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• Good heavens ! what an omen,' whispered a young lady to her lover.
On my honor,' replied the gentleman, I believe the bell has the good taste to toll of its own accord. What has she to do with weddings? If you, dearest Julia, were approaching the altar, the bell would ring out its merriest peal. It has only a funeral knell for her.'
The bride, and most of her company, had been too much occupied with the bustle of entrance, to hear the first boding stroke of the bell, or at least to reflect on the singularity of such a welcome to the altar. They therefore continued to advance, with undiminished gayety. The gorgeous dresses of the ume, the crimson velvet coats, the gold-laced hats, the hoop petticoats, the silk, satin, brocade and embroidery, the buckles, canes, and swords, all displayed to the best advantage on persons suited to such finery, made the group appear more like a bright-colored picture than any thing real. But by what perversity of taste, had the artist represented his principal figure as so wrinkled and decayed, while yet he had decked her out in the brightest splendor of attire, as if the loveliest maiden had suddenly withered into age, and become a moral to the beautiful around her! On they went, however, and had glittered along about a third of the aisle, when another stroke of the bell seemed to fill the church with a visible gloom, dim. ming and obscuring the bright pageant, till it shone forth again as from a mist.
This time the party wavered, stopped, and huddled closer together, while a slight scream was heard from
some of the ladies, and a confused whispering among the gentlemen. Thus tossing to and fro, they might have been fancifully compared to a splendid bunch of flowers, suddenly shaken by a puff of win.l, which threatened to scatter the leaves of an old, browni, withered rose, on the same stalk with two dewy buds ; such being the emblem of the widow between her fair young bridemaids. But her heroism was admirable. She had started with an irrepressible shudder, as if the stroke of the bell had fallen directly on her heart ; then, recovering herself, while her attendants were yet in dismay, she took the lead, and paced calmly up the aisle. The bell continued to swing, strike, and
. vibrate, with the same doleful regularity, as when a corpse is on its way to the tomb. • My young
friends here have their nerves a little shaken,' said the widow, with a smile, to the clergy. man at the altar. “But so many weddings have been ushered in with the merriest peal of the bells, and yet turned out unhappily, that I shall hope for better for. tune under such different auspices.'
Madam,' answered the rector, in great perplexity, 'this strange occurrence brings to my mind a marriage sermon of the famous Bishop Taylor, wherein he mingles so many thoughts of mortality and futuro woe, that, to speak somewhat after his own rich style, he seems to hang the bridal chamber in black, and cut the wedding garment out of a coffin pall. And it has been the custom of divers nations to infuso something of sadness into their marriage ceremonies ; so to keep death in mind, while contracting that engagement which is life's chiefest business. Thus we may draw a sad but profitable moral from this funeral knell.'
But, though the clergyman might have given his moral even a keener point, he did not fail to despatch an attendant to inquire into the mystery, and stop those sounds, so dismally appropriate to such a mar. riage. A brief space elapsed, during which, the silence was broken only by whispers, and a few suppressed titterings, among the wedding party and the spectators, who, after the first shock, were dis. posed to draw an ill-natured merriment from the affair. The young have less charity for aged follies than the old for those of youth. The widow's glance was observed to wander, for an instant, towards a window of the church, as if searching for the time. worn marble that she had dedicated to her first husband; then her eyelids dropped over their faded orbs, and her thoughts were drawn irresistibly to another
grave. Two buried men, with a voice at her ear, and a cry afar off, were calling her to lie down beside them. Perhaps, with momentary truth of feeling, she thought how much happier had been her fate, if, after years of bliss, the bell were now tolling for her funeral, and she were followed to the grave by the old affection of her earliest lover, long her husband. But why had she returned to him, when their cold hearts shrank from each other's embrace ?
Still the death bell tolled so mournfully, that the sunshine seemed to fade in the air. A whisper, communicated from those who stood nearest the windows, now spread through the church; a hearse, with a train of several coaches, was creeping along the street, conveying some dead man to the churco yard, while the bride awaited a living one at the altar. Immediately after, the footsteps of the bridegroom and his friends were heard at the door. The widow looked down the aisle, and clinched the arm of one of her bridemaids in her bony hand, with such unconscious violence, that the fair girl trembled.
• You frighten me, my dear madam !' cried she. · For Heaven's sake, what is the matter?'
Nothing, my dear, nothing,' said the widow; then, whispering close to her ear, _ 'There is a foolish fancy, that I cannot get rid of. I am expecting my bridegroom to come into the church, with my first two husbands for groomsmen!
• Look, look!' screamed the bridemaid. • What is here > The funeral !'
As she spoke, a dark procession paced into the church. First came an old man and woman, like chief mourners at a funeral, attired from head to foot in the deepest black, all but their pale features and hoary hair; he leaning on a staff, and supporting
; her decrepit form with his nerveless arm. Behind, appeared another, and another pair, as aged, as black, ang, mournful as the first. As they drew near, the widow recognized in every face some trait of former friends, long forgotten, but now returning, as if from their old graves, to warn her to prepare a shroud; or, with purpose almost as unwelcome, to exhibit their wrinkles and infirmity, and claim her as their companion by the tokens of her own decay. Many a merry night had she danced with them, in youth. And now, in joyless age, she felt that some withered
partner should request her hand, and all unite, in a dance of death, to the music of the funeral bell.
While these aged mourners were passing up the aisle, it was observed, that, from pew to pew, the spectators shuddered with irrepressible awe, as some object, hitherto concealed by the intervening figures, came full in sight. Many turned away their faces ; others kept a fixed and rigid staré ; and a ycurg girl giggled hysterically, and fainted with the laughter on her lips. When the spectral procession approached the altar, each couple separated, and slowly diverged, till, in the centre, appeared a form, that had been worthily ushered in with all this gloomy pomp, the death knell, and the funeral. It was the bridegroom in his shroud!
No garb but that of the grave could have befitted such a deathlike aspect; the eyes, indeed, had the wild gleam of a sepulchral lamp; all else was fixed in the stern calmness which old men wear the coffin. The corpse stood motionless, but addressed the widow in accents that seemed to melt into the clang of the bell, which fell heavily on the air while
*Come, my bride!' said those pale lips, the hearse is ready. The sexton stands waiting for us at the door of the tomb. Let us be married ; and then to our coffins!'
How shall the widow's horror be represented ? It gave her the ghastliness of a dead man's bride. fler youthful friends stood apart, shuddering at the mourn. ers, the shrouded bridegroom, and herself; the whole