A WAKING DREAM, A DARK NIGHT


He sat alone. It was not twilight, it was night, deep, dark night. He had extinguished the lamp, for he wished that all around him should be gloomy as his own sad thoughts. Even the pitiful glimmering light, which was cast by the fire in the stove on the objects near it, was disagreeable to him, for it showed him a portion, at least, of the scene of his bygone happiness. His bitter sorrow seemed to have petrified all his faculties, and entirely blasted his life; he did not appear to reflect, he only felt. The deep sighs that every now and then burst from his compressed lips were all that gave sign of existence about him. That agitated tremor, those wild lamentations, those burning tears,--the glowing look which griefs volcano casts forth, lay hidden amidst the ashes of mute and agonized suffering.

But a few years before he had been the most hopeful of lovers; and somewhat later, the happiest of husbands and of fathers. Now all--all was lost! Death had stretched forth his mighty hand and taken his treasures from him; blow after blew had fate thus inflicted on his bleeding heart. He--the strong man--the high-minded--the richly-endowed--sat there like a lifeless statue, without purpose, without motion, without energy: all had been swept away in the earthquake which had engulphed the happiness of his home, and he had not power to raise a new structure upon the ruins of the past.

While he was sitting thus, a momentary blaze in the fire showed him the portrait of his departed wife, which hung against the wall. How many recollections the sight of it awakened! Oh, how distinctly he remembered the day when that painting had been finished for him! It was a short time before his marriage; he was gazing on it in an ecstasy of delight, when the lovely original cast her beaming eyes on him and whispered, 'Do you really think it beautiful? Is it so beautiful that when I become old and grey-headed, you may look at my picture and remember your love, your feelings for me, when we were both young?' And when he assured her, that for him she would always be young, she replied so sweetly, 'Oh, I am not afraid of becoming old by your side; it will be so delightful to have lived a long life of love with you!'

Alas! he was still young, but he had to wander through perhaps a long, long life alone. How had he beheld her last? She was lying in her coffin--young and lovely, but pale and motionless. And he--who still breathed and felt--he it was who had clung in despair to that coffin--he who, with a breaking heart, had laid her dark hair smoothly on her marble-white cheek, had pressed his lips for the last time on her cold forehead, had folded her transparent hands and bedewed them with his tears, and had laid his throbbing head on that so lately beating heart, which never, never more would thrill with sorrow or with joy. But who could describe that depth of grief, that rending of the soul, that agonizing convulsion of the heart, when the last farewell look on earth--the long, eager, parting look--was taken, and the head was raised from the harrowing contemplation of these beloved features, which were soon to be snatched and hidden from his gaze! Then despair seized upon him, and his grief could find no relief in tears.

In these heart-breaking recollections his spirit was long absorbed; at length he pressed his hands on his aching temples, burst into a flood of tears, and exclaimed:

'Oh, thou whom I loved so truly! hast thou indeed forsaken me? Can it be possible that thou hast dissevered thyself from my soul! Oft have I dreamed that thou wert harkening to my lamentations, that thou wert lingering by my side, and soothing my sorrow! But it was fancy--cheating fancy! Thou who didst feel so much affection for me--thou who wert never deaf to my prayers--hast thou heard me, and yet not answered me? How often during the sad weary night have I not called upon thee! See--I stretch forth my arms and embrace only the empty air--I gaze around for thee, but am left in oppressive solitude. Oh, if thou canst hear me, beloved spirit! if it be possible that thou canst hear me--come, oh come!' His voice was choked by tears.

At last, when the water mist had passed from his eyes, removing, as it were, a veil from before them, he gazed wearily on the darkness around, and perceived a faint ray of light, which gradually seemed to become clearer. At first he thought it was the moon casting its uncertain gleams through the window; but the light seemed to extend itself. The corner of the room opposite to him seemed illumined by a pale, tremulous lustre that spread down to the floor. His heart beat violently as he gazed intently at the miraculous light. By degrees it assumed something like a shape, an airy, transparent figure, clad in a shining garment that glittered like the stars of heaven; and when it turned its countenance towards him, he recognized the features of her he had lost, but radiant in celestial peace and glory. Her clear eyes, which were fixed upon him, beamed with an expression of indescribable benignity.

The deep grief that had oppressed his spirit gave place to a wonderful, a mysterious feeling of holy calmness which he had never before experienced.

'Oh, speak!' he entreated softly, as if he were afraid to disturb the beautiful apparition, and holding his clasped hands beseechingly towards it--'Oh let me hear that voice, the echo of whose dear accents still lives in my heart! Hast thou taken compassion on me?'

'Didst thou not call me?' replied the apparition in a faint, subdued tone, yet so full of tenderness and affection that it seemed to inspire him with new life. 'Hast thou not often called me? I could no longer withstand thy supplication. The sorrows and sufferings of earth have lost their bitterness and their sting for those who have become heavenly spirits--those who have seen the Omnipotent face to face; but thy grief touched my heart even in the midst of blessedness. I could not be happy whilst thou wert wretched. Often have I hovered around thee, often lingered by thy side, often wafted coolness to thy burning brow; and when thy sadness would seem to be somewhat soothed, I have lain at thy feet, and contemplated thy beloved countenance. I was by thee when thou didst lean weeping over my coffin, and in an agony of woe didst cling to that body whence my soul had fled. Oh! how much I wished then that thou couldst look up at me, and know how near I was to thee! Oh! how willingly I would have embraced thee, had the Almighty permitted me! I was also with thee when our beloved infant lay in its last earthly struggle. My dying child called for me, and the heart of the mother yearned to respond to that call which had reached her, even when surrounded by the happiness of eternity, I came down to earth to answer it. Like an airy shadow, I glided through the garden paths in the still summer night, and all the plants and the flower exhaled their sweetest fragrance to salute me, for they felt that I had come from a better world. And Nature spoke to me with its spirit voice, and besought me to consecrate its soil with my ethereal step. The dark elder-tree and the blushing rosebush made signs to me, asking me if I remembered how often they had shed their perfume around us, when you and I, wrapped in our mutual happiness, used to wander in the soft evenings, arm in arm--heart answering heart--eye meeting eye--through the verdant alleys and flower-enamelled walks; but I could not linger over these sweet remembrances, I passed on to watch the death-bed of the little innocent who longed so for its mother. And when thou, my beloved! overcome by affliction, let thine aching head sink in helpless sorrow on its couch, our child lay, peaceful and joyous, in my embrace, and ascended to heaven with me to pray for thee. Oh, dearest one I how canst thou think that death has power to sever hearts that have once been united in everlasting love!'

He listened in mute and breathless ecstasy to these words, which sounded as the softest melody to his enraptured ear. When the voice ceased, he stretched forth his arms towards the beloved shade, and said beseechingly:

'Forgive me, angel of Paradise--forgive me! I feel now that the happiness of heaven is so great that nothing mortal can compare with it. Yet for my sake thou hast left awhile this inconceivable felicity, and deigned to assuage my grief, and to speak balm to my heart. Thanks, blessed spirit--thanks! My path shall no longer be gloomy--my life no longer lonesome!'

'Thou wilt sigh no more--thou wilt no longer weep?' asked the spirit, with a radiant smile.

'Thou shalt be my guardian angel, blessed spirit!' he replied, in deep emotion.

'God be thanked!' ejaculated the spirit in holy joy. It waved its shadowy hand to him, and as it seemed to turn to move away, its airy robe sparkled luminously for a moment; it then glittered more and more faintly, till it looked like the twinkling of some distant star.

Then earth-born wishes seized again upon his heart.

'Alas;' he cried, as he made an involuntary movement towards the vanishing shadow, 'shall I, then, never behold thee more in this world?'

A holy light passed over the scarcely defined features of the spirit, while it replied, as if from afar--

'Yes! once more--but only once. When thy last hour approaches--when the bitterness of death is passed--then shalt thou tell those that watch by thy couch, and who, incredulous, will deem thy words the raving of delirium--then shalt thou tell them that a messenger from a glorious world is standing by thy side. That messenger will be me. I shall come to kiss the last breath from thy pale quivering lips, to gladden the last glance of thy closing eyes, and, after the heart's last pulsation, to receive thy parted soul, and be its guide to the realms of endless happiness, where I now await thee.'

He listened and bowed his head. When he raised it--all was dark and empty. He went to the window, and looked out upon the dazzling snow, and up to the brilliant star-lit heavens, and prayed in sadness, but with earnest devotion.

He lives to perform his duties, to do good to his fellow-creatures, to serve his God. He is never gay nor lively; but he is tranquil and content. He loves quiet and solitude. He loves in winter to lose himself in meditation while gazing on the calm, cold face of nature; and in summer to loiter in silence, till a late hour at night, amidst his garden's sweetly-scented walks. He is a lonely wanderer on the earth; yet not quite so lonely as he is thought to be, for he is often soothed by delightful dreams, and then he smiles happily, as if in his visions he had been consoled by the presence of a beloved being.

If his soul sometimes ventures humbly to indulge in the wish that it might soon enter into death's peaceful land, none can tell; his silent aspirations are known to none--to none but Him who sees into the deepest recesses of the human heart.