lew by.
"Strange where Alicia nan bel" exclaimed Easioa
"Very strange," returned Min Pearyth, quietly. " We have searched the whole house for her. She must have gone into the garden for mora flowers. Girls, Is it half-past eleven, and the ceremony is to take plaee at noon precisely, you knew. Really Alicia ii too provoking. It would not do to have Ave bride-maids-an nnlucky number."
Essica smiled absently,
" Has Mr. Rossiter arrived P" she asked, suddenly. "No, not yet. He'll be here direetly. People never art on time at a wedding, I believe."
Fifteen minutes more passed. Ia a quarter of an hour the time apeinted for the ceremony would arrive, and still the bridegroom had not come.
Essica could not shut her eyes to the significant glances exobanged between the bride-maids. Below stairs the muiio struolc up once more. The aristocratic guests who had gathered at the stately mansion of Geoffery Lawrence to witness the bridal of his niece moBt of them actuated solely by curiosity, began te grow impatient The bishop prayer-book in hand, had taken his place under the white marriage bells swinging slowly to and fro in the perfumed air. Subdued lonnds occasionally escaping from the dining-room revealed the preparation of the grand collation. Evidently Geoffrey Lawrence had exerted. himBslf, and spared no expense for'the wedding of this poor relation; and society, lookin ob, ap. plauded and approved.
«And Btill the bridegroom tarried, It was very strange certainly: very strange and odd. Gradually a deep gloom fell over all things, as though a pall had suddenly descended upon that giddy glittering throng. Up stairs the beautiful bride, pale now as a snow-wreath, stood staring silently from the window, while the bride-maids, grave and subdued, clustered in a group in the corner whispering softly to eaeb other. And so the moment» fled,..
Twelve o'clock-the hour let for the ceremony esme and p&BBed ; half after twelve chimed from the oburoh steeples, aBd still the ceremony did not begin. Below stairs meaning Bmiles and glancsB flew about, and the remorseless tongues of the gossipi¿began
Suddenly Esslca started from her post at the window of her room and threw open tbe door. As she did so, a clock in the great hall outside he Chamber chimed like a death-knell the hour of one. And there before her on the threshold stood a servant vith a letter in her hand, A letter J
With a half-articulate cry, Essica Yeldes snatched (he letter from the woman's grasp and tottering iiack into her chamber, sank into a chair beeide the window. She ccnld be no paler, and the hand which clutched the envelope trembled so that she sould scarcely tear it apart. ¡
The watching eyes upon her saw that as 1er gaze 'eil upon the written lines inclosed, a terribb change passed over her beantiful face, A hauntjd, mad, iespairing look stole into the depths of 1er dark 3jes-a look which no one had ever seen tiere be- fore. No cry escaped her lips. ;
She arose, calm end statue-like, For a bornent she stood groping, as if in the dark, like one srddenly stricken blind ; then the haughty little head Wasted
itself proudly, and she walked straight to tra door o! the room. I
The guests, lingering still In the great driving room below, waiting for the denouement, glanad np and started to their feet at the unexpected appsitlon which swept into the room and confronted hem. Bhe wat like a marble woman in her trailingaatin robe, wifa its mocking diamonds, and the prfeless laee veil vhich enshrouded her flgare, She-ame slowly forward, outwardly calm, and not one atong them could tealize the agony that was in her beast.
"My friends," she said, in a low, bell-like joice which penetrated every ear " there will be no bed- ding to-day. Mr. Guy Rossiter has eloped witl my cousin, Alicia Lawrence."