We ran up the steps and pushed open the large wood doors to St. Michael’s. I was happy to see that the sanctuary was not filled with the thick smoke that we had to endure during the last few hours. “Isabella, my love, you can remove the handkerchief; the air is fine.”
Isabella removed it from her mouth, showing the only spot on her beautiful face that was not tainted with soot and dirt from our journey. Even covered in the fire’s residue, she still was the most beautiful woman in the world. I was in awe of her strength during this terrible event that we were experiencing. I had no doubt that most females in this situation would be swooning from fear, but not Isabella.
Looking around, I could see that it was clear that no one was here, until I saw movement towards the front of the church, near the altar. Offering Isabella my arm, I led us towards the altar. As we drew closer, I could see that Father O’Malley was busy removing the various vessels and linens from the altar.
“Father, it is so good to see that you are safe and sound.” I said as I shook his hand.
“Oh, young Mr. Masen, it is always good to see you.” Father O’Malley said, then turned to Isabella. “Miss Swan, I hope you are well.”
“I am, Father. It has been a frightful night, and I am so worried about the people of Chicago and my family.”
“Your father and brother, I am sure, will take every precaution to ensure their safety and the safety of their fellow firemen. Where is your mother? Somewhere safe, I hope.”
“Yes, Father. She was volunteering at the hospital; my prayers are that she is still there, within the safety of their walls.” Isabella cried.
“I have faith that she is safe, child. My prayers are that the people of the city find shelter during this horrible night.” Father O’Malley said. “Mr. Masen, I am sure that Mr. Swan would be greatly thankful for you keeping Miss Swan safe.”
“Miss Swan’s safety and wellbeing is paramount to me, Father. Without Miss Swan, Father, my life would not be worth living.” I proclaimed as I patted her on the hand. She had lost her gloves during the trip, so I was given the pleasure of touching her soft hand.
“I see. I am afraid after tonight there will be many lives taken and many hearts that will be broken.” Father O’Malley then turned back to the altar to continue removing the precious items.
In that moment, I knew that, if this was my last night on this earth, I wanted to be united in matrimony to the woman that made my short life feel complete. “Father O’Malley, please excuse us for a moment.” I said. I led Isabella over to the to one of the side pews. As I stood before her, I took a deep breath and prepared to share with her my heart’s desire.
“Isabella, my love, I need to share with you my feelings and an idea that has suddenly occurred to me.” As I took both of her hands in mine, I chanced a look into her eyes, and knew that she was closely paying attention.
“My dear, dear Isabella, I have loved you since the first time I had the privilege of laying eyes upon you. I have thought of you during every waking moment, as well as every unconscious one. I have always felt that we were destined to spend our lives together. This horrific tragedy has caused me to realize that life is fleeting, and you need to live each and every moment as if it were your last. Isabella, we don’t know if we’ll see tomorrow, and I do not want to spend another day without you as my wife. What I am proposing is to request that Father O’Malley unite us in holy matrimony this evening. I can only hope that you feel as certain and sure of your affections for me, and will agree with this request.” I paused momentarily to ensure that Isabella could contemplate the full measure of what I was proposing. “What say you, darling? Will you become my wife?”
Expecting to experience a small amount of pause for Isabella to deliberate my proposal, I was exceedingly surprised and joyous as at her immediate response.
She wrapped her arms around my neck and responded excitedly, “Oh, Edward, I would be honored to be your wife. I have felt the same since first setting sight on you as well.”
“Shall we make our request to Father O’Malley, then?” I hated to rush this monumental decision, but with the lingering danger of the fire, time was of the essence. I clasped Isabella’s delicate hand, and escorted her back to the altar, drawing Father O’Malley’s attention.
The Father turned from his task, “Yes, my children?”
“Father, you have known Isabella and myself since we were children. You know our souls, and now we would like to share with you our hearts. You see, Father, we are deeply in love. We know tomorrow is not a promised gift, and the fire currently raging beyond these walls has pressed this fact ever clearer to us. If today was our last day, we would wish to spend it as husband and wife. Father, we would like you to unite us in marriage on this very evening.” I looked at him hopefully.
“Isabella, is this true? You and Mr. Masen are in love, and wish for me to unite you both in holy matrimony?”
Isabella looked deep into my eyes with all the love and admiration any man could hope to attain from his intended. She turned her gaze to Father O’Malley and responded, “Yes, Father, with all my heart and soul.”
“Well, it is a bit unorthodox, but drastic times call for drastic measures. Let me get my vestments and perform the liturgy. We can ask some of the parishioners scattered about the church if they would be willing to witness your marriage.”
Father O’Malley walked away to get his vestments. While he was away, I took a few minutes to talk with my fiancée. “Isabella, you have no idea how excited I am at this very moment. I am going to do everything I possibly can to share a very long, and wonderful life with you.”
“That is my hope and prayer, also. I want to fill our home with love, have your children, see our dreams come true, and die at a ripe old age within your arms. Oh, Edward, I do love you so.” She declared with such reverence.
“Oh, my love, so do I.” It was then that Father O’Malley returned with two ladies who were also seeking refuge in the sanctuary. You could tell that they had come from the fire, which was evident from their haste in seeking shelter. They were trying to clean some of the dirt and smoke from their faces. I looked at Isabella and smiled, she had not seen the shape that her face was in and I knew she would have been disheartened by her appearance. “My love, do you want to take a moment to freshen up before we start?”
She looked down at her soot covered hands and clothes. “Oh my word. Yes, please. I must be a fright.” She fussed.
Shaking my head and brushing my hand across her cheek. “Never, my love, never. Make haste, because I can’t wait to have you as my wife.”
She nodded and walked toward the water closet. I turned to Father O’Malley and smiled. “Father, do you have a location that I may get some of the soot off me, before the nuptials?”
“Yes, sir. Come with me.” He replied, leading me to a room in the front of the sanctuary. He opened the door and we walked into the Father’s office. “Over there is a small sink and a clean towel.”
“Thank you so much, Father.” I declared. I went over to the sink, which had a mirror over it and proceeded to wash as much of the dirt as I could from my face and hands. Looking down at my suit, I was upset with the horrible stains and burn spots, but there was really nothing I could do about it at the moment. Finishing up, I wiped dry my face and hands, and turned back to Father O’Malley.
“You look fine, Mr. Masen.” He laughed. “She doesn’t care about your outward appearance, she sees the real you, and what a wonderful kind heart you have.”
“Thank you, Father.” I said. We turned and walked out of the room, back into the sanctuary. I looked around and didn’t see Isabella. One of the ladies walked up to me and with a smile.
“Sir, you are to wait for her with Father O’Malley in the front of the church.”
Father O’Malley and I walked to the front of the church. When we stopped, someone began playing Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March”. Father O’Malley motioned to the back of the church and when I turned, Isabella was walking toward me. I don’t know how, but she was wearing a different gown. This one was a white satin wedding gown, with long sleeves and a sheer high neck collar. On her head was a lovely lace veil and her beautiful hair was pulled back into a netting at the base of her neck. She was carrying a bouquet of white flowers. She was like an angel walking towards me. When she reached Father O’Malley and me, she turned and smiled sweetly to me.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in God’s presence to witness and to celebrate the marriage of Edward Anthony and Isabella Marie, and to ask God to bless them that they may be strengthened for their life together. We are called to rejoice in their happiness, and find in their love a reason to renew our own commitments to those whom are near and dear to each of us. God gave us marriage for the full expression of love between a man and a woman so that husband and wife may cherish and delight in one another; comfort and help each other in sickness, trouble and sorrow; provide for each other in temporal things; pray for and encourage each other in the things that pertain to God; and live together faithfully all the length of their days.
“Edward, will you have this woman to be your wife, and will you promise your life to her in all love and honor, in all duty and service, in all faith and tenderness, to live with her, cherish her, according to the ordinance of God, in the holy bond of marriage?” Father O’Malley asked.
“I will.” I declared with all my heart.
“Isabella, will you have this man to be your husband, and will you promise your life to him, in all love and honor, in all duty and service, in all faith and tenderness, to live with him, and cherish him, according to the ordinance of God, in the holy bond of marriage?”
“I will.” Isabella said.
“Please join hands and repeat after me. I, Edward, take you, Isabella, to be my wedded wife; and I do promise and covenant; before God and these witnesses; to be your loving and faithful husband; in plenty and in want; in joy and in sorrow; in sickness and in health; as long as we both shall live.”
I repeated the vow, pouring everything in my heart and soul in each word. After I finished I gave her hand a slight squeeze. Looking into her eyes, I saw that they are filled with unshed tears. Father O’Malley said the vow that Isabella was to repeat and as I stared upon her lovely face, I was amazed by how boldly she spoke them to me.
“I, Isabella, take you, Edward, to be my wedded husband; and I do promise and covenant; before God and these witnesses; to be your loving and faithful wife; in plenty and in want; in joy and in sorrow; in sickness and in health; as long as we both shall live.” She exclaimed so reverently.
“Do you have a ring?” Father O’Malley asked.
I wanted to have the ring that I had planned to go on her finger, but it was at my home and I didn’t want to chance going back out into the fire to get it. But I did have the pinky ring that my grandfather had given me. Slipping off the ring, I slid it onto her dainty finger. “This ring I give you; in token and pledge; of our constant faith; and abiding love.”
“By the authority committed unto me as a Minister of the Church of Christ, I declare that Edward Anthony and Isabella Marie are now Husband and Wife, according to the ordinance of God; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Father O’Malley said. Then with a large smile on his face. “You may kiss the bride.”
At that moment, my heart was pounding so loud, it was as if a herd of cattle was racing in my chest. Leaning in slowly, I placed my lips upon hers and began to share our first kiss, but, it was not only our first kiss, but the first kiss as husband and wife. I never knew that anything could feel so wonderful. As the glorious kiss ended, I pulled back and was granted with a loving smile and a bright red hue on her cheeks. “I love you.”
“As I love you.” She said.
“Congratulations. May God get us through this night and you have a long life together.” Father O’Malley announced.
“Amen, Father, I hope so as well.”
After the ceremony we sat in one of the pews and talked and prayed. I found out that one the ladies that was in the church had packed her wedding gown in her bag, before she ran from her home. It was the same gown Isabella was wearing. She got up and went to change back into the dress she was wearing before the wedding and thanked the lady over and over again for allowing her to wear it. I got the lady’s name and address and knew I would be sending a monetary thank you to her and her family, when we got through this night. I was determined that we would make it through.
We discussed how we would tell our families, but felt sure they would understand our reasons. My life was forever changed not because of the fire, but because I now had the love of my life as my wife. I couldn’t wait to start this adventure with her. The fire was causing horrific damage to our city, but it caused flames of desire, amongst the flames of destruction.
That is the end of this story. I will be posting an epi, to look into the future and see what happened to our couple.