• 2017/7/10

murmured in a voice just

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The bridegroom caught the bride in his arms, and he laughed gayly to see how she trembled in his embrace.

"My wife!" he cried, straining her to his heart. "Sweet," he  audible to his bride, "to be the lover of the girl you love, is bliss; but to be the husband of the girl you love, is heaven! Tell me, Hildegarde, are you not as happy as I am?"

A low cry broke from the white lips of the girl he held in his arms. The minister had stepped into the parsonage in response to a summons from one of the servants, and invited the newly wedded couple and Miss Fernly to follow him.

He was not surprised that they held back a moment. It seemed to be the custom with all new-married couples to loiter for a moment in the dim shadows of the old church. The critical moment of Miss Fernly's triumph had come. She had done a noble action, she told herself. But somehow she trembled at the thought of what Eugene Mallard would do when he discovered that the girl whom he had wedded was not the beautiful Hildegarde but the cruelly wronged Ida May.

The young husband had drawn his bride beneath the chandelier of the church, and all unmindful of Miss Fernly's presence, he declared , rapturously:

"I must have a kiss from the lips of my wife."

As he spoke he drew aside her veil. One glance at the face it had hidden—oh, so piteous to behold in its awful pallor! and a cry, surely the most bitter that ever broke from human lips, issued from Eugene Mallard's. His arms fell from the supple figure, and he drew back, crying hoarsely:

"You are not Hildegarde! Great God! what does this mean? Who are you?"

Miss Fernly stepped forward.

"I wonder that you ask such a question!" she cried, shrilly. "Look upon her, and behold for yourself the young girl you duped and deserted! Now, thank Heaven, she is your wedded wife!" she added, triumphantly. "I have helped her to right her wrongs!"

[120]

"But I never saw this young woman before!" cried Eugene Mallard, striking his forehead with his clinched hand. "There is some terrible mistake! Speak out!" he cried to the girl at his side, who was trembling like an aspen-leaf. "Who are you who has done this terrible deed?"

Like one dying, the hapless bride fell on her knees at Miss Fernly's feet.

"There is some terrible mistake!" she cried, wildly. "I—I did not discover it until he drew back my veil. He—is—not—the man!"

"Not the man?" repeated Miss Fernly, aghast, hardly believing that she had heard aright, her eyes almost starting from their sockets. "I—I do not understand!" she cried, recoiling from the girl. "Do you mean that the man you have just wedded, and the one to whom you told me was the cause of wrecking your life, is not one and the same"

The girl shook her head, while Eugene Mallard looked from one to the other like one in a dream from which he was expecting to soon awake.

Miss Fernly caught her by the shoulder.

"What does it mean?" she cried, hoarsely. "You assured me that this man was the cause of all your trouble, and now you dare to tell me that he is not the one! And I—brought about this, making you his wife! It was a trick of yours, you shameless creature, to secure a husband for yourself. Quick! Be gone from this sacred edifice ere I strike you down at my feet, you most shameless outcast, you horrible creature!"

Ida May drew back in terror from the upraised hand.

"Hold!" cried Eugene Mallard, stepping between them. "No matter what this poor creature has done, she is, in the eyes of God and man, my wife!"

By a dexterous movement he had raised the poor girl from her knees, and had swung her out of the reach of the blow that had been meant for her. Despite his anguish, it aroused all the pity and chivalry in his nature to see how the poor thing clung to him in her terror.

"Save me from her wrath," she murmured, clinging[121] to him with death-cold hands, and adding vehemently: "Believe me, it was all a horrible mistake! I saw your picture, and—and I mistook you for another. The church was so dimly lighted, I—I could not see, and I did not know the terrible mistake until—until it was too late! Oh, tell me, tell me, what can I do to undo the great wrong that I have done you?"

For some moments the two young men walked on in silence, which was at last broken by Ainsley.

"I say, Phil," he began, eagerly, laying his hand on his friend's shoulder, "do you think any one of those three beauties would accept an invitation to go down and see the yacht-race with me to-morrow afternoon?"

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