Read PART III: CHAPTER IV of There was a King in Egypt , free online book, by Norma Lorimer, on ReadCentral.com.

Their wedding-day was the sort of day which made Browning, when he lived in Florence, sing:

“Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there. . . .

“And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows . . .”

Margaret said the words to herself as the day greeted her when she pulled up her blind in the morning.

London, even in war time, was inviting and charming for such as drove about the West End in taxis, for they had not yet disappeared from the highways and byways. The day was clean and fresh and sweet-smelling. The promise of brilliant sunshine in the midday hours made the fashionable streets near the Iretons’ rooms very busy and gay. Khaki-clad figures were everywhere; some were accompanied by daintily-clad girls, proud of their soldier lovers; others were walking with portly old gentlemen, their generous grandfathers or godfathers, most probably; while many of them had given themselves over to their mothers for the morning. Nor were they, as they would have been in the days of peace, embarrassed by their affectionate grasp of their arms and the unconcealed adoration and love.

Things had happened with such bewildering rapidity that Margaret drove through the streets to the church in which they were to be married in a sort of open-eyed dream. She saw with extraordinary vividness all that was going on around her, even to the faces of the boys and girls who passed them in taxis; but she was incapable of concentrated thought. The hurry and excitement in which she had lived for the last two days left her breathless and vague.

She was driving with Michael Ireton, who was amazed at her outward calm. He little knew that the bride whom he was to give away was physically and nervously almost exhausted. The sudden end to the strain which she had endured so long had produced a dreamlike phase of almost semi-consciousness.

Margaret knew that Michael was ahead of her, in another taxi with Hadassah. She also knew that they were driving to the church with the outside pulpit which stands a little way back from the road in Piccadilly. She had always felt a special attraction for the quiet courtyard, right in the hurly-burly of one of the main arteries of London. She knew that she would have to say her responses in the marriage-service. Yet somehow she felt more like another person looking on from a great distance at the doings of someone else. One would feel the same remoteness if one was saying to oneself, “At this very moment Margaret will be getting married, she will be on her way to the church.”

“Here we are,” Michael Ireton said abruptly.

The taxi had stopped at the iron gate in the centre of the railings which guarded the precincts of the church. He jumped out quickly and Margaret followed him. In the porch of the church they stopped for a moment, to make sure of the fact that Michael was waiting to receive Margaret at the chancel steps. Then, still in a dream-state, Margaret walked up the aisle of the church on Michael Ireton’s arm. She was not nervous; things were too unreal for her to be conscious of being nervous.

A few idle Londoners, seeing that there was going to be a wedding, had strayed into the church; otherwise it was empty. Michael thought it rather dark and solemn.

Margaret was daintily dressed in white, a frock suitable for travelling. Michael was still in his Tommy’s uniform.

Nothing could have been simpler than the service which made them man and wife, or more unlike what Margaret’s aunts would have considered suitable for their niece. It was a wedding after Michael’s and Margaret’s own hearts, a solemn sacrament of two people, not a society gathering of critical guests.

It was not until Michael took Margaret’s hand in his, and pressed it eagerly and firmly, with an air of happy possession, that Margaret came to her full consciousness and to the significance of what she was doing. She had repeated her vows after the clergyman clearly and correctly; she had even said “I will” because her subconscious mind had impelled her to say it. The importance of the words had escaped her. It had been only her material body which stood by her lover’s side.

Michael felt her air of aloofness, her distance. Her eyes had not met his when he had sought them, eager to welcome her. She had walked up the aisle and taken her place by his side like a spirit-woman, who was a stranger to him.

When at last his strong hand clasped hers, she looked up. Their eyes met. A long sigh travelled from Margaret’s wakening heart to her lips. Michael felt her emotion. He held her hand more possessingly, as he said, very clearly:

“I, Michael Amory, take thee, Margaret Lampton, to be my wedded wife.”

He tightened his grasp on her hand. Its dearness and magnetism affected her. Her feeling of somnolence vanished. Things became real, tremendously real and wonderful.

Michael was saying the words, “to love and to cherish, until death us do part.”

At the word “death” Margaret’s throat tightened. Something seemed to almost choke her. The words made her visualize the blood-soaked fields of Flanders. Weak tears filled her eyes; the loudness of her heart’s beating made Michael’s next vow, “according to God’s holy ordinance,” almost inaudible. The din of battle thundered in her brain. Death was going to part them almost directly; it was standing behind them now; it had been coming nearer and nearer for the last four months; it was only waiting until Michael had left her, until she was no longer near him. Like an avalanche crushing down upon her from a great height, the terror of death swept over her. Just as a shot from a rifle, or the vibration of a body of men marching under a precipice of loosened snow, will bring it down and cover them, the words “until death us do part” had overwhelmed Margaret.

Then a strange thing happened. As Michael said proudly and distinctly, “And thereto I give thee my troth,” Margaret saw that he was surrounded by a brilliant light. He stood in the centre of long shafts of sunshine; they played round his head like the rays of Aton. Her terror of death vanished as swiftly as it had come. This was the light which guarded Michael in battle. A super-elation dispersed the thought of the brief married life which might be hers, that she might be stepping into widowhood even while she repeated her vows.

Bewilderment made her forget her part in the ceremony. She felt, but did not see the clergyman take her hand from Michael’s. He separated them for a moment and then put her hand on the top of Michael’s. He whispered something to her. Then she remembered her part, and said slowly and clearly after him the same words which Michael had repeated. The words “until death us do part” were said as she might have said them in pre-war days.

After that she was free from all nervousness and all sense of unreality. She saw Michael take the ring from the clergyman’s fingers and hold it in his own hand. She smiled to him happily, as she saw his expression of relief and tenderness. In one moment more they would be man and wife; no distance or grief could change that.

When they knelt together for the first time as man and wife, and listened to the words of the beautiful prayer that they might “ever remain in perfect love and peace together,” Margaret’s happiness made her prayer a song of praise. If it was ordained that Michael was to be spared to her, how simple and natural a thing it would be for ever to remain in perfect love and peace together! Loving each other as they did, that would not be one of their difficulties. It was so restful to kneel side by side with Michael, listening to the gentle and solemn words, that she would have liked the prayer to go on for a long time. Her nervous condition made her apprehensive. Here, in the quiet church, which lay right in the heart-beat of the city, there was a divine sense of security.

Their heads were bent together; their arms were almost touching; their heart-beats were in unison; their minds were one.

But the prayer was finished. Michael’s hand had clasped hers again; he was far more conscious of his part in the ceremony than she was of hers. He held her hand as if it was his world, the kingdom he had come into, while his eyes expressed his emotion and gratitude.

As the words “Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder,” and “I pronounce you man and wife,” echoed through the chancel, Michael Ireton and Hadassah gave a pent-up sigh of relief.

When the clergyman turned to the altar and read aloud the sixty-seventh Psalm Michael had requested it in preference to the hundred and twenty-eighth, which is perhaps the more usual Hadassah saw the bride and bridegroom smile happily to each other. They smiled, because Michael had often read the Psalm to Margaret and remarked on its similarity to the prayers of Akhnaton.

“God be merciful unto us, and bless us: and show us the light of His countenance, and be merciful unto us;

“That Thy way may be known upon earth: Thy saving health among all nations.

“Let the people praise Thee, O God: yea, let all the people praise Thee.

“O let the nations rejoice and be glad: for Thou shalt judge the folk righteously, and govern the nations upon earth.

“Let the people praise Thee, O God: yea, let all the people praise Thee.”

“Thou shalt govern the nations upon earth.” That had been Akhnaton’s mission, to preach these words, to tell the people that God, and man’s understanding of His Love, must rule the world.

“Then shall the earth bring forth her increase: and God, even our own God, shall give us His blessing.”

Akhnaton had sung his Hymn of Praise in his temples and in the pleasure-courts of his city in almost the very same words.

Confident that righteousness would triumph, that God’s world-kingdom had come, he suffered the wrath of his military commanders, who were watching the breaking-up of his kingdom in far-off Syria.

Two hours later the bride and the bridegroom, the two happiest people in London, drove away from the Iretons’ rooms in Clarges Street. Hadassah and Michael Ireton watched them until the taxi was out of sight. As they turned into the hall, with something very like tears in their eyes for even in the happiest marriages there is the quality of tears Michael put his arms round his wife and drew her to him. As she looked up into his rugged face, his eyes more than his words said:

“We know how they feel, dearest! God bless them! Such happiness makes one weep in these days.”

Hadassah pressed her dark head against his coat-sleeve. He held her closely; each day she was more precious in his sight.

“They are worthy of each other.” His voice broke. “Really, when one sees such happiness, one says to oneself, even if they have only a fortnight together, it is a great deal, a wonderful thing.”

Hadassah looked at her husband searchingly. “Somehow I’ve no fear for Michael have you?”

Michael Ireton thought before he answered. “No, I don’t think I have.”

“There is a certain something about some people that makes one either afraid or not afraid for them the men going to the Front, I mean. For Michael Amory I haven’t any fear. I can’t explain why it’s not that he will save himself by caution.” She laughed.

“I know,” her husband said. “Michael seems extraordinarily lucky. He told me a few things last night, of the escapes which he daren’t tell Margaret, ghastly adventures. I’m afraid he’s awfully rash. Like all Irishmen, when his blood’s up, he hasn’t any conception of the danger he’s facing. He has the super-bravery of the Celt, and all his recklessness.”

“I just hope that as a married man he will keep that supernatural nerve. A wife often destroys it.”

“I know,” Michael Ireton said. “One sees it so often No wife, no danger a wife at home, more caution, less nerve.”

Hadassah was silent. Her husband’s arms were still round her. He kissed her passionately.

“I feel like a bridegroom myself! Seeing Michael standing there waiting for Margaret brought our wedding-day back to me.” His eyes caressed her.

“Did you notice the wonderful light that suddenly surrounded them just as Michael took Margaret’s hand in his when he said, ’And thereto I give thee my troth’? The church had been rather dark and dreary up to then; all at once the sun streamed right down on them. It was really quite extraordinary, just as if an unseen hand had turned on the limelight. It was almost uncanny.”

“I noticed it,” Michael said.

“The effect was startling. I wondered if Margaret noticed it it surely was a happy omen?”

Her husband smiled into her eyes. “I feel sure that Michael’s subconscious self would be saying the grand words of his beloved Akhnaton:

“’Thou bindest them by Thy love.
Though Thou art afar, Thy rays are upon earth;
Though Thou art on high, Thy footprints are the day.’”